Big Damn Heroes
Quiet, thoughtful, good humored; Illeith’atharia Lauri’ana seems remarkably undisturbed…given her past. Perhaps this is a façade, a mask under which she hides a great well of emotion from the world? Or perhaps it is truth; the void inside of her having grown to the point where disguise becomes fact? Regardless, this Eladrin lady was not always as she is now. Though there are many stories to tell from her long years, let us look briefly at this one. It starts many years ago, in a time when the great cities of her people still resided in the land of the Fae, long before the young Illeith’atharia became the violent creature is now, back when she was still an apprentice with Master Jeweler Rathith’neara Eaeth’inar…
Tap, tap, tap… Just a tiny bit more, Illeith’atharia thought to herself. It had taken nearly all morning, but she had almost completed the ring adjustment she was working on. It was true that such a thing could be done with magic, and easily too. However, Master Rathith’neara insisted that all of his apprentices know how to complete even the most mundane of tasks manually before allowing them the ease of magical fixes. Other Masters of the Craft scoffed at this necessity, but the quality of Rathith’neara Eaeth’inar’s pieces couldn’t be denied. It was one of the reasons that Illeith’atharia had worked so hard to come under his tutelage.
It was every apprentice’s duty to finish odd jobs for their master and Rathith’neara took that tradition quite seriously. The ring Illeith’atharia was working on was the last piece she had to complete before she could begin working in earnest on her Advancement Piece. Despite her eagerness, she took her time with the current project; Eladrin do not rush. Carefully keeping the tension on the channel set sunstones, she delicately adjusted the gold band. One slip and every stone would fall out of place and need to be reset. One wrong tap and the intricate designs on the ring would be scratched or warped.
One final adjustment with her tiny jeweler’s hammer and the glimmering ring was complete. Smiling slightly with satisfaction, she polished the gaudy item up and slipped it into a black velvet bag for return to the customer. Her mind wandered as she prepared to depart for the delivery, her thoughts otherwise occupied with her upcoming Advancement Project.
The Advancement Project was a symbol of the passage between Apprentice and Journeyman. With its completion, and Master Rathith’neara’s approval, she would gain all the rights and privileges of a practicing tradesman, as well as the trust and autonomy to work on truly complex items. It was the latter part Illeith’atharia was most interested in; the versatility and beauty of creating functional art always struck her fancy.
With such an important item to work on, both symbolically and prosaically, Illeith’atharia’s mind seemed filled with frustration and worry. She was blocked at the most important part; what to make? Already she had tried several different designs, all of which were fairly good, but none which really personified the pinnacle of her skill. Patterns, ideas, and forms all flitted through her head as she headed out to Lady Annearth’na Celayona’s residence.
So deeply was she engrossed in her ruminations, that she nearly walked right by the abode of Lady Annearth’na. Standing outside the gate, with the little bag clutched in her hand, Illeith’atharia was reminded of the Lady’s reputation. The impressive manor seems as desolate as it was elaborate. Between the surrounding foliage and the building itself, the entire estate practically screamed wealth. Master of the Arcane, a sorceress beyond compare. Well, her home certainly lives up to that…even if it is a bit creepy, she reflected.
As she neared the copper gate, it swung open before she could touch it. As part of a noble house herself, Illeith’atharia wasn’t terribly impressed with casual displays of magic. Nor did the exceptional craftsmanship of the copper vines that made up the fence particularly awe her either. Each green tarnished vine ended in what looked like a serpent’s head. Or maybe it was a bat’s head; on third glance, perhaps a hound. It was difficult to categorize. But every face had shining black eyes, lined in dark red.
It was the eyes that bothered her. Those eyes were very much like the ones she saw in the mirror every day, though few people noticed; eyes the color of solid onyx lined in the deepest of ruby. To see that pattern repeated left her with a deep unease. She adjusted her fashionable crimson colored glasses, further obscuring her own eye coloring. With the lenses safely turning everything in view to solid red, she ventured in the gateway with a shiver.
Animated servants answered the door, and conducted her through the house. The overall theme was decorative metals imitating the various natural growing things of the area. Many of the doors were made of a twining dark substance, while the windows were covered with spiraling silver. Each had the same strange creature heads instead of flower buds.
After a moment of walking, the servants led her to a parlor where a woman sat comfortably next to a fire. After an uninterested glance, the Lady Annearth’na set down the book she had been reading and gestured for her guest to take a seat. Illeith’atharia hesitated to comply; feeling shabby dressed in her shop gear compared with the Lady’s fine garments. She clenched her teeth somewhat self-consciously, and shifted her weight.
“You do me great honor, my Lady. But first, it is my pleasure and delight to deliver the item you commissioned from my Master, the Jeweler Rathith’neara Eaeth’inar. It would please me to know that it is up to your standards.” Illeith’atharia moved forward and bowed, her hand outstretched with the velvet bag upon it.
“Welcome and well come to my home, Apprentice, and I thank you for your attentive delivery.” There was something harsh and slick about the words, like rusty clips of metal sliding down silk. It made even the traditional welcoming phrase sound dirty.
Startled at the sound of the lady’s voice, Illeith’atharia looked up, peering above her lenses with wide eyes. It was then that she got her first glance at the sorceress’ coloring. Her gown was the deepest and most vibrant cobalt blue, and seemed to shine black on the folds. The delicately matching colors and patterns skillfully painted on her face now popped out with startling clarity; vivid blue inks that stained the hollows of her eyes with a dusting of silver on her cheeks. The paints served only to heighten her eye color; solid black with a ring of red.
Two pairs of identical eyes had met, and the recognition shook them both. Three solid heart beats past in silent shock. Illeith’atharia stumbled back dropping the jewelry bag, and watched in alarm as a slow smile curved up Annearth’na’s face.
“Yes, please have a seat young one. There’s no need to rush off,” the noblewoman purred. Illeith’atharia’s mind seemed to have stuttered to a stop while her body moved of her own volition backing out of the room, as far away from danger as possible. Annearth’na chuckled like breaking glass and gestured to the wall. A chair leapt from its spot and quickly positioned itself under Illeith’atharia, knocking her feet right out from under her.
Slightly trembling at the creature in front of her, the young apprentice jeweler gripped the arms of the chair in fear. Her parents had always warned her of others of mixed heritage like herself. Even while her mother and father had been kind and understanding, it had been ingrained in Illeith’atharia since birth that she was never to speak of her differences to anyone else. After a brief yet horrifying experience in her childhood, she had followed that edict to the letter. Now here was someone else with eyes just like her; eyes she knew were a sign of the Undead.
“Nh—T-thank you for your hospitality, but I must be getting back to my master,” Illeith’atharia was very proud that her voice only trembled a little bit. She longed to escape this place, but strongly doubted her ability to do so.
The small black bag levitated into the sorceress’s hand. Pulling out the sunstone ring, Annearth’na spared it a quick glace before setting her gaze back upon her trembling guest. “This repair looks to be quite expertly done, though I expect no less from Master Rathith’neara. However…this speaks of a very delicate hand; did you work on it yourself? You must have such proud parents.”
Sinking further in the chair, Illeith’atharia struggled to keep from fleeing the room.
“So few people understand the intricacy of a design like this; one thing depends on another, each stone linked in suspension, incomplete without its fellows. You must be close to Mastery yourself…tell me, what is your name? I would love to have further works commissioned—” With a jolt Annearth’na’s head snapped to the side, sensing something that otherwise eluded the terrified youngster. Her eyes narrowed as a very well dressed man waltzed into the room.
His long pale hair was bound into a long braid, and the scalloped sleeves of his tunic nearly touched the floor. His face was all straight angles, as if chiseled from stone, though the overall effect wasn’t displeasing. Upon seeing the sorceress, he gave an elaborate bow and the most disturbingly malicious grin that Illeith’atharia had ever seen.
“Annearth-love, I bring greetings and gifts. Oh! I’m terribly sorry; I didn’t realize you had a guest.” His unsettling regard slid over to the apprentice. Her vision safely covered by the red lenses again, Illeith’atharia imagined that the stranger appeared to be bathed in blood. This thought did nothing to ease the sense of chilly menace he seemed to ooze.
Illeith’atharia made the snap choice that this was a golden opportunity. She quickly stood up and bowed. “P-please forgive me m’Lord, m’Lady. I have very strict orders, I must return to my master.” With what may have been a slightly unseemly amount of alacrity, Illeith’atharia backed out of the room. Annearth’na made no move to stop her, instead merely watching the man with her fists tight and jaw clenched. Just as the door was closing behind her, she heard the man chuckle grimly, “See you soon…”
That last phrase sent terrors down her spine and she hurried toward the door. As she neared the front entrance, a movement to the left of the door caught her eye. A little black bat was stuck in one of the silvery windows; the flower bud-animal heads had come to life and were slowly crushing it in their mouths. She wavered for a moment, loath to leave any creature behind in this disturbing place. Another pain filled squeak was all she could take before deciding.
Grabbing the pair of jeweler pliers from her coat, she quickly and quietly bent the fangs off of the little silver figure heads; ever careful not to harm the bat. The window dressings opened their mouths in silent roars and started biting her arms. After just a couple moments of bloodshed and frantic bending she had the little creature free and continued her flight out of the estate.
Upon reaching the relative safety of the public road, Illeith’atharia paused to catch her breath and tuck the little bat into her coat pocket. After one last glance at the strange manor, she took off again for home. She felt like her mind hurt; the whole episode seemed almost silly for a moment. It seemed impossible. How could her life be interrupted by such an encounter? What exactly just happened? She knew that whatever Annearth’na Celayona wanted from her, it wouldn’t be pleasant. But who was that man, and why was she so instantly afraid of him? And most troublesome of all, why did it seem like he knew her?
However things worked out, she knew that her mother and father could make sense of things. Indeed, after hearing her story, the two of them contacted a number of their old friends. They spoke long into the night, discussing the possibilities. At dawn, a small group of them went to the manor to investigate only to find that the place was empty. All traces of the previous inhabitant and her magic were gone; disappeared as if they never existed.
That week, Illeith’atharia’s parents gifted her with a number of protection trinkets; a kindness she accepted quite gratefully. After a brief magical examination by her parents, both she and the little bat were patched up. The small creature became her adored pet and her inspiration for her Advancement Project. Thus it marked the beginning of her tenure as a Journeyman Jeweler…