Chapter 1: situation normal...
A flicker of shadow crossed the stone rooftops of proud, wealthy Palanthas. A twist, a leap, a graceful flip backwards... and the silence was caught by a thin rope gone taught, snagged by the ankle in mid-plummet.
Three airborne heartbeats, and a pair of gloved hands broke the quiet against the side of the structure. Seven more upside-down heartbeats, and the lithe figure had hand-walked to the side. Four more and the simple lock on the high window was easily picked.
Twenty in all since the flip, and Akara had wide open access.
Of course, she reasoned, her heartbeats weren't all that fast just now anyway. She braced her hands against the window-sill and twisted her ankle just -so-. The loop around it came free as she lunged forward, bending at the waist to fit through in a single motion.
Coming up from her roll through the window, the masked thief rose to her feet and turned briefly to close the shutters, but did not latch them. The window itself was left open, and the tip of her rope was left dangling outside, swaying just slightly in a faint breeze.
/ Too easy. /
She crept forward through the darkened room to a door with light streaming from beneath it. Right on time, the light increased and then wavered as it was carried past this door to the bedchamber next to it. A door opened and closed, the light vanished.
The thief pulled a small pouch from her belt and opened it, producing an even smaller glass vial. She pulled one of her gloves off, holding it beneath her arm, and stuck a finger in the opening of the container. A glob of cooking grease came out, and she busied herself for a few moments with the exposed hinges of the door.
Akara pushed her ear to the door and waited until she heard loud snores from the room over. She then waited further, until the footsteps of the upper-level's single night guard had passed twice. No change, same exact routine this house had held to for the last three nights she'd watched it.
/ Way too easy. /
She re-corked the vial, re-attached its leather pouch to her belt, and pulled her glove back on. The door eased open without a sound, turning on freshly-greased hinges.
/ Rather dull, actually. /
Thin-soled boots made no noise on the expensive stone floor as she crept out into the hall, turning right to follow the path of the guard. She caught up to him as he came to the end of his path, turned with him as though dancing on his shadow, so close she could have bit the back of his neck.
He marched forward, and Akara went down a side passage.
/ He's lucky I'm not a vampire, or... something! /
This hall was narrow and had no windows, accessible only through the way she'd just come. Clever, really, and enough to stop some thieves... but by settling into a routine they had defeated the building's defenses easier than anything Akara herself could have done. She idly wished she had a quill and some paper, just so she could stick a 'TAG! You're IT!' sign on the guard on the way out.
That almost made her snicker, but she held it down. Leaving signs on her hapless victims had become one of her calling-cards, though the only one she ever prepared a note for in advance was...
Her target door was at the end of the hall, locked. She knelt in front of it with her picks, working on the mechanism with an unhurried air. Never mind that if the guard came full-circuit again he was likely to notice her in the torchlight, right here in plain view.
It had been a while since she'd had a good chase. It was almost tempting to start dancing around in the hall and bang on the walls, maybe sing really off-key and loud, just to liven the gig up a bit. Unlike the Kender race her skills were often compared to, Akara knew she was stealing, did it quite intentionally. She also knew what would happen to her if she was ever actually caught, and most importantly... she -feared- those consequences.
But at the same time, she lived off the drug the danger produced, perhaps even thrived on it.
And Adrenalin, like any drug, was something you grew a resistance to. A lot of things didn't scare her now that had terrified her most deliciously only a few years ago. Five years now, she'd lived in this city and lived off its wealthy, stupid upper-class. Five years, and that thrill was harder and harder to find.
Except in one place...
The lock clicked faintly, and the door swung inwards.
/ Why did they even bother to lock the thing? Someone really ought to tell them that their locks are all crap in this place. /
Akara entered the room, silently closing the door behind her before pausing to let herself adjust to the complete darkness. Once it stopped feeling like someone had slipped a blindfold over her head, the thief felt her way forward.
Well away from the door, she blindly pulled a small torch from the side of her boot, and lit it with two small pieces of flint from another pouch. Mages had their spell components, she had the tools of her trade.
She crossed the chamber to a simple chest, wondering just how -dumb- the owner could possibly be. Akara pulled it open and sighed, out loud, in disappointment. There, glittering in the light of her little torch, was the wealth of the politician she was robbing.
/ I swear they get dumber every day. What's this, he couldn't even hide it under some spare socks? Oh, noooo, gotta have it handy for showing off... /
The thief unrolled a dark, thick canvas bag that had been stuck through her belt, pulling it open before beginning to scoop bits of jewelry and smaller pouches of gold into it. She picked through the lot as she went, taking things that could be easily pounded into unrecognizable bits and sold for their metal. This was better than things that held more value as an artistic (and distinctive) shape.
One item she picked up deliberately, a pendant, -was- in a rather distinctive shape. She smirked, though, and added it to the bag.
Loot collected, she closed the chest and blew out her torch, waiting for it to cool before she strapped it back to her boot. The bag had pull-strings, and she tied the top before tying it firmly across her back like a sword scabbard.
Down the side-hall again, to where the guard made his way back and forth. Akara tried to resist, she really did, but she failed in the end. Timing it just so that she would appear as the guard turned to come back her way, the thief waltzed around the corner into view, as though dancing with an invisible partner.
The guard gaped, then shouted the alarm as he drew his sword and charged at her from the far end of the hall. Akara, also yelling the alarm (for she was the helpful sort, she always said), -also- charged down the hall toward the guard. The bedroom door opened and its occupant poked his head out just as she arrived, but she shoved him back into his room in passing.
She grabbed the wall between the two doors and hurtled herself to the side into the dark room she'd come in through, sprinting across the room just as the guard burst into it. Akara dived through the flimsy shutters and grabbed her rope, swinging out and to the side.
By the time the guard reached the window, she'd pulled herself and her rope up to the rooftop like an adrenalin-fueled spider, and was choking down her laughter. Sitting back on the roof for a moment to catch her breath, the thief rummaged in her bag and withdrew the pendant that had caught her eye, holding it up to inspect it in the dual moonlight.
A stylized golden "R". Akara smirked, knowing whose birthing day it was in two days, and where she'd be delivering this.
Chapter 2: ...all f***ed up
The fading light of evening passed through the branches of a tall tree before streaming in through the loft window of the Golden Hourglass tavern and inn. It made patterns on the far wall, over the top of the closed trapdoor, and every time the wind brushed the leaves outside the pattern shifted.
Akara yawned, watching the dance of shadows and light for a few moments, blurry-eyed, before rolling back over on her straw pallet and tossing an arm over her eyes. A light snoring was soon coming from the thief, proving once again that light and noise could be ignored by the nocturnal.
And there was noise. The tavern two levels down had opened its doors for the evening a few hours ago, and the dinner crowd had filed in accordingly. Pots and pans were banged and slammed in the kitchen two levels directly beneath her, and the inn level began to show life as well. Travelers returned to their rooms after wandering the town for the day, shuffling belongings and slamming doors, yelling back and forth on the second level.
Out in the street, horses neighed and people yelled, fights broke out and children screamed. But here on the third floor of the building, Akara snored on.
It wasn't until several hours later, after the sun had set completely and the tavern below had settled into its nightly pattern, that she stirred again. The thief rolled off of her pallet in a tangle, her threadbare blanket wound tightly around her legs until she sat up and pulled them free. A soft tinkling of her loot bag was heard from inside the deliberate mess, and she pulled it free as well.
Nobody got the drop on Akara while she was asleep, that was -her- job to do to -others-. The only time anyone had tried it on her had been her first morning in this room, asleep on the pallet directly under the room's only window. The figure had slid the expensive pane of glass aside, and put one leg over the sill before his foot caught mid-air.
Off-balance like that, it had only taken a good shove to send the figure crashing three levels down, entirely missing the tree branch he'd used to get to the window in the first place. From the sound of it, though, he'd hit a few others on the way to the ground. Akara had peered out over the window to look at the mess, (he'd had a broken nose and leg... but was alive), before she had wordlessly slid her window shut again. And back to sleep she'd gone.
Apparently word had spread fairly quickly that the loft room of the Golden Hourglass wasn't a good spot to loot, because no one had bothered her again. Not that they would have gotten very far, with a bell rigged to the trap door and her sleeping right under the window. Never mind that she always kept her unsold loot tangled in her blanket with her on even the hottest days, and most of her legitimate money was hidden elsewhere.
/ Certainly not in a treasure chest that screams OPEN ME! /
She smirked, shaking her head. Yesterday she had sold most of her take from the politician's house, and tonight was a much different sort of errand.
Akara went through her usual pre-mission routine, getting dressed and going downstairs for some food and tea, yapping with the locals a bit before going back upstairs again. The second level was the inn of the place, and it was in the hallway between two rooms that a thick rope upwards dangled. Once upon a time there had been a stairway here, and the loft was used as storage, but Akara paid the owners well for the use of the room.
Fed, the thief made her way to the little hallway with her rope, and climbed it. She pushed the trapdoor to the side at the top of the climb--the tin bell above jingling loudly--and pulled herself in, closing it behind her. It was a rather... untraditional sort of arrangement, but that suited her just fine.
Akara quickly pulled on her belt, strapped her torch to one boot, and wound her grappling hook and rope around her waist. She took a moment to extract the golden 'R' pendant from her loot bag, and the note she'd made up last, and tucked them both into a pocket.
With that, the cat-burglar opened her window, stepped with practiced ease out onto the tree branch, and then turned to close the expensive glass with care.
And then she was ready... and it was show time, again.
It had been five years, but it felt like a lot longer until she thought about it. Oh, not that her visits were long and dreadful... generally it was only an hour or two between stepping into the protective Grove and stepping back out again. Sometimes it stretched to four or five, sometimes it took a mere twenty minutes.
Sometimes the Master of Past and Present seemed to be ignoring her, as though if he acted this way she would grow bored and stop. Akara always made sure to figure out where he was, these days, before anything else. Because sometimes he would be sitting at that massive desk of his and she would hear the scratch of quill on parchment through the door, and sometimes...
She'd been extraordinarily lucky, the yule before last, when she'd realized he was lurking just on the other side of the door she had almost opened. The scent had caught her attention, her hand inches from the doorknob. Spice and decay, the hairs on the back of her neck had leapt up as though she'd been struck by lightning (and really, she knew, that would have been the least of her worries if he'd caught her). Akara had backed quickly away from the door, half expecting it to explode, and taken a very careful sniff to either side.
He had been -close-, mere feet away, waiting... and she'd known that she wasn't the only one holding her breath by the strained silence. Once she'd known he was there, she'd been able to feel the heat emanating from the other side of the wooden door, though this was of course merely psychological. The snow falling outside had made more noise than either of them, and she'd bit the insides of her cheeks as she'd lowered her delivery to the floor where she stood, and crept back the way she'd come.
After leaving the Grove, that time, she'd sprinted for her loft room... unsure whether to laugh or cry from the wound-up fear.
Thinking about it gave her the chills now, and she smirked. No, it wasn't the visits to the tower that made the five years seem long, but the incredibly dull times in between. It took dancing in front of guards and leaving hand-drawn treasure maps of nowhere on sleeping faces to liven things up to a tolerable level, and it was barely lukewarm on her scale at that.
Five years ago the crazy old man with the hat had handed her two amulets and a package to deliver, and she'd accepted without really even believing she'd make it alive. Those two amulets were still with her... indeed, they seemed to refuse to come -off-.
One was warming slightly beneath her dark brown tunic as she grew nearer to the Shoikan Grove. It kept the small forest from repelling her, and also unlocked the gates, windows, and doors with a single touch of her hand. This one was a disk the size of her palm, topaz and opal. The other, a plain silver medallion without a crest, hid her from all of Raistlin's creations and Guardians... everything but the man himself.
The old man had been very adamant in telling her that nothing would protect her if Raistlin caught her. But that was fine... preferable, even. This just leveled the playing field, anything more would have felt like cheating.
Bad enough she used the Grove as her stashing spot.
Akara grinned at that as she stepped into the dark, oppressing patch of forest, making her way to a particular tree she'd picked out years back with a hollow niche under the roots. She pulled her loot bag off of her shoulder and rolled it tightly around itself before jamming it underneath. The thief would come back for it in a few months when the Grove's Master wouldn't be on such high-alert.
Feeling a bit weightless with the lack of gold and gems on her back, Akara made her way towards the tower. She kicked idly at a celestial hand that made a grab for her ankle, her boot passing through it.
"Maybe someday I'll pull this pendant off and come visit you creeps proper," Akara said to the ghastly inhabitants of the forest, in a perfectly serious tone. "I've always wondered what it would be like to be driven completely mad, rather than just hovering at a messy 'mostly'."
Nearing the inner edge of the ring of forest, she slowed to her customary creep... coming to a halt just inside the cover of dark trees. The thief crouched low, and with practiced ease loosened the slipknot holding her grappling hook and its rope around her waist. Immediately the coils came loose, slithering to the ground in a neat, organized pile. Akara gathered it carefully, eyeing the tower.
No lights on, he could be anywhere. She looked up, checking the Death Walk first. He'd tried to trick her that way, once, too... like as if a cat-burglar wouldn't think to look upwards before breaking cover. She was just happy it wasn't in his character to try to catch her in the Grove itself, being as that he didn't know which direction she would come from.
Actually, she'd debated that point a few weeks ago, lying on her back on the straw pallet under her window.
"Raistlin's very territorial." Akara had said, in a reasonable tone, "and he's apparently very much into the whole 'I am the Master of Past and Present' gig, which means that if he's going to catch the upstart, annoying, genius little thief... he's going to want to do it -inside- the tower."
Her frayed, patched sock hadn't argued, but had just looked down at her in exasperation. She'd wiggled her toes inside it before lowering her leg.
"Well, I -am- rather good, I'd say, there's no need to call me cocky. I'm just being honest, you know."
So far, he'd stayed true to form and hadn't tried to ambush her outside the tower walls. Except for the Death Walk incident (and she'd just circled around behind him, that time), and whenever he was somewhere else on the fated days.
Akara counted down from ten, and stepped out of her cover of darkness into the twin moonlight, swinging the end of her rope and the grappling hook with it. The pale moon was fuller than the red, tonight, giving everything a silvery sheen tinged in pink. Like blood in water.
She released her hook with more skill than she'd possessed five years ago, catching it on a windowsill with the barest of sounds rather than the rattle of snagging the Death Walk. Then, tensing the line carefully before putting her full weight on it, Akara began her slow climb upwards.
Each time she came to a window, the thief was careful to peek in without being obvious, curious as to where Raistlin was lurking today. Several of the windows had heavy velvet drapes pulled over them, however, which made a full check impossible.
Just like always.
Heaving herself up to her chosen window, just below the one her hook had snagged, Akara hesitated.
This could be her last run, also just like always.
Ah well, it would only be a bad way to go until she passed out from pain the first few times. Then she'd be too nerve-damaged to feel much. Grinning, the thief touched the magical lock of the window with her gloved fingertips and felt it click, the first pendant pulsing slightly.
She was in. Again.
Akara had heard his cough before, of course. Sometimes it was the main thing that gave him away... that and the very, very slight tinge of blood in the air. A thief of her caliber listened to all of her senses, which was good. If she'd done anything less, he'd have caught and killed her many times over.
At any rate, she'd heard it before. Heard -of- it a lot, too, in her cautious digging into what was known about him. Thankfully he wasn't just an evil Archmagus in the cursed tower, but also a Hero of the Lance, so there was plenty of information out there. Rumors and speculation, mostly, but some things she'd been able to verify personally.
But this time, the coughing didn't stop.
Feeling her neck prickle with something very akin to worry, Akara made her way slowly down the stairs toward the library where the sound was coming from, wary for a trap. Would he be faking it, just to draw her to him? Was it even him? She hugged the wall as she grew closer, eyeing the ajar door with some serious second thoughts.
But then there was the sound of a chair hitting the floor, his coughing growing both weaker and more ragged. She could hear liquid in it, now, and she sped up unconsciously. Finally at the door, Akara held her breath and very carefully peered around the open slab, wishing she'd thought to bring a small mirror.
She needn't have worried, as he was far from noticing half of a face peeking around his door at him. The Archmagus was bent nearly double, hands clutching at the edge of a table littered with open books. His chair that she'd heard a moment ago was indeed on its side on the floor, looking somewhat dejected and useless on the expensive rugs.
And Raistlin himself was apparently fighting a losing battle for breath, what few lung-fulls of air he could gasp in between coughs seemed to rattle worse than usual. But that sickening gurgling sound of liquid was completely new, and the way he was slumping against the table more and more said that his energy was leaving fast.
It was when the table started to tip that Akara swore out loud and rushed into the room, mentally saying goodbye to her cover. She reached him just in time to grab his shoulders and keep him from hitting the floor, the books from the overturned table sliding past where he would have been, resulting in a wide heap of wrinkled pages.
But she wasn't paying much attention to that, busy trying to hold the Archmagus up. He was several inches taller than her, and wearing heavy velvet robes besides. Akara found the best she could do was lower him carefully to his hands and knees, and, in retaining her grip, keep him from going face-first into the books.
Long, golden-tinged fingers curled around already-wrinkled pages, but he didn't quite tear them. Blood already flecked across several of these layers of parchment, and Raistlin seemed to lose even more of his strength at this sight.
"Hey, come on, those are still readable." Akara said without thinking, "You're gonna to have to try harder if you want to heave up any vital organs onto them."
Raistlin went rigid, suddenly, catching and holding his breath as though he hadn't even realized she was there. So fast that his grey-white hair whipped through the air, the Mage turned his head to stare directly at her. Akara swallowed, feeling very much like the mouse cornered by the snake as recognition flickered briefly across the mirrored, piercing eyes. Time seemed to freeze for a moment, and she didn't notice the weight of both pendants coming loose and hitting the floor with dull clunks.
But then his head went down again as the coughing resumed, and now his hands -did- tear the pages they were wrapped around.
"Oh come on, no dying on your birthing day. That would just be far too ironic." she said, voice slightly shaky. "Let's get you to your bed before you pass out. I can't carry you, and you'll do better in there, I bet..."
At least she knew the tower's layout rather well by now. Akara braced herself, waiting for a pause in the coughing fit to pull him upwards. He gasped, startled by the sudden movement, and the cat-burglar wasted no time in pulling one of his arms over her shoulders, hanging onto the too-bony wrist with one gloved hand. The other arm was pulled around his waist, and she tried to lurch them to their feet.
"Cooperate, damn you!" Akara hissed, unable to get her knees straightened all the way before they sank again to the floor. Raistlin's head was hanging, nearly limp with exhaustion and possible fever (but who could tell, she groused, with his body-heat?).
"I'm trying to." he barely managed to whisper, the sound hardly making it past bloodstained lips as he struggled for breath.
Chapter 3: simply irresistable
"Shit." she repeated, trying again, and they made even less of a rise than last time before sinking back down again. Akara was getting tired from his weight, and the Archmagus began coughing again, turning his head away from her. "There's no way I'm getting you up the stairs."
"It would appear not." his tone was ironic, between coughs, and he began to shiver.
"Well, is anything going to maim me if I run up there, grab your blankets, and bring them here? That's better than nothing."
Those wheezing, gurgling sounds were back in force in his breathing, and he shook his head faintly.
"The Guardians already know not to harm you." he was getting even weaker, and even Akara's sensitive hearing had to strain to pick up the words. Raistlin's hands relaxed, finally, letting go of the wads of crumbled, bloodstained book pages. The lantern on the nearby stand was beginning to dim, running out of oil, and the thief eyed it before tensing again. Her grip shifted on him slightly.
"I'm going to at least get you off of these books, first." she said, her mind reasoning out how to manage this. It was going to be about one part leverage and two parts brute force, but it was only for a few feet. "Lean into me if you can, it'll help."
Akara tightened her one-armed grip on his waist, not wanting to rip his arm out of its socket, as he slumped fully into her side. And then she -lunged-, away from him. Keeping her grip as tight as she could and using her powerful legs in this manner, the thief practically threw them to the side, off of the books and onto the carpet in a mad fluttering of pages.
The impact was harsh, the Archmagus' breath was obviously knocked out of him despite having had a convenient thief to land on. She would have thought he'd passed out from lack of air if he hadn't been staring wide-eyed at her. The waning lamp light glimmered off the hourglass-centered eyes in question, and his stare held her captive all over again. That is until, like last time, he turned his face away to cough up fluid.
Raistlin's coughs shook his entire frame, the sound knocking her back to her senses in time to realize that, yes, the Master of Past and Present was sprawled on top of her. She had his wrist in one hand and her other arm still circled around his waist, though she'd instinctually twisted to land on her back rather than her hip. Akara gulped, feeling herself blush a bit. It wasn't healthy to be this... uh... close to the sole object of one's driving obsession.
She let go of him and very carefully slipped out from underneath his form as his coughing continued, shivering worse than before. He was definitely getting fevered.
"I'm going to go get those blankets now..."
And Akara fled.
/ If he lives, I die. If he dies, I die. I doubt this tower would be so friendly without its Master telling it to behave. / she thought, running up the stairs. The thief nearly came to a halt when something else occurred to her. / What if he dies, and I live? /
The idea of no longer having the deadly, cunning Archmage around seemed worse than the other two possibilities. No more challenge, no more danger, no more entrancing hourglass eyes. Adrenalin wasn't her drug anymore, she realized with sudden force, stopping in front of the office door and pushing it open. It had been replaced with golden skin and a knowing smirk... the thought of Raistlin Majere and life-threatening peril had just gone together like bread and butter, until now.
/ I live at -the Golden Hourglass-. / Akara scoffed mentally, crossing the first room she had ever broken into in this tower, passing the desk she'd hid under, and going to the bedroom door. / You would think it would be pretty obvious to me what keeps bringing me back, maybe even without him getting too sick to curse me first. /
But no, because Akara generally avoided too much self-examination. It led to a lot of angst and bitterness, and who really needed more of that these days? So she tossed that line of thought away and pushed the bedchamber door open. 'Know thyself' was really overrated, there were much more interesting things to figure out.
Like, for example, why the Spectral Guardians seemed intent on following her from room to room. Every time she encountered one, it just joined the pack milling behind her. It was, she decided, -extremely- creepy... it was like they could see her now! Gulping suddenly in realization, the thief paused by the foot of Raistlin's bed and raised her hand to her throat as the Guardians filed in behind her, staring intently.
Oh gods, the pendants! The pendants were both missing! Eyes impossibly wide and skin crawling, the cat-burglar slowly turned to stare back at her audience.
"You creeps can see me?"
"Yessss..." said one disembodied pair of eyes and hands as it bobbed slightly up and down and approached. Akara gulped and backed up.
"H-he said you guys aren't allowed to hurt me...?"
"Yet..." the same Guardian hissed, still coming closer. The thief felt the backs of her legs hit the bed, and stopped retreating. More of the Guardians were following the first one's example, slowly floating closer in a tight, weaving pack. The door was soon clear, the entire group hovering close to her with hungry eyes.
"Perhapssss... jusssst a tasssste..." said the one in the lead, reaching one dead hand toward her.
Akara felt fear boiling through her veins fiercer and fiercer, like approaching the Grove without her amulet. She turned it into energy with the aid of many years of experience, and... after taking a deep shuddering breath... she smirked at them.
"Thanks, but no thanks. I already had breakfast."
And then she sprung backwards, rolling across the bed to land on her feet on the other side. She yanked the covers off, then, in both hands... and was out the door before the startled Guardians could think to block it. Her maniac laughter echoed through the tower. She was out of breath by the time she surged back into the library, the Spectral Guardians close on her heels.
Raistlin had rolled onto his side on the floor, his breath coming slightly easier than before but still gurgling and rattling audibly in his lungs. Akara ground to a halt.
"That was you?" his voice was still so quiet that it took her straining to understand it, but it sounded faintly amused.
"Know anyone else that laughs in this place? Your Guardians were trying to play 'tag with the mortal'--"
"And that made you laugh."
"Well, yeah?" Akara raised an eyebrow, approaching him with the blankets. "What would you suggest instead, blood-curdling screaming?"
"I had... forgotten that I told them to scare you if they ever caught you." he admitted in that same frail voice, coughing just a bit at the end. "Told them... years ago."
"That's fine, that's fine. Don't worry about it." she said quickly to hush him up. Talking was clearly not going to do his lungs much good. Akara looked around for her pendants as she spread the blankets out next to him, but they weren't anywhere in sight. Ah, well, maybe they'd been buried under the books?
"Here, if you can roll onto these, I can pull you over to the fireplace and get that going. That would help, right? And I hear you have some sort of tea that helps your breathing?"
As if on cue, he exploded into a ragged coughing fit, curling slightly from the force of it. Blood wasn't the only thing coming out of his throat, now, and she winced.
"Yeah, I'm no good at this whole... taking care of other people thing." Akara admitted once he'd calmed again. "So you're going to have to tell me what to do for the most part, I bet."
Seeing his look, she remembered how much he hated accepting help.
"But it's okay, you'll get all better and then you can hang me off the tower or whatever. So no need for embarrassment, right?" the thief sounded oddly cheerful even to her own ears, "I'll help you out and consider it my last learning experience. I've never stolen anything from a sickness before."
"Yeah, I get that look a lot." Akara said with a knowing nod. "I think it has to do with being a nutcase..."
That pulled a smirk out of him, and she answered it with one of her own.
"Now, unless you can walk..."
"With help," Raistlin sighed, shutting his eyes, "I can walk to the chair."
"The chair?" the thief peered toward the fireplace in the dying lamp-light and managed to make out the outline of a stuffed armchair. "Oh, I see. Kind of."
They managed to make it to the chair without much issue, the Archmage had recovered enough strength to stand with her help, if only briefly, and they had sort of hobbled across the room like a pair of horses with sore feet.
/ Wait, that's a really bad way to put it. /
Well, it worked anyway.
/ ...I suppose. Wait, what? /
Akara paused with a bit of firewood in hand and blinked, wondering what the hell she'd just been thinking about. Well, it probably wasn't important... she poked at the small flames with the firewood, catching the piece in her hand on fire before setting it into the pile. Again, looking at her own thoughts too much was something she tried to avoid.
Especially with Raistlin Majere sitting a few feet away, awake and aware, and not yet stuffing her into a big jar to see how long the air would last. Or however evil Mages killed people who ticked them off... personally she like the idea of leaping off the tower better. Much more dramatic and messy, although it had been done before.
/ Maybe I could even land on the gate next to that other guy. / Akara thought, amused, and she grinned at the fire.
And now she could feel -his- stare boring into the side of her head. The grin faltered... and then died. Akara fidgeted slightly, nervous all of a sudden. This was way out of her depth... all of it, the whole dealing with anyone for longer than ten minutes thing was strange enough. Let alone...
"W-what?" the thief blinked again, startled, and turned to look at him. He was buried in his blankets up to the chin, but still managed to look formidable in the crackling firelight. Raistlin didn't answer, he simply continued to stare, unblinking.
Akara could feel herself being pulled in, literally leaning closer very, very slowly without thinking about it... but she'd hardly moved an inch before catching herself and jerking back.
The Mage looked amused.
"So, my dear lady of the shadows..." his voice was slowly recovering, it had been a while and a cup of tea between coughing fits now, "do you perhaps have a name?"
"Yeah, I do." Akara looked at him suspiciously, "What's it to you?"
"You simply have me at a disadvantage, you see, knowing more about me than most, and I not even knowing the most rudimentary fact about you."
"Name's Akara Krinir, and I am damn good at what I do." she said the last part automatically, from long habit. Raistlin raised an eyebrow.
"Er, I always say that last bit. The expected answer is 'and what is it that you do?', and then I always just sort of laugh at them. It's a big game over at the Golden Hourglass, them trying to guess what--"
"The Golden Hourglass?"
"Erm..." Akara was suddenly very busy with the fire, and the stare still boring into her skull was now a decidedly amused one.
Akara didn't think so. She thought this entire situation was just plain wrong.
Chapter 4: never say never
A/N (Aroihkin's Notes) 08.01.05:
Also shorter than I'd like, but, I'm leaving in about twenty minutes to go to the tri-cities for my training, and I may not have internet for a week. Thus, it wrapped up where it wanted and I didn't argue.
I'd also like to note that I absolutely love the chemistry that becomes apparent in this chapter, having not known how they would react to one another myself. Akara's absolutely exploding into color, as far as her character goes... I'm very pleased. The first two TAF's didn't leave much room for this.
Akara felt relief for the first time in many hours.
The Archmagus had finally fallen asleep, which meant that he was no longer studying her like a bug under a glass. She shuddered. Every time she had moved out of his line of sight to get away from that measuring, analyzing stare, he'd switched to questioning her endlessly until she moved back again. The knowing smirk made sure she knew it was all intentional.
/ I don't -deal- with people like this. /
It was true, too. She didn't know how to react to being bombarded with sharp, too-cunning questions... it was slightly worse than that constant stare. But only slightly, she thought with another shudder, knowing full well what his vision showed. He was watching her wither away... rot right down to the bones, over and over, according to every single reliable source she had ever brought to bear on the subject.
And while she -knew- he enjoyed manipulating others, it still didn't make her any harder of a target.
/ I generally just break into their houses and rifle through their possessions in peace. The only reason I even deal with the people in the tavern, even briefly, is to keep up appearances... I must be the dumbest blasted person he's ever toyed with. /
Akara frowned, silently righting the table across the room by the light of the refilled oil lamp. She didn't need the light to operate, of course, but she wasn't going to handle any of his books without looking before touching. If there were any in any languages she couldn't read, there was no way in hell she'd so much as poke them with a stick.
"Akara." Raistlin had mused out loud when she'd vanished behind his chair to refill the lamp. "An interesting name. Based off of the word -arcana-, perhaps...?" The thief had stiffened at his words, nearly dropping the bottle of lamp oil in her hand. He must have sensed it, too, because he had continued mercilessly. "Were your parents Mages, then?"
Not knowing how to really evade a question and too uncomfortable to just ignore him, Akara had blurted out her answers.
"My Mother... she was a Red Robe."
"And your Father?"
"An Alchemist, a follower of Sirrion."
"A fascinating combination. Were you ever checked for magical ability?"
"Yeah." Akara had replied, dumping a bit too much oil into the lamp. "I don't have any."
And so the thief was careful with the books, wary of being zapped by any spellbooks mixed into the pile. The first two she lifted and closed silently, setting them on the table without reading any. She just skimmed the pages to make sure they were readable to her (and so, likely not of a magical nature), and moved on to the next. But by the third book, her eyes had started to pick out words in common with the others, and she paused to actually read.
It was a story, about a legendary thief named Grissom Krinir. Akara smirked, knowing this tale well... her great-grandfather's uncle, if that made sense. The one that no one in her family would ever talk about when she had been young and full of questions. They were so ashamed to have a famous thief in their family... Akara's smirk turned cold, bitter, before she shut the book and set it aside.
The other two were about thieves as well, though none she'd heard of. Shrugging, Akara went back to skimming, picking up, closing, and piling books onto the table. It wasn't until she got to the one that Raistlin had ripped handfuls of pages out of that she paused again, curious. Knowing he wouldn't treat a spellbook in such a way, she didn't worry about picking it up without skimming first. Just as well, too, the only pages already open were still blank.
She shut the cover, looking at the binding... it was blank. Opening the small book again, now to the first page, revealed that the Archmagus had ripped out all of the pages with any substantial writing on them. Rolling her eyes, Akara set this book down as well. It might have been blank from the start, though she remembered seeing handwriting on those bits of parchment.
Come to think of it, where were the pages? He'd dropped them...
Majere chose that moment to wake, coughing so violently that he bent in the chair, nearly to putting his chin on his knees. Akara started, then rushed to pull the hot teakettle out of the fireplace by its long porcelain-coated handle, pouring a hot cup of water and adding the powder from the pouch Raistlin had handed her hours ago. She'd done this a few times, since.
"Here," she said, holding the edge to his lips when he'd sank back into the chair in exhaustion. Raistlin drank, but, his eyes held a peculiar sort of malice as he did so. Akara wondered what his particular problem was just now, but knew she wouldn't have to wonder for long. As expected, his voice--harsh from the coughing fit--bit into the air after the cup was drained and she turned to set it down in its place.
"You pity me." he spat.
"Not a chance." Akara turned to stare down at him.
"And you lie." Raistlin snarled, temper flaring, "I see it in your eyes."
The cat-burglar planted her gloved fists on her hips stubbornly, narrowing the eyes in question with her own temper.
"Why would I pity you? You brought this on yourself... your original condition? You knew anything could happen when you took your Test... and you're lucky you came out able to see at all, able to walk at all. -Screw- breathing, you could have met a messy, brutal, agonizing death."
Akara snorted, the Archmage seemed genuinely surprised at her anger, drawing back further into his chair, golden eyes widened just slightly. She didn't stop there, however, and on an impulse she decided to put her hands on the arms of his chair and lean in. If he was going to manipulate her at every blasted turn, she was at least going to drive home a point.
"And now you're sick, and I'm betting you brought that on yourself as well... spent too many nights reading with a dead fireplace, I bet. So -no-, I don't -pity- you, and I don't -lie-!"
"Why do you lean close?" his voice was soft, now, suddenly changing tactics. There was an unreadable expression in those hourglass eyes, suddenly too close for her liking. "Do I not scare you?"
"Oh, you scare me." Akara pulled herself back, walking away before turning back to him and promptly sitting on the floor, barely within the light of the fireplace. "But I like it. Fear is what reminds a person that they're alive. You don't think I break into your tower twice a year for the charming company, do you?"
Raistlin inclined his head, white hair not at all hiding his knowing smirk, though it could have.
Somehow, Akara knew it was deliberate.
The Archmage lifted one pale, shaking hand to pull his blankets back up around his shoulders. Akara's eyes narrowed again, but this time in thought. His skin was getting paler, his fever showed no signs of improving, and she still had not a clue what she was doing. She eyed the kettle.
"I'm going to have to go get more water for that, soon. It's boiling down."
Golden eyes glittered speculatively at her.
"Most do not leave their kettle in the fire."
"Most don't need tea for breathing, either." Akara raised an eyebrow, "And it's in a thief's nature to try and be prepared ahead of time... keeps our skin mostly attached to our meat."
He appeared amused.
"You have been looking at the books."
"Picking them up off the floor, you mean? Sure. And I don't grab books without seeing what language they're in, not in a place like this. Besides, that was Grissom Krinir's famous saying... you might say I've inherited the right to use it."
Raistlin nodded silently, before allowing his head to droop slowly to the side.
"You let me know the minute you're up to having me get you upstairs." Akara added, and Raistlin nodded again... if only slightly... before slipping back into sleep. The thief stood quietly and moved to the fireplace, piling on another bit of firewood before turning to look at him.
Even under the golden tint, Raistlin looked pale and sickly. There were circles under his eyes, and a vein showed clearly across the back of the one hand on top of the blankets. Sweat made his hair cling to the sides of his face, and yet he shivered. His breath and coughs still sounded as though liquid gurgled in the bottom of his lungs...
The thief turned away, not liking this feeling of not knowing what to do. She went back to sorting the books off the floor, keeping a close eye out for her amulets. One thing that Akara decided, however, was that giving him just a small taste of his own medicine had been good. Almost fun, even... certainly worth repeating.
"Do you never sleep?" the voice startled her, just before dawn. Akara jumped a bit, turning to glare at the Archmage who seemed incapable of staying conveniently unconscious for more than a few hours at a time, himself.
"Not at night." she replied, "Profession's rather a nocturnal one, you know."
"I see." Raistlin's smile was sardonic. "I believe we can make it to the bedchamber now, if you insist."
/ That could be taken so many ways, you creep. /
He knew it, too. She could tell it in his very, very slight smirk. Feeling rather annoyed at the whole situation, Akara approached his chair... but hesitated. Raistlin didn't say these things out of actual interest, he said them to take her off balance. She already knew he'd figured out her... obsession, or else had a very strong idea of it.
"My dear, having second thoughts?" his voice was laughing at her, "I assure you that I am in no condition to--"
"To -what-, Majere? Why not say whatever it is you're insinuating, plainly?"
"--argue." Raistlin smirked.
"Oh, I disagree. I think you would have to be about three months dead to not be in the condition to argue." Akara stated, glaring. "And maybe even then, you would figure out a way."
The Archmage laughed.
It wasn't a pleasant sound. Akara frowned at him, before reaching down to snag his wrist. Raistlin winced visibly, too fast to be deliberate, and the thief loosened her grip and moved it to his hand, pulling the sleeve of his robe back.
There, four fingers and a thumb had left their mark, the bruises looking strange on the golden-tinted skin. Dark amber, and a little brownish where her grip had shifted for the jump. Majere was watching her intently as she studied the damage her hand had caused, gloved fingers turning his forearm this way and that.
"Sorry." said the thief, letting the black velvet sleeve settle back into place as she lowered his arm. "I didn't know I was hanging on that tightly."
Raistlin shrugged his thin shoulders slightly, again looking at her strangely.
"I would have known if it had been intentional." he said, voice soft.
/ He never stops messing with my mind, does he? I must be a terribly amusing sort of bug under the glass. /
"Well, let's try this another way, then." Akara was a fast learner, always had been. If he was going to be so manipulative constantly, she was going to end up learning to do the same. The thief pulled off one of her gloves, sticking it through her belt, before offering that hand to him. A glove would slip off with enough weight put on it, but her bare hand would be steady enough.
"You grab me, this time." she said, "I don't bruise as easy."
But she had miscalculated a bit, here. The Mage slipped his hand up the previously-covered opening to her plain tunic's long sleeve. Akara nearly jerked away in shock at the too-warm fingertips tracing her skin, but he then grasped her forearm. Her wrist was caught with his other hand, creating a wholly-logical grip, and she pulled him to his feet without comment.
The blankets pooled on the floor, Akara glanced at them.
"I'll have to come back down here for those."
Raistlin nodded, and Akara turned towards the door, waiting for him to shift the hand on her wrist to her shoulder for support before starting forward, slowly. In effect, he was using her almost as he often did his staff, although he leaned far more heavily against her than his likely usual. She led him to the staff in question, there by the door, and the hand on her arm left to grab it.
Between her shoulder and his staff, he could make it up the stairs. At least, that's what Akara hoped.
Chapter 5: always say not today
A/N (Aroihkin's Notes) 08.04.05:
Okay, obviously I'm updating this story far more than I expected to be managing. I reserve the right to drop off on my update speed at any point. I'm only working on it so much because it's damn well exploding from in my head.
Also, I'm the first to say that I'm not a romance writer. So... apologies if I suck at it, this is attempt number one. Of any fandom. There's some behind-the-scenes stuff in other fanfics in other fandoms, but... this on-screen stuff is a first by far. XD
Admittedly, it took them a long time to make it up the stairs.
Akara felt slightly suspicious by the time they made it, wondering if the Archmage would actually move slower than necessary just to get back at her. They paused several times, Raistlin swaying slightly even with her shoulder under one hand and his staff firmly in the other. It wasn't really that far… up and around the tower once, right above the library. But at least Akara was a patient sort of person… if not the most trusting.
They made it, at any rate, in a tense sort of silence by unspoken agreement. The only real incident happened in the study on the way to the bedchamber door.
She was later glad that it happened in the study, and not on the stairway, because even her agility might not have prevented her number-two enemy from taking them both down. Gravity, that is… a long fall and a short stop. As it was, when the Archmage suddenly staggered and lost his balance, the worst that happened was an entirely humiliating few minutes
/ Rather than, say, splattering at the bottom of the tower. /
Raistlin had pitched forward quite suddenly, clearly fatigued from the climb and his sickness, and Akara reacted. She'd swung around in front of him as practically a blur, immediately trying to catch the thin Mage before it even registered in her mind what was happening. He was still much heavier than she was ready to take, though, even though her arms reflexively wrapped around him with impact.
He'd slumped, Akara went to her knees at the same time he collapsed to keep him from crashing onto his face. As it was, she needn't have bothered… it was being well cushioned.
The thief blushed, staring down at the prematurely-white hair with eyes larger than they had ever been lately.
"M-Majere?" Akara gulped, "You okay?"
Something that could have been a long-suffering sigh was her only reply for a few seconds, warm air released against the rough cloth of her plain brown tunic. Akara blushed worse, heartbeat hammering, and she fought the impulse to… to what? Drop him and run? Something far worse? She wasn't sure. Finally, the Mage released the Staff of Magius--letting it rise on its own to stand upright as it was wont to do--and grasped both of her shoulders, pulling away from her.
Or, at least, as much as he could while her arms were around his own thin shoulders.
"My dear," he drawled, quiet voice oddly rough, "I would be a great deal better if you would loosen your death-grip on me."
Suddenly realizing that the Mage's back was in an odd position mostly thanks to her catch, the thief let go. Raistlin immediately surprised her, pulling her towards himself so that she leaned across some of the distance as well. Before she could think to react, he was resting his forehead on her shoulder next to one long-fingered hand, coughing raggedly into his sleeve.
"Forgive me," he whispered when the fit passed, "I must rest a moment."
"I… uh… of course." Akara stammered, holding absolutely still, barely so much as breathing. The Black-Robe seemed to know exactly what would unnerve her the most, though, and moved his other hand to the side of her neck. Even his hand radiated that unnatural heat, and it wasn't at all unpleasant… which was exactly what bothered her.
"You do not flinch from me?" That voice, ragged from coughing, still managed to hold an unintentional sort of wonder. "You do not move away…? I hardly understand…"
Now she -did- hold her breath for a moment, trying desperately to ignore the warmth he radiated, both in direct contact and breath.
"Majere, please…" she swallowed, taking a deep breath… "just shut up."
"You call me by my surname, why?" Raistlin seemed determined to harass her -worse- now, instead of just listening for once. His fingertips began to lightly trace patterns on her neck. "Do you know that there is a God by that name?"
"Ever the narcissist, aren't you?"
"You have called me many things, before."
"A beautiful narcissist, then. I stand by my point."
Raistlin laughed for the second time that day, the sound quickly turning into another fit of coughing.
"My lady," he said in a whisper that seemed to bleed in the air, his throat was by now too ragged and torn to let it sound any other way. The Mage lifted his head from her shoulder to look her in the eye, "You--"
"If you don't shut up, at least for the sake of your throat, I -will- gag you." Akara threatened, interrupting him but refusing to make eye contact, "Don't think that I won't if it will keep you from screwing yourself up worse."
He said nothing, only smirked.
"Come on, let's get you in there so you can actually -rest-. Maybe even… oh, I don't know… recover. It's a tough concept, I know. Much more fun to get sick and stay that way indefinitely."
Akara helped him to his feet, the carefully-ignored hand on her neck finally leaving to grasp the Staff of Magius again. She mentally heaved a sigh of relief at that, and summarily went about ignoring how cold that skin suddenly felt. And here was an image no one would have ever imagined… Raistlin being led to his own bed by someone other than his hulking twin brother.
Speaking of which, the Mage scanned her expression carefully once he was situated, and the thief narrowed her eyes.
"I don't pity you, so don't even think it."
He looked unconvinced, but at least did not speak.
"Listen, Mage. If I was stupid on some rainy night, got impatient, went sprinting over a slick rooftop… fell, and broke my leg, would you pity me if you found out about it?" Akara folded her arms, staring down at him from beside his bed. "Or what if I tied a slipknot without paying attention to it, jumped off a building, the loop around my ankle didn't tighten, and I crashed to my death? What then?"
Raistlin appeared surprised, but strangely pleased. He shook his head.
"Right. Why would I pity you, then? Both of our 'careers' have their risks, we both knew them when we started. If something goes wrong, so what? It isn't like it's a total surprise. You just haven't hung out with enough thieves and mercenaries, if people pity you so often."
"I've known plenty of both." he said, earning a glare.
"Fine, not enough thieves and mercenaries who know what a Mage actually is. I stick by my point here, too, thank you… very… much... …" Akara's voice faded off in sudden distraction, the hand that still had a glove on it had been captured by Raistlin. She was pulled down until she knelt awkwardly by the bed, caught in that stare.
It wasn't until bloodied lips brushed her knuckles that she realized he'd pulled her glove off. They lingered a long moment, and Akara could feel her face coloring again.
"Thank you." he whispered, letting go of her hand and closing his eyes.
She stared at him in shock for several moments, before leaving the room in a hurry that could easily be considered a quick retreat.
The Shoikan Grove was indeed very potent without her amulets, and Akara could not actually enter the forest now. Instead, she sat in the clearing around the tower, as close to the terror-inducing woods as she could physically stand.
/ I'm trapped here, the amulets have vanished. /
It wasn't death that scared her now, no. Getting caught and killed? Getting tossed in jail? They scared her, but, nothing like this did. Death all by itself hadn't scared her for many years, since long before the old man with the battered hat had approached her with a wild idea.
'Why would I want to go to Palanthas at all?' she'd asked, and he'd patted her arm and said… yes she remembered it exactly…
'My dear, you will see when you get there. When you enter that tower, your life will change… as will the very world.'
'Why would I want to change the word?'
'Well, why not? Certainly you're not -busy-.'
'You're crazy, old man. A total nutcase, that's what you are.'
'Aah, so you'll take my offer?'
And then Akara had said… 'Absolutely.'
That had been pretty much that, for the time. Akara sighed, edging closer to the Grove… letting the mindless terror wash away the lingering thoughts of her new fear. Hands on her neck and lips against her skin, white hair tangled…
The thief shook her head violently. Not appropriate, not acceptable, and certainly not advisable. Bad enough to be obsessed without the physical aspect. But her first words to the Mage came back to her unbidden, recalling them as they had been scrawled, crouched next to the Mage's bed that first time.
'I don't care what people say--you're beautiful, especially when asleep.'
/ You can think someone's pretty without having a problem! /
But she hadn't -called- him -pretty-, she'd called him -beautiful-. Many, many times over… and even in person, once, now.
/ Well, he's the color of gold, and I'm a thief. Surely I'm allowed to call him beautiful. It's because I'm greedy and stereotypical, and never mind that I keep no jewelry and get rid of the stuff as fast as I can, and sleep on a straw pallet. /
And with a practiced air, she shoved self-examination back out of her head again, out the proverbial window. Damn him for making her think about her own motives so much! It wasn't something she wanted to consider! Akara wrapped her arms around her legs and set her chin on her raised knees, staring at the Grove in misery.
She never noticed the pair of golden eyes watching from a window far above, analyzing all they could before their owner staggered back to the bed, dizzy.
When Akara returned several hours later, she had decided on a few things. For one? If Majere got nosy again when his voice came back? She'd return the favor. He was just doing it to make her uncomfortable, she was sure. And for another thing? If he kissed her again, even just the back of her hand again, she was going to have to -hurt- him. Uh… somehow. She sort of hoped that would come to her if the situation arose, which she didn't want it to, of course. At all. Because she absolutely wasn't obsessed that badly.
Akara re-entered the room, this time with the same double-armful of blankets she had previously carted to the library below. She was surprised to see that he'd curled up in the middle of the bed, his knees nearly to his chest. But when she noticed he was shivering, she quickly tossed the blankets onto the bed and climbed on in order to reach him, pulling the covers over his shaking form.
He was awake… the fact startled her. Raistlin watched her from under half-closed eyelids, but did nothing at first besides shiver.
"This isn't good, is it?"
The Archmage shook his head very, very slightly, curling further.
Raistlin nodded, shutting his eyes.
Another very, very small nod.
"I… I don't even know what to do..."
"Tell… me a… story." he could barely whisper, "Any…thing. Keep me dis…distrac…"
"Okay, okay. You want a story, hmmm…?" she tried to make one up in her head, and failed miserably. Nothing would come to mind, not even something to start with. But there was something she -did- have… "Alright, I have one… kind of…"
Once upon a time there was a thief. A very young thief, without a home, though she lived in the same town as where she had once called home.
Oh, but she didn't start off this way, of course. Who does? Certainly not a Krinir. No, once she'd lived in a house with other people, but she had always been really quite strange. A little too strange, perhaps, never playing with the other kids, never doing much of anything. You see, she was a thief… stealing was the only thing this little girl could do besides draw. So when she first picked a pocket at age six and was given stripes, she tried to stick to drawing.
But drawing is pretty useless, isn't it? She had no head for fighting, no ability for magic. The girl could walk across a rope spanning two trees, but what good was that? She learned to run across one just for fun, enjoying the danger of slipping and falling. It happened a few times, enough to give her a taste for consequence.
However, such things were viewed as only having one viable reason behind it. And there were no thieves in the Krinir family, not now and not ever. So when she was discovered learning to throw a grappling hook and how to pick locks, she was quickly given a choice. To be disowned or to take her only marketable skill… the lute… what, I didn't mention that? She could draw, steal, and pluck some strings passably well for a kid, that's it. I'm sure I said something? Well, it doesn't matter, because she didn't want to pluck strings for the rest of her life, either…
And that's how she--
(("Horrible." Raistlin sighed.
"Hey, I'm not a story-teller." Akara said, "You want quality? You get someone that knows what they're doing to tell you stories."
The Mage shook his head, but was silent. He was shivering even worse, now, but still sweating… Akara frowned before she continued.))
--and that's how she finally became a thief. It wasn't all it was cracked up to be, let me tell you. More waiting and lurking, watching and waiting, than anyone had any right to have to do. But she was patient, and that won her through for many years. Then, one bright and sunny day, the thief is sound asleep up a tree when there comes a knocking on the trunk. She wakes up and looks down, and there's a crazy old man, beating up her tree with his staff!
'Hey!' she says, 'What are you doing that for?'
'It jumped at me, I tell you, jumped!'
'Jumped? How is that possible?'
And he proceeds to tell her, while she looks mightily interested. Truth is that she recognizes he is a Mage, albeit a crazy one, and she doesn't really want to get any limbs burned off. Killed? Fine. Mangled? No thank you.
'Truth is,' the old man admits, 'I'm looking for someone.'
'Oh?' she sits up on her tree branch, 'I might be able to help, who is it?'
'Oh, I don't know if you can help, my dear, it's a very strange case.'
'Try me,' I sa--er, that is, -she- says. 'I know where a -lot- of people live.'
((Raistlin exploded into a coughing fit, and Akara paused again to listen to the ragged, torn sounds. He definitely sounded like there was liquid in his lungs or something… was that even possible? And when it passed he shivered all the worse.
"Come on, Majere, there's got to be a way I can help you." the thief said, "Besides telling bad stories. Tea maybe? I should have made it earlier instead of running awa--"
"No," he shook his head yet again, "wouldn't… have hel… helped."
A violent shiver, and the Mage seemed embarrassed.
Fine, I'll continue, but you better tell me whatever it is… and you seem embarrassed? No need, no need, remember--you're just going to kill me later anyway. And -anyway-…
'I'm looking for the thief, a miss Akara Krinir.' the old man says, staring at her with watery eyes.
'Oh? What for?' she asks, a bit alarmed. People don't often ask for her unless they want to kill or arrest her, you see.
'I've got a bit of an -idea- for her.'
'Well, I'm sure that you do. I don't know her, though, sorry.'
'Akara.' the old man says directly, and for a second there it's like he's not so insane… just scary. 'I want you to go to Palanthas.'
'Wait, what?' says the thief, totally taken by surprise here. They hash it over for a while, and she still doesn't know exactly what he means by the time she agrees--
((--"Wha…what was she… told?"
"That she would change her life, and the world. But none of that was important to that thief, you know, she just wanted a good challenge. Maybe followed by a nice, gory death. You know, the kind that leaves a good stain in the carpet."
"To not be… for…gotten."
"Kind of. You can forget a stain, you can cover it up… hell, you can rip out the carpet and burn it. But it's a mark left, regardless. A sign of having been." Akara had settled down next to the Mage, behind him and away from that stare… she gazed at the ceiling for a long moment, lost in thought.
Well, she takes the job… no pay, no loot, but she doesn't care. Half the time she breaks into a place is just for kicks, anyway, and this is going to be unique. She has a package to deliver, you see. Thieves aren't generally the best couriers, considering, but she's a fairly trustworthy sort… the old man somehow knows this, apparently.
So a few week's travel later, there in the middle of the winter, and she's in the city. That same night, she hides her pack up a tree and… and… Majere!
Akara rolled up onto one hand, grabbing Raistlin's shoulder with the other.
"Majere!" she tried again, pushing him through the blankets until he rolled toward her onto his back. "Hey, snap out of it!"
Golden eyes had rolled back, but then they came to focus on her. He didn't stop his shaking, though, and his jaw was plainly clamped shut. The fever was bordering on hallucinations already.
"Fever… worse…" he barely managed to whisper through clenched teeth, "need… to be warm a..nd d…d-dry…"
But before she could ask what he meant, his eyes rolled back completely and he was dead to the world around him.
"Warm and dry? What the hell is that supposed to mean!" Akara fumed, "What was so embarrassing abou--"
It suddenly occurred to her. The thief stared straight ahead, wide-eyed, and tried to think of -any- other possible way. Anything. She wasn't a Mage… so magic was out, she didn't have her amulets… so going to get something or someone was equally out. Majere himself wasn't even conscious … and wouldn't likely reach consciousness again if something wasn't done, and done now.
"…Oh… oh -no-, you've got to be shitting me."
Fate clearly hated Akara Krinir.
That feeling was decidedly very mutual.
Chapter 6: I don't sleep to dream
A/N (Aroihkin's Notes) 08.08.05:
Wow, I've been writing this story at an insane pace. Do -not- expect TAF #4 (and there will be one, considering this is the second-to-last chapter of #3) to update this fast.
Um, okay, kids. Here's where things start to get a little adult, as you can tell. Usual disclaimers about such things apply. The next (final for #3) chapter is much worse... I'd rate it as a lime. This one just, uh, well. You'll see. Onward to the story!
Akara sat back for a few moments, aware of the passing of precious time but refusing to rush into this.
/ If I have to do this… and it looks like I do… there's got to be a way to go about it that won't get my hands cut off with a dull knife later. /
Yes, but how? She wasn't even sure how the sweat-soaked robes came off.
/ They have to fasten somehow, a clasp or tie probably at the waist… no way he pulls these things on and off over his head like a ratty old dress. /
The proverbial torch burst into light.
/ That's how -I'll- do it, though! Excellent. I can just keep him covered in all these blankets and then the only thing with less dignity are the blasted robes themselves. If he wears anything under them he'll just have to live with it… it's better than having all -this- on. / Akara nodded, it made total sense. Then when he was better she would just leave the room and let him get dressed again in privacy. No harm, no foul.
/ Though, if I just start pulling at the shoulders, he'll end up moving quite a bit as well. I need to think about this more. / This could be tricky, then, and the thief eyed the situation from a purely professional standpoint. To take something out from under a heavy object without dragging the heavy object all over the place. That was the essence of this, seen from the perspective of a cat-burglar.
/ Well, okay. If he was a statue on a rug I wanted to take, for whatever reason, I'd anchor him with rope. / Something about tying his ankles down just didn't sit well with her, though. / Not with the way he bruises. /
/ I could cushion the loop, like I would if the statue was painted, but better than that since it's force I want to stop as well as friction. / Akara wouldn't tie it to his boots… they would come off, just like she hadn't given Raistlin a glove to hold onto when she'd helped him up. Stuff like that tended to just slip right off when you needed it to stay in place, no matter how snug it was at the time. / -My- boots, I would trust… and I often do, but they're designed like a second skin. Raistlin moves well enough when he's not sick, but he's still no roof-top prowler. /
"So I'm going to need to go get my rope." Akara quipped out loud to nobody as she got up and left the room, "Isn't -that- a fun thing to have to say in this situation?"
Hovering somewhere overhead in the bedroom, one Guardian turned to another.
"I have no idea," said the second to the first, "sssso don't assssk."
She found her entry easily enough, opening the still-unlocked window and reaching out blindly. It was already early afternoon and Akara winced in the bright daylight found here above the level of the Grove, the sun seemingly staring directly at her without any real interference. She found her rope without seeing it, and tugged the hook off of the window above. It came free, dangling in her hand, and the thief quickly coiled the long, thin line.
It was a very fine rope. A little bit of stretch, no frayed ends sticking out… she had no idea what it was made of, just that it had cost a pretty good chunk of gold. But it was worth it, just like her boots, her lock-picks, any of the tools of her trade. If you didn't want to get caught or plummet to your death, you chose your equipment carefully and paid what you had to. This was the same line she often went leaping off of rooftops with, relying on a loop around her ankle to stop her fall. If you couldn't trust your gear to hold up, you were doomed in just about any profession.
Line coiled over one arm and hook dangling, the thief moved to close the window and paused, squinting at the horizon for a moment. Thick, black clouds… way out there to the East. So they might have a storm sometime tonight, Akara shrugged and closed the window up, heading back to the unconscious Archmage.
But by the time she got there, he wasn't unconscious, per-se. Majere had rolled back onto his side again and had a long, thin silver dagger in one hand, his eyes wide and unreasoning.
/ Crap, he's hallucinating. / the thief frowned, depositing her rope on the floor at the foot of the bed and moving over in front of him. She waved a hand back and forth in plain view, and Raistlin didn't react.
/ Greeeaaat. / Akara rubbed her eyes, hoping this new development would go away. Nope, he was still crazy with the fever when she looked at him again. Wonderful. / Well, the first thing I have to do is get that knife away from him so he doesn't stab me in the face. Or any place else, for that matter. /
Right. So, she reached for his hand.
The moment contact was made, the Mage panicked. Akara quickly grabbed at his fingers with her free hand, hoping to break his grip and snatch the weapon, but Raistlin was fighting her all the way. Several moments of struggle later and Akara suddenly yelped. Loud.
"OW! You -bit- me!" a pause, "And it's -bleeding-! Hey, let go!"
Words were swiftly muttered, Akara yelped and ducked again, fast. Needles of energy shot past where her head had been. Clenching her jaw, the thief stuffed her wrist back between the Archmage's teeth.
"Damnit, Majere! Fine, chew on me, I'd rather you gnawed on my arm than shot out my eyes."
Of course, he didn't seem to like this idea either, but she didn't have a proper gag at hand, not while she was still fighting for the dagger. The hand with the wrist being chewed through was the one holding his wrist, her other hand was still pulling at his grip, and it was -his- free hand that had fired the spell. It had given up on breaking her hold, and Raistlin was now trying to strangle her.
He seemed to like the suggestion of taking out her eyes, though, because his free hand suddenly left her throat and moved up toward them.
She bit onto his fingers just enough to keep them contained, and didn't let go… eyes watering from the pain in her wrist.
/ I shouldn't have hesitated like that, I should have just ripped his clothes off without thinking about it. I would have at least known about this knife, then! /
The knife finally came free, but Akara wasn't about to let go of his wrist or un-gag his mouth, so that hand stayed where it was. Her free hand, clutching the knife, ripped the covers off of him. During the course of their struggle she had ended up sitting on his stomach to hold him down, so she moved. Thankfully, the Mage seemed too busy trying to get his hands and mouth free to start thrashing.
Only watching what she was doing just enough to avoid stabbing him inadvertently, the thief slit the black velvet down one side, from shoulder to knee as far as she could reach. Then she used the razor-sharp knife to slit the lengths of both sleeves, and tossed the blade away. The blankets were pulled up as far as she could manage before anything else could happen, and then she reached under said blankets to grab the side of the robes that hadn't been cut.
One jerk, and the tearing of cloth resounded through the room. A ruined set of black velvet robes were flung away. Now he seemed to realize what she'd done and panicked worse, and she sat on his stomach again to keep him from thrashing off of the bed or kicking her in the head.
Akara grabbed his other hand with her own, freeing her mouth. Blood was steadily trickling down her arm between his teeth.
"Majere, calm down." she tried, "you're beating the crap out of me, here."
He didn't seem to hear her. Akara sighed and finally had to lay down next to him, keeping one leg over his blanketed waist to hold him (and said blanket) down. She yawned.
"This is going to be a long, long day."
How she'd managed to fall asleep was anyone's guess, even after the Archmage settled down… obviously to bide his fevered time against whatever he thought was holding him captive. Akara had watched this flicker across his expression and yawned again, settling her head onto his shoulder for a lack of anywhere else to put it, prepared to wait it out.
When she woke back up…
"Ow… shit…" the thief muttered, trying to roll onto her back. Something had her wrist, however, and wasn't letting it go… and her wrist -hurt- like the abyss. She couldn't roll, or clutch her wrist in her other hand, with it captive… and no matter how hard she pulled it, it wasn't being let go.
"Shhhh, calm down…" said a familiar voice, and Akara's eyes were suddenly open. Wide open.
"M-Majere!" the thief exclaimed, trying to sit up. Again, she couldn't move much without her arm, and couldn't complete the motion. So Akara just stared over at the Mage, who was holding her wrist in both long-fingered hands, inspecting it closely. He ran his fingertips over the deeper wounds, and the thief shook.
Pain? Fear? Perhaps… it -did- hurt an awful lot, and she -was- worried about what he would say, finding himself in his current state of undress, covered only in a few layers of thick blankets. But those weren't the only two things in motion, here, and Akara quickly grabbed those thoughts and shoved them in a closet somewhere, locking the door.
"The fever has at last broken." Raistlin said quietly, fingertips still running over the wounds... almost caressingly. There was a track of dried blood down his chin, still… -her- blood. She stared.
"How long was I asleep?" Akara asked, feeling stupid for letting herself doze off like that.
"I do not know. When I woke, I had to relax entirely and then move very slowly to be released. You seemed most intent to keep my hands to yourself, and your wrist in my mouth…" the last bit sounded questioning.
"You were doing magic while in your fever." she explained, "Nothing protects me from that except a quick reaction and room to duck."
"Or a gag, as you threatened."
"Well, you had that knife at the time, also. I couldn't really spare the hands to tie anything, especially once you decided to go for the eyes."
"Yeah, well, I might not have." the thief groused, before tugging on her arm again. "Hey, you going to give that back to me?"
Raistlin seemed to consider the question seriously, pursing his lips slightly in thought. Not that Akara noticed, of course, and it had absolutely nothing to do with her sudden start of surprise when the Archmage suddenly spoke.
"No." he replied at length, "I don't think that I will, just yet."
"N-no! Majere, it was a rhetorical question!"
The Archmagus' smile was ironic, and he nodded slightly. Akara didn't notice the last part very well, though, as her brain had hit a stone wall at this new expression. It wasn't a smirk, it wasn't a sneer, it was a smile. When he noticed her shock, watching her out of the corners of his eyes, it quickly changed into a triumphant smirk.
"You are distressingly easy to manipulate, my dear." he turned his head to look at her properly, not releasing her wrist, and she was startled to realize how terribly close they were just now. His fingertips continued to move over the bite wounds, hypnotically, and Akara quickly wrenched her eyes from his face back to his hands.
"Seriously Majere, I need my hand back."
"No, you don't."
Akara's mind hit another abrupt wall when the Mage raised her wrist to his lips, brushing over the scabs and bruises. Her breath hitched, and she found herself staring at his eyes again over the red and purple mess he held in both delicate hands.
"You're scaring me..." she admitted in a very small voice.
"I thought that you liked to be scared?"
"This is different," the thief whispered, "this is out of my control. I can't fight this, I can't avoid this, no amount of running and jumping and dodging will distance me from it." as she spoke, he pulled insistently at her wrist, and Akara was rolled forward by her shoulder, towards him. Like a spider pulling in its prey.
The thief didn't notice she'd been moved until suddenly she was staring straight down at him, keeping her head lifted off of his blanket-covered chest.
"I have caught you, then, if there is no escape."
"No, don't even think that." Akara said, pulling her free arm up to snag a thin golden chain around his neck, pulling the pendant free from the tangle of white hair beneath and holding it up for him to see. Obviously, she hadn't pulled that off when she'd ripped his robes off... and he'd managed to not notice it.
"Nobody catches a Krinir thief." she said with her own tired smirk, "We're just too good at what we do."
Raistlin's free hand took the pendant from her, surprised.
"During one of your doze-offs in the library, of course. You know," she couldn't help a little of her ego slipping through here, "when it was still your birthing day?"
"Well, you seem to be caught now, miss Krinir." he looked as amused as she felt, in his own quiet way, but Akara shook her head.
"I blew my -own- cover, Majere. You have yet to catch me."
"Is that how it works?"
Majere shook his head, setting the pendant down on the blankets before using the same hand to push her head down next to it. Grudgingly, she let her neck relax, settling her ear over one of his lungs.
"Your breathing is getting better." Akara noted out loud, "Think you'll be back to normal pretty soon?"
"Soon." he agreed, resting his hand on her neck again. "But it is daylight, still, and you need to rest as well."
She opened her mouth to argue, and found that she was yawning despite herself.
"Fine, fine." Akara sighed, "I guess you wouldn't kill me in my sleep anyway, would you? Much more fun if I'm awake..."
And with that, she was out.
When she woke the -next- time, she found she could move even less. Akara struggled to roll away or at least sit up, panicking slightly with the restriction. Raistlin's arms were wrapped tightly around her ribcage, however, and not letting up... the Mage's stare boring into her when she stopped fighting and dared to look.
She was the bug under the glass again. Akara felt her mouth go dry.
"What were you dreaming?" Raistlin demanded, out of nowhere. Akara blinked.
"What are you talking about? I don't dream."
"Well," he frowned, "something was certainly happening in your subconscious."
"What the hell are you going off about, Majere?"
"'Majere'?" Raistlin's eyes glinted, he was obviously closing in for the kill on -something-. Akara raised her eyebrows, waiting nervously... not even sure what he could be getting at but knowing it couldn't be good. "That isn't quite what you -moaned- in your sleep!"
"M... m... moaned!" Flashes of something jerked across her mind, golden skin and white hair, black velvet in a nearby pile. The taste of skin... "Let me up!" Akara yelled, panicked. She began to struggle again, but with an edge of desperation. Her hands lurched behind her back, pulling at his arms, but the frail Mage seemed to have regained a surprising strength and did not budge.
He simply lay where he was, holding her in place, and -studied- her reaction. All while wearing that blasted, arrogant, triumphant smirk...
"I'll figure out a way to hurt you if you don't let up right now." Akara growled, "I mean it!"
"Oh, I doubt it." Raistlin drawled, suddenly grabbing both of her arms. The thief froze immediately, aware that he could easily pull her shoulders out of their sockets from this position. She stared at him wide-eyed, slightly out of breath.
"Fuck off, Majere."
"Is that what we were doing?" he inquired innocently, but his eyes were still every bit the predator. Merciless.
"...yes, alright? Now let me up..."
"Do you know what you said in your sleep?"
"No, and I don't want to know!"
"And why not?"
"Because I don't want to have to face it!" Akara blurted, red-faced. "Please!"
Raistlin stared at her for another long, silent moment, and seemed about to say something... but stopped. Wordlessly, he let her go.
Akara immediately fled.
Chapter 7: black rabbit running
A/N (Aroihkin's Notes) 08.11.05:
Last chapter in SNAFU! To be continued in TAF #4, which is already in progress on my computer:D
Short, but tense. Lime alert!
Where she thought she'd go, Akara didn't know.
Outright escape was futile. No matter how fast she sprinted at the Grove, how hard she clenched her eyes shut, the place would stop her in her tracks long before reaching the actual tree-line, and she'd have to turn back. Akara tried this several times, knowing it was useless, before fully giving up on it.
The thief sank to the ground and leaned back against the tower, staring over the treetops and up at the stars. She could smell rain, and remembered the approaching storm she'd spotted from the upper levels.
"Aw... crap." Akara said, hunching over as the rain started to come down. "There's no way in the abyss that I'm going back in there yet."
The dream, so easily forgotten as it had happened, wouldn't leave her alone now that the bastard Mage had brought it to light. This one... the one she'd had while laying half-sprawled on top of him... had been -vivid-.
/ Why did he have to make me remember it? / she thought, miserably/ Now it will never leave me alone... /
She clenched her eyes shut, but it only made the images all the more vivid. Golden skin illuminated by the fireplace, tangled white hair splayed across the carpet. Teeth clenched and eyes barely open, the taste of his skin... like lightning, from his magic. Akara's dream had been so vivid as to hold scent, texture... it was no wonder she'd groaned in her sleep. What had been flashes and snippets upstairs had turned to a full-fledged memory... and the only words...
/ I have to know what it is I said out loud! /
Dream-Akara had held his hips down, though they'd struggled fitfully to move, his taste filling her mind. But then he'd grabbed her hair and forced her off of him, breathing raggedly, and pulled her up until he could reach her throat. Dream-Akara had tipped her head back, letting him do as he wished, and had groaned out three words under the onslaught of lips and teeth.
'Raistlin...' Akara could hear it clearly now in her mind, 'love... you...!'
The thief felt the bottom of her stomach drop out.
/ Oh Gods. He's not going to kill me, he's going to hang me skinless off of the tower by one foot and let the birds peck me to death! /
Akara hung her head, running her fingers through her hair.
/ I am so screwed, and... and not even in the good way! /
"Akara." the voice made her jump, head snapping up to stare at the black-robed figure in the rain, "Come, now, back inside..."
"No, Majere." Akara shrank away from the golden-skinned hand reaching for hers, "I'd rather just stay out here a while."
The Mage sighed, crouching down in front of her and taking her chin firmly in hand. She was forced to meet his eyes, shadowed beneath the hood of his robes, just for a moment before she turned them away.
"No, look at me." he demanded, and she did so without thinking about it. His eyes captured hers, he leaned forward until she could see nothing but him and the inky depths of his hood.
"What did you dream?"
Akara immediately felt her face flushing and her eyes widening, she tried to pull her head away... but it was now firmly against the damp tower wall. Raistlin shifted his grip to the side of her head, his other hand joining on the other side to pin her firmly in place.
"Tell me." he whispered, thumbs tracing lines back and forth under her eyes. "Please."
"You want to know, do you? Not humiliating enough without the sordid details, is it?"
He seemed unfazed by her anger, he simply sighed.
"I will give you a charm that will allow you to pass through the Grove as easily as ever before," Raistlin said, "if you will but tell me what you dreamt."
"Fine, Majere." Anger fueled her, as well as the prospect of getting away. To be well and truly away from those knowing eyes and tempting hands, that was all she wanted at this point. To hide. "You were naked, on the floor, and I had you in my mouth."
"You pulled me off, and up, and you were kissing my throat when I said..."
"When you said...?"
"Damn you, Majere! You know what I said then!"
But the golden eyes boring into her glittered hungrily.
"I want you to say it -now-. Word for word."
"No way, Majere, I-I c-can't say that."
"Would it be a lie, then?" Raistlin asked, softly, "you who have broken into my home twice a year for five years, always telling me I was beautiful? You who -live- at the -Golden Hourglass-?"
"No... it wouldn't be a lie." Akara whispered.
"Then say it."
"Say it!" he growled, eyes flashing with anger before he began to cough, bowing his head.
"Raistlin... I... I love you." the thief said, voice weak.
"Louder!" the Archmagus snarled between coughs, shaking.
"I love you!"
He pulled himself together after a few more moments of coughing, not bothering to wipe the blood off of his lips.
"And then what happened?" Raistlin demanded.
"Wh... what do you mean? Nothing..."
"You -writhed-, my lady, in your sleep! You -squirmed- and -whimpered- my name! What happened in your dream!"
Akara gasped, forced to recall the rest. She shut her eyes to escape his stare.
"You... you thrust into me, and..."
"And what..." Raistlin moved closer, she could feel it, "did that feel like?"
"Oh Gods." she shrank away from him as much as she could, pressing herself against the tower wall and down into the mud. "Why are you asking this of me?"
"I want to know."
"L... Like..." she took a deep, shuddering breath, wondering why she never carried a knife. Surely this would be the time to slit her own throat? "Like..."
"Tell me." his growl was husky, so close she could feel his breath.
"Like... like... every good thing in the world. At once. I... there aren't words." Akara whimpered, then, her eyes still closed. "Please... just let me go or kill me..."
His bloodied lips brushed her forehead suddenly, speaking words in a silky language she couldn't understand. Then he was suddenly at a distance again, standing away from her in the rain. Akara took a shaking, almost-sobbing breath and took her time in regaining her wits.
I seemed like an eternity later that she raised her head and opened her eyes, and had firmly stuffed the entire situation into a box in her mind and then tossed it in the cellar.
/ I will ignore it, I will ignore it, I will ignore it. I am a thief, a damned good one, and that's all that matters in life. I'm good at what I do. I'm excellent at what I do. Hell, I'm the very -best- at what I do! /
Her own ego tacked barely back into place, the thief glanced at Raistlin before surging to her feet.
"You really shouldn't be out here, Majere." Akara said, "You're going to get sick again."
"I have given you the charm, as promised. You may come and go through the Shoikan Grove as you please." he replied, as though he'd rehearsed it in his head. Raistlin looked a bit surprised at her come-around, however.
/ Don't break the act, Majere, I won't be able to take it. / Akara pleaded silently, and her sudden roguish grin was just a tad shaky.
"Well, that's awesome. I'll be on my way then... nice to finally meet you in person."
"I... shall see you at Yule, then?"
"You never -see- me, Majere, I'm the thief!"
"I could yet catch you."
"No... I don't think that you will." Akara's smile shifted a bit... turning bittersweet, "Goodbye, Raistlin."
She turned and sprinted away, effectively cutting off anything else he could have said.