The red wine lingered on each taste bud of Pandora’s tongue as she laid herself down for rest. She inhaled the fragrance of her bear fur as she laboriously slumped it over her shoulder. The ranger’s head spun with wine, a belly full of meat, and a heart full of laughter. Weeks had passed since the last time anyone relaxed or even smiled. Pandora had only ever known Oriseus, the magus, to be grim and tormented. However, his conviction for finding an exit had only grown stronger and caused a furrowed brow. Pandora imagined it would become a permanent effect. Even Houn’s, the amorous rogue, attempts to flirt with their healer Mainika or entertain the group seemed forced and lacked creativity. Tempers flared and a fight between the druid Drugaes and Oriseus nearly ended in bloodshed. Had party members not intervened, risking their own lives, surely one of them would have perished. Every member had been wearing thin. The only thing getting thicker was the film of oily filth which covered their bodies and had seeped into their very being. The dark, depressing dankness of the underground caves ate at their flesh, into their bones, into their core. It was as though a gaunt pestilential bonedrinker had attached its wriggling pale tentacles into everyone’s body to slowly consume their marrow and spirits. It is an oozing undead humanoid parasite which feeds solely on the bone of its victims. It’s permeating stench resembled the rotting puss of an abscessed sore under the sweaty folds of a grave dirt golem on a sticky humid swamp afternoon. Although the depressing caverns felt endlessly draining, it broke for a few hours that day.
Much earlier, the group discovered many valuables among Natasha’s belongings. Along with Natasha’s cumbersome stack of notes and diary logs, a plentiful bounty of fine wine, water, meats, and cheeses had been hauled to their safe haven. Alaric’s tomb, and site of Pandora’s baptism, held the only sanctuary against the unremitting danger their adventure had taken them. However, that day was worthy of celebration.
While the rest of her party lugged their newly acquired booty, Pandora’s linguistic capability had allowed her to lounge in the tomb as she read through the Drow scrawling of Natasha’s logs. To her relief and excitement, she discovered everything the group needed to free themselves from their duty. Though her discoveries were enough for joviality, it was the edibles which uplifted the ranger. Up until the ransacking of Natasha’s personal quarters, they had been living off Mainika’s conjured goodberries and individuals’ rations. Pandora, being a skilled ranger, added variety to her diet with whatever crunchy, slimy, or prickly insects and juicy rats she could kill. Not to deny her attempts to share her bounty with her party members, though they never agreed.
With the thought of her improvised meals, she let out a drunken chuckle into her bear fur while she reminisced about her attempt to get Oriseus to eat nutritious bat guano and rabbit droppings.
For hours, they passed cups of wine amongst each other and some indulging themselves straight from the cask tap itself. The tomb filled with songs, stories, and jokes from everyone’s home lands. It was nice to hear Mainika sing something other than healing spells. To which it was suggested Houn take a few lessons. They taught each other drinking games. To everyone’s surprise, Magnus was consistently a top contender. They all agreed, her years as a lawyer gave her an advantage. So, it came down to games of athleticism. While Pandora and Drugaes were always the first to fall on the floor laughing, the magus and senior rogue followed shortly , and Mainika gracefully declining to look like a fool, that meant with Aaliyah’s circus experience was against Magnus’s ability as a monk. Bets were placed, won, and lost as they played their games. That night of good wine and better company warmed them from the inside out. The tainted stain of gloom had been washed from them.
As Pandora retired herself to her drunken thoughts and laughter, a low Chessentan taunt playfully jaunted across the room, “Oh dear, first one down. We’ll have to… work on that. When we get back to the city, you and I will have to spend a night, or three, in a tavern. Houn, you’ll have to join of course. May I suggest not the Kraken’s Afterbirth.”
Without looking, her sharp Elven ears picked up the crooked flirtatious smile curling Oriseus’s lips and the predictable look on Houn’s face.
“So there really is an establishment too low for you?” the ranger retorted.
Content with her sharpness amongst a swimming mind, she exhaled a loud drawn out yawn. Her long aching limbs stretched like a bowstring.
Before giving anyone a chance at a comment, Pandora quickly stated, “For being a Drow, Natasha has decent taste in wine. I’m surprised she would drink anything other than mushroom wine.”
Pandora admits to herself, thinking back on the large gulps of red wine she ingested and thankful she was not accosted with the foul flavor of Drow wine. With that thought her heart began to ache.
The group laugher and Oriseus’s comments fell on deaf ears. As Pandora turned her back to the group, her large hot tears plopped silently from her face as she drifted to sleep.
The sun’s glow warmed her exposed skin. The fresh grass beneath her body was cool and comforting. It was a pleasant contrast to the sun’s rays. She inhaled the wild free air deep into her lungs. Earthy aromas of soil mixed in harmony with the sweet fragrances of pollen as they danced within her nostrils. The insect hum serenaded her. She opened her eyes and saw her love, Bystal, while he groggily adored her. His luminous green eyes filled her with serenity. For several moments they laid there gazing upon one another while fingers
ran long bare flesh.
Her eyes took in every detail of his face. Though he was not as striking as most Elves, she found him the most handsome. His lush black eyelashes accented his kind almond shaped eyes while bringing out the brightness of their pale green color. His nose and eyebrows traditionally elven sharp but his strong jaw and cleft chin surely were not. Before she knew it, her fingers stroked his thick deep auburn curls.
“I have always envied your hair,” She smiled.
“Is that why you keep your locks in dreads?” Bystal smiled and pulled her head towards his for a welcoming kiss. The taste of his mouth had not faded from Pandora’s memory.
“The only person to be envied is you.” He said once their lips parted.
His eyes slowly and lovingly washed over her while she wildly blushed. His hands cupped the cheeks of her face for another lovers welcome. She rolled into Bystal’s arms and looked up at him. Her bright copper hair rested in the grass. Lover’s hands caressed one another’s.
Contently she sighed, “Do you think our daughter would have had your hair?”
A frown stretched Pandora’s face as she said, “We had a girl. So they told me.”
Billowing clouds began to roll in. The sunshine dimming and her skin began to pucker as the warmth faded.
“Those who rescued me brought her cold body with them. I could not bring myself to look at her. To hold her. To attend her funeral. Yours either," she choked out.
She could feel the pressure fill her chest and her throat tighten. Cold wind blew across their loving embrace.
She said, “I miss you…Every day. I see your face in such anguish every night I sleep.”
Her voice cracked as did distant thunder, “I saw you. I felt you in everything at home.”
Her eyes fluttered as she fought off her tears. “I wish we had not parted. I wish to be with you in death. I tried once. An alchemist potion I stole. One of my hand maidens found me unconscious with the bottle and forced her finger down my throat. I was sick for days, but it was nothing compared to the pain of feeling your emptiness in my world. I suppose that is why I put myself in danger. It distracts me, and in some way I hope each battle will bring me closer to you.”
Her face became wet with sorrow like the ground became with the pattering of rain drops. Her chest heavy like being trapped under a boulder. Bystal watched her with great anguish while she made her confession.
He said, “My love, the only thing which brings me misery is watching yours.”
His hands dried her face and the droplets of rain followed suit as he comforted her, “Though the weave of life is complex, mysterious, and fraught agony, it can also be wonderful.”Bystal’s voice cleared of pain just as the heavy clouds retreated from the sky. He looked solidly into her eyes and continued, “Extinguish your anguish. Walk no longer on the journey wrought with guilt my sweet love. Be at peace and let go of melancholy’s hand.”
Pandora’s heart swelled as she resisted his words, “Much easier said than done. What if I don’t want to? What if I forget you? I cannot draw breath if you are not part of me.”
Laugher spurted from Bystal’s lips, “I see your stubborn attitude has not wavered. I will always be part of you. My memory should not be tainted with such great pain. Think of me the way you loved me. The way you would sneak into the woods with me. Remember me as I am now.”
The sun glowed on them once again and he kissed her passionately. “When have you ever forgotten anything?”
Pandora blushed again and heartedly chuckled. She knew exactly what he meant.
He continued to assure her, “We will be together soon enough. And hastening our reunion will only bare fruits of futility and hurt. Trust me Pandora, you are purposefully on this journey.”
Gently, his lips pressed against her forehead and his hand rested on her heart. Calm once again, she took in the experience of being with her love again.
She said tenderly and earnestly, “I am…I will always be in love with you.”
Bystal’s arms lifted her into a strong embrace and she buried her face into his shoulder.
He stroked her hair and whispered softly, “As will I”.
He laid her down onto the grass. The moment Pandora’s back hit the ground it became hard and cold. It was stone.