After eating a fine dinner at the Dungaroon’s residence, Tiffanie excused herself from the group just as the tension about Adela was beginning to grow. “I’m sorry I had another engagement to attend to,” she said.
Peren, also a bit uncomfortable, said, “I’ll show you to the door.”
Leaving the Dungaroon home, Tiffanie made her way to the home of Countessa Adela de Portreaux. As she was walking, she thought to herself, ‘What am I doing? How did I get myself talked into this?’. Her thought running wild with what she would be doing tonight, feeling flushed and a bit embarrassed. Always confident and sure of herself, especially in battle, Tiffanie wasn’t so sure of herself when it came to be intimate with someone. Yes, she was virgin, even when she was her male self, Typhon Ne’ had yet to be with a woman.
Having been so deep in thought, reflecting on what was going to be happening, Tiffanie found herself outside the Countessa’s house. She made her way discreetly to the side door as she was instructed. She was about to knocked on the door, when a female voice, like a whisper asked, “are you certain you wish to follow this path?” It felt familiar, yet it was no sound, just a feeling in his mind.
Her voice a whisper, Tiffanie said to herself, “I’m not sure which path to follow.” She moved and sat on a bench by the path that lead to the back garden. Trying to answer the voice, “I’ve been so confused lately, not really knowing who I am anymore.”
Starting to feel overwhelmed with emotions, feeling the need to cry, but too stubborn to do so. She leaned forward placing her face in her hands, as her elbows rested on her knees.
“You have a destiny Typhon. On the other side of that door, it is possible you will abandon that destiny either through temptation, destruction, or both.” said the voice, now distinctly feminine, familiar, and with an ageless wisdom. “You are only now sensing it – the clues are only now coming into place.”
“What, that I’m destined to remain a women,” Tiffanie scoffed. “This damnable curse, the ways I’ve been told to it can be removed, are something I won’t do, to being to expensive to where I couldn’t afford it.
And what’s worse, my anger and rage, and that of my enemies fuel the damn thing.”
With tears in her eyes, Tiffianie looked to the heavens saying, “Mother, what am I to do?”
“You mother cannot respond to you but I can. You see, no one said your destiny is to be a woman,” said the voice. “Your destiny is separate from that. It has its own ramifications unrelated to some spell of a svartalfar. Man or woman do you think it was chance that led you to the frozen body of Khord?”
“No”, Tiffanie replied. “When I entered that cave, something felt right, then I looked upon the body of Khord. Instinct led me to that cave for shelter, but unknown to me, something else happened.”
“This past week, speeking with the will of Khord, I understand we have the same story,” she said. “Both of us betrayed by family, and seeking to bring justice to those that have wronged us. Khord died before he could finish what he started, but myself… I can finish what was started and lay his spirit at rest. Then I can focus on my treacherous brother, and make him pay for what he as wrought.”
Tiffanie took a deep breath, feeling her emotions coming back into control. She then quietly walked back into the garden. And asked, “Who are you? Mara or Morgan?”
“I’m no capricious fey,” she replied without malice, “just someone with a unique perspective on things. I do know the Morgan of whom you speak; however.”
“If you are neither Mara or Morgan, then who are you?,” Tiffanie asked. “What is it you want? Please show yourself, I tire of talking to mysterious voices in my head. And I really dislike riddles about my life
that I need to solve to gain some enlightening knowledge. Just talk with me straight, no lies or half-truths, and I will do the same with you.”
As she was talking, Tiffanie continued to walk around the garden, looking around to see if she could spot this mysterious stranger, who’s voice was talking with her in her head.
Suddenly Tiffanie felt a wave of energy pass through her, breaking her will and any connection to what she knew. The ground fell beneath Tiffanie and the world dissolved into white and gray mist and night became a foggy day. Tiffanie felt ill and vertigo came before her, bowing her over somewhat as she tried to keep her balance. A cowled person wearing black cloak soon after coalesced from the mist.
“You want it straight. So be it,” said the figure.
Pointing in the direction of a foggy door-like shape it continued, “If you walk through that door right now, you will be seduced, experience incalculable pleasure, and then most likely either killed outright, enslaved for the mines of Riom, or broken for the pleasure of a Stavan kingling. If you do not, you will live, be lonely, be frustrated, and yet might complete your tiny part in a far larger story
that brings a better world.”
Taking some deep breaths in order to make the unbalancing feelings of vertigo so go away. Feeling the nausea slip away, Tiffanie said, “I asked you before who you are. Yet you expect me to believe there is truth to your words, but you stand before me cowled hiding your face.”
“I do not hide anything Typhon Né. I have no face that would have any meaning to you. I have no name you could tell anyone and create any understanding or recognition. You have met Morgan – even that name and face are but illusions – so if it brings you comfort…” the being pulls back her cloak revealing the face of the raven-haired, violet-eyed Morgan, “…I can be that person. But who I am is irrelevant to you. Why I warned you, does that not matter more?”
“Ok then,” Tiffanie replied. “Why would some mysterious, mystical being want to stop me from what I was about to do? Why do you care what happens to me? I plan on tracking down Khord’s betrayer, after all the research has come in. Then I plan to go after my half-brother, betrayer of my own blood. And while doing all that, maybe find my missing sister.”
Tiffanie stopped her pacing back and forth, not realizing that she started when she started to rant. “Oh, and one last thing, find someway to remove this damned curse I have.”
Morgan (for lack of a better name) smiled,
“Let me answer your questions one at a time:”
“First, I am a being of flesh and blood, just like you. Simply older and with more knowledge about the world.”
“Second, I don’t want to stop you, I am merely enlightening you to the ramifications of your decision and hoping you decide to make the right one. It was observed that someone else sees your importance in a different light and is taking advantage of an ideal situation.”
“Third, I do not personally care about you, I have no investment in you as a person, such feelings are irrelevant to the plan. On the other hand I also have no gain in you being harmed. But if you make the decision to proceed, then several decisions of others, some already in motion and others depending on your actions in the coming months and years, will be derailed. Another would need to take your place, perhaps your sister, perhaps one of your friends. This however will take time, effort, and likely lives.”
“Fourth, good, track Khord’s betrayer, your half-brother, your sister perhaps.”
“Lastly, the curse doesn’t make any difference, except that it drove you here, to this place, at this time. That was not anticipated. Removing it does not make any difference to the plan. It is, for us, a variable to be accounted for. No more. Whether you remove it, or not is your decision.”
“It is not destiny is some divine order. It is destiny in such that you make of it. You dying or being enslaved gets in the way,” said Morgan. “Hmm, don’t pace too much, you might slip into the void. That would be bad – for you.”
Tiffanie stopped, looking out into the mist, then turned and faced Morgan. “Void? Anyway, I don’t think I will make it very easy for someone to kill or enslave me. Besides, what is this plan you speak of?”, she asked.
“Easy?” she replied, “perhaps if your adversary played by rules or some honor code. They will not, and you have no idea of the horrors your adversary can inflict. But if you are so confident in yourself, then please disregard any of this. I’ll put you right back where I found you, with no memory of what has happened, and let the chips fall where they may, or you can trust me.”
Morgan added, “as far as my business or the plan, suffice to say we hold a viewpoint that is somewhat at odds with your adversary though not completely. I should not tell you any more, but I will add this: we act to create a better world. You, and to a degree your friends, are what we call a nexus. When you act, the world tends to move to your action, whether it is a single event or a series of them. You may not see it, but we do. Right now your decision is on a knife’s edge – walk through a door, or refrain from walking through a door. The events in your life, in particular the curse, have forced a probability that you will use the door. We would rather you not. But the choice is yours.”
“Is this adversary you speak of the Tyraa cultists or whatever they are?, Tiffanie asked.
Morgan (or she who called herself such) replied, “they are among them, yes.”
“I would like to keep my memories of this conversation, please,” Tiffanie said. “I have a lot to think about. Let me ask this last question. Do you know where my sister is? Or, at least where to start looking for her?”
She replied, “I will let you keep your memories – but this conversation, and,” she waves around to the mist, “all of this, should remain between you and I. Call it a point of trust and a condition. You can say a stranger warned you, if you wish. The ramifications of that are minimal.”
“You have my word,” Tiffanie replied. “I will not say anything about you or this place. Wherever this place is.”
She continued, “Your sister lives. I can say that much. But I am not omniscient. Exactly where she is I do not know. But I have taken pity on you Typhon Né. I know you don’t wish such, but there it is. I can, without pain, restore your form at least for a short time. I can, without ship or horse, bring you briefly to your homeland to take in the crisp air and witness the vistas you once knew. I will, once we must end your foray, return you back to the canal bank outside of the Contessa’s door.”
“I would like that, for however short lived that will be,” Typhon said.
She reached up and touched Tiffanie’s forehead. Darkness briefly took her and when he awoke, Typhon was on a low mountain overlooking the western valley. The air was crisp and cool. A pack of aurochs, hundreds strong stretching for a mile lay distant in the valley below. “Your clothes are back in the mist, though your axe is here. What you wear is but an illusion, but a good one, at least good enough.”
With eyes closed, Typhon took a deep cleansing breath of the the cool mountain air. Upon opening his eyes, Typhon looked down at himself as a male again, and a smile graced his bearded face. Looking at the aurochs in the distance, he felt the need of the hunt once more.
Turning to Morgan, he asked, “How long do I have?”
“Not long,” she replied, “perhaps an hour maybe a bit more – when the sun sets behind the Antrunheimen Mountain to the west. Please feel free to do what you will. Hunt, explore, whatever. I’ll stay here and be ready to take you back when it is time.”
Taking in the position of the sun, Typhon smiled at Morgan, turned and ran down the low mountain into the valley. As he got closer to the valley floor, Typhon’s pace slowed as watched the movements of the herd of aurochs, picking out his prey. Having picked his prey, Typhon moved in a stealthy crouch as he approached the herd, trying not to spook the animals.
Memories as a teenage boy with his father on his first hunt came back to him. He along with his father and the rest of the hunters, stalking a herd not unlike the one he was after now. Just as it was then, Typhon felt the exhilaration as the adrenalin pumped thru him just before the strike. When he felt he was within range, Typhon carefully pulled his axe, taking it in both hands. Ready, eyes alert for any sudden movement from the herd, Typhon stood and in one fluid movement, threw his axe toward his prey.
Flying end over end, Typhon’s axe flew, and with a sickening, snapping sound, the axe hit the auroch in the spine breaking its back. The auroch dropped right where it was, still alive, Typhon rushed to the fallen animal to end it’s suffering. Pulling his axe free, Typhon removed the head from the body. As best as he could, with only having the axe on hand, Typhon made quick work to remove the beasts heart. As with his first kill, as taught by his father, Typhon took a bite of the heart before raising it to the sky in triumph.
With arm raised, blood running down his arm and dripping from his lips, Typhon looked to where Morgan stood watching. Then looking to the sun as it approached the the top of the mountains, realizing that time was running out, he turned to the corpse of the auroch. Making quick work, Typhon took the best cuts of meat, and both horns.
As he made his way back up to Morgan, Typhon stopped at a snow bank, and used the snow to clean the blood off himself the best he could. As he got to within ear shot of Morgan, Typhon said, “Thank you for this. It truly means a lot to me. To bad it has to end.”
“All things must end Typhon, it is what gives them value and makes them worth striving for,” replied Morgan. “The sun is setting. Are you prepared to return to Thalassa?”
“As prepared as I can be,” Typhon said. “Am I able to take back the horns and meat from this kill?”, he asked with both items held in his hands.
“This is real, so yes,” she replied. She handed him a large bag, seemingly out of nowhere. “Use this, there are some wrappages in there for the meat.” Once Typhon had packed his kill. Morgan looked at him and said, ” you will appear exactly where you once stood, outside of the Contessa’s compound’s back door. What you do then, if of course up to you, but the danger is still real. Any questions?”
“I have a lot of questions, but nothing that needs to be asked now,” Typhon said. “I’m sure you are keeping track of my travels to see if I’m still within your plan. How much time will have passed, when I return?”
She laughed – it was the first time he’d heard her do so, assuming of course this was really Morgan, “It isn’t my plan Typhon and I don’t track you, but about two hours total has passed. The sun should be still at dusk on Thalassa at this time.”
Typhon looked at himself one last time, and stated, “I’m ready to go back.”
Morgan repeated her previous gesture, and darkness took him…
“Arriving back in front of back door to the Contessa’s compound. Tiffanie looked at herself, noticing that she felt nothing of the change back. Then looking to the emerging stars, Tiffanie closed her eyes, upon opening them she slowly turned away from the door and walked away.
As she walked away, Tiffanie felt her stomach grumble, having not eaten her fill earlier due to the nervousness of what she was about to do. Looking at the bag in hand, she made her way to the temple. Hoping to share her spoils from the hunt with Jocelyn.
The walk was long from the Contessa’s residence, and the sun had fully set. The lights of Thalassa flickered on: magic, oil, and candle – somewhat banishing the night. As she approached the Temple residence, the acolytes of Aarith recognized Tiffanie from her week-long stay and welcomed her within. Making her way to Jocelyn’s chambers, she knocked. Jocelyn answered, “Tiffanie! I haven’t seen you for several days. The Monsignor said you dropped a scroll off yesterday, but I was in prayer.” She paused, “what smells like blood?”
Tiffanie smiled, holding up the bag she had with her. “That would be the two fresh steaks that I have. Maybe you wouldn’t mind joining me for a meal? I just need to find a kitchen, and then I will be able to grill up this wonderful meat.”
Surprised, Jocelyn smiled and said, “Well, I guess dinner is on! Follow me.” As the temple quarters fed many hundreds of people there were a several kitchen areas. Jocelyn led Tiffanie down to a smaller kitchen, requested and was granted the use of it, and said, “here you are. Do what you will, I’ll help.”
Tiffanie looked around the kitchen, heading over to the stove, making sure the fire was still going. “I’m not really familiar with this place. Where are the herbs located?”, Tiffanie asked. “Would you mind making up a side dish or two, to go along with this. Nothing to big, just something that would be quick will be nice.”
Once Jocelyn pointed out where the herbs were, Tiffanie looking through them, she picked out a couple and set them aside. Pulling out the wrapped meat from the sack she had them in, Tiffanie began to rub in the herbs she found into the meat. Once done she checked out the heat on the grilling side of the stove, needing it hotter, she tossed in a couple more logs.
As they were cooking, Jocelyn asked, “are we celebrating something in particular? These look freshly cut, but I’m sure no butcher is open so late.” She continued putting together greens and slicing bread.
“We are celebrating the end of a successful hunt,” Tiffanie replied. “We are about to eat filets from an auroch, that I took down earlier this evening. You will also notice horns I took as a prize as well.” As she pointed to the bag, where the points of two curved, long horns stood out. “I think I’ll turn those into a pair of war horns, when done they should echo for miles if you blow hard enough.”
Looking confused, Jocelyn said, “Um, Tiffanie I don’t know if you know this, but any aurochs in the city would be at the livestock yards, and out of the city, well please tell me you didn’t try to leave the city without a passport? In any event I doubt there is a wild auroch on Thalassa in the first place.”
Tiffanie smiled saying, “There are aurochs in the wild, just not anywhere on or near Thalassa.” She paused before continuing, “I have said too much as is, but to help ease your mind on where this meat came from. I did not go to the stockyards and kill an auroch to get this meat and horns.”
“Trust me, when I say it is a long story, but one I can not tell you at this time.”, Tiffanie said. “Let’s just say that I was lost and confused, and was given and shown something that helped to remind me of who I once was, and still am.”
After saying that, Tiffanie placed the meat on the grill to start cooking.
With meal ready, the two friends sat down for dinner. “This is wonderful,”
Jocelyn. “I did not know you could cook like this.”
“I learned a few things watching my mother when she cooked meals.”, Tiffanie replied.
With dinner nearing completion and the night drawing on, Jocelyn asked, “Tiffanie, you do not need to tell me why, but what do you know now that you did not know earlier. What do you mean by being lost and confused?”
“Well…,” Tiffanie started but began to blush. Then she proceeded to tell Jocelyn of going to the Contessa Adela’s party. What had happened during the party, and was she was talked into doing the next day, followed with what she was going to be given as a payment of sorts.
“And tonight was supposed to be when I was to take my payment,” Tiffanie said. “I was about to knock on the door, but couldn’t. My mind was a whirlwind of sorts, I started to breakdown trying to understand what I was about to do, and why. I gave my word that I would discuss the conversation that happened, but just that conversation helped to open my eyes as to who I am. And that I have greater things that I need to accomplish, and what I was about to do would either end with me enslaved or killed.”
“I don’t known this Contessa, and hearing how she lives her life, frankly I don’t care to,” Jocelyn said. “She seems like some kind of elitist libertine out for her own pleasure, caring nothing for others.” Jocelyn seemed genuinely upset. “Oh Aarith I feel ill. Your ‘payment’ was some whore that would use you AND some sick sculptor would then objectify you, ogle you, and use you for his benefit. And the icing on
the cake, all along they were planning to kill or kidnap you when all was done! This cannot stand! Whomever warned you, helped you gain you senses, well I bless them. I stand by your word to your mysterious messenger. But what now? Obviously this wicked harpy and her compatriots must be arrested.”
“No Jocelyn”, Tiffanie replied. “I do not seek that, besides, my enslavement and/or death, were stated as something that could possible happen do my actions. Besides, it turns out that she is Emmeline’s grandmother.”
Jocelyn looked confused, again. “This hurts my brain…”
She continued, “so Emmeline’s grandmother is plotting to have you killed or enslaved? Are you going to tell Emmeline?”
“Relax Jocelyn”, Tiffanie said. “I have no proof that those things would happen to me. And no, I’m not planning on telling Emmeline. At least not yet. I came straight here from leaving the Contessa’s house. Now please, just relax and enjoy this meal with me.”
“Sure. Let’s enjoy the meal,” she replied, “by the way, did I tell you I have received a judgement?”
Tiffanie started to cut into her steak, then stopped and said, “Really, well I hope it was good news.”
Seeing Tiffanie pause, she said, “please continue, it isn’t sad news. I am cleared. I’m not forced to seek to remove the curse either. I am tasked to write about my experiences, and to continue to document them, thus creating new knowledge.”
“That is wonderful news,” Tiffanie exclaimed.
“So what are your plans now?”, she asked, as she started to continue eating the wonderful meal they both made.
Taking another bite and then carefully using her napkin, Jocelyn replied, “I am unsure. I potentially have the options of returning to Uzec to take the priest role there, keeping up my studies here, or being assigned by the Temple to parish calling other than Uzec, a mission calling, or a knowledge calling.”
“I think I understand what the parish and mission callings are, but what is the knowledge calling about?”, Tiffanie replied.
“There are two types,” Jocelyn replied, “one where you study with the Librarians in the Great Library or the Temple Archives, learning from and cataloging great works or records. The second is to be sent to seek that knowledge oneself.”
Tiffanie listened while she continued eating, then asked. “What would you like to do then? Given the choice of all those options.”
“Frankly I don’t know. Part of me really wants to proselytize on a mission, brining the word of Aarith and the gifts of Thalassa to the rest of the world, another part of me wants to see and experience new things. If I could do both I would. Frankly it is only partially up to me. Luckily the Monseigneur likes me so he will put in a word or two to the right people. I also have a lot of people, including Baron d’Uzec, who want me back up in the Calder Valley.”
Tiffanie reached and held Jocelyn’s hand, not realizing it as she said, “I know that what you choose to do, will be what you feel is right.”
Then Tiffanie noticed that she held Jocelyn’s hand, and slowly pulled her hand back, red with embarrassment. “I don’t know why I did that just now.”
“Its…okay,” said Jocelyn. Hesitantly, she continued, briefly retaking Tiffanie’s hand, “I’ve been confused too.”
Letting go and picking up the plates, she added, “several of us were considering sailing to the monastery at Astris tomorrow morning. The Monsignor suggested that Brother Khamdullin, the ancient dwarven abbot of their brotherhood, might be able to answer some of your questions. He is very venerable and has seen firsthand most of our history. He may have some answers your seek.” She paused, “anyway, it would be
nice to sail with you… if you would come.”
Tiffanie stood up to help with cleaning up, as she replied, “Yes I would like to go. It will give me time away from the scholars doing research on the inscriptions on my bone flute, and the artifact we found. Plus I won’t have to deal with having to pose for that artist.”
“Well, tomorrow then,” Jocelyn replied. “I must get to evening prayers. thank you for the meal”” With that she stood on her toes, nervously kissed Tiffanie on the cheek, and quickly departed. Tiffanie heard Jocelyn in the hallway, “oh, excuse me, mother.” followed by, “be careful child. Is the Snomorian here?” followed by, “yes reverend mother, in the kitchen.”
Moments later an Aarithine priestess of a somewhat venerable age opened the kitchen door. “Are you the one called Typhon Ne, sometimes called Tiffanie?”
Just before the reverend mother came into the room, Tiffanie quickly brought her had down from touching her check, where Jocelyn just kissed her.
Looking to the reverend mother, Tiffanie said, “Yes I am Typhon Ne’, what can I do for you?”
The Reverend Mother closed the door. “Firstly, Typhon, if I may call you that, may I ask what your two were doing in this room at such a late hour?”
“If you feel you must know,” Tiffanie replied. “We enjoyed a small meal together. Now, what is it you seek me for?”
Her facial expression didn’t change a bit, replying, “it is simply an odd time to eat. However, that is innocent enough. No, that is not why I sought you out. Several acolytes said you were seen in this area. I have some initial information for you concerning the scroll you brought us. But if this is not a good time, I’m sure the information should keep.”
“Now is good for me,” Tiffanie said. “Maybe we could retire to a different area to sit and discuss what it is you have found out.”
Since Tiffanie didn’t know the Temple well enough. She let the reverend mother lead her to a sitting area on a balcony that overlooked the town.
Once seated, Tiffanie asked, “What information did you find out about the scroll?”
The reverend mother said, “the example scroll you sent is an ancient magic. Very potent in fact, so much so that we a loath to return the example to your wizard friend. If the curse scroll placed upon you is as potent, then it is a most wicked curse. Everything the Monsignor said to you are possible solutions to a curse. There are three solutions to which he may not have told you that this scroll reveals, that
are even more dangerous. First, you could give up your life, risking permanent death, with the Temple then bringing you back from the dead with the most powerful of prayerspells our Patriarch can summon. This is extremely expensive in materials, and requires you to devote yourself to Aarith. We cannot do this for non-believers. Second, you could find the grave of the being that wrote the spell. A clue to the
solution could be found there. Lastly, the magic itself is from a group of beings known in legends as the Svartalfar, or the Shadowelves, who are worshipers of an aspect of the god Haté and its rogue daughter Tyaa. No Shadowelf has ever been seen on this side of the known world for millennia. Even the elves think of them as a myth. This is their form of sorcery, and a wicked one indeed. Based on what little we know, the curse was likely created to humble the pride of some warrior king, possibly a Liosalfar, or the ancient elves of light, a fey people from whom all elves today as descended. You could seek them out, and ask them to remove the curse, which may be safer than asking the accursed one directly.”
“The long and short of it is the curse was meant for a king or great lord of elven descent, hence its power. You simply got in the way. As the Monsignor said, petitioning the god Haté is a possibility, but not one we recommend. In all honesty, we recommend the study and tranquility route. A few short years of your life, in exchange for inner peace and the lifting of this curse, is a low price to pay and has little risk compared to all the other options. And it is the only one we believe is certain, short of death or the lifting of your inner rage in another fashion.”
“Thank you for that information,” Tiffanie replied.
She then stood up and walked away from the seated reverend mother. Tiffanie walked with no set destination in mind, she just walked the halls of the temple lost in thought. Eventually she made her way to the room that they had set aside for her. Tiffanie walked in and just fell into the bed, rolling over on to her back, and just stared at the celling until sleep came to her.
“Wake up Tiffanie,” said a voice. Awakening and sitting up with a start, Tiffanie saw Jocelyn had entered her chamber. The light of dawn threw her shadow on the wall. “We have little time, the boat will be leaving shortly.” Jocelyn was already setting out fresh clothes.
Sitting up and stretching, Tiffanie yawned out, “Good morning.” Then proceeded to freshen up and put on clean clothes for the day. Reaching over and strapping on the axe, Tiffanie was then ready to face anything the day may throw at her.
As she followed Jocelyn to the boat, Tiffanie asked, “Where are we headed to this morning? I remember you saying something about a small island. I was a bit distracted after you left last night, and then your reverend mother appeared and dropped some more news about the curse”
Jocelyn responded, “its actually a peninsula on the north side of the island. A monastery has been there for hundreds of years.”
Tiffanie then shared what was told to her about the new discoveries about the curse, and possible cures the reverend mother told her the night before. Then related how she just got up and walked the halls after that feeling kind of numb inside and felt that there was no end to the curse insight.
“Sure there is Typhon,” she replied. The source of your rage and Khord’s rage is the same. A betrayal. While I don’t know for sure if it would work, bringing those to a close would grant you the inner peace you seek – at least long enough for the curse to weaken. I mean, some of those other ideas have merit, but they seem exceedingly dangerous.”
The boat slipped out of the quay and into the bay beyond, turning north.
As they sailed away, Tiffanie sat back and watched the landscape sliding by. Then she noticed Jocelyn standing at the railing doing the samething. Then thoughts from the night before from when they lightly held hands briefly, to when Jocelyn kissed her check. Tiffanie slightly blushed from those memories, and to divert her gaze from Jocelyn, she pulled her axe from her back resting it across her knees. Tiffanie let her fingers trace over the dwarven runes, to an onlooker it would almost seem she was caressing a lover. But she was thinking, ‘Soon Khord, soon we will both have what we want’.
By mid afternoon the ship had rounded the peninsula where cared into the very rock was the monastery. Jocelyn noted, “see there Typhon,” pointing at the ancient vaults of englassed and melted rock, “long ago this was a fortress that was destroyed – we think – by dragons under the old Empire. The last redoubt of some nation or group of warriors. The monastery is built from the ruin. I’m told the glittering arches are a wonder.”
Tiffanie looked at the building built from the ruins of another, seeing the beauty of it. “Well I can’t wait for you to show them to me.”, she said with a smile.
She smiled, “it is new to me as well.” The ship entered a large cavern, sheltered from the beating waves. Pulling up to the quay, the Aarithine priests and acolytes from the ship, with Tiffanie and Jocelyn among them, took the great stair up into the arched hollow above the roaring waves outside the cavern. Passing through the ceiling of the cavern, torches lit the way through several flights until they emerged from the staircase ino the monastery.
At first, Tiffanie saw what looked to her as if the very walls, arches, and halls were made of a form of snow, ice and icecyles, but in melted marble and travertine. It was organic, beautiful, and in a way sad. Newer, meaning within the last few centuries, construction of marble and other materials accented the ancient structure, making it livable and a place of prayer. Light poured through the many faceted windows creating a bright open temple space.
Jocelyn and several of the others looked around in astonishment.
“Wow”, was the only thing Tiffanie could say, as she looked on in amazement in the temple which surrounded her. Breaking the trace she was in as she looked at the beauty of the temple, she said,”Shall we go in search of Brother Khamdullin, so we can see if get some questions answered.”
“I must go to prayers with the others. But you are welcome to join us. Otherwise, if you want to meet the venerable brother now, he is there I believe.” She pointed at a small cave that was a few hundred yards away from their location, but at the end of a long line of caverns honeycombing the seawall approach to the monastery. “His is the last one and the first one, carved into the chalk cliffs by the wind, weather, and by mortal hands.”
Tiffanie looked toward the caves, then said to Jocelyn, “Go to your prayers, and come find me when you are done. I’ll go see Brother Khamdullin. Does he know of what happened to me? And more importantly is
he aware of me coming to visit him?”
Jocelyn replied, “no and no. Just be very, very polite, even if he is not, and most importantly he is very old. You’ll need to be patient.”
After Jocelyn left, Tiffanie walked outside and began to shimmy along the narrow pathway down to Khamdullin’s cave. The sound from the other caves with the sea waves crashing created a cacophony of sound that was sublime to her. She’d never quite taken in such a sound. As she approached the cave…
Tiffanie tried to center herself, before she said in dwarven, “Hail Brother, may I approach and be seen. I have questions that I seek answers too, and was lead to believe that you could help.”
“Huh?” a deep gravelly voice said. “You have questions?” A shadowy form approached revealed with the light of day to be an old dwarf whose face was almost entirely hidden by gray hair, beard, and brows. “Sit there,” pointing at the cave opening (note opening is 3′ by 5′). “Answer my question first. Who are you woman?”
Tiffanie sat cross-legged in front of the opening as directed by the old dwarf. “I am Typhon Ne’, but I was not born a woman. This form was brought about by a curse.”
“That is odd. Who cursed you?”
“Well…,” Typhon started, the proceeded to tell Brother Khamdullin her story up to point of what the Monsignor Guglielmo de Cherville and the reverend mother had told her about the curse and possible ways of curing it. None of which really appealed to Typhon.
“But another reason I came to see you is, I have some questions regarding dwarven history. First I’d like to ask if you know about the story of Khord Baradun?”
The old dwarf, “bah! slow down. Arrgh, you just like to hear yourself talk. I’m old and I don’t hear that well any more.” He shuffled a bit, “so I understand you, after being betrayed by your brother, you say you were later cursed by some shadowelf sorcerer’s spell meant for someone else whom you don’t know, but cast by a goblin or some Tyaanite witch. It turned you into a woman with a power to match the target’s lifetime – which I surmise is well beyond yours. You say there is no end to this curse save by death and resurrection, peace and contemplation, sacrifice to evil, or somehow raising the dead of millennia past or finding their legendary kin and asking them to be nice to you.”
“Well, count your blessings,” the old dwarf added, poking at Tiffanie with his cane. “Be glad you weren’t turned into an ugly woman, or a goblin, or a chipmunk bound to be someone’s lunch. You can still love, fight, feast, and simply be alive and young. Sure you want to be yourself. I can understand that boy, eh, girl, eh whatever. So, what does the tragedy of Khord Baradun have anything to do with you?”
“Well on my journey away from my homeland, I stumbled upon his frozen corpse high up in the mountains. Without knowing who he was, and needing a weapon, I took his axe.”, Typhon said. Then pulling the axe from his back, she set it down in front of the old dwarf. “I had attuned to this weapon, and was overcome with intense rage. Within the last week, I went on a vision quest in a makeshift sweat lodge, and had a conversation with the will of Khord. I did this to better understand the rage, and came to learn that he was betrayed by a family member just like I was.”
“Khord,” the old dwarf said. “well the story is long. Hundreds of years ago, in the time before my fathers, Khord was the youngest of three sons of Grunndul the Mountain. He stood five feet tall they say. Khord’s next elder brother was Bhalkor. The eldest was Bronn the Good. The Cudgel was a bannerman of the dwarven kings of old Azenkuul, a highborn dwarf of a cadet branch of the royal family. The main line of kings of course was rotten then, and the kingdom of the North under frequent assault, but they still knew talent when they saw it. The Cudgel had defeated an army of the old goblin realm of Jorishk. For his valor, he was granted the high pass of the Northeast, near Matignon, called the Granite Gate. Two towers, one of each side of the high pass. Bronn took one, Khord another, and the Cudgel and Bhalkor the town.”
“When the Eterian ambassadors came and demanded the trade of the Dwarven kingdom, the king refused and slew the Eterian herald and messengers. The Eterians declared war and now demanded the king’s knee. But, Eteria was far, far away; and Great Azenkuul was safely behind a mountain with a ring of fortresses, one held by the Cudgel.”
“The story is long and complex, but the short version is that a jealous Bhalkor was said to be seduced by dark sorceresses of the east, and called to betray the Granite Gate and make his own kingdom. When after his marriage, Khord was sent by his father (on Bhalkor’s advice) with most of the dwarven army to fight the Battle of Khalduur against an Eterian legion, in which many dwarves were slain, but the battle was won, Bhalkor summoned a great wyrm with a magical flute made from the bones of the wyrm’s own wing bone. With the wyrm he betrayed and destroyed his father’s tower and his brother’s tower, seizing the High Pass and granting passage to General Andronicus Silva and his sorcerer lieutenant Tuderic Draask of the Old Order. In the battle, the Cudgel confronted Bhalkor, cleaving his hand and sending the flute flying into the pass, or so one of the few survivors said. Bhalkor then slew his father.”
“When word reached Khord, he and his forces left the army and went up to the high pass. With the army divided, the Eterians destroyed the dwarven forces igniting the Eternal Siege. Khord survived and finally made his way to the pass. He found the survivors who told him the story. He also found the flute in the snow. All his family, his brother’s family, his sisters, and his people were either dead or missing. Where Bhalkor had gone with them, none knew. Khord’s rage was all-consuming. The surviving dwarven troops left to exile in the Western Reaches, while Khord disappeared into the mountains, playing the flute, listening to the sound, and seeking the wyrm whom he thought would know where Bhalkor and his family had gone.”
“Of course the story has romance, valor, betrayal, drama, but it seems you found the end of the story, and it is not happy. He ended up dead on a mountainside east of the High Pass. His family is gone. His people are scattered. So much for vengeance.”
“I wouldn’t say that is the end of the story,” Typhon replied. “I plan on finishing what Khord has started. I believe finishing that, will help me to deal with the one who betrayed me. I also have the dragon bone flute as well. And when I spoke with the will of Khord, he believed that the wyrm knows where his betrayer is located, and I plan to seek it out.”
“The flute will grant you audience with the wyrm and perhaps help find him. That is all. It will not control nor compel. If you choose to take up his task, do so with the knowledge of his mistakes. Return should you need more answers, but enough for today. Go forth and do good upon the world my son.”
Tiffanie stood up and bowed to the old dwarf, and said in dwarven,”Thank you for your time, and farewell for now.” She then turned away and went looking for Jocelyn.