Areia took the watch that night. After the storm, it was clear, and the stars shone brightly. Although the jungle was noisy from insects and other beasts, and the waves broke over the reef near the shore, out where they had anchored, it was peaceful. Several members of the crew came and went from the communal sitting area on the top deck. Nothing more than a group of barrels and netting, it was the evening’s living room on Galline’s Pride. The crew was tired, but many, if not most, stayed up to hear Tuatha’s songs. Despite what she thought of him, many of the men aboard viewed the bard as a celebrity. Into the wee hours, they had another visitor. It was Inara, the golden haired, who looked as though she were almost back to full health. She glowed with enthusiasm, despite nearly being killed just hours earlier. Such was the power of the Flame’s healing. She took a seat atop a small barrel next to Tuatha, and brought out her lyre. Tuatha seemed please when he saw it.
“I couldn’t help but notice that your lyre is almost as big as mine!”
“I beg your pardon, m’Lord?” Inara asked politely, cheerfully.
“Your lyre young one,” replied the famed Bard, “It’s quite the instrument. Have you considered gilding it in the Cillandrial fashion?”
Inara nodded that she had not and as an aside added she didn’t feel so young right now. She giggled and Tuatha laughed politely. Areia had to look away at the sight of all the etiquette on display.
“I could help with that, if you wish,” said Tuatha in far too of a nonchalant way. She seemed confused, but he pointed to her lyre and she nodded that she understood. He let the last syllable hang in the salty air as if she would of course wish for that, and he was waiting to be interrupted. Nevertheless, she didn’t say so. Instead, she began to strum, and Tuatha followed suit. They began a melodious yet melancholic set of rifts, notes rose high and low, like the tide, and one’s fortunes among the isles. They sang a few hearty songs together. Many were well-known and loved by all the Celns. But they sung softly as the captain had told them to do. Eventually Tuatha tired and then retired for the evening. When he did so, the crew went down as well, leaving Areia with Inara.
“You must have been thinking fate was out to get you once more Inara. I mean when the giants you spoke of attacked your derelict ship! I’ve never seen one with two heads before!”
“Nor had I my friend, but there they were. Squabbling over who would get which part of which victim. I fear now they could be lying in some cooking pot, Areia! My dear child, I t tell you, I am fearful for my friends!”
“Fear not, for we will bring them back to the Light in the Morn.”
The word hung in the air. Inara turned away, a tear beginning to form in the corner of her eye.
“I am sorry, Inara. I know you loved him. I could tell of course.”
“I did. We had become attuned.”
“Attuned?” This made Areia chuckle a bit. It was such an odd word to use.
“Oh yes, we had bonded well, my dear one. Morn, you see, had come to me after a large fire had destroyed an entire guild hall in his colony. It was as you know my fault. As so many other things seem to be.” The bard put her face in her hands.
Areia was unaccustomed to such crying, but she tried her best to comfort her comrade. She thought back to that night, when they had been lovepoisoned, how they had fought their demons together. What a twist of fate that they now found themselves, here. “It seems like you are indeed accident prone. Oh, now don’t take offense please. We all have our issues Inara. You are doing the right thing, and in the morning you can prove yourself once more.”
Inara nodded yes, and turned teary eyes to look at Areia and smile. She thanked her, and put a hand on her shoulder in a kind gesture of friendship. “How did you know, I’d go?”
“I assumed you’d be coming with us in the morning they moment Thrak said he’d found you. We’ll find the others. Our party has grown stronger since Far Realm! You’ll see. My Inara but your hands are rough are they not?”
“They are, I must beg your pardon, it’s all this sailing I think my dear.” Inara moved her hands away and put them in her robes. They looked soft and delicate. But they had felt rough to Areia. Perhaps, Inara’s life among the isles had been harder than she imagined. “You played well tonight, no doubt the name Inara Goldpetal will be famous someday.”
Inara smiled sweetly at the elf. “That is so kind of you to say, young one.”
“I’m not that much younger than you, you know,” Areia said absentmindedly Inara had a way of making her feel a bit uncomfortable in the way she spoke about her age, calling her young, or dear one. At least that’s how Areia saw it. More of that Cillandrial etiquette she never knew.
The bard did not respond, but instead took out a small object. After placing her lyre in a safe place among the netting, she held it atop her trousers. Areia watched her remove a few other instruments that looked like needles.
“Becoming quite domesticated, are we,” giggled Areia. “Are you making something Inara?”
“You could say that my dear,” said Inara. “What do you think of my work thus far?” She held up the item and Areia, fascinated saw that it looked like a small doll. There was more about it though that made Areia uneasy. She saw immediately that it was shaped to resemble the rogue! This time, it wasn’t about courtesies or one’s class. Areia grew serious.
“Your doll wears my clothes, friend. What’s more, why would you make a doll in my likeness?” Asked Areia, her tone of humor was gone, instantly. Not seeing a look on the bard’s face that made her any more comfortable, her hand instinctively had gone to the dagger inside of her nearest boot. Carefully, as she had so many times before, she reached for it. Something was wrong here. “You’ve made a doll in my likeness, and dressed it in bits of my clothing. Where did you get clothing like mine? Is this some kind of joke or prank, Inara? If so, I do not think it is funny.”
“You don’t, sweet child? But you do love a good joke so, don’t you?” Inara Goldpetal looked up from the doll and stared into the rogue’s face. Her jovial nature was gone. Her face was stone. “I’ve got a great riddle though that will make you laugh for some…”
Before the bard could finish though, Areia’s hand rose quick as lightning, her newest blade, magical, shimmering in the moons’ light, held firmly in her grip. The blade zinged through the air in an arc aimed right at Inara’s chest, and yet just as fast as it come forward, it stopped in midair. Areia looked at Inara, openmouthed.
That’s when Areia noticed that Inara’s eyes had changed, her pupils dark, but now the white portions were gone. Around the sockets, skin began to droop, and it was if her whole face were melting. Inara’s nose had grown longer, pointier, and her earlobes sagged nearly to her shoulders. In horror, Areia found herself unable to move other parts of her body, not just the hand holding the dagger. In strained effort, she shifted her gaze down to the doll now clutched tightly. She felt her own chest unbelievably tighten just as she imagined the doll’s chest had as it was squeezed. The hand clutching the doll had changed as well. There were now nails like those of an animals curling out of the fingertips. The other disfigured hand was using it’s fingers to manipulate the arm of the doll, holding it up in exactly the same position as Areia’s arm was!!
“You’ve been a fascinating specimen, my child. Just fascinating. We’ve enjoyed you immensely.” Inara stood up and removed the dagger from Areia’s hand gingerly. Her clawlike hands placed the doll into her satchel, and then she ran her fingers, which were now long, twisted and gnarled, along Areia’s frozen face. Areia blinked, but looked unable to do little else. The ghastly woman now wearing Inara’s robes cackled and lowered Areia’s hand to rest on her knee as a mother would help a baby who needed assistance.
“Oh dear, we are going to have some fun laughing together soon, Areia!” She cackled again.
“And just wait until we let the others in on the joke!”