The Rathalon bazaar was something everyone should see at least once in their life. The two main roads through the city were lined on either side with merchant’s awnings under which stood tables, racks, stands, buckets, bushels, and hangers filled with anything anyone could possibly want. The treasures of Kalijor were here for the taking, if only the price could be met. People of all creeds and colors, species and sizes wandered the streets, from tent to tent, corner to corner; haggling, bartering, trading, buying, and selling. The bazaar itself put all this to shame. Easily the largest building in the city, it was packed with ten times the merchants as all of the city streets combined.
“Welcome to my humble shop.” The finely featured elf said as the girls tumbled through the door. “If there is anything I can help you with please let me know.” He smiled happily.
Katrina nodded in his direction and smiled as Riana started digging through the racks of fine silk garments.
“I see you have an excellent eye m’lady. Those silks were imported from Avian just this morning. They were woven by some of the finest silk weavers in the land.”
“Oh Kat! This is amazing! I can hardly feel this material it’s so light and soft!” Riana cooed as she fondled a couple of the garments appreciatively.
Katrina moved over near her sister and picked up the sleeve of a hanging blouse. Sliding the material back and forth between her fingertips she nodded her approval then turned her head slightly so that she could see the store’s proprietor in the corner of her eye. “It’s nice. But I’ve felt better. Remember that nightworm silk merchant we ran into in Talanor the other day? That stuff was way softer than this.” The man’s smile faltered a bit but he returned quickly.
Riana was only briefly caught off guard by her sister’s comment. Recovering her wits quickly she smiled slightly and began playing her part. “That’s true. Such a nice little dwarf too! Hard to believe she was selling it so cheaply, it was just flying out her doors.”
“Yeah. Maybe we should portal back over there and see if she has any more available. Remember that dark purple she had? It was amazing!” Now he was fidgeting a bit as he watched them.
“Oh! This one is nice.” Riana said as she removed a sapphire colored silk tunic from the rack and gently held it up against her tattooed skin. “How much is it?” She looked at the uncomfortable man pointedly, turning slightly so that he could better see the garment.
“Eh… that one is fifty silver pieces m’lady.” He smiled hopefully as she looked back at him with a skeptical glance.
Katrina turned around and leveled her gaze on the man, narrowing her golden eyes at him then turning back to her sister. “C’mon Ree, put it back, we’ll go back to Talanor where the prices are more reasonable and the silk is better. It’s worth the trip with as much as we’re going to need in order to refill your wardrobe.”
Riana put on her best pouting face as she reluctantly let her sister take the tunic from her hands and return it to the rack. “Alright. I suppose you’re right,” she acquiesced.
Dramatically they made their way to the street, lingering a bit too long with each step and fingering a garment or two as they paraded toward the door. Finally the owner had enough and almost shouted, “my ladies if you intend to purchase a quantity of items I am sure we could arrange for a volume price.”
Katrina stopped half way to the door and turned slowly to look at him, her eyes narrowed again. “What sort of price?”
“Ah… well, I… How about thirty five silver…”
Katrina cut him off by turning back toward the door with a flourish and taking another step.
“Thirty! Thirty silver each…”
In an instant, Katrina whirled on the man and gave him her best stern look, her hands on her hips and ears parallel with the ground, pointing straight back from her head. “Twenty five silver each and not a copper more!”
The man looked like he had been slapped in the face. He hesitated for the briefest of moments, considering her words, during which time Katrina started turning toward the door again. Finally he came to a decision and called after them, “alright, twenty five silver each. But you have to buy a dozen or more.”
Katrina turned back around and smiled sweetly. “Deal.”
Numerous pair of soft suede boots, several bodices and tunics in different styles and materials, some skirts, belts, greaves, gloves, capes, cloaks, and various other odds and ends later they made their way home, laden with packages and parcels. All told they had spent nearly fifty gold pieces, but had returned victorious, with bundles of new things to wear. The only thing they had not purchased, mostly due to its high cost and their inability to talk the store keeper down, was a set of leathers that was a deep, glossy black color with purple trim. It was a complete set and had been magically enchanted to increase its strength and softness, and reduce its weight. Its cut would have worked perfectly around Riana’s freshly tattooed skin, but the cost seemed simply too high.
They had immediately set about going through Riana’s wardrobe, piling up all of her robes and other long, concealing things on her bed. Katrina was stowing the last of the new items when Riana stepped behind the changing screen to don one of the new outfits.
“Ok. Here goes.” She said tentatively as she stepped from behind the screen. She wore a very light, elven silk scarf that covered her breasts and formed a cross over her heart then tied behind her neck. Her lower half was draped with a similar silk that hung low on her waist and covered her with a low hanging breechcloth in front and back. In all it was extremely revealing, and to her, felt as though she was wearing nothing at all because the fabric was so light. She breathed a sigh of relief at the feeling of no longer having coarse fabrics constantly lighting up her nerve endings. It felt so much better that she didn’t much care what it looked like.
Katrina stared, mouth hanging open. “Ree, I… Oh wow,” Was all she could manage to say.
Riana looked at herself in the full length mirror by her wardrobe, blushing from head to toe. “I see what you mean Kat, but it’s the only way I’m going to get anything done. At least until these tattoos heal a bit more. Wearing normal clothing is almost debilitating.” Looking in the mirror, she turned this way and that, inspecting her image from different angles and perspectives. It was very revealing, but nothing she couldn’t get used to, she supposed. The dark lines covering her body in intricate patterns were all visible. Briefly she wondered if this was all just part of the price she would pay for her deed.
“Mom IS going to kill me.” She muttered out loud.
“Maybe.” Katrina chimed in from the other side of the room, “But you’ll look darned good when you go.”
Riana saw her sister’s grin in the mirror and grinned back. Then put her fingers to her temples again and tried to massage away the dull ache once more.
“You should see a healer Ree.” Katrina sounded worried again. “Maybe there are side effects… Something not in the notes. Or maybe something went wrong…”
Riana turned around and looked at her sister. “Nothing went wrong. Unless it went wrong enough for the wizard that recorded the procedure that they were unable to note it, there was no mention of it. Besides, like I said earlier, it started more than a week before I went to Talanor.”
“Maybe so. But you should STILL see a healer!” Katrina was definitely worried, she never got this insistent unless she was deadly serious.
“Alright. I’ll go see a healer tomorrow.” Riana acquiesced.
“Why tomorrow?” Katrina pushed the issue still further.
“Because if mom kills me tonight, then I won’t have to worry about a healer tomorrow!” Riana said mockingly. “That and it will be dark in a few minutes, and unless it is an emergency, most healers won’t see people at night. I’ll be fine until tomorrow.” Riana busied herself with storing her robes and other displaced garments in a foot locker while she talked. Trying to keep her mind off her headache.
“Alright.” Katrina finally gave in. “But you are going at first light, and I will go with you to make sure you get there!”
“Fair enough. Now help me get this mess cleaned up.”
A moment later the brief transition into night occurred. The bright light of day quickly dimmed and faded away into night. It took less than two minutes to happen, and all at once it was night time. And with it came a knock at the front door.
The girls answered the door together, opening it to find a human male standing there. He wore dusty traveling gear, and looked as though he had just run a marathon. His light hair was matted to his forehead and he was winded, although his bright blue eyes shone with an inner energy. He was barely over the twin’s six foot height, and looked as though he weighed in under two-hundred pounds, mostly lean muscle. He smiled broadly when he saw the sisters beyond the threshold, raising an eyebrow at the sight of Riana, wearing not much more that a couple of silk scarves.
“I am a courier. I was dispatched from the Burning Expanse this morning with a message for Ladies Katrina and Riana Thorindal. Might you be they?” His voice was a solid tenor and showed no signs of being winded, despite his outward appearance.
“The Burning Expanse?” Katrina wondered aloud.
“We don’t know anyone in the Burning Expanse!” Riana chimed in.
“So you ARE Katrina and Riana Thorindal?” The man asked, obviously eager to deliver his dispatch.
“We are,” the girls said in unison.
“Very well then,” he said. He reached into a satchel slung over his shoulder and produced a sealed parchment. “My instructions say that I am to give this only to the two of you together, and that you must first show me the matching seal.”
Katrina and Riana stared at him blankly for a moment. This was a very strange turn of events. Finally Riana shook herself and said, “Just a moment, let me get mine.” Then she disappeared into her chamber for a moment and returned with her seal in hand.
She handed it to the messenger, who inspected it, and compared it against the wax seal on the parchment. Then nodded his approval and handed both items to Riana. “Here you are. Thank you.” He then bowed to them and took a step back from the door, “Now if you ladies will excuse me, I have other deliveries to make.”
“Of course! Thank you very much.” Katrina said as she watched him head down the stairs, closing the door after he was out of sight.
Alone again, the girls inspected the parchment. It bore the family seal, which meant it had to be from their mother, as she had the only seal that was out of the house currently. Gently, Riana tried to slide her thumb nail under the wax seal, but it did not budge.
“He said together.” Katrina said aloud. Then she placed her thumb on the other side of the seal and together they applied pressure. The seal popped loose, and the wax melted away into nothingness. Quickly, Riana unfolded the parchment to reveal the elegant, practiced script of their mother. It was a large letter, and it looked to have been written in something of a hurry, as the hand was not up to Ezrina’s normal standards. Together they read.
I know you were expecting me home this evening, and it pains me to write this letter to you rather than be there with you both. Unfortunately the pain my heart must endure does not stop there. It is time you both knew the truth. About your ‘father’. Years ago, I was living in a keep with a number of companions that I adventured with regularly. We struck out often into the unknown wilderness in search of whatever there was to be found. Riches, knowledge, new sights, whatever took our fancy. One of these adventurers was an elven Wizardess named Kilishandra. Kilishandra Thorindal.
Katrina and Riana looked up at one another suddenly. “Thorindal. Dad?” Riana said.
“No.” Katrina replied. “That can’t be right. She said this Kilishandra was a wizardESS. Not a wizard!”
They stared at one another for a moment and then looked back to the letter.
Kilishandra and I shared many adventures together. As the best of friends. But there was something different in her soul. Something that I never would have expected until I watched her beat down the defenses of a castle single handedly, in order to profess her love, for another of the women that lived and adventured with us. I wasn’t sure what to think or do about her after that day. I tried to stay close to her but I wasn’t sure my heart could go where I thought she may eventually try and tread. Apparently our other friend felt the same as me, for she distanced herself from Kilishandra, and soon after, became engaged with a wonderful man, whom she eventually married and bore children with. Kilishandra was happy for them both, but I could see that she was crushed. So I spent more time with her, trying to keep her thoughts from the past. Eventually, years later, we encountered a Dark elf with a special mission. He buried a cursed dagger in Kilishandra’s ribs and disappeared, sobbing something about being sorry. I rushed her to our healer, who quickly dealt with the physical wound, but she did not get better. She lay in a fevered sleep for days, and whenever we tried to rouse her, she would scream obscenities and try to hurt us. So we had a healer keep her in a deep slumber while we tried to figure out what had happened.
Eventually, we discovered, through a series of events that leads me to believe the entire ordeal was very much orchestrated, that the dagger was a cursed weapon that would slowly open her mind to the powers of hate and discord. She would slowly become a being of evil and hatred unless we could do something. What’s more, the Dark elf that stabbed her with the thing turned out to be the reincarnated first love of Kilishandra, whom had died hundreds of years prior, and now it seemed, had been called back and was being controlled by a powerful mage of unknown origins. The elf, Rhaeton, confessed that he was obliged to tell us his master’s name, and said that it was Wyndel. While our friends fanned out in search of this Wyndel, I decided to see if the curse of the dagger could be broken if the dagger itself was broken. But in trying to destroy the thing, I pricked my finger with it, thus cursing myself to the same fate as Kilishandra.
After a time, our mages contrived a ritual that they said had a high probability of success in curing both Kilishandra and myself of the curse, but we had to act immediately, and it was a very dangerous thing to attempt. It involved the merging of our minds, along with a third person’s. Their thinking was that, together we could chase out, or seal off the cursed parts of our minds, and then balance what was left, filling in gaps and holes from one another’s minds. In effect, after the ritual, we would all be ourselves, but each of us would carry bits of the others within us. I agreed, as did the woman that had been the object of Kilishandra’s affections years before, so we set up the ritual and performed it immediately.
I can not to this day describe the experience. But when it was over, it had worked. Almost perfectly. Kilishandra woke from a months long slumber, a changed person. But then so were the rest of us. I found that the pieces of her that had stayed with me, helped me understand her feelings, her confusion, her uncertainty in how she felt, and WHAT she felt. I knew in my mind that I could never have considered it possible before, but then, after the ritual, after the sharing, and baring of our souls to one another, I could not deny it. I HAD grown to love her in our time together, and although she had been trying hard to subdue her feelings, especially after what had happened to her the last time she shared them, I KNEW that she loved me. So, we went down that path, together.
I wish that I could say that we had years of happiness together after that day. But it was not to be. After a few brief days, she discovered who Wyndel was, and where he had secreted himself away. It seems that he was her estranged father, driven mad with power lust over centuries spent in its pursuit. He had struck a deal with a demon to provide it the perfect vessel with which to wreak havoc on the world in exchange for some ultimate power, and to that end he had brought back the soul of Rhaeton and had it strike down his own daughter. She snuck away from our bed in the dead of night and went to him to finish it. She left a note that I discovered when I roused at the realization that she was not with me that night. I could not have gotten to them in time if I had grown wings and flown. Although, gods know, I was close. I arrived just as the final blows were struck. Kilishandra and Wyndel destroyed each other before my eyes. My love lay dying in my arms and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
With her dying breath she professed her love to me, and pushed a parchment into my hands before closing her eyes for what should have been the last time. The parchment was a love letter of sorts, and directions to where she had hidden an amulet of her own creation. The amulet was enchanted with bits of her being in such a way that the first woman to don it about her neck would conceive a child, born of her and Kilishandra’s bodies and souls.
I kept it secret. Hidden for years. I feared what my life would become. Not just in the having of children, but in the having of children with no father, but two mothers. I feared for what people would think of me. And of what they would think of my children. But after decades, my heart still ached for her. I longed for her touch. Her breath upon my flesh. I missed her so much that I decided that I would have a living piece of her in my life no matter what others thought of it. So I donned the amulet, and waited.
Not long after, the two of you came to me. I gave birth to you and it was the greatest miracle in my life. I raised you both as best I could, telling you all the while that your father had been killed in some great battle. I never had the courage to tell you the truth, for fear of what you, my children, would think of me. Know that I love you and that I have always loved you. You are both the products of pure love. A love between two people that could not be broken, not by curse, not by time, and certainly not by the prying eyes of other people.
I know that this must come as a shock to you both, but I had to tell you before I set you down the path that you must now follow. I am sorry that it is the two of you that must now complete the cycle of the curse that tried to destroy Kilishandra and myself all those years ago. If I could do it myself, I would, but it can not be me that does it. When I said that the ritual almost worked, I meant it. There was an unfortunate consequence. Some time after the ritual, the third woman, an elf by the name of Ambrai, began to follow a dark path. Long a Ranger of the wilds, she began to turn towards the dark magics, forsaking her roots in the forests and the wilds. She began to play with necromancy, and before long had exhumed the body of my Kilishandra and reanimated it to do her bidding. She caused much strife in the world before she was inexorably drawn to the dark side of the mountains, where the undead and demons of Kalijor roam free. I know she was hurt by Kilishandra, and I know she saw into her heart that day. I can forgive her, even for the desecration of Kilishandra’s grave, but she is getting worse. I have long heard rumors of a dark ranger that roams the Plane of Sorrow and preys upon adventurers there. Recently I overheard someone that had seen her, talking about the amulet that this dark ranger wore about her neck, and I know it to be the very one that gave the two of you life. The one I buried with Kilishandra after you were born.
I did some research into some of Kilishandra’s journals and spell books and it seems that one of the spells she used in creating that amulet was an ancient spell of life, from before the great wars. I further researched the spell in the academy library and discovered that it has a dark potential when used as an enchantment. After it is expended, it can be recharged, through the infusion of soul energy. It takes hundreds of souls to replenish the power of the amulet, but the nature of the life created by it is directly proportional to the way in which the soul energy is harvested. Kilishandra filled it with all of her love for me, and blessed me with the two of you. And, I believe, because of the nature of your conception, your being born almost solely from magic, the two of you have come to surpass almost every mage in Kalijor, even at your young age. But I fear Ambrai, in her travels down the path of evil, now fills the amulet with a dark energy. If she were to conceive a child, born of that energy, and with your aptitude for wielding it, it would be a monster.
I am currently deep in the Burning Expanse, searching the catacombs here for some means to destroy the amulet. But it is to the two of you that I must entrust the task of collecting it. I have no idea how Ambrai will react to the two of you but I can imagine that it will not be pleasant, and I know that your experience will be difficult. You may have to fight her. Or even kill her. And it is very likely that she still commands the body of your mother, Kilishandra. Please understand that she is long since dead. If you must destroy her body, know that it is just that, her body. Her soul was freed decades ago, and all that remains is a husk.
Go first to Pandoria, and fetch a reliquary from the druid circle there. It should help you when dealing with Ambrai. I have sent a message there warning them of your coming and your needs. Then visit Gornin in Cohai, and ask him how best to proceed. He knows of your quest and will be ready to receive you.
Katrina. Riana. My loves. My life. I am very sorry for this thing that I have asked you to do. I would do it myself, but the part of my mind and soul that is Ambrai’s would not allow it of me. So it is to the two of you that this task must fall. I am truly sorry girls. I love you both more than life itself.
Your loving mother,
The girls looked at one another after finishing the letter. No words were said, but the exchange ran deep. Their whole world had just changed. In the blink of an eye, the reading of a letter, everything they knew was different.
“Get some rest.” Riana said to her sister as she stood up and slowly padded down the short hall towards her bedchamber. “We’ll leave in the morning.”
Katrina stared after her sister as she moved down the hall, closing the door behind her.
On to Chapter 3