|Heart of the Hound|
|1.||Heart of the Hound|
|The Tavern of Lost Souls|
|2.||The Tavern of Lost Souls|
|Escape from Guk|
|The Flight of the Mudskipper|
|The Worst Cook in Grobb|
|A Storm of Sorrow|
|Of New Friends and Troublesome Enemies|
|On the Plains of Karana|
|By the Wings of Dragons|
From the pen of Eylee Zephyrswell --
You can never know what destiny will demand of you. If you had told me only a year ago that I would be called upon to travel with a dark elf, fighting along side one rather than against one, I would never have believed you, but fate has no room for niceties.
Of the party, only Kruzz was more friendless than Asharae, and though she might have been charming enough, I think in the end if you were to put a dagger in the hands of anyone in the party and go to sleep before them, most would choose Kruzz over Asharae. But it is this bard's duty to tell a story as true as I can tell it no matter what I may think of the subject, and so I will bring to you as best I can the story of Asharae.
Once in the city of Neriak there lived a noble dark elf, Baron V'Nol, and his wife, the Madam V'Nol, and their four daughters. Within this house lived a fifth daughter, though she was not a true born child and had no knowledge of her parentage. You see, her mother had been a dancer and a woman of low birth, and though she left the child at her lordly paramour's front step, wanting nothing more to do with her, the Baron and his Madam raised the child as a slave and told her none of the truths of her origins. Asharae was her name, and not only did she sweat upon their floors for eighty years, but her tasks were ever the lowliest of the low. The Madam, you see, looked upon her and saw the Baron's infidelity and her own imperfect beauty, and nothing she could say or do to the child from then on out could come forth without the most vicious of venom. Where another girl might receive a swift rebuff for leaving a grease smudge on the reflective black obsidian walls of the manor, Asharae was beaten until her back was reduced to a sea of welts. For his part, the Baron never acknowledged her. He had no reason, after all, to acknowledge any of the slaves, save those comely enough for him to catch around a dark corner when the Madam wasn't looking. Asharae was a pretty enough girl, having inherited her mother's looks. Those who looked at her thought it difficult to shake her image, as she possessed a single lock of white hair that started at the peak of her widow's crown and bled back into her otherwise raven mane. However, she was not so stunning that one would find it curious the Master ignored her.
Though day in and day out the young elf went about her duties without a sign of emotion, enduring the beatings and the slander and the Madam dunking her face daily in her washbucket, holding her there until just before drowning, at night the young woman would weep as she slept. No one heard her tears, or if they did, they didn't care. And Asharae grew up alone within a house that hated her, though she did not know why.
When Asharae was an adolescent, she found within her Madam's wastebasket a book of wizardry. The Baron and Baroness were both accomplished mages, and their wealth afforded them the luxury of throwing away tomes they had happened to run a little thin. Though the book was frayed and battered, when she touched the cool black leather of its cover, she felt as if something electric were passing through her, and she clutched it to her breast, stealing a look about to see if she had been spotted. There was no sound to be heard in the high obsidian walls of the V'Nol manner. The whole of the household had left to attend, or attend to, the wedding of the oldest of the V'Nol daughters. Only Asharae had been left behind to see to the daily tasks of the household. The rest of her day's tasks were done in a blur, as the girl could not wait to steal back to the small closet she kept as her own space in the cellar.
As the day came to a close, and the distant sounds of a celebration were heard, the girl opened the book for the first time. Her eyes passed over the arcane symbols on its thin pages, and though they were foreign to her, she devoured the text explaining them. The book was nothing but a student's guide to the most basic of magics, but that was a perfect place for Asharae to begin. She practiced her magics on the rats and the bats that were unlucky enough to travel into her radius. The sight of the rodents turning to crispy black ash as they were struck by the lightning bolts that leapt from her fingers filled her with joy and lightened her spirit. Sometimes she would laugh to herself thinking about it later on, and when the Madam scolded her for it, she would picture her in the place of the rats and it cheered her even more. From then on forth, she divided the scant hours she was afforded for sleep between rest and study, and with time, her power grew.
All went as usual until the day that the V'Nol household produced such an important magical artifact that they were compelled to throw a grand party to which only the highest ranks of Neriak's society would be attending. They called it the Scryona and with it, they would be able to predict tears in the fabric of reality and use them to tap into the power of planar entities. Whispers of its power spread through the city like a fast acting poison and then to the King and Queen themselves. It was rumored they might appear at the party briefly, only to view the Scryona and move on, but all preparations were made as if the monarchs would be enjoying each inch of the manor and every dish served and every song performed by the quartet of musicians. The servants worked hard preparing for it, Asharae most of all, and the manor was turned upside down and inside out with their efforts. Asharae was given the job of polishing every piece of jade and pearl and turquoise inlay in the house's many walls, of which there were many. So many that she continued to work even as the guests began to arrive in the downstairs foyer. They were drawn into the ballroom where they broke open casks of bloodwine and feasted as Asharae continued to work.
And so it happened that Asharae passed the room in which the Scryona was being kept. She heard a soft humming noise before she ever saw it, but as she gently pushed open the room to the Madam's study, torch flooded in from the hallways to illuminate the small metal ball on the pedestal in the dark room. She walked over to it and picked it up gingerly, turning it over. It was curiously light, no larger than an orange, and from its north and south poles, two crystals cut into diamonds protruded. At some angles it looked gold, but when she turned it over, it shifted so that it seemed silver at others. Along a central band, foreign symbols were etched. Some of them seemed to be Druzaic, the language of magic she had seen in her spellbook, but others were completely unidentifiable. As she ran her thumb across a central rune, the orb began to glow an orange light. The ball warmed quickly and then split into two even parts. With its insides exposed, she was able to discern two pools of energy cupped in either half of the object. They shifted and turned, forming images and runes of different sizes and colors. "Why wasn't such a thing better protected?" she wondered to herself.
Asharae was so entranced that she almost didn't near the sound of approaching footsteps. Placing the Scryona quickly back on the pedestal, she dove for cover behind a desk. The Madam V'Nol materialized in the room from the hallway. Behind her, a manservant held up a torch and waited dutifully. Through a slit between the two halves of the desk, she watched the Baroness pick up the Scryona and turn it over, stroking it as one might a lover. A contented sigh escaped her lips, and she replaced it carefully before turning to depart with a swish of opal-chased, black silk.
As she began to exit, her manservant asked, "Aren't you going to secure it, mistress?"
"Of course not," said Baroness V'Nol, dismissively, "the curses and bindings on it are such that any who would dare touch it that wasn't of V'Nol blood would die instantly. No, Thiran, you needn't worry. This Scryona is going to carry the V'Nol name into the annals of history, and no one will take that from me. In fact, I would like to see one or two of my enemies try. That would quickly and effectively rid us of more than one annoyance." The sound of her laughter faded as the door shut behind them.
When all was once again quiet, Asharae emerged from her hiding spot. "Your protections have failed, my lady," she thought to herself, looking at the Scryona hungrily. As she once again clasped the Scryona, triumph surged through her. The Madam's devastation would be great, and it would be all Asharae's doing. She slipped the ball beneath her blouse and stole her way down through the house and to her room in the cellar, where in just a few minutes she had packed up everything she dared. Taking one final look around her, a smile crept across her face. If she succeeded in stealing away, the V'Nol house would fall into disgrace, and she would be free.
Lifted high by that knowledge, Asharae took flight.