Liulni's Letters

Copyright Suzanne Beaulieu 1999

Day 42 of Kordius, 4792 Y.D.

Dear Grandfather Ewthan,

I hope you are doing well. Mother read us parts of your last letter. I can see why she always wanted to go adventuring with you when she was young. It all sounded so exciting!

You'll never believe what happened to me! It was my very own little adventure. Melayni and I were...oops did I ever tell you about Melayni? I'm sure I must have, but just to remind you, I'll tell you again. Her parents and mine once adventured together, that was the year before Chiazrin was born. Anyhow, Melayni's grandparents watched us three girls and Melayni while our parents were off. That's when Melayni and I got to be such good friends. We hang out together all the time now. It has already been more than five years since we've been friends, forever!

Well, Melayni and I were out playing. We suddenly noticed that it was getting late, and we should have gone home a while before. We ran! Up and down the street, twisting and turning. We finally got to Melayni's place, all out of breath and laughing. She went in, and I went off on my own to go home. I was taking my time, getting my breath back. I was walking slowly, just a little ways from Melayni's when I saw Croram. He's a cute kid, only seven, but he's okay. Well he was running toward me, looking over his shoulder. I didn't see anyone chasing him, but figured some one must have been. I could see he was about to barrel into me, so I stepped aside and paused to watch him go by. He didn't even see me, until he turned to look where he was going, and then his eyes just got big. I could tell that I had scared the poor kid! He stumbled to a halt, almost falling. He greeted me, apologized for almost running me over, but kept looking over my shoulder.

"Come on kid, I'll walk you home." I said.

He sighed in relief and accepted my offer. I figure it must have been those bully kids that were chasing him. They're a group of four or five really mean kids, but they're all younger and smaller than me. Once they saw that I was with Croram, I figured they would just slink off. And they must have, because I never saw them. Croram lives between Melayni and I, but a bit closer to my place than Melayni's. I've known him for years, but of course him being just a little kid we've never talked. I didn't embarrass him by asking what he was running from, so instead I asked him about his family and we talked about that. We were getting close to his place when he said he left something of his by the swimming hole and would I mind if we went there first. I agreed, and off we went. It wasn't much further, and I was already late, a few minutes more wouldn't make any difference. By this time it was getting quite dark and I tripped over a root, falling flat on my face. I was ok but I'd dropped all my stuff. I told Croram to run to the swimming and get his stuff, while I picked my things up. He ran off. Just as I was picking up the last thing, I heard a yell and then a splash. I dropped everything again and ran to the water. Someone yelling something like "that'll teach you!", and could see a couple of small figures running off. Croram was in the water making lots of splashing noises.

This area was called the swimming hole because the water here was very deep, even right near the edge. There was a good climbing tree, with branches leaning over the water where we could jump from. The water was deep enough that we never had to worry about hitting our heads or anything on the way down. But that meant that Croram might be in real trouble if he didn't know how to swim. He wasn't yelling for help, but it looked like his arms were thrashing at the water instead of trying to swim. He was some distance from the shore, they must have thrown him in instead of just pushing him. I'm not a great swimmer, but I can take care of myself in the water. I wondered what to do, could I haul him out on my own? Or would it be better to run for help? If he really couldn't swim he only had a few minutes before he could drown, there was no time to run for help! Yelling for help I jumped into the water. I swam out to him okay, but he was thrashing so hard I was a bit afraid to touch him; then he started to go under. I grabbed his shirt and hauled him up a bit, even soaking wet he didn't weigh much. But then he twisted around and grabbed at me. I tried hanging on to him and swimming to shore, but he was pulling me under! I couldn't swim and drag him too. I tried to get him to calm down, telling him that I had him and he would be ok, but he didn't listen. I couldn't swim with him wriggling and grabbing at me, though I did try. In between breaths I kept screaming for help. I was managing to keep both our heads out of the water, as long as I didn't try to swim too. As soon as I tried we'd both start to go under and he would panic even more. Finally I just settled for keeping us both breathing and yelling for help.

Help arrived. The adults hauled us both out of the water, by then I was getting pretty tired from keeping us both breathing. They let us rest for a bit, then I told them what happened. Croram was okay, but still very scared, soaking wet and shivering. We all went home and I just collapsed into bed. The next day Croram and his parents came by to thank me for saving him. I was proud, but did act modestly. Croram wasn't certain which two of the bullies had thrown him in the water, but it seemed like all of them were in big trouble. I don't think the bullies meant to kill Croram, just scare him a bit. They probably didn't even stop to think that he might not be able to swim.

Well in the weeks since then, Croram has been hanging around me a lot. At first it was a bit bothersome, after all a little kid hanging around with Melayni and I. But then I thought about it and figure that it's not so bad. He's around the same age as Ellani, but not nearly so annoying. Melayni and I have decided to drown proof him, we are teaching him to swim. He's still a little scared of the water, but as he learns more he's getting less scared. Of course he pretends not to be scared, because he's trying to impress me. That gets him into the water though, so it's okay. He's pretty grim for a little kid, but that means that he's quiet so he's not annoying us. All in all I think he may turn out to be a good friend when he grows up a little.

Well that's about the only exciting thing that's happened to me. Nothing compared to your adventures I know, but its a start.

Your loving granddaughter,

Liulni

 


 

Day 5 of Tiol'Bru, 4792 Y.D.

Dear Papa,

All is well with me, other than missing you and Mom of course, and Melayni and Croram, and my little brothers...Ok and even my sisters! Master Janska is treating me well, as usual.

Megsuria is an interesting place. They don't have any real cities, or at least not big ones. Mostly they have common meeting places. The people are a bit different. During the day they seem very severe, humorless, but in the evenings...in the evenings they change. They tell stories, they laugh, and they dance. I guess its because during the day they work hard and don't have time for fun and games. The evenings are for resting and fun. Well, for everyone but the guards, but they switch around, so they get to have fun too. So far we have spent most of our time with the Silvercrest Clan. The Lord's son is Jeewana WildFire and we have spent a lot of time together. He's very interested in sculpting, and pretty good too, especially considering that he hasn't had any formal training.

He has a complete, and very well made, set of tools. He says they were a birthing gift from his great uncle, who died before he was old enough to learn about sculpting. Unfortunately he said his family has discouraged his talent, claiming that the arts are a waste of time and energy.

He saw some of Master Janska's carvings and was immediately fascinated. That's how we met, actually he nearly ran me over in his eagerness to see the sculptures close up. We talked a bit and when he found out I was an apprentice he started asking all sorts of questions about how I managed that feat. In the beginning his eagerness to learn loosened my tongue and I started to explain a few of the earliest techniques my Master had taught me. But as we talked longer I learned of his family's attitude about art and became uneasy. My Master has often encouraged and taught youngsters a few of the basics, even without apprenticing them, but always it was at the behest of the family. Now here I was encouraging a youth against his family's wishes. I did not want to hurt the boy's feelings (just like you taught me Papa...always be kind to others), and yet in good conscience I could not continue to encourage him. Not knowing what to do, I told the youngster that I had to run some errands for my Master, which in truth I did. I arranged to meet with him again later.

After completing my Master's errands I went to her and confessed what I had done. She looked at me sternly and inquired as to what I planned to do now. I told her that I really wanted to help Jeewana, but at the same time it was not fair to him or his family to go against their wishes. I asked for her advice. Instead she asked another question. For a moment I was annoyed. It felt to me that she was using this child's problem as just another lesson for me, that she did not care about the boy. But then I realized that she would never do such a thing. It was a problem that I had created, and I should try to solve it myself. If, after careful consideration, I really could not come up with some solution, she would then point me in the right direction. Besides, she had already given me a hint, through her question. She had asked why the family felt that the arts were useless. I did not know the answer to her question, but it did light a fire under me. I decided that I would talk to the family, find out what the problem was and, if possible, find a compromise. If that did not work I would talk to the youngster, comfort him as best as I could, but refuse to teach him anymore. I told Master Janska my plan and she agreed that it was a good idea, though it would be sad for the boy if I could not achieve a compromise. Master Janska arranged the meeting for me. It was set for two days hence.

I went to meet Jeewana as planned. I told him that I had a meeting set up with his family to talk about him. His initial reaction was fear, but that soon subsided as we conversed. I learned a bit more about his history. He let me know that he had been carving in secret for years. When he was four or five he had brought out the tools to play with and his parents had reacted badly, so ever after he hid his interest. Over the years he had found various places of privacy to practice. In this particular location he had found a hidden burrow. I asked if he could take me there the next day and he agreed.

Once we got to his secret place I was appalled. The place was dreary. The atmosphere alone could stifle creativity. His drive and talent both had to be exceptional in order to persevere is such an atmosphere. He showed me some of the pieces he had stashed here, explaining that he never took his sculptures with him, but left them hidden in his secret places. I examined his work and could see the improvement over the years. He'd brought along his tools, likely a hint for some tutoring, but I ignored the hint and instead checked his tools. I was dismayed at their condition. They had been fine tools originally, but through years of neglect, fumbling and the use of wrong kinds of stone, had deteriorated. On closer inspection, however I thought they could be restored. I longed to teach such a talent, but first I would have to convince his family. I selected three of his finer pieces and asked if I could take them for my meeting with his family. He was initially reluctant but finally acquiesced.

I spent the next morning trying to think of different tacks I could use to try to convince his parents to let him develop his art. Finally the time of the meeting arrived. I was nervous but I strove to appear calm and collected (I imitated Mother when she is introducing herself to a new guiding group). Well things turned out even better than I had hoped. Turns out that they were never against Jeewana learning something of the arts. They didn't want him considering it as a trade, but felt that the experience, as a hobby, would enrich his life. Their reaction, when he was little, had nothing to do with sculpting, but rather they were afraid he would hurt himself. You see, they were being overprotective because Jeewana's older brother had died in early childhood, he was playing with some tools, cut himself badly and bled to death before they could get him to a healer. So when they saw Jeewana playing with the different chisels, some sharp, some pointed, they overreacted.

There was work to be done, tending the pack animals, caring for the herds, but there was also some time to spend on other things, like carving. So yes, I was welcome to give Jeewana some sculpting pointers, as long as he didn't neglect his chores. As far as payment went, Jeewana and I would have to work out something. At this Jeewana's face fell and I realized that he would not have coin to spend on a tutor. Something else occurred to me. Jeewana's parents subtly reminded me that a trade should not simply be given away. I also realized that Jeewana would have a greater sense of accomplishment if he 'paid' for my services. I smiled at his parents, thanked them and suggested that Jeewana and I should meet later to talk about payment. He agreed to meet me after dinner.

Well, we did meet, though he looked terribly depressed. I had a perfect solution in mind, but thought it would be best if he figured it out himself. He immediately confessed that he had no coin, and would I please consent to teach him for free. I told him that I would like to, but my Master would be scandalized. The poor boy looked so sad, I wanted to give him the solution right away, but remembered Master Janska's lesson of the other day. Problem solving was part of the artist's life and he would need to learn that too. Then he suggested trading his carvings for lessons, since that was all he owned. I gently reminded him that since I would be teaching him, I had superior skill and could make my own carvings. I talked of owning my skill, and that finally sent him down the right path. After some discussion we agreed to trade skill for skill. I would teach him carving and he would teach me to use the talon.

It's exciting to teach him, he's so hungry for knowledge! He wanted to start carving right away, but I reminded him that first he had to learn about the tools. We went over every item in his kit starting with the chisels. First the point, used to rough out the stone, then the claw chisels, several of them, all different sizes for slightly different types of shaping and modeling. Finally the various flat chisels, the gouge, bull-nose and miter, for the finished surfaces and details. The mallet was simple, and I gave it a bare mention. Next we discussed the bush hammer and the frosting tools. I showed him how to care for his tools, how to use the sharpening stone, fairly similar to honing a knife or sword with which he was familiar, but just different enough to damage the chisel if done exactly the same way. I showed him how keep the tools clean, especially the bush hammer and frosting tools which had such bumpy surfaces. We also talked about the items that would need to be replaced regularly, the pumice stone, pumice powder, and the rough lizzard-skin sheets. All of that took several lessons, testing Jeewana's patience. Finally all the preparation was done, his tools were all repaired, almost as good as new and we were ready to work stone. Master Janska had given me a beautiful piece of rosa egeo marble, you know Papa, the same kind of marble that I used to carve the kitten. This one's lines were a bit more orange, less pink, but that same creamy look. Jeewana had never worked with quality stone and was astonished at how different it felt. I showed him the simpler techniques, how and when to use each tool. He was a bit clumsy at first, but is now growing quickly in both agility and confidence.

Interestingly enough I'm finding that my own skills are sharpening through teaching him. Some of the techniques I've been having trouble with are easier now. I'm also learning all about the talon. It's an interesting weapon, as far as any weapon is interesting. Jeewana's not only teaching me about the weapon itself, but also a bit about polearms in general. I'm not very good with it yet, but Jeewana claims that I will get better over time, especially as I grow more and get more strength in my arms. I'm quite sure that he will be a far superior sculptor than I will ever be skilled with the Talon. Oh well, Master Janska says that all learning is valuable, even if you never really use a skill, the learning in and of itself teaches you things other than the simple skill. And besides who knows, someday I just might profit from my time spent learning the talon.

I think of you every night Papa. I hope everything is going well at home. Please give Mother a kiss for me. Say hi to Tandi, Ellani, Chiazrin, and Shandu for me.

Love,

Liulni

 


 

Day 48 of Summersend, 4793 Y.D.

Dear Papa, Mother and everyone else,

I miss you all! I hope you are all doing well.

The most extraordinary thing has happened to me! It all started during the trip to Deslin. I was having the most vivid, most compelling dreams of my life! So I spoke to Master Janska about them. She suggested that the instant I woke, I should grab quill and parchment and write down as much as I could possibly remember of my dreams. I was to record not only the events within the dreams, but how my dream-self felt about things, about any subtle impression I might get, even seemingly inconsequential things. Then after a few days of this we would talk again.

So I did as she suggested. It was amazing how much more I remembered of the dreams when I wrote down my impressions immediately upon waking. I had a number of sheets full of writing when we spoke on it again. Between the two of us we determined that the dreams seemed to be giving me information about a young man, as well as encouraging me to seek him out. Master Janska thought there might be danger in following the dream, in searching out this person. But I didn't feel that at all. The dreams contained absolutely no sense of menace. I also got the distinct impression that it was a request, not an order. That the 'sender' ( by then we were sure the dreams were sent) meant me no ill will. I thought that the 'sender' would be disappointed if I did not follow the direction of the dreams, but there was no threat of something bad befalling me should I not seek out the person. Master Janska convinced me to use caution. I would not actively seek the dream person, but I would keep my eyes open. If I did see him, I could at that point decide whether or not to pursue it.

The dreams were so specific that I even got a sense of the young man's name. It was Layth, or Leythan. And Papa, it involves your key! I got a clear impression that your key is somehow connected to him. But the dream key was not silver, the color was duller, but it looked just like it. The one thing that I did not mention to Master Janska is that the dreams told me he is a werewolf! I don't mind telling you about it, because I know you agree that weres are as civilized as anyone else. Master Janska's one quirk is her prejudiced attitude toward weres, so I thought I would remain silent on that one point.

Strangely enough I found the young man without looking for him. One of the court nobles had asked Master Janska's advice on where to acquire certain brilliant colors she had used on one of her paintings. She explained to him, and he was all insistent on being taken to the exact shop. So we went on a shopping trip. That's where I saw him. He was working in a shop across from the one we went to.

The next day, in between errands for Master Janska, I went to the shop. It seemed to specialize in Elven instruments. I wandered around aimlessly for a little while, until there were no other customers in his shop. I went in. He put down the stuff he was working on, then gave me this speech in a totally bored tone of voice. I looked at him...a quick glance at his ratty old sandals, up his legs and torso, and then into his eyes. He looked exactly as he did in my dreams, and yet not. This reality standing in front of me seemed so much....less than his dream-self had been. I questioned my own recollection of my dream, wondering if this was in fact the person I was searching for. I decided to follow Master Janska's advice about caution, and didn't just blurt out that I'd dreamed of him. I racked my brains for something I could say that wouldn't be immediately obvious to him if he wasn't the person I had dreamed about. While thinking I glanced around the shop; seeing instruments put keys in mind, and then I had it! I said: "I'm looking for something in an unusual key."

I watched him closely, looking for some sign of recognition. He just looked at me as though I were crazy. Then he started talking about instruments. He hadn't gotten the point! Either I was being too obtuse, or he really wasn't the one I was seeking. I repeated myself, stressing UNUSUAL. He was still talking about instruments. Then I said it again, this time stressing KEY. Still he talked about instruments. Maybe he really wasn't the person from my dream...and yet he looked exactly like him. I'm afraid that at this point I did get a wee bit sarcastic. And STILL he talked of musical instruments! That was it; it couldn't possibly be him. He would have gotten it by now.

Now this poor clerk thought I was insane, all for nothing. Dejected, I sat down on a bench just outside the shop. Even though I had told Master Janska that I wouldn't search out the person from my dream, I increasingly felt that I should do just that. I wondered if maybe I should go back into the shop and ask the clerk if he had a twin brother. Yes! That must be it! The clerk had an intelligent twin! I had sat up in my initial excitement, then leaned back again, my legs extended forward. Nah....any twin of the clerk couldn't be all that smart. It was at that moment that I noticed motion out of the corner of my eye. Before I could react however, some guy smacked right into my shin and fell flat on his face. Even from the back of his head I could recognize the clerk.

I muttered some comment about falling and dreaming, one last attempt to finally determine whether or not this was the man of my dreams. This time, though, he responded. His comment suggested that he finally figured out what I was talking about and invited me back into the shop to speak of it privately. I smiled in relief and re-entered the shop with him.

As we spoke I decided that he really was like his dream-self, that first impressions can be very misleading. He's not certain where my dreams came from, but he has some suspicions. I also got a close look at the real key, and I swear it's identical to yours, Papa. I got a tracing of it so I will be able to compare them when I get home. We spend a lot of time together. I go see him whenever Master Janska can spare me for a bit of time. I find myself liking him, and not just because of the dreams. There's something very special about him. And don't go getting any wrong ideas Papa; you either, Mother. I can already tell that he and I are going to become true friends.

Your loving daughter,

Liulni

 


 

Day 10 of Kordius, 4794 Y.D.

Dear Leythan,

Hi! How are you doing?

Things are going well for me. We got back from Deslin yesterday. Master Janska gave me a couple of days off since she's taking time to visit some friends. She usually does that after we've been away for awhile. She's taken me visiting with her a few times so I've met a few of her close friends and they are all interesting people. But I prefer taking time to visit with my family. I miss them very much when I am away, yet that old curse of mine never fails...after a few days I am itching to be travelling again!

So I figured since I had some time off I would write to you to deal with some of those unanswered questions we had. I sure wish we had had more time together. Oh well, I'm sure our limited time will turn out to be for the best.

The first thing is your key. As soon as I got home I compared papa's key with the drawing of yours. They ARE identical! I'm enclosing a tracing I did of his key so you can see too. Of course, as I mentioned before, his key is made of silver. Other than that I see no difference.

I know that you wanted information on the key, but I don't have much. The best I can do is to give you papa's history. Papa was born in the Olde Forest (just like me and countless other elves). Only his birth was far from normal... First off his mother died. We are not sure if it was complications of birthing or if she had other problems, his father never spoke of it. One really weird thing that happened was all the glassware in the house shattered, I have no idea if this might be connected to the key. The night of his birth a stranger appeared. This stranger gave a key, no... The Key, as a gift to my infant father. At the time his family had no idea of the purpose of the key, but we later determined that the stranger probably meant to give the key to papa's mother and, finding her dead, passed the key to her son. The rest of Papa's childhood was fairly typical.

Papa often talks about events of childhood and his time in the Olde Forest, but he almost never talks about his family For a long time I thought it was guilt because his mother died birthing him, but one day my mother told me the real story. You see my parents met through Papa's older brother, Jahneer. Mother started out courting Uncle Jahneer and they were quite the couple. People even started to think that Mother might actually finally settle down (and that's a whole other story for another letter). Anyhow Papa's older brother proposed to Mother and she accepted him. At this point my parents hadn't met because Papa was away, he had wanted to explore the world, to meet different people and learn new things. Unlike other young elves he didn't have to earn his way hunting or guiding, but used a small sum of gold his mother had left him. He was gone for about two years. Mother and Jahneer had started courting just after Papa left. Papa arrived home just in time for the wedding... well, actually a couple of weeks before the wedding. When Mother and Papa were introduced it was love at first sight....no just kidding. The truth is that Mother fell for Papa, but he didn't like her. Well, here was Mother about to marry Jahneer and finding herself in love with his younger brother! She brooded about what to do for over a week and finally decided that she just couldn't marry Jahneer, even if Papa didn't want her. So almost on the eve of her wedding she abandoned him. And none too delicately either. You have to understand that I love my mother, but even so I have to admit that her way with men can be a bit harsh.

Over the next few months Mother tried to win Papa's heart, but he was immune to her charms, and besides, she had jilted his brother. Mother eventually gave up trying to win him over, but nevertheless a strange friendship seemed to be developing between them. During the next two, three years they both courted casually. Papa never seemed to be able to get serious about anyone. None of the women seemed right for him, as though they didn't measure up to some unknown ideal in his mind. It took him a good long time, but in the end he finally figured out that none of the women of his acquaintance could measure up to Mother! She played hard to get for a time but eventually married him. Even though years had gone by there were still hard feelings about Mother jilting Uncle Jahneer, and so Papa drifted away from his father and brother. And that's why he doesn't talk about them.

I know I seem to have been rambling pointlessly, but I do have a reason. You see I wanted you to get a picture of my papa, a relatively normal person. Because this part of the key riddle is going to sound a bit strange I'm sure. Papa is haunted...by a ghost. It's his mother. No one else can see her or even feel her presence, but Papa has no reason to make up something like this. Yes, he has a cool relationship with his family, but that only developed later, after he married Mother, and his ghost has been around for all of his life that he can remember. It's really quite likely that the ghost is real and not a figment of his imagination. The ghost doesn't talk, if she did things would be ever so much simpler. She does sometimes get agitated though, and Papa has figured out that he needs to do something in order for his mother to rest peacefully. All he knows is that it involves his key (and now your key too), and some kind of injustice. Whether this injustice was done to his mother, her family, or someone else entirely, he has no idea. He has tried to research things, like the key, his mother, her family and so on, but has found nothing yet. Not that he has had much time for research what with taking care of all of us kids.

So that's it...everything I know about the key. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the key and what it may mean.

Yours truly,

Liulni Crea'Vita

 


 

Day 14 of Coloripe, 4794 Y.D.

Dear Leythan,

I'm in trouble. I don't know who else to turn to. They're going to chop my head off!! I didn't even do anything! I'm as much a victim as the dead people, but they are blaming me anyway! I don't even know why this has happened to me...that I was set-up is now obvious, but I have no idea of who did it, or why. And to top it all off, the city guards picked me up in plain sight of the ruling court. They all saw me getting arrested. Even if I somehow manage to get out of this, I will not be able to show my face in public.

I guess I should start at the beginning, after all, how can you help if I don't tell you everything. It all started with the beggar child. I was just returning to the inn after caring for our lizzard mounts (we're in Solo). No one else was around. Even the stable boy was off running some sort of errand. When I saw the poor girl, I automatically reached for a coin to give her, but she wasn't interested (which should have set off internal warning bells). Instead she shoved a piece of paper into my hand. As she started to scamper off, I grabbed for her arm to stop her so I could ask her questions. Unfortunately she was too fast for me and all I managed was to lightly brush her arm. I considered running after her, but she was already so far ahead of me that I knew I would never catch her.

I looked over the dirty, crumpled piece of paper. Other than the words, there were no marks, no runes, no symbols of any kind. I read the note. As near as I can recall, and you know my memory is good, it read, in Elven:

"Dont sho this to enyone. We hev infomation about a asasnation atemp on yor brother, the air of the Olde Forest. Met us at the Seedy Nits Inn between the ours of 21 and 22. Sit an order a ail, we will contac u Cum alone or u wont get the infomation. We will be waching for u and no if u brung enyone."

Obviously the writer could speak Elven, but didn't write it very well. I figured that meant it was someone who dealt regularly with elves, but had no need to write in Elven.

My first thought was to show it to Master Janska. But I decided not to in case the note was genuine. I mean, what if they were watching me right at that moment? On the other hand, maybe it was some kind of trap. But why a trap? There was no good reason for anyone to want to kidnap or murder me.

Maybe they were thinking to try to use me as leverage against my brother. But that made little sense since he won't have any power for years, if at all. If that's the reasoning, then perhaps there is a plan to assassinate the current ruler, and have me to use once my brother assumes power. This did not seem a likely scenario, at the time...and still doesn't. Another remote possibility was one of Mom's enemies. But again that didn't make much sense because her enemies have never shown any interest in hurting any of us, even if that might hurt Mom. An even less likely possibility was one of Master Janska's enemies, but again they could not possibly hope to hurt her through a mere apprentice.

I have no enemies personally, at least not that I know of. There was that old lady I upset when I was six...but she cursed me then, and I see no reason for her to have anything to do with this. Besides she's likely dead by now, and I don't think she even knew who I was. It really made no sense as a trap. So it seemed to me that the note must be genuine. That's why I went. I'm sure you never would have got caught in such a transparent trap.

I told Master Janska that I was exhausted from the travelling, so I was going to bed early. I fluffed up some sheets and pillows in my mattress to make it look like I was there, then snuck out. Once I got to the Seedy Nights Inn, I sat down at an empty table and ordered an ale, as instructed. I kept second guessing myself, one minute determined to tough it out, and the next deciding I should go back to our inn and get help. I slowly drank my ale, deciding to leave as soon as I finished it. Just before taking the last sip, the beggar girl showed up again. In our inn she would have looked out of place, but in this establishment, she fit right in. She beckoned me to follow, and I did. We went down into the cellars, and through a hidden door, entered a tunnel system. It was illuminated, barely, by flickering torches. The torches were far apart, or set in corners to partially light both sections of a turn. I had no idea how long we walked in those dismal tunnels, or even any idea where we were, since we took so many twists and turns.

I was on the verge of turning around and running back the way we had come, when my guide suddenly disappeared around a dark corner. I immediately turned to run back, but I was too late, again, for there was only darkness behind me, all the torches had been extinguished, except for one lonely light near me. Even though it suddenly seemed even more sinister, I was still harboring some hope that it wasn't a trap, but rather that the informants were simply paranoid. I hesitated a moment, should I stay where I was, try to find my way back in the pitch black, or go forward after the guide? I decided to go forward.

The next thing I'm aware of is a pounding, breaking sound. I opened my eyes, and my first thought was that I was in a charnel house. But then I noticed that the bodies around me were tied and gagged, their eyes open wide in agony. Even with only a quick glance it was obvious that these people had been tortured to death. I glanced down at myself, discovering a blood soaked shirt, blood all over my hands, and yet I was not in any pain. That's when I realized that the blood must come from the bodies around me. And worse, I discovered a bloody knife, almost long enough to be a short sword, laying next to me...as though I had been holding it. As I was noticing these details the pounding noise was getting louder, and now I could hear screams and shouts I clamped down on my instinct to yell for help, realizing that it would look like I had killed these people. I could feel nothing wrong with me...no bump on my head, no cuts or scrapes, or anything else that might show I was a victim too. I was even thinking well, and fast, no signs of having been drugged. I had to get out of there! The pounding had to be coming from an angry mob or the city guard, either way I did not want to be found as I was. So I ran.

I managed to get to street level, but it was now daylight, and any passing stranger would see the blood on me. I pulled my cloak tight around me. It too was blood stained, but it did not show on the black, at least at a distance. I ran down an alley. A dead end. I had to turn back I was so close to getting away, if only I had made a better choice of alleys. Someone saw me sneaking back out the alley and raised the alarm. I ran. Down one alley, up another, around a street, through a building. But they were keeping up with me, even gaining on me.

They caught me. It was only after the capture that I discovered I'd manage to run to a better area of town...and there was everyone watching the spectacle...watching me. It was so humiliating...I felt guilty even though I knew I had done nothing wrong; stupid perhaps, but not wrong.

Anyhow they took me back to the jail. They were accusing me of being a follower of Vardex! I was shocked...and scared. I told them everything. All about the note, the tunnels, the girl. Everything I could remember. I could tell they thought I was lying. They had found no note on me. And they even went to the bother of looking for the hidden door at the inn, but said it was not there, that I was making everything up.

I don't know what I can do to convince them. I don't even know why I'm bothering to write you, since I'm afraid it might be too late for you to help by the time you get it. But still there is a spark of hope in me. That maybe you can help, or maybe ask one of your friends to help. If I don't make it, I want you to find out what happened. Who targeted me and why. That's what really drives me crazy now, the fear that I will never know who did this to me, or why. Who have I hurt so badly, so unknowingly, that they would do this to me?

You are my only hope,

Liulni

 


 

Day 39 of Coloripe, 4794 Y.D.

Dear Papa,

I hope all of you are doing well.

I've been in a bit of trouble, but everything is fine now. I was tricked into going to a temple of Vardex, and once there they knocked me out with something. I woke just as the city guard was arriving. They assumed that I was a member of the cult and arrested me. I was in jail for a while. I told them how I was tricked, but they didn't believe me. They could find no proof of any of the things I had claimed.

Finally, at the last minute (the sentence for being a member of the Cult of Vardex is death - but I'm fine, don't worry), they found the note that had been used to trick me to the temple! I was so relieved. The note had told me to go to a certain Inn, so the city guard went to the Inn and arrested the owner. He confessed everything! He himself being a member of the Cult of Vardex, he knew that I had been set up. I was let go.

The only thing now, is that I still don't know why it was done. The innkeeper did not know why they came after me, only that they did. He had his own part to play in the setup, which is why he knew of it, but never questioned his orders. Never bothered to ask why they wanted me arrested. They never got any further than the Innkeeper. He would not tell them who else was involved, and they could not get it out of him.

Now I don't want you to worry about me. I'm fine. Master Janska says we are leaving right away. I will be home soon and we can talk about it all then. I didn't want to write to you at first, for fear of worrying you, but Master Janska thought you might end up hearing rumors and worry even worse. I'm really sorry I got in trouble, but I wanted you to know that I'm fine, that I did nothing wrong.

Love,

Liulni

 


 

Day 40 of Coloripe, 4794 Y.D.

Dear Leythan,

I don't know how you did it but thank-you for saving my life! I had almost given up hope when somehow the city guardsmen were inspired to further interrogate the innkeeper and fully search the premises of that cursed inn. Apparently they had found the note that I had been given, and some other undisclosed evidence that incriminated the innkeeper. It's astonishing how polite and apologetic they were after finding this evidence...but I still wouldn't want to show my face in Solo after that whole nightmarish experience. I only hope that one day I'll be able to repay you for what you did for me...

Anyway, I do hope that I'm not causing you too much trouble with Birq. He does seem to mean you well, you know. And now perhaps, with you getting the mail first, he will no longer have the opportunity to read my correspondence, as you have suspected of him.

I have promised to tell you about Mother. I guess I've been putting that off. I adore her, but there have been some things I have not been eager to write about. You see, when she was younger, she was just a bit wild. Well, maybe a lot wild....and even now is certainly not your typical 'respectable matron'. Mostly, I think, this is because of her most special talent.

She is capable of sensing the evil in others when they are at a short distance from her. I think this ability has given her a sense of security that has allowed her to fully be herself. You see, the rest of us must behave in certain 'respectable' ways in order to not attract the wrong sort of people to ourselves. Because she can sense 'evilness' she can behave in any way she likes, and she is still able to surround herself with good people.

Mother was born in the Olde Forest. She doesn't talk much about her mother, but, from what little she has said, I suspect the woman did not really want a child. Mother mostly speaks of her father, Ewthan, who was an adventurer. When Mother was really young she lived with her grandparents, Ewthan's parents. Mother would only see her father for short times between his adventures. She always wanted to go with him, but he knew it would be too dangerous for her. She used to think it was because he thought she would be useless. So she trained. She exercised to build up her muscles and increase her agility. She asked the adults around her to help her learn weapons skills. They thought it was 'cute' and gave her small versions of a long bow, and long sword. They showed her the basics of both weapons, and in secret she trained hard. She became far more proficient with them than anyone realized. She also managed to convince an old, retired, ranger to teach her the basic woodland skills. When she was 9 she proudly showed Ewthan her hard earned skills. He was highly impressed with his daughter, and told her so, but still refused to take her with him. She was crushed. Ewthan tried to explain that he loved her, would like to take her with him, but feared for her life if he did. Mother could only understand that he did not want her along, she still thought it was because he did not believe that she could be helpful. She pretended to understand, when in secret she planned. She hid away travel food, her weapons, and travel gear. The next time Ewthan left, she tearfully waved good-bye. She let her grandparents know that she was upset and depressed. She gave them the impression that she would hide in her room the rest of the day, and probably the next day too (she done this before when her father left). Instead she snuck away, gathered her stashed belongings and went after her father. Using her skills she tracked Ewthan. At first it was easy, because he was in safe territory and did not try to obscure his trail. After a couple of days, his trail merged with two others. After that Mother found it harder to track them. They were being careful and obscuring their trail. She had to get closer or fear losing him.

Meanwhile, back home, her grandparents finally discovered that she was missing. They knew that Mother always became despondent when Ewthan left, so they had given her privacy, knowing that in a day or two she would be back to her old self. But finally after two days, they became very concerned and decided to try to talk her. They found her gone. They searched for her, and eventually, came to the conclusion that she must have followed her father. They sent a ranger out to try to track her, without much hope, knowing that she must have left right after her father. After a week or so, the ranger returned, without the child. He had lost the track. So her grandparents worried, but were helpless to do anything else.

Mother continued to track the adventurers. She was very close to them, and was able to follow subtle tracks that would disappear in a short time. She herself left hardly any sign of her passage. The old ranger had taught her very well indeed, and her small size helped her to slip through areas no one would notice. For several days she followed the three adventurers with little incident. In time they were joined by a forth. It was shortly after this that she ran out of food. She had taken all that she could carry, hoping it would be enough. She has also figured to supplement her diet by gathering berries, and digging up roots. But Ewthan traveled too fast. It was all she could do to keep up. Though the adventurers stopped just before dark to camp every night, she still could not gather then, for she barely had time to climb a tree and set up her camp. After dark, she dared not move, for she could not use a torch for fear of being noticed. On her last day with food she examined her alternatives. She was lost. She had concentrated so hard on following the trail, that she had not paid attention to where she was going. She would not be able to find home, or even a nearby village where she might have purchased more travel rations. That night, before making camp, she tried to forage, but was not very successful. She slept that night, dreaming about starving to death. The next morning she ate the meager berries she had found the night before. She would not go to her father, first she had to prove that she was useful, and going to him to beg food would certainly prove that she was useless. But her father's band was the only reasonable source of food. She tried to keep a close eye on possible food sources, while following the trail, but she saw nothing. It was getting close to the time that the adventurers would make camp, and still she had found no food. She was hungry. Following the group was hard work. She decided to wait until full dark, then to quietly make her way to the camp. She really wouldn't be 'stealing'; after all, it was her father. She waited...her belly rumbling with hunger.

A few hours later she started out. She crawled, she slithered. She did everything she could to minimize the noise she made. But it was very hard in the almost total darkness. Her infrared vision helped a lot, but dead, dry twigs were no warmer than the surrounding terrain and so were invisible to her. Only the smallest moon was up, and it did not shed much light. So she crawled...feeling her way softly with her fingers. She smelled the campfire long before she could glimpse the burning coals. She moved even slower. Suddenly, it happened. She stopped cold. She could feel something, something dark, something foul. A miasma of darkness covered her momentarily. She was terrified. She had never experienced anything remotely like this. She was frozen in terror. Then the feeling abated slightly. Once again she could move. What should she do? Her father was so near, but still she did not want to run crying to him. But she could not stay where she was. She had to retreat or go forward. Mother has never been the type to retreat...so she went forward. Besides the feeling could mean her father was in trouble.

She could still sense the darkness, but the strength of the feeling changed. Sometimes it came on strong, sometimes it was weaker. She made her way silently to the camp. She could see figures wrapped in bedrolls. The fire had burned down to coals, casting a reddish glow over the scene. She could see the packs off to one side, and crawled in that direction. She looked over the packs, recognized her father's and reached for it. Suddenly the sense of corruption flared again. It seemed to be emanating from right behind her! She whirled around just as a glowing light appeared over her head. She stumbled backward from the sight. It was a man holding a wicked looking dagger. But it was not the weapon that she feared, it was the man. She could see things crawling just under his skin...long writhing shapes twisting and turning! She screamed as she stumbled over the packs. The rest of the party woke then. She crawled, stumbled over to her father's bedroll. The man with the dagger followed her, readying an attack.

"Father!" She screamed.

Ewthan took one look at the grimy, crying ragamuffin and recognized his daughter.

"Stand down Fleg, she's my daughter."

"You sure? Not some kind of glamour?" The terrifying man did stop, but did not drop his guard.

"I'm sure Fleg. Relax."

Ewthan looked at his daughter. She was obviously terrified.

"You're safe child. I'm here."

Though Mother could still sense a foulness emanating from the man her father called Fleg, she did quiet. She knew her father would protect her from him. He asked what she was doing and she confessed all. As soon as she mentioned she had run out of food, Ewthan fed her. Listening to her story, the party members kept giving each other looks that Mother could not define. Ewthan told her to go to sleep. The party members talked after they thought she fell asleep. They spoke quietly, but Mother could hear the occasional fragment.

"....can't take the time to take her home...."

"...but she can't stay...."

"..distraction..."

"...detour..."

Finally, exhausted, she slept. But her sleep was uneasy. Her dreams were full of grim foreboding. The next morning, almost more exhausted than when she went to sleep, Mother woke with a grim determination. She would stick with her father no matter what. If he tried to drop her off in some village, she would sneak away again and follow him. In the mean time, she could spend at least a bit of time with Ewthan. The party broke their fast as they packed up camp. Mother stuck by Ewthan and helped out at every opportunity...as if silently saying "See Father, I am useful." Once packed up they headed out.

"Father, where are we going?" Mother asked quietly.

"We're heading to our next camp. We will get there a little earlier than usual, about 3 hours before dark. That's where we will do our planning. That's also when I'll have to decide what to do about you. Sveenu, I know you are very skilled with your weapons, and obviously your skills in tracking and stealth are exceptional. Though I am sure that you would survive our adventure, I would still be afraid for you. And that fear would decrease my own abilities, I would be concentrating on the wrong things. My distraction could endanger you as well as the rest of us. Sveenu, you have to understand that I trust you, I do believe you are very skilled, what I don't trust is myself. My feelings for you could hurt us all."

"But Father, I'm sure that I could help you!"

"Sveenu, that's not the issue."

"But.."

"Sveenu, its dangerous around here, we have to be quiet."

Mother was quiet, but thinking hard. Trying to figure some way to make herself so useful to Ewthan that he would have to let her stay. Later she still hadn't thought of anything, but they were taking a short break and she could speak with her father again. She decided to talk to him anyway, hoping something he said would trigger a useful idea.

"Why are you traveling with that man?"

"Which man?"

"The crawly one...you called him Fleg."

"Fleg? Crawly? What do you mean?"

"Those things under his skin, I don't know what they are but the way they twitch makes me feel a bit ill. And they way he smells! Father, he scares me."

"Sveenu, I don't see anything crawling under his skin, and he doesn't smell any different than the rest of us."

"But they're crawling all over him! His face, his hands are full of them!"

Ewthan sat back and thought about it for a few minutes.

"Sveenu, tell me exactly all that you have felt about him."

So Mother told him everything, even her feelings when she was coming up to the camp. She wasn't sure that those things came from Fleg, but she thought she'd mention it anyway.

"Sveenu, please don't mention any of this to anyone else."

Mystified, Mother agreed. She noticed Ewthan quietly talking to everyone but Fleg. Nothing much happened the rest of the day. The reached their camp site, set up and started talking. Fleg suggested that perhaps it was best that Sveenu not be allowed to listen in, but Ewthan disagreed, insisting that Sveenu could be trusted to not repeat anything heard here. Unknown to Mother at this time, Ewthan was determined to keep Sveenu close by, to protect her. So they talked. An evil cult called Vardex had set up shop nearby, their goal was to destroy it. Eventually they seemed to have everything figured out. Fleg volunteered to be an advance scout. Check the site, make sure everything was the same as their informant had told them. He also, seemingly casually, asked about the identity of the informant, so that if the opportunity arose he could get any last minute information.

"Oh no need for that, our informant has already fled. She would have made some excuse to leave yesterday, so as not to be caught in the crossfire when we showed up. She was positive she could leave without arousing suspicion."

Fleg seemed satisfied with that, and left. Ewthan and the others continued to refine their plan. A few minutes later, one of the others quietly stole away, while Ewthan continued to talk. She came back and informed Ewthan that Fleg was indeed on his way, and not doubling back. Their conversation confused Mother, but she sat quietly. Ewthan took her to tree, helped her climb up then rearranged branches to hide her. He told to her to stay quiet at all costs, and not to move until he came back. He made her swear an oath that she would not try to follow him, would not do anything until he returned.

Mother was frightened, but obeyed him. She wanted desperately to do something to convince Ewthan that she could help, but she had sworn an oath. Besides, she was not sure what was happening, and her lack of knowledge might make things worse instead of helping. A few hours later Ewthan returned to get her. He also decided to explain what happened. He suspected that her 'feelings' about Fleg may have been the ability to see evil. He recognized some of what she had talked about because one of his first adventuring partners had that ability. It had been over a century and a half since then and he had almost forgotten, but listening to her talk had brought it all back to mind. So they had circled around Fleg, caught him totally unawares, and questioned him. One of the party members was a mentalist, and was able to search Fleg's mind for the truth. It seems that the cult had found out there was a traitor in their midst. They did not know who it was, but they figured out enough to have Fleg infiltrate the group. Fleg's mission was to discover the identity of the traitor, and then to neutralize the party. As Ewthan explained, Mother began to realize that she had saved her father and his friends! She leapt up in joy and hugged her father.

"I not useless!" She cried.

Ewthan smiled, he had known that!

The party's whole plan had changed. Now that they were aware of the cult knowing of the attack, they had to retreat. They were a small party set to infiltrate a large organization, their only advantage, only hope of prevailing had been surprise. Now that the cult was aware of the them, the situation called for a larger force. They returned to their employer with the prisoner. Their part of the contract was finished, it was up to the employer to decide what to do next.

Ewthan took Mother home. This time he stayed home for over two years before taking on another task that would send him away. He spent time with Mother, teaching her a few new skills, and helping her refine the old ones. They talked about her new found ability to sense Evil. He would arrange for a bit of magical training for her. If she had an aptitude for it, he would encourage her to become some kind of mage, if not there were all sorts of options open to her.

Mother liked learning about magic well enough, but her tutors despaired of ever teaching her the necessary patience and tranquility needed to become a true mage. After learning a few basic spells, and refining her ability to sense evil, Ewthan decided that the life of a mage would not suit his daughter. He taught her some of his own skills, as well as arranging for her to have training in areas he lacked. She was a swift learner, but once she showed some minimal proficiency in any one area she would want to move on to another. Ewthan let her have her way, so though she was not great at any one thing, other than weapons training (this never bored her), she was capable in a great many different areas. When she was 11 he returned to his adventuring way of life. Mother was so much into learning, that she would barely realize he was gone. Later, when she was in her mid-teens, Ewthan did take her on a few of his adventures, and she was indeed very useful to have along.

Wow Leythan, I've written so much about Mother that you must be bored to death about her life already. My hand is sore and cramped right now. I will send off this letter, and if you really want to know more about her, I'll continue in my next letter.

By the way, I'm sure the extra exercise (running to get letters) will do you good. Just like my mother exercising, you will also gain in strength and agility. Think of it as a good thing, and it will be easier for you!

Sincerely,

Liulni

 


 

Day 7 of Summersend, 4795 Y.D.

Dear Leythan,

I'm glad to hear that the....how did you put it?...oh yes...excruciating run is turning out to be a bit better than you expected.

So you really want to hear more about Mother's life. Well then, here it goes. Mother was just a bit wild in her youth. When her father, Ewthan, was home she didn't get into much trouble because she spent all her time with him. When they adventured together she was too busy perfecting her skills and making herself useful to get into any trouble. But between those times... well, I don't think Grandfather had any idea what she got up to.

She always wanted to find the perfect man, settle down with him, and have his children. Unfortunately the perfect man didn't seem to be around. However, she had to try out the local men in order to figure that out. She would start seeing a guy, then within a few months, sometimes weeks, would discover a fatal flaw. Of course, during the courting she would still have her eye out for other interesting possibilities. That meant that as soon as she found the flaw, she would be off to her next choice. Actually, at first I think she was much gentler with the men. She would take the time to break up properly, sparing their egos. She would also wait a short while before starting up with the next one. All in all, despite her many lovers, she only truly jilted five of them. Of course Papa's brother had to be one of the jilted ones.

Most of the people who don't like Mother are women who wanted this man or that, but Mother got to them first. Except that one time. I think his name was Vardim, or Dimvar or something like that. Dimvar was betrothed to Camli when Mother met him. He fell madly in love with Mother. I think it had something to do with the fact that Mother likes wearing paz'vlu and paz'sere (are you familiar with this type of spiked, razor-edged elven armor? ). He pursued Mother, but she kept him at a distance because she wasn't interested in him. He broke it off with Camli, but still Mother wasn't interested. I think that's what drove Camli around the bend. Her man had dumped her for Mother, and she didn't even want him. Ever since then Camli has been Mother's sworn enemy. It wasn't even Mother's fault, she did not encourage Dimvar in anyway, or even hint that she might be interested if he broke up with Camli. She wanted nothing to do with him, but I guess Camli didn't see it that way.

Mother says that the reason she got into adventuring was because she so treasured the times she went with Ewthan. Personally I think it was because it gave her the opportunity to travel and meet new men. You see, she didn't go off and start adventuring until she ran out of local men. She did continue to go on expeditions with Ewthan from time to time, before she married Papa, but mostly she went with friends, or others who had the same goals as she. I could go on forever about some of the stories she has told of her 'adventuring' days (she claims that the guiding she does now in no way resembles the quests she used to go on), but I think some of it may be exaggerated. I mean she says she once had possession of a magic sword! Unbelievable! I figure she simply traveled with an expert on runes Since I've taught you the basics of rune casting, you should know that some of those spells are pretty amazing! You don't need to invent magic swords to explain them. Needless to say she had many an adventure...and if it needs to be added, a few more affairs of the heart.

I think it was during this period that she got in the habit of jilting her men. By this point she just got so tired of letting them down easy, of protecting their egos, that she just didn't care anymore. The only ones she took pains with were the ones she adventured with. She couldn't risk hurt feelings when the next day they might end up in a battle where everyone had to count on each other.

I think that by the time she met Papa's brother, she had pretty much given up on finding the "perfect" man. Uncle Jahneer was a decent sort. Yeah, maybe he was a tad boring, but he would make a good father, and Mother had decided that it was time to have children. After all, the adventuring life was not a safe life, she could be injured or even killed. If she wanted children, she should do so now. Once they were grown she could go back to her favored way of life. She was all ready to settle for Uncle when Papa showed up. She knew instantly that he was the man she wanted to be the father of her children.

I've already told you the story from Papa's point of view. Just let me add one little detail. You see, during the entire time, Mother was certain that Papa would eventually return her love. When she seemed to give up, she did not, she was simply moving on to another tactic, and giving Papa time to 'forget' that she had jilted his brother.

I was born a few years after they were married. They were still living in the Olde Forest then. They moved to Jarved before my next sibling was born. Mother wanted to do more than just raise us kids, she could see that Papa had a better knack with us. She decided to take up guiding because it would allow her the opportunity to keep her skills in shape for when we grew up and she would return to adventuring. Besides, she could charge exorbitant rates because the humans figured that an elf had to be a better guide than a human could be. By charging high fees she could be home with us a lot of the time, while still making enough coinage to indulge her taste for expensive and well-tailored clothing. That's another thing I forgot to mention about Mother. She loves clothes, but they have to be perfect. I think Mother is something of a perfectionist. She spent so many years in search of the perfect man, and she will only wear clothes that are perfect. But she does look impressive, I must admit. I love walking with her and watching the way people always notice her. She also gets her clothes specially tailored to look good even under her armour!

Even Mother was surprised when she got pregnant with my brother. She already had us three girls then, me, Tandi, and Ellani. Having three children was unusual for elves, but not unheard of. Then she got pregnant with the fourth! There was talk then. Mother had gone back to the Olde Forest for a visit, alone. They had talked about taking all of us, but decided against it. Mother had to travel fast, she was going home because Ewthan had been seriously injured and they were sure he was going to die. By the time she arrived, he was actually recovering. She took the opportunity to visit, and stayed with him for a couple of months. My brother Chiazrin was born seven months after she returned home. I was eight at the time, and I remember how sick she was. This pregnancy was very hard on her, and the baby was born a little early. But people talked...they counted backwards (on their fingers no doubt) and figured she had to have become pregnant while she was away. Mother's method of dealing with gossip was to ignore it, neither to confirm nor deny. Her lack of denial gave others the proof that their gossip was true. Of course, had she denied the accusations, they would have added a charge of deception and gone right on believing whatever they wanted. Papa is Chiazrin's father, of that I have no doubt.

And that brings us to Chiazrin's mistaken identity. Raiul Consi'Xahah, an Elven aristocrat, thought (or may have thought) that Chiazrin is his child. Mother herself is not sure what to make of it. She knows that Raiul had a wide-ranging reputation for lecherous behavior. One possibility is that he truly believed he was the father of her child, after having had so many lovers he could no longer tell the difference between ones he wanted, and ones he actually had. The other possibility is that he did know he was not my brothers father, but picked Mother because of her reputation and to spite the mothers of his own children. We will never know, since he was assassinated a few years ago, three years after he named Chiazrin as his heir. Mother and Papa worry that since the assassin was never caught Chazzi may become a target. It is troublesome. Fortunately, he is still too young to rule, so his status as heir apparent may resolve itself while he remains safe. Mother has insisted, in public, that Chazzi is not the Forest Lord's child, but to no avail.

Of course once it was known that she was pregnant for the fifth time with my youngest brother Shandu, the rumors escalated. Mother had done nothing wrong, and yet it seemed those people had nothing better to talk about. So what if Mother and Papa have a big family? We enjoy it! Yes, my siblings can be annoying at times, but I cannot imagine life without any of them.

Of course, it hasn't been easy. It's not cheap to raise five of us. Not to mention that because of the damn rumors Mother just doesn't guide as much as she used to. When the rumors first started up a number of men hired her to 'guide', but it wasn't guiding that they had in mind. She had to fight a few off, but she didn't kill any. In the past she had relied on her talent to sense evil to make sure she didn't take on any really dangerous clients. But these particular clients weren't evil... sick and deluded perhaps, but not evil in the true sense. So now she has become very particular about who she will take. First, she makes sure that there are always other women in the group. In addition to that she interviews prospective clients, subtly measuring their attitude to gossip and such things. She has also lost potential clients because she had to fight off a couple of rapists...in doing so she injured them. A guide who has injured her clients loses prestige, no matter the circumstances. So not only does she guide less, but she can't charge as much as she used to. I most feel sorry for Shandu, because of all of us, his childhood is most affected. Mother and Papa have, at times, had more funds and less funds. They will get along fine. The rest of us, other than little Shani, were all older when the family started having money problems, so it affects us less.

That's basically Mother. I love her dearly, and she loves us. But at the same time I know she is looking forward to the day when we are all grown and she can go back to her love of adventure. She will have a whole new batch of stories to tell my children!

Yours truly,

Liulni

 


 

Day 33 of Rebirth, 4796 Y.D.

Dear Leythan,

Now I've gone and done it! This time I doubt that even you can help.

About a month ago we were exploring one of the nearer ruins. Melayni, Croram and I were just having fun. Everybody figured that all the close ruins have been cleaned out. No treasure, but then no traps either. They were wrong.

We were fooling around, playing at sword fighting, when Melayni backed me into a corner. I had my arm up, blocking her swing. Well, her swing pushed my arm back into the wall. Somehow the point of the dagger I was holding got shoved into an indentation. The wall behind us opened up. You can believe we were excited! We thought we had found a treasure trove, items of great value that had remained hidden despite countless adventurers searching (not to mention local children and teens). We stepped into a tiny room, barely big enough for the three of us. At first we saw nothing, crushing disappointment! Then Croram noticed a small alcove, low to the floor. We brought our torches closer, and there it was, gleaming gold! It was a small statuette. None of us recognized it. Croram started to reach for it, but Melayni stopped him.

"Wait! Let Liulni take it, it's her find!" She said.

"But Melayni, you pushed my arm, and Croram spotted the alcove. I'd say its all of our find!" I replied.

"Sure Liulni, we'll all share the glory! But you get to take it out!"

I grinned and agreed. I reached for the statuette and felt a shiver pass over my body at the instant I touched it. I just assumed it was the thrill of discovery. We all looked at it, but I was the only one who actually touched it. I slipped it into my backpack and we headed back to town. We talked excitedly about how all the other kids would envy us. We thought we might even be able to sell it for Silver! We chatted about what we were going to buy with our share of the coin. None of us had any idea of what would happen next.

We went to my home first, to ask Papa what we should do. It was always Papa who handled the merchants when Melayni's parents and mine used to adventure together. But before we could enter, Mother came bursting out the door. She looked at us, first at Croram, then Melayni, finally at me.

"What did you find!"

"I...I'll show you," I was astonished. How could she know?

I pulled my backpack off, opened it up, and started to reach inside.

"Stop! Don't touch it!" Mother yelled.

Now I was getting worried. I stopped, "But Mother, I already did!"

Mother looked anguished. "Empty it out. Just up end it, and let everything fall out."

I did as ordered. There it was, our treasure. Mother looked at the statuette, then at me.

"It pulsates with evil!" Mother stood there, indecisive for a moment. "Don't touch it, don't let anyone else touch it. I will be right back."

The three of us stood there looking at our little treasure. We were scared. What had I done? What would happen to us? To me? Before anything else could happen, Papa came out, with Mother.

"Don't look so scared. We are going to find out what happened."

Papa sat on the ground and examined the statuette without ever touching it. Finally he sat back and looked up at us.

"I think it's a representation of Chakra," he explained.

"Has it been defiled?" I had recognized the name, thinking it was the god of cleverness.

"No Liulni. Chakra has two faces, one good, and the other evil. This, I'm very much afraid, is the evil side."

Papa told us to watch that no one touched anything, and went back into the house. He came back with two large cloths. In one he wrapped up everything that had been in my backpack, including my backpack. In the other he very carefully wrapped up the statuette without coming into contact with it. Then carrying the two bundles, told us that we would all take a trip to the temple of Chakra, the good one. Fortunately there was one in town. He told us that he had also sent a message to Melayni and Croram's families to meet us there.

Our walk was short, but it felt like an eternity to me. Both my parents were very grim indeed. I judged that to be a very bad sign. I kicked myself repeatedly for touching the statue. How many stories had I heard of finding strange things? Sure Mother always knew when they found something evil, but not all cursed things radiated evil, so they were always careful. What if the item was cursed? What would it do to me? I could be regretting this my entire life! Melayni and Croram kept giving me guilt filled glances. But there was also fear in their eyes. They may not have touched the statuette, but what if finding it alone was enough to curse them? Besides they had touched me, and my backpack while it was in there. Just a short while ago, we were three carefree children, now our very futures hung in the balance.

When we arrived at the temple, Papa had us wait outside with Mother, while he went inside. He was gone for, what seemed to me, a very long time. When he returned, it was without the bundles.

"Liulni, Melayni and Croram, the priests would like to examine you. Sveenu, could you stay here to greet the children's parents when they arrive?"

"Of course I will. Children, don't look so scared. The priests won't harm you."

So the three of us went in with Papa. One by one we were taken into a room. Melayni was first, then Croram, and finally me. When the priest brought each of them back, he was expressionless. The room I was taken into was bare, but for a few benches. I was seated on one, a different priest was sitting on another, directly opposite me. He cast a spell on me. Or at least he tried to. I tried to be willing, but I was terrified. Though I wanted him to find the truth, at the same time, I was frightened and didn't want him to. He was surprised when his spelled didn't work.

"Oops. I'm sorry!" I cried.

"Your father did warn me that you have some magical training. You must relax." he said.

We talked for a bit. He finally managed to calm me enough so that I would not resist his spell. He then cast three more spells. Finally, he indicated that I could leave, and I was escorted back to Papa. We waited again. The priest who had examined us eventually came out. He told Papa that they needed to talk. Papa told him to talk in front of us, since it most affected us.

"Melayni and Croram, I can detect nothing untoward in either of you. As far as I can tell you are both fine. However, I would suggest that you watch for anything strange or unusual for the next little while. Come back immediately if anything happens," he spoke calmly to them.

I was more terrified than ever. All the calm that he had managed to instill in me was gone. Something was wrong with me.

"Liulni, I'm afraid that in your case it's not so simple. I definitely detect a curse on you, actually two curses" he started. "Wait! There is some hope!"

I had burst into tears, sure that I was going to die, or worse! But I quieted and listened to him. He proposed to carry out a ritual. He, together with some assistants, would destroy the artifact that I had found. During the course of the ritual it was hoped that I would be cleansed. They had to wait to do the ritual, until the heavens were right. Something about certain moons being at certain phases, and the stars aligned is some specific way. It would almost three weeks until they could do it. In the meantime I would have to take care. Their spells had not succeeded in discovering exactly what the curse was, only that I was cursed. Something within the curse itself was blocking their spells. For the same reason, they could not remove the curse with spells alone, it had to be a ritual. They warned me that the ritual itself could pose some danger and that I should think carefully before agreeing. During the time they had to wait they would prepare for the ritual, but it could be called off right until the last moment. If they could only determine what the curse was, it might be preferable not to go through the ritual itself. During my examination they had detected my old wanderlust curse, the one that had been put on me when I was 6. Maybe this new curse would be no more disruptive that the other.

In my own mind, I knew how hard it was living with that old curse. Sure it wouldn't kill me. But then, because of it, neither was my life comfortable. I did have some breaks from it; when Master Janska took me on trips the feelings abated. And later, when I got older, was all grown up, I could chose to live in ways that the old curse wouldn't be such a burden. Yes, it was hard, but livable. Maybe the new curse would be too!

We left the temple and found Melayni and Croram's parents speaking with Mother. They were all reassured that Melayni and Croram were fine. Mother did notice that Papa failed to mention me in all the reassurances and looked at him sadly. My friends' parents however where so relieved that they didn't notice. My friends looked at me, I told them we would talk soon, and they left with their parents. Then Papa explained to Mother. She looked anguished. I tried my best to cheer her up, telling her that I was sure the ritual would succeed. Inside I wasn't so sure. But I figured that I could learn to live with whatever it was, if the ritual failed.

Four days later I learned what the curse was. We had thought that the other kids would be envious of us when we figured we had found a wondrous treasure. Once we discovered it was evil, and I was cursed, we had sworn a pact of secrecy. But somehow the other kids found out anyway. They were laughing and teasing us. Usually when I'm teased I just shrug it off. This time, however, I was listening to them and just getting angry. I guess part of it was fear of the unknown, uncertainty about the future. At first we jeered back at them. Calling them cowards, because they hadn't been the ones in the ruins, you know, the typical haranguing between peers. Finally we turned on our heels and left. But they followed us, continuing to tease and laugh. The last thing I remember was walking down the street, getting angrier and angrier. Everything after that is a blank until Papa was shaking me awake.

Melayni and Croram reported what happened. Apparently I'd gone berserk! I had attacked my tormenters. I hadn't injured them very badly, but my berserk rage frightened them and they ran away. I started to follow them, shouting incoherently. Melayni and Croram jumped me to stop me going after them. I turned on them, flailing at them, attacking them. Finally Melayni, always the practical one, whacked me over the head with a stick...repeatedly. I seemed to come to my senses for a moment, then passed out. Croram ran to get Papa while Melayni stayed with me. She thought she had killed me. I was weak and woozy, but otherwise fine. Papa determined that with some rest I would heal up just fine. But he still looked worried. He was instantly aware that this was not my usual behavior, to attack anyone, especially not Melayni and Croram. This then seemed to be the curse, a berserker rage. What triggered it? Apparently it was the teasing. Papa wondered what else might trigger it, if anything.

We did eventually figure out something else that could trigger it, but that's for later. We also figured out that not all teasing would send me berserk, but that it would only happen sometimes, randomly it seemed. I managed not to go berserk again, at least not during the weeks before the ritual. By this time we were all pinning our hopes on the ritual.

The ritual was long, exhausting, and dangerous. I survived it...So did my curse. There was nothing else to be tried. Right after the ritual they tried to cure it with spells again, hoping the ritual had weakened, if not lifted, the curse. It did not work. I will always be cursed with these berserker rages. Mother has been trying to train me to control the rage, but hasn't been very successful. She says that elves have always had a problem in the area of self-control, so I should not feel too bad about not being able to master it.

It does have a good side though. I saved us, Melayni, Croram and myself yesterday...and also discovered what else triggers the berserker rage. We had been out and about and encountered some kids who decided to tease us. Melayni and Croram dragged me out of there before I could lose it, but we ended up in a bad part of the city. We got lost. We had just figured out where we were and how to get home when we were jumped by ruffians. At first we held our own, then Croram was struck and injured badly, he was bleeding! I totally lost it, went into another berserker rage. They told me later that I pounded my opponent to a pulp, then went after the one who had hurt Croram. While I was taking care of her, the third fled. I came back to myself leaning over Croram. Melayni was bandaging him. We fled the area.

I'm trying hard to learn to control these rages, but I don't think I'm doing to well. All I know is that they do seem rare. I don't lose it every time I'm teased, or one of my friends gets hurt, but I lose it enough to be scared. What if I hurt my friends one day? I didn't attack them until they tried to stop me attacking others, but still I did attack them. They both claim that it doesn't matter, they will always be friends with me, that if I ever hurt them, they know its not my fault. Still, I've given them each a charm. I paid a mage to imbue the charms with a spell of sleep, that way they have a chance to stop me if I ever turn on them. I'm also studying hard so one day I will be able to cast that spell, to imbue an object with the rune for sleep. Then I will be able to give it to any companions, so I never hurt them!

Sincerely,

Liulni

 

 


 

Day 8 of Kordius, 4796 Y.D.

Dear Leythan,

I find it strange that I never wrote about my sister Tandi's "incident". It was talked about a lot and, as strange and disturbing as it was, it still is to this day. It happened when she was 9, or I guess I should say when they were 9. It was sad too, maybe that's why I've not written of it before. We are still uncertain of many of the details. All we know for sure is that all the 9 year old female elven children in Jarved were assassinated. All except Tandi, of course.

There had to have been more than one professional assassin involved, but they were all in turn assassinated in the same way, which leads us to believe it was masterminded by someone. One of the most pervasive rumors lays the blame on 'the Outcast'. I don't know if you've heard of her, but she's supposed to live in the mountains north of the Olde Forest. People say she is very old, perhaps as old as 600 years, which is quite respectable for an elf.

There are a great many rumors surrounding the incident, yet none ring especially true. One was that the answer might lie in prophesy...maybe whoever was behind that heinous act was trying to either invoke or prevent a prophecy. Either way, no one knew of a prophet who could possibly shed some light on the mystery, and books of prophecy aren't just laying around waiting to be consulted. Another rumor was that whoever was responsible for the assassinations obviously felt that the girls, or at least one of them, were either evil or saintly. Were the murders thus an act of utmost efficiency to increase the odds of removing the "right" girl by killing all? I still get a chill when I think about it.

The next part is a bit hard to write about. The girls were all strangled with silver cord, which was left around their necks. After that, the assassin cut out the heart, then burned it. Then the ashes were sprinkled back into the chest. It certainly seemed as though some kind of ritual was being performed, yet despite much research, this ritual was never identified. Old texts were researched and nothing turned up. It was thought that if the ritual could be identified it might narrow the possibilities of who was behind it. But nothing was ever found.

Tandi's survival, we think, was due to dumb luck. All the assassinations took place over a period of seven days (which is why we believe there must have been multiple assassins, it would be impossible to kill all the children within that time frame if there was only one). There had been a big fight at home, we don't even remember what it was about anymore, but it so happens that because of this fight Tandi decided to 'run away'. She took a bit of food, a few clothes and hid. As soon as we figured out that she had run away, Mother went to look for her and could find no trace. This was surprising since Mother is an exceptionally good tracker. However, Tandi knew this, and even though she was only 9 she was never dumb. She went to a nearby inn, along well traveled streets, then hid in a merchant's cart. When the merchant left, so did she. She waited until his first stop to water the horses, and then snuck away. She hid until her food ran out, then returned to town the same way she had left, waiting for someone to stop at the spring and water their horses.

In the meantime , back home, we heard the first rumors of something happening to little elven girls. Mother and Papa took pains to guard us, and worried about Tandi. What if she hadn't run away, but been taken away? As the days wore on we learned additional details, and we started to become truly frightened. Mother was torn between going off to look for Tandi, and staying home to protect us. However, once it was confirmed that only the nine year olds had been killed, Mother went off to search for Tandi in earnest. Mother could not find her, which we now figure meant that neither could the assassins. At the time, though, we were certain it meant she was murdered too.

A few days later she came home. We were all so relieved when she walked into the house that day, that Mother and Papa weren't even angry about her running away. For the next few months she was guarded night and day. Anytime she went anywhere she went with trusted adults, usually Mother, Papa, or one of Melayni's parents. They set up rotating guard duties so that there was always someone with Tandi, even while she slept. The rest of us did our part too, always on the lookout for any strangers in the area.

The girls' deaths were being very carefully investigated, and since Tandi was the only surviving child, our family was kept very well informed on what was being discovered. Not that much was being discovered. Most of it was negative. For instance, outside of Jarved no girls had been killed. No girls other than elven girls had been targeted. No boys had been touched. All the girls were nine years old, one girl had turned ten the first day of the massacres, and had not been targeted. They all happened over a seven day period. Near the very end of the investigation, after they had looked at all the other information available, they finally focused on the seven day period. That's when they found that during that period of time exactly coincided with the period that Xeraks Comet was visible to the naked eye. Elven astronomers had noted that this distinct blue-tailed comet only appeared every 132 years.

So, after almost two full months the guard on Tandi was scaled down. She still went nowhere alone, but now it could be me going with her, rather than an adult. The nighttime guard was also eased, it was felt that she no longer needed to have someone actually stay awake to watch over her. Over time the guard eased more and more, but it wasn't until after her tenth year celebration that she was allowed to go out on her own again. It seemed she was safe, that is until the next sighting of the blue-tailed comet.

The incident has never been forgotten, though it happened years ago. My parents are still grateful that she survived, but there lingers a fear that she might yet end up assassinated. Every few years someone looks at the case again, reviewing the meager information and searching for more. But nothing more has ever been learned. If we could finally find out why, or who, Tandi might someday feel completely safe, but until then she lives under a shadow.

I hate to end a letter on that note, but even I find it hard to hope that we will ever find the truth.

Your friend,

Liulni

 


 

Day 47 of Winterkill, 4797 Y.D.

Dear Leythan,

I got your letter last week, I would have written sooner but I have been very busy... You'll never guess what's happened to me! I've met someone special... His name is Rolov Ferchu. We seem to have a little courtship happening. AND he's human! I mean I have nothing against humans, you understand, Melayni and Croram are human after all, but Rolov is my beau! I never thought I'd be interested in a human! And yet there's just something about him

We met at one of my 'Youth for Tomorrow' meetings. It's a new organization that I've just joined, we meet every two weeks. Our motto is "Building a brighter future through the youth of today". We do all sorts of interesting things. We talk about ways to improve our country. We also set up odd jobs to make coinage for the organization. Most of these funds go to certain tutors. They in turn agree to teach three or four kids all at the same time, for the cost of tutoring one. They teach us basic stuff like writing, sometimes different languages, a small bit of figuring. But mostly they concentrate on history, especially ancient history. After all, to build a better a future we need to learn about the past. These tutors also come to the occasional meeting and talk to us about our history. Some of it is really interesting. I love going to these meetings, it makes me feel that I'm finally able to do something tangible to bring about a better future for all our citizens! I sound like I'm reading off a page in the official handbook, don't I? I get so excited about this, I have to tell you all about it!

Anyway, back to my friend Rolov...he's just so positive about the future, we have so many ideas in common. He understands me almost as well as you do, and we've only just met. I mean Papa and Mother love me, and so do my siblings, but they don't understand me the way Rolov does.

Poor Melayni seems to be a little resentful of the amount of time I've been spending with him. She keeps mentioning his little quirks. Keeps pointing out how fat he is, as if I don't have eyes to see that myself. Besides he carries his weight well and he's tallish, for a human, almost six feet. She also implies that his fear of empty rooms will encourage him to seek other companionship.

Oh well, I have to admit that I have been neglecting her in favor of Rolov. But you understand, I mean I've never had a real beau before. So far every interesting male has either been in awe of Mother (and afraid to so much as look at me) or enthralled by my little sister Ellani. Even when she was a little kid, she captured the people around her with her sweet temper, and charismatic nature. Between my mother and Ellani, no one ever looked to me, which was fine with me because I was always more interested in playing with my friends, when I was little, and studying as I've been getting older. But now, Rolov just has to look at me in that certain way he has, and I feel like I'm melting inside! (I'm sorry...I know this is rather mushy, but I just can't help it!)

His little quirk about empty rooms is actually somewhat cute. We have talked about it a little. When he was a kid he used to share his room with his brother Greshi. Well because he and his brother were often in trouble at the same time, his parents couldn't send them both to their room, so Greshi would be sent to the bedroom, and Rolov would be sent to the old barn. The barn was totally empty but for a bit of dirt here and there. Rolov has always been sensitive and hated getting punished, he used to think it meant his parents didn't love him anymore. He was always afraid that they would stay mad and not let him back in the house. Sometimes he would even start to think that they had forgotten all about him and he would starve to death alone in that empty place. So really it's no wonder that nowadays he doesn't like empty rooms. But that's ok. It means he never strays far from me.

We've been going all over town together. I've discovered things I've never known about this place even though I've lived here all my life! It makes this town feel like a whole new place, which is great since it makes me feel less anxious to go back to travelling with Master Janska.

I'm sorry Leythan, I don't have time to write any more. I'm supposed to be meeting Rolov before our "Youth for Tomorrow" meeting tonight. I'll write again soon.

 

Sincerely,

Liulni

 


 

Day 21 of Rebirth, 4797 Y.D.

Dear Leythan,

Something strange happened to me last week. It's a good thing, but I'm not sure how I feel about it. I guess I should start at the beginning.

Melayni and I were out at some nearby ruins (you'd think I'd have learned my lesson about ruins since last year - but they're just so intriguing). We were practicing some of our lessons, climbing, tracking, and such, and the ruins are such good places for that sort of thing. We were also just enjoying each others company, it had been too long since we had spent time together without Rolov. We had stopped to rest and were just sitting quietly when we heard some kids talking. They were being pretty noisy. Melayni and I looked at each other; I could almost read her mind. I nodded to her; it was time to practice our stealthier of skills. As quietly as we could we followed them. Neither of us was very good, but those kids were so loud that they covered whatever noises Melayni and I made.

We followed them for most of the afternoon. Actually, it was fun to put our lessons into practice. Sometimes we would get close enough to hear them talking. They sounded so much like Croram, Melayni and I when we went out exploring. Like us, there were also three of them. We both recognized two of the kids as local kids, a bit younger than Melayni. The third was a stranger, but through their conversation we figured out that he was a relative of one of the others.

They were so much like us last year, it was almost like watching a play of our own journey, only in a different set of ruins. Every time something particularly reminiscent would happen Melayni and I would look at each other with raised brows. Then the kids started roughhousing it happened... they accidentally opened a secret door with their play! Without even consulting Melayni, I jumped to my feet and yelled "STOP!" at the top of my lungs. Startled, they did stop. Then a belligerent look showed on the faces of two, and confusion on the other.

"Hey what are you doing here?" one asked.

"Its ours!" yelled a second.

"Get lost!" screamed the third.

"Wait a minute, calm down," I started. "I don't want your treasure, I'm not a thief! I'm Liulni Crea'Vita and this is..." I looked behind me and Melayni slowly rose from her hiding spot. "She's my friend Melayni Vol'Skya.

They still looked uncertain, but stopped yelling and hesitantly introduced themselves. We confessed that we had been trailing them since just after lunch time, as practice, we tried to emphasize. We got them to sit down for a few minutes, then explained what had happened to us the year before. It helped that the two local kids had heard the story, though they hadn't known who it had happened to.

"If its really treasure, its all yours. We want nothing of it," I said, though I knew that ever-practical Melayni would be trying to think of someway she could get the kids to divide the spoils between all five of us. I glared at Melayni, and continued, "You guys did all the work, and you found the secret door all by yourselves, we have no claim on any treasure whatsoever."

They seemed to believe me, though they did seem a bit wary of Melayni. Finally we looked in the secret opening, Melayni and I hanging back, letting the kids look first. Sure enough there was something glimmering in there. We found a stick and let the kids drag it out. It was a funny looking dagger. It also seemed to be made of silver. The kids whooped and one leaned down as if to pick it up. I grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back.

"Don't touch it! Sure it's not a statue, but that doesn't mean it's not cursed!"

We grabbed another stick and had the kids carefully put the weapon in a backpack without ever touching it. We watched closely, making sure the kids were properly careful. We would have preferred to do it ourselves, but knew that if we did the kids would fight us, sure that we were trying to steal it. Then we had them loop the stick through the backpack and carry it back to town. Since the church of Chakra was the only one I knew for sure would analyze the object we went there. I had to prod the kids but they halting explained to the priest that they had found an object wanted it tested for evil and curses. The priests explained that they would be happy to do so, but that it was a physically taxing procedure and they needed some compensation. The kids looked back at Melayni and I in confusion. "He wants payment," I whispered to them. They argued among themselves for a short while, looking at me every once in a while. Finally they pulled some coins from their pockets and offered them to the priest. He looked it over and said it wasn't quite enough. They looked crestfallen. I knew that every penny they had was hard earned, and their families would not have spare money around to pay. I dug into my belt purse and pulled out a few coins. I looked over at Melayni. She shrugged, reached into her belt purse and pulled out a single coin. She handed it over to me, with a look that said I was crazy giving our money to these kids. I handed everything over to the oldest kid, he counted it, and then he passed it over to the priest. I knew then that it wasn't enough. But the priest simply sighed and said they would analyze it. I breathed a sigh of relief. We waited, and waited, and waited a bit longer still. The priest came back, with the backpack, but without the weapon.

"It is cursed," he said.

The kids looked at me with respect then.

"What do we do now?" The oldest asked.

"Well, the curse comes from God of thieves, it would be best to have the cuutuer destroyed here. However, if you prefer you may take it to be destroyed in the temple of your own god. They will know what to do with it." the priest told them.

They looked at me, as though asking my advice. I thought it over for a short time. If I remembered correctly, those children came from families that did not worship a specific god, so no god would be upset if they had it done here. Besides, if they didn't do it here, which temple would they choose? No, it made sense to leave it here.

"You may leave the dagger here and go ask your families for advice. However it seems to me that it would be best to simply do it here." I said.

They consulted one another, then agreed. Did they need any more coin? Did they need to do anything else? The priest explained that they need do nothing, Chakra would take care of it. They did not even have to attend the rite as no one was actually cursed with the object. As there was no need for a full ritual it would be a very simple ceremony, though they were all welcome to attend. I said I would attend, then all the others also agreed to go. The priest told us that the ceremony would commence at daybreak the following day, that we should arrive shortly before sunrise. We should not eat, but we should wash, and wear clean clothes. As we started to leave the priest told me he would like to speak with me a moment. So the others left, but I stayed behind. The priest asked me what had happened, how it came to be that the children had come to the church. So I explained what happened.

"So you are no relation to the children, did not even really know them?"

"Well, I know their families a bit, but no, none of them are friends. I guess they would be minor acquaintances," I shrugged.

"Then why did you help them?"

"Well, I couldn't very well let what happened to me last year befall them, friends or not. They were just like us, kids out playing and having a good time. I knew the kids enough to know that they were nice, normal kids, neither bullies nor saints. Why should I not help them? A bit of my time, a bit of energy, no big deal."

"A bit of coin too...."

"Well sure, a bit of coin, they gave you everything they had. Without my added coin they wouldn't have had the dagger analyzed and might have gotten hurt, like me. Besides coin is easy to get; a bit of hard work, and you have more coin."

"I see. So maybe what happened to you last year is not so bad? It certainly seems to have taught you compassion."

"Well I wouldn't go that far," I smiled. "I suspect that has more to do with how Papa raised me than my curse."

"Perhaps," he smiled back at me, enigmatically. "I should let you go now child. Your family will be worried about you."

So I went off, puzzling a bit at our conversation, then dismissing it. Once outside the temple, I found everyone waiting for me. Melayni seemed to be getting short tempered. The kids crowded around me, thanking me for my help. I smiled at them all, then shooed them off, telling them I would see them very early the next morning. The oldest child promised to pay me back. I told him there was no need, that I wouldn't miss the coin (again I had to avoid Melayni's dirty look). Besides, getting the weapon analyzed had cost them too, and they had nothing to show for it. Except perhaps a lesson learned.

Then Melayni and I walked home. She was glad that we talked the kids into getting the dagger analyzed, but why on Muhan had I given them all our money too! Now Leythan, I feel that I should explain about Melayni. She's not really a greedy sort, but she feels she works hard for whatever coin she does earn. She figures that since she works hard for it, that she should get to spend it on stuff she enjoys. And its not like she wants to keep it all for herself either. If Croram or I are short on coin, she will always buy stuff for us too. But buying things for her friends is not the same as giving money to strangers. It's one area in which we truly differ. If I have coin I'm always willing to spend it on behalf of someone, even strangers. If we pass a beggar on the street, it's always me or Croram giving him a bit of coin. Never Melayni. Oh well, she is so wonderful in so many other ways that this one little quirk matters not a bit.

When I got home, I explained to my parents why I was late. Papa went all proud on me, actually making me feel embarrassed. Mother said that I was a terrific daughter. It's so nice when you have the opportunity to make your parents proud of you! Mother was the one who woke me up on time to prepare for the ceremony . All those years of adventuring and planning have given her a perfect sense of timing. I was the first to arrive at the temple, followed in short order by two of the kids, Melayni, and finally the last kid, almost late. As the priest had said the rite was short and simple.

During the height of the ceremony I felt something strange happen, a weird tingling all over my body. I looked around at the others, but nothing seemed to be happening to them. One of the priestesses was looking at me oddly. I looked down at myself and seemed to see a sort of soft radiance surrounding me. Bit by bit I seemed to be glowing brighter. One by one the others seemed to notice and would turn to look at me and stare. I was getting worried, but it wasn't hurting and the radiance didn't seem to be doing anything. I began to wonder if my curse was somehow disrupting the ceremony. But the priest had known of my curse, and hadn't seemed to think that it would cause anything untoward. I stood rooted, afraid to move lest something even worse start to happen. The priest looked my way, he must have seen the fear on my face, for he smiled at me reassuringly, and continued the rite. Everyone, except the priest, continued to watch me. All the members of the church present, the priestesses, acolytes, and clerics, they all seemed to think something good was happening. They were smiling, their motions, their voices, all seemed to resonate with good cheer. I relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the ceremony.

Afterward the priest once again took me aside to speak to me. I could barely contain myself.

"Is it gone?! Is it?" I babbled. All I could think was that my old curse was lifted.

The old priest waited for me to calm down. Then he told me that he was fairly sure that the curse was still there, but they would still check. He explained that what had happened was a blessing. They could not know what form the blessing would take, but that removal of an old curse was rarely one of those forms. The cleric who had examined me last year returned and checked me again. Sure enough the old curse was still there. They could not tell what the blessing was. Once I figured it out, they said, I should return and let them know.

So I've now been blessed! I'm still not sure by what, but I should find out eventually. If things had worked out the way I would have preferred, the berserker curse would have been lifted. No matter what the blessing is, I don't see how it can make up for my latest curse.

Sincerely,

Liulni

P.S. Hey, I got your letter just as I was walking out the door to send this one off. I'm sure you'll be okay. Don't lose hope. I know its not you doing it and they'll find that out!

By the way I think I found out what the blessing is. Getting your letter finally convinced me to go talk to the priests. I told them about a couple of unusual things that have been happening lately. Stuff so small that it didn't seem worth mentioning earlier. Little things, like getting your letter right before I sent one off to you, giving me the opportunity to comment on yours. The other day, I was being clumsy with a knife but just barely managed not to cut myself. In class I nearly miscast a spell...I didn't cast well, thought I had flubbed the spell, but it went off anyway. Like almost tripping over my little brother, but catching myself at the last second. A whole bunch of little things. I only noticed them in the first place because I was on the look out for strange things happening. Anyway, the priest confirmed my suspicion. Seems I've been blessed with a sort of good luck. Its not so much good luck as it is a lessening of bad luck. Might turn out to be useful...

Liulni

 


 

Day 26 of Tiol'Bru, 4797 Y.D.

Dear Leythan,

I'm so sad for Rolov. His older brother, Greshi, died two weeks ago. I've been spending all my time with him. I know I have been neglecting my studies, my friends, my family, but he needs me so much just now.

Rolov and Greshi were only a year apart in age, and they were very close, best friends even. Rolov doesn't know how he can go on living without his brother. He's clinging to me as a life line, saying I'm the only reason he has to live. I've tried to tell him he still has his parents, and his younger brother and sisters, but he was never as close to them as he was to Greshi. I don't know how to comfort him. All I can do is be there, hold him, tell him I care for him.

Death surrounds us. Injury, illness, bandits, fire, they are all around us. And still I don't know what to say to Rolov, how to make him feel better. I know that he will get better, that he will start to remember the good times with Greshi, and forget the pain a little. But I want to fix all his hurt right now. It tears me apart inside to see him suffering so much.

Now, whenever he talks about the future, all he can see is pain and death. Sometimes he even pushes me away, scared of his feelings for me, afraid of future pain. Then other times, he clings to me, afraid to let me out of his sight for fear something terrible will happen to me. No one can help him, he yells at his parents, one moment blaming them for Greshi's death, other times wailing that its his fault. He's even losing weight, unable to sleep or eat.

Papa tells me that all I can do is be with him when he needs me. To let him push me away when he feels afraid, but to always go back. Papa has been a great source of comfort to me during this time. He doesn't complain that I'm not doing my chores, he doesn't tell me to that I should be studying. He talked to my brothers and sisters, and even they are being extra nice to me. They are taking up the chores I've been neglecting, not even hinting that they are doing me a favor that will have to be repaid.

I'm taking the opportunity to write now, since Rolov has dismissed me again. It hurts when he does that, but I do understand. Melayni has also been wonderful. She's not making any snide remarks about Rolov anymore. I sometimes wonder if I'm taking advantage of her. Whenever Rolov dismisses me, and Papa's not around I've been going to her for comfort. She has been a true friend! Once Rolov is feeling a bit better about Greshi, I have resolved to spend more time with her, to not neglect her so much in favor of Rolov. I'll also write to you a bit more often!

Sincerely,

Liulni

 


 

Day 22 of Snowbringer, 4797 Y.D.

Dear Leythan,

I just got your last letter! It's the first time you have ever mentioned your family in a letter. Why don't you write me more about them? I know you don't know much, but I also know you've done a bit of research about them.

Rolov is getting on my nerves! Always he makes me enter a room before him....unless of course we are leaving an empty room, in which case he insists we enter together! And that's not an easy thing to accomplish when he manages to fill the doorway! I can't believe I used to think his kenophobia was cute! I don't know how much longer I can deal with someone who is terrified of entering an empty room. The other day I was having a fascinating talk with a group of people from my "Youth for Tomorrow" meetings and Rolov said he was hungry. He started toward the kitchen, but then realized that no one else was going with him. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him square his shoulders and start toward the kitchen again. But then he stopped and turned back to the group. He asked me to go with him, and one of the girls in the group giggled. She was the same one who had once talked to me about Rolov's problem, saying that I baby him too much, and that he should learn to stand on his own two feet. I told him I was in the middle of a conversation and that if he was that hungry he should just go. Instead he rejoined the conversation until someone else ended up going to the kitchen. You have to be able to face your fears! Yes, you can be scared, but that should not stop you. It's getting so I can't even go to the privy when we're together!

He's always clinging to me. Lately I've taken to visiting my friends even if I have to drag him along. I know it was a huge blow to him when his brother died, but I'm supposed to be his lover, not his keeper, nor a replacement for Greshi. Even Papa is starting to say that I really have to decide if I want to continue my relationship with him, and that if I do, certain things must change.

Also, ever since Greshi died, Rolov has no interest in "Youth for Tomorrow". He only attends gatherings because I do. He used to be so bright, so full of anticipation for what the future would bring! Now he's taken to saying stuff like "Do it today, for tomorrow may never come," and "The only thing to look forward to is death, because then you stop hurting for all those who die before you". I can't take it anymore! Part of me wants to try to 'fix' the relationship, because I figure it has to get better. But another part of me is fed up with him.

I especially don't want to be like Mother. Taking up with a man for a little while, dumping him, then taking up with the next before the sheets have cooled. But what choice do I have? I can't stand being with him anymore! I know...I've just answered my own question, haven't I? I'll have to dump him, as nicely as I can. I'll tell him that I don't think I'm good for him, or maybe that we're just not 'suited'. Then after that I'll only consider men as friends, and nothing more. I'll be like Melayni wants to be, free and unencumbered, no family, no children. Ok... well, maybe not. But I sure won't look at a man for at least the next ten years!

By the way, I'm sure you'll be able to find out more about your family, especially now that we have both keys!

Sincerely,

Liulni

 


 

Day 3 of Winterkill, 4800 Y.D.

Dear Leythan,

My but you have been having some excitement lately!

Life here has been pretty quiet. My magical studies are going really well. The other day one of my tutors asked me why I was studying magic. I told her some nonsense about how the mystery of magic has always fascinated me! Well I guess that is part of the truth, but it's certainly not the whole story. I was thinking about it though, after we talked.

You and I have talked about it a bit, but I've never gone into much detail with you. I have so many motivations for taking up magic that I probably don't know them all! You've teased me about Mother, how I've gone into magic so as not to be like her, because as a young girl she was found not to have an aptitude for magic. Finally I'm willing to concede that you are right, at least in part. Being unlike Mother is part of my motivation.

Also, in the same way that your key motivates you, Papa's key has had some impact on me. I mean, considering the rarity of magical items, that key is unique. Sure the glamour is very mild magic, but still. In order to better understand the key, and its purpose, I started to study magic. That lead to my falling in love with it!

Of course being twice cursed has also provided its own motivation. The first curse, when I was 6, was part of the impetus to get me study magic, in addition to the key. I had hoped that the study of magic would in some way prevent me from getting cursed again...not that it helped me when I was 17. Of course my berserker curse has encouraged me to further my study of magic in two big ways. First, because in my rage I cannot cast magic, so learning offensive spells won't hurt anyone. It's a way to learn to protect myself, while at the same time having less potential to hurt my friends, unlike a sword. Second, in learning runic magic I can help my friends protect themselves against me without having to harm me. A simple sleep spell will enable them to stop me, without any fear of their feeling guilty. Not to mention the fact that with defensive runes, they will get hurt less, and so that portion of the curse has a lesser chance of happening.

To top it all off, if all that motivation is not enough, my blessing has also encouraged me in my chosen direction. I was becoming a good spell caster before my blessing, but since then, I have become even better. I'm not so worried about trying out harder spells, since I fail less often. So my skills have grown faster.

You know at first when I was cursed, twice no less, I thought it was very bad indeed. But now I've come to accept it. Sure it can be frightening, can get me in trouble, or even hurt my friends. But it has also given me strength. It has encouraged me in my studies, in my determination, it has strengthened me as a person. It's not so bad. Also, without first being cursed, I would not have been blessed either! It balances out.

Now that I've accepted my curses, I can go on. I've decided not to let my curses rule my life, I've been learning a new weapon, the cuutuer. Ever since my second curse I have been concentrating on magic, refusing to learn any weapon skills, well other than the bow since all elven children must learn at least the basics of that weapon. I had developed some minor skill with the talon, but I refused to pursue it, to learn any more. I had also decided never to learn any new weapon, since with a skilled weapon in hand I would be dangerous to my friends. But that was wrong, one must face ones fears to overcome them, not run from them. If, as a result of learning this weapon, I do hurt a friend, I will forever be sorry. I don't think I will, however. I am learning confidence, not only in myself, but also in my friends. Also, they will always have runes of sleep for protection.

The cuutuer us a fascinating weapon. My instructor only glanced over its history when he began instructing me, and even that was highly interesting. The cuutuer is a very old weapon. It is even said that it was designed by the ancients! I've longed to study its history more in depth, unfortunately, between my magical studies and my weapon practice I haven't had a spare moment for research.

Well that's not strictly true since I've had some time to spend with Melayni. We are quieter now, together, without Croram. We missed him since he went away for military training, but the good news is that we just got a letter from him yesterday. He's coming home! He was in a big battle, but he's fine, exhilarated over their win, of course. Funny, I just reread what I've written at the start of this paragraph. Croram did not get us into trouble! Rather it was the three of us together! Besides we are all growing up. Melayni's already 19 and Croram 15!

I do believe that you enjoy your adventures, even when you write to me to complain about them! Speaking of growing up, you are already 22! You should know better! I know it will work out fine, it always does.

Your friend,

Liulni