First, the general stuff: Jailin is male. All of the great age of 119 (basically 19 going on 20 human time). I guess it might be hard to tell from first person, considering the fact that elves, as I write them, have more acute senses than the average human, and thus pay a lot more attention to things like color, texture, quality of material, as well as to gestures and touch as a way to transmit information. Think not nearly entirely visually-based, as with humans, but an even three-way split between visual, audial, and kinesthetic. Which creates an attention to detail that should be seen as feminine without additional information - which I really have no idea how to give, so if anyone has suggestions, I'm open.
Gods and dragons: Huh, I was wondering whether I was getting too repetitive with those two details. Glad to see that actually strengthened the feel of unity across pieces, as I aimed it to.
Machuchang: Thanks! My favorite part of working on worldbuilding is taking details that were thrown in for random flavor, and then building up a culture around them. It helps that I'm a cultural studies major.
Now, as for Moving On: I have to say I can't really get a feel for what Hero's been living in. He's been in that cave for three years, presumably brooding over the death of a friend. Here's the catch: I can't get the character his brooding takes. Is he still shocked to the point of not taking care of himself, does the cave have the bare minimum for survival? Has he just decided to live a life away from all that reminds him of Nissa, and has made his life more or less comfortable? Has he been actually wandering, and is this place only a temporary shelter?
What also makes me wonder is what god chose Hero, and what is the nature of their relationship, now and previously. What does he know about the gods? Can they only act through their clerics and chosen, or can they actually *do* what Hero wanted them to do - only they didn't? The fact that this is unclear - only slightly implied by Azring that they'd come across a full-blown manifestation while having only partial powers (and I'm not at all sure I got that correctly) - makes it more difficult to understand Hero's reaction. Does he know in his soul that there was really nothing to be done?
To summarize, I'd like a little more background to make the piece more meaningful, to contrast Hero's character. What you've got there is basic, pure emotion, and you do that well - a man who's wanted for three years to scream out his rage and sorrow at someone for whom Nissa is not just some casualty, but a friend, so that they'd understand - but without context it doesn't shine as much as it could.
Lady Moreta: *laughs* That's what working without peer review does to you. *nods* I know there's a sort of awkward effect in these pieces. I'm just not really sure where it came from and what to do with it. I think I've slipped a lot into the "tell-don't-show" mistake, which is easy to do in first person. If there are any particular places that look wrong, could you please tell me?
As for Lyra: The repetition works well. I mean how she remembers from the oldest to the most recent incident. It's done in a good rhythm that works: the interludes in italic help establish that. The fact that the last interlude is longer helps in the dynamic, as well - it leaves the reader with Lyra's expectation that because of her curse she *will* be
rescued tortured, and it's going to go *horribly* wrong she's finally going to be punished for her sins and be freed of them.
There's the good part, I think, actually. You speak of her tormentors with the same language as someone awaiting a rescue would speak of his or her friends who have not come yet. Where are they? Why aren't they coming? When will they relieve me? It creates a kind of "1984" effect, very creepy and appropriate. And when you realize she's actually waiting for her *captors* it becomes really crushing.
And, of course, the fact that she's actually being watched all this time - which means, since her captors are happy, that she was desperate enough that they could notice it. This creates an additional level of indirect depiction, at least for me: not just tears, but the kind of tears that you know the person shedding them is going to break down soon.
I think that's the crux of what worked - hope it helps!
As for my own stuff: the other two parts of the tale!
Human Oaths and Dragons
Psychoanalysis for the Draconic Soul
It is my second watch. We switched around a bit tonight: Fai was tired, he slept first. So as I make myself comfortable by the window, Cypher gets ready to go to sleep. He curls up a pace away from me, and covers his head with his wings.
That's... Unusual. Usually he stretches out. Head on paws. I've had ample time to watch my companions, I know how they sleep.
I watch him out of the corner of my eye for a few more minutes. His breathing does not get quieter and deeper - it goes from short and rapid to calm, and then back to rapid again.
Should I?.. We're really not that close.
The silver dragon shivers, as if cold. That's... Disturbing.
"Are you thinking over our hopeless tactical situation or are you just sad?" I say as nonchalantly as I can. "Or do I just not get something about dragons?" That's always a distinct possibility, too.
Cypher pokes his head out from under his wing. Only his snout and an eye shows.
"Just thinking." He mutters quietly. "About my transformation."
I nod. "A lot to think about."
We fall silent again. I try not to pry. Though I do wonder... Of so many things. Of why the spell did not go as planned. Of what Bahamut had in store for the young paladin. But all of that is between him and his god. Too personal.
"I just don't understand." He says quietly and suddenly. "What it was all for. Why me, after all. What does he want from me?"
That's... Peculiar. I thought a being of pure law and good would be more straightforward. "He did not tell you directly?"
"No." A quiet whisper.
"Do you have any idea why?"
"Two versions." The dragon lifts a claw, speaking slowly, as if in fear. "Either it's some kind of draconic game. And I mustn't know. Or... Else..." His voice is shaking as he finally exhales, "I'm unworthy."
"You?! Unworthy?" This coming from the man who'd given his life to save me once, when he barely knew me, and did not waver! From the man who put himself into danger over his word on a regular basis! If Bahamut considers *him* unworthy... No. Hardly possible. "What could you possibly have done to be unworthy of such a simple?.."
"I. Don't. Know." The dragon closes his eyes limply.
This coming from the boy who hadn't known fear since he took up the sword of a paladin. And who now has to deal with knowing fear and uncertainty again.
What the hells do I say to him?
"Maybe you should give your god a little more credit." The words
somehow start flowing on their own. "Those reasons are both rather harsh for a being of law and good."
"I don't see any alternatives."
"You're how old? By dragon standards?"
"Very young." He sighs.
"That's quite possibly it, then." I say reassuringly. "They may just
want you to have a good... Childhood, for what it's worth."
The dragon raises his head hopefully. "As in 'go on, grow up, and we'll call you when we need you?'"
"Yes, exactly like that. Your god is supposed to be merciful and understanding, is he not?"
"Merciful - yes." Cypher nods. "Understanding... He is far too high above us mere mortals, I think."
"Gods are supposed to be all-knowing within their portfolio." I note. "And you were part of Bahamut's portfolio long before you became a dragon, were you not?"
"Yes, but... He's so high up, and I'm just a wyrmling. What could he possibly care for a single wyrmling in a huge world?" Cypher curls up again, only paws showing. The despair is palpable, and I catch myself on wanting to move closer, to take those paws into my hands, to hold him for support. But I stay myself. What would be wholly appropriate among elves might not spread to dragons so easily.
I'm so glad the Indifferent One leaves no questions about what catches his interest and what does not. What do gods care about mere mortals, indeed... Should I tell him of my own experience?
No. One does not tell a silver dragon of how one wanted to kill an innocent for the sake of one's own safety.
"I wish Katarina was here." I say simply. "She'd be able to explain. She knows."
The dragon snorts a little jet of frost. "Right. And she doesn't doubt herself, either, does she?"
A-and good job, Jailin. You didn't notice *that* one before, did you? So that's why our two pious warriors had kept their distance. How do I explain?.. Damn it to the Grey Wastes, I'm not a cleric!
"She... Understand, Cypher. She isn't just a follower of Pelor. She is his beloved daughter." That sounds so honey-sweet, my teeth are hurting as I say it. But with Katarina it is all true. "She wasn't making a decision to follow his ideals - she was born like that, and so he chose her when she was old enough to take care of herself. She is a ray of the sun. She acts like that because of who she is, not because she decided to be that way..." Somehow by the look of him I don't think I'm making any sense. So I finish lamely: "But she's still human, and she still doubts herself."
"She did not doubt herself much when she chose to save Fai over those whom she promised her protection." The dragon says grimly.
"You just have no idea." I remember that sleepless night well. I'd never seen Katarina quite so forlorn. She - and we with her - had promised to check out a possible danger to the village. But then Fai had been kidnapped, and she was faced with either breaking her promise or saving a friend from certain death. She decided to go after Fai, risking the lives of the villagers. Luckily for us, we killed two birds with one stone. Yet it was the closest our party had ever come to a split, Cypher wanting to keep his promise to the villagers, and Jelita...
"Maybe." The dragon acquiesces. "But what I don't understand is Jelita. Why would she leave her sister to go with me?"
"Really?" I make no effort to hide my amusement. "I'd say *her* motivation is clear as an ice crystal."
To my surprise, the dragon ducks his head in what could only be embarrassment.
"If that's really true," he says, "that is, of course, nice, bu-ut..."
"That, too." I laugh. "But, really, that's not the main reason as I see it." The dragon fires me a curious look, and I continue. "She is younger than you are, Cypher, even if you have seen the same number of summers. She is yet like a child, who sees only the curiosity and wonder of travel. And when choosing between two tasks - one which is full of excitement, mystery, and where you can come back to be cheered by the townsfolk, and one where you have to go find some guy you don't really even know, you have no idea where to look, and it promises to be long and tedious, and above all boring... I'd say the choice is fairly obvious!"
My chuckle freezes in my throat, as suddenly all I can see are the dragon's molten gold eyes, staring through me. His claws clench, and he emits a low growl.
"Are you all right?" I ask carefully.
"You hold up too good a mirror, mage." He spits out dejectedly. "It's just that... Take all that which you just said about Jelita. Apply to me. I want the glory. The good story. The grateful looks. I'm... I'm the same as she is."
You think you just want the outer wrappings? I can't help but smile. Truly, one's own soul is often darker and more mysterious than another's.
"Well, that's a good thing, isn't it?" I ask as cheerfully as I can.
Cypher looks disgusted. "How can *that* be a good thing?" He hisses.
"You can actually enjoy what you're doing, despite all the danger. There's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with liking being thanked. With enjoying being good. It's not the entirety of your motivation, is it? Don't tell me you went with us just because we'd come back and be thanked for it. That wouldn't be true, would it? You'd have gone with us even if they hadn't known."
"True." He admits. "But I was exactly like her, once. I was that kid
who wanted to save the village and be cheered on by the grateful villagers. I..."
"You've obviously grown since then."
"Right." He snorts skeptically and curls up again.
"Anyway, you were quite careful about it."
"Not careful enough, apparently." He grumbles.
"What do you mean?" I really do not understand.
"I should have just quietly gone my way," He sighs. "Without declaring it. I shouldn't have pushed you along my own path."
"Don't be ridiculous." I laugh quietly. "First of all, remember that you did not. Our paths just happened to coincide."
"True, but... What I did was blackmail anyway."
I briefly go over the scene in memory. All he did was say that he was going to save the villagers regardless of us, and that he bids us farewell in our journey.
"That? That was being honest. You have full right to be what you are, do you not? And let the rest choose their own ways. Even if we go our separate ways as a result, you have full right to say goodbye, Cypher."
"To say goodbye..." The dragon murmurs sleepily and shifts his pose, suddenly much more relaxed.
"Yes, to say goodbye." I barely stop myself from running a hand reassuringly along the ridges of his spine. Careful with any physiology you do not know well, mage! "And let them go their way while you go yours. We are all adults here..."
A quiet snore rises from the dragon's nostrils. He is finally asleep.
I smile and turn my attention to the window.
And the last part of the series, which I think is the best written (yay, third person, and yay, Cypher who was a former bard and is easier to write!) Heed my warning, though: it's long.
D&D has no wound penalties - that's no reason not to roleplay them, is it?
"I'll tend to our prize before those mechanical beasts catch up, and play lookout while I'm at it." Fai says. "Cypher, you take care of Jailin. And I'll be going somewhere where there's more light and space."
With that, he exits, magical sack in hand.
"I'll be fine." The elf growls after him through clenched teeth, spreading his bedroll on the "ground" of the rope trick. He flinches every time his burned hands touch cloth, his movements falter, but still Jailin tries to be as meticulous as ever - if only as a means to keeping conscious. The mage does not bother lighting a lamp. It's bad enough feeling the wounds. He doesn't want to see them, too.
Cypher, of course, needs no lamp.
"Fine or not, but you look like hell." The dragon observes, coming closer on silent paws. "You've got that amulet, though. Why haven't you healed up a bit?"
The mage stops moving. Then Jailin very deliberately looks towards dragon, hand clutching at something hidden under his coat, and says in a very calm voice, "Because I will die the moment I remove the little trinket around my neck now."
The dragon's heart skips a beat. "Why didn't you say something? Give me the healing amulet!"
A small golden cornucopia appears on the wizard's outstretched palm.
"Here. And I was quiet because we were flying too quickly. If we'd lost the amulet, trying to heal me on the run, we'd have had too difficult of a time looking for it. We couldn't afford that, it's our only means of reliable healing now."
"Just sit down." Cypher says grimly, as he dons the amulet.
Jailin sits, closes his eyes, and waits for the dragon to activate the cornucopia. The mage tries to keep silent, but a small hiss escapes him as his wounds begin to close.
And they do not close fully. Not even close; Cypher fails to see much of a difference. Even as the worst charred patches fall away, replaced with new skin, most of the burns remain red and deep, and seep with ichor.
But the elf exhales carefully, and touches his hands together, running attentive fingers along wounds. "Better. Much better. Thank you." And forces a small smile. "Now I will even be conscious if I lose the amulet. I won't be much help, though."
"Rest will make you better." Cypher nods at the bedroll. "Lay down. Just don't wrap yourself up."
"You take me for a complete fool?" The elf smirks, peeling outermost layers of burnt clothing off. "There is a lot of excess heat to lose. And I'll be sitting, thank you very much, otherwise I'll leave too much skin on my bedding."
"I'll help you with losing heat. And treat you once it's gone." The dragon's tone allows no protest. "Lean against me. I am cool enough."
"It will not hurt you?" The elf asks.
"No." Cypher has no idea, really, but the last thing he wants is to breed doubt.
Jailin nods, and rests his wounded back and hands across the dragon's hide. And so they sit, leaning against each other, in the dark of the pocket dimension. The mage is too hot to Cypher's touch, but he bears the discomfort easily. *After all,* the dragon thinks to himself, *if you couldn't prevent a friend from being hurt, you might as well help him heal.*
The thoughts ring uncomfortably, reminding him of what he had lost. Among the things Bahamut had released him from was the power to heal. You could not re-think oaths while still having them, he had said. Human oaths and dragons do not mesh well, he had said. You will have to start over: such is the price for your new rebirth, he had said.
It was all so reasonable.
But right now a wounded friend was trying not to cry out from pain each time he moved, and Cypher could do nothing.
"Forgive me for being so crass." The elf mutters suddenly. "I was afraid, and not thinking clearly. One flying anti-magic zone in this madhouse
of a city - nothing we can rule out, really - and I would have been dead."
"No offense taken." The dragon says, shivering uncomfortably.
A pause falls. And then Cypher knows what he wants more than
anything in the world.
"Rest, elf." The dragon whispers happily. "Very, very soon, I will no longer be helpless when friends are hurt. I don't want to see you like this ever again."
But the mage inhales sharply, as if someone jabbed him under the ribs. "That is wrong." He says suddenly. "That is just so very wrong."
"That's the only *right* way possible." Cypher says kindly, basking in the calmness that has descended upon him. The dragon can't help but smile now.
"No." The elf curls into a ball, burying his face in his hands, and whispers. "No, no, no, no, no."
"Shh." The dragon says, not understanding what just happened, but huddling closer for comfort. "It's all right."
"No. No, it is not." The mage chokes. The dragon listens, hardly believing his ears. The elf was always calm, maybe a bit irritable, but this was something new entirely. "You cannot live your life like that. Not like that. You cannot... Keep living just for the sake of others, you cannot keep doing what they want."
*What?* Cypher thinks in confusion. *Where'd *that* come from?* And just when he finally understood that it really was not the glory and all that he wanted, but simply for his friends and family to never know pain and fear. Just when he finally remembered what his oaths were for.
"Listen to me, my friend Jailin." He says, gently putting a clawed paw on shaking shoulder. "Didn't you hear what I said? *I* don't want to be helpless. *I* don't want to see you hurt."
"That cannot be your true motivation." The elf says flatly.
"We are far too different, you and I." The mage's voice is heavy and desperate. "You cannot possibly be wanting to help me because we are akin in spirit; we are not. Thus, your desire to aid me stems from you feeling bound to serve. And that..." He trails off helplessly.
*What a mess,* Cypher thinks to himself.
"Why do you think that I can't be wanting to help you?"
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm not... How do you say it... A good man. Not by any of your standards. I'm not one. I'll never be one. When I'm in my right mind, I don't *want* to be one. I'm not going to dedicate my life to going around saving people just because. How can you possibly *want* to help someone that doesn't even try to change to your ideals?"
"Simple." He replies. "Picking and choosing those who to save - unless they do evil themselves - is the shortest path to becoming evil. And you don't do evil."
"That's not true."
"Fine," He admits. "I have not seen you do evil."
"I..." The mage falls silent for a moment, then tries again, "I've..." And finally, succeeds. "I'm... More than capable of killing an innocent for the sake of my own safety. Cypher, do not mistake me for a good man, I..."
Cypher hears that which remained unsaid, that which he himself had cried out yesterday. "I am not worthy." And knows that, just as yesterday no amount of direct convincing would change what he thought of himself, no words would convince the mage.
"I do not care for what you were or might have been." The dragon says firmly. "What you are now is what matters."
"I have not changed, I will not change. I do not want to change. I just
do not want you to think wrongly of me. I am who I am, Cypher."
"That's fine with me."
"No, really." The dragon says quietly, and carefully tries to turn the elf towards him. But Jailin does not budge. "It's all right."
"How can it be all right, if..."
"It is not fair." The elf says suddenly. "I have no choice. No choice but to risk myself when you do. Because you would like to take the needless risk. The risk that is fair, but makes us so much more likely to fail entirely. The world is hard enough to live in as it is! Why do you not take the easier path? There is no dishonor in that!"
"To you, possibly not." Cypher answers curtly. "Now, let me treat you."
"Sh." And suddenly Cypher holds the shuddering mage's shoulders with human hands. "Let me look at your burns, Jailin. Please."
"I'm moving." The elf replies after a grunt of pain. "I think a few are stuck to each other. Stupid of me to press them together."
"I'll take care of that in a moment."
For the longest time they are silent, interrupted only by muffled curse words from the elf. The former bard recognizes no less than five languages. He works, silently thanking Bahamut that he did not take away his skills in regular healing.
"Unfffffair." The elf hisses as Cypher ministers to his stomach. He tries to speak on, but the words visibly catch in his throat.
"I am sorry you got hurt." Get some more water and a fresh bandage.
"Hurt... Matterssss.. Damn! Not." The elf stays the healer's pain-bringing hand momentarily, to speak. "It couldn't be helped this time around. I w-wish we would just use the chance to not get hurt."
Wash the wound. Don't defend yourself. Bind the wound. "I am sorry."
The elf cracks a smile. "Your enemies must hate you, Cypher. You are impossible to get to."
That was not true. Jailin's words stung. Especially coming from one who had not too long ago encouraged Cypher to go his own way.
Cypher keeps his silence until he is done, and Jailin follows suit. Then the dragon reverts to his own form and says, "Keep near. I need an eye on you."
"Very well, I shall. Thank you." And the elf carefully lowers himself onto the cloak.
"Welcome." the dragon replies calmly.
Time passes so slowly in the dark. The elf does not move, and Cypher thinks him asleep, when he suddenly stirs and whispers.
"I was wrong. About taking needless risks. I am sorry."
The dragon is quiet for a moment. He had been thinking about hypocrisy this whole time. And about how it really was easier to just be silent than to face accusations of selfishness.
"When did you understand?" He finally asks.
"A moment ago. Forgive me. You have full right to take any risk you want. I have full right to refuse to come with you. But I have no right to tell you that you are somehow responsible for me taking your path or going my own way. Was it not I, who said but a few nights back that we are all of age here? I still stand by that, and I am sorry for having forgotten it in a moment of weakness. I now know *why* you were so afraid of accusations of blackmail."
Cypher gives a soft sigh.
"You are forgiven." He says quietly.
"Thank you." The elf raises his face, and turns to the dragon, looking pained. His eyes are still closed, but they appear to be dry.
*I'll never understand elves,* Cypher thinks to himself. "Are you well?"
"Yes." A barely audible sigh.
"You don't look well."
The elf waves a hand dismissingly. "Just very... What do you call it... Embarrassed. This has given me a lot to think about."
"Then think. Or better yet, sleep."
"I think I'll put off repeating this conversation for a bit more, if you don't mind." The elf says wryly, finally opening his eyes into a squint. "I'd like to at least end it on a positive note, so I have something to look forward to while I review it."
The dragon smiles as the weight on his chest grows lighter. "Your call, then. What do you want to talk about?"
"Some time ago you said that paladinhood doesn't give you immunity from yourself. From your own fears. So what are you afraid of?"
"It will be, I think." A mischievous smile plays across Jailin's lips. "But if it is too personal..."
"No, it's all right." Cypher replies. "I'm afraid... You know, it's quite banal. Of being afraid. Of not doing the right thing."
The elf's smile widens into a full grin. "And here you said this was not positive."
"Just how is it?.."
"You jumped in to save me before thinking. More than once." Jailin replies simply. "You do this sort of thing on instinct now. You won't have time to make the appropriate mistake, believe me."
"What do you mean?"
Surprise flashes across the elf's face. "Simple." He answers. "As soon as you know what is right, you do it. The difficult part is figuring out precisely what *is* right. But you're pretty good at that, I think. You can certainly fail. Anyone can. But it's not too probable, as long as you choose your battles wisely."
"I go where I am needed." The dragon grumbles.
"And you are needed in many places. I trust you will choose the one where you can do most good. You are certainly smart enough for it."
"Well, thank you." Cypher answers crossly. "But I also trust this is a positive enough note."
"Indeed. And I am growing rather cold." The elf smiles up at the dragon. "Thank you, Cypher, and a good night."
"Sleep well, wizard. We'll need your magic in the morning."
"Certainly, if I can make the gestures." The elf jokes humorlessly, as he carefully wraps himself tighter in his cloak. Cypher silently helps the wizard tuck in, and watches him drift off into his trance. And knows that, come daybreak, no one Cypher holds dear will have to suffer again while he lives.