Rosa lit the lamp forcing the shadows to retreat to the corners before the homely glow. It wasn’t much: some simple beds, a faded carpet, and a small scattering of cushions. But several bottles of wine brought in by Jasmine and Elenoril and a sign on the door strictly forbidding entry made it theirs for the evening.
“Excellent so we all know the rules to how this works?” Elenoril asked wine glass already in hand.
“Well it’s not exactly magecraft,” Jasmine cut in, “We spin the bottle, whoever it points to answers a question.”
“Glad to see you were paying attention,” Elenoril winked, earning an eye roll from Jasmine.
“And we each get a question for the other two without a spin. No lying though, I will know,” Rosa said, feigning a severe look.
“Of course, darling, though I’m offended you’d think that of me” Elenoril grinned, “Well shall I start us off with my question for the two of you?” Two nods of ascent answered as the trio settled onto the cushions. “Speak of offense, I’ve always wondered whether you think the magic of divinations you both have are intrusive and, quite frankly, rude?”
Rosa thought for a while, sipping the wine as the other two poured their glasses.
“I mean the way that my magic, I mean, my oath works, as I am unsure if it is truly magic, is if you have done nothing wrong, then you should have no need to worry about it, I mostly use it as a safety net of whether to trust an individual based on those actions…. And I don’t tend to bring up the memory, just log it and if it is worth it at a later date, then well, I will hopefully get them to repent their sins and talk it through with them,” she gave the others a long calculated look, “If I am not happy with what they have done then I will have to bring down the immortal Lords justice upon them… I am not as bloodthirsty as Bjorn though…”
Jasmine sighed deeply at the question and glanced awkwardly aside looking at her staff propped by the door as the other two turned to look at her.
“Magic isn’t moral. It’s an art, a science a, a I don’t know! A craft maybe?” She began speaking hesitantly slowly feeling each word out carefully as she said them, “Is learning the craft of a blacksmith to forge weapons immoral because a fine blade might be used on innocents? I don’t think that is the case there are certainly immoral uses for magic, I could use my spells to look into any of your pasts for traumas and torments. I could use spells to strike down a citizen on the street. If delved into it I probably have the knowledge and potential to bind spirits and the dead to me. But I choose not to. I choose how my magic is used and on whom and you don’t need to worry about me using them against other members of our guild. Whereas most the so called masters of Winterbite do not care for such distinctions because they are more interested in the pursuit of power and prestige for themselves. I have certainly met wizards who consider themselves superior to people like Rosa or Thoron or Maeve because they are not masters of the arcane. The term some use is blunts, people with no interesting power or worthwhile contribution to society. They are still at least as powerful a mage as I am, just that they are bigger jerks.”
“So, to confirm, you think that the act is intrusive but it’s okay because the ends justify the means? How…Bjorn of you.” Elenoril picked up her glass, sipping it as she hid a wince at the quality.
“I think it can be intrusive if used in an immoral fashion, I do not believe I have used it in such a manner and would condemn those who did,” Jasmine replied acidly with a look of distaste “Please do not compare me to that zealot.”
Rosa reached for the bottle before the argument began in earnest, spinning it once more until it came to a stop facing Elenoril. The young paladin paused for a moment considering her question.
“How was university, I grew up in a temple mostly so I wonder what the learning path was like?”
“It’s…”she paused, struggling for words, “…inexplicable.”
She reached for two of the wine bottles.
“Two wine bottles, yes? You look and you know these are a pair and that they are made of glass and hold wine and this wine was made of grapes?” The others both nodded.
“Well you see, that’s how people see magic. It’s a noun, a fact. Something steady and constant. Well, school was learning that the facts are only one side of the story and it has many dimensions.
“What if I was to tell you this wine was goblin made? That the merchant we bought this from was a former adventurer who slaughtered a village for this vineyard? Or that it was quite literally made from the seasoned blood of that dead community?
“Do you think, knowing that, you would taste blood? That you’d notice the seasoning of the cinnamon or perhaps taste their despair? Because magic is like that. It’s about not only knowing things but understanding the limited context in which they exist.”
She paused again, glancing at Rosa.
“Your…abilities. The prayers of your clerics. They are formulas to channel the will of the immortal Lords, yes? Well to have magic is to be the source, the formula and the river it flows out of. You have to understand how magic connects everything and then you have to attempt to apply this understanding and make it real.
“I’m not making sense, am I?” She shook her head, frustrated at her inability to communicate whatever secret truth she was trying to share. “Magic, ultimately, is understanding. You can learn everything but, unless you understand, it doesn’t matter. Studying was the route to understanding, to experiencing the world more wholly and though was harrowing, it would be much more exquisite.
“For once we mostly agree,” Jasmine muttered.
“My go.” The raven haired elf span the bottle, waiting until it pointed at Jasmine.
“I want to ask about Caspian,” Ellenoril stated, nearly immediately.
“Of course you do.”
“Why did you duel him? You knew you would lose to him, you knew you’d be throwing away your best chance at an education in the best wizarding school in the world. So why did you duel him?” Jasmine was quiet for a moment.
“I don’t know what you want from me with this question. An admission I screwed up? Yeah probably. Was it logical? No but we all make mistakes. I just remember him making me so mad.” Jasmine twisted her faded robes in her hands, knuckles clenched. “I get your parents have fallen on hard times but not like mine. They’ve scribed for the college’s for over twenty years and what do they really have to show for it? They scrimped, they saved they put everything they earned, took on laundry to get a few extra copper coins a week dealt with the snotty casters and their high and mighty demands. They helped me make it, coached me along with my studies. I worked hard to get into Winterbite and earn what others paid for on a whim. And I get there, I am where I have wanted to be my whole life with this daddy’s boy calling out my parents and my ability. ‘Ooooohhh don’t worry if you fuck it up, Jasmine, standards are lower for you since your parents are drugged up glue makers.’ ‘Oooh Jasmine now this is a knife and fork, I know where you come from we eat with our hands but here you need to at least pretend to be civilised.’” Jasmine looked down at her hands, not meeting either of the others gaze. “It was stupid, illogical and I felt guilty as hell to have put my parents through that, it’s why I came to Backwash originally, couldn’t bear to face them again. So if you wanted me to tell you I was a silly, proud little girl there you go, wish granted, Elenoril.”
The elf took a slow drink of the wine. “Thank you for telling me.” Her face remained still, not betraying a reaction.
Jasmine reached for the wine bottle and spun it again. It came to a stop facing Elenoril.
“In answer to your question of why I duelled Caspian, I ask why you are so fond of him?”
“Well, dearest Jasmine, you may have noticed that I tend to rub people the wrong way. My mouth tends to have opened before I’ve even heard the question and despite how it may have appeared to you, I didn’t make friends easily at the university.”
“I actually didn’t like Caspian, not at first, but we were studying…do you remember Magus Constance teaching us theory of enchantments? That exam she put the fear of the Immortal Lords in us for? Well I was revising and Casp was struggling with someone. It was very late, you see, he’s shy. He likes people to see him as this star pupil but he struggled as much as anyone.”
“Well anyway, I noticed his struggles and I came over to help. He wasn’t receptive at first but he loosened up and laughed about…” she paused for a moment.
The happy memories had given her a smile but she gave a quick look to Jasmine and it faded into something like guilt. Jasmine’s face was a mask but Rosa was sure she saw a flicker behind the other woman’s eyes. Anger? Pity? Sorrow?
“…yes well we had a good time and then it became natural that we’d revise late at night. I’ve always been better at enchantment than I have at conjuring so we’d help each other out. I still studied with him after he left too. I know you will not agree but he’s really quite a marvellous wizard. Generous too, at least to his friends. He offered to help support me when my family couldn’t afford the fees anymore but maybe he just didn’t want to be the only failed wizard anymore.”
Jasmine snorted at that, voice tight “To be honest I am not sure what I expected you to say, it’s weird hearing you speak of him so fondly. Perhaps I ought to let go but…” An awkward silence stretched for a moment before it was interrupted by the bottle’s spin again as Elenoril hastily picked up the game again. This time Rosa was the target of Elenoril’s curiosity.
“Do you think it is immoral to use feminine charms to get ahead? Have you ever used your sex to get ahead?” Jasmine’s eyebrows raised at the question and hurriedly busied herself with a drink. Rosa, however, answered calmly.
“I have never used sex to get ahead, I mean I haven’t done anything like that…I have had a job to do and that keeps me far to busy, you understand. Though feminine charms… well, I mean, I haven’t intentionally done that .. you know, I am still very young… this is all very embarrassing… sorry. What I mean to say, if someone finds me attractive and I need something from them, then sure, I’ll play along… though its all harmless I don’t mean it in an evil way and I.. I am comfortable enough in my faith and beliefs that I did and do nothing wrong because of it.”
“Actually, now that I think about it, what is the oath you’ve taken as a Paladin?” Elenoril asked. “What is your “holy duty” or whatever they call it?”
“Elenoril, that is quite complex of a question you ask of me, though I am always up for a challenge,” she responded, smiling.
“So it is easier to explain the commandments that I follow as I feel the oaths themselves are very personal to me, I took the ones I wish to uphold throughout my life, I truly try to live by them, firstly, ‘Luck favors the bold. Your fate is your own to grasp, and to do so is to have the Immortal Lords behind you.’ This may sound silly but this was based on a childhood story I read, it was about a cleric named Salazaar the Lucky who… I get distracted easily from the point, apologies, it has been a lifelong belief of mine and to have it as a commandment only elevates it importance to me.”
She has a look between the others and hoping she isn’t boring them with something so important to her.
But both simply nursed their drinks attentive as the young woman spoke.
“Next is ‘Change is inevitable. The righteous can ensure that such change is for the better.’ This one I think is rather self explanatory and the reason why I am here marching west. Oh and the next one, is what I imagine Bjorn bases all his oaths upon, though I think my own is not as aggressive…’Rise against tyranny. Fight for the freedom of yourself and others when you can, and inspire others to fight ‘ I believe that there is a right time to fight as you may have already guessed. But as for my Holy quest, I’m aiming to make this world a better place and I believe that the secret lies in the west somewhere… though some people think I am crazy, does that all make sense?”
She smiles wide before taking a drink of wine, “Oh, my, where did we get this stuff, this is pretty damn good!”
“Mostly it came with the Guild House, leftover surplus by the previous owner, a least the leftovers Thoron hadn’t drunk his way through.” Jasmine said “You’re right though, far better than most the wine in these parts.” Elenoril looked momentarily horrified by the idea.
The bottle span round with another clattering sound spinning in a blur until it slowed one end pointed at Jasmine. She made a face as Rosa pondered questions, ignoring “suggestions” from Ellenoril.
“Do you have some sort of obsession with Gruff, you talk about him an awful lot?”
Jasmine sat quietly and sipped her drink for a second considering, “I think it’s different for the rest of you, when we were first tasked with finding his bones I read his journals the most, from cover to cover. When we looked for him I saw him while he was alive, it was like seeing a character from a play and you can’t help but root for them. I described his actions to you but it is very different to see them playing out before me like I was there.” She fell silent thinking over things for a moment “I guess I just see a lot of the younger him in us as well
“Soooo you think he’s cute.” Elenoril snickered as Jasmine threw another cushion at her. “Smart move going for the dead guy he probably can’t turn you down.”
“He was sixty in the visions.”
“So your type is old men? Wow I can see why you weren’t happy to leave Winterbite!”
Rosa, ever the peacemaker cut in again as Jasmine opened her mouth for another retort.
“Do you ever want to stop adventuring as you seem like you enjoy it a tad much?”
“Prepare to play the Jasmine Florent drinking game, drink everytime she uses the words go west, Gruff Kaspar or explains something in a boring know it all way!” sniggered Ellenoril pulling a fresh bottle from the basket.
“I really hate you sometimes.”
“Only sometimes darling?”
“Ugh what was the question? Do I ever want to stop adventuring? Maybe once I would have definitely after Blakes Mine and Skogenby barrow I wished I had never come west. I wished I had never left the academy, I wished that my mother would come and take me home and tell me everything would be alright but I guess somewhere along the way that changed. Sometimes it’s horrible, miserable and I’m occasionally in the company of the questionably sane or trustworthy but I don’t think I could stop now. There are too many mysteries, too much to see and learn when I go west.”
“You do realise, that this risk is going to get greater and greater when you find more interesting discoveries?” Rosa says with a concerned look.
“Somehow that only makes it more intriguing…” Jasmien smiled sadly.
After they had settled again the bottle was spun once more and wound up pointing to Rosa. Jasmine thought for a second or two and then asked her reason for leaving the temple for the West.
“Well, Jasmine, as I mentioned earlier, my commandments are all about change, so I was just waiting to become old enough to leave that place. It was sad to wave my parents off but I know it was the right thing to do, as this is where the change is happening.” Rosa nods having a moment to herself, smiling and reminiscing about the old times.
“The second reason I came is due to hearing about Bjorn as he is from a different paladin order then my own, but I heard things were happening that I did not want to happen; he is a tad aggressive for what I believe, he is blinded by the faith that he has. Now I have never met the man and be en adventuring with him, but I just don’t think you should be scared of a paladin when you have done nothing wrong…if that makes sense…”
All three took a minute to enjoy their drinks before Rosa set the bottle in motion again. It flashed round and round to point to Elenoril.
“Do you think Caleth is a bit weird for an elf, I grew up to respect them but he seems odd?”
“That’s a hard question. You have to remember I don’t come from the elf lands so most of my experience with elves is my own family or relatives. I think the ones from elf lands are little more peculiar. They don’t seem to have as much respect for ‘human gods’ as they call them.
“I think they are odd, so I guess you’re asking if he is odd comparatively to them…I guess the answer is yes? He seems to have been through more…but I think our people tend to react with grief…not a fixation on murder and overcoming the laws. Even in elf lands there are laws, expectations, so it’s odd he’s the way he is. I can’t say I know him too well, he sings well and knows the old songs so he’s similar enough.
“I think I lack a good answer. No, he is nothing like my family or other elves I am related to, and I don’t think he would match the few from elf lands that I have met. And to be honest, most of this world is humans nowadays. If you don’t conform to human standard, even a little, I would say you’re weird. The culture of the world is not what it once was.”
They all sat somberly for a moment in quiet contemplation of the world and the beauty the elves saw fading in it. A moment of quiet companionship before the whir of the bottles glass on wood began again.
The alcohol was now a comforting warmth in Jasmine’s stomach as the bottle swung back to face her and Elenoril asked “If you could travel to any of the skeins of existence, which would you pick? Also, a side question, what familiar do you want from where?”
“I really wish to see the City of Pearl I think that would be fascinating. A whole city of otherworldly denizens to meet and understand. I actually know limited amounts about each Plane and plan to do some more research before taking any trips there. Arcadia sounds nice, a beautiful wilderness with fairies and so on. Perhaps a sprite would make a good familiar? I would certainly want one more like Zamasha. Something intelligent who could be a companion by choice rather than forced to be my familiar. A djinn of water or air sounds quite lovely I think perhaps I can find one of their people who is an explorer?”
“I hope you don’t mind me asking but is it possible for someone like me to have a familiar?” Rosa asks inquisitively “I mean a non-spellcaster? I would love to have something cute to come along with me, something to show I’m not some scary lady wearing plate.”
“In theory yes, it is an arcane matter to forge the runes into a piece of metal that a familiar may be bound to it. It requires a skilled ritualist to summon such a being I would be more than happy to help you with such. Once the deal is made it can remain with anyone you simply need to seek a creature that would agree. Perhaps a being of Law?”
“I think that would be most lovely, I would most appreciate the help as well assuming that I could succeed!” she says with a grin and Jasmine smiled back as she reached for the bottle. Once more the bottle spun round and round until it pointed towards Elenoril.
“You know some of my most shameful moments, I am interested to hear what you consider your most embarrassing moments,”
“Well to be frank with you I wasn’t exactly proud when finances meant I had to leave the university. It was worse for me. You went out with a bang, everyone was talking about that duel for weeks. I just disappeared and it was mortifying every time someone bumped into me and asked why I hadn’t been in lessons.“
“It’s why I eventually came to Backwash. People still gossiped about you, how you’d blossomed and I guess I just wanted a little bit of that magic for myself.”
“You know, ladies, when I came here I was sure I was going to be a shining star, some sort of hero to you all. Here I was with a university education, daughter of Winterbite, certified alchemist and one of the elves. You were all supposed to be dirty, incompetent adventurers, and instead you humbled me with this edge you all seem to have.”
She went quiet for a moment, the glass of wine centimetres from her lips. “I’m actually fond of most of now, especially the people I owe my life to.” She nodded at Jasmine with the last phrase, a sobering moment of clarity. “If I ever make enough to go back to school, I’ll teach you everything I learn.”
A hiccup escaped her, her face mortified by the unbidden shudder. “Well I never…” Her smile returned, a sudden memory eliciting the grin.
“If you’re looking to things to actually embarrass me with…I guess that time when I was sixteen and all my hair fell out because mother’s cold medicine had two grammes of losspaw in it instead of luckleaf. I’d say she best see a cleric but I doubt she’d see him either”
Elenoril snorted to herself, coughing some of the wine onto the table and catching everyone’s sleeves with droplets.
“Oh dear. Sorry about that.”
She mopped the rest of the wine up with some lose parchment and a used bandage.
“Anyway, yes. I was bald for a week after that until I met Zalerin and she helped me cover it, but that’s another story entirely.”
By now the drink was beginning to affect them all they were all many glasses deep, the bottle that had formed the centre point of their game discarded and forgotten. Jasmine could feel a buzz in her fingers and toes and a pleasant lightness to her head. It’s fine I can handle this, she mentally slurred to herself.
“Ever fancied anyone else in the guild?” Rosa asked suddenly “I mean most sane people would rather cross the street than talk to adventurers like us let alone ask us out. So doesn’t leave much option apart from people within the guild right? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going out of my way took look for someone but I just wondered, you know?”
Ummmm nooooo, nooooo we cannot handle this! Her brain began screaming in her ears and Jasmine shifted, looking away from the other two clearly uncomfortable.
“It is fine Jasmine, my dear, it will stay just between us, I will happily answer this question if it makes you more comfortable?” Rosa smiled and nodded reassuringly as Elenoril jumped into an answer.
“What an interesting question. I will be frank with you, Rosa, I think good looks overcome that perception of us guildies. We Elves, it is not unusual for us to go West. I admit that in some ways my association with the Guild does change my reputation.”
She laughs to herself.
“You’re going to judge me for this, but I know I’m attractive, even amongst my own kind. I think people would give more than just a double glance.”
She winks at the other girls, and shifts her hair back, exposing the slender neck and unscarred elven skin. She does her best attempt at a smouldering look..
“In regards to who I would look to for any sort of romance. Well, I would say the ladies of the guild are more attractive than the men. And given your vows,” she gestures at Rosa, “I guess that leaves Jasmine.”
Rosa looks slightly confused saying “but I don’t have an oath like that, my dear, now do not get me wrong i am not trying to come on to you, no offence of course.” Jasmine meanwhile had buried her face in her drink, the red flush having crept the whole way over her whole face. She refused to meet anyone’s eyes finding the bottom of her glass to be inordinately fascinating. The elf laughed.
“Well other than that, I think it comes down to that old game. Who would you avoid, who would you lay with and who you would spend a life with. Well,” she begins counting off the adventurers on her hands, “Bjorn is a potato so he can stay away, alongside with that pyromaniac and, despite all his good qualities, the exorcist is ghastly to stare at.
“I think that I would lay with Caleth and even that racist of a human. I imagine both are experienced, and so they would be fun to be with, but not to take home necessarily. I am unsure about that other cleric, the one I hear Jasmine had a thing with, and the other elf and dwarf. Their faces have not stuck with me and I cannot comment.”
“I am not overly fond of dwarves in general, but I hear many are rich. Perhaps marrying one of them would be good for my prospects. Perhaps they could fund me on going back to school. Hmm”.
She pauses then, growing quiet. There’s a twinge of amusement to her face, and she looks out to the yard where the clanging of forge construction continues.
Rosa turned to look expectantly at Jasmine now Elenoril had clearly finished.
“I-I can’t say I really have much experience in such things…” Jasmine started to say lamely “To be clear though there was never anything between Roche and I.”
“You wanted there to be?”
“No! No not really my kind of person. Too devoted to the immortal lords before all else. Could you imagine me being able to sit down with him and discuss metaphysics or the latest writing of Alastus?”
“What about Caeleth, you two have been close since the beginning?” Jasmine shivered slightly before answering.
“Also no, I still remember the night on the moors, when Hathor-Vash wore his face. For much of the night he pursued me sword in hand driven by the spirit. I – I know it wasn’t his fault, the people he killed that night or his attempts to do the same to me. B-but I still remember it when I see him. No we’re just companions.”
“So who do you like then? No avoiding the question!”
“Uh…I mean… Well Blann is nice and uh, it is true what the scholars say that elves are called the fair folk…” Elenoril smiled like she had just found the lost treasure of King Octavin.
“Oh, wow that is interesting, I knew you two were close but I didn’t realise..?” Rosa says with a surprised look on her face.
Laughing, Elenoril shook her head. “I mean, give me a few more bottles and we’ll see what happens, but we are not intimately close, young Rosa.”
“Nothing like that will happen!” Jasmine said firmly “Y-you just asked who I found attractive!”
Drinking carried on late into the night and they talked of those gone and things yet to come. Outside the moon glowed bright but soon the sun would rise and the West would be waiting.