Her Last Smile

Fringes of the Desert
The gritty gravel covered ground slowly gives way to finer granules of sand that drift lightly across the rugged hills. Echoing mournfully around large scattered piles of sand scoured rocks that lie scattered atop the pebbled ridges, the arid wind gusts suddenly and then is still, leaving the plains in eerie unbroken silence.
Exits: north southeast

As the sun finds its descent at her back the desert winds sweep over the rather barren landscape, routinely pulling at the fraying cloak draped over her thinning shoulders. She pokes harder at the small pit of embers, eyes fixed upon the darkening horizon. He was near, even from this far removed from the world she knew that much was still blessedly clear. She cocks an ear while keeping this vigil, tediously listening for the restless sleeping form in the nearby tent.

A sudden burst of wind blows hollowly over the barren wastelands.

A singular figure, tall, thin, garbed in a flowing dark cloak, its torn edges swishing about worn leather boots buckled with silver, cuts across the twilight of the desert. It stops for a moment, tilting the hooded head across the rugged hillocks. The acrid desert wind blasts the hood and tears at the cloak of the figure as it approaches, a soft dark outline against the rapidly diminishing brightness as the sun drops beneath the hills.

At the outline of the approaching figure a smile sweeps across her features despite the solemnity of situation, perhaps the first since her coming to this place of exile. She drops the stick, raising her arm in an exaggerated wave. end. Rowanne crosses the stretch between them to meet him, the winds now pulling back her own hood to reveal a weary yet still genuine smile at his recognition. "You've come! I had begun to fear even my words were futile out here."

A little struck by the genuine warmth somewhat tinged in her words, the sea-elf stops, hesitating between widening arms to embrace her, 'No, 'arven, none so futile. I was worried.' He replies wearily.

Overwhelmed by the sudden mix of relief and familiarity she forgets her usual formality, simply thankful to hear his voice. She wraps both arms about him tightly, relishing in the brief respite he brings.

Falennt draws the woman into his arms, cradling a hand to her head. 'You are thin, 'arven.' He murmurs against her hair, whispering into her ears before moving back to gaze upon her fatigued face with slitted eyes.

She pulls back, her expression hardening. "There is much to tell you and precious little time. Before all else I warn you, use none of our sorcery here. None." She fixes her gaze to his as to ascertain his full understanding before proceeding.

His silvery irises dilating, Falennt lifts his gaze over her dark head, reptillian eyes focusing on the tent, and the dust and sand beyond. 'Why, 'arven?' He questions, the emotion slipping away from his voice. It can wait.

Rowanne follows his gaze guiltily, her hand reflexively tugging her cloak against the quickly dropping temperatures. Gone from her hands are the myriad of rings and stones she once prized. "Come, see for yourself."

Falennt nods, pushing a strand of silver from his face. He takes his place after the former Archmagus, biting his lower lip suddenly as a weak nostalgia swept at him.

She leads him back to the tent, pausing just before its cloth tied opening. "Speak none of this to anyone upon your return." She opens the tent slit, the intermingled scents of acrid incense and the hint of aged rose drifting out in greeting.

'I will hush.' He promises, the orbs of his silver-chased eyes contracting a little as he peers into the tent, the recognizable, even comfortable scents trailing into his mind. His gills ached from dryness, but he made no complaint of it. 'What is going on in here, 'arven.' He asks again, curious, yet fearful perhaps for her or something else.

Once inside, the incense cloud is thicker, almost as though purposely masking something. Several small yet familiarly ornate brazers are set about the dust covered floor, each very out of place in this setting. Within the center of these gently smoldering containers a small cot has been erected, a fitfully sleeping form covered in fine silks lays almost unrecognizable. She steps aside, her voice kept hushed. "He is very, very ill. And I knew nowhere else safe to bring him."

Falennt follows her in, drawing his cloak off and draping it upon his arm, his gills finally released from their dry and parched hell, although his skin is puckered and to the point of severe dehydration, 'Ill. Is there no healer within the walls to treat ..him?' The sea-elf asks again, his voice contracted into a whisper, tinged with faint bitterness, perhaps accusation, 'And thus you two came here?'

Rowanne slips out of her cloak in turn, once supple velvet robes traded instead for utilitarian cotton. She sets about pouring two glasses of water from the tray and decanter beside the cot. "There is no healer for this affliction."

Rowanne hands the glass over to him, finding herself a seat amidst a small pile of fine pillows, wasted in this filth. "How much do you know of what is happening in the keep?" She sips, tucking her legs beneath her as she settles in.

'None? Did you even try?' He seems to assuage her with questions, far too more than he liked, but then again, it has always been, him asking questions.

'The keep.' Another trace of bitterness finds its way into his soft voice again as he finds a place to sit, snatching the precious water up, though not drinking but wetting a sleeve and placing the damp material over one side of his parched gills. 'Dire, 'arven. Sorcerous wards do naught, and I hear more cries of unseen horror within the walls every night. Braiden has returned and quelled the one know as Vanelorne, but I fear, it is not the end.' The sea-elf gasps a little as his gills soak up the water in his sleeve greedily.

Rowanne watches him with mild interest in the dim lighting, her mind barely registering the words anyway. "I suppose it matters little how they scatter now." She sighs heavily, quelling the rise of bitterness snatching at her words.

"The seals that were found, in the cellars, do you recall these?" A small coughing fit from the opposite end of the tent echoes uncomfortably between the pause of silence.

Falennt glances up, tilting his head towards the cough. 'I remember.' He shifts his gaze towards her again, flicking his tongue over his lower lip. 'What of them?'

She sets the cup aside, letting the question stand while she routinely sets to replacing the small rag at the king's ashen forehead from the makeshift nursemaid's table beside him. She speaks as her fingers deftly work the cool waters across his brow. "He is one with those wretched lands in more ways than perhaps most of us had first understood." She wrings the cloth out, replaces it to his crackled flesh, and resumes her seat across from her long time friend and apprentice.

"When I first came to him seeking his guidance he promised me a wealth of knowledge. Yet I cared little for any of the lures of magery aside from the promise of his dark arte." She smiles nostalgically, slipping into a revery of memories long since past. "And teach me well he did. Even his own sacred magicks." She meets the sea-elf's gaze squarely. "The very gift I was always so cautious to never speak of, and the very same you always knew I hid from you."

Falennt draws his legs under him, hearing the dry leather of his boots cracking, 'Is there anything I can do then?' His eyes move barely to the comatose form of the king and back to his mentor. 'The Keep, her people, your people, 'arven.'

Falennt would draw closer if he could, but he stays his ground, settling his dust-blown cloak by his side as he tugs slowly at the collar of his shirt, ''arven' He replies, feinting a tired smile. 'You know how much I take after you, I care to keep the castle and her towers intact for your return, yet,' He passes a glance at the king again and back to her, 'I doubt you would. Tell me, how can I preserve your legacy, 'arven, even if the stones of the rose castle fall into oblivion.'

Rowanne shakes her head, "Were it as simple as a mere request, I'd have long since complied." She reaches back for her cloak, rummaging through its deep folds. "And in truth, perhaps it best I save us both time and simply show you."

She tears the thick lining of the fabric, retrieving a squat tome, careful to keep its cover concealed in a swatch of the torn cloak. "I will use no magicks around him. It serves only to bring the curse closer to him."

Rowanne holds the precious bundle out to him more in supplication than offering. "My father gave this to me as a parting gift when I left his tutelage. In the years to follow I have filled it with the sacred teachings my mentor has passed to me."

Falennt bites gently on his lower lip, moving from his seated position to kneel almost before her, his eyes leveling to her face. His throat bobs softly, and his hands reach out to take the tome from her.

''arven, this, and all that you had left, your legacies, and heritage in the Sorcere's shadows, I will protect with my heart.' His head lowers a little, something odd catching in his voice.

A twinge of remorse taints her features as the book is passed from hand to hand, feeling much as though yet another part of her has been discarded. "There are some arts that can be taught but once in a lifetime…"

Rowanne continues, her works shaky. "For so many years we lived out our passions in shadow and secret. And each moment I have painstakingly documented amidst those very pages. The rituals, the words, the promises… all of it scripted upon those pages."

Falennt closes long fingers over the ancient tome, something bright and discordant singing through his mind. A dark frown scatters upon his oddly handsome face as he quels the jagged chords of the music he heard, 'I will read them, every single word. 'arven, you are not returning anymore then?' He sits back on his heels, still in that kneeling position, his eyes leveling at her altitude again, 'Are you returning?'

Her own dark fingers close around his wrist, squeezing gently. "Falennt.. understand that I cannot again pass this to another." She searches his eyes, her own pleading that he indeed understand the implications. "Tariq el-Haqim" she whispers, leaning in close to him. "The path of blood. The very magicks that have bound me to him, and him to those dying lands."

Pupils dilating at her touch, Falennt nods, turning his eyes downwards at the tome he held, 'It will not be passed on.' He assures her, turning his hand and grasping her fingers with his own. The implication he understood, or that it might just lead him into his own deathwish, he was certain. 'I will keep it hidden.' He mouths, reaching out and pulling his thick cloak over the ancient volume.

Rowanne closes her eyes, exhaling a long held breath of hope. After a long moment of selfish indulgence, her eyes again reopen, mirroring a fire of their former life. "Listen carefully then, and ask question only after I have explained, aye?"

Settling back the tome on his lap, the sea-elf nods, the dryness of his gills making him uncomfortable, but nonetheless his silvery orbed eyes focus on his mentor as her former semblance ignites that long-forgotten memory of her in him.

Rowanne keeps her words barely audible, as though in hiding from either the dormant necromancer or the very shadows in which she's shrouded him. "Khalid is a walking curse of Set, himself. And by our blood bonding, I too carry a variation of this taint."

"What little I have learned of those seals where the very words you will come to recognize within the pages. The keep slowly suffocates beneath another Setite curse, the likes of which are beyond my understanding."

Rowanne glances to the still form of the king apologetically, "He was deteriorating rapidly amidst that awakening curse, and I spared only minimally behind because of the immunities granted by natural heritage."

Falennt merely dips his chin as she continues to speak, listening in silence, the night winds of the desert buffeting the tent they are enclosed in - a desolate haven, accentuated by the kismet of his mentor's words.

She pauses, assuring herself he's absorbing the information before continuing. "I hide him away from Set's awareness, yet this meager attempt is all I dare. By the very connection I share with Khalid my return to the Sorcere and those walls would be our demise." She reaches back, sweeping aside her silvery mane to unfasten the clasp of her only remaining amulet. She holds the glowing pentagram out to her apprentice, its thorned points dimming their pulsation.

'You will not return then.' Falennt thins his lips, no smile upon his face as he fixates his eyes upon the pentagram held out to him by her, 'If there is no hope of your return, I will bring the protection wards around the castle down.'

Falennt's hands move, to take that pentagram from her, fear etching around his heart. A last gift? He dares not envision it, 'Why do you give this to me?'

"The circle itself thrives still with my magicks and likely still under the protection of what remains of the Azure Rose. Take this and summon the circle as your own while there still stand what glyphs remain to veil your workings."

Rowanne continues despite the sinking of her heart or the sudden urge to spare him from this knowledge entirely. "Bring up the vaults and salvage what artifacts you are able before they too fall tainted. Paramount amongst them, find the umbral blade of Bakh nagh."

''arven, I would tear the magic of the very stones and take them away with me.' Falennt's voice hardens as his mentor stops speaking, 'I have already begun instructing my own apprentice to open the vaults and keep our artifacts.'

Falennt pauses, fingers curling around the pentagram, feeling the thorns eat at his flesh. It pulsates against his skin softly. 'The blade, 'arven, do you remember where it is then?'

Drained and lately much more weary than even her years should denote she nods, pushing herself to her feet with a noticeable effort and a dry, humorless chuckle. "The mumified feline you once took note of in my chambers?"

Rowanne manages a grin, a remnant shadow of her former sardonics, over her shoulder as she returns to the small cot-side table. "It was more than mere decor, I assure you.

'It is in that creature?' His gaze latches onto her moving form, his tongue slipping out to wet his lip, feeling the parched, papery texture of it. He does not grin, traces of his youth returning to the way he questions her, reminiscent of the nights they spend musing over tomes and maps in the Tower.

Smiling down upon the rather ghastly husk that is her beloved she routinely dips and re-dips the cloth into the fetid turning water, caressing it over and again against his taut flesh. "His Majesty was indeed fond of the trappings of his homeland. Rowanne lays a light kiss against Anmect's sleeping lips, pulling the silken coverlet up to his chin. From within the cramped tent's confines she retrieves a satchel, proceeding to check it's herbal and oddly colored vial contents.

"These should sustain you on the trip back. Most I have taken from the shelves you stocked, thus you'll recognize each with ease." She tosses the satchel to him, crossing the small footage to a mere inches away.

Falennt pulls himself to his feet, draping his cloak around his body, and putting the swathed tome away into one of the folds. The pentagram, he hesitates again as he clutches it, catching the satchel with another hand firmly.

'I will not see you again, won't I, 'arven?' He steps forward, tilting his head again, eyes vacantly searching her face. For now, he would break the tradition and allow his emotions to seep in, the fear and grief drifting into his words.

Rowanne smiles tiredly into his eyes and lays an almost too cold hand lightly upon his cheek. "You have always been my most prized, Falennt. Of all others, my most favored." She extends a silent exchange between them, the brief silence speaking meaning enough. Finally she reluctantly pulls her hand away from him, from the brief peace of nostalgia he graced upon her. "Go then and see that my pride is not misplaced in you."

A sudden burst of wind blows hollowly over the barren wastelands.
The sun's radiance dims as it sinks in the sky.
The night begins.

Falennt shuts his eyes momentarily, before they open. His hand reaches out for hers and pulls his mentor near. ''arven,' He muses and decides not to say anything anymore and he brings his lips close to kiss her cold cheek gently. 'I will remember you, 'arven, within the shrine I have built for you, in my heart.' He mouths, dropping his grasp and moving away to bow to her respectfully, as apprentice to mentor, one last time.

Rowanne dips her head to him both in a final offering of equality and respect, but also to mask the sting of tears she can no longer fight back. At the sound of his departure's footfalls she whispers into the silent tent, "Shadows bless you, my Falennt. Always." She seals the wish with a kiss to her fingertips then placed to her heart. "Always."

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