Tag Archives: The Blackbirds

28. Wand

“This is you getting back at me for dragging you to the Temple of Black Water, isn’t it? I knew it was coming.”

“Why on the War God’s Earth would I want to willingly run through the desert? No, this is not payback. This is me wanting to get paid. The reward is a good one.”

“But the desert is awful.” Absinthe groaned, looking over the paperwork that Alnyx had put in front of him. “It’s so hot and dry. Not to mention that the sand gets-Wait that many zeroes?”

“Yes. That many.” Alnyx preened the feathers of the hawk that had delivered the papers and then perched on his shoulder. “But you are right. We can always tell Garnet that we are not-”

“Fine fine, we can go to the bloody desert.”

“Should the heat really bother you that much? I mean…You are a demon so…You come from a plane of fire, do you not?

“Oh my Darling-”

“I told you not to call me that.”

“Mildly racist elf. Yes, I’ve got demonic blood. But, we aren’t ALL from planes of fire. My line hails from the plane of darkness.”

“I have literally seen you incinerate large groups of people.”

“We’re fire plane adjacent.”

Alnyx rolled his eyes, picking a scrap of meat from his plate to give t the bird. Once it swallowed, the creature flew out the open window it had come in through. Alnyx took the paperwork back from Absinthe, rolling it up carefully so not to tear or smudge anything.

“If we leave in the morning, we should have more than enough time to get there, complete the task ,and get back home in time for the new recruits ceremony. Malja will be so happy.”

“I hate those stupid things. The robes are so damn stuffy. There’s a reason I don’t like to stay in the Red City.”

“Yes, but Malja was our first LIttle Bird. So we have to be there.” Alnyx shook his head, the massive wolf at his feet standing as he did the same. “Try to get some sleep tonight. You are more of a pain when you do not.”

“Bed already? It’s barely half past ten. The night is so young.” Absinthe frowned at the elf. “Surely you can manage to stay up a little longer, Grandfather.” he batted the lashes that protected those bright, green eyes.

“We have a job to do. You can feel free to be exhausted and put yourself in danger. I have no such desire.”

“Does the stick ever come out of your ass?”

“You will never know.”

“Never say never, Al. I love a challenge.” Absinthe licked his lips as he watched the elf go. “And you are a fantastic one.”

 

As Alnyx had predicted, Absinthe was far from well rested for their ride to the southern desert. The elf constantly had to wake his companion who fell half asleep in the saddle at every chance.

“We are not taking the horses into the desert with us.” he warned. “And I doubt a camel will be as good about following order from you half asleep.”

“What are we even romping into the stupid sand for anywhere?” Absinthe shifted uncomfortably as Alnyx stared at him. “I didn’t actually read the contract. Just the number.”

“You…I am not surprised.” Alnyx shook his head. “We are going to find the tomb of an ancient wizard who was a religious leader. A collector is paying well for artifacts from the old world. The one attached to all those zeroes you saw was a very specific one. A wand, likely buried in the hand of the wizard’s corpse.”

“So we’re grave robbing?” Absinthe arched an eyebrow. “From a powerful dead wizard.”

“Grave robbing is such a strong series of words. The contractor is from the same religious tradition as the wizard was. Think of it as….Securing holy relics.”

“And I’m the evil bastard.”

 

It took them almost four days of travel by night to get to the site marked on their map. Alnyx rolled the parchment back up, lowering his hood.

“The entrance should be here.” he squinted his eyes. “Probably a rune on one of these stones. Start looking.”

“That’s hardly helpful.” Absinthe wrinkled his nose. “There are like a hundred rocks here.”

“If it was easy, they would not be paying us to do it.” Alnyx shook his head. “It will likely be some sort of warding glyph. You know what those look like, right?”

“I’m not an idiot.”

“Debatable.”

“What was that?”

“Nothing. Just get to looking. You too Fish.”

The wolf let out a single park before starting to sniff at some of the smaller rocks. Absinthe shook his head, waving his fingers to cause small whirlwinds that blew sand off of the stones.

“This is ridiculous.” he huffed, kicking one of the stones. “MOrtal wizards hiding their toms…If you were any good you wouldn’t have died in the first place!”

“As he kicked another stone, the ground under them rumbled. Fish lowered his ears, growling as his master rolled his eyes.

“Yes. Kick rocks outside the dead wizard’s tomb. An excellent idea. You certainly are not an idiot.”

“Hey I-”

“Move!” Alnyx lept, tackling him as the ground opened under where he had been standing.

“Wow that was-”

“Shut up.”

“But you-”

“You are annoying but I need you alive.  Alnyx dusted himself off as he stood, shaking sand out of his hair. “That is all.”

He walked to the edge of the hole as Absinthe pulled himself back onto his feet. Fish sat on the ground beside Alnyx, peering into the hole as well with a tilted head.

“Should be easy enough to climb down if we anchor a rope up here.” Anlyx nodded to himself, removing the backpack he wore and setting it in the sand. “Would you stop staring?”

“You save me.”

“Hardly the first time. It is not a big deal.”

“You normally just let me fall.”

“Would you like me to cut the rope as you go down? It would have the same effect.”

“Well no-”

“Good let us go then.” He started by trying off one end of the rope to a larger, half-buried stone. “FIsh, you stay here. You know what to do if anything comes up.” The Dog barked once after his master before the two began their climb.

 

“Better than the temple, right? No spider women.”

“No, just a wraith and his undead minions. The blood loss is making you delirious.”

“Maybe a little.”

They had managed to retrieve the wand, safe in its box within Alnyx’s cloak. But, in doing so they manage to wake the dead wizard from his “slumber,” along with the small army of skeletons that were buried with him.

“The way up should be this way.” Alnyx grabbed Absinthe’s arm before he could go the wrong way again. “Come on.”

He could nearly see the rope now. But, unfortunately, so could the wraith. Alnyx growled, pulling Absinthe harder as they sprinted down the corridor.

“Get up it. I can hold them back. Once we are in the sun, it should be easier for us to fight them off.”

“But I-”

“Go!”

Alnyx turned to face the oncoming skeleton horde, drawing the two short swords that were at his sides. He’d much have preferred having Fish down here with him. The wolf-

He felt the fireball before he saw it soar over his head. THe skeletons turned to ash before him, the wraith dissipating into smoke with a howl. He covered his mouth with a sleeve, smirking behind it.

“Is there a reason you didn’t so that a few minutes ago before you got chewed up?” he put his swords away, frowning when there was no biting response. “Absinthe?”

As he looked up, the man was limp, barely hanging on to the rope only a few feet above his head. Cursing under his breath, he climbed up and managed to get Absinthe on to his back, and carefully on to the ground. He head a single bark and a whimper from Fish above them.

“We are fine. Down boy.” Alnyx spoke calmly as he located Absinthe’s pulse. “Shit.” Faint. Very faint. “Come on you bastard.”

He moved and straddled Absinthe’s hips before digging into his bag for bandaging. They has a single tonic left that would help as well. Making a mental note to pick up a few more with their earnings, he undid the ridiculous clasps on the chest piece. He wrinkled his nose as he smelled more blood than he had before.

“Idiot.”

Working quickly, he bound the gashes tightly in order to stop the bleeding. With a pop that echoed in the empty tomb, he uncorked the small bottle of tonic. Alnyx leaned over his mostly unconscious partner, pouring it down his throat and coaxing it down with his fingers. He relaxed only when he finally saw his throat move as he swallowed.

“‘s that a wand in your pocket,” the acidic green eyes cracked open just to slits as he croaked the words out. “Or are you just happy to see me?”
“You great stupid bastard. You know well-”

The kiss silenced Alnyx faster than any argument in the last three years ever had.

“I…” the elf stood quickly, high cheekbones suddenly very pink.

“Bit of both I’d say.” Absinthe picked up the ruined chest armor from the ground, grabbing the rope. “Comeon. I hate the damn desert.”

The silence that followed him up the rope made him smirk. Nearly dying aside, it was quite the successful mission indeed.

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26. Rhythm

She still couldn’t figure out how Gray got his fingers to move like that. They seemed to glide across the frets, barely touching the wood. As he continued to play up on the stage, she glanced down at her hands.

They were too small, she rationalized. As she looked back up at the stage, she spread her fingers as far apart as she could manage. She tried to match the way Gray’s fingers bend, using the edge of the table as her own instrument. No matter how hard she tried, they just wouldn’t cooperate the way his seemed to.”

“Why so grumpy, Ophelia?”

“I can’t do it like you and Gray can. I’ve been practicing for at least an hour every day, just like you said. My fingers don’t work, Wraith.”

“Nonsense, they work just fine. Here, let me see them.” The woman held her hands out for the girl’s, turning the hands over front to back as they were placed in hers. “Hmm, as I suspected. They’re just fine.”

She bent each blood red digit, causing the girl to giggle. Wraith even bent them to take the shapes of the chords Gray played.

“See? Working perfectly. It just takes lots and lots of practice.”

“How does he do it so fast, though? It’s the extra joint, isn’t it?”

“Could be.” Wraith nodded. “He also has been playing for longer than three lives. You know how he loves that story.”

“It isn’t fair. I’ll never be as good as he is.”

“Aww, never say never.” Wraith tousled the girl’s violet hair. “Tell you what. I’ll ask him to stop over here after his set. He’ll be glad to hear that you’ve been practicing.”

“Okay. He won’t be disappointed that I can’t do it like him?”

“Of course not, Hun. Now enjoy the set.” Wraith was very careful to avoid the horns that hadn’t finished growing as she kissed the top of the girl’s head.

 

“There’s my favorite little Bardess in Training.”

“Gray!” The girl threw herself at the elf’s knees, hugging them tightly. “You sounded really good.”

“Thank you.” he ran his hand through her hair. “Wraith told me that you’ve been practicing.”

“Yeah.” she nodded, releasing his legs and plopping back into her chair, staring up at him. “I’ve been working on the fingerings that you showed me the last time you were in town.”

“Good, good.” he smiled, pulling up one of the other chairs. “Let’s see then.” When the girl went to grab the edge of the table, he shook his head. “Here.”

He removed the strap from his lute, smiling when her eyes widened. He remembered, for the briefest of moments, what it was like to be that young and excited. She took it carefully from it when he held it out, running a finger along each string. Once they made their way to the fret board, she had less a look of reverence, and more one of determination.

“This one is….A, right?”

“Yes. Go ahead, strum. Your fingers are correct.” he nodded as she did so. “A good first try. Now, move them to F.”

 

Thi went on for a good hour: he even walked her through the basics of a very short song. The girl was a quick study, which was good. They only lived as long as humans did, even with the horns.

“I have to go back now.” Ophelia sighed sadly, holding the instrument back out to Gray. “Do you know when you’ll be back?”

“I never know, Red.” he looked down at the instrument and smield again. “Know what….Keep it.”

“What? No, I couldn’t-”

“I have others.” he assured the girl. “I want you to keep it. That way, when I come back through town again, you’ll be even better.”

Ophelia stared down at the lute with wide eyes again. Setting it on the table she stood, hugging him tightly again. Gray smiled, rubbing the girl’s back gently when he heard the tiny sniffle.

“I wish I could go with you.”

“When you’re older, Little Red.” he promised her. “We’ll get into all sorts of trouble, and you’ll wish you had stayed here where it’s quiet and boring.”

She shook her head about the second half, slowly stepping back and releasing him.

“You promise?”

“Cross my ancient heart.” he drew a little “X” over the center of his chest. “Now, get home before you get into trouble with your mother.”

He watched her delicately put the lute across her back with the strap he handed back to her, as if it was something far more precious than stained wood. She ran out of the inn, beaming as she bounced.

“She’s going to be trouble one day.”

“I’m counting on it Wraith.” Gray chuckled. “Otherwise, I just lost a perfectly good lute.”

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20. Poison

The Midsummer Ball was always the best one of the year if you asked any of the bards with a lick of sense. It paid the best, and there was no snow to trudge through. As the leader of the Court Musicians, it was Ophelia’s job to see all the visiting bards in. And check them for contraband, but that was much lower on her list of priorities.

“Davish, how are the kids?”

“Marchelle, you’re married now?!”

“A wild boar you say? Shame, he was always so handsome.”

She missed everything thanks to this contract. Sure, the pay was fantastic, and her rooms in the castle were beyond exquisite….But her blades had grown dull, and her adventuring boots hadn’t seen oil in ages. The itch to learn a new story with her own eyes and ears was no longer satisfied with just a gentle scratch.

“Now now, my sweet Ophelia. Why the frown?”

“Grey…”

The next name on the list, and the tall, slender man who came attached to it were always a sight for sore eyes. He signed his name on the line before hugging the woman who threw herself against his chest.

“I’ve made a terrible mistake, Grey. I”m not ready to settle yet. But I have a year left on the stupid paper I signed.”

“Oh my little Ravenwing.” he cooed, running a hand through her dark hair, fingers brushing across a feather that was hidden in the strands. “I told you that before you came up here to the frosty north, didn’t I?”

“I never listen.” she sniffled, releasing the man. “Can you help? I don’t know how to get out of it.”

“I may have something that I can work out…But I won’t do it for you. You’ll have to do it yourself.”

“I can do the hard part. I’m not a child.”

“Sure you aren’t.” he chuckled as she fussed and fixed her hair to again lie flat. “Come and find me when you’re done playing scribe.”

“You’re the best, Grey.”

“Don’t I know it.”

 

“It was the damndest thing. Lord Alaris was healthy as a horse just a few days ago. His poor wife. And the children!”

“Oh don’t think too hard about his wife. She was sleeping with the jailer, didn’t you know? She’s not half as innocent  as that pretty smile makes her out to be.”

“The jailer? No! You don’t think that he…”

“The man locks murderers up for a living, you don’t think that he could have learned a few things?”

As Ophelia walked at Grey’s side, she absently twirled a glass vial in her fingers. Green liquid sloshed with each twitch. She frowned as she listened to the little whispers, looking up at Grey.

“You know my way would have been a lot more fun.”

“And obvious considering the man paid you to do the same to his rivals.” Grey patted her shoulder gently. “We’ll make a lady out of you yet, Ophelia.”

“Says the man whose plan ruined a perfect good set of silken sheets and woke half the guard.”

“But we’re leaving, aren’t we? And you didn’t have to do anything but whisper. Much less messy. Words are a much more effective venom than your Nightshade.”

Ophelia rolled her eyes, leaning on him as they walked through the gates. It didn’t matter how she got out of the city. All that mattered was her boots were oiled, her blades tended to, and she could work again. And the Gods help the Northern kingdoms because of it.

 

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