The Artificer: The Adventure of the Golden Scarab
By Steven Lourie
The bazaar was loud, dusty, and reeked of odors both human and animal, and the two traveling companions were glad to be away from it. A brief stroll had allowed them to purchase a hat for Saril'daa, one of the wide-brimmed variety rarely seen in this part of the world, and dyed a shade of red close to the color of her cloak. A small spray of feathers dyed indigo sat under the leather hat band on the left side, a little showy for Saril'daa tastes, but she decided to keep them in. " I wonder if you'll be able to fit back into the coach with that on your head, " Draev had observed with a smirk, drawing a sour look from the elven warrior. Mere minutes later and they were back in the coach and headed for the outskirts of the city, the Alabaster Court situated at the base of some mountainous foothills to the city's north, sitting like a swan on the bank of a nearby river, the coachman had said with some admiration in his voice. Draev would have liked to plumb a bit more into the nature of the woman he was meeting for the deal, but that would mean Saril was right about not taking the proper precautions, something he found didn't sit well with his pride. It would be fine, he told himself. She would be as anxious to be rid of him as he would be to leave, and they would do so, and perhaps spend some weeks in this arid land to see if there wasn't some long-forgotten temple in the area that he could retrieve something of value from.
The trip was long and hot, and the harsh beauty of the desert could only hold their attention for so long. Saril'daa fanned herself with her hat, her golden tan skin glistening with a thin layer of sweat. Draev too found it difficult to keep cool, wiping away perspiration that constantly formed around his eyes and upper lip.
" I hope our reception is civil, " Saril'daa complained, fanning her cleavage, " I don't relish fighting in this hot, dry air. "
" As I said before, they'll be no fighting. Our host will likely offer us some cool water to drink and some dainties to snack on, we'll conclude the deal, and we'll be on our way to a nice shaded inn. We'll likely have to wait until dark to, uh... " the artificer trailed off.
" To what? " Saril'daa asked him, as if she didn't already know.
" Travel about more, you know, see the local sites, see if there's a festival of some sorts going on, " Draev replied nonchalant, tracing his finger over some of the grooves in the wooden side of the coach.
" The innocent act stopped being cute around the same time Daa started telling me everything that you like and how much you like to do it, which was months ago, so drop the act Draev my sweet, " Saril said only half-jokingly, a good-natured smile nevertheless on her lips as she spoke.
The artificer sat up straighter in his bench seat, looking offended. " Fine. Take the mystery away, let's just talk about fucking from now on as we would arranging to eat, or booking passage on a ship. Would that be more cute? " Draev asked, batting his eyelashes in a coquettish manner. Saril could only smile, her teeth half-covered by her lips.
" Act like you have more than a one wagon rut mind and maybe some mystery will return. "
A throat clearing from the coach driver reminded them both that their conversation had grown a little loud and a little personal, and the two lapsed into an awkward silence. A thought then passed through Draev's mind and, trying to keep his face from betraying him, sent out a telepathic message to Daa.
" Yes Master, what is your wish? "
Draev didn't tell her in so many words, merely picturing something in his mind.
" Master is incorrigible, you do know that, right? "
" Yes Daa, I always have to keep the flame of spontaneity lit. "
" Like you've never had me do this before... " Daa said, getting a marvelously human-sounding sarcastic tone in her mental speech as she went about executing Draev's orders.
Saril suddenly emitted a high-pitched and surprised gasp, her spine stiffening and her hands moving to her lap instinctively. Her eyes narrowed at Draev, jaw set and lips pressed into a firm line.
" That was a tiny bit surprising but not at all mature, Draev. Can you pretend for a day that you cannot make Daa do whatever perverted thing you want her to do to me? " Saril whispered, shifting in her seat. With another mental nudge from him Saril once again felt the unmistakable sensation of a tongue slide over her clit, the tip flicking off at the very end of the stroking motion. The elven bodyguard's reaction this time was more of a moan that a gasp, her hands gripping onto her inner thighs in a misguided attempt to stop the sensation from occurring again, her mind reacting as if her limbs were her own natural ones.
" Stop it! This is not the time... " Saril said quietly through clenched teeth, fixing Draev with what she hoped was a withering stare. The barest of smiles graced the artificer's lips as he sat smugly in his seat, fingers laced together and twiddling his thumbs.
Saril'daa's limbs went limp, except for her right arm, the fingers of which slid towards her crotch, drawing a half-dozen aborted protests from the now helpless woman. Daa's index finger slid firmly and slowly down between Saril's nether lips, rising back up just as slowly and working the fleshy nub of her clitoris in lazy circles. Saril was forced to bite her bottom lip to avoid crying out, likely silently screaming at Daa to stop in her mind.
" Saril wishes me to inform you that despite being a nice guy every once and awhile, you are in fact, a bastard, " Daa relayed, not ceasing in her motions.
" Tell her I'm just trying to make the journey a little less dull for the both of us. In the interest of spontaneity and all that.... "
Draev didn't know much elvish, his translating spell having worn off some time before, but he knew the word that Saril spat out after Daa told her as much was a curse.
" Dirty words like that come from dirty girls, " Draev 'tsked', sending another mental command. Saril'daa's left arm sprung to life next, her arms slipping around behind her back and down towards the cleft of her rump, and once again a single finger slid between two fleshy, firm portions of her anatomy and found a particular spot to rub in slow circles, this latest assault forcing another tortured groan from Saril's lips. Draev grinned evilly, feeling himself grow hard as he watched Saril being forced to stimulate herself on the clit and ass, or at least, that's what it looked like, even though he knew who was really doing it.
Just then a flicker of blue light caught his eye, coming from the ring he wore on his left hand, the brass one with the star sapphire set into it. A wry grin twisted the corner of Draev's mouth as a small image, no more than four inches tall appeared, positioned as if the figure represented were perched daintily atop the stone. The figure had her hands planted firmly on her rounded hips, which were also cocked to the side in a stance of indignant coyness. A tiny face scowled at Draev, miniscule, plush lips maneuvered to one side of her mouth in a look of distinct irritation.
" Yes, Jegna? " Draev asked the pixie-sized woman, moving his hand up so he could better see her.
" You've kept me locked away for the better part of three days, Draev the artificer. That night on the ship was fun, but out of sight, out of mind as they say and, " the miniature woman paused, pivoting gracefully on the ring to face Saril'daa before continuing, " it seems like you've been spending a disproportionate amount of time with these two. You don't want me bursting out and ruining another important client meeting now do you? "
Draev winced at the thought of that occurring, especially at a meeting as delicate as this one might prove to be. The somewhat flustered man took a moment to run his eyes over the diminutive figure that stood atop his ring, knowing full well that this was merely an illusion being manipulated by the true Jegna, who was likely fuming inside her lamp, tucked away in another one of the micro dimensions that Draev stored important objects.
Some outfits created the illusion of nudity, while Jegna the female djinni wore one that created the illusion of clothing. Her sky blue skin was complimented by the azure silks that loosely draped her voluptuous figure, hiding portions of her smooth-as-marble skin only by accident and not by design. The glimmering silks, woven from the winds themselves and only just more substantial than wood smoke hung from four key points on the genie's body, these key points being over the nipples that crowned her more than ample breasts, which bordered on E cups in size, at the base of her spine, and a few inches below her navel. The silk swathes were gathered and kept from simply blowing away from the slightest breeze by four golden medallions positioned at the aforementioned points, each fashioned to resemble the face of one of the four winds, at least, that's what she had told him. Draev had personally never met them and could only take her word on that. They affixed themselves to her body by magical means, and they could be released with but a thought from Jegna, clattering to the floor with a tail of blue silk following lazily behind them.
Jegna was completely hairless except for a pair of delicate eyebrows above her unearthly eyes with their golden irises, and a long flowing mane of midnight blue tresses that tumbled down to the small of her back and always seemed to stir as if the silken strands were caught in a perpetual shifting breeze. Draev remembered the nights he had spent nestled against her curvy body, her hair smelling faintly of jasmine, her plump blue lips parted slightly to reveal perfect white teeth in a smile of contentment. Making love to her was like riding a storm, an electric thrill passing through his skin every where he touched her, her movements as wild and untamed as a hurricane's. It didn't help matters that in the form she adopted for living amongst humans she stood nearly half-a-foot taller than Draev and out-weighed him by two stone. His relationship with her was not like the submissive teacher-student rapport he had with Daa, nor the playful back-and-forth of comfortable lovers like with him and Saril. No, Jegna treated Draev more like a favored pet, and while technically subservient to the holder of the lamp, she was a being with whom the artificer liked to remain on the good side of.
Forced into a corporeal form and coerced into a thousand and one years of servitude by an artificer of unimaginable power in ages past, Jegna had, for the previous three centuries before Draev happened upon her lamp, sat in a forgotten corner of a ruined manor, half-covered by debris. When the intrepid artificer had homed in the only source of magic in the area, and dusted the lamp off, Jegna, in all her terrible fury and glory, rushed out from inside the lamp, thunder booming and forks of lightning dancing across what walls still stood. Before Draev could blink twice the awe-inspiring djinn had grabbed his wrist in an iron grip and pulled him back with her into the alternate dimension that was her home within the lamp; a tidy little villa with a pond, some emerald green grass, and flowering plants beside a white-walled three-room home. Draev understood the concept of genies fine, and how they were to obey every word of the one who summoned them, but the unfortunate (depending on how you wanted to look at it) young man had found it impossible to use his mouth for anything such as speaking for nearly two days. Having a immensely strong female genie who hadn't had sex in three hundred years push her tongue into your mouth, stuff your head between her inviting breasts, or having lush, electric lips wrapped around the base of your cock while sucking on you made relaying orders incredibly difficult. To this day, Dreav could only attribute his larger-than-average libido and good physical health as to why he hadn't died in there from her savage and passionate assault.
So, now this fearsome and terribly powerful being made of elemental air was miffed at him for not spending "quality time " with her for the past little while, Draev finding it hard to defend his position considering that Saril'daa sat moaning not two feet from them, being forced to masturbate under the artificer's directive. So deceptively tiny, the little image of Jegna swiveled back around to face Draev, arms crossed as best they could considering her impressive bosom and tapping her foot noiselessly against the star sapphire set on the ring of twisted brass.
" Jegna, you know this deal is a big one. I just needed to blow off a little steam before the meeting and have some down-time. I want nothing to interfere with our time together tonight. That wouldn't be fair to either of us. If all goes well I'll be summoning you before the sun's light disappears from the western horizon. We can take all the time we want then. Patience for a little while longer, " he soothed, glad that for all her powers, Jegna couldn't read minds. The tiny genie considered this for a time, her expression growing less harsh as she did so. Finally, apparently satisfied with his answer, she said;
" All will go well, because if anyone interferes with your plans I'll rip their flesh from their bones and scatter bits of their carcass on the desert winds to feed the scavengers. I'll see you at dusk, and make sure you don't get too involved with these two in the meantime, I expect performance. Jegna's been needy these last few lonely nights. "
Without so much as a farewell the small illusion of the djinni winked out of existence, leaving just Saril'daa and Draev in the coach's interior.
" M-make her stop, " Saril begged, panting.
Blinking rapidly as if waking from a dream Draev sent the mental command to Daa and Saril'daa ebony limbs immediately ceased their erotic torture, leaving a shaky Saril gasping for air and flushed from something other than the heat.
" It won't be long now surrah, " the coachman called from the front, how much he had heard and how much he knew about the goings on in the cab of the coach Draev could only guess at.
The Alabaster Court was a suitable home for one as powerful and rich as this Moleeka Sik'darbi was supposed to be, the entire sprawling complex surrounded by an eight foot stone wall with black metal spikes atop the ridge, plastered over evenly in a brilliant white. As the coach passed through the metal gates that opened on their own upon their arrival they followed the circular road of crushed white marble around a beautiful cascading fountain spurting crystal clear water into the desert air. The inside of the walls were not as barren and inhospitable as they were on the outside, hanging vines and flowering creeper plants clung dexterously to the egg shell white surfaces, keeping down what glare there might have been from the brilliant sunlight. As Draev peered around the courtyard he found it reminded him somewhat of Jegna's little villa, though architecturally that made sense, as the djinni was from this area the world. The coach came to a stop before the double wooden doors with golden handles, hinges and inlay, the wood itself as polished black as Daa's body, the horses snorting and stamping their feet impatiently, as if nervous of the area.
" We're here, surrah, " the coachman stated needlessly. " Will you be requiring my services again shortly, or can I return to Tulain? "
Draev climbed out of the cab and flexed his legs to work the stiffness free, responding with; " I don't suspect we will be long, and will pay you handsomely for your time. "
The coachman bobbed his head in understanding. " Very good surrah, I shall wait for you outside the gates, this place makes the horses uneasy. "
" And it makes elves uneasy as well, " Saril'daa muttered as she took up a position beside Draev, moving with the same fluid grace as she always did seeing how her legs were not her own, and therefore unaffected by the long period of inactivity. The pair watched as the coach completed the circuit around the fountain and left through the same gates, which closed quickly behind him with a very final sounding ring of metal.
" You finally have arrived, good. I was beginning to wonder if something had happened to you, " a clarion female voice from behind them chimed in.
Both Draev and Saril'daa wheeled about as one, the elf's hand dropping down to rest on the handle of her sword. " Nobody's that quiet, " she hissed to the artificer under her breath, " not naturally. "
Draev just nodded as he took in the dark-skinned beauty standing before them, in his inner-most mind figuring it was worth the trip out here just to see the way the desert sun gleamed off her lustrous dusky skin, or how her clothing fit her body. Their host smiled prettily at them, a smile not shared by her eyes, who flicked from Draev to Saril'daa and back again, calculating.
" I am the one who summoned you to this hot and dusty land and to this unworthy hovel of a home, all for a trifling thing I wish to buy from you. I am Moleeka Sik'darbi, and I bid you welcome, " she announced with a slight bow in their direction, then turning to her side in a gesture of invitation.
" Your land has all the austere beauty I have heard it renowned for; the sight of your courtyard alone has refreshed our souls; and for one of your magnificence, I would cross the world seven times to return a copper penny to your hand, if you wished it so, " Draev countered with a bow of his own. Saril'daa scowled at the flattering back-and-forth between the two, like some sort of verbal sparring with true intentions and feelings couched in pleasant armor. The artificer took Moleeka up on her invitation to enter, walking forward with Saril'daa in tow, the dusky sorceress taking up a position beside Draev as he passed.
" I trust your journey was not troubled by too many delays, " Moleeka inquired as they passed through the front doors, into a massive lobby of white marble pillars arranged in a circle atop a black and white checkered floor, with small splashes of color such as flower arrangements and tapestries keeping the room from looking too monochrome. Exquisite moldings covered the door frames, along the edges of the walls and the entire domed ceiling, Draev's eyes working furiously in an effort to try and take in all the detail.
" We arrived late last night, the winds not favoring a speedier berth at the city's port. Your letter had a tone of urgency just below that of a life-or-death situation, otherwise I would have been here on your doorstep last evening even if I had had to walk the distance from Tulain . I hope our delay hasn't interfered with any plans of yours... " Draev answered, peering at the enchanting woman to his left intensely to gauge her mood.
" Nothing so dire as a life hanging in the balance, but urgent enough for my instructions emphasizing speed. I have waited a long time to once again set my eyes upon the item you hold, my family's birthright, stolen by foreign hands in the time of my grandsire and thought lost forever. "
" I mere moments you will have it back in your possession, gentle host, once the distasteful but necessary exchange of gold is made. "
Their path lead them through several more rooms, each bearing items and furnishings of aching beauty and almost incalculable worth, to finally arrive in a sun room, the entire eastern wall open to the outside with curving archways supported by slender and smooth pillars decorated with an almost organic-looking golden mesh along their length. It was here that Moleeka bid them sit on cream-cushioned chairs, Draev doing so, but Saril'daa hovering possessively over him, hand gripping her sword handle loosely for now, yet could clench tightly and un-sheath the sword in a reverse draw in a heartbeat if need be.
Moleeka moved to the fireplace, reaching up to a framed oil painting hung above it, and bucking the cliché, her hands passed right through it to retrieve a gilded strongbox edged in ivory behind the illusion, looking to be fairly heavy judging by the way the woman's arms strained as she hefted it.
Setting the strong box on the low, rounded table set before the bleached whicker chairs present, removing the latch and sorting through the contents with the occasional clink of metal.
" Master! I must speak with you, please, it is urgent! " Daa pressed, her voice sounding deeply concerned.
" I am about to conclude the deal, Daa, what is it? " Draev replied quickly, more curious than irritated with the sudden warning.
" Master, I implore you not to sell the artifact to this woman. I know I am forbidden to do so because some may be able to detect me, but I scanned her mind as we walked through her home. She is a priestess of sorts, one who follows a dark and power-hungry goddess I am not familiar with. I feel suffering and dread coming from somewhere in the area as well. The horses must have sensed this, which is why they had to wait outside the gates for our return. "
Draev scowled, doubly frustrated that Daa had disobeyed him, even if it was with the best of intentions, and now he had this heaped upon his lap mere moments before he would receive his payment.
" Daa, as an artificer I am not concerned with what she does with the item after I have sold it to her. It is a tool, from which good or evil may be wrought. I cannot change that she may do selfish things with its power. "
" Master, the device you have was created for the sole purpose of cheating death, a death deemed necessary by the gods themselves. No good can or ever will come from its use. I beg you, do not give this thing to her! "
Draev shifted in his seat, frowning. Daa did not usually get this upset over something, proving that she must have encountered some particularly dark and disturbing thoughts behind the pretty eyes of Moleeka Sik'darbi. Saril shifted as well, likely getting the same message from Daa as he did. The warrior's hand moved to rest on Draev's shoulder, pressing tight. It was up to him to make the choice, and make it soon.
" I believe the sum of one and-a-half thousand gold was the price we had agreed upon, " Moleeka stated, four heaping sacks of coin resting atop the table, the chest they had come from storing far more in it than one un-enchanted could possibly hold. Draev didn't respond at first, instead rubbing his thumb over the side of the curled fingers on his right hand in a gesture of indecision and thought. Moleeka's eyes immediately narrowed, sensing her quick negotiations with an agreeable and admittedly handsome artificer were about to take a turn for the worse.
" Those were the terms, " she added in a voice a few registers lower than her usual, her body rigid.
Draev looked up at her, into her eyes, his expression one of regret and accusation.
" The terms were based around you being all you appear to be, but that is not the case, this I know. I also know the item's purpose, and your ultimate goals with it, " Draev lied, " and I do not truck with the minions of evil gods. I came here to allay my suspicions, and instead leave now with them regrettably confirmed. "
Moleeka's slender hands curled slowly into fists, her lips quivering with barely contained rage. " Do not presume to pass judgment on me, peddler of magical trinkets. I am not so ignorant of the artificer's code to know that my purpose with the item is none of your concern, nor should it be. "
" I am a human being before I am an artificer, madam, and I doubt your opinions on my lack of cooperation with you will be heeded by any of my order. Good day. " Draev then turned to leave, but knew by the sudden rush of magical energy building the room that it was not going to be as easy as all that.
" You dare enter into my home, presume to lecture me on morality and expect to walk out? You have made a very grave error in judgment this day, fool, a thing you will not live to regret! " Moleeka raged, her ring-decorated fingers curling into feral claws as she summoned crackling energy into her palms, preparing to unleash them. " That is, of course after I have ripped the knowledge of the golden scarab's whereabouts from your mind. "
Saril'daa's blade was in her hands as she stepped before Draev, brandishing it towards the outraged sorceress. The artificer brought to mind a defensive barrier spell, knowing that Moleeka would have no compunctions about slaying Saril'daa to get to him, the room about them pulsing now with summoned magical power ready to be released with a gesture and a thought. Just as the dusky-skinned woman seemed about to unleash her spell there was a deeper, more powerful rumbling that caused all three of them to cast their eyes about in confusion as to its source. Draev's eyes grew wide as Jegna's lamp suddenly popped out of one of his holding dimensions and landed into his hands, a torrent of glittering blue energy erupting from the elegant fluted tip and condensing into a massive swirling cloud. In a peal of thunder that shook the foundations of the house and made Draev's ears ring for some time afterward Jegna suddenly stood before them, interposed between Moleeka and the two visitors. The genie towered over all of them, the crown of her head scraping the ceiling, her posture aggressive, leaning forwards with her fists planted on her full hips.
" You will do no such thing, wench! " Jegna thundered, pointing a large blue-nail tipped finger at the surprised sorceress. " Draev and I traveled to your quaint little neck of the world at your insistence, and he's been so wound up about this deal that we haven't had proper sex in days. Now, if he thinks you're something that crawled out from under a rock and doesn't want to go through with the deal, than that's good enough for me. So much as blink in his direction and I will tear this house down around your ears, do you understand me you sun-baked little trollop? "
Moleeka could only stand there gaping in both surprise and anger, her spell slipping from her mind and the magical energy gathered into her hands winking out. The artificer and his elven bodyguard she could have handled, but the arrival of the djinni was completely unexpected and tipped the balance of power in their favor greatly. Fuming and baring her teeth in a look of absolute hatred she glared at the djinni and the two behind her, then, with a simple and sharp sweep of her hands, disappeared.
Jegna dusted her hands off and shrunk her body down to her "normal" size, turning to the two of them. " You can put your little sword away now elf, though I won't always be here to pull your butts out of the fire, " the genie stated smugly, moving past her and locking Draev in a strong embrace, her lips seeking out his and remaining there for a long and undeniably passionate kiss. Saril'daa scowled at the genie's mocking tone, but held her tongue as she slipped her blade back into its sheath. Eventually Jegna pulled her face back from Draev's, smiling dreamily.
" Looks like your business in Tulain is finished, my love. I'll escort you to the carriage and hop back into my lamp, but if evening falls and I'm not in your arms, that unpleasant little mage I just scared off won't be the only one who may feel my wrath... " she said sweetly, but her words deadly serious. Draev cast a nervous glance at Saril'daa, who just shrugged, and the three began to make their way out of the apparently now-empty house.
True to her word Jegna lead the two of them out into the splendid courtyard and forcibly pried the gates apart, as they refused to open like they did when they all had arrived. An utterly shocked coachman watched as the blue-skinned genie gave Draev another long kiss and, changing back into a swirling, glittering cloud of blue energy, flowed quickly and completely back into the glossy brass lamp the artificer held in his hands. This left a somewhat stunned artificer, a grumbling elven bodyguard and a speechless coach driver with a great deal of awkward silence to deal with.
" Back to, uh, the city, my good man, " Draev managed to say finally, regaining his wits and moving over to the coach cab's door and opening it for Saril'daa to enter.
"Y-yes surrah, of course, " the dark-skinned man stuttered, nodding weakly.
With a lash of the reins the weary horses were never-the-less glad to be away from the pristine white manor, the coach and its occupants making their way back to Tulain.
There was nothing elegant or reserved about Moleeka's movements now. She paced in her expansive study, filled with scrolls, books and tablets from as far away as the frigid northern wastes and lit in a soft golden light from several enchanted crystals that hovered in mid-air at strategic places throughout the room. She was far, far too close to realizing her dreams to be stopped now. As she paced the door to the room suddenly opened, two of her black-garbed minions entering quickly and going down on one knee, their heads bowed.
" You called for us, my queen? "
Moleeka didn't say anything at first, breaking off her regular back-and-forth pacing and moving over to stand directly before them. Looking over their swathed heads Moleeka picked one at random and, with her index and middle finger, jabbed him on the top of the head. The man started, a strangled gasp escaping his hidden lips as he then began to scream, clawing at his skull and face, dropping to the floor and writhing in unimaginable pain. The other henchman swallowed hard, pressing his eyes closed tightly and trying not to think that could have just as easily been him.
A few, thoroughly satisfying (to Moleeka, anyways) moments of anguish later the man died as his heart burst in his chest, the tendrils of magic that that ravaged the inside of his skull and neck making their way down to the racing heart and tearing it asunder. Once the room was quiet enough to speak and be heard the Mistress of the Alabaster Court related her orders to the surviving henchman.
" Have our entire organization comb the streets, inns and ports for the man who just left here, but do not attack him, you would only be throwing away your lives before I am through with them. Instead, I want a bounty of one-and-a-half thousand gold pieces on his head, and anyone who thinks they can handle the task should be sent here. Tell them also I kill those who waste my time, so only the most ruthless and experienced should even bother to make the trip. Is this understood, or do I have to summon another to my study and repeat myself? " she growled, raising up her two fingers and eyeing the lone man imperiously.
" No, my queen! It will be done as you command! " the man shouted to the floor, cringing.
" Then go, quickly! And remove this filth from my presence when you go, " Moleeka sneered, turning her back on both.
The minion did as he was bade, grabbing his former comrade's arms and dragging him from the room in a matter of moments. The word would be spread quickly amongst her organization, for each knew that she would kill them all rather than reward them if they delayed her ascension ceremony for too long.
" I cannot express the depths of my sorrow, Master. My disobedience put you and Saril in great peril. I should not have said anything to you of my findings. It is not your way, I knew this and still I insisted... "
If slimbiotes were capable of weeping, Daa would be doing so right now, Draev thought, her sadness and anger with herself rolling against his mind like waves against a beach. Saril shifted uncomfortably as well, likely subjected to the same profuse apologies and emotional backwash.
" Daa. Daa, listen, please. " Draev mentally told her, keeping his tone calm but insistent. When her tirade had abated, the artificer continued.
" The choice was ultimately mine, and I chose to do what I did because you did the right thing when you decided to peer beneath the surface of things. If I had turned over the artifact to her, I doubt any of us would be spared the inevitable wrath, and all that gold wouldn't have meant a thing. I pushed this deal ahead despite your and Saril's warning, clinging to the amoral code I'm expected to follow and hoping everything would work out. I will have this artifact studied at great length once we get back to Nexxarah, I doubt her influence can spread that far. If nothing else this little trip will have broadened our horizons a little bit and made us wiser about our...er, my business dealings, " Draev explained, correcting himself. He would shoulder the blame for this one. Too little research and too much faith in a stranger and not his companion's warnings.
" Saril is not happy either, Master, though it is not about the deal falling through, it is something more personal. You may wish to speak to her. "
" Thank you Daa. You will one day surpass me in logic and empathy, if that day hasn't already arrived. "
Verbally, Draev cleared his throat and regarded the sullen elf, who was seated facing away from him as much as possible, her left leg drawn up to show off a large amount of simulated thigh but covering up the rest of her hips, her arms crossed tightly across her revealing top in a gesture that was both defensive and likely uncomfortable. That was bad.
" I- " Draev began, but was cut off icily by the warrior as soon as he started.
"You trust Daa's judgment more than my own despite the fact she's only been around humanoids for less than two years while I'm nearing fifty, and then Jegna rushes in to your defense and leaves me standing off to the side. I swear, I was more useful before I had Daa to move me around. "
Draev winced at her words, full of pain and wounded pride.
" I can't dodge the arrow when it comes to listening to your advice. I was wrong, almost fatally so, while my far more observant and savvy bodyguard warned me otherwise. The item in question was too powerful and too obscure for something to not happen during our possession of it. I'm actually surprised, in retrospect, that we got as far as we did without incident. I apologize for being an arrogant and cocky bastard. As for Jegna, I cannot predict or control her arrivals. Her sense of the outer world is limited from inside her lamp, but she could doubtlessly feel the massive build-up of energies that occurred in the house and decided that we needed help. Moleeka is a very skilled mage, of that there is little doubt, and wounded pride put aside, we did need her help in that one. " Saril's lips twisted around as if she had a sour taste in her mouth, digesting what he had said.
" Jegna is incredibly powerful, we have to admit to that, " Draev continued, " but the time she can spend in our realm is limited by the conditions of her service. She cannot provide the sort of sharp-eyed, keen-eared and level-headed attention that a true guardian such as yourself can. Your blade has cut down more dangers to me in a month than her powers have in a year. Sometimes we have to accept our limitations, though I know this is a cold comfort to you. "
Saril stirred, shifting around and her face losing some of its previous hardness, but she otherwise said nothing.
" She agrees with you Master. It'll take some time, but she will forgive you and herself. "
" I know, Daa. Let us begin the healing process and leave her to her thoughts on our return trip. "
" As you wish, Master. "