Dragon's LibraryBlood and Wine
by Anya

Disclaimer: I've read bits of Drow of the Underdark and the Menzoberranzan Boxed Set about Vhaeraun the Masked God. And there's been Baldur's Gate of course, though obviously there's nothing of use in there except that amusing dialogue after which the Vhaeraun worshipper gets cut down by a priestess. I think that technically, there shouldn't be a Vhaeraun faction in the Underdark, since he's supposed to be the drow god for the surface, but well.suspend that little bit of disbelief for this story. In any case, the Boxed Set did mention underground factions in Menzoberranzan.

Unfortunately, this fic will not be as amusing as the little pigs one. Enjoy it anyway.

As to the violence, implied or not, in the 'true' drow society there would probably be um, torments worse than I have written here. In human society as well, which is supposedly, by default, 'better' than drow society. All the tortures were practiced before, in greater degrees, in medieval Europe and beyond - in fact, some unmentioned ones are still in practice today - especially a rather disgusting one called the Judas Cradle. So what right have we to proclaim drow evil and humans good?

Along that point, after reading Dante's Inferno and Purgatory - torture done in the name of good. Is that, in some way, more meaningful and hence, allowable and praised, than the idea of a drow torturer? Burning forever because of one case of deception, which saved lives? (Sorry. Odysseus' punishment seriously infuriated me. He's my favorite Greek mythological character, even if he's not perfect (i.e. he's very human) either.)

The described punishments here were discussed in school when we reached the topic of 'Crime and Punishment' in the General Paper. Again, there are more disgusting ones, believe me.

As you can see by the annoying weirdness of my writing, I'm reading King Lear by order of School and Literature. Have a headache. Wishing, alternatively, that France would reappear, and that everyone would die quickly so I'd have less to study.

One last thing: there's a bad poem in the story. You have been warned. : )

***

The priest hung from an iron cross erected in the centre of the Bazaar, limply, like a boneless puppet, for that was what he was now, after having had his limb-bones slowly and carefully broken by the yathallaren, the High Priestesses of Lloth. What remained of his delicately structured, elegantly comely features were swollen and bruised, pathetically disfigured, and gaping sockets yawned raggedly where keen, earnest eyes had watched the world. His sober raven robes were rent in places and bloodied in others, more like a funeral shawl now than a dignified raiment befitting a priest of the Masked God.

His breath came in choked gurgles, but he didn't struggle, not because he could not, but, it seemed, because he wished not. Despite the iron nails that had been hammered through his wrists and ankles to hold him to the cross, despite the humiliating Lloth-spell that kept him alive through the torture and would keep him barely alive for as long as the yathallaren decreed, he retained an impossible aura of quiet deportment. It wasn't that he had not screamed when they plucked out his eyes and crushed his fingers, or when they stretched him on the adamantite wheel to be slowly broken, but something else. One could call it patience, or idiocy, could hail it as spirit, or simple mindless fanatism, call it determination, or the conviction that he had nothing left to lose.

He did not hope that he would be rescued. Though it was part of Vhaeraun's teachings to aid any fellow believer in trouble, he knew that his faction, at least, had been exterminated efficiently. If there were other factions - if - he hoped fervently that the Masked God would advise them to turn a blind eye. Some things were better left alone, for others to survive. The factions were comparatively small, and neither knew the existence of any other, to be safe in Lloth-ruled Menzoberranzan, where the yathallaren were skilled in the art of forcing one to give up all his secrets that he knew of, and did not even know of, just to stop the pain. They were quite adept at surviving and conversion. However, mistakes always happen.

Sometimes his swollen lips would twitch upwards, as if trying to smile, though he never did this while yathallaren were watching. That was curious in a way - without his eyes, he still seemed to have some sort of vision. It was not because of spells - with the wards around him, spells would only alert the yathallaren, and lead to more torture. Besides, he was waiting.

Occasionally yathallaren and other drow would address him with sneering words, just meaningless sounds, and spit on him, but he did not seem to respond. Dully, his head sunk down onto his body, which bled from a thousand small, excruciatingly painful cuts that would continue weeping red tears, his body being magically replenished. The yathallaren had imagination that could sometimes surpass their Goddess herself.

In this semi-somnolent state he retreated into his mind, praying to Vhaeraun for death. Time passed, or perhaps it had not, for he ceased to try and count the hours by the amount of traffic in the Bazaar. It seemed that he had been there forever, since the Founding of Menzoberranzan, as a puppet with four tentacles suspended on a cold iron cross, reviled and despised.

Then Vhaeraun whispered to him once during a Black Death of Narbondel, where the Bazaar was empty except for beggars and lowlife, where shadows, even in the darkness of the city, seemed visible and fluid, and then he knew what he had been meant to do. There was no resignation, or fury, or horror that he had been 'fated' to fall to the yathallaren and end up in his current state, only a tranquil sense of resolve. So he waited for the first, and began to note the cycles again - for him, Time had continued her march.

***

As Vhaeraun had predicted, the first appeared after six cycles, during the Black Death. He hung back from a distance, piwafwi rustling, soft boots scraping the cobblestones with just the faintest hint of sound, but the priest heard, and his lips twitched. Chainmail links murmured in tiny metallic susurrations as he squared his shoulders and stalked forward, as graceful as a cat, footsteps purposeful, confident, lightly curious. He stopped a ways from the cross - close enough to speak to, but far enough such that the stink of blood and slow death would not grow too offensive.

There was a blessed, nearly awkward silence, as the priest tilted his head, as if he were gazing on his visitor with working eyes, than with bloody pits. Neither spoke, as if afraid of disrupting the distracted serenity. During the Black Death, the priest was normally secretly watched as well, but on these nights, Vhaeraun had managed to arrange... circumstances. The priest felt an irrational surge of freedom, which he quickly suppressed lest it made him forget what he was supposed to do.

Then he decided to speak first, once his visitor seemed as though he was having second thoughts about coming.

"Vendui, malla Qu'el'saruk." The priest took pleasure in speaking the measured cadences of the pure drow tongue, not the mixed, bastard one which commoners would learn, though that one was easier to pronounce and understand, lacking words which hid meanings and reeked of ambiguity. Admittedly, this made it the preferred language to bargain with.

By the startled clicking of boots, the greeting had hit its mark. Another silence, before he was answered by a low baritone. "Vhaeraun priest." The visitor spoke the mixed tongue with unreserved relish, as if mocking his own - the priest knew - enforced nobility.

"That I am." The priest spoke without stammer or forced breathing, though his words were slightly distorted by the state of his mouth, they were clear and lucid, apparently not what the visitor had expected. Certainly the priest did not appear to give any indication at all that he felt the pain that he should be enduring.

The visitor snorted, and the priest could tell that he folded his arms in an unconscious, ironic gesture of goodwill, by the sounds of leather gloves over leather, then skin, then the heavy, protective sleeves of the Do'Urden uniform. "So there is truth behind the rumor that you had some unique power." This was said in a tone that expressed only mild curiosity, but which belied both burning hope and frozen cynicism.

"Nothing is unique. My 'power', if it could even be seen as that, is of Vhaeraun, for Vhaeraun." The priest spoke of the Masked God with a sort of affectionate reverence, and the visitor's shifted position suggested renewed interest.

"Your Vhaeraun has forsaken you, priest."

The priest wished he could shrug. "I am clearly bait. There is no point in attempting a rescue - if there are other factions, they would clearly know of that fact, and my God is a God of thieves. Thieves know how to dance around... bait. But I doubt you were here to hear that."

"No, I was not."

"What do you seek, then?"

A nearly gentle sound as the visitor ran his hand through long, thick hair the color of dulling porcelain. "Knowledge, perhaps. My curiosity." The answer was too immediate to have been anything but practiced.

"Truly?" The mouth of the priest twitched again. "I think not."

"What would the thoughts of a shattered 'high' priest of a minor group of religious dissidents matter?"

"Religious dissidents, a fine phrase." The priest forgot himself and chuckled - then choked on blood and bile, hacking painfully. The visitor waited with cold courtesy. "But perhaps you are right. You seek knowledge of - the word which has no expression in the higher tongue - and knowledge of the Gods from one not of the Queen, is that not?" The hanging question was but mere formality.

The silence was longer.

"Broken one, I would believe you could read my mind."

"Would you?"

"If you had mind-powers, I would have heard some inkling of it. Well then, if it is knowledge I wish to have, give me what I apparently came here for." The visitor's voice acquired the desperate playfulness of those who see themselves as the hopelessly damned.

"There is a price for everything."

"Hmph. You wish a quick death, broken one?"

"No. Perhaps your soul. Ah, but you sneer and turn, conditions then. Give Vhaeraun the right and honor to your soul after your second death, when you'd perish in fire that is liquid. Is that impossible enough for you?"

"How can one die twice, priest?"

"Perhaps one cannot. Well then?"

Silence.

"Very well," the visitor said, with a trace of good-humor. "It is not as though I even know what a soul does, or if it even exists. And your... conditions seem impossible enough to fulfill."

The priest's mouth twitched, as if in satisfaction, though the visitor could not tell. "Hmm. I cannot explain to you what that unnamed word would mean to you, because for each and every individual its import changes. For some it's dark and cold, for some it's bright and fiery, for some it's like the brush of gentle wings, for some it's cruel steel. For some it'd last long past the barrier of death, for some it flickers out more quickly than a candle placed within a breeze. For some it'll only be given to things material, for others, mere ideals that cannot be quantified. That's the word for you."

"Any beggar that sleeps in the dung-heap knows that. Have you nothing more worth my time, priest?" the visitor said, with some impatience.

"Time belongs to herself. She just hauls all else behind her - the Gods, the rats, the nobles, and the slaves."

"Perhaps the torture took more of your sanity than I realized." The visitor mused.

"What is insanity but unconventional belief. Well then, I will give you what you came for. Would you hear a story that should explain to you that which you want?"

"Let's hear it."

"Very well. In the early days of this world when elves were young the gods walked amongst them. Then the Underdark was empty and humans had not evolved, and creatures of myth were more plentiful than they are now, when they are hunted and destroyed if they even raise tooth or fang against unforgiving civilization. There was as much peace as there could be, and as much laughter as their could be - elves were carefree and mixed, gold and silver and dark, winged and ground-walkers, wolf-changers and the static ones. Magic or the warrior arts, sleight-of-hand or the nature lore, there were no distinct classes - one learnt what one wanted to, lived what one wished to, followed what one intended to."

The visitor snorted. "Truly, priest?"

"What is truth, but to be woven by belief? But to continue, there was a Goddess who was as happy as she would be, with an entourage that was as large as it was seemly. She was.beautiful as a winter's sunset - though of course you have not seen that - and cheery - her silvery laughter like exquisite streams of cool delightful water, her wit sharp and her temper fiery, but her followers adored her and she returned the feelings. She liked to dance with them, twirling under the sun and whirling under the moon."

"You have seen the surface, priest?"

"Aye. All of Vhaeraun have seen and will see the surface, in reality or in dreams. It is where we belong, not in the ground like corpses nourishing weeds. There was one particular follower that she secretly liked above the rest - he was handsome even by elven standards, with silvered hair and amber skin, light of eye and quick of step. A mix, in fact - of elves of the sun and the moon. Magic worshipped him - with a flick of the wrist he would create all sorts of lovely things for her, and wait breathlessly for every word of approval, every smile, every gesture. When he neared her, she seemed to forget all else - when she neared him, he blushed and his normally quick tongue tied itself into knots."

"Amusing."

"I'm glad you find it so, Qu'el'saruk d'Daermon N'a'shezbaernon. It certainly amused and elated her followers, that she would take such pleasure in a mortal. They were happy for a while, though neither voiced their true feelings, neither denied them either. Perhaps they even enjoyed that joining of two souls to be one."

"So they vithus. Then?" The visitor deliberately used one of the cruder words of the pure tongue, to try and conceal his interest.

"I was coming to that. One day it chanced that another Goddess visited her Court. Since all the Gods were brothers and sisters she was welcomed with due honor, and she stayed for a while, chatting with her sister, dancing with her sister. They became close, and the visiting Goddess was invited to stay. Now the old one - we shall call her the Bright One, and the other, Dawn, to avoid confusion, though the Gods of that time took no names - was happier than she should be, for she had two that she adored with all her soul, along with her followers that she adored with all her heart."

"I think I can see where this is going."

The priest's mouth twitched, though this time it seemed that it did so sadly. "'Tis sad that cynicism controls your mind, and sadder yet that it controls this world as well. Yes, the better-liked follower did seem, to the Bright One, to be less attentive than usual, and sometimes, imagined or not, she seemed to catch him smiling at Dawn, and sometimes Dawn acknowledged the smiles with some of her own, and sometimes not. It is not known if such things were imagined or otherwise, and in this case, we do not particularly care. At first she dismissed such notions as fanciful, and laughed them away, but then jealousy was born and began its steady walk through the halls of her heart, and she did not laugh any longer. She brooded, and did not dance, did not joke or play, only watched the follower with burning eyes on her throne of daisies."

"I was right."

"And it's a pity that you are. Well then, the follower, at first, tried to cheer her, but with cold words she drove him away. Her other followers learned not to try and near her, though they knew not why - they could not know that for the first time, a God had learned hatred and jealousy, and the pain that rides with them. It seemed to the Bright One that they began to laugh and dance with Dawn instead of with her (though she did not realize that it was her new temper that caused this), and worse yet - her own follower did so as well. Darkness was the next to be conceived, in her heart, and it seethed inside her, a searing lick of flame where once only that unnamed emotion had burned instead."

"Interesting. Both emotions 'burn'."

"Aye, that they do. They are alike and yet not alike, as is spilled blood is akin to spilled wine. When the inevitable happened, it happened in a sorry way. She stole up on him and Dawn one day, under an oak that bore roses without thorns. They were unaware of her presence, and he was with hands a-tremble, in the midst of giving something to Dawn. It was a small gold heart with a spiral of blue obsidian, on a gold chain so fine it seemed that it should break. And his words tore at her: he was saying to Dawn, 'This gold pendant would represent all my heart and adoration, with it I pledge my entire being. I would give it.' but she would hear no more of it, for snarling like some maddened monster, she leaped from her concealment and bore down on them."

"Again I see where this is going."

"And again you are right, more's the pity. She cursed them both and used her power against the one she called sister, and though Dawn tried to defend herself, hatred and anger lent the Bright One more strength, and Dawn was driven away. Then the Bright One turned on her follower, who was rooted to the ground in disbelief, the heart slipping through frozen fingers onto the ground."

"This story is beginning to bore me."

"Is it? Then go. No? Very well, then I will continue. The Bright One froze him there as she summoned all her followers, then she turned on them and killed them all, screaming through it all as if it was herself that felt the clawed blows, eyes maddened, heart broken, until at last, a-drenched in crimson pain that was not her own and was her own, she returned to him. He was horrified beyond measure, and could not speak a word, but her bloodlust had not been sated. For long days afterward she tortured him slowly, driving off those who would interfere, with sufferings worse than what I have experienced, and what the yathallaren have inflicted since this city had been built. And at the end of it all when she deigned to let him die she finally saw him move his mouth as if at last about to speak, and she bent down to hear him whisper, 'The heart was for you. The heart was for you. The heart was for you.' again and again with his dying breath until his spirit departed."

"I definitely saw that coming."

"I know it. Apparently, daring not approach her, he would have given Dawn the heart to give to the Bright One, since he thought that he had fallen out of her favor, and only Dawn could approach her. She was past stunned, and her heart that she thought broken, shattered again, and was destroyed. She fled from him, until her feet all unknowing took her to the bloody field where she had killed those she had once adored, and dazed, she chanced upon the gold heart that lay on the soaked grass. But when she picked it up, it turned into a spider on her palm and scuttled away, bringing her sanity with it. She pursued it, but it disappeared into the grass."

"And, now this is beginning to seem familiar."

"And well it should be. She withdrew away from the world as Time progressed and all grew older - and since she had known hatred and evil, so some other Gods and creatures alike became tainted with it, as everything was linked in those days."

"Vhaeraun himself is an evil god, priest."

The priest tried to shrug, but could not. "What is evil, and what is not? What you call evil, may not be what we do. This Goddess, the Bright One, wandered until she found the Underdark, and she walked its endless tunnels of darkness, where she slowly forgot heartbreak and continued to learn hatred. Eventually when there was the great battle and the dark elves, the ones who had not been part of her follower - if you remember, he was a mix of sun and moon - fled, and she was one of those waiting from the shadows. She turned those she took to evil and guided them to the darkness, changing their eyes, changing their minds, and turning them against the light. She took a name that should be known to you, many names. She decreed, eventually, that the female was higher than the treacherous, stupid male, perhaps suppressing part of the memories that pointed that all that chanced was her fault, not his. And because part of her, a small part, still did care, she decreed that none should harm the spider, for one of them, out there, was his heart."

There was yet another silence, as the visitor realized that the priest had finished. "So, what does that tell me, priest?"

"What you wished to hear, about how destructive is that which is not named, and that of importance of her that shall not be named, of how caprice and emotions can lead to the sundering of an entire species. Is that not enough, then?"

The priest could not see the visitor visibly struggle with himself, before shaking his head in defeat. "Yes. I would think it is. I wouldn't even ask if you made that up, or if it was truth."

"Then you would take your leave."

"Vendui, broken one, you have been of interest."

"More than interest, though you would not remember," the priest murmured as the footsteps faded away. And as Vhaeraun had decreed, the further the visitor walked from the iron cross, the greater the rate of erosion of the memory of the words of the priest, until it became just a half-remembered dream. And though the visitor did not know it - Vhaeraun would have his soul.

The priest waited.

***

After six more cycles, during yet another Black Death, the priest knew that the attention of the yathallaren had again been distracted, and he prepared himself for his next visitor. This one he could not hear, as he walked in magical silence, even if by his colorful and dashing appearance he should have done so with merry, jangling noise. The priest sensed that he was nearing, and when he was near enough, he spoke, voice distorted.

"Vendui, malla shebali, though Houseless you are not and non-noble you are not."

There came a low, pleased chuckle from the darkness. "Vhaeraun's own do seem to be more prescient than the Queen's. Well, priest, I am curious. What did you say to my friend six cycles ago? He doesn't even remember it, and that's strange by itself, stranger that the scrying spells broke when he was speaking to you, and that my spies all fell asleep after they saw him approach, and only woke when he was departing."

"He got what he came for. If he remembered not, that is through no fault of his."

"Through a fault of yours, I would think. Even the mind-pickers in my band couldn't see what it was, except some vague reference to a deal. A sort of quid pro quo. Well. With all your perception, can you see what I seek?"

"You seek power."

"That's true enough, and easy enough - most of our kind do."

"Perhaps not the way you do. You'd seek power because of who you are and whom you were born to, power while still working for those of the Queen, to gain power though in Her eyes you are outcast and a rogue. Perhaps it's childish in a way - this undertone of I'd show you. Just watch me. And it's a pity that now this is all that drives you and your considerable mind, all you can think of when you wake and when you sleep, because it was born of a heart-hurt when you were a child."

A brief, sarcastic clapping of gloved hands, velvet covered hands that were callused from learning and mastering weapons. "Very, very good. But saying it is one thing, and giving it is another."

"Vhaeraun could give you luck unbeknown by the Queen - allow you to saunter easily up through this society as easily as you could kill a commoner, and create a rank of your own - your rogue band could grow larger and more influential, and the noble Houses would vie for your favors."

"And what would you want in return, Vhaeraun priest? Your freedom and your life?"

"No. That I already have, in a way. Vhaeraun would have your soul, but you smile. Let us see. You would gift the Masked God your soul when you have more power than you could ever have, should ever have, yet you would willingly, gladly give it away and care not, when you throw away everything to walk the Surface with a human. Is that impossible enough for you?"

"Priest, I've learnt that nothing is truly impossible. But that's difficult enough for me. Very well, I agree."

"Then Vhaeraun will watch for you. And some final words:

Seek thee the husk of ice,
Where fire burns all crystallized,
Yet in th'finding thou'lt lose thy life,
As thou knowest it, taken not by knife,
Heed not the snarling House,
That'd seek thy spirit th'douse,
Yet watch them well, for truth,
It'd kill thee, 'ere they're wroth.

I'd not be so impudent as to tell you exactly how you could advance your influence, for that you would already be aware of."

"Not a very felicitous prophecy, if it were one."

"It was not meant to be. There are few things that are truly propitious in this world, shebali. I would advise you not to crave power's fickle smile, but you would not listen. Fare you well, is that enough?"

"More than I may have liked to know, perhaps. Thank you, it is."

There was silence, where by simple hearing the priest would not have known if his second visitor had stayed or left, but he knew when he had. The priest stared with empty sockets out over the bazaar, then nodded to himself, as the second visitor, too, began to forget what had transpired. "Vhaeraun will have you soon enough, as well." And he waited for his last visitor.

***

Six more cycles before the third and final one approached, timidly, on poorly shoed feet pattering shyly towards him in the Black Death. She hesitated at a safe distance, as if afraid that he would suddenly tear out of his bounds and rip out her throat, fascinated by this evidence of mortal brutality, fascinated by the way he seemed to bear this quietly. The priest could not see her, in his darkness that was more absolute than that of the Underdark, but he knew that she was a child, a commoner, an orphan waif that normally flitted around in the bazaar, lighting purses and stealing for food with practiced ease that should not have been forced on one so young. It was to be steady of hand and sharp of eye that street youngsters would survive, or die, but usually, die they would.

This one had watched him for some days, rather unwillingly, eyes drawn up when she hid to eat, or crept to stalls, or melted away from priestesses, to the bloody spectacle on the iron cross. So she came this Black Death.

"Greetings, little one," the priest said softly, gently, his voice a reassuring caress.

She let out a frightened squeak, then by the sound of dirty, matted hair brushing quickly against grimy cheeks, seemed to be looking around wildly for eavesdropping yathallaren.

"You need not fear - this night They are not listening," he continued, his mouth twitching for a moment. "What have you come for?"

"I..." she hesitated. "Purpose."

"Precociously beautiful! Purpose is something that lights the darkness and drives away despair, which gives hope and turns suffering into something worthwhile. Vhaeraun could give you purpose, and more. What have you to offer?"

Silence, then after a long, nervous while she whispered, almost ashamedly, "Nothing."

He laughed then, a chuckle of pleasure and delight. "Good child. The noble who would be rogue offered me death, and the rogue could be noble offered me life. You, neither noble nor rogue, would offer nothing. And well enough - to me that would have been the only gift that I would desire."

She seemed confused; by the way she shifted her weight uneasily on the cobblestones. "Really?"

"If you had nothing to give me, then I would truly have something of while to give you. Voids hunger to be filled. Well then, child, spit on me. Now, now, you need not start so wildly - it is what I wish of you. When you do it, you will know purpose."

Again a pause, then he felt something wet spatter on his ankles. Her eyes grew wide as knowledge filled her mind like cool water would fill a silver goblet, knowledge of living and dying, of true power, unlocking her soul and her true sentience that had been barred by years of living by nimble fingers, of spells and magic, and the Gods. She opened her mouth to speak, then shut it again. And as a new, pleasant, unearthly masculine voice in her head suggested, she turned on her heels and stalked away, her gait now graceful and steady, not like the hesitant, poised-to-flee one of old.

As for the priest, having passed on what he had possessed of an essence of a High Priest of Vhaeraun, saw images in quick succession in his mind's eye - of yathallaren, that had been influenced to watch the gesture of apparent contempt, picking up the girl from the streets out of curiosity. She would be adopted to one of the noble Houses, and show uncanny acumen and intelligence that she had already possessed from birth, as well as a quick grasp of the arcane and the spiritual. She would enter Arach-Tinilith, train for long years, graduate with honors, and all through this she would secretly, unknown to the Queen and her minions, revere only Vhaeraun. And at last, she would flee the city to the surface, gathering followers, and build a city to the Masked God in a cavern close to the Surface. It would continue to expand long after she would die.

It was not vengeance, but he had not, and did not, desire revenge. He was content, and so, after a last, labored breath, Vhaeraun allowed him the final peace.

Bright fire roared up from the foot of the cross and consumed the body, so hot that even the enchanted iron melted down into a silvery, still-burning pool of metal and ashes, which would burn until the Black Death ended, bright white, cleansing fire on unfeeling metal.

***

Afterword

"Damn. I'd hoped you had forgotten about me," Zaknafein groused, taking his usual perch on the messy desk. He picked up a VCD titled 'Dungeons and Dragons', snickered at the cover and the blurb, then put it back down.

"Did you think I would?" the Author twirled happily on the chair. "It feels good to be writing again."

"Not for me, it isn't."

"You're not writing."

"That three little pigs one was humiliating."

"Really." The Author raised an eyebrow. "But you had the best role. Next time you can be the pig, then."

"Oh no, that's perfectly fine," Zaknafein said hastily. Then he rubbed his nose absently. "What did Jarlaxle show you in 'private'?"

The Author grinned wickedly. "Wouldn't you like to know."

"As a matter of fact, yes, I would." Zaknafein smiled slyly. "Well?"

"Ain't telling you." The Author folded her arms.

"Fine, fine. Your stories seem to be getting shorter and shorter, did you notice?"

"Yeah. Can't help it. I only have time to write during the weekend."

"Liar."

"Well, what little time on weekdays I spend on homework and that online comic, so."

Zaknafein stood up and looked through the curiously tidy shelves. "It's a mercy I haven't appeared in it."

"That can be corrected," she grinned as he stiffened, then slumped.

"Me and my mouth."

"A killing combination."

"Did you actually make a pun?" Zaknafein turned back and raised an eyebrow. "Or did you take it from somewhere?"

"Why Zaknafein, I'm shocked at you." The Author feigned hurt, hands clutching dramatically at her heart.

"No, you're not. Your language begins to resemble that of Shakespeare's King Lear."

"You read the book?"

"There wasn't much else to do when you were writing."

"So quickly?"

"Well.I didn't read all of it while you were writing. Some bits before that. And it has to be one of the more depressing stories I've read so far." Zaknafein rolled his eyes. "You humans. As if the actual tragedy that exists in life isn't enough, you have to make up some."

"Whatever. Be thankful I didn't decide to use my favorite bit of King Lear inside this story."

"Which was it?"

"When Cordelia is asked by King Lear to say how much she loves him, and she goes 'Nothing.' Then Lear goes 'Nothing?' and she goes 'Nothing, my Lord.'" The Author recited this with relish.

"'Nothing will come of nothing, speak again.'" Zaknafein quoted.

"You're actually quoting Shakespeare! Zaknafein, how much wine did you drink?"

"I haven't drunk anything!" Zaknafein said indignantly. "Which reminds me. In what way, other than color, is blood and wine actually similar?"

The Author looked embarrassed, but thought quickly, if that was actually possible. Wow. "Um. Spilled blood, and spilled wine, both a waste, blood something primal, wine something refined. Um."

Zaknafein sniggered. It wasn't a nice sound, but Zaknafein wasn't a nice person.

The Author threw a pen at him.

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