Klax walks along the dirt road with a happy swing to his step, a smile never far from his lips, “And after he secluded the two honeymooners in a private pumpkin suite for my request, Jack and I stayed up for quite a while after talking about Light and His mysteries. Being a spirit he has some very unique views, and while he did not take away my faith like he had joked, he did indeed take away my fear.” Klax laughs at his own observation; the Drunk chuckles from the mouth of his silver hip flask while taking a generous swig and Sorrow nods in agreement.
“The fey spirits do not lie mister Klax, but they do stretch the truth. Speaking together may be what he meant by take away your fear, and speaking about Light may be what he meant by take away your faith.”
“Aye lad, never forget that a host can and will perform requests that are not asked for, if they see the request as good for you.” The Drunk looks to the sky, “Why, I once stopped in a fey garden where, after introducing myself, I was attacked with a spell to remove the alcohol from my body. Can ya believe it!? Me, sober as a man can be, and next the she-witch was trying to take me flask away. I turned and left without so much as an I beg your leave. And that is why I will never enter a garden near a body of pure water, it might belong to that she-witch.”
“That is a lie father.”
Behind the three walks Talls and Shorty, holding hands and walking very close together. Talls has a grin stuck to his face, while Shorty looks to be flushed a deeper blue than is normal for her. And behind them, holding their rope in her off hand, walks Teal. Her bark armor is back on and her jaw is clenched, while her dominant hand is hidden under a long sleeve where it seems she wants to keep it hidden. Last is a very morose Rolf, his shoulders lower than really looks right, not reading or doing much of anything besides walk.
Klax looks back at Teal and Rolf, then leans closer to the Drunk to whisper, “Do you think I should speak to miss Teal? Light tells me that I could have done something to stop it when she was sent away with Rolf at his request, so I feel responsible for whatever happened between them.”
The Drunk shakes his head, “The lass was not bothered, it is the lad who came out the worse. My gut tells me he was soundly rejected, so he is the one who might need a kind word.” Klax frowns and the Drunk smirks, “But ya won't do so because ya feel the lad is to blame for his own predicament – which I suppose he is, but still … .”
“I feel,” Klax stumbles to a halt, then tries again, “Light tells me that it was perhaps wrong of him to seclude himself with her, and certainly so without asking first. Whatever she said to him was right and just.”
“A broken heart is the most painful injury lad, that is why after my twenty-first wife I decided to take no more. I should have done so after the eighteenth destroyed my castle with the help of a dragon but the nineteenth was as lovely as a dewdrop and made me forget about such things.”
“That is another lie father. You are drunk.”
In the back, Rolf sighs and speaks to Teal, “So, how long until we arrive in Goldenburg miss,” he looks up and notices her glare turning to him. Remembering her warning from the day before he first covers his face with his arms, then uncovers with another sigh, “Go ahead, hit me, ye did warn us.”
Teal looks down at her hands, one busy holding the bandits' rope and the other hidden, “You do, but I will let it go this once.”
“Oh, yer hand is still - .”
“Yes,” Teal replies, terse and glaring forward again.
“I am sorry miss Teal.”
“I don't need your sympathy Rolf. My curse is something I can and will master with time, I have been told so by a great healer, so your apology is meaningless. This failing is my own burden to bear, not yours.”
Rolf walks in silence for a time, a strained look on his face, then speaks in a low and cautious tone, “Sympathy was not my intent miss Teal, I offer empathy. I too suffer from a curse, and so perhaps we can shoulder our burdens better together.”
“I hope you don't mean being a shape-shifter Rolf.”
“Miss Teal!” Rolf's eyes are wide as something like a faint grin flits across his face, “I am proud of who I am, that is not where I was going with that!” He laughs a little, though more a sharp quick exhale, and shakes his head as if to clear cobwebs. “I am cursed with brilliance.”
“That's a bit egotistical.”
“Light be Damned miss Teal! I am cursed with light! And to clarify, not the god known as Light, not the bird species popularly known as Light's Messengers, nor even the weight of being light. I glow, similar to some bio-luminescent lichens or insects. That is my curse.” He pauses, waiting as Teal walks in front of him without turning or speaking, then speaks in a pleading tone, “Ye must have noticed my glow already, I trust from that alone ye will understand my problem.”
She shrugs, “It's not really much of a curse.”
“I never said it was comparable to yers miss Teal, only that it is a burden. And consider my predicament: when I am sleeping at night I glow, when I am trying to hide I glow, when I mix in to a crowd I glow. My glow reveals me in every moment when as a shape-shifter I would wish to be unidentifiable or vanished.” Rolf takes a deep, calming breath and walks a little closer to Teal, “Now, ye may be wondering why I didn't glow for a short time outside that cabin where we recovered my pack.”
“And rescued Klax, that's why we were there,” Teal reminds him.
“Yes, him. Now, do ye remember me mentioning ether lines prior to that?” Teal nods, listening with interest now as Rolf launches in to a full lecture, complete with the occasional gesticulations to illustrate a point. “Simply put, ether lines are how magical energy flows through a body from a source point to where it takes effect, like blood veins. As a shape-shifter I can easily alter my ether lines, which gives me a certain edge at learning magic, but anyone can do so with training. Now here is the most important thing: even a curse works in this way, all will have something known as a nucleus from which magic is fed out to affect the body. I cannot block the magic energy, doing so would put my body under enormous strain, but I can redirect the flow.” Rolf holds up a finger, which begins to glow with a powerful bright light. “This is my curse light, redirected and gathered to one single point. I would normally pretend that I had en-spelled something in my hand, but I do not mind being honest with ye. And notice that I did not need to speak the magic; the magic was already there, I only redirected it.”
Teal's whole attention is on Rolf now, she speaks in a whisper, “That's why you would not give that light spell to the Drunk.”
Rolf nods, “Now a curse must eventually replenish its store of magic; it does this a certain rate, often by tapping the curse-giver from afar. If I were to keep this glow constant for several hours, or perhaps blind everyone in a short distance with the light at its most powerful, I would for a time stop glowing. The curse would need to rest, much like a mage must after using too much of his energy. That is why I did not glow outside the cabin, I made sure to use up all of the curse light before we reached the place. And this leads to my theory for how ye can control yer own curse.” Teal stops walking with a wide-eyed expression, and Rolf smiles to share in her excitement, “Yer ether lines are organized to send out a steady flow of magic to yer hands and legs, changing them under the magic of yer curse, but that likely means yer curse can do no more than that. If ye learn to reorganize yer ether lines, there may be some way to - .” Rolf stops speaking as Teal embraces him in a bear hug, lifting him off the ground with a loud whoop. The others all look back in shock, even the two bandits, who seem to miss that Teal in her excitement has dropped the rope connected to them.
When she puts him down she is grinning to both sides of her bark helm, “Rolf, that is the best theory I have heard in a very long time. Teach me how to reorganize and you will have a paladin friend for life, this I swear.”
“Miss Teal, I would be happy to help ye; I do wish to be yer friend.” He smiles, and she scowls and puts him down again, picks up the dropped rope and glares at everyone still looking at her.
“Show's over people! Now get moving, we arrive in Goldenburg today or we walk through the night! Am I understood?” She is given only silence in reply but they do all begin walking again, Talls and Shorty now keeping at the full distance allowed by their leash. Teal whispers back to Rolf as she walks, not turning to look at him but her voice no longer cold, “You present yourself as a person of few morals Rolf, but as long as you are a law-abiding mage my vow to the Queen's Paladins remains unbroken. I can promise you a paladin's friendship, but as two people we are on shaky grounds.”
“That will be fine for now miss Teal, but know that I will not stop trying. My feelings for ye have not and will not change.”
“See, now that is one of the many reasons we are on shaky grounds. You do not respect your fiancé by speaking to me of the feelings you say you have for me.”
Rolf snorts and crosses his arms, “Fiancé is the human word, with all yer human connotations. For us the meaning was always more akin to a promise that we would someday do our part in keeping our race alive. Reina may have been the one I was bound to, but we were never discouraged from having relationships before our marriage.”
Teal sniffs, “She was very beautiful and would always be approached by men when we went out for an evening, even a few women to my surprise at the time.” She hunches her shoulders, “But she always turned them down. She told them she was happily married.”
“I've said the same myself at times. People are less suspicious of a married man or woman, and having somewhere to be helped explain why I would never stay in any one town for long.”
“It was not a lie in her eyes.” Teal's voice remains low but she shakes a little as she speaks, “It was not some con. She was not saying it to avoid suspicion, she really believed it.”
“Wonderful,” he sighs, the word drenched in sarcasm. “So she built me up in yer mind as some sort of heroic individual and the real me can not compare. Well now ye can hear it from the real me miss Teal, I am no saint. Very few people are. I had wants and needs, and I do not feel shame for my past.” He pauses, then smirks. “Oh, but are ye ashamed of those things miss Teal? Is sex a dirty word within the paladin's code?” Teal does not reply, her back remains stony and unyielding. After his grin at her discomfort fades, Rolf frowns, “Miss Teal, I am sorry for bringing up an awkward subject, ye must know I was only joking in what I hoped would be a friendly manner.”
Teak cuts him off, “As I said before Rolf, we are on shaky ground. Personal matters are not something I wish to speak of.” For a long moment the conversation seems to have died along the dirt road they tread upon, until Teal releases a held breath and nods her head. “Though you seem to misunderstand. The paladin's vow is only to uphold the laws, seek out evil mages and bring them to justice.” And at a slower, more cautious pace, “So yes, the vow does allow for intimate relations. I, however, do not. I cannot.” Without warning she quickens her pace, catching up to Talls and Shorty in no time and leaving Rolf to think in her absence. Far in front of them, a flat shimmer on the horizon fools the eye into thinking that a giant coin has been dropped on the road ahead; Goldenburg waits ahead.