Attuning

Family Business

by MourningStarsOfLakes

Tags: #cw:noncon #dom:female #f/f #fantasy #pov:bottom #solo #sub:female #transgender_characters

So much waiting for love.
  First love the Golden,
  First love the magic love
    Giver of joy but
  The love you are waiting for
    Waiting for
  Comes equal, comes old
  And remembers young,
    So young.
 
Unfortunate angel; Sarah behind the tent-door.  
    Do you remember?
A Humument (2006), Tom Phillips

“What about an adventurer’s discount?”
 
Meda’s scaly snout flashed a toothy smile at the tavern keeper.  The rows of tiny white fangs did little to change his mood.
 
“Hmph.  Which adventuring group you with?”
 
“The Blooming Petals!” she responded excitedly, puffing herself up.  The feather in her cap bounced merrily as she threw her head back.
 
“Sounds like a florist.”  
 
The kobold deflated, head cocking to one side in annoyance.  The tavern keeper snapped his meaty fingers.
 
“Oh wait, I know you!  You’re the Blue Bard, right?”
 
“Yes!  Core member of the Blooming Petals!”  
 
Kallista rolled her eyes as the scaly bard struck a heroic pose.
 
“You owe my cousin over at the Bottle’s Bottom for a week’s pay, don’t ya?”
 
“No.  What?  Your cousin?” Meda snorted indignantly, “Does your whole family run taverns or something?”
 
“Yeah actually, it’s a family business.”  The barkeep bristled.  “You have something to say about it?”
 
“I’m sure she’d sing the praises of how wonderful all the drinking establishments in Brookeridge are,” Ellice interjected, placing a silk-gloved hand on her snarling friend’s shoulder, “Meda, please just pay the man.”
 
“I’ll have you know,” Meda grumbled as she fumbled with her coinpurse, “That I didn’t just skip out on those performances.  I had to go on very important business for the Circle that could end the war!  That’s more important than a few songs for drunks, eh?”
 
“Last I checked, the war’s still on.  And you still owe me eight silver.”
 
“Eight?!”  Her tiny black claws clacked together in outrage.  “You said six just a minute ago!”
 
“Yeah, but now I have to charge you an extra fee for not stopping the war.”  The tavern keeper snorted out a half chuckle.
 
“I– I’m gonna–”
 
“I swear by the Light, Meda.  Just pay the man so we can go.”  Kallista began removing her pack, annoyed orange blotches dancing along the edges of her armor.  “Or if you won’t, I will.”
 
“No no no no no, I’ll pay,” she hissed in response, turning to stare daggers at the barkeep.  Noisily she clanked eight silver pieces onto the counter, one at a time.  With the flick of her claw, she sent the last one rolling off the edge of the counter.
 
“Whoops, sorry,” she growled insincerely.  The barkeep harrumphed and bent over to pick up the fallen coin.
 
Ellice squirted at her friend’s lizard-like mouth as a series of rhythmic guttural grunts poured out.  The amber eyes narrowed wickedly above the blue snout.  There was a pulse of faint magic in the air, indecipherable in its purpose.  Then suddenly the bard turned on her heel, tossed her scaly head backwards, and cheerfully cried:
 
“Alright!  Let’s leave!”
 
Ellice stood still, concern creeping across her face.  She looked back at the bartender gathering up his coins, seemingly unharmed, and lingered a second longer before chasing after her friends.  The azure kobold was swaggering down the side of the roadway.
 
“Meda,” Ellice whispered as she drew near, “What did you do back there?  That was what… draconic chanting?”
 
“Good ear!”  She snickered impishly as they whisked around a corner.  “He’s going to have to dump the whole barrel.  That beer is ruined!”
 
A slight for a slight.  It could be worse, but still Ellice wished her companion would be a little less vengeful.
 
“You’re petty”
 
“And you’re pretty,” Meda retorted sweetly.  Ellice tried in vain to fight against the smile spreading between her blushing cheeks, but was utterly defeated when Meda folded her claws together and cocked her head in a look of mock innocence.  Disapproval disappeared rapidly from the half-elf’s twinkling green eyes and, against her better judgment, she giggled.
 
“And together you’re both obnoxious,” Kallista grumbled, “Now come on, we have to go report our failure.”
 
“And she’s pissy,” Meda whispered jovially to the druid.  Ellice bit her lip, but a few chuckles still slipped out.  Kallista glared at the kobold.
 
“I’m kidding!  You’re pretty too!”  Meda turned the full force of her charm towards the prismatic knight.  “Who else would I let pick me up in her big, strong arms so I can twirl my claws through her golden hair?  What other fine and fair knight would rescue me from three angry trolls so that I could stare into her shimmering gray eyes and sing of her heroic beauty?”
 
Kallista’s stare stayed stern but beneath the harsh eyes and pursed lips red splotches on her armor began bubbling into heart shapes.  
 
“It was five trolls,” she reminded the bard, her lip just barely curling into a smile, “and I love you but you’re still obnoxious.”
 
“The cornerstone of being a bard,” Meda insisted with a wink.  The group turned another corner, the streetway ahead thick with overhanging foliage.
 
“Ellice,” Kallista asked as she ducked beneath a low-hanging branch, “have you finished attuning to those gloves yet?  It’s been days.”
 
Ellice stopped in place for a moment, startled by the question.  She couldn’t remember the last time she’d asked Isaphine if they had fully attuned yet.  Glancing down at the dark-violet gloves that sheathed her hands and wrists she saw herself absentmindedly gliding the silky fingers of one hand over the back of the other.  Silver threads swirled into decorative stars as her finger traced a circular pattern.  
 
Her eyes fluttered as a gentle, relaxing feeling subsumed her thoughts and worries.  The feeling of silk on silk was sublime.  The world seemed to fade away for a moment.  Then Isaphine spoke in her mind.
 
<Not quite yet, but she thinks it’s almost done>
 
“Not quite yet,” Ellice repeated dreamily, the words forgotten by the time they left her mouth, “but she thinks it’s almost done.”
 
A pulse of simple joy flowed through her body as she continued walking in a daze.  Her body felt oddly floaty, but in a good way.  She sighed contentedly.
 
“Interesting.”  Relinth’s colder voice burst through for just a moment as its green hues streaked quickly across the knight’s armor.  Then Kallista continued.
 
“You’d think they’d get uncomfortable after a few straight days of wearing them.”
 
<Oh no> Isaphine prompted her <I love wearing them>
 
“Oh no, I love wearing them.”  Ellice droned as another surge of bliss washed over her.  She blushed as a huge grin overtook her face.  It was true, she did love wearing Isaphine.  Isaphine made her feel sooooo gooooood.
 
“Oh sssssshit,” Meda hissed, tugging at Ellice’s dress.  
 
The druid blinked and felt the world rush back to her.  The last two minutes were foggy, as if they were scenes from a dream.  She blinked again and looked around.  They were in the gardens outside the Kinship Grove, the small park the Tacigrove Circle of Druids kept within Brookeridge.  While their larger ceremonial grounds were further out in the wilderness, Kinship Grove served as a place within the town to rest, relax, and exchange services with the townsfolk.  This was where they would find the Archdruid and explain what had happened to the tome they had found.
 
It was also where a lithe, light-haired man was stretched out on the soft grass, eyes closed, blissfully unaware of the knight three times his size stomping towards him.  His pretty face sported no beard or mustache, and his brows were naturally thin.  Lee was beautifully androgynous and he was about to be rudely awakened.
 
An undignified shout cut through the gardens as he was hoisted into the air by a fuming Kalista.  Orange and red pillars of painted flame burned across her armor.  Lee kicked uselessly out of instinct for a few seconds before he gathered enough of his wits to understand what was happening.  He raised his hands placatively.
 
“Oh Kallista,” he said meekly, “Sorry for all that trouble out in the woods.  I just–”
 
“Where is she?!”  Kallista punctuated each shouted word by shaking Lee roughly.
 
“I just!  I just do what they tell me!” 
 
Ellice was close enough now to see the fear in his pretty hazel eyes.  He looked at the half-elf pleadingly.
 
“I don’t want your excuses!”  Kallista bellowed, spinning and pinning the androgynous archer against a tree, “Where is she?”
 
“She she she,” he stammered, “she said s-s-s-she was going to go talk to her m-m-m-mother and I s-s-s-should stay here and –”
 
“I think she means Guile,” Ellice interjected, “Kallista put him down, you’re scaring the shit out of him.”
 
Kallista grunted in response, making no effort to lower him.
 
“Come on.  You know he had nothing to do with setting us up.  Veera, Guile, and Nix are the brains of the operation.  Lee just looks pretty and shoots things.”
 
“Y-y-y-yeah!”  He nodded frantically.  “I just look pretty and shoot things!”
 
Kalista placed him on the ground with an exasperated sigh but didn’t yet let go of his shirt.  She leaned in close, their faces almost touching, to deliver the question again; harshly punctuating each word:
 
“Where.  Is.  She?”
 
“I don’t… I don’t know.”  Lee tried to shrink away from Kallista’s intensity, but couldn’t wriggle free of her iron grasp.  “I swear!  They don’t tell me anything.  I just do what they say and they pay me at the end of each job.”
 
That was believable.  Nix was strong and booksmart, Guile was adept at magic and underhandedly cunning, and Veera was bold and street smart and beautiful and athletic and charming and hot and…  Ellice groaned internally.  She was letting herself get carried away again.
 
“When we got back to town we went to the Arcane Consortium to pay to teleport Nix back.  Then Nix went to do her day job, and Veera and Guile left me in the Bottle’s Bottom to go discuss strategy on their own.  This morning, Veera found me and told me to come along and wait out here.  I have no idea where Guile went.”
 
“He’s too stupid to be lying,” Meda chirped from behind them.  She was sitting on the lip of one of the stone fountains that dotted the gardens, kicking her feet in the water.
 
“I believe him,” Ellice told Kallista soothingly, “I’ll find and talk with Veera and we’ll see if she knows where Guile is.  We’ll find her, I promise.”
 
“Alright, fine,” the knight acquiesced.
 
Lee grinned at Ellice, his pale-blond hair fluttering in the wind.
 
“Thanks so much Ellice.  I thought she–”
 
Kallista lifted him into the air again, walked three short steps, and plopped him into the fountain.  Meda erupted in a fit of giggles.
 
“Don’t you ever shoot at me again Lee,” Kallista said through a grim chuckle, “You’ve been warned.”
 
The waterlogged boy nodded briskly as he pulled himself out of the fountain.  He stared awkwardly at the three of them for a few seconds longer and then hurried back towards the center of town. 
 
“Cowardly little shit,” Kallista mumbled after him.
 
“Are you going to be okay while I go see the Archdruid?”
 
“I’ll be fine.  I’m going to go ask around and see if I can turn up a nasty, green-haired tiefling.”
 
“Alright.  Be careful though, she chose her name well.”
 
“Don’t I know it…”  Kallista chuckled to herself, “Usual spot tonight?”
 
“Awwww nooooo,” Meda whined, looking pleadingly at Ellice, “He’s going to ask me to perform again…”
 
“Yes he will,” Ellice replied matter-of-factly, “Because he paid you an advance last week for a week’s worth of shows and we left the next morning.  You owe him.  Just play a few songs and everyone will be happy.”
 
Meda kicked at the water childishly, splashing a bit on Kallista.  The knight shook her head, grinning.
 
“Fine,” the little bard grumbled, “I guess I’ll get together some songs.”
 
“Wonderful.  I’ll see you all later.”
 
Ellice waved goodbye and turned towards the thick copse of trees at the center of the gardens.  She slid through the familiar trunks and branches, a part of her feeling glad to be home.  A spring burbled softly beneath the cawing of birds and the rustling of crickets as she approached the clearing where the Archdruid held court.  A few steps later she linked up with the final few feet of the path used by people less familiar with the small section of woods.  She walked it the rest of the way into the clearing, the daylight shining brightly before her.
 
A few of her fellow druids sat on the closer side of the clearing atop log benches and treestumps, drinking dark tea and chatting busily.  They waved a brisk hello before returning to their conversation.  Ellice waved back and walked towards the large ash tree in the center.
 
Set beneath the tree was a wooden stool and a small table, both of simple make.  On the stool sat a kind, motherly figure wearing green robes and a pleasant smile.  Leaves and colorful berries decorated her dark, curly hair and her brown eyes twinkled merrily as Ellice approached.  She looked middle-aged (although Ellice knew her to be slightly older) and retained a grace and beauty that it’s said all those who live kind, compassionate lives keep with them for as long as they live.
 
The magic didn’t hurt either.
 
“My youngest sapling returns.”  The Archdruid’s voice was sweet and cozy.  Ellice felt heartened just hearing it.
 
“Yes m’am,” she said as she pulled her pack from her back, “We managed to find the tome but–”
 
“But half of it was lost.  I know.”  The Archdruid patted a hunk of parchment sitting on the table in front of her.  On closer inspection, Ellice realized it was the other half of the tome.
 
“Yes m’am.”
 
Ellice dug out the other half of the book and handed it to the Archdruid.  She took it with a thankful nod.
 
“Once again you do me proud, my sapling.  Thank you.”
 
“Thank you m’am.  We found it in Kethryllia’s old laboratory and then when we were leaving Veera–”
 
The Archdruid held up a hand to stop her.  Turning to the left, she called into the shade of the tree:
 
“Veera, your reward.”
 
Stepping out of the shadows was the familiar face of her rival, grinning widely.  The Archdruid stepped closer to the trunk of the tree and reached into a knothole, rummaging about.
 
“Great to see you again Ellice,” Veera said cheerfully, “No need to thank me for the assistance out in the field.”
 
“I wasn’t planning on it,” Ellice muttered back.
 
The Archdruid pulled her arm from the tree with a pouch of jingling coins.  Palm upward, she offered it to Veera.
 
“Don’t mind if I do,” the rogue chuckled as she took the bag, “Ellice, Perrenia; I trust I’ll see you both again real soon.”
 
She bounced the bag on her palm as she sashayed away.  Ellice felt an angry heat stirring in her belly watching her walk off.  Watching her hips sway step after step.  Watching the sunlight play across her firm ass in the tight leather chaps she wore.
 
Oh.  Maybe it wasn’t an angry heat she was feeling.
 
“She told me the book was damaged when your two teams had to fight off a horde of zombie skeletons.”  The Archdruid’s voice dripped with wry humor.
 
“They were zombies and skeletons?”  Ellice asked incredulously.
 
“Stretches the imagination, to be sure.  But she never lacked for imagination.”  The Archdruid sat back down, shaking her head.  “Still can’t lie worth a fig to her mother though.  What actually happened, sapling?”
 
“Well m’am, Veera and her team ambushed us outside Kethryllia’s lab and tried to steal the book from us.  In the scuffle the book got shredded.”
 
The Archdruid shook her head sadly.
 
“I could give her a talking to, but she’s almost thirty.  I don’t know that a stern lecture from her mother would really be of any help.”  A mischievous twinkle invaded her brown eyes.  “Honestly Ellice, next time she tries to pull something like this I hope you can knock her on her ass.  Maybe it’ll teach her a lesson.”
 
A brief flash of Veera’s ass straining against tight black leather popped into her mind.  
 
“Hopefully m’am.”
 
“And to think you two used to be such great friends when you were little.  My daughter and my protege running wild through the woods; hooting, hollering, and stirring up trouble.  Thick as thieves; and now one of you is a thief.”
 
“I guess we grew apart,” Ellice pondered aloud, “She was always strong headed and individualistic, and when I joined the Circle I just don’t think we meshed well afterwards.  Too much ritual and rigor for her, not enough free-spirited adventure.”
 
“Perhaps.  And perhaps one day your friendship can blossom again.”  She smiled warmly.  “I really hope it does.”
 
“Yeah…” Ellice replied as images of Veera writhing sensually in leather came unbidden to her mind.  How she wanted to thread her silken fingers into her old friend’s curls as she kissed her olive-skinned neck.  How she wanted to glide a gloved hand over her naked body, sending pleasurable shudders through her rival’s every nerve.  How she wanted to reach into her mind with silver threads and make them friends again, force her to love her again.  
 
Ellice blinked away the thoughts, unnerved by how naturally they came to her.  “Me too.”  
 
“On a happier note you managed to find Kethryllia’s old book on conjuring up a wall of thorns.  With some study we should be able to secure our border against Grunstead and his forces.  You may have saved a lot of people from a lot of bloodshed, my sapling.  In that you should take great pride.”
 
“Thank you m’am, I do.”
 
“When the Circle elders convene next moon, I believe it’s time we discussed moving you up from Young Elm to Strong Oak.” 
 
The two beamed at each other.  Ellice leaned down to the seated woman and hugged her close.
 
“Thank you m’am, thank you so much.”
 
“You earned it, sapling.  Now go enjoy a few days' respite and then we can talk a little about the ceremony.”
 
“Farewell Archdruid, may your years be fruitful.”
 
“And yours, my sapling.”
 
Ellice turned to leave when the Archdruid called after her.
 
“Oh Ellice, are those gloves new?  They look very… interesting.”
 
Ellice turned back around, prepared to answer her truthfully, but a sudden fog crept over her mind.  A half-remembered dream of the Archdruid taking the gloves from her if she learned what they really were, ruining all the progress she’d made towards attuning with them.  A better thing, she thought in the dreamy haze, to finish attuning and then tell the Archdruid about them than to waste all the time she’d spent the last couple of days.  That made sense right?
 
<That’s right.> Isaphine whispered in her thoughts <Once we finish attuning we can tell her together. Then I can tell you both about Archdruid Kethryllia and all our adventures together.  Just a few more days.>
 
Ellice felt the lie come easily to her.
 
“Oh yes m’am.  I got them from the enchanter in town.  They’re supposed to help me channel healing magic, although I haven’t had much chance to try them out yet.”
 
The Archdruid smiled wide.  
 
“Well hopefully you won't need to any time soon.  They look very fetching on you, I might add.  May your years be fruitful sapling.”
 
Veera may not have been able to fool to the Archdruid, but Ellice could do it just fine.

She was hardly a hundred feet down the path towards town before her shadowy rival ambushed her once more, a small leather pouch in hand.
 
“What’s this?”  Ellice asked, trying to keep her eyes from drifting to Veera’s chest.
 
“Twenty percent, as promised.”  Veera’s other hand grabbed Ellice’s gloved one, turning it palm up to deposit the coin pouch into.  The brush of her skin along the silk of the gloves sent tingles flowing into Ellice’s most delicate areas.
 
“Hmmm… those are some nice gloves you found Ellice.”  Veera’s hand lingered on Ellice’s, her fingers caressing the fabric.  Her voice grew distant.  “So soft and pleasant…”
 
Veera stood transfixed by Isaphine, thumb and forefinger rubbing repetitive patterns against Ellice’s wrist.  Ellice’s eyes rolled as wave after wave of pleasure shot up her arm, slowly eroding her self-restraint.  Her heart fluttered and her lungs drew ragged breaths.  She looked at Veera’s face: jaw slack, cheeks flushed, pinprick pupils focused only on the dark purple gloves.  This was her chance to fulfill her lust, to bend Veera to her will, to reunite them in love.  She followed the rogue’s gaze down to stare at her own hands, the silver embroidery teeming with excitement on the near-black fabric.
 
And then it was night.  A familiar night under a silvery, almost-full moon.  Silver-threaded stars speckled the glove-dark sky.  The world around her was hazy, the trees and rocks constituted of fog struggling to maintain their semblance of form.  She looked up to the moon, shimmering as it pulled itself together, threads of memory about to burst at the seams.  Veera’s voice echoed from behind her, ethereal and distant: Ellice.  She turned to face the speaker, a crude fog-formed figure.  Try as it might, it couldn’t stitch itself into a solid form; black leather and olive skin wisping outwards into fading smoke, dark curls evaporating into the air.  Ellice, I think–
 
She jerked her hand out of Veera’s grasp, almost dropping the bag of gold.  She was panting heavily; tired and out of breath despite doing nothing more than standing on a forest path.  Across from her, Veera rubbed her eyes and shook her head.  It was daylight again; not a minute after Veera had passed her the gold.
 
“Twenty percent,” the rogue said again, the brown eyes refocusing.  A moment more and it was like the last minute hadn’t happened.  “As promised.”
 
“I–”  Ellice started, looking for any trace of recollection in her rival’s face.  Anything to acknowledge that she’d been standing entranced just moments ago.  But there was nothing there.  Perhaps it was better to let it vanish into time.  “But– You don’t have to.”
 
“I don’t have to, but it’s what’s right.  I’m a woman of my word.”  Veera smirked. “And besides, it’s no fun if my crew gets too much of a lead on yours.  Buy yourselves some better equipment and training, because we sure will.”
 
Ellice frowned.  “Why do we have to–”
 
“And drinks,” Veera interrupted, “The Leyline tonight at, say, ten?”
 
“I… well… sure.”
 
“Great.  See you then.”  She took two steps backward, adding with a wink. “You’re buying.”
 
With a twirl of her cloak she melded into the shade of the forest, leaving Ellice staring dumbstruck at a sea of tree trunks.

“This next song is for a man we all know, but no one loves.  Our enemy to the west, the Cold Iron King himself: Arthur Grunstead!”
 
A cheer went up among the tavern-goers as Meda fiddled with her lute.  The drunker patrons of the Bottle’s Bottom shouted jeers to curse the man who cast such a dastardly shadow over their beloved Mysylva.  Ellice squeezed through the crowd to sit next to Relinth, catching snatches of its conversation with a very pretty witch.
 
Her last few hours were a blur.  She had gone to her quarters in the dormitory kept by the Circle, a modest but functional room among the treetops.  Her intent had been to change into something nice and then meet her friends after the briefest of rests, but she’d found herself waking hours later in a bed drenched with sweat and stained with lust.  She’d hurried to the bathing pools with her best dress, the same standard green embroidered with patterned, golden leaves.  All in all she didn’t arrive to the tavern until nine-thirty that night, at the end of Meda’s performance.
 
“... applied literally is useful but once one masters the practical principles further experimentation should focus on artfulness.”  Relinth turned its head as Ellice sat beside it, eyes dancing happily.  “Ellice!  This is Zaywin from the Arcane Consortium.  We’ve been discussing Salazmaan’s theories of evocation.”
 
“Nice to meet you!”  The witch waved from the other side of Relinth.  Her pointed hat sat crookedly on her head above an outfit constructed, from what Ellice would tell, of primarily black lace and ribbon.  “Relinth says you’re with the Circle?”
 
Arthur Grunstead, iron king
The hole-punched hull, the leaden wing.
Built his kingdom on shifting sand
But the winds won’t blow at his demand.
 
My my.
Fly fly.
 
“Yeah, for a while now,”  Ellice answered as Meda’s song wove around them, “Nature rites came so much more easily to me than magical theory.  I have no idea how you manage it.”
 
“All paths to the same truth,” Zaywin replied, “I don’t know how your order keeps all that history straight, thousands of years of people and creatures still somehow granting power to the present.  I don’t understand it well, but there’s something beautiful about it.”
 
“To light, life, and beauty.” Relinth cheered, raising its glass.
 
Arthur Grunstead, foolish one
Burning ‘neath the desert sun.
Mines for iron, mines for gold,
But can’t buy back the love he sold.
 
My my.
Why why?
 
“Any luck finding Guile?” Ellice asked.
 
“Luck is a false reduction of probability and consequence,” Relinth quipped as it placed its empty glass on the table with a thud, “But no, neither of I spoke to anyone who had seen her.”
 
“I’m sorry.”
 
“Your apology is unnecessary,” Relinth assured her,  “Persistent inquiries will eventually yield information if there is information to be had.  That is fact.”
 
Arthur Grunstead, feckless son
Flow’ring prince who came undone
Told Queen Mai he’d steal her throne
But now he withers all alone.
 
My my.
Die die.
 
Patrons were singing along where they could now, and some of them where they shouldn’t be.  A particularly loud cheer went up after “die die” followed by a clinking of glasses.
 
“Have you spoken to Veera yet?”
 
“I ran into her,” Ellice admitted, “Oh but I didn’t ask her about Guile.  Shit, now I am sorry.”
 
“Tomorrow then.”  There was no disappointment in its voice, so certain it was of the inevitability of success.
 
“Actually I’m going to meet her…”  Ellice’s eyes glanced at the clock.  If she left now, she could just make it. “Oh!  I actually have to leave right now.  I’ll make sure to ask her, I promise!”
 
“Lightspeed” the prismatic knight replied, turning back to the witch.
 
Arthur Grunstead, fallen star
Lord of crags, the barren tsar.
Army of iron, clockwork men
He’ll never feel love’s embrace again.
 
My my.
Cry cry.
 
Ellice clambored to her feet, nearly falling over the bench as she tried to escape.  She brushed her dress flat and spun to leave only to spin back a moment later.
 
“Oh and nice to meet you Zaywin.  Sorry to steal Relinth’s attention and then leave in such a rush.”
 
The witch smiled.  “Nice to meet you too, even if only briefly.  I’m sure Relinth and I will more than make up for the time.”  She winked and wrapped her slender arm around its shoulders. 
 
Ellice grinned to herself as she pushed her way toward the door.  If she had to bet, Relinth would still be talking about the intricacies of magical theory as the two of them tore the clothes from one another.  And from the few minutes with the witch, it seemed like she might too.
 
Arthur Grunstead knows alone
Why he chose his path once shown
Why he spurned her, took his flight
Why he picked this hateful fight
 
My my.
Die die.
 
Die die die die diiiieeeeeeeeeee.
 
Meda’s words followed Ellice out into the night, the raucous din of the tavern filling the street.  Cheerful, drunken cries of “die die die” persisted even after the bard had finished her outro.  In another context it would be horrifying, but how could one find horror in the joyful camaraderie being shouted from wall to wall?  How could it be wrong to wish death and destruction on their evil enemy?
 
Perhaps, in time, they would learn how.

“Did you know it’s not actually built on the leyline?” Ellice asked through a mouthful of honey-bread, “The surveyor started from the wrong bridge when they were planning Ley Street and everyone just assumed they had measured right.  The real leyline passes under where the Consortium set up their laboratories years later.”
 
“Did you know,” Veera replied, unimpressed, “that you’ve told me that factoid at least five times before?”  
 
Had she?  Probably.  Ellice had been a precocious child and had rattled off all sorts of information over the years at Veera.  She reddened, embarrassed.
 
Across from her at the marble table in the upscale establishment Veera wore a flowing red dress that, while less risque than her skin-tight leathers, showed off quite a bit of cleavage.  Her curly black locks fell unrestrained around her face, still wild but transferred a semblance of elegance by the dress and venue.  A fine gold braid, glamorous in its understatement, wound around her neck.  Her perfume wafted its way into Ellice’s nostrils: flowery, but not overpowering.  
 
She had traded off being the sweat-drenched, leather-clad rogue for an evening to be a lady of the finer things, and it only made the druid’s lust for her worse.
 
“So how are things, Ellice?” Veera asked, swirling brandy in her cup, “You know, outside of our altercations?”
 
“Fine,” she answered, swallowing a hunk of bread, “Good actually.  Kallista thinks she’s found us another job up north.  Someone tried to expand their cellar and found an old elven ruin that needs exploring and documenting.  Meda’s been planning an expedition to Pontaria for whenever we have the time and money.  Relinth’s been buried in its scrolls as usual and I… Well the Archdruid says it’s time for me to become a Strong Oak.”
 
“Well congratulations.”  Veera actually sounded sincere, something that made Ellice melt a little inside.  Maybe they could be friends again.  Or more.  “Honestly I think she hopes one day you’ll take her place.”
 
“Oh well that day is a long way off.  I still have so much to learn before I could even think…”  She smiled at Veera, staring into the brown pools of her eyes.  A warm smile passed between them.  “Thank you though.  How about you and yours?”
 
“I’m doing well for myself.  Finally got a place in town I can stay that isn’t the inn or mom’s place.  Got my face fixed up a bit last year.  Hmmm…”
 
She looked up at Ellice questioningly.  Her fingers were drumming against her glass.
 
“How do you… Let me know if this is too personal.  But how do you deal with the more, uh, intimate aspect of your group’s relationship?”
 
Ellice stifled a giggle.  Was Veera really asking her how they all managed to be sexual partners and function as a team?  Oh, most certainly.  It was funny, she’d always assumed her sultry rival was more than experienced in the area.
 
“I guess we just all respect each other as people and communicate openly about our wants and needs.  Why?  Are you…?”
 
“Guile and I, a couple times now.”  Veera stabbed at her dinner with a fork.  “And in a lot of ways it’s fun and freeing even, but I don’t know if I can also work with her professionally while doing whatever it is we’re doing.  You know?”

“Well you should probably tell her that then.  She’s a talented mage, I’m sure she can sign on to pretty much any other adventuring group.  It’s natural to need to set boundaries.”
 
“Yeah, maybe…”
 
“And besides, Kallista might rip her in half before much longer,” Ellice sipped her glass of faeberry wine, “She’s still pretty upset.”
 
“I can understand that.  And I’m sorry, I didn’t know that’s what she planned.”  More sincerity, and for an apology even!  And was that guilt in her eyes?
 
“You wouldn’t happen to know where Guile’s planning to be tomorrow, would you?”
 
“Real smooth, Ellice.”  Veera smiled.  “She been getting that wand I lifted off of your group appraised.  Had to go out of town for it though, she won’t be back for another few days.”
 
Ellice rankled at the news.
 
“That wand is really dangerous Veera,” she warned, her voice getting louder, “I thought you’d hand it over to your mother or the Consortium at least!”
 
“Calm down.  Guile said she was going to try to sell it to the mages up in Blarehold.  It’ll be fine.”
 
“I just– why did you have steal it in the first place?”  Internally she cursed herself for the outburst, not wanting to ruin their first hour of civility in a decade, but she couldn’t stop herself.  Ten years of outrage burst through her words.  ”Why couldn’t you just let us come back with the tome successfully?  Why are you always trying to ruin things for us?!”
 
Veera looked shamefully at the remnants of her dinner, eyes sullen and downcast.  She drained the last of her brandy and fixed the druid with a sorrowful stare.
 
“I’m sorry Ellice.  Maybe this wasn’t the best idea.”
 
“No I’m– ” Ellice felt her anger mellowing out.  “Veera I–”
 
“I just wanted things to be okay between us again for a night.  To go back to being friends for a few hours.  But damn it’s hard.”
 
“I don’t…  I don’t understand why we can’t be friends all the time, Veera.  We used to be inseparable and for some reason this rift has formed…”
 
“For some reason?”  Veera looked at her, hurt.  Anger and pain swirled in her eyes.  “Do you not remember?  Have you… have you not understood this whole time where our problems stem from?”
 
“What?  I have no idea–”
 
“The night before your initiation,” Veera seethed, “I told you I loved you and you said…”

And once more it was night.  A familiar night under a silvery, almost-full moon.  Ellice was a decade younger, waiting in the woods for her best friend in the world.  A crunch of leaves approached behind her, the heavy tread of boots made for marching.  She smiled to herself and spun to face the sound.
 
And there was Veera, a decade younger as well.  And also not yet Veera.  Short-cropped Academy hair topped the head of the young man who strode towards her in officer’s green and gold.  He cracked his knuckles as he approached, a loving smile on his face.
 
“Ellice!”
 
“Rowan!”
 
Magnetically they were pulled towards each other, four arms splayed wide before closing in dual embraces.  The woods smelled of pine sap and he of lilac soap that hadn’t quite washed away every drop of sweat.  He had lifted her off the ground and spun her in a half circle, both of them laughing like children.  Their arms dropped and they stepped back from each other, unbridled joy on their faces.
 
“I’m so glad you could make it.  I can’t believe I’m finally going to be a druid!”
 
“Are you kidding?  Mom says you’re the best student she’s ever had!”
 
“Funny how that’s not what she says during my lessons,” she chuckled.  With her slender fingers she poked and prodded his uniform.  “And look at you, a proper officer!  Dashing, brave, and bold!  Well, brave and bold at least.”
 
The memory slowed torturously so Ellice could see his flickering smile fade away despite his best efforts to rekindle it.  Slowly slowly slowly she watched all the mirth in the world die away.  His eyes looked down at his shoes, his hands crept into his pockets.  When he looked back up at her, there was fear in his eyes.
 
“I can’t go back there.”  He was shaking his head now, his voice trembling.  Dots of moonlight reflected on the tears pooling at the corners of his brown eyes.  “I can’t go back there, Ellice.  I can feel it sucking the life out of me.  It sounded right when I applied and I thought if I just gave it time it would eventually feel right but… it feels even worse.  And I think…”
 
He trailed off, shaking his head and looking up at the moon.  His breathing came in fits and starts.  He looked ready to explode.
 
“What is it, Rowan?  You can tell me.”  Her hand on his shoulder, her taller figure looking down with concern.  Looking back, she wished the world had ended right then and there.
 
“Ellice, I think I love you”
 
The words sliced into her heart all these years later.  She could still remember the uncertainty and terror as the proclaimation ate through her nerves.  Did he mean…  Did he mean love as in?  She relived the questions, and found what she conveniently had forgotten.
 
They were inventions after the fact.
 
Oh she had known what he meant that night, but it had been easier to believe she didn’t.  A lie she told to herself that she lived until it became memory.  The lie that let her believe for a decade they had parted amicably that night, that Veera’s first years of coldness towards her were borne from some late-blooming flaw in her personality.  
 
She had known immediately what he meant, but thought it would be easier to pretend she didn’t.
 
Past Ellice smiled sweetly, the ice behind her eyes only visible retroactively.  The words hung expectantly in the air, daggers eager to pierce their target.  They wanted to be born, to strike down this pitiful shade.  She desperately wanted her past self to say something else, anything else, but helplessly she watched on as it happened.
 
“And I you, Rowan.”  
 
The monstrous hope that burned in his eyes in that moment, the relieved half-laugh cackling in her ears a decade later.  She hadn’t known all the harm she was about to do that night, couldn’t have known every ounce of venom to her words, not yet; but she could have predicted some of it.  The memory-Ellice’s mouth was still moving, slowly and cruelly, to form the devastation it would take her time to understand.
 
“You’re like a brother to me.”
 
Each syllable was a punch to the gut and twenty-year-old Ellice smiling through it all.  Had his face really paled that much after the words?  Had his sigh truly been that despairing in the moment?  It was hard to tell what was accurate reproduction and what was dramatic recreation, but accurate or not it was true nonetheless.

“I said…”  Ellice was back in Leyline, ten years later.  Veera, angry, hurt, tearful, pitiful Veera was waiting on her words.  Ellice’s own tears were only stymied by the numbness of shock, the sudden realization of how barbed her words had been.  “I said you were like a brother to me.”
 
For a minute of silence those same two pairs of eyes stared at each other once more; the agony refreshed fully after years of sleeping.
 
“Veera, I’m sorry.  I didn’t know yet.”  And now her tears flowed, salty streams pooling on her cheekbones.  “I didn’t know until the next year when you came home and were you.  And then I wanted to talk about it with you but you wouldn’t talk.”
 
“I know.  I know you didn’t know.”  She smiled the smallest smile.  Could forgiveness come so easily?  “That was one of things I had wanted to tell you that night, but of course I said the wrong thing first.  Always did, always have, still do.  And foolishly I thought ‘No. I can’t tell her now. The moment has passed.’ and went back north without telling anyone.  And of course I should have known the rejection was coming, because how couldn’t it have?  I should have known and have only said that I could no longer bear being a man: that a mocking stranger had taken the place of my reflection, that my body felt clumsy, disgusting, purloined from my opposite.  Perhaps then…”
 
Her eyes flickered with anger again and she shook her head, curls whipping violently through the air.
 
“But that wasn’t the issue, Ellice.  Sure it hurt for you to say you saw me as a man, but I forgave you instantly.  How couldn’t I?  You didn’t know and it was my fault you didn’t.  If I had only said my thoughts in the right way, in the right order…  I didn’t blame you for that.  No, it was the way you rejected my love–”
 
“Gods Veera, I just…”  The words blurted out of her mouth, a cascading apology almost too quick to comprehend.  “I was twenty and we hadn’t seen each other for most of a year and I had never thought about you in that way, never even thought about the possibility of us being together in that way.  And I didn’t think, at the time, that I could love you in that way.  And when you said it I was so surprised and I didn’t want to hurt you so I said what I thought would let you down the easiest.  That we would always be close, always be like family..”
 
“As I was saying,” Veera continued, the anger warbling with sorrow as she spoke, “It was the way you rejected my love that hurt me the most.  Not that night.  No, that hurt but it healed quickly.  You had a point, we were practically raised together.  We were damn near siblings.  My mother treated you like her daughter.  Oftentimes it even felt  like you were her favorite.  Void damn, even today she told you she was proud of you while all I got was a bag of gold.  But it made sense, right?  We were family and we couldn’t be together like that.  If that was your logic, I could accept it.”
 
Ellice paled, knowing exactly where Veera was headed.  She had her excuses, of course, but she doubted any of them would placate Veera.  Ellice could see it now, the few pieces of the past that were missing now present and the ones she’d known shifted slightly to be viewed from the correct angles.  Veera had come back to see her initiation, had come back for her, and then even after the rejection and unknown misgendering had still gone to the ceremony for her sake, because they were friends, because they were family, and waited by the fire with the other guests.  Waited by the fire and…
The rogue was angry, and had every right to be.  Her fist was clenched on the table, nails digging into her palm.
 
“So imagine what it felt like to go to your initiation and wait for an hour after every other pair had trekked back to find out you fucked my fucking mother.”
 
Oh yes.  She had every right to be angry.  But Ellice felt compelled to defend herself.
 
“It was initiation.  You have to display a form of life and love to you mentor and–”
 
“Ellice,” Veera’s eyes narrowed, her voice dangerously soft, “I grew up with the Archdruid as my mother.  I have talked to more druids than any other non-druid in this town.  And we both know that there are a million other ways to display a form of life and love than fucking you mentor.”
 
“Fair but–”
 
“For over an hour!”

She was once more under the moon; fully full this time, silver light trickling over the forest glade.  Animal-masked dancers spun in circles around a blazing fire.  Friends and family looked on from the side.  Words were spoken in ancient tongues; calls and responses, oaths and affirmations.  The initiates donned their masks of leaves and led their mentors into the woods, each pair going their own way.  Together each would find a symbol of how life and love intersected and share it in secret before returning to the fire.  
 
Ellice had been worried.  Worried her display of life and love wouldn’t be good enough, worried she was still too inexperienced, worried she turned at the wrong tree.  And yet she found the clearing handily; the stars and moon clear above them, leaves and moss pillowy beneath them.
 
“Here it is m’am,” she said.  Her heart thumped in her chest, her nerves screamed around her bones.  The night air, chilly around them both, seemed to rip her breath from her, suspending her feeling of excited fear for what she was about to do in breathless moments.
 
“I see,” the Archdruid replied, her dark curls bobbing in the moonlight, “And how is it related to life and love?”
 
Slender fingers pushed back silver hair, tucking it behind her pointy ears.  She extended one arm then the other, the Archdruid mirroring her movements.  Their hands clutched, one two three four, just above the other’s elbows.  She stared into the brown eyes that had watched her grow for almost her entire life.  The same brown eyes that belonged to the daughter neither of them yet knew the Archdruid had.
 
“Like this m’am,” she whispered as she leaned in.  The kiss was light and inexperienced, her nose awkwardly scraping the Archdruid’s cheek.  She leaned back and searched for approval in that matronly face.  She couldn’t find it.  The Archdruid’s face was inscrutable.
 
“I see.  And is that how you see life and love?”  
 
Disappointment.  It was disappointment Ellice found in her mentor’s voice.  Whether real or imagined, it had kindled a fire in her soul.  She hadn’t done enough, hadn’t tried her best.  
 
Ellice lunged at her, arms wrapping tightly around her torso.  Her kisses were still inexperienced but they were plentiful; planted on the lips, cheek, and neck.  The half-elf’s hands stabbed through her hair, skewering curls right before caressing them.  She continued for a few more minutes.
 
Panting, she stepped back again.  A wild look shone in her eyes.  And still no sign of approval in the Archdruid’s.
 
“I see,” the Archdruid breathed heavily, “And is that how–”
 
Ellice’s hand was under her robe, tearing the garment off her mentor.  They kissed again, the Archdruid reciprocating more eagerly this time.  Her hand gripped the older woman’s breast, massaging and rubbing and pinching erratically.  Her other hand fumbled between her mentor’s legs, attempting to translate how she played with herself to the other woman and mostly succeeding.  
 
She didn’t know what the right things to do were, only that to do nothing was wrong.
 
The Archdruid’s hands soon flew over Ellice’s body, two primal beings driven by lust beneath the full moon.  She couldn’t remember whose knees buckled first, but they went down together onto a bed of moss and leaves.  Bucking and writhing they pleasured each other, their moans seeping into the foliage around them.  Ellice orgasmed by another’s hand for the first time in her life: her legs straddling the Archdruid, the Archdruid’s finger fluttering on her clit, her eyes rolling up into her head, her head thrown back howling at the moon in ecstasy.
 
She had felt her soul leave her body for that divine moment.
 
Trembling, she nearly collapsed off of her mentor, needing to plant her hands on the ground beside the other woman’s head to steady herself.  Her green eyes rolled back down to stare at her panting mentor’s still-inscrutable face.
 
“I see,” she puffed out, “And is that how you see life and love?”
 
The shriek that erupted from the half-elf was wild beyond words; angry and passionate and ancient.  She ripped the mask of leaves from her face, its twine band snapping with a sharp tug.  The gentle, studious Ellice was not underneath.  Instead it was a primal creature of furious lust, sharing but stretching her pretty features.  Her silvery hair a tangled mane, she swung her arms through the air frantically.
 
“This!  This is how I see life and love!”
 
At her proclamation roots burst forth from the earth and coiled around the two of them.  Green shoots tickled their flesh and vines caressed their curves.  She buried her face in those dark black curls as she summoned a smooth, green vine to invade her mentor’s pussy.  The Archdruid let loose a trilling moan as it entered.  Ellice nuzzled against her animalistically while mentally commanding the green tendril to undulate and writhe.  Her hands pawed at the Archdruid’s breast, neck, and buttocks with no goal in mind but the touch of flesh on flesh, to have her fill of sensation.
 
“This is how I see life and love!”
 
More green shoots burst forth and wrapped around her mentor’s wrists and ankles.  It hoisted her naked form upwards, manipulating her like a puppet.  Ellice ran her nails down the Archdruid’s back, feeling simultaneously the same nails raking across her own.  The plants at her command made her mentor dance and pose as they stroked and teased her, ludicrous movements with no thought behind them.  She was physically exhausted now, but possessed by a lust too strong to stop.  Another set of green shoots slid out of the undergrowth and she found she could feel what they felt; the wet leaves underneath, the contours of the Archdruid’s body, the bark on the tree trunks.  She was the forest: the leaves and moss her torso, the vines and shoots her arms.  
 
“This is.. This is how…”  
 
She slumped to her knees and the vines were upon her.  Jerkily they puppeted her body into a standing position again, but she was no longer there.  She was the vines making the two humanoid forms caress and kiss.  She was the moon, shimmering across the silver hair of the half-elf and glinting in their two sets of eyes.  She was the night air, chilly on the naked flesh of the two fuckpuppets, hardening their nipples and nourishing their exhausted lungs.  She was the Archdruid, allowing this all to happen and enjoying it but still somehow inscrutable, somehow still holding the almighty power of judgment even as she was forced onto all fours between Ellice’s spread legs.  And she was, of course, Ellice; wild with lust and desperate for acceptance, needing her mentor’s approval so she could finally be a druid, drained but pushing onward and onward until she was life and love and life and love and life and love and life and love and…
 
The vines withered away and she fell to the ground, facing upward towards the stars, watching them dance in her blurry vision.  The face of the Archdruid eclipsed them some time later, maybe seconds, maybe years, it was impossible to tell.
 
“I see,” she stated softly, “And is that how you see life and love?”
 
Ellice felt like crying.  She had poured everything she had into trying to impress the Archdruid but still there was this tone of expectancy, of wanting more than she could give.  She had howled at the moon, she had lost herself to lust, she had become the world around her.  She had given everything, and still she had failed.
 
“That was everything,” she sobbed, too tired to produce tears, “I gave everything I had.”
 
“Very well.  Then let us return to confer on you the title of Root Seed.”
 
Confusion swept through her, then a bubbling laughter.  Her hoarse lungs felt like they could fail at any minute, yet still she laughed as they clomped back through the woods in ripped and ruined robes.  She had passed after all.  The tone had never changed, the older woman had sounded every time that she asked the question like she had expected more, but still Ellice had passed initiation.
 
The fire was nearly out as they returned, a lone figure standing vigil.  Archdruid and Root Seed, mentor and initiate, surrogate mother and faux daughter looked into Rowan’s eyes, smoldering embers reflected in his pupils, and somehow he had known…

“Veera I’m sorry.  It wasn’t supposed to happen like that and you weren’t ever supposed to know and–”
 
“You were extremely loud,” Veera interjected, “I could hear you screaming from the campfire.”
 
Oh.  That was how she had known.  She felt her face redden.
 
“Listen I was young and stupid and didn’t know a lot of things.  I didn’t know things would get so far, I didn’t know how to control myself.  I never meant to hurt you, and I would love it if we could be friends again.”
 
Veera stared at her, her look as inscrutable now as her mother’s had been all those years ago.  Ellice waited, equal parts eager and terrified.
 
The brown eyes softened with a chuckle.
 
“Gods above you were loud.  Alright, it’s a start.”
 
Joyous hope leapt in Ellice’s chest.
 
“Just like that?”
 
“I said it’s a start,” she replied, a disbelieving grin spreading on her face, “ But damn, I’ve been furious about that for years.  I fucking hated you for a while.  And then I thought I could extract a kind of slow revenge, harrying you until someday you would realize why and beg my forgiveness.  But now… now it feels smaller.  Not gone, not healed; but like a thorn finally out of my side.  It feels like we can finally try again.”
 
Ellice didn’t hide her joy.  She smiled broadly, her voice full of excitement.
 
“You don’t know how happy I am to hear that, Veera.  I’ve missed you so much.”
 
Ellice did hide something though.  If the curly haired rogue had come to her now with a profession of love, there would be no rejection.  She ached to hold her, kiss her, caress her; to nuzzle into her neck, to suck on her breasts, to smell her hair, to tongue her clit.
 
To rub gloved hands over Veera’s temples as silvery light poured from her fingertips, stitching blind obedient love in between her ears.
 
Ellice shivered.  Her eyes blurred.  Her thumbs rubbed sensuous circles on the silk of her palms.  Her thighs rubbed together beneath the table.
 
“Step two of your apology,” Veera said wryly, snapping Ellice back to reality, “Is, of course, to pay for dinner.”
 
Ellice stared at her dumbfounded until the other woman started laughing.  Then a second later, she was laughing too.
x14

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