This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
A Chat with Leothan
Jim Vassilakos (email@example.com) In this excerpt, Jinx is not yet a goddess but is still powerful enough to play power-politics in the realms of mortals and thus manipulate the affairs of men. During her “vacation” following the conclusion of her first mission for Hell, she started doing just that, attempting to forge a nation led by her own set of trusted subordinates, none of whom realized that she was merely conducting a political experiment in racial harmony.
When last we left Jinx, she had just cajoled Lady Ashmnet of Cheapside to accompany her on a quick jaunt to the former treehome of Fluxus, north of the elfin enclave of Ludgates1. They set out at daybreak, flying Laertes over open sea until they came upon thick green forest undulating over grass covered hills. Even from above the foliage, it wasn’t hard to see why the elves had chosen this land to hold out against mannish incursions. No doubt, its chaotic and overgrown nature made wagon travel difficult at best, as well as providing the elves with all manner of nooks and crannies from which to ambush invaders. Likewise, there were no shortage of tales about how the elves had enlisted the land’s wildlife in their mutual defense. And so, perhaps it should have come as no surprise that when Laertes finally descended to the forest’s floor just a short distance from the “L” shaped hill which Furcas had mentioned in his directions, all the birds and even the insects fell quiet, as though the merest peep could be their last. “Ever get the feeling you’re being watched?” Ashmnet quips. “Constantly,” Jinx replies, touching her necklace, then turns to head up the hill, Ashmnet at her side. They make it about three quarters of the way to the top before they hear a loud shout from the crest where there grows a large marombu tree. “Halt!” the voice cries out in Sylvan. Jinx stops, looking through the mess of foliage, trying to spot the speaker. “You approach your deaths, you who are not of this land!” “I am of this land, elf,” Ashmnet steps forward, “and I am half-kin to your people.” “Who are you then, and what is your business?” “Ashmnet of Cheapside. We come seeking knowledge of the Isles of Oblivion.” “You’ll find no such knowledge here. Now go and do not return.” “We come in peace with the purpose of saving lives.” “Then may you go in peace and save your own lives.”
Kudos to anyone who can figure out where in D&D-land this is.
At this turn of negotiations, Ashmnet steps back and looks at Jinx. “How very rude. Shall we blast him?” “Let me try,” Jinx smiles, stepping forward to try her luck. “We come seeking the offspring of Fluxus, and we will not be departing until we speak with him.” “I am he who you seek, and it is I, Leothan, son of Fluxus, who bid you to leave.” “I fear I must decline. I come seeking knowledge.” “And I already told you, I have none to offer.” “Leothan,” she finally spots him, his bow at the ready, past a maze of trunks and fallen branches, “I much prefer to see what information you have with your approval, but either way, I will have what I seek. We come not to bring harm to you. We just want to know if the magic cast by your father is waning.” “Ah... the dragon attack on Cheapside. A sad day for slavers everywhere.” “Perhaps soon they will attack the elves as well.” “I think not. No doubt the fetid stench of misery offended their delicate, draconic nostrils.” “Whatever the reason, we come seeking assurance that the magic of Fluxus remains in force.” “Then I give you that assurance. If the dragons were free to have their way, you would surely know it.” “And what if your father’s grave has been disturbed?” Jinx replies, withdrawing the halfmoon crown from her bag of holding. For a moment, there is only the noise of the wind rustling amidst the leaves. “Where did you get that?” “I think you know where.” “Come closer, but keep your hands out where I can see them.” As they approach, Jinx can see he has an arrow trained on them, but no ordinary arrow. This one has magical runes etched upon its shaft, the purpose and power of which she can only guess. “Put it down, there, on the ground.” Jinx does, stepping away so he can get a closer look at the crown. Finally, he looks up, apparently satisfied as to its authenticity. “Who are you who would dare disturb my father’s grave?” “I didn’t know who it belonged to at the time, but rest assured that his bones remain as I found them.”
“And the guardians he summoned?” “The salamanders also remain. I convinced them that it was in their best interests to let me pass.” “Really. And what of the sheboleth?” “It was less reasoning and met with an untimely end.” Leothan stares, somewhat bewildered. “And what are you that you could defeat a sheboleth and frighten fire salamanders into submission?” “I’ve dealt with worse,” Jinx replies truthfully. “Besides, I didn’t fight solo. One of my ships had to stop near your father’s grave for repairs. I and one of my men ended up finding the caverns quite by accident.” “One of your ships, you say?” “Yes. I am a ruler in lands south of here.” “A ruler? What is your name?” “Leana.” 2 “I never heard of you. What lands do you rule?” Jinx opens her mouth, then closes it again, not quite sure how much she wants to tell Leothan, particularly out in the forest like this. “Might we go inside and sit? We’ve had a long journey.” “Long journey? On the back of your hellsteed?” Leothan brings his bow to bear upon her. “His name is Laertes, and I am very fond of him,” Jinx replies. “As I said before, Leothan, I come seeking knowledge, not loot. Now put away your weapon before my patience with you runs dry.” “Or better yet,” Ashmnet smiles, “use it and see what happens.” “You are in my domain, not your own, sorceress,” Leothan replies, but the quiver in his voice is hard to miss. “At least I have guards around my home,” Ashmnet returns. “You, on the other hand, seem to be all alone. How sad...for you.” “Looks can often be deceiving,” he grits his teeth, turning the bow toward her. “Cut the crap! If you had back up, you would have used that by now.” Leothan winces slightly as a bead of perspiration finds its way into his left eye. “Besides, you wouldn’t hurt a lady,” Ashmnet smiles. “Just try me.” “Put down the bow,” Jinx reiterates. “If we meant you any harm, you’d be dead, and your spirit would be in my possession.” Leothan blinks at her, not quite knowing what to say or how to react. Finally, glancing again toward the crown, he acquiesces, dropping his firing stance altogether and wiping his forehead with the back of his arm. “Fortunately, for you both, I am a devout pacifist.”
At that, Ashmnet breaks out laughing while Jinx, for her part, merely stands there trying to hold a straight face. “What’s so funny?” Leothan demands. “You find those who honor peace a source of mirth?” Ashmnet just laughs harder. “I too honor peace,” Jinx tells him. “I find it more profitable to build alliances with those who are worthy, however, those who cross me soon learn that I am no pacifist.” “Peace for profit’s sake,” he nods. “Not particularly commendable, but better than the barbarism exhibited by most humans.” “Who said I was human?” Jinx stares at him. “What are you then?” “I am no more human than Ashmnet,” she replies, looking at the half-elf who by now has finished wiping her eyes. “And as for my other half, let’s just say that it’s none of your business. You ask too many questions, Leothan. Now it’s my turn. What assurance can you give that the dragons are no threat to this area?” He thinks for a moment, as though pondering how to answer her question, “As I said before, if they were free to act as their instincts dictate...we would all know of it. There would be no question in your mind.” “That’s small assurance. What if your father’s spell is weakening with age? What if they have learned of his death and no longer fear his return?” Leothan thinks again, looking again at the crown still laying upon the grass. “The situation is slightly more complex than you imagine it. You should not have brought that thing here.” “Why not?” “If I should tell you that, the very knowledge could endanger us all. But now that it is here, we might as well bring it inside.” He picks the crown up, gingerly, closing his eyes for a moment. “I’m sorry father, for disturbing your sleep,” he whispers, walking slowly into his treehome with a sort of reverence to which both Jinx and Ashmnet are unaccustomed. As they follow, they see the marombu tree’s giant trunk has grown in the form of what is at least a three story dwelling, with winding bridges of woven vines and rootlike tendrils stretching upward as well as down to some sort of basement. Jinx has heard stories of these great trees, and how the elves have bred them, and used their magical arts to live within their treehomes in a sort of symbiosis, but never before has she seen one from the inside, the way the interior walls blend from ceiling to floor in such a aesthetically pleasing manner, the tree itself forming chairs, tables, shelves for things, all of them a living product of its own body. Leothan sets the crown upon the center table, taking a seat in a hammock chair of vines and leaves which hangs from the ceiling.
This is an alias that Jinx commonly uses for her own protection.
“Please, sit down,” he motions them to other similar chairs spaced evenly around the table. “Nice place,” Jinx says, sitting down, and admiring the way the vines conform to the contours of her back. She leans back and lets the chair take her weight. It is a place, she decides, she could easily fall asleep were she so inclined. “I like it,” Leothan nods. “But I’m being a poor host. Might I get you something to drink?” “No thank you, Leothan. I just want answers. Tell me about the crown. I could sense its magic clearly enough, but it seemed to have no purpose as far as I could discern.” “It was crafted by my father for a special purpose, one which he forbade me to speak of.” Jinx sighs, having half-expected such a response. “What can you tell me?” “In good conscience, precious little, except that your questions cut to the heart of matters which are both delicate and terrible. You ask much, you who would give me no more than a name.” “Why the secrecy?” Leothan regards her for a long moment, “If I tell you, I would be endangering us all... and not just us three, but many others, thousands of others. If you rule lands south of here, as you say, then take it on faith and by my promise that the son of Fluxus tells you the truth, and that what he holds secret is also in the interests of your lands to be so held.” “I don’t understand.” “Nor should you. It is a matter of faith. Either you trust in my word, or you don’t. I will admit, had you come alone, I would be less fearful, but that you brought with you the queen of the slavers...that is an affront to my very being and to that of any elf.” “Oh,” Ashmnet frowns, “kiss my ass, Leothan.” Ignoring her, Leothan continues, “Perhaps you could clear this up for me. What exactly is your connection to Cheapside?” “I’ve done business there.” “Slavery?” “Not exactly,” Jinx replies, recalling how she’d really only been interested in purchasing the bodies of slaves, not their actual minds. “Those who I purchased, I set free,” she says rather euphemistically. “I don’t understand.” “Nor should you,” she smiles somewhat sardonically. “It is a matter of faith that you should simply believe me.” “You toy with me.” “Only to the extent with which I feel I’m being toyed.” “I do not toy with you. What I say to you is the truth. There is danger in the secrets you wish to uncover, particularly for one who rules. Incidentally, you never did tell me where you rule.”
Jinx nods, “If I choose to, I could control Yolin, Abject, Foundation,” she glances toward Ashmnet, “and Cheapside as well as the drow.” He looks toward Ashmnet, perhaps for some sign of confirmation. The half-elf sorceress makes an unhappy face. “Control is a strong word. Influence perhaps.” “Be careful,” Jinx replies. “I heard from Danielle that...she’s a powerful necromancer.” “Necromancer? I should have guessed it from your steed.” “Thanks for helping,” Jinx says to Ashmnet. “Also, you’ll love this,” Ashmnet continues, “I’ve heard word that she’s also responsible for forging a pact between the humans and drow which included the solemn oath of none other than the Lord of Abject.” Leothan blinks, more than merely astonished. “A pact between humans and drow? What wickedness is this?” Jinx takes a deep breath, wondering whether and how she should punish Ashmnet. “It’s the sort of wickedness which saves a community of half-drow/half-elves who rebelled against their creators and only wished to live in peace with their human neighbors.” “Ah...the drow crossbreeds...a pitiable race, and a maliciousness their very creation.” “I suppose you think all crossbreeds are a pitiable maliciousness,” Ashmnet counters. “No, when they assist in the slavery of elves, that is when they cross into abomination.” “Your people didn’t seem to think so when they came to Cheapside to sell Runya.” “Hmm... to unthinkable crimes go unthinkable punishments,” he replies. “Runya was convicted of arson by our high council,” he explains for Jinx. “She concocted a magical fire which even the summoned rains couldn’t quench. It cost over a hundred elfin lives. Needless to say, hanging was too good for her.” “Why did she do it?” Jinx queries. “It was due to a clan feud which got out of hand. In any case, the most abhorrent punishment we could dream up was slavery. So we took her to Cheapside and sold her to the highest bidder who promised us she would live ever after confined to a single room inside a deep, dark dungeon, never again to the see the light of day nor the greenery of the earth. Every second spring we send an emissary just to make sure she’s still there.” “So you two have worked together before,” Jinx smiles. “Slavers native to Cheapside are continuously invading our lands, setting traps and searching for stray elves to take captive. When we find them, we kill them. That is the nature of our relationship, and it goes no further.” “I can’t help what a few idiots do,” Ashmnet counters. “Yes you can. Refuse to barter in elves.”
“Even I don’t have that sort of power.” “Then may you look forward to the dragons attacking you again in the future.” “Somehow, I don’t think you have that sort of power,” Ashmnet replies. “If you did, you would have used it long ago.” Leothan nods, “Right you are. But don’t ask me to shed tears on your behalf. Whatever reason they had to attack Cheapside, I’m sure it was justified.” Jinx and Ashmnet exchange glances, both of them knowing the truth of his words. “Whatever your grievance against Cheapside,” Jinx says to Leothan, “the half-drow committed no crimes of their own save for desiring simply to survive and fighting for their freedom. Do you consider those goals to be wrong?” “Of course not, but to forge a pact between drow and human will do absolutely no good and perhaps a great deal of harm.” “Why? You are against peace?” “I am against any strengthening of those who would war against my people.” “What if they could be guided toward a peaceful course?” “Only by the hands of gods could such guidance be maintained. Are you a god?” “I don’t believe in gods.” That stops him short, and Leothan just regards her for a long moment, as though he doesn’t quite know how to respond. “Come again.” “There are those,” Jinx explains, “who say the gods are only beings who have attained great magical powers, but in terms of their personal worth, they are no more innately deserving than you or I.” “You speak blasphemy,” he replies in a plain, matter of fact tone, but with just a trace of humored disbelief. “Blasphemy as defined by the so-called gods. Think about it.” “I am no scholar on such matters and am in no position to debate your theory, but I maintain that no matter your influence over the southern lands, you will not live forever, and when you are gone, all your work at peace, no matter who worthy you believe it to be, will bear the fruits of war and death. You are a fool if you believe otherwise.” Ashmnet smiles, “My long-lived half-kin bear an exceeding long-term view on political matters. Refreshing, don’t you think?” “The treaty must be self-enforcing through the precedents set in its early years,” Jinx replies, unfazed. “Eventually, one race must be made an example, and by their annihilation, and the legends of it, serve the greater good.”
“Ah,” Leothan nods rather too enthusiastically, “the annihilation of an entire race. Forgive me. I see you’ve actually thought this through.” “Yes, I have. It is my nature to think ahead and plan accordingly.” Leothan just stares at her for a long moment, quite certain that to laugh at her now could well mean his death. “You’re crazy,” he finally dares. “That is what fools always say in the presence of genius.” “So now I’m a fool?” “No more foolish than most,” she replies. “Just ask yourself, is my goal a worthy one?” “In the long term, if it could only be realized...yes.” “It can be. But it will demand a great deal of work and sacrifice. Call it an experiment, if you will. I like to think it is an experiment worth conducting.” “But who are you to even attempt it?” “Apparently, the only one present who can, which brings us back to the dragons. If they are a threat, I need to know about it. If they aren’t, I need to know why.” “And I already told you...” “...that I ask dangerous questions. Yes, I know these are dangerous questions, but I ask them anyway. And I will have answers. After all, Leothan, how long do you really think these lands will be safe? Do you honestly believe the work of your father will last forever? Or are all the people of these lands living on borrowed time?” He looks to Ashmnet, and she back at him. “I already told her about the time before your father.” Jinx nods, “She told me that before Fluxus, the dragons burnt the lands around them into charcoal on a fairly regular basis, and that there is no tree in this entire forest which dates back more than ten years before your father paid them his historic visit. This is true?” “Yes,” he nods. “It’s true. Back in those days, back in my early youth, we lived more in caves than trees. The humans also. Tribes of them came and saw the scorched earth and thought it ripe for the planting of grains. Some would plant and work the earth, and a few years later, the dragons would come out of the sky and torch their tents and fields and carry away their livestock and oftentimes their young as well as those stupid enough to fight back. These were dark lands, back then, red with the blood of the brave and foolish alike, and nothing which lived in one place lived for very long.” “After Fluxus visited the Isles of Oblivion,” Ashmnet picks up the story, “the dragons no longer attacked the lands of men or elves. They stayed mainly to their home, and so many generations of men grew to old age and died, never having seen a dragon. The tales of their forefathers became history, and history became legend...except, of course, to the elves, who have long lives as well as long memories.”
Leothan nods, “And all has been this way for many centuries now. But every day that I live, I remember the past and dread that it could one day return.” “That’s precisely what concerns me,” Jinx replies, “which is why you must tell me what you know.” “And what assurance do I have that what I say to you will not go forth from this place and cause our very fears to transpire?” “If it’s going to happen eventually anyway, the dragons must be dealt with. It’s only a question of when.” Leothan thinks for a long moment, shaking his head as though forcing himself to accept a decision he doesn’t truly agree with. “Come with me,” he finally says, getting back to his feet and taking the crown from the table. “Only her,” he says to Ashmnet. “You I definitely do not trust.” “You wound me,” Ashmnet pouts somewhat mockingly. Jinx ends up following him down to the basement where she sees he keeps something of a study. The walls are shaped as shelves, and they pack all manner of books and scrolls. As for illumination, it comes in varying hues from lightstones3 which are sprinkled about the place, sitting on shelves as well as the desk, one large one serving as a paper weight over a number of large scrolls upon which are drawn what appear to be cavern maps. “What the...” Leothan looks startled, “what are these doing...did you,” he looks back at Jinx, “how did you...just what sort of game are you playing with me?” “What are you talking about?” “These maps. Of the dragon caves!” He looks underneath them, “And my father’s journal! You’ve already been down here!” “No,” Jinx thinks for a moment, remembering who gave her directions, “but I have a feeling I know who has.” He quickly puts down the crown and pulls a book off the shelf behind the table, opening it to a particular page which Jinx can see contains a small extra-dimensional space. From this, he pulls out a locked box, and removing the key from a necklace which he wears, unlocks it, pulling out a familiar half-sphere gem, identical in color and size to the one affixed to the crown Jinx found at Fluxus’ grave. “Thank the gods,” he says, quickly stealing a glance toward Jinx. “Regardless of their true nature,” he adds. “Is this area protected from scrying?” Jinx queries. “Of course.” “A close friend of mine told me where to find you. I suspect it was he or one of his minions who was here earlier. He obviously wanted me to find these things in case...you and I did not get along very well.” Small crystals upon which Continual Light has been cast.
“He obviously underestimates your powers of persuasion.” “Either that or your wisdom,” she replies. “What of the gem? Is it twin to the one on the crown?” Leothan nods, “I will tell you, but you must swear to me to tell no other...ever.” “I can swear only that I will protect the knowledge according to its value and do with it as benefits both our lands and people.” “In other words, I’m just supposed to trust you?” “On faith,” she nods. “And I swear to you that I shall not break that trust.” He nods, not fully satisfied, yet neither unreasoning in his hesitation, and taking a deep breath, he looks toward the crown once again. “As I said, you should not have brought that thing here. It should have remained buried in a hole and left to rest.” “Is that your father’s wish, or yours?” “He did not want it found. I can assure you of that.” “You don’t need to assure me. What he had guarding it was more than sufficient for the powers of this area.” “I suppose so,” Leothan nods. “Among his last words to me were that if anyone should ever come here holding his crown, it would be best not to anger them.” “That must be why you were shitting bricks.” “Such a colorful expression,” Leothan remarks. “That and the fact that my students are away to Ludgates on a job...something about investigating a small mystery. Just my luck that you should show up on the very morning they leave.” “Was it a woman or a man who hired them?” “An elf woman. She arrived only last night.” “Gold eyes...like the morning sun?” “How did you know that?” “Just a guess. It was she who came in here and set these maps out...probably this very morning before I arrived. It is my friend’s way of saying hello and that he still thinks of me,” Jinx smiles. “Then anything I say to you might as well go directly from my mouth into his ear.” “Knowing him as I do, he probably already knows this secret you keep.” “Then why doesn’t he speak to you directly and save me the trouble?” “I’m sure he has his reasons,” Jinx ponders, wondering what they might be. “Enough chit-chat. Tell me...what’s the secret of the half spheres?” Leothan just stares blankly ahead, weighing what he has just learned. “Leothan,” Jinx continues, “there are two ways you can answer my questions. This is the better of the two.” “You threaten me?” he says, emotionless. “There is no reason for us to be enemies. We can be friends, you and I. It is my wish that this be so, but in order for that to happen, you must trust me.”
“Just tell me who it is, this friend of yours who sent his minion to spy on me.” “Someone who I hold dearer than any other, someone who I trust more than anyone I’ve ever trusted, and someone to whom I shall one day be wed, and if you tell anyone that secret, my greatest secret, I will kill you. I promise you that.” Leothan gulps down, transfixed by the deadly seriousness of her gaze. “Very well,” he finally replies, “but it is with the greatest reservations that I tell you this story. The greatest reservations. As you no doubt already know, the tales told of my father are that he and his band visited the Isles of Oblivion and overcame the dragons through magic and ingenuity...not to mention a touch of luck, but not without suffering great loss. Except for the part about great loss, the tales are utterly false. He did not win. He was slain along with most of his comrades, a scant few scattered in retreat. The dragons used soulstones to capture the spirits of those they had killed, and they offered these as sacrifice to a dark god who had some time earlier forged a pact with them.” “Forged a pact with the dragons?” “Yes. I do not know all the details. My father could not remember everything clearly. He had died, and he found himself...his soul... in a place of torment, apparently forsaken by his own god. However, the dark god came to him and said that he could have his life back, if only he would drink of a cup of wine in honor of his eternal servitude.” “I don’t understand.” “My father didn’t understand either. Although a great mage, he had little experience with demons. But he knew enough to know that making pacts or agreeing to any form of service was a bad idea, regardless of the circumstances. So when he refused, the demon said that he had already learned from the others the location of our caves, and that he would send the dragons to kill us all so that he could be joined by his family, my mother and myself, as well as our entire clan, in eternal suffering. The only other choice was to take the drink, which the demon admitted would corrupt his soul, slowly and insidiously, and to forfeit his own soul upon death.” “To recognize the demon as his rightful god,” Jinx nods, “so that his true god would have no claim upon his soul and no reason to seek his rescue. It makes sense.” “You can see why my father accepted the offer?” “Shortsighted, but yes. He did not know the ways of gods.” “The deal was even better than that. My father somehow convinced the demon to swear that while his soul was still his own, the dragons would not be permitted to attack the lands of men or elves any longer. This would make him a great hero, he said, which
would make him all the more useful for the time when he would serve his dark master. The demon agreed.” “What demon?” “He gave no name.” “Strange.” “When my father returned, a hero as well you can imagine, he told not the truth of what happened, but rather a made-up story, as his heart was already succumbing to the demon wine he had been forced to drink, and truth mattered to him not so much any longer. A short while after that, he killed one of his apprentices in a fit of rage. He knew what he was quickly becoming, and so he locked himself away, and would come out for nobody...not even our elfin lord who, to his credit, was smart enough to stay away, although not smart enough to withhold his messengers...one of whom my father changed into a fish.” “He met the messenger at the coast?” “No...just outside. I quickly got a pot and made some water, but he must have been a salt water fish. He didn’t make it.” Jinx tries hard to suppress a chuckle. “What about the half-spheres?” “My father killed himself and had it arranged so that his soul would go immediately into a small soulstone. At the very instant this happened, it was my job to read a scroll he had prepared in advance in order to sever the soulstone cleanly in half, so as not to break its magic, but to separate his very spirit into two different parts. His analysis was that the demon would search in vain for his soul and eventually give up, not realizing the truth of what had happened.” “A demon cheated would never adhere to his part in any bargain,” Jinx says. “Whatever captured your father and made a pact with him was most likely a devil, but that still doesn’t explain the secrecy of his name. Most devils are vain to the point they would want their names broadcast far and wide.” “And you know this because?” “I read a lot of books,” she replies. “Ashmnet told you I was a necromancer. That I dabble in demonology should be of no surprise.” “Dabble? Did you get your steed from dabbling?” “Laertes? No, we go back a ways. It’s not important. Hey,” Jinx puts her hands on her hips, “I’m the one asking the questions. What about the great whirlpool that stays to the isles?” “On the way back home, it came to my father’s boat. They feared it would attack them, and my father tried to open a link to its mind. Although he managed to get it to leave them alone, whatever else he sensed disturbed him, and he would not speak of it, except to say that the thing was alive.” (That’s all…for now.)
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.