The Dryad’s Dream
Chapter 1 – Tarn Lorash
Peleial had her face plastered against the front window of the bakery, her mouth agape.
“Oh my, Goddess! Have you ever seen the like?! Look at those tarts, Wendel!”
“Stop drooling on the glass, Pel. You’re making the owner nervous,” said the wizard, pulling her away.
“Aww, come on… You got Taya a whole new suit of armor. Can’t I get a puff? Pleeeeease?”
“I bought you and your sister new clothes and gear yesterday, besides, we’re late.”
“Man… You’re no fun.”
“Neither is living on the street, which is where we all will be if we don’t get a job soon. My assets are substantial, but they aren’t unlimited.”
The elf scrunched up her face in protest, but relented. “Didn’t the king pay you for retrieving the Charding Stone?”
“No, he did not.”
“Well that really sucks. Why not, by the way? Seems if you’re going to risk getting buggered to death, you ought to at least be paid for it.”
“Normally, I would be paid through my guild, at guild rates – which for something like that would have been considerable. Unfortunately, I was forced to quit my guild before the king ordered me to do something else. I am honor bound to obey his commands while under his flag.”
“Prolly should have waited until after you were paid to quit…”
“It would have been better, yes. But the king was about to ask me how to operate the Charding, and I’d rot in Sheol before making that easy for him.”
They stopped in front of a three story inn painted in garish yellows and greens.
“T’horish Ebbin?” asked Peleial, reading the equally obnoxious sign. “What this place then?”
Wendel sighed. “It’s a whore house. The owner is a fel human named Tarn Lorash. He’s also a slaver, so watch your manners. His kind use reverse honorifics, so it’s Master Tarn, not Master Lorash.”
“A fel human, huh. Heard of them. Nasty. He have a job for us?”
“Possibly. I need you to keep your ears open and ken the ether for any sign of deception on his part. This place reeks with enchantments, so I dare not use magic to discern the truth.”
“You got it boss.”
“At the first sign of danger, just mention that your sister wanted me to pick up fennel seed on the way back.”
“She did? Oh! I get it.”
“And Pel, I really mean it about being on your best behavior in there. Don’t touch anything, and whatever you do, speak to no one but me, understand?”
“Be good. Zip it. No problem.”
Tarn Lorash was a very large, very green-skinned humanoid, who looked more like a djinn than his rightful human ancestry. He wore baggy pajama bottoms, and little else, though Wendel was certain that the slight shimmer around his body was from a permanent shielding enchantment, probably embedded in one of the many pieces of jewelry that adorned his frame.
The man was pleasant enough, as his trade required, but the wizard knew most of it was a front. Lord Tarn was a powerful and wealthy being. He almost certainly hadn’t gotten that way by being ‘nice’.
The wizard was seated before the six foot ten humanoid while he sipped a small glass of a very good Nechee wine. Peleial was quietly resting beside him.
“The job is simple delivery of property,” said the lord, extending his hand. “The time frame isn’t overly short, but it must be done this season before the Summer Solstice.”
“The destination?” inquired Wendel.
The magic user did a double take. “This season…”
Peleial looked confused, and was about to say something when Wendel placed his hand on her knee to interrupt her.
“You understand, Master Tarn, that getting to Holsfield before the Solstice will require traveling through Vel’Orthak during the spring awakening…”
“Vel’Orthak! Oh shi…” The elf cut off her own outburst when she realized the men were looking at her.
“Yes, I am aware,” continued the fel human. “Which is why I requested you specifically. Anyone who can handle the dungeon of the demon Volscork, should find Vel’Orthak a pithy challenge.”
“I’m honored by your faith in me, m’lord, but I should warn you that such a journey will still be extremely dangerous. If I may ask, what is the nature of the delivery?”
The other nodded and then called out. “Briddle! Come out here, now!”
A somewhat short, brown-haired human female of young adult age entered the room, closing the sliding paper separator behind her as she quickly moved to kneel before her master.
“Briddle here,” continued the massive human, “is an Akanit.”
Wendel blinked. “So… it is the girl herself to be delivered.”
“That is correct. You are fully familiar with the procedures then?”
He nodded. “I am. Is the binding lethal?”
“It is. She has until the last day before the Solstice to be delivered to Ebbis Brent in Holsfield, or she will die. He holds the key phrase.”
Wendel was doing some quick calculating in his head, when his mind caught up to the name he had just been given.
“Excuse me, Master Tarn, but do you mean Ebbis Brent, otherwise known as Geolt Brent of… underworld connections?”
“The same. He and I go way back, and this information is a birthday present for his Quarter Millennial Day. Thus, the reason it must be delivered this season. Brent also happens to be born on the Solstice.”
“I understand. Hmm… To be perfectly clear, are there any other restrictions to her delivery?”
Tarn rubbed his chin. “Her information is visual in nature. Briddle is an artist of sorts, so I suppose she will need her hands and eyes intact. Beyond that, any other collateral damage is acceptable.”
“No! Wendel?!” exclaimed Peleial in shock.
He quickly looked her in the eyes, meeting her with a glare that would have frozen her stock-still anywhere else. Turning back to the slaver, he apologized.
“Forgive the outburst of my assistant. She is not used to such business.”
The fel human regarded her more closely, squinting. Peleial felt a warmth rush up her body as dark magic surrounded and penetrated her, causing her breath to catch in her throat.
“The she-elf is very… sensual. Is she for sale?”
Wendel reached over and placed a hand on her shoulder, letting a small spark of energy zap the female to distract the words that he was sure were about to leave her mouth.
“I’m afraid not, Master Tarn,” he answered. “She is necessary for my business. Regarding the job, I would require half standard delivery rate up front, and half on completion.”
“Agreed. Though, failure to complete the delivery on time would forfeit the retainer.”
Now it was Wendel’s turn to rub his chin. “Minus twenty five percent for expenses…”
“Twenty, and you hold full transfer ownership.”
He sighed. “Very well. I agree.” Turning to the elf, he said, “Please wait outside while I close this transaction, Miss Stelshif. I shouldn’t be more than a few minutes.”
Snapping her mouth closed, Peleial rose and stomped out of the room.
Ten minutes later, the wizard emerged from the inn with the the girl Briddle in tow. He found Peleial across the street, fuming. As they walked up to her, he put up his hand to cut off what she was about to say.
“Briddle,” he mentioned, handing the girl a small stack of coins, “will you please take this and acquire a selection of sweets for later? Favor tarts and puffs, if you will. Thank you.”
Smiling, the human female headed into the bakery, and Wendel turned back to the she-elf.
“How could you?!” she began. “How could you take a job like that?!”
“That guy is a total creep, even for a slaver! Did you hear that crap about ‘collateral damage’?”
“Pel! Would you listen to me for a moment…”
She stopped, glaring at him.
He drew a deep breath and continued. “I am fully aware of the kind of person that Master Tarn is, which is exactly WHY I agreed to that job. Tarn is correct that I may very well be the only one in this whole town capable to traversing Vel’Orthak at this time of year. What do you think would happen to Briddle if I refused, hmm? Nothing… for exactly twenty-one days. At which time she would abruptly start rotting from the inside out because of a very strong, and irreversible curse that can only be canceled by a fat underworld lord in Holsfield. Tarn wouldn’t care. He has dozens of girls just like her. She’s just a commodity to him… property. He would probably even enjoy watching her suffer and die. I couldn’t live with that. She’s a person. Vale or not, that means something to me. So she needs to get there, Peleial, we’re going to ensure that. Yes, we need the money, but I would have done it regardless, because I took that job to save her from that fate.”
The elf was quiet for ten full seconds, then made a deep sigh.
“I really know nothing about any of this. I suppose I make a pretty crappy assistant.”
He smiled at her. “You’re learning. It’s actually a plus that you haven’t been soiled by the grimy filth that lives and breeds in these cities. For what it’s worth, I’d consider Holsfield to be a bit better – if not for the constant bloodshed between the major underworld gangs.” He put a hand on her shoulder and turned her around. Coming out of the bakery holding a large paper bag was Briddle. The smile on her face was contagious.
“Did you pick a good selection, my dear?” he asked.
“They had so many kinds! Lord Tarn never wanted sweets. He favored… other things. I… I was a little overwhelmed, but I did as you asked, Master, and picked puffs and tarts. I think you will be pleased.”
“I’m very sure I will… And let’s stick with ‘Master Wendel’ for now, okay?”
“Yes, Master… Wendel.”