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Escape: Chapter 3


Rose stared into the sparse and musty room from the doorway, taking in all it had to offer.  There was a small bed in one corner, big enough for her human form but it would be somewhat awkward if she took her true form.  A small round table flanked by two chairs sat against the opposite wall.  In the middle of the far wall was a big window, adorned with heavy woolen curtains, pulled back to bask the room in dusty sunlight.  A soft, slightly dusty throw rug dominated the floor inviting her to remove her tight shoes and tread on its cushiony loveliness. 

But the detail that got Rose was the dresser.  A dresser next to the bed, worn but recently dusted, held a single candlestick with no candle and a small vase cradling two delicate black flowers.  She thought at first that the light did not catch them properly, but as she approached, a smile crept across her face, the first perhaps in days.  The flowers were indeed black, but they were not wilted.  Standing demurely in the vase were two black roses, a glimmering sheen on their shadowed petals.

Standing in the middle of the room on the rug, she wheeled around, feeling the whole room around her.  At last she turned and collapsed on the bed, staring into the ceiling with tired eyes.  This room was new to her, but she already felt welcome here.

It was not just the room either.  This house, for all its strangeness, made her feel oddly at home.  It was perhaps the only place she could even think about being herself, inside and out.  That thought alone invited a sense of ease, in turn letting her instincts fade and bringing her weariness to the forefront of her mind.  She never noticed when her eyes closed, and a comfortable, dreamless sleep overtook her. 

When her eyes opened again, the only light to the room was the dim glow of the moon through a clear night sky and the warm orange glow outlining the door.  She slipped off the bed, moving slowly to the door like a ghost in a dream.  As she opened the door, she winced at the brightness of the hall.  Candles illuminated the benighted hall through meshed sconces, casting a web of shadows in crisscross patterns.  Stepping into the corridor, she thought she heard the music of a lute drifting lazily through the hall. 

Rose's mind began to fill with questions as she walked toward the sound of the music.  She had already met two of the other lodgers in the House of Odd in addition to its namesake, Volika the drider priestess, and the curious golem Jol.  How many more lodgers were staying here?  How long have they been here, just under the nose of the people of Talran?  Furthermore, what were their sympathies toward the Trust?  Could they become allies of her cause?

No, she thought finally.  Even if Hollace Oddsir reminded her - just a little - of Anatair, he was dead and gone.  He had worked hard to make the Trust a haven of rebellion, and she would not dishonor his memory by succumbing to the weakness of her loneliness just to spill her secrets to strangers, even if they were kinder than most normal people. 

Perhaps, though, one of them would escort her to Kalithos.  They did not need to know why, after all.  If she needed to, her shadow magic was especially good at deceiving others, and the even the minds of strange folk can be susceptible to her shadows.  But only as a last resort would she turn to trickery against people who had been only kind to her.  Rose was capable of many things, but such deviousness was wicked to her.  Any moral reason was acceptable, but mostly it reminded her of her father...

...And any time she thought of her father, she became sick with anger.

Shedding such worrying thoughts quickly, she found herself in the balcony above the living area she saw earlier.  The music was coming from here, but she could not see its source.  While her eyes searched the dark, a strange, powerful smell assaulted her nose, and that was when she noticed that there were cloves of garlic strung along the banister down the stairs and along the balcony. 

She crinkled her nose from the overwhelming odor, and started down the stairs to get away from the bulk of the stench.  The moment she set foot on the first floor, the music ceased, and a chorus of disappointed groans met her ears.

"Aw bloody hell!" one voice said loudly.  "I thought fer sure we 'ad one that time!"

"Ah, well, perhaps the next one will bring you luck, Garmy," said a second, much lighter voice.

"I told you she wasn't," chided another voice, this one Rose recognized as Volika. 

Rose turned to the living room, where now she could see strange figures in just about every chair.  Closest to her sat a balding man who was clearly dead, but seemed not to mind the least bit, dressed in a well-to-do fashion.  Next to him, seated on a pile of cushions, was Volika, who shook her head in disapproval and the jolly corpse next to her.  Across from them in a rocking chair sat the source of the music, a skeleton clad in leathers and a wide brimmed hat, now idly strumming at a lute again.  The blue glow in his eye sockets was somehow wry and full of intellegence. Next to him was perhaps the most imposing and confusing, an illithid perched in a stool in front of an easel, a tiny brick of charcoal in his hand, seemingly unconcerned by the sudden outburst. Against the far wall, near a smoldering fireplace, Hollace sat in a large armchair.  His gaze was cast her way, a knowing smile across his desiccated lips.  Jol stood in the corner nearby, his arms crossed patiently behind him, a big warm grin on his face as he looked in Rose's direction.

A House of Odd indeed, Rose thought to herself.

"I'm quite sorry, my dear," Volika said regretfully.  "I did ask Garmy not to, but he was quite certain of his theory."

"His theory?" Rose asked, glancing at the zombie, who she guessed was Garmy.

"Apologies miss," the finely dressed zombie said amicably.  "I guess I believed -- well, hoped really -- that you might be a child of the night."

It took a moment for his meaning to sink in.  "You thought I was a vampire?" Rose asked, confusion contorting her face.

"Aye, that I did." Garmy shook his head, almost ruefully.  "Just one more of the living impaired and we'll outnumber the living in this household!"

"Is that important?" Rose asked.

"Not really," the skeleton strumming the lute said offhandedly.

"Well, it's a laugh, innit?" Garmy responded.  "That would mean the majority of those living here aren't even living!"  He erupted into bawdy laughter, apparently quite tickled at his own joke."

"Why did you think I was a vampire?" Rose asked.

"Miss Volika described you improperly," the skeleton informed her.  "She said a young, pale woman dressed in black arrived early in the day, before the sun was up, to sleep until night.  Garmy let his imagination get the best of him." 

"Sorry to disappoint," Rose said, a little amused herself. 

"But where are me manners?" the zombie stood up, bowing slightly.  "Garmicus VisMarda, the house chef, at your service."

"Seamus the Slim," the skeleton said, tipping the brim of his hat.  He gestured to the others.  "You've already met priestess Volika, and gentle Jol, not to mention the master of the house." Volika bowed again, and Jol nodded abruptly.  "And the sourpuss next to me is Orwell."  He caught Rose's confusion with a wave of his hand.  "Not his real name, but as an illithid, his name is not comfortable on the tongue."  The mind flayer took only a moment away from his art to give the newcomer a sullen nod.

"Now that Garmy's curiosity has been mollified," Volika said standing from her pillows, "I will remove the strands of garlic, and hopefully that dreadful smell will begin to fade."

"I shall assist," Jol volunteered, tromping across the room as Volika climbed up the wall to the bannister. 

"Don't be shy, m'lady, come take a seat," Garmy gestured to his own chair.  "I take it that since you are in fact living, you will want some refreshments?"

Rose came to sit at his chair, a plush, overstuffed armchair.  Designed for one of more ample proportions, the chair was a little too big for her, and she sank several inches into the cushions.  Thankfully, Garmy seemed to be well preserved, and neither scraps of rot nor deathly odor permeated the seat.

"That's more like it!" Garmy said.  "Now, there is some wine left from dinner, as well as some salmon in the larder.  Shall I sautee that up for you?"  At a loss for words, Rose only nodded.  "Don't you worry, miss, there will be enough wine left for a glass or two!"  He chuckled to himself as he left to living room for the kitchen.

Once Garmy was out of the room, Seamus ceased his song and leaned forward in his chair.  "So, young lady, what brings you to the darkness of the woods, when one so fair should be lit by the day?"

"Philanderer," mumbled Orwell, not looking away from his drawing.  Seamus seemed to ignore the crass comment, and continued to gaze in Rose's direction.

"I am ... merely traveling to Kalithos." Rose responded.  "I must have lost the path, or gotten sidetracked, because the next thing I knew I was in front of this house."

"Is that so?" Seamus said, and Rose could almost see that he was trying to grin.  "I would dare say that no one who finds this place does so by accident."  He looked over to Hollace, who returned his wry look, as though they shared some secret between them. 

Rose analyzed the glance, trying to decide if there was any malice to it.  Surely, if they meant her harm, they had time to do her in while she slept.  Still she denied their inference.  "I am merely a traveler, nothing more."

"Yes but a traveling what?" Seamus shot back.  "A traveling scholar?  A fleeing criminal?  A wandering wizard, sorcerer, or witch?  Are you from Talran, or on your way back to Kalithos from Talran?  Perhaps you hail from Harkenal, where the Harkers hide?"
"My identity is not truly your concern now, is it?" Rose said abruptly, irritated with his prying.

Seamus nodded, unabashed by her tone.  "That much is true, I suppose.  But if you want us to be able to help you, we need to know more about you."

"I don't need any help," Rose argued in spite of herself.

"My dear, don't try to lie to a better liar," Seamus told her.  "Back when I had flesh, I once convinced a merchant that my left shoe was an artifact left by the Shayath Empire."

Rose processed that for a moment.  "The shayath are serpentine, they don't even have feet."

Seamus crossed his arms.  "Need I say more?  Now, come clean, dear.  What's your story?"

"You can ask all you want," Rose said adamantly, "But all you truly need to know is that I am trying to get to Kalithos.  I was going to leave tonight, but Master Oddsir has convinced me to stay longer."

"And we will have you as long as you wish, child," Hollace said graciously.  "However, Seamus isn't just trying to pry into your business; if you are here, than it is because you saw the house at all, which makes you special.  When I first decided to make this house more than my own home, I devised a dweomer that shielded it from prying eyes.  Only outcasts in need of refuge, the few who are shunned by all others, can see my home for what it is."

"For some, that is only a temporary status," Seamus explained.  "I fled here many years ago when my more ignoble deeds caught up with me, and Hollace took quite good care of me.  Then, when I later lost more than the skin off my back, I returned to take up residence."

Rose listened carefully to them as they explained, considering her options.  Truly, none was more reviled than the shadow dragons.  They were hunted down and exiled thousands of years ago in this world.  They seemed genuine, but how long would that last in the face of her true form?  There was outcast, but then there was ... well, there was Rose, hated by other shadow dragons, and feared by others for being a shadow dragon.  There was no way she could fit in here, no matter how likely it seemed.

Rose looked back up to reconsider them, briefly catching the eye of Orwell, who had been looking in her direction.  He looked away quickly to his sketching, as though trying to avoid her gaze.  Had he read her mind?

"Our point is," Hollace continued, "you are not what you seem to be.  You may not be as noticeably different as some of us, but the sad fact that you are here means you have nowhere else to go.  We only want to see what we can do to help."

Rose's ego shrunk somewhat from his words.  Humble was not an emotion she felt very often.  Though he was trying to be kind, the old lich's words made her realize just how far she had fallen.  She was literally in the only place she was welcome now.  Even if she did get to Kalithos, would her word mean much over Halvek's to the council? 

It began to dawn on her that she may never be welcome anywhere but the House of Odd.

"Truly, Hollace," Seamus said wryly, "Your words are so dry they have drained what little color there was from her face!" 

Hollace cleared his throat.  "Yes, perhaps that was not one of my more inspirational speeches."

Before Seamus could respond, Orwell put down his charcoal.

"The state of the world is always fleeting.  The hands of time are always moving; time changes all it touches.  Grass withers and sleeps when winter's white blanket covers the field, and the trill of the birds becomes brighter when spring shines in the dawn before summer. Day and night dance eternally, and even the shadows are colored for a time." 

The illithid's recital was beautiful, echoed in her mind by another voice.  She had heard it somewhere else, sometime long ago, and hearing it again made her smile. 

"Succinct as always my friend," Hollace said, nodding.  "You've got a talent for knowing just what to say."

"Talent shmalent," Seamus muttered.  "He has an edge on other minds, after all."

"Still," Rose said, "It was well put."  Orwell nodded his thanks, and reclaimed his charcoal. 

"Then you will share your tale?" Seamus said hopefully.

Rose nodded hesitantly.  "I do appreciate that you want to help.  Suffice to say, there are things I cannot share with you, just knowing them can bring you harm."

"Share what you might, dear," Hollace said.  "We'll hear anything you wish to tell."

The firelight wrapped around them as Rose told them her story; how she fled her home to escape her father's wrath, how her brother stayed behind to keep his eyes away from her.  How she was found then by a kind old mage who recognized her talent for arcane power, and he kept and trained her.  How a rival mage assassinated him, and wanted to kill her as a witness.  How she barely managed to run once again, fleeing her assassin by luck.

She did not tell them her father wanted her dead because he had killed her mother and she was the last of his mate's children.  She did not tell them that Anatair had been a part of the Trust, and wanted to change the world from the shadows.  She did not tell them about the Nihilus magic used to kill her mentor, or the ashen man that may still be after her.  She did not tell them that she had killed many in the pursuit of her master's dream.

Most importantly, she left out that she was a shadow dragon.  Not just a shadow dragon, the last daughter of the lord of all shadows, Ortas Megora.

"A dire tale child," Volika said, having joined them halfway through the story along with Jol.  "Why do you seek passage to Kalithos?"

"I have friends there," Rose said.  "My master's rival may try to blame his death on me, and they may be able to help me clear my name."

"If that is the case, you may do well to lay low for now," Seamus told her.  "If you were to go to your friends now, this rival might try to do them in as well.  Better perhaps that you contact them in secret."

"That is my intention," Rose said.  "But I still need to see them in person.  I cannot risk my magic being traced from any distance."

"This rival of your master's sounds quite formidable," Hollace mused.  "You were wise to simply run."

Rose scowled inwardly.  Halvek was formidable, perhaps, but mostly treacherous, power hungry, and cunning.  Now with the Nihilus in his arsenal, he was capable of wickedness that would bring the Trust into the same corrupted pit as the rest of the world.  She could not allow that to happen.

"You still seem adamant about leaving," Volika observed, moving from her pillows to put her hand on Rose's.  "You can take as long as you like to decide what to do.  We will aid you how we can when the time comes."

"Yes, whatever you need, just ask," Seamus asked, recovering his lute.

Rose nodded her appreciation, feeling suddenly off guard.  Though she welcomed their help, their attention, a nagging concern tugged at her heart.  They were so very kind, so willing to give her a hand up, when all she had asked for was a place to rest.  Truly, she had not been completely honest, but neither had they argued when she told them there would be omissions in her story. 

Still, she felt somehow like she did something wrong.  She did not deserve their aid, but where else could she turn at this point?  It was not enough to her now, she needed to justify their actions.  These people who only had this home would not go unrewarded from her.  She needed to make it up to them.

"I believe I will stay for a time," she said suddenly.  Volika's face glowed with an ebony smile, and Seamus picked a sour note.

"Why the change of heart?" Hollace asked, pleasantly curious.

"Maybe I'll have to come back someday," she said.  "I want to know more of what it's like here."

"Marvelous," Garmy said, coming in with Rose's meal.  "We aren't that frightening then?"

Taking the plate from the charming zombie, Rose smiled slyly.  "I don't think I have any right to fear you."

Garmy chuckled, shuffling away to get another seat.  "Nothin' to fear about me, that's for sure, eh?"

"No, but I wouldn't upset you either," Rose said.  "One should never bite the hand that feeds them."

"Oh, he's an old softy," Seamus told her.  "I've been trying for years to get a rise out of him, and he doesn't seem to care what I do, nothing bothers him."

"Oh, aye," Garmy said, dragging a modestly cushioned chair over to the circle.  "Didn't ye nick me hands one day?"

Seamus nodded, quite amused by the memory.  "I put them out in Hollace's garden.  When you finally found them you were so pleased."

Garmy wiggled his fingers for Rose.  "The nicest my hands smelled in years."

The night rolled on, gathering up other such stories as it went.  Garmy joked, Seamus quipped, Volika offered her own tales about the other residents, and Hollace had many anecdotes about some of the other visitors that passed through.  Rose immersed herself in the simple revelry, experiencing the glow of belonging, if just for a moment.  Here she was not an outsider, but another of the group, just like the rest. 

That gave her pause for thought.  The Trust had given her a purpose, yes, but without Anatair she would be quite lonely now.  No one else at the Talran chapter regarded her as an equal or friend, just as a superior or rival.  Never before had this bothered her; she had her reasons for being there.  She believed in Anatair's goals, and she never trusted anyone but him.  Her only concern had been her station, her power, herself.  How empty that felt now, in the company of The Odd.

When morning came, Rose excused herself to her room, feeling the weight of her thoughts with every step back to her room.  The sun's light was just creeping through the trees when she laid down.  She looked out the window, and gave long, thoughtful sigh.  She had tasted a different life this night, one that reminded her of how she felt when she spent time with her brother.  She thought of Arithar again, somewhere in the world, perhaps feeling as lonely as her.  Her mind drifted back further, remembering the nights spent in the arms of her mother ...

"Mother," she whispered, remembering the beautiful poems she had whispered to help Rose sleep.  She hadn't realized it at first, but Orwell's recital had been one of her mother's favorite poems.  Was it a coincidence, or did the illithid know more than he let on?

Rose put it out of her mind, at least for now.  She had her plan; first, she would warn the Trust of Halvek's treachery.  From there, she would see through Anatair's goals, and when they were finished she would leave.  She did not know where to, but she knew she did not want any part of what the Trust had to offer her.  There was something she wanted much more now: sanctuary.

Just to be safe, somewhere she could live quietly, was all she had ever wanted, as far back as she could remember.  After seeing the way her horrible father wrought fear and pain even among his own family, she vowed to herself that she would not hurt others the way he did.  Anatair had wanted that for everyone, that was why she followed him.  He would have made her safe.  Now that he was gone, Rose would need to find her sanctuary elsewhere. 

Maybe it was here, at the House of Odd.  Perhaps it would be with Arithar, at their little waterfall.  Rose let her eyes close gently, breathing those thoughts out to let them drift away.  She did not need them yet, she would find their answers another time.

This story is the property of Tyler Clapp, Author (AKA "Cael") Copyright DarkFireGraphics.com