Gates

Interlude: The Bottle

In Which Nasti Makes a Confession

Posted by Darth Krzysztof

18 Gozran (IV), 4720 AR

Nasti tells Chendrea about her adventures in the Temple over roast chicken and potatoes, leaving nothing out. Chen presses for the odd detail, and masks her concern for her lover’s safety like a master spy while she polishes off some expensive cheese. While some part of the wizard surely wants the story to end so they can pick up where they left off earlier that day, the part that hungers for lore is currently winning.

“You said that you met with the Luminous Order today?” Chendrea asks while they’re clearing the table. Nasti finds her the very picture of loveliness, and believes that her sheer off-white gown is made of satin. “Who did they send?”

“Syr Armin Harrak.”

“What’s he like?”

“She, and I’m not sure yet. She’s certainly committed to her Order’s goals. And she’d be good to have on your side in a fight…”

“Is she pretty, darling?”

Yes, Nasti thinks, but not as pretty as you. Perhaps you’re just teasing me. Are you teasing me? “I suppose so. Amaya’s smitten with her, but I think she’s barking up the wrong tree, there.”

“Poor thing. Yaya’s never had much luck in love, has she?”

“Not in the time I’ve known her, no. And it certainly pales in comparison to mine. But then, whose luck doesn’t?” She attempts a sultry wink, and Chendrea visibly blushes as she carries dishes to the sink.

Nasti follows the barefoot wizard at a slight distance, fighting off an urge to embrace Chen from behind while she works. Instead, she takes up a towel and dries each dish as Chen hands it to her.

“Did Syr Harrak invite you to join her Order?”

“She did,” says Nasti. “I’m sure that Amaya’s going to take her up on it, but it doesn’t sound like my sort of scene.”

“Why not? If you don’t mind my asking?”

“No, I don’t mind. And maybe saying it out loud could help me to figure out why, because I’m certainly in favor of fighting demons and undead and all that… it just doesn’t feel like me.”

“You aren’t primarily a smiter of evil, darling. You work against threats as you uncover them in your pursuit of knowledge, of course, but you don’t want someone ordering you to smite this or that evil.” As Chendrea wipes down the sink, Nasti realizes they’re running out of busywork. When will the kissing start? It’s “when,” and not “if,” right? Will I have to initiate it again? And where will it lead?

Keeping this conversation going will give her time to prepare herself. “Something like that. They don’t seem very sanctimonious, or even all that smug about being good, but… “

“Perhaps,” says Chendrea, turning away from the sink to face Nasti, “you’re just looking for a group to join that’s more in tune with your own ambitions.”

“Very perhaps, yes. Is this about Naryalla’s friends up north?” Failing to turn up anything about this organization has driven Nasti a bit mad; only her reluctance to discuss Naryalla with Chendrea has kept her from asking the wizard about them before now.

“Yes, Nastassia. Her friends up north.”

“What do you know about them?”

“They call themselves the Ebon Cabal.” Nasti feels Chen’s hand on her forearm before she sees it there. “I know it sounds sinister, darling, but it’s not as bad as all that. They gather lore, and relics, and power for their own ends – and to keep them out of dangerous hands, from what I can tell.”

Nasti takes pains to keep this question from sounding too paranoid: “Are you part of this Cabal?”

“Oh, no, darling; I’ve had dealings with them now and again, but I don’t have time for any politics outside my Guild. Why, just this afternoon, I had to resolve an emergency that would have forced a lesser wizard to cancel on you tonight.”

Nasti feels her heart pounding in her ears. It won’t be long now… “Then I’m glad you aren’t a lesser wizard.”

“Me? What about you? Every time I see you, you’ve mastered some new spell. I half expect you to come back from your next expedition throwing earthquakes and volcanoes around, or otherwise casting circles around me…”

“I have good news about that.” Nasti lays her hand on top of Chendrea’s. “Good news for you and me, anyway. We know there’s a third Slaughtergarde site, but we have no idea where it is – no idea where to start looking, even – so I may be back in town for awhile.”

“Is that so.” Chen’s too busy contemplating What This Means to make it a question.

“It is. But I do have one bit of business to resolve in town, and it may take a few days. You aren’t a wererat, are you?”

Chendrea laughs. “The moon was full on the eighth, darling. Two nights before the conjunction. And you were here until the wee small hours, remember? I would have turned before you left.” She turns a curious eye on Nasti. “Why do you ask? Is this about how much cheese I had at dinner?”

“Sumberton has a wererat problem,” says Nasti. “So, we have that to deal with. Oh, and I also have to finish your boots, but those are almost done. And then I have to-”

Chendrea brings the palm of Nasti’s right hand to her chest, and the tiefling falls silent as she feels the thrum of the wizard’s heart. “I need you to let all that go for tonight. I need you to be with me, right here, right now. Can you do that for me, darling?”

Oh, that’s definitely satin. “I… yes. I’ll try.”

“Good.” Her smile hints at things that could start fires.

“I want to. You know I want to.”

“I do, yes. And I’m so glad to hear it. Don’t get me wrong, darling; I commend you on a game well played. You’ve been patient, and considerate, and… well, everything I could have asked for, really. And it has been fun. Sweet agony, even. I haven’t felt anything like what we share in a long time, and it’s meant more to me than I can tell you. But, as I’ve said, I’m ready to move ahead into something more… more.” Chendrea’s eyes are dazzling as she asks: “Are you ready for that, too?”

She presses her palm to Chen’s chest, if only to keep from plummeting into those eyes. I wonder how long it’s been since she’s let her guard down like this. How is her vulnerability so irresistible? “Yes.”

“Well and truly, darling?” Chendrea moves that stubborn lock of Nasti’s hair back behind her ear to better meet her gaze. “We’ve waited this long. I’m still willing to wait…”

“No, I’m ready! It’s just that… you know…” I really should have said this sooner. Now it’s just going to sound stupid.

“It’s all right. You’re among friends, Nastassia. You’re among friends.” Her fingers blaze along Nasti’s cheek. “Tell me, please.”

Here we go. “I’ve never done this before. Not with anybody.”

“Oh, darling! Please, believe me when I tell you that doesn’t matter. Everyone has to start somewhere” She’s acknowledging my apprehension, instead of downplaying it. Gods, she’s good.

“I do, but… it’s just so embarrassing, you know? I’m thirty-five years old and I’ve never really kissed anyone before I kissed you this afternoon.”

Chendrea’s laughter rings like bells. “You could have fooled me, darling! You see, I’ve found that technique is no match for passion, and you were very passionate. You are very passionate. Aren’t you?” Her grin vanishes in the question’s gravity.

“Yes. It’s my biggest flaw. And that’s saying something, given how much competition it has.”

“I won’t help you beat yourself up, darling. However: if you regard your passion as a flaw, Is that why you bottle it up?”

“Yes.”

“And sometimes, in spite of your best efforts – or because of them – it spills out anyway? And then it just makes a terrible mess of everything?”

Nasti nods, but doesn’t allow the memories of all those disasters to pull her away from this moment, from her… girlfriend? Sweetheart? Lover? Does it matter what term you use at this point? Neither of you has committed to this relationship. Not formally, anyway.

Not. Yet.

“And that reluctance is the only thing that’s keeping you from kissing me right now.”

“I… I wasn’t sure if you were ready for that.”

“Nastassia, we’re standing this close, with your hand on my heart, so you can literally feel how I feel.” Nasti hears the echo of Chendrea’s words, weeks ago: In some things, though? You’re a real dummy.

But as Nasti makes ready to lean forward, Chen says: “But your passion’s also brought you here, to me. So it’s not a flaw, darling; it’s just a part of you.“ Chendrea’s voice drops to a husky purr. “And I’m not afraid of it. I want to see it. I want to feel it. I want you to share it with me. What I want you to do is this: pull the stopper out of the bottle. I want you to pour it out, all over me. Are you ready for that?”

The URGE to push Chendrea to the floor and kiss her to death slams into Nasti like a gorgon, somehow leaving her both drained and aflame in its wake. “That… that’s really intense. Rather more intense than I was expecting, really.”

Chendrea’s free hand uncinches her satin gown, letting it whisper down to her bare feet in a pool of shimmering white. Her body is breathtaking by candlelight, as ageless as her face, a blend of flawless elven skin and enticing human curves. Nasti hates her intrusive realization that Chendrea has no visible scars from her time among the duergar… The scars are there, Nasti tells herself. They’re all on the inside.

Chendrea moves the tiefling’s hand down from her heart to cup her breast. “I can’t keep it from getting intense,” says Chen, “and I’m sorry about that. You and I have met at an oasis in a very hot, very dry desert, and we can’t help but drink too much, too quickly. You’ve gone mad wondering what you’ve been missing, while I’ve gone mad pining for what I’ve lost.”

What you’ve lost. I felt lucky to find you when I did… but how long have you been alone?

This isn’t the time to ask. She’ll tell you when she’s ready. Until then…

Nasti grazes her thumb over the stiff nipple, provoking an eyelid flutter and a hitch in Chendrea’s breath that carries through Nasti’s hand and down her arm to her heart. “But, if that’s the way it has to be,” Chen says, “then I say: so be it.”

Nasti realizes she’s been salivating for several minutes. “So be it.”

Almost formally, Chendrea lifts Nasti’s hand from her breast to her face, lightly kisses the fingers, then presses it back to Nasti’s chest. “I’m glad we’re on the same page, darling. Come on; let’s go to bed.”

“If you insist.”

* * *

19 Gozran (IV), 4720 AR

“Nastassia, wake up.”

She stirs, disentangles herself from a lovely dream, and climbs the long ladder to consciousness. Chendrea’s smiling face, radiant in the light of early morning, greets her when she opens her eyes.

“I’m sorry to disturb you, darling, but I’ve got to get downstairs, and I didn’t want you to wake up to find me gone.” She leans down and kisses Nasti’s mouth so lightly that she feels Chen’s emotion more than her lips. “Last night was everything I hoped for. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

Nasti is too sated to offer more than an mmm in reply, but this seems to appease Chendrea, who saunters off to browse her nearest wardrobe. “I hope your wererat hunt won’t keep you from seeing me again tonight.”

“I hope so, too.” Nasti already has her doubts, but she dismisses them by replaying the night’s amorous escapades in her mind while Chendrea makes herself ready. Something scratching at Nasti’s subconscious finally breaks through as the wizard’s pulling on those accursed boots. “Shit!” she says, tumbling out of the bed and walking to her discarded clothes.

“Everything all right?” asks Chendrea, buckling her belt.

“Got something.” Nasti digs through one belt pouch before switching to the other. “I have something for you.”

“Oh? A gift?” Chendrea comes up behind her, grinning. “Having you naked on your knees before me is gift enough, darling.”

Nasti feels a ping that nearly registers as shame, but only because she’s felt ashamed of her sexuality for so long. “That’s a gift for both of us, but that’s not what I’m looking for – here it is.”

She fishes a fine gold chain from the pouch; the delicately wrought gold ring hanging from it is set with a tiny, brilliant sapphire. Holding it by the chain so Chendrea won’t take this as “another marriage proposal,” Nasti gets to her feet and offers it to Chen, who whisks it to the window to study the sapphire in the light. “This is beautiful, darling! Is it… is this treasure? Did you find it in a dungeon?”

“I did, yes. That is to say, I found the ring. I bought the chain because I want you to wear it around your neck… I want people to know that you’re mine.”

Beaming, Chendrea asks, “That’s a very old custom, isn’t it? The sort of thing our grandparents used to do?”

“I always thought it was romantic. Don’t you?” I picked it up from those old plays I used to read at the Haraday… people told me a real relationship wouldn’t be anything like it is in plays and songs, yet here I am.

Chen answers by donning the necklace. “I love it, darling, Now, this says I’m spoken for, but how will people know I’m specifically yours?”

“Because I have one, too.” Nasti’s already putting the matching ring around her own neck. “And word gets around this town pretty quickly.”

“You’re mine? You’re mine! You belong to me, darling.” Chen comes back to Nasti’s position and throws her arms around her. “I must confess, I love the sound of that.”

“And I love you, Chen.” Oh, well. In for a copper penny, in for a gold measure. “I’m sorry if I’m spoiling the game or anything, but I love you madly, and I don’t want to bottle that up any longer, either.”

“You aren’t spoiling anything, Nastassia. I love you, too. Of course, I love you! I’ve been in love with you from the moment we met. And I should be the one apologizing for taking so long to club you over the head with it, but I promise you this: I’ll spend the next two years, at least, making up for lost time.” Chendrea’s kiss is somehow passionate and tender all at once, but it’s over all too quickly, and she adds: “Only, you know, starting tonight.”

“This is going to be the longest day of my life.”

“Oh, don’t pout. At least you know how good it’s going to be when it’s over.” She takes a step back from Nasti, still holding hands with her. “You’re welcome to stay here. You can stay until I’m done working, if you wish.”

Abyss-damned wererats! “Alas, I can’t… but I’m going to take my time getting ready.”

“You envy my bathtub, don’t you? It may not be as divine as my bed, but I assure you that I spared no expense there, either.”

Peering over Chendrea’s shoulder at the claw-footed beauty, Nasti says, “I’m tempted, but I think I’d rather share that with you later. There’s room for both of us, no?”

“It’ll be cozy. Intimate.” Chen walks her fingers across Nasti’s collarbone. “I’m sure we can make it work. Still, it conjures hot water from the Boundless Sea, so you could bathe now and later. The command words are carved into the handles.”

Nasti tries to whistle, but she’s never been able. “I’m glad to see that the clever reputation of wizards has at least some basis in fact.”

“Smart-ass,” Chen says with a chuckle, squeezing that smart ass just before pushing free of their embrace. As she reaches the stairs down, she says: “Good luck with the wererats, darling.”

“Thanks. Farewell, my love, until next.”

“Fare thee well.”

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