Campaign Logs

Twilight Dawn

By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff

Chapter 79 - Witchcraft

Near the Reaching Wood 1371 DR, Eleint, 14th day (The Maiming, Tyr), early morning

The next morning finds a little fog drifting through the trees, not much obscuring vision, but sending a chill through the group. Skeen’s long night sleep has proven very beneficial, and she feels her old self again, illustrated by the return of her sometimes sarcastic humor. Camp is broken quickly after breaking fast, and soon the team finds themselves on horse/pony –back again.

Once more upon the back of her dark stallion, the forest warrior pulls her evergreen cloak about her frame to ward off the chill given by the soft fog. Her almond shaped eyes dart about the group as she watches them get ready to leave to their sought after destination.

“How do you two fare this morning?” Luna asks politely to both Skeen and Teryn in hopes the answer will be positive and the works of Immerine had proven successful. Areo takes the time to play tricks on Darkon as he nips at the long tail of the warhorse as he races by, but the steed quickly responds to the antics of the wolf with a warning smack with his left back hoof on Areo’s chest.

“Much better,” Skeen replies simply. “I feel well this morning, thanks to all of you” Teryn replies almost just as simply as he goes through a stretching routine to limber up his muscles.

Taking the map out once more, Telsom moves Teri close to Luna’s horse and passes it to her. “Do you think we’ll be able to cover much ground today?” he asks.

The forest green orbs study the map with great detail before she simply answers with a tone of business and no longer a tone of pleasure and enjoyment, “Aye, I believe this mists will burn off soon when the sun makes it path up into the blue. As long as we don’t run into anything that will hinder us like those spiders yesterday or another barrier, I don’t see why we couldn’t cover a great amount of ground today.”

The leather clad elf sits straight in her saddle and asks Telsom directly, “Do you wish me to ride point again or shall I just ride along with you all?”

“I don’t see any great need for you to ride point if you don’t want to. The choice is yours to make, I assume your woodland skills will aid us in finding the quickest paths through the forest whether you ride ahead or in our ranks.” Telsom responds.

With a gleam of joy within her eyes at the reply, Luna smiles, “As you wish, Master Telsom. I hope your faith as well of my own in my skills does ring true to us all and provides us a safe path to our destination.” The wolf beside the pair whimpers slightly as if to urge the group forward and on with the journey.

“Just Telsom.” The paladin says in response to the elf calling him Master.

Having spent his morning perusing his ragged sheaf of papers with great care and rapt attention the barbarian was ready for travel again. He had mounted the mule with a few reassuring words for the poor beast and now finds himself ready to ride.

The Uthgardt mage is quiet as he waits, breathing deeply and looking around at the trees with a faintly pleased expression evident. Several times his hand goes to his pouch only to come away empty. “Everyone ready?” he asks eventually to no one in particular.

“Are you ready, Telsom?” Skeen asks quietly, trying not to smirk at the conversation between him and Luna. Telsom grunts at Skeen’s words, but does nothing other than attempt to nudge her in the ribs with his elbow playfully.

Skeen pretends to take the blow and staggers back. “Don’t make me hurt you, Telsom,” she mock growls, then starts to laugh, thinking about how ridiculous her statement was. “Lend me a hand to climb up on your giant horse, then,” she says, when the brief fit of humor passes.

With a warm smile and bright eyes, Luna nods in agreement with calling him just by his given name. Noticing that she intruding upon something a bit personal, the huntress states, “I am pleased you are well, Skeen.” Luna smiles pleasantly before adding, “I will check on the others.”

The wood elf ranger turns Darkon to check on the others and their readiness. “Um, all right,” Skeen replies with a puzzled look on her face. “What did I say?” she says to Telsom. “Do I smell funny?” With a half smile, Telsom leans in close to smell the elven rogue.

Skeen glares at the paladin as he sniffs her. “You know what I meant,” she insists. Telsom chuckles at Skeen, and then mounts Teri, dropping a hand down to help Skeen up. “Of course I knew what you meant… but when presented with an opportunity such as that I couldn’t well let it pass me by.”

“You are a strange, strange man,” Skeen replies as she easily climbs onto the back of the horse with Telsom’s aid.

Immerine is fairly quiet and goes about her studies and prayers with a minimum of fuss. When the group is ready to leave she packs her things carefully and makes sure signs of the campsite have been obliterated. Then she gives a piercing whistle and Qwenta comes trotting into camp. He sees her with the saddles and snorts and tosses his head in irritation. “Don’t be so stubborn Qwenta. Using this thing keeps the weight balanced and distributed around your back.” It is obvious the stallion has his own ideas, but he allows Immerine to saddle him.

She swings into the saddle and takes up the rear guard position as they move out this time.

Branith packs his things and saddles his pony in a hurry. Muttering something about “way to early mornings” With a huff and puff he is soon in the saddle and he makes a wave over to Luna to signal he is ready which almost makes him fall out of the saddle. He takes position in front of Immerine if no one else objects. “Way to early” he says to no one in particular.

With a slight smirk on her face, the wood elf pokes fun at the grumbling dwarf, “What is that, my friend? A bit early for you? Come now, Branith! You do not wish to greet the sun when it creeps over the horizon?”

“Ay lass, I do enjoy the pretty sight of the sun as it greets the creatures of earth and air.” he says in a gruff tone. “Although what I like more is the sound of rock and stone around me and a cold beer to greet it with in my hand.” Seeing everyone saddling up Teryn saddles his horse and mounts, obviously ready to get moving.

Telsom’s wish and Luna’s prediction come through as the group is able to cover quite some ground during the day. The part of the forest – often included in the Reaching Woods, but technically not part of it – allows for relatively easy travel on horseback. The trees are well spaced and the underbrush not too thick. Aside for sightings of game by – of course – Areo and Luna and one encounter with a brown bear on an opposite side of a swift flowing stream, nothing else is encountered on this peaceful early autumn day.

The mists burned of some time ago – not as fast as Luna thought – and dappled sunlight filters through a multicolored canopy. It is well into the afternoon when Telsom rides up to Luna and calls for a halt and a reassessment of the group’s position relative to the map. Both Luna and Immerine are of the opinion that the first suspect caves are not that far of, but too far to reach in daylight.

“Too far to get there before dark,” whispers Immerine. “Perhaps we should rest and attempt this at full light?” The Rashemi witch looks at Telsom to see what his intention is. “It would seem the reasonable thing to do.” Telsom says agreeably.

“I love it when everyone agrees” Teryn says as he turns the horse in a full circle while examining the area around them, as Skeen snorts in an amused fashion. “Are we close enough that nasties from the caves could visit us during the night?” she asks, carefully.

“It isn’t likely, but it is possible. We should set up watches through the evening,” replies Immerine soberly.

“It also might be good to pair one with dark vision with one who has it not,” Skeen nods, looking at Immerine. “And would a fire be like a beacon calling any in the area to us?” Skeen hopes not, but she has to ask.

Quietly the barbarian mage speaks “I would think our distance is sufficient to keep us from being found and attacked. Usually a patrol is within a few hours travel from base camp to allow for a quick return at a double-time march. Much farther than that and the patrol gets too far away to maintain a good perimeter check as the area of the search increases too much.” He pauses and then qualifies it by saying “ At least that’s what I have read, the reality might be different I don’t know.”

Tarim keeps his eyes scanning the surrounding area and sends Ened’ome aloft for a quick look-see of the immediate territory from above. He seems to be deliberately trying to avoid speaking directly to anyone or even looking at them.

Skeen nods. “I don’t know much about tactics. I just hate getting surprised. And I tend to get surprised rather a lot.” She thinks for a moment. “I’m beginning to hate spiders as well.” Tarim chuckles “You think YOU hate them… I had to eat one…”

“I’m not sure if that is better or worse than having one eat you,” Skeen replies thoughtfully. “Did it taste like chicken?”

Tarim shrugs and says “I don’t think so… didn’t taste of anything really… like eating a dry piece of hay. It was more the idea of eating it that was unpleasant.” His eyes search the sky for Ened’ome as he speaks, a slightly faraway look coming over him as he focuses his attention on his little feathery friend’s mind.

With consent from Immerine and Telsom that this area might be the best to camp in since the caves are too far off to reach before the cover of darkness falls, Luna dismounts and begins to unload her personal effects and gear from Darkon.

Laying her bedroll down and placing her other items near by, the huntress smiles a bit as she watches Teryn from his spot before overhearing a bit of the conversation between Immerine and Skeen.

“If you don’t mind me interrupting and adding my two coppers worth, I would volunteer to do a big portion of the night shift since I do not need but a little rest,” the ranger interjects and then continues, “As for the fire, I think we are kind of in caught in the middle of that dilemma. We could start a fire now to cook some dinner and then douse it, which means animals could still wander our way due to how we all smell at this point or we can have a fire all night, which means we run the risk of being a beacon in some senses, but also scare all those who hate fire away. I think it is more or less a no win/win situation, however, that is just my humble thoughts on it.”

The wood elf just smiles softly at the two women in front of her as if she will agree on anything the group decides about fire and guarding schedule while she picks up her bow as if she intends on finding dinner for them all once more, before a soft giggle escapes her lips and she adds one more suggestion, “Of course we could have the men pee around our camp to keep the nasties away and as much I would enjoy the sight of some bare arses, I think the smell would be worse for us.”

A faint smile crosses Teryn’s lips as he looks at Telsom. “This area might ‘belong’ to a wild animal. We wouldn’t want to challenge any unwanted alpha males here, now would we?” an obvious reference to his conversation with Telsom just after meeting Luna.

Another passing giggle comes from the gearing up huntress as the memory of the heated debate between the two men enters her mind. “I think I can go to see another one of those.” Luna jests as she winks at them both.

“Ay setting camp her will be good indeed” he says as he scampers of his pony with grace of a tree trunk. As he saddles of his horse and prepares a sleeping place he looks over in Luna’s direction and merely shakes his head at her with a broad smile on his face. “I don’t know much about tactics either at least not above ground that is. My clan seldom surfaces from the home of stone and rock. His brows furrows as the mentioning of spiders comes up and he says to Tarim “If you hate spiders prey to the gods you don’t run into drow. They love ‘em and hate everything that doesn’t have dark skin or eight legs. “How’s it gonna be with that fire?”

“A fire is always a beacon calling…” the warrior comments as he continues to scan the area. “Just how far are those caves?” Glancing at the dwarf, Teryn adds “Branith, you may be grumbling again tomorrow morning, I suggest we break camp early enough to be there before first light.” Branith looks at Teryn as he rolls his eyes and his arms outstretched “Ay is there no mercy…”

Telsom tends to the animals once more, his thoughts somewhere else as he fails to join in on the conversations.

The humor in Luna’s comments seems to go over Immerine’s head. “Actually I doubt their urine is concentrated enough to scare anything but each other. The pheromones are there but not used in the same way, humanoids have become too civilized for that. As for the fire I know how to build a sheltered fire to keep the light from not being seen. However my worry is not fire but smoke. The wood is damp and will give off too much. Though I could use a spell to dry it and we could have a small sheltered fire all night.” Immerine seems surprised that she can actually do what she suggested.

“I didn’t even think of smoke,” Skeen admits. “I really am more of a city elf. Though I seem to be spending a lot of time on the road. Maybe I should learn some woodcraft,” she says, fairly thoughtfully for Skeen.

The huntress looks respectfully to Immerine and nods in agreement as she replies. “That would be wonderful and a good skill to learn.”

“As for being a city elf, I believe I might have to learn from you, Skeen, if we ever go into one, for I feel that I would be the fish out of water in a large one. So, it is a good thing we have those who feel comfortable in different places so we might learn from one another, “ the wood elf tries to point out to the moon elf to show that everyone has strengths and weaknesses.

Luna finishes inspecting her bow and a few select green dyed goose feather arrows and looks to the others, “By your leave, I might try to hunt some up something for all of us to eat other than dry rations. What say you all?” Areo begins to jump and down when his green eyes fall on his wood elf friend picking up her bow and looks to go hunting. An excitement within his steps as well as his face as he encircles Luna.

“I’m still not so sure that a dry fire won’t smoke enough to reveal our presence. I won’t argue against lighting a fire if that is what is decided, I just want to express my opinion.” Turning to Luna he adds “If we don’t have a fire I won’t speak for any one else but I won’t eat raw game. I’m not *that* hungry. If you want to search for fruit like you gathered last night I’ll be glad to help and learn.” He smiles broadly at that suggestion.

Though Teryn is not facing her, Immerine says to the group, “If we do not light a fire, I know I brought all my supplies with me. We can share my rations. Dried meat, fruit, nuts and some hard cheese are about all I have though.”

“Well… um… I thought a sheltered fire that Immerine spoke of would be ok, but if there is no fire…um Teryn is right… maybe dry rations is all we need then,” Luna stammers out if disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to go for the night in a hunt. “However, if the group wants something more than rations, I could take Teryn with me to get nuts and fruit, but… that is up to you all.”

The huntress just looks down to Areo and shrugs unknowingly as the toe of her brown boot seems to dig in the earth like a child would do if they were refused to play with a new toy. Areo whines a bit and then lies down at the feet of the wood elf friend and waits the decision of the others.

Tarim continues to look off into the distance somewhat blankly and says softly “I would think that a properly sheltered fire should be fine. I would wait for dusk to light it however lest the smoke, however small the amount, be visible from a distance.”

“Ay, sounds good.” Branith then looks around the area and says, “Shall I start to look for some firewood then?”

Immerine pauses in her digging of the fire pit and looks at Tarim, “Tarim? Are you okay? You are acting strangely. You haven’t brushed your hair and now you are distant and unfocused.”

The Uthgardt mage does not turn his attention fully from what he is contemplating to answer her. Instead Tarim closes his eyes and says “Yes… I suppose I am fine Immerine. Things have just not… worked out the way I would have expected is all. I had certain expectations of what would come to pass… of how people would see me. I did not expect…” he sighs “never mind”

“I have learned, even in my short time away from home that you should not expect too much from others. How did you expect us to see you? What has not worked out for you?” Immerine seems confused by the sudden downturn in Tarim’s personality.

Tarim sighs softly and says “It’s nothing… I’m just being childish I suppose, and you’re right, I should not expect too much.”

The mage finally brings his focus back to the witch and sighs again. “It’s just that I was used to a very close knit group of people at home, we all depended on each other and I was a person of importance, I was even regarded with a sort of mixture of awe and respect. There was a certain degree of comfort there… and it’s gone I just have to get used to that…”

Immerine starts to snap off a reply and suddenly changes her mind. Instead she looks at him intently, “You are feeling like an outsider. Why do you not think you are a person of importance here? You have taught me to open up my gifts, you have helped the group and to Ened’ome you are the world. As I have been told by Telsom, this is not my home. And I will give you the same advice. Out here you are respected but in a different way. You must also continually fight to keep respect. I am used to being alone so I do not feel the loss as you do. I feel different as I am learning to be part of a group. You are learning to be part of a group of strangers and are alone.”

Immerine hangs her head, “Initially I was going to say you were spoiled. But I do not think that is exactly what your problem is. See, I am trying. I am getting nicer.” She winks at the barbarian mage.

Tarim shrugs and smirks sardonically “I suppose my magic is of use…” but then the slight dark haired young man hesitates “but…it’s nothing.” After a few heartbeats of thought he shoots a playful glance back to Immerine and confesses “You’re not the first to say I’m spoiled though. Aragrym used to say it all the time, usually when he was angry.”

 “If you do not mind a little criticism. You are too quiet. You let too much pass you by. If something bothers you, you should let someone know. Otherwise this world will eat you alive. I know you have iron in you, I have seen it. You cannot be this timid all the time. Perhaps I am the wrong one to counsel you. I come from a society where decisiveness goes hand in hand with aggressiveness. There is no room for timidity as you make yourself a target,” Immerine falls silent and finishes the fire pit then rubs her hands together to remove the worst of the dirt.

She leans over to retrieve her staff and waterskin, “I am going to get some water and clean up. Anyone want to come with me?” If Skeen hears the brief exchange between Immerine and Tarim, she gives no sign of it, but when Immerine mentions water and cleaning up, she walks over in her own graceful way and nods, “Yes, might be the last chance we get for a bit.”

The wild eyed huntress hears that the fact a small sheltered fire would be fine, which causes her sulking to vanish quickly and her excitement of the possible hunt cross her coppery countenance. “Oh!” Luna exclaims, “then may Teryn and I go hunting then for a bit. I promise we won’t be gone long and we can find at least something to make a stew with.” Her words come out earnestly as if the toy of her desire once again dangles in front of her.

However when the exchange between Tarim and Immerine floats to her softly pointed ears, Luna frowns a bit to hear that the barbarian does not feel at home within this group and even worse is that he does not see himself useful. The ranger steps a bit closer to the mage and simply states very innocently, “Saer Tarim, our group would have faltered with those spiders if it wasn’t for what you did for us, especially for Skeen. I hope you will see that for I know I feel that without you this group would not be complete.” The forest green eyes look to the man with honesty gleaming within them.

Tarim’s face takes on a rosy hue with the praises of the elven huntress and he quietly says “Thank you Luna, you are very kind. Please though, just call me Tarim I haven’t earned such a title yet…” he pauses and looks up with a gleam in his bright blue eyes, “Give me a little time though.” with a chuckle.

Skeen rolls her eyes a bit at the effusiveness of Luna on her behalf and adds simply, “And I owe you a life now. I’m still not sure why you did that. I think most would have let me die.” She shrugs clearly uncomfortable with the whole topic of gratitude and close-knit groups. “I don’t understand the other stuff, but I’d say you probably were lucky to have ever experienced something like that.” For a moment the tall, lovely elf’s expression looks almost wistful, then she shrugs it off and looks back at Immerine expectantly.

“I understand your… perspective on that Immerine but when you are used to being the most fragile person around, you learn to wait your turn. The only reasons I had respect in my tribe is that I wasn’t dead as everyone thought I should have been and that everyone was certain that I was to be shaman after my father. Otherwise… I was already a target as the weakest male in the village. My best defenses were long walks in the forest and time spent with friends I made there who did not judge me by my size or strength.”

He shakes his head to clear it sending his long ebon hair spilling over his shoulders and says “But at any rate getting clean sounds wonderful… I am very picky about that” he says smiling ruefully.

Gathering his staff and getting ready to follow Immerine, Tarim looks over his shoulder at Skeen and smiles at her gently. “You owe me nothing, Skeen. I made my choice for my reasons and none of my reasons had anything to do with you repaying me or ‘owing’ me anything. No one here would have let you die, dear lady. I just happened to have the honor of beating Telsom to the rescue.” he says with a smirk, obviously feeling better.

“And yes, I have been very fortunate… and continue to be it seems. Thank you. Shall we?” he indicates the direction of Immerine’s apparent search for water.

Skeen shrugs. “Doesn’t matter why you did it. I still owe you,” she says stubbornly. She snorts at his calling her a lady and looks at Telsom and shakes her head. “You may be right in saying no one would have let me die here, but since you are the one that prevented it. You are the one I owe. Just how I am,” she adds, walking a bit behind the other two on the way to the water.

“It’s quite alright, I’ve already filled my quota for this season. Next season I’ll give you a run for your money Tarim.” Telsom says with a playful smile. Looking to Branith, Telsom nods in the direction the others are moving. “Do you want to go with the others or stay here good dwarf? I’d like to bathe as well but I can wait if you’d like to go. Someone should stay to watch the camp and our mounts.”

The dwarf looks over at Telsom and says “You go and have bath” with a sigh he adds “ I am not that fond of water myself, although I might take a bath later.” With a childlike smile full of enthusiasm, Telsom nods his thanks to Branith and then makes after the others.

“I think I will pass on the bath until this evening when the water is a less crowded.” Luna blushes deeply as she watches the others make their way to the water. “I will go scouting and get some dinner then” The wood elf’s emerald eyes gaze upon Teryn as she cocks her head sideways as she asks him, “Would you rather go bathing with the others?” Areo already hearing that the hunting is once more on begins to encircle the leather-clad maiden and jumps up and down until Luna places a hand on his head.

Watching Areo’s excitement, Teryn looks up at Luna and answers “We can hunt now or bathe now, whichever you wish. It occurs to me that it will be even colder as the sun goes down but I can tolerate it if you can.” He smiles at the huntress, waiting for her to lead.

“Well, um…I never…got undressed in front of anyone…and um…they don’t seem to mind…” Luna states with a blush about her cheeks as tries not to look at Teryn, “I could bathe now though, but I think I will have to enter the water else where…

Immerine leads the small knot of people to a stream which has filled a small basin and then continues beyond a trickling rockfall. She smiles, “Idyllic! Isn’t it beautiful?” Immerine starts divesting herself of clothes, piling them a couple of feet from the pool. Pink scars cross her back marring her pale almost translucent skin. She half turns toward Tarim and Skeen and a vivid red bite mark is visible above her right breast and a ragged red scar on her left hip. “We should fill our water supply before stirring up the pool,” she smiles then kneels next to the pool to fill her waterskin. She also takes the chance to blot the worst dirt from the under jerkin of the armor. Looking back to the others, “We can take turns scrubbing each other’s back. I haven’t had a good back scrub since I left Rashemen.”

Tarim walks out from the treeline and comes to a dead halt as he sees Immerine undressing. For a moment he tries to form a sentence but he is so taken aback and off guard all he can manage is “Ah… um… oh…” Suddenly he becomes aware that he is staring open mouthed and his mouth snaps shut almost mechanically.

Only a second or so passes as his eyes take in the delightfully pleasant sight until her wounds register on his mind and he nearly rushes forward in concern. “Immerine, are you well? Your wounds…? I didn’t know you were hurt…” his expression full of worry and his eyes wide in apprehension.

Skeen eyes the scars carefully and shakes her head as she strips. An amused glint comes into her eye as she waits for Tarim’s reaction. She touches the scar around her neck sympathetically as she chuckles. “Too bad the others aren’t here to fill their waterskins first,” she comments.

At Skeen’s words the Uthgardt mage glances over out of habit and a single “Eeep” escapes his lips. His face, which had been blanched with worry just a split second before goes beet red all the way to his ears.

Immerine frowns and momentarily shields her scars as much as she can from view. Her voice is subdued when she answers, “I’m sorry. I forgot you menfolk have odd customs here. I am not as pretty as your pale skinned house beauties and my scars are horrific to see. They were earned though each one of them.” Flame ignites in her eyes as she proudly points to them, “The ones on my back and this bite mark were from a few nights ago when I was in a snowstorm with Lieutenant Aluar. I saves his life. Of course, his life wouldn’t have been in danger if he hadn’t come charging after me at breakneck speed.”

“This one,” she points to her hip, “this one I earned while saving an ungrateful nobleman. Luckily after Matteo slapped me in the sewers I know exactly what he thinks of me and I am sorry I ever told him I loved him!” Immerine’s lip quivers a little before her face firms up again. “I don’t need him and he certainly doesn’t need me.”

Immerine notices Tarim staring off again, then she turns to see what he is looking at … then she snickers loudly. “Oh Tarim! Surely you have seen naked women before. Don’t your people have ceremonies where you celebrate dancing under the moonlight in the nude? We celebrate all the time in Rashemen. These are just bodies.” She pokes and prods her naked form. In fact, if you want breasts you can have them. A big nuisance is what they are.” She takes a breast in each hand and slaps them roughly together then shakes her head.

Tarim quickly tears his eyes away from the gorgeous sight and brings his eyes back to Immerine only to be rewarded with an equally overwhelming eyeful. “Oh gods…” he mutters. Swallowing hard Tarim brings his slightly shaking hand up to ostensibly massage his temples but it has the effect of surreptitiously visoring his eyes from staring at either of the lovely young women.

“Immerine… are you… ok?”

“Enough nonsense now! Get undressed so we can scrub each other. I won’t mind any swellings since it is supposed to be a natural thing with you men. At least you don’t distend like a wolf. That would be hard to keep my eyes off. Don’t you think Skeen? Can you imagine how long a male human would distend his penis if he were excited like a wolf?” Immerine giggles wickedly in the back of her throat. “Though I will admit, I like looking at men. I have learned they are attractive creatures, since leaving Rashemen.”

Skeen watches Immerine with careful amazement for a moment, then starts to laugh. The hoarse sound is strange coming from her throat, but she can’t help it. Finally, she manages to get her laughter under control and murmurs, “I’m rather relieved only to have the one scar,” Skeen points to her neck. “The others were careful to leave me unmarked because men wouldn’t pay as much in the cities I went to for a scarred whore.”

“I have never really looked at a male wolf that closely,” Skeen adds carefully. “But I won’t be offended if Tarim’s body reacts. It is just how male bodies are, I think. They can’t seem to control them much.”

Tarim just stands there, hands finally falling limply to his sides and eyes cast downward. His mouth opens at several points during the lovely witch’s tirade but he cannot bring himself to speak. In his eyes there is a whirlwind of emotions. Shame, anguish, anger and sorrow all competing for control.

With Skeen’s laughter, shame’s rule is established over his heart, and it is at that moment that his head comes up, eyes welling a bit with tears. “Why do you mock me so?” he asks the two beautiful girls, his voice thick with heartache “What have I done to so earn your disdain?”

Immerine looks confused, “Mock? Disdain? Tarim, I consider you to be respectable and I trust you. What are you talking about?” Immerine turns back to the pool of water and sighs, “Don’t you want to wash? Oh, I know – you don’t want to touch me. I suppose you are right, I shouldn’t break that rule. I’ve already broken too many. Thank-you for reminding me of my failings to the Sisterhood. Do you want to slap me too? The last person to remind me of it slapped me and it seemed to make him feel better. I suppose this is punishment for saying that I like to look at men. Until I saw Matteo naked when I healed him, I had never seen a man. I think their swellings are nice – especially now that I know they aren’t infected wounds that need to be drained with a knife.”

Immerine grabs her cloak and wraps it around her willowy frame and sits down. “You go ahead and wash. I will wait until you are done. You don’t mind if I look at you though do you? If you do I will go back to camp and wait until you are done then I will come back alone so no one will be ashamed of me.” Complete confusion and a look of guilt are all over Immerine’s face.

Instantly Tarim’s shame is wiped away by a much more prevalent emotion, concern. He walks to Immerine and crouches by her side saying “No, no, no Immerine…I just thought you were making fun of me… with all the things you were saying…” I think you are both beautiful…far too beautiful to be leered at by the likes of me…”

“You have to understand… I… well I am not used to such talk and I have spent too much time alone to really know how to…deal with such things. I know I am not very… well… attractive to women either… I look too much like a child I guess…” Tarim hangs his head a bit and reaches out to touch her hand and draws back, remembering at the last moment.

“It isn’t that I don’t want to touch you…rather it’s the opposite. I do. Very much so and it embarrasses me because I know how…base and common and tiresome that must be to you. Both of you.” he adds with a meaningful look to Skeen

“I suppose I really am just as bad as the rest.” he sighs

Coming out of the woods after the others with a playful grin on his face, Telsom walks towards them with his chain shirt draped over the forearm of his left arm. “Come now. Playful is so much better than morose.” Naked from the waste up, Telsom moves towards the water with a backwards glance at Tarim. “Come now Tarim, have off with your clothes before the ladies peel it off of you. Nobody is mocking you, this is exactly what we all need.” Divesting himself of the rest of his clothing, Telsom moves to enter the water without looking back at the others.

Upon seeing Telsom arrive, an interesting transformation comes over the young mage. He swallows hard, blinks rapidly and says “Of course” all vestiges of any emotion gone from his face. Smiling a faint little thin lipped smile at Immerine he stands and begins removing his clothes. He meets no one’s eyes and moves quickly and mechanically.

Tarim’s skin is extremely pale an interesting contrast to the stark ebon locks that touch his mid back. He is thin and frail with very fine bones and very little muscle (or hair) on his frame at all. The mage then takes his waterskin to the waters edge and fills it quickly before beginning to wash in the water.

Telsom’s arrival does not change Immerine’s mind, she remains huddled in her cloak and watches the two men get into the pool. Her eyes roam over their bodies noting the differences and similarities. If anything she seems to get even more depressed. While they bathe she unbraids her hair and lets it flow around her like a second cloak. Her emerald eyes lost in inner contemplation. Every so often she looks back at the men in the pool only to sigh and look away again.

Content to wash the dust of the road off of his body, it seems like the paladin didn’t notice at first that it was only Tarim and himself bathing. “Immerine.” He calls lightly. “Was it not you who suggested washing each others backs? You will have much time later to be contemplative and surly, come relax and enjoy yourself.”

Skeen watches the drama unfold with first Tarim, then Immerine becoming angry or hurt. She sighs. “I don’t think I did this at least,” she says finally, then walks over and sits down next to Immerine. “If you’re not going in there, then I’m not, Immerine,” she says simply. “I’ll just watch the show with you.” Of course, the fact that the tall elf was quite naked didn’t seem to either occur to her or bother her. She whispers something to the other woman as Telsom and Tarim head into the water.

“You know men get their feelings hurt more easily. He probably thought you were trying to compare him unfavorably to a wolf,” Skeen says matter-of-factly. “We can wait until they go though if you’d rather not be naked in front of them. I tend to think of my body as meat so it doesn’t really matter who sees it.” Skeen finishes softly.

Immerine looks at Skeen her mouth shaped in an ‘o’. “So I hurt his feelings by comparing him to a wolf? That makes sense. Okay I think I understand now.” The witch stands up and walks into the pool giggling as the water tickles her calves and then her thighs. Then she gives a high pitched squeal as she settles in and it reaches the tender areas beneath her breasts. “Oooooo! Cold!”

“Tarim I though you were repulsed by my body. I never meant to compare you to a wolf. I just find that some species mate differently than others. Male humans and well, most humanoids I assume are like you. You know,” she dives under the water and touches his groin and resurfaces. “With one of those.” She shrugs. “I only brought up wolves because they are the creatures I have seen having sex more frequently than others. The male’s penis is housed in a sheath and when it is time to mate he becomes excited and it distends outside the sheath. The actual penis is long, pink and glistening. You are very different from a wolf.” She smiles again and swims around before diving under again and picking up a handful of sand, “Who wants to be scrubbed first?”

Once finished speaking but before anyone takes her up on the scrubbing she dunks her head again a terribly confused look on her face, which is even worse when she resurfaces. “Tarim? Are you okay? You shrank in the water. Telsom? DO you shrink in the water too? Curious. Quick now one of you come here and I will scrub you.”

Chuckling, Telsom makes no move to go to Immerine to be scrubbed instead he splashes water in her direction. “Our manhood’s tend to retreat like frightened turtles when exposed to either cold air or cold water. It is a natural reaction.” Telsom smiles at Immerine and then splashes water at her again.

 “Oh, okay. That makes sense. I’ve just never been told any of this before. And being raised by women, while pleasant, I feel I have missed out on certain portions of knowledge. So you shrink in water and cold, hmmm, that is kind of like the reaction our breasts make in cold by puckering up like this,” Immerine raises her chest out of the water. “See? The nipples get hard and pointed when cold.”

Immerine shrugs when no one takes up her invitation for scrubbing and starts working on her own skin instead. She looks over at Telsom a wicked glint in her eye, “Is it wrong of me to like to look at you? I think it is an amazing power that women hold over men and it is something I am just learning. Like you told me in the courtyard, I could get paid for the show you said I put on. I do not think it is a show. It is just nature at work.” She shivers against the water rippling down her arms as she rinses herself.

Immerine’s face lights up as she suddenly realizes something. She looks directly at Skeen, “So that is what you mean by eye candy! A sinful pleasure for the sight! I get it now. I had no idea what you meant back in the Running Stag when you called Telsom eye candy. Now I finally understand.”

Skeen walks in but stays a bit apart from the others, not participating in the scrubathon going on. “Not sure about sinful,” Skeen comments, “but other than that…”

Smirking at Skeen, Telsom bobs under the water for a moment before resurfacing, extending his hands over his head in a pose that plays off his finely toned, arms chest and abdomen. Winking at the elven woman, the paladin actually giggles before dropping beneath the surface once more, only to rise in the same spot a few moments later, wiping the hair out of his eyes a large playful smile on his face.

The young mage tries very hard not to stare at the nubile young women. A heroic effort really. He fails miserably as his eyes keep moving back as if of their own volition, sweeping over uncovered skin with adoring attention.

Tarim’s face achieves a whole new level of red with the witch’s touch and questions. Finally though he masters himself and merely shrugs, sighs and presents his back for scrubbing. “Immerine… at some point in the near future I think we should have a nice long chat about the concepts of propriety and some other related issues. We… well we aren’t understanding each other the way I would like. I think I do understand you better than I did however, and that is a very good thing.”

“Why?” she asks suddenly very quiet again, “What have I done wrong this time?” She rinses off and swims back the side of the pool and gets out. “I will go back and make sure Branith is okay. And, we don’t want the fire to start smoking.” She picks up her clothes and walks through the trees naked.

Tarim’s head goes back in exasperation and he dunks himself under the water, quickly finishing his washing while grumbling to himself. He looks to Telsom and asks, “Are my words really so ill-chosen?” as he steps out of the water and wrings out his hair.

Skeen bites her lip in amusement, first at Telsom and his little show and then at Tarim and Immerine and their misunderstandings. She turns away from the two men, finishing up her bath, the perfect line of her back and her curly gold hair hanging down in wet tendrils on her neck.

The young mage pauses in mid-wring, sighing softly while watching Skeen without realizing it. A few moments pass before he recovers and murmurs “This was such a bad idea…”

Telsom whistles appreciatively as Skeen partially exits the water but makes no move to leave himself. “It would seem that a great many of us are extremely sensitive these past few days. Anything that someone could possibly take as criticism will be taken as such whether it was meant that way or not.” Telsom says as Tarim leaves the water. Sighing as he finds himself all alone, Telsom remains where he is enjoying the cold water on his skin.

Skeen, still very much in the water, just apart from the others, ignores him. The only sign that she’s heard is a slow flush that creeps up her back.

Chuckling, Telsom splashes water at Skeen. “You are lovely Skeen. You can come closer if you wish to have a conversation, I promise not to make any unwanted advances.”

Skeen turns and looks at Telsom over her shoulder. “I didn’t think you’d attack me. I’m not that paranoid.” She moves a bit closer, close enough he doesn’t have to yell, though as sound carries over water, he wouldn’t have to speak too loudly anyway.

“It wounds me that you’d see any advances I might make towards you as an attack.” Telsom says, a playful smile on his face. Moving closer to Skeen, yet keeping well out of her personal space, Telsom raises an eyebrow. “Do you like what you see?” He asks, the playful tone carrying over in his voice.

Dressing quickly Tarim combs his hair out as he walks back to camp leaving Telsom and Skeen to their conversation and girding himself for his own. Breathing deeply Tarim mutters a prayer to “Mystra grant me the wisdom to choose the words she will understand”

Skeen shrugs at Telsom’s words. “You are pretty,” she says simply. “But you must know that.” She speaks as she would of a painting or sculpture.

“Aye, my mistress chose me for several reasons, but the way I look was one of the foremost. It isn’t who I am as a whole, but it is a large part of me. Sune wants me to inspire others to seek out things of beauty and take part. I could be mistaken, but I think that you don’t see yourself as beautiful or even think that highly of beautiful things. I don’t see this as a fault, but I would like to teach you to take pleasure in life if you’ll let me.”

Skeen looks at Telsom warily. “I know that men want me, if that’s what you mean. I’ve just never found what men want to be much fun for any but the men. Beauty is for people that can afford it. I can’t afford it,” Skeen says cautiously.

Arching an eyebrow, Telsom examines Skeen’s face for a moment before continuing. “Some things are free Skeen, and others can cost you dearly. My friendship is free, as is whatever healing I can supply you with to heal your injured soul. I’m not trying to bed you, although the thought has crossed my mind…” At a loss for words for a moment, the paladin holds up his hand to forestall any interruptions. “I like to look at you Skeen, it’s not just because of how lovely you are, but I like to try to think on how I can help you. My perception might be off, but when I look at you, I see a piece of hardened steel, unyielding, yet with several deep cracks that could threaten to shatter you if you bend the wrong way. I’m not calling you broken, but I know that you have been damaged. I’d like to think that the damage isn’t irreparable and I would like the chance to show you that not everyone has an ulterior motive, not everyone is out to profit at someone else’s expense. I’m not like that, and I know you aren’t like that.

You’ve likely had to do some horrible things to survive… I grew up in the lap of luxury which puts me at the opposite end of the spectrum, but we are alike you and I, as well as the others we would face danger to protect others, would take food out of our mouths to feed those more hungry.” His seemingly endless supply of words come to an end, Telsom relaxes somewhat in the water, his arms weaving through the water, goosebumps standing out sharply on his skin.

Skeen tilts her head, rather like a puppy trying to understand quantum physics. “I don’t think I’m what you think I am,” she says after a long awkward moment of silence. “Other than broken. That’s probably a good word. Something broke in me a long time ago, Telsom. I don’t think I’m capable of healing. I think it’s too late. And I know I’m not as good as you think I am.” Skeen shrugs again, standing awkwardly with the cold water lapping around her hips.

“I think you know that you are exactly what I think you are Skeen. You might not completely believe it yourself but you are. You spoke in your sleep… nothing that I really understood, but there is still some innocence about you. The abuse you’ve sustained wasn’t enough to strip you of it completely…Trust in us Skeen, trust in me, and then when you’ve learned to believe in others and to trust them, then you can begin to believe in yourself.”

Telsom’s eyes wander down to Skeen’s hips, his eyes not staying fixed on any particular part of the elf’s body for any long period of time, and then his eyes return to look at her face. Oddly, Telsom’s face shows only admiration and caring, not the lust that other parts of his body are beginning to show.

Skeen shakes her head at Telsom. “I lost my innocence…” She laughs and there is nothing of amusement in the laugh. “…a long time ago. One of those memories that stays with you no matter how much you want to forget it.” For a brief instant Skeen shudders in something like horror. She is about to say more when she hears Branith coming through the trees and falls silent, attending again to her bath.

Meanwhile back at the camp, Teryn flushes with embarrassment “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…” he pauses briefly “that is, of course you can go by yourself, I’ll meet up with you in a few minutes ri…” Teryn stops mid-word and looks past the elf a moment “Then again” he resumes “maybe you can bathe right here, it looks like may already be finished, here comes Immerine now.”

Otherwise seeming to ignore Immerine’s nakedness, he calls out “Immerine, how is the water, that is, besides obviously um… cold?”

As the wood elf watches the naked Immerine rush into camp quite upset, the huntress looks to Teryn and nods that maybe it would be best if they left and allow the maiden some time on her own. “I believe I shall go hunting for now, Teryn, but you may bathe if you wish. It won’t take long to hunt some dinner down and then we can bathe in the water. The sun should not be under by then.” the leather clad elf suggests as she makes her path away from the camp.

His face turning red and any semblance of a smile vanishing, he looks downcast as though his pet dog just died. “Either I stuck my foot in my mouth, which I don’t think I did, or she’s disturbed about something else.” He begins to ready his bow “Yes, let’s go hunt and worry about bathing later. She looks like she is troubled and it might be best to give her some space right now.” Teryn turns and start walking perpendicular to the angle the bathers have been coming from, heading in the direction he believes is upstream and starts looking for a game trail.

Immerine has a hurt look on her face and answers, “Busy. Skeen Telsom and Tarim …” she pauses and looks back through the trees, “Okay, just Skeen and Telsom are still there. The water is chilly and if you want to bathe I suggest soon because the sun is dropping.” She turns towards Branith her breasts bouncing slightly, “You may want to clean up now too Branith. I can guard the camp.”

The Rashemi witch drops her armor next to her bedroll and walks over to the fire to make sure it isn’t smoking. Then she sighs deeply and steps a couple feet away. She closes her eyes and just listens to the woodlands, allowing herself to soak up the sounds and scents. Then, still nude, she begins a graceful almost ritualistic dance around the fire. Her raven black hair trails behind and around her as she moves. Slowly the movement and the slight breeze begin drying her locks turning them into a flowing gown across her luminous body.

Branith looks with a slightly appreciative look in his eyes as the female walks into camp. “Ay, sounds good to me he says.” as he takes of his scale mail and puts it amidst the rest of his equipment near his bedroll. He then picks up his waterskin and walks away in the direction Immerine arrived from towards the water and a chilly bath.

Tarim comes within sight of Immerine and stops. Slowly and inexorably he is drawn nearer as if by an inexorable force. His bright shining eyes are wide with wonder and appreciation and all traces of shame are gone.

He watches quietly, even reverently as she moves with grace and beauty stirring heretofore unknown forces within his soul. When it looks as though she may come to a halt the Uthgardt mage steps forward and in a voice thick with emotion utters words that seem to him to come without even speaking. “I have never seen anything so beautiful, Immerine. You are so lovely and you are a mystery to me, but I like to think I see the beginnings of understanding. Will you speak with me, and listen too?”

Panting with exertion Immerine shrugs, “Let me get dressed first. The chill in the air will settle into my bones if I don’t cool down properly.” Immerine digs in her pack for a homespun gray gown and slips it on over her head to settle about her figure. “Speak if you wish, I will cool down and listen.” Immerine drops into a routine workout stretching her body to cool down after the dance.

Thoroughly absorbed by Immerine’s movements Tarim does not truly acknowledge her statement for several seconds after she speaks. Then suddenly her words hit home in his mind and he shakes his head and returns to the here and now.

“I think the first and most important thing I need to say to you Immerine is that I like you very much. I find your honesty compelling if somewhat disconcerting and I respect your courage and intelligence greatly. I find you physically…” he pauses and breathes deeply, “mesmerizing… more lovely than any woman I have ever known.”

“I want you to trust me… not like before… but really trust me. Trust that I respect and like you and that I enjoy being with you. Can you do that?”

“Tarim,” Immerine looks around the now empty campsite, “I cannot trust you more than I do already. You are confusing me again. How can I trust you more than I do now? Yes, I do trust that you respect me. I like and respect you too. And of all the men I have met you are, so far, the least insufferable to be with. You do not make me feel all wound up inside. Perhaps it is because you are an Old One. You are to be respected and treated with care.” Immerine smiles and pulls out a roughly carved comb and begins working it through her glistening, damp hair.

“Immerine” he begins with a gentle smile “I need you to trust that I will not think ill of you, that I do not find your scars hideous, that I will NEVER strike you, and that I feel delight at the sound of your voice and truly am amazed by your brilliance. I need you to stop running away in your heart. Don’t assume the worst of me, and I will do the same of you.”

Tarim crouches by her side and his hand reaches out towards her face slightly and then stops. He sighs, dropping his hand back down again in resignation. “I would like to touch you… May I, please?” he asks gently his vivid electric-blue eyes fixed on hers raptly. “Why?” she asks simply.

While Telsom and Skeen have their discussion in the basin’s cold water, the sound of someone approaching through the woods is clearly audible… Branith walks out of woods while whistling some tune of a sort and makes short “Hello!” and a nod towards the two while he undresses. His beard partially covers his manhood as he walks into the water. Just before his head is dipped under he kicks the bottom and he levels out with the surface and begins floating around. Paddling then and again with his feet to keep moving.

Skeen looks a bit, well, almost nervous, standing fairly close to Telsom. As Branith appears she starts to wash again, but her movements are a bit awkward, not looking near to her normal grace.

After a few rounds of floating around he again reaches to more shallow parts of the water. He stands up, his wet braided beard hangs in a mess down his stomach as he walks up and slumps down on his clothes . “Aigh, now I have to redo this, See!” he says as points to his wet beard. “This is why I never like to take a bath, makes a mess out of my beard.”

Skeen nearly smiles at the dwarf. “Sometimes it takes me a day or so to get the knots out of my hair. I used to wear it long but it was impossible. So I just cut it off with a knife when it gets too bad.” Indeed, Skeen’s hair does look unevenly cropped, though for some reason, it rather suits the tall, moody elf.

With a warm smile for Branith, and then the same for Skeen, Telsom leaves the water moving to retrieve his gear. Shivering, the paladin tries to dry himself off as best as possible before equipping himself. When fully attired once more, Telsom sits on the ground and looks around the area, waiting for the other two to finish before heading back to camp with them.

With a rather awkward look at both, Skeen climbs out of the water, not really subconscious, but perhaps more aware than before. She moves to her clothes and shakes her head like a dog, getting most of the water out of it and accidentally splattering Telsom to some extent. She then gets dressed and begins to work a comb through her ragged mop of curls, at least as best as she can.

“Would you like me to do that for you Skeen?” Telsom asks, motioning toward the woman’s comb with his hand. “If you wouldn’t mind,” Skeen says, after a moment, unused to being offered or accepting help. “Otherwise it’s almost time to chop it off again, though that makes it much easier to deal with. Stupid curls.”

“Mind?” Telsom asks, although his words come out as more of a statement. “It will be a pleasure.” Taking the offered comb, Telsom slowly moves around Skeen, coming to a stop directly behind her. Running the back of his hand over her tresses, Telsom slowly lifts the woman’s curls in his hands releasing them a small cluster at a time, letting them sift through his fingers. “You have very nice hair Skeen, I’d be happy to comb your hair on a daily basis if you wish.” With that, Telsom begins to slowly comb Skeen’s hair, careful not to pull any knots too tightly. From time to time the holy warrior, actually uses his fingers to dislodge knots so that he could keep working away at her hair.

Skeen gives Telsom an odd look. “I think I’d be happier with no hair at all,” Skeen says, just not getting it. The hair is rather ornery, each strand very fine and very springy so that it seems to almost tangle as soon as the comb goes through it, but eventually Telsom works the worst of the knots free, getting it about as good as possible. Skeen, too, starts out tense and coiled, but as Telsom works and doesn’t do more than touch her hair, she eases a bit, though one would hardly call her relaxed at any point.

Finished combing Skeen’s hair, Telsom leans forward, kissing her gently on the top of the head before stepping back. “Was that so bad?” he asks playfully. Skeen jumps, nearly taking the top of her head into the paladin’s face. “Don’t do that,” she says finally, picking up her pack and stalking back toward the others.

Not upset by Skeen’s reaction Telsom chuckles calling after her. “We’ve made progress here Lightfingers!” Chuckling once more, Telsom draws his rapier from its scabbard and begins to practice, waiting until Branith is ready to return to camp.

Skeen grumbles to herself all the way back to the others, where she spies Tarim in deep conversation with Immerine. Full of rather nervous energy, she begins to walk around the perimeter of the camp, looking for anything out of place.

Branith sits drying his beard with his pants and then ties it into braids once more. When Skeen gets up and leave, the dwarf has a serious smile on his face. “That’s the way to take it. If we where to take every setback that deals with women, everyone would be as short as my kin because of the weight.” he says to Telsom. Then he grabs his tunic and starts to walk down towards the water once more “I will just wash my clothes of then we can return to camp.” The dwarf washes his clothes and scrubs them with some rocks and then slings the wet clothes over his back, starting the trek back towards the campsite.

Enjoying the feel of the naked blade in his hand, Telsom finds himself working harder than he had meant to, and soon the paladin begins to sweat despite the cool air. Moving to the water, Telsom dunks his head beneath the surface holding it there for several seconds as he cools off, his body shuddering briefly before bringing his head out of the water with a large splash. Telsom shakes his head much like Skeen had done not long before and sends water spraying through the air before moving to follow behind Branith. As the pair move back towards the group’s encampment, Telsom begins to whistle a tune.

Tarim smiles softly and drops his knees to the ground, his legs already complaining of the crouching position. His eyes continue to search Immerine’s gently and he says in a low soft voice “Because words can only convey feelings to a point, Immerine. Because a word stands for a thought and a thought is a singular thing present only in ones own mind. In order to convey some things…actions are needed.”

Immerine drops her voice so low only Tarim can hear what she says, and even then he is forced to lean in very close. “Oh, you are saying you have feelings for me. That is very sweet Tarim, but it comes at an awkward time. See, the others do not know and I doubt Matteo even remembers, but we are pledged to one another. He asked to be my mate and I accepted. There have been complications since the pledging three and a half days ago. He also has feelings for Captain Zaina and I know he has been spending a great deal of time with her. I can smell her on his clothing and his skin. He also slapped me in the sewers and has been treating me terribly. He has never treated me nicely in public, but of course I have not treated him well either. I tried releasing him from his pledge but he said I could not. So the pledge remains.”

“So, you see. I like you very much and I would not mind kissing you as I really like kissing. But until Matteo and I have settled our pledge I will not dishonor Khelliara as I made the pledge by her. I have already disappointed my goddess too many times. I will not do so again. I ask you one thing. Matteo does not wish the pledge of marriage to be known. I trust you to keep it between us; otherwise I will kill you myself.”

Tarim’s smile grows wider at the witch’s words, his eyes still gentle and understanding. “Yes my dear” he says somewhat happily “I already know some of what you say.” He nods gravely and then with another heartwarming smile he adds “I understand your situation and I fully respect your pledge and wishes. But you have not answered my request… May I touch you?”

Immerine looks slightly taken aback and even more confused, “I still do not understand why touching is so important to you. But if you must, you may.” With the witch’s permission the frail mage gathers her hand into his and covers it with his other.

Tarim’s eyes drop to look at his and her hands locked together for a moment and then looks up smiling. In a nearly whispering voice he says “My heart aches to see what has been done to you Immerine. The pain you still feel at Matteo’s words and actions is readily seen by one who cares about you and I do, very much so.”

“I have not come to you to pledge my undying love for you or to ask your hand in marriage. I only wish you to feel the love and warmth that I have for you.” He takes a deep breath and continues slowly each low whispered word carefully weighed and uttered with reverent care.

“You are a brilliant, radiant and strong, truly a magnificent woman. Men will wish to possess you and call you theirs, do not let them. You are destined for greatness, Immerine. Do not let Matteo’s cruelty make you forget how special you are.”

His top hand reaches up slowly to caress the side of her face, his smile a little sad, and his eyes leave much unsaid as he takes a deep, slightly shuddering breath. “No matter what happens, I will be here for you. Our bond is stronger than words. I am your student, your teacher and your friend and if that is all there ever is between us, so be it.” The raven haired young man slowly embraces the witch and says softly into her ear “I ask nothing of you Immerine, nothing.”

Immerine freezes and her eyes get wide when Tarim moves his hand from her hand to her cheek. She flinches as he pulls her into a hug and he can feel the tension in her muscles as she fights to remain seated and still. When he releases her she fights to keep from backing away. She schools her face into a complacent mask and looks at him with steady emerald eyes. “Your body and your eyes betray you Tarim. Though you do not ask anything of me, they pierce me and lay open a host of questions. Now is not the time for those answers and I do not know if I can ever give them. There is too much happening too quickly. For now I will try to understand you better, and we will both have to work on it since language seems to be a barrier.”

Tarim sighs heavily and releases the young witch “Again I feel I have failed to communicate effectively. I am so sorry to have made you uncomfortable; I really didn’t mean it to be so. My intention was to ease your mind and to let you know that I am here to help and understand, not to judge or criticize you. Please forgive my mistake…” The slight mage gets on his feet slowly his expression quite crestfallen and slowly walks to his small clump of gear. Immerine looks at Tarim quizzically again, “I do not understand you Tarim. I thought I understood you perfectly and now you say I didn’t. This is not making any sense to me. What have I done to upset you now?”

Tarim looks back over his shoulder and smiles faintly at the lovely witch. “You have not done anything, Immerine. My disappointment lies in my own shortcomings. I set out to reassure and comfort you, not to make you worry about that which I am thinking or feeling. I had hoped to let my words bring you solace and comfort not set off alarms within your own mind.” he sighs shaking his head ruefully. “It’s not you, it’s me.” he finishes quietly taking out his brush and slowly taking the tangles out with care.

Skeen, hearing Telsom and noting him returning, moved off a bit, wary and tense. Spying Skeen, Telsom sticks his tongue out at the young woman and then moves to see to his beloved horse. Wrapping his arms around Teri’s neck, he hugs her whispering soothing words into her ear to which she actually responds with a soft neighing.

Skeen frowns, and then watches Telsom move to his horse and a trace of a smirk appears, “Horse’s ass,” she murmurs while Branith walks into camp with his clothes slung on his shoulders. The naked dwarf puts them down on his bedroll and, after a quick scan of the camp, sits beside his drying clothes staring into the fire, as Teryn, Luna and Areo are walking off to find something for dinner.

With the sheltered fire burning, and shedding a little warmth into the increasing chill of the deepening dusk, Telsom finishes his grooming of Teri. From near the fire Skeen watches the paladin in his activities as a silent dwarf sits at the other side staring into the fire – likely thinking of his clan’s forges in the Spine of the World.

A little further off, Immerine and Tarim are engaged in a soft voiced conversation. Misunderstandings and misinterpretations of each other’s words and gestures seemingly a red-line through their conversation, which despite the low volume can be heard by those near the fire.

Of Teryn, Luna and the black wolf Areo there is no sign, the trio off somewhere in the forest in an attempt to bring down game. A low grumble from Branith’s stomach a signal that those in the camp hope on a speedy and successful return of the hunters.

Branith gets up and pulls on his damp clothes sometime during the evening and moves a little bit closer to the fire to dry up the rest while he waits for his comrades to return from the hunt. He shakes his head in silence at the conversation the human and elf holds with each other.

Skeen stays back away from Tarim and Immerine, not wanting to get involved with their conversation. She makes a perimeter of the camp and finds a rock a bit away from the others to rest on and she merely sits and waits.

Rubbing his eyes, Telsom yawns as he looks into the fire. Turning his head slowly to look at the elven rogue, the paladin flashes her a smile and then goes back to watching the flames. Skeen frowns at the rather odd human then sits where she is, waiting for the hunters to return and for Immerine and Tarim to finish.

Closer to the fire the Rashemi witch shakes her head slightly at Tarim. “You did not hear what I just said,” Immerine sighs in exasperation. “This will never be settled. Words may comfort and give solace, physical contact does not. I have learned it may excite or it may bring pain, but never comfort. I am tired of explaining everything I do, can you not accept me the way I am?”

“I can indeed accept you Immerine…and I have. We are just very different… I will remember what it is you have said and how you feel. I will make an effort to treat you in the manner you wish rather than how I think you should be treated, I believe that is the root of our problems at the moment. For some though… physical contact is very reassuring, just not you apparently.”

With the silence of nightfall the mage’s little owl swoops down and alights on his shoulder looking at Immerine with large abyssal eyes. The Uthgardt mage smiles softly at his dark feathered companion and says simply, “I know” with a sigh.

“just be yourself Tarim. As I am quite sure that is all that is necessary. And you are correct, physical contact is not reassuring to me. It may be one day, but not at the moment.” Immerine watches the little owl and shakes her head at the large eyes staring at her, “Is Ened’ome laughing at me for being foolish Tarim?”

The frail mage chuckles and with a genuinely sweet smile says “No indeed not, she thinks I should shut up and stop making things so difficult. She likes you and thinks I am being an ass actually. I think she’s wiser than I will ever be.” he sighs. In a low voice he says “Fine, go say hi then…” and the little owl hops into the air and glides to Immerine’s shoulder without hesitation.

Immerine stands perfectly still her face a mixture of delight and confusion as the bird alights on her shoulder. She smiles in utter happiness when the tiny creature rubs her face. “I’ve never met an owl before. It is very nice to meet you Ened’ome,” Immerine reaches a hand to stroke the feathers.

She looks back to Tarim, “Animals are much easier to understand than humans. Perhaps that is because I lived so long with them. They are very wise in their own ways, yet what they see in life is very simple and based on instincts and relationships. I wish life were that simple for us all.” There is a tinge of regret and sadness in the witch’s voice.

The content of Twilight Dawn are the property and copyright of J P Hazelhoff, and are not to be published or redistributed without permission.

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