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Aerie & The Guardian Freaks

CoutelierCoutelier Member Posts: 1,251
As I'm working on a mod at the moment to expand Aerie in BG2 with more dialogue and a quest, currently writing as I playthrough the game, I also started writing some fanfic.

Set in the future, Aerie, while trying to help a young woman, recalls the events of her life and those of the woman's ancestors:

Chapter One:

One thousand.

Tonight’s ‘battle’, for want of a better word, Sunugug would claim his one thousandth victim. Nine hundred and ninety nine peons had fallen to his blade, and for each of them the half-orc had kept an ear as a memento. Some of the older ones, at the bottom of the bag, obviously were starting to stink. But nevertheless the rest of the camp let out a hearty, albeit fearfully compliant, cheer as he held them aloft and roared.

In contrast, this was to be Talyn’s first raid. The young human woman had smeared black paint across her face. Up the ridge of her nose, around her eyes, ending in tips by her temples. It was supposed to resemble the outstretched wings of a bird, because… well, her given name happened to be very close in spelling to the word talon. All the other bandits had their own markings, deliberate quirks, or plumages on their helms that they hoped made them stand out as individuals in battle and earn a reputation. Like the late Bunny Bill, who insisted on wearing slippers made of bunny skin into battle, before he slipped on one of the ears and landed on a peasant’s pitch-fork. Still, not everyone in the rest of society appreciated that there was a great deal of creativity and even artistry involved in banditry.

In any case, having done that to herself, Talyn spent the rest of the afternoon fretting, anxiously awaiting the call from the scouts spying the road from the tree line. She paced about the camp, swinging her arms, trying to stay loose, occasionally unbuckling the staps of her armor then redoing them to make sure they were tight. She grimaced slightly as she overheard Sunugug chuckle how he hoped his thousandth would be some prissy elf he could snap like a twig and rip the guts out of… it had been suggested, due to her looks, that she might have had some elven blood in her ancestry. If she did, it was only a little. Her ears hardly pointed at all. Certainly not enough that the enormous half-orc might in the heat of battle mistake her for a tree-hugger. She hoped.

Of course, there might not even be a battle at all. The caravaneers might surrender and hand over their goods as soon as they saw the bandits, because that’s what any sane, reasonable person would do. It was just stuff, after all. Wasn’t worth anyone’s life. Not that she wanted that to happen, of course… obviously, she was hoping for a good heart racing fight. But surely, that had to be just how it went sometimes, and what could you do? Slaughter them anyway, she supposed… but then, how would you get your reputation? Had to leave some people alive, didn’t you?

She had done well in the fights the bandits arranged among themselves for their own entertainment, but she was aware she wouldn’t be fully accepted by them until she had tested her mettle in actual battle. Drawn blood. She hoped it would be an actual fight rather than some cowering commoner… but, fine. If there was anyone stupid enough not to run they surely deserved to be put down. That was what she told herself.

Night had fallen when the horns sounded, and every bandit in the camp dropped their skulls, tankards, and whatever else they’d been playing with and rushed into the forest. Sunugug took the lead, the huge half-orc pumping a mighty fist into the air at the tree line, several lieutenant relaying the order to wait to the rest of the band.

Talyn’s heart was already racing, and it seemed to take hours before finally wagon’s trundled over the hill and began to wind their way down. She counted three wagons, and maybe half a dozen men on horseback around them… hired guards, no doubt. Didn’t seem like much of a challenge for their thirty strong gang, unless there were others inside the wagons. She peered as the first one rolled past her position, hoping to catch inside, which she did. There were… crap… there was a family on board. Children.

Well, that was that, then. They had to surrender, didn’t they? No one would be fool enough to risk their own child’s life trying to be brave… just don’t be bloody stupid…

From then on, everything happened extremely fast. Sunugug roared and thrust his sword arm forward, the bandits stampeding out of the trees, Talyn carried along with them. The wagons stopped and, to her dismay, the mercenaries turned drawing their weapons while those driving the wagons let go of the reins and trained crossbows on the coming horde. They were going to fight. Stupid. So, fine. Whatever happened to them next was their own bloody stupid fault. She drew her own short sword and screamed, running straight toward the nearest mercenary. She never got close. None of them did.

A wall of fire burst in front of her. On one side the mercenary’s horse whinnied, and on the other Talyn was blown back by the sudden blast of hot air. On her back, stunned, she blinked as her followed the streak of flame that had suddenly appeared between the bandits and their would-be victims. In the sky in the distance she was sure she saw a spark rising rapidly high above the field, then beginning to circle back round… but then she was distracted by various whistles and hisses, not of the flames in front of her, followed by moans and screams of her comrades as a strange metallic smell began to fill the air. She turned just as more magic missiles shot through the flames, perforating the armor of the bandit nearest to her.

A short distance away, some of the band had formed a circle, fighting the heat and ash as their eyes desperately sought their attacker. Another bandit, also flat on his back, just stared up at the sky. His eyes suddenly went wide in terror, just a second or two before a fireball exploded over him.
Above… they were being attacked from the skies! Talyn rolled herself to her feet and looked up, not catching sight of anything. She did see that through the flame wall, the members of the caravan were just as confused as the bandits, although no spells had been thrown their way. No chance that they had arranged any of this, Talyn reasoned. This much magic definitely could not be hired cheap, and was way, way overkill for what they were – just a gang of thugs looking for some action and easy money.

Talyn had thought this was what she wanted. To be in a gang, that is. Not the crimson fiery death. She had just wanted to be accepted somewhere. Belong to a group. And maybe let out some of the anger and aggression she’d accumulated over the seventeen years of her life. This… none of this was what she had expected at all.

A soft but firm feminine voice suddenly spoke in her ear, “your grand-mother would be so disappointed in you…”

With a startled yelp, Talyn spun and leapt back from the grey cloaked figure. It was, well, definitely female. Not very tall – just a little over five feet. Her facial features were, for now, hidden by her hood, Talyn only able to see a small mouth and chin as the warm orange glow of the flames flickered around her.

The young would-be bandit blinked in fear and confusion. “Er… what?”

“Please,” the cloaked figure said, slowly raising out an arm, “I don’t want to force you, but this path… I know you can do better than this.”

That didn’t clear anything up. Who the hell was this person and what the hell did she think she knew about her? Talyn shook her head, turned, and started to run.

The cloaked figure let out a barely audible sigh, but before she could pursue some of the other bandits noticed her. Bolts and arrows flew in her direction… they were caught in some hidden field, orbited around her, and flew back along the trajectory they had came. Only one of the bandits who had unleashed managed to duck in time. Others then came at her with melee weapons. Most were left scorched and blistered by the magical energies that leapt from the woman’s fingertips. One managed to reach her, taking a wild swing with his club which missed, although as she leant back to avoid the blow, her hood fell off. Talyn turned to see a blonde haired elf whose cobalt blue eyes seemed to burn with steely determination.

The bandit near to the elf fell, sparks of electricity coursing through his body. All of the remaining had started fleeing back into the woods. Talyn made to go after them, but then a bird of flame fell from the sky raining fire down on them. The young woman was blasted back again, and again was on her back. She propped herself on her elbows and looked for the phoenix. All she saw was the elf strolling toward her…

But, there was one bandit left who hadn’t fled - Sunugug. The huge half-orc had spotted the elf now as well. Roaring and beating his chest with one hand, while holding a two handed sword aloft with the other, the huge half-orc began to slowly build momentum and then charge. The elf turned to face him, the blue flames in her eyes showing no sign of fading. Indeed, she started to step toward him, a mace materializing in her hand as she started to run and then, just as they were close enough that Sunugug’s sword was about to cleave down through her, she suddenly flashed into a burst of supernatural speed, leaping to the side and around him while swinging her mace. She caught the half-orcs and he staggered back, although only slightly. He roared and swung again, but again she was too fast, rolling under it and then striking him on the back of his knees. Sunugug screamed and limped back, his eyes now bulging with rage…

No, Talyn realized as she watched the fight, it wasn’t rage. The half-orc bellowed and swung wildly again and again, desperate to make contact with the magically enhanced elf. This was panic. The nine hundred and ninety nine victims he had claimed before now had all been commoners, peasants, even slaves, people ill prepared or ill equipped to fight back. No-one had ever hurt him like this before and now, for the first, he realized he might lose. That he was not, in fact, immortal. And that fear prompted all these ill-judged and poorly calculated attacks as he sought to end the threat as quickly as possible.

The half-orc's blade came down again, taking a good chunk out of the ground but missing the elf entirely. Her mace then struck his arm, which bent and contorted with a sickening crack. He roared once more, falling to his knees. He slowly lifted his head, tears streaming down his face as he… he laughed. Perhaps it was just the sight of the one who had defeated him… a little blonde-haired elven woman probably less than a third his size.

The elf regarded him sorrowfully for a second, then whispered, “find peace.” The whole top of his head then disappeared in an instant as the mace smashed through it.

And now, Talyn was alone, still on her back, dazed, confused, long since abandoned by any of her gang who were left. It was only when the elf’s eyes fell on her again that she was jerked into motion. Again she ran, and again the elf sighed.

This time, Talyn didn’t stop to look back. She willed her legs to keep pumping faster and faster, although it never felt like enough. This felt like a bad dream. She was well away from the flames by now, but the moon light was bright enough that she could clearly see the trees in front of her. The woods still seemed like her best chance of escape. But, as a shadow passed above her, she remembered – the first attacks had been from above. She trotted, somewhat resignedly, to halt, her eyes drifted up to where the elf now floated in front of her, a pair of blue, transluscent wings spread either side of the blonde.

“Give me a break!” Talyn screeched tearfully, pulling at her own red hair as the elf’s feet gently touched the ground and the wings disappeared. The young human reached down, grabbing a handful of dirt and flinging it. “Who are you?! What do you want?!”

The blonde tilted her head to one side, beginning to speak slowly, calmly. “I’m… a friend.”

“What?” Talyn sneered. “I don’t know you, lady.”

“No… well, perhaps that isn’t right,” the elf pondered, pursing her lips. “I… made a promise to my friends, a long time ago, that I would watch over their families after they were gone.”

“And what the hells has that got to with me?” Talyn snorted, as if the answer wasn’t obvious. “I don’t have a family. I grew up alone, learnt to pick pockets soon as I could waddle and, you know what? I’ve been doing pretty damn by myself, without any flying yellow tarts poking their noses in. So if that’s all, think I’ll be on my way now…”

“That isn’t true,” the elf answered sternly. She then sighed, lowering her head a little. “None of it is. I… I’m sorry. I should have been here to help you sooner, but I… I was caught up in things. It’s no excuse, I know, but… it’s how it was. But,” she looked up again. She looked different now from how she had in the battle. The determination was still there but now it was hopeful rather than fierce. “I’m here now, and I want to help.”

Exasperated, Talyn snarled. She spoke loud and slow so that hopefully this time her message would be understood. “I – don’t – care. I don’t care who you are, who your friends were, or who you think I am. I just want to be left alone.”

The blonde’s eyes narrowed sadly. “Alone to do what? Join another bandit group and prey on innocent travellers? I’m afraid regardless of anything else, I cannot allow that.”

“Well, one, it’s none of your business, and two, there are such things as innocents in this world,” Talyn scoffed with typical teenage arrogance.

Now the elf just looked disappointed. “Well, one, since I or any other person I know could be targeted by you or your friends it rather is my business, and two, even if it were true that everyone else in the world were as bad or worse, it’s still no excuse for you to act like a… a jerk.”

A small smile began to creep onto Talyn’s face. A few moments ago she had actually been terrified of this, who now away from the flames she could see was just a typical very pale, pasty, fair-haired elfling and worse than that, a goody-two shoes. Even with all the magical power at her disposal, the blonde wasn’t going to raise a finger to Talyn, who for some reason she had decided she wanted to help. All of which meant, she could pretty much just walk away.

“Whatever girl,” Talyn smirked and waved dismissively. “Whatever promise you made a long time ago, that has nothing to do with me. So I’ll leave you to live your life, and I’ll live mine. Got it? Good.”

The fair elf frowned as the young woman brushed by her. “You think I won’t hurt you?” She said, sagging and then sighing, “you… you’re right. I wouldn’t.”

Talyn grinned and swaggered. Good girls were such push overs… but then she eeped and jumped back as a pillar of flame fell down striking the ground of her. The fire bird swooshed over head, perching itself in a high up branch and fixing the human with a predatory glare.

“Oh,” the elf murmured, “but he might…”

The blonde didn’t give Talyn any time to recover from her shock. She produced a cube from under her cloak, which she rolled along the ground like a dice. When it came to rest the sides split open, spreading themselves out along the ground then growing in size. The elf then twisted Talyn’s arm behind her back and forced the woman into the centre of the box. It wasn’t painful, but it was a firm, the elf having a strength she clearly could not have possessed naturally. The elf then raised her free fore arm, offering it as a perch for the phoenix who immediately flapped onto it. And with that, the sides of the cube raised themselves into the air, closing above and swallowing the trio.



  • CoutelierCoutelier Member Posts: 1,251
    Chapter One (continued):

    Talyn blacked out. She wasn’t sure for how long, although it didn’t seem like it could have been a great length of time. Maybe just minutes. When she came around, she found herself staring up at a very distant circular ceiling, lilac in colour but with several gold rings decreasing in diameter until they reached a large crystal hanging in the middle which throbbed and glowed with energy. And she heard voices. One was the elf who had abducted her, and the other was male. Very well spoken, like a noble, or possibly a servant…

    “I can do that all myself,” the elf said. “Ever since Quayle saved me I’ve always fed, washed and mended things for myself. Sometimes for other people. I’m unused to having other people do any of that for me…”

    “Oh, tosh now, ma’am,” the other voice answered. “You’ve been working all day, and this place… this place is a sanctuary for you to just relax and unwind. Now you just hand over that dirty torn cloak and let me take of it, hm?”

    “I…” the elf resigned, “oh, very well. I suppose I’ll have enough to keep me occupied this evening anyway.”


    Talyn shook the cobwebs out of her hair and made to get up, when the most ghastly visage she had ever seen shot above her eliciting a small cry. Orc, she thought. Half-pig, half skull, and all green. But this one was uglier even than Sunugug with huge uneven tusks and horribly stretched skin. It grinned, leaning close as Talyn recoiled.

    “And what of this one, ma’am?” It said, the same male voice that had been talking to the elf, even though it clearly did not fit the face. “Boiled, steamed, or broiled?”

    The elf chuckled lightly. “She’s not for eating.”

    “Are you sure, ma’am?” The orc said, poking the young woman in the belly, “this one has some meat on her.”

    “I’m sure.”

    “Pity,” the creature sighed, standing up and rolling a grey cloak over his arm. “Vegetable soup again, then. You really should have a more varied diet.”

    The orc backed away then, being replaced in Talyn’s field of view by the elven woman reaching out a hand to her. “He’s just teasing,” the blonde gently said, “I think…”

    Talyn blinked in bedazzlement, looking suspiciously at the hand being offered to her. It took a moment to decide that it was better to face all this craziness on her feet and pulled herself up. But then, she immediately slapped the elf’s hand away, screeching, “what in the hells is going on?!”

    “I will explain everything, I promise,” the blonde sighed. “First, I really should introduce everyone. You already met Ammale, my familiar.”

    Talyn looked across to where the elf had gestured. Like the ceiling, the room she was in was round. At the centre was a pedestal above which floated the cube that had brought them here, or at least a representation of it. Around that was a recessed part of the floor that they were standing in, and every quarter were steps leading up to a ring around which were eight doors spread evenly all around and in between them shelves stacked up to the ceiling filled with an eclectic collection of books, scrolls, potions, toys and artefacts. About half way up was a perch from which the phoenix tilted it’s head curiously at her.

    “He can talk,” the elf explained, “but he doesn’t really like to say very much. Otho on the other hand,” she said indicating the orc, “you will find has no end of conversation.”

    “Othograkk Gro-Bogrash the Third,” the green skinned monster announced proudly, taking a bow. “At your service. No doubt you are thinking the voice does not go with that face, as have many casting directors before you. Well,” the orc raised a finger to his head, “this is my face,” he pointed out, then lowered the finger to his wide mouth. “And this is my voice,” which he then lowered slightly to a growl, “Deal with it.”

    The elf whispered, “I rescued him from slavers a short while ago, and he decided to repay me by being my servant. I tried telling him that he was free now and didn’t have to serve anyone, but he just would not have it. I suppose letting him keep this place in order is better than him crushing skulls out there…” she sighed, trailing off. “Oh!” She seemed to suddenly remember something and shot up the steps to a table, upon which rested a large glass enclosure, inside which was a house with a little round door and a windows and a picket fence. “Come on,” the elf whispered gently as Talyn ascended the steps to see what the fuss was about. “It’s time for your tea,” she purred, sprinkling sunflower seeds on the straw floor of the enclosure.

    Whiskers appeared at the door, then an orange and white little face. The hamster yawned, rubbing its dark eyes as it stepped out. It stood up right, it’s nose wrinkling happily at the elf. But then it tilted his head and turned to regard Talyn, its mouth agape.

    “This is Boo,” the elf introduced them. “Boo, this is Talyn. She’s our guest, so please be kind to her.” The hamster shrugged, then set to work gathering the seeds in his cheeks.

    As the elf smiled warmly at the little mammal, Talyn slapped herself in the face. “This place is a circus,” she groaned. “You’re all freaks…”

    There was much mumbling from both the elf and the orc, “well now, that’s… not very nice… different, certainly, but freaks?” They went on, until the elf said, “well, we kind of are. I was once, anyway.”

    “And just who are you?” Talyn demanded.

    “Oh, I’m Aerie.”

    The young woman narrowed her eyes. “Just ‘Aerie’?”

    “Well,” the elf placed a finger under her lip, “some people call me The Witch, or The Traveller, or The Wingless Wonder. One person, for reasons I’ve never ascertained, calls me Bob… but yes, my birth name is just Aerie. And this my home. Well, one of them. I have a cottage as well, which is nice. It has a garden. But, the truth is, I’ve never enjoyed staying still for long, and this home I can take with me anywhere.”

    Talyn rubbed her eyes, as if she hoped doing so would erase the strange dream she was having. “This is all so crazy…”

    “And are you,” the elf stepped forward, “just Talyn?”

    “Told you before. Don’t have no family, therefore no family name or title or anything. So yeah, just Talyn.”

    Aerie looked away, sadly. “You… really don’t know anything about who you are, do you? I mean, who… where you came from…”

    “Look, you seem like a real nice and all, so let me give it to you straight. I don’t care where I came from. I live for me, and that’s it. Nothing and no-one else matters.”

    “Is that why you wanted to become a bandit?”

    “Ha! I wanted the freedom. Go anywhere, do anything I wanted. No constraints, y’know?”

    “And the people on those wagons? What about their freedom?”

    “Ain’t no concern of mine.”

    Aerie shook her head sadly again. Talyn thought for a moment that she looked old and tired, and maybe she was. That was the discomforting thing about elves – a lot of them were extremely old people trapped in a young person’s body. “I don’t think you understand what freedom is,” the elf said, a tint of bitterness in her voice. “Few people really do, until they’ve had all of theirs taken away.”

    “Aha!” Talyn snapped. “That’s it, isn’t it? You said I was a guest, but actually, I’m your prisoner.”

    “One day,” the elf said, looking up the determination she’d shown in battle returning to her eyes. “I should never have let this happen, so give me one day to try and make it right. At the very least, there are things you should know, that you need to know, and then, you’ll be free to go and live life as you wish.”

    “Yeah? And what’s to stop me from leaving now?” Talyn taunted, although she was knew of course that there were likely lots of things.

    “Aside from the fact that only myself and Otho are able to operate the door back to your world, nothing, really.”

    Talyn snorted, realizing she really didn’t have much choice. “One day then, Bob. Then we’ll see if you keep your promise.”

    “I always keep my word,” Aerie assured her, wincing slightly as she did so. “Or at least, I try to.”


    Otho bowed and left through one of this, and shortly after Aerie led Talyn through an opposite to a long seemingly endless hallway lit intermittently by smaller versions of the crystal on the ceiling in the main room.

    “How big is this place?” Talyn asked after several minutes of walking.

    “I’m not actually sure,” Aerie answered. “Behind each of the doors in the hub is a hall like this. Behind each of the doors here are rooms, stairs and hallways that branch off from this one, in turn leading to more rooms, stairs and halls… like an enormous snow flake. Thing is, I’ve never made it to the end of any of these main halls, even after walking for hours. It could be infinite.”

    “Well that’s just impossible.”

    “Perhaps. As I said, I’m not sure, and we’re not about to find out. We’re here,” she stopped, placing a golden key in one of the doors.

    Another round room, smaller and much darker than the first. This one also had shelves, upon which rested many glass spheres of various colours, and at the centre another pedestal, this one with a recess that seemed like any of the spheres could comfortably rest, although currently it was empty.

    “These are memory orbs,” Aerie explained. “Similar to the one’s Sensates use, although with a few differences.”

    The word ‘Sensate’ meant nothing to Talyn, so she merely screwed up her face and shrugged her shoulders.

    “I’m sorry,” the elf sighed, “I don’t have time to explain everything. Suffice to say, these things record memories, and the pedestal projects them into this room so that we can walk through them.” She said, lifting a sky blue orb that matched the colour of her tunic from one of the shelves, carrying it in both hands toward the pedestal. “You have to know about your past, or rather your ancestors past. It’s easiest if I just show you. Think of it like a play. You’ll be able to see and hear and even smell everything around you, but not touch or interact with the world in any way. We will be like ghosts in the past, only able to observe.”

    “A play, huh?” Talyn stretched back, hands behind her head. “Better not some soppy romantic drivel… unless everyone kills themselves in the end. That might make that worth watching. But really, I want to see some action.”

    “You will,” Aerie assured her. “But first…”

    The elf placed the sphere in the pedestal and immediately the room they were in was replaced by flashes of different places, people… they all went by so fast as the elf moved her hands over the glass ball. Talyn caught sight of cities under siege, elven forests, demons, dragons, a wizard dressed all in red, a huge bald man with purple tattoos, drow, Athkatla, a circus, and it kept going until Aerie said, “stop… here will do.”

    The image stabilized, and they were in a cold stone room with damp walls and a barred door, beyond which were flickering torches.

    “It’s a dungeon,” Talyn observed.

    “Very astute,” Aerie nodded.

    “It stinks,” the human sniffed, then gagged. “Damn… what is that stench?”

    Aerie grimaced too, and explained. “This is a slaver fort. On the floor below us there are hundreds of people, all packed into cages so tight that they’re like one great mass of sweaty flesh. Many of them will die down there. Many are already dead… the masters just haven’t noticed.”

    Listening carefully, Talyn could hear the murmured moans rising through the floor as well. “And… that’s what the smell is?”

    “Among other things.”

    “What other things?”

    Aerie groaned frustratedly. “Just… use your imagination. Do you think they’re able to just ask to be let out whenever they’re… desperate? Anyway, that’s not what we’re here to see. Follow me.”

    The fair haired just stepped through the door. Talyn hesitated a moment, then remembered – none of this was real. It wasn’t happening, not now at any rate. They were like ghosts. Tentatively she stuck out an arm, the heavy wooden offering no resistance as her hand passed through it. Then, with a shrug, she jumped across.

    “Freaky,” she exclaimed on the other side. She then asked the elf, “hey, if we’re like ghosts, then how come we don’t sink through the floor or anything?”

    The elf sighed. “Because, we are still standing on the floor in the orb room. This is an illusion. While I admire curiosity, that… was a particularly stupid question and really we should move along.”

    “Whatever. So, what are we here to see?”

    “You think you’re bad, don’t you? Well, I thought I’d give you a taste of really bad… of what true evil is like. Look…”

    Across the dungeon, in a corner, was a pair of white wings. More cream coloured, actually, due to dirt that had accumulated on them. Talyn didn’t understand what she was looking at, until the wings shifted and parted slightly, revealing a dirty pale child sat behind them wearing a stony stare.

    “Is that… you?” Talyn asked.

    “It… was,” Aerie confirmed.

    “And who’s that?” Talyn nodded. Stood over a table across from the littler Aerie, inspecting some tools bound in leather was a half-elven with thick brown hair. In another setting, he might have been quite handsome, but here even Talyn had to admit to feeling a slight chill from him as he pored over the implement.

    Adult Aerie glared, flames rising behind her eyes. “Praxis…” she almost hissed. Before Talyn could ask any more, the man, Praxis, started to speak.

    “With these instruments,” he said, “I could keep you awake and in pain every minute for fifteen years… or, make you experience fifteen years’ worth of pain in a minute.” He strolled across, bending down on his knees in front of the winged child. “Would you like to choose, or would you prefer to be a good girl from now, and cooperate?”

    “Cooperate?” Talyn asked.

    “Behave like he wants,” adult Aerie sighed. “I was wrenched from my home, from my family, into a world I did not understand. I was scared, confused, angry… I may have scratched or bitten my captors a few times. But honestly, they should not be surprised if the people they treat like animals start to act like animals as well.”

    On cue, littler Aerie looked up, still wearing the same stony expression, leant her head back, and spat. Praxis feigned a smile as he stood and wiped the gob from his eye.

    “Good aim,” he noted, then turned to the one other person in the dungeon. An elven woman with black hair and chain armor, leant casually against a far wall with a constant grin on her face. He nodded, and she reached up nonchalantly to ring a bell.

    “’There shall be wings!’” Praxis proclaimed suddenly as he skipped back to the table. “Do you know who said that?” he asked, sitting down with a grin. Littler Aerie shook her head. “Well, of course you don’t. How could you? It was a gnome, a long time ago. He was saying that anything is possible, when we put our minds to it. Any mountain can be climbed, any river bridged, any beast,” he said, suddenly staring coldly at the child, “can be tamed, or at least, controlled… if you understand what motivates it.”

    Praxis leant back, massaging his fingertips before carrying on. “From what I understand, you were caught trying to rescue somebody else. Some squealing gypsy brat… it doesn’t matter – he wouldn’t have been worth anything anyway. Getting you instead was more than a fair trade to us. The point is, you didn’t think about it at all, did you? The danger you were putting yourself in? No, you saw, you acted. Your instinct is that of a protector. Which is admirable. Noble, even…”

    “Sheez,” Talyn yawned, “does he always talk this much?”

    Adult Aerie nodded. “I’m afraid so. But,” she winced, “he knows as well that actions speak louder.”

    A ragged human boy appeared by the room’s entrance, physically a bit older than the littler-Aerie, possibly in his mid-teens. He bowed timidly, saying “you rang, my lord?”

    Praxis tilted his head, regarding the newcomer in the way another person might regard a mouse scurrying across the floor. Just a moment’s interest, and then he stood up from the chair. “Come in, boy,” he gestured, “take a seat.”

    Fearfully and obediently the boy padded across the floor, placing himself tentatively in the seat Praxis had previously occupied. His eyes suddenly went wide as the slaver spun about, kicking a bar which slammed shut across the boy’s ankles. He immediately started to plead and struggle, the elven woman pressing down on his shoulders while Praxis bound him to the chair with heavy leather belts.

    “N-no!” The boy stammered, terrified. “I don’t understand, my lord… w-what have I done?”

    “You?” Praxis snorted as he considered his tools. “Nothing at all. Don’t try to make sense of chaos, boy. That way is the path to madness.”

    Littler Aerie had lifted her head, leaning forward as far as her chains would allow, mouth agape as she didn’t yet fully comprehend what was happening, but knew to fear it anyway.

    Praxis finally settled on something, picking up a small vice with sharp metal teeth. “Thumbscrews,” he sighed in a theatrical wistful manner, “I’ve always found them rather beautiful in their simplicity.”

    Although he shifted and struggled desperately, bound as he was the boy could do nothing to resist as the slaver forced his thumb into the vice. He screamed painfully as Praxis turned the screw, the teeth of the vice digging into his flesh drawing a trickle of blood. Littler Aerie jumped up, her wings beating her wings desperately as she tried to push forward with her legs, but the chains held her firmly down. She spoke for the first time, screaming out curses in elven that Talyn couldn’t understand. Praxis ignored her and kept twisting the screw. There was a sickening crack of bone, the boy’s screaming became impossibly loud.

    “S-stop!” Little Aerie cried out, tears streaming down her face as she lowered it. “I’ll… be good…”

    Praxis regarded her coolly, giving one last twist before going across and once bending down at his knees in front of the girl.

    “Do you understand?” He asked. “This happened because of you. These other slaves are all worthless to me. So from now, any time you defy me, it won’t be you that I hurt. It will be them. Their suffering will be your fault. Their lives in your hands. Do you understand?” The girl meekly nodded. “Good,” Praxis stood. “Take her back to her cell. Make sure she has plenty of time to think about what she’s done here.”

    The scene froze, with Praxis stood over the weeping child like a triumphant wax statue. Talyn had stopped watching the scene the moment the thumbscrews went on, and had spent the last several minutes trying to fight the gag reflex she’d had when she’d heard the bones crack.

    “The word ‘evil’ is overused sometimes, I think,” the present day Aerie said as she stepped up to the statue of Praxis her eyes burning. “I’ve been guilty of that myself. But, looking back now, this is one man I think was truly evil.”

    “Yeah, well,” Talyn furtively made little circles on the ground with her toes. “I may rob some people, but I’m no slaver. I would never torture anyone.”

    “But how do feel when you’re the one being robbed? You see, slavers justify their actions by imagining they’ve somehow been selected by nature to be masters over everyone else. They try not to think about what would happen should the table one day be turned, but must live in constant fear of that anyway. It’s what drives them to be so brutal. Well… most of them. Praxis is s a different story, but we’ll get to that.”

    Talyn bit her lip, not looking Aerie in the eye. She hadn’t exactly she’d been chosen by nature, but she had tried to convince herself that it was other people’s own stupid fault if they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, even if they might have had no choice… and she’d never thought being the victim of her crimes because she was just too street wise and tough to be. Yet there were a number of bandits who would no doubt have turned on her if given the opportunity. Still, she kept telling herself she was different, for a moment, then just tried to change the subject. “What was that stuff you were shouting at him before?”

    “Oh,” Aerie blushed slightly, “well, roughly translated, I said ‘You bastard… you will die a thousand deaths for this… I swear I will kill you’, and other things more or less along those lines.”

    “So, what did happen to him?”

    “I… tried very hard to forget this place,” Aerie sighed, “but in the end…” she turned to Praxis, cobalt flames behind her eyes. “I always keep my word.”

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