Marissa, Trajan, and Etjar – Anyuri

I’m not sure what inspired creating the Anyuri, but it’s a great foil for lower level parties in a high magic campaign.



Trajan sat in Jannalanga’s tavern in Kerr with his wife, both sipping mulled wine from heavy mugs that preserved the heat. Hal had finished a fantastic tale of how he survived an encounter with a pack of shape shifting beasts, creatures that resembled smoky wolves whose outlines shifted. Normal weapons wouldn’t hurt them.

Hal regaled his listeners with a fascinating and horrifying tale of how his company of twenty hardened veterans had been taken and eaten, one by one, only their stripped skeletons being found. Hal had been the sole survivor, escaping by cunning and skill.

Of course, at this point in the telling of the tale the one-armed man was drunk enough that the details of his cunning and skill were hard to understand, and no one wanted to get close enough because the more he drank, the more he spit.

People who had never been outside of Kerr found the story exciting … but the spit bath that accompanied it dampened their interest. His audience thinned and disappeared.

Finally, Jannalanga escorted Hal outside to the hut where animals were dressed after slaughter. Hopefully he’d manage to hit the refuse bin if he spewed up his ale and lunch. Better there than in the tavern.

Trajan felt every one of his eighty-five years. They had mostly been good years, but the cold weather reminded him just how many years he had survived. He slid his arm around the woman who had been his close companion for most of those years.

Jake and David plopped down on either side of them, followed more leisurely by Bisonbit who sat across from them. Although only Jake was their grandchild, Marissa slid an arm around David and smiled broadly at Bisonbit. She felt a moment of guilt that she felt much closer to a boy and young man who were no blood relation – far closer than she felt for her son and four daughters, or her other grandchildren. Her youngest grandchild, his best friend, and their tutor were her most beloved. She glanced sideways at her husband; his expression proclaimed he felt the same way.

David leaned forward and looked around Marissa at Trajan and stated, “Hal never saw anything like what he said. He probably had a nightmare after hearing you tell your story about anyuri.”

Trajan laughed, replying, “Probably so.”

An equally elderly man sat down across the table from the old couple, himself holding a mug of mulled wine. He nodded at them, saying their names in greeting, “Marissa, Trajan.”

Out of the corner of his eye Trajan saw his wife of fifty-five years scrunch up her nose. She didn’t know him, either. “Do we know you?”

“Once. A long time ago.” The man had an open smile that lit his face up like a bon fire, spreading light and warmth.


The man laughed loudly, clearly pleased he had been recognized. “Even with this face, so different from the last time we saw each other, I hoped my old friend would not forget me!”

“Not that I feel badly about it, but how are you alive?” Trajan asked, his tone incredulous.

The visitor went somber. “THAT is a tale worth telling, unlike the silly fantasy told by that old jackass,” he said, nodding towards the side door out which the proprietor had escorted Hal. “If you have the time I’ll tell it.”

Etjar led the group along an animal trail. Sometime in the distant past it had been a road, but nature always wins in the end, taking back anything men create – after they stopped tending it. The trail was too straight to be a natural animal trail, as animals tended to meander. Plus, there were spots that didn’t seem natural, like a hill had been cut down or gully filled – in the distant past.

The forest was old growth hard woods. Viewing distances were generally good, although spots where large trees had died sprung up with new contestants for sunlight. On the cusp of a hillock the soldier stopped to rest and let the group catch up.

His and Trajan’s childhood friend Billi had talked them into hiring on with an expedition to the east side of the Grav-Lach Mountains, more than a hundred miles east of Kieldar. An old monastery had been abandoned more than fifty years before in this wild area, and it was reputed the treasury had been left behind.

It was also reputed that the most of the monastery’s complement had been killed by shadowy beasts of smoke, and the few survivors had fled willy-nilly to preserve their own lives. Marissa had searched for records at the Grand College of Kerr and had discovered that there had been a monastery, a disaster struck it, and only three survivors made it back to Kieldar. All three were permanently addled by their experience and while all told similar tales, they were discounted as madness. The details of their stories were not recorded.

A merchant that Billi had worked for the past six years, Londo Severino, had financed the expedition. Marissa had also checked on his background – in his early fifties, he had inherited a moderately successful merchant business from an uncle and had managed to maintain the business for the past twenty-odd years. Billi had recently married Severino’s daughter Julia and they seemed destined to eventually inherit the business.

Unfortunately, there were rumors that recent business decisions had been bad ones and the merchant needed an influx of cash.

The trio had discussed the matter and decided to accept the commission … with the proviso that their fee was paid half up front, and the other half reserved at a major lending house in Kerr. Following a near disastrous commission with a professor that resulted in an encounter with an oculus despot, the trio had little trust for employers.

During that discussion Julia had shown her temper, and Billi had shown that he had not changed – as a child and a teen, he was always one to talk people down from overwhelming emotion. The woman thought the fee far too high, but her husband echoed Marissa’s point that Kieldar was five hundred miles north of Kerr, the path to the monastery was only listed on maps more than a century old, and the dangers of the last leg were completely unknown.

Other expeditions had set out on this same mission. None had returned.

This added to the legend, scaring some off while encouraging the imaginations of others.

Billi also pointed out that expeditions not returning could be a result of many reasons, none of which had anything to do with smoky monsters.

Billi, always the moderator.

Etjar had heard the tales but discounted them. If there was a treasury left behind it was either filled with junk or long looted. The story of the monks being slaughtered could be anything. It might be sheer fantasy, or maybe bandits or goblinoids had attacked. Marissa and Trajan agreed that they’d probably get paid for escort service, a bit of searching, and then more escort service. But they set their fee high enough to cover the possibility that something nasty would be encountered some time during the trip.

In the end an agreement was reached, Severino was satisfied, and Julia kept silent but obviously thought the trio demanded too much. She ignored them as much as she could, and tended to reply only in monosyllables, snorting when Billi, Etjar, and Trajan reminisced about their childhood in Kerr.

Etjar expected Marissa to be uninterested in their boyhood memories, but Billi kept her engaged, laughing at things both Etjar and Trajan had done, and poking fun at himself as well. Etjar expected the woman to harp too much on things Trajan had done … those two had a hard time holding a civil conversation. But she reigned herself in. Ahh … Billi the moderator.

Looking back as the group straggled together, Etjar made a mental count. Five porters, Severino, Julia, and Billi, then six more porters. He shifted his shoulders. The chainmail armor he and Trajan wore was heavy, but it was worth the cost, both in money and discomfort. They had worn armor for years and were used to the weight, and both recognized that not having an arrow or blade buried in one’s gut was a good thing. Nay, a great thing!

In contrast Billi wore boiled leather armor. It didn’t provide the protection that chainmail did, but it was a lot lighter and didn’t chafe as much. Of course, while Billi had seen action in years of militia service and caravan guarding, it was far less than what Trajan and Etjar had experienced. He valued the heavy armor less. Severino, Julia, and the porters wore no armor. So far it had worked out for them.

The bandits they had encountered several days before had inflicted no harm, thanks to Trajan spotting them before the bandits saw them, and Marissa invoking a Fireball on them, killing half their troupe and sending the survivors fleeing in panic. Etjar and Trajan had each dropped a man at long range with arrows, ensuring the survivors didn’t feel safe even at a distance.

Now the group approached their destination. Marissa and Trajan guarded their back – sniping at each other while watching in all directions. Etjar sighed. They did their jobs well and if danger appeared, they protected each other fiercely. But the pair just couldn’t have a normal conversation without picking at each other.

Except if Julia was present. The abrasive woman represented a danger of sorts, so the duo closed rank against her. “I finally found one of Julia’s good points,” Etjar laughed to himself. Billi was deliriously in love, so he didn’t seem to recognize her nature, and her father catered too much to her. The porters all avoided her, although they were beneath her notice, so that wasn’t difficult.

“We should start looking for a place to camp for the night.”

Severino asked, “How far do you think we are from the monastery?”

Etjar replied, “If the map is accurate, less than five miles.”

“Why stop now?” Julia grated. “Why can’t we camp at the monastery itself?”

“Because we won’t get there before it’s too dark to setup camp, and because we don’t go into any unknown place except in full daylight,” Marissa retorted, sounding like she considered the other woman an idiot. Which was probably true.

Etjar quickly cut off Julia’s heated reply. Marissa could be short tempered with people besides Trajan, but normally reigned herself in with paying customers. But a month-and-a-half of traveling with the younger woman had eroded her patience along with her good sense. “We have no idea what condition the monastery is in, if it’s even there. Best to setup a camp on our own terms and investigate in the clear light of morning. The buildings may be in bad shape, no place to go in the dark.”

“I’m paying for your expertise. It would be bad business to ignore qualified advice,” Severino cut in. He may dote on his only child, but he wasn’t completely oblivious to her charms – or lack thereof. He was also wiser than he sometimes appeared – by phrasing his reply in business terms, he had eliminated a hasty retort from his child.

The porters all nodded at the result of the discussion. The men were porters, not fighters. Not that they couldn’t handle themselves in a rough-n-tumble, and all probably knew how to use the heavy knives they carried. But they weren’t professional fighters like Etjar, Trajan, and Billi. Or Marissa for that matter – she wasn’t a swordswoman, but she knew well how to use the staff she carried and was deceptively good with a dagger.

Nearly two miles farther on they came upon a clearing on high ground. It didn’t offer natural protection, but the view in all directions was good. Etjar didn’t mention that in the dark the view wouldn’t be good, but Marissa could plant a Light spell out a ways to illuminate their targets, and the openings between the large trees made arrow fire useful. He and Trajan were good bowmen, and Billi had been pretty good when they served in the Kerrean militia together.

The porters needed no direction in setting up camp. While Marissa, Trajan, Etjar, and Billi kept watch and Severino and Julia “supervised”, the men quickly dug a fire pit, found stones to edge the pit and control the fire, and started a fire. Others hunted the area for anything that resembled dry firewood, fallen branches and the like, collecting a good-sized pile.

Severino laid his pad near the fire and the porters arranged it around him. Pecking order had senior men closer to the fire.

Marissa, Trajan, and Etjar setup their camp away from the fire, where the light wouldn’t fully blind them. They lacked the warmth of the fire but carried heavier blankets to compensate for no fire. Julia had argued against it early on, but Billi setup with the trio. Given the choice of sleeping alone or with her husband, she gave in. After six weeks of travel she no longer grumbled about it.

Although she did make it a point to make noises that informed the trio of what she and her husband did under the blankets. Etjar was more-or-less inured to her shenanigans by now, so he ignored it. He thought Trajan ignored it as well, but Marissa was continuously irritated by the younger woman.

The porters milled around, finalizing their camp as the sun disappeared and blackness replaced it. Etjar was doing a final count when Trajan and Marissa spoke at the same time, “Two are missing.”

Count on them to be in step with each other,” he thought as he recounted. “Yup, two men missing.”

“Londo!” As the merchant turned to face him Etjar continued, “Are two men still looking for firewood? We have enough.” The soldier didn’t want to cause unnecessary panic so he phrased his question as innocuously as he could.

The tradesman and Billi both counted. “Where are Josh and Able?” Londo asked at large.

The porters looked around at each other, doing their own count. One, a senior porter, shook his head negatively. “They went out looking for firewood, same as everyone.” Turning outward from the fire he shouted, “Josh! Able! Where are you? Sound off!”

The silence of the mountain was the only reply, small insects making cheeping noises the only break in the silence. The porter opened his mouth to shout again. Trajan darted forward and muffled him, a gloved hand on the back of his head and the other over his mouth. “No need to yell again. What we need is silence to hear them.” He spoke loudly enough that all could hear. “Do you understand?”

At the man’s frightened nod Trajan released him. The porter was the same size and build as Trajan, over six feet tall and well-muscled … but the soldier moved like a soldier and the porter understood the difference between their respective experiences. The soldier returned to his friends.

“Why-” Julia retorted loudly. Her own husband clamped a hand over her mouth, his genial expression replaced by a harsh firmness that looked wrong on his normally amiable face. He whispered something in her ear. She shook her head negatively tried to pull away. He shook her gently, considering that he was holding her head, and whispered again, something harsh. At last, she nodded affirmatively, and he released her. She was unhappy with his treatment of her but complied with whatever he ordered. She had enough good sense to listen to her husband, although the look on her face said she’d make him suffer later.

Etjar issued crisp orders. “We don’t know anything is wrong. Everyone go to your bedroll and sit. Silently. We will find Josh and Able but need to be able to hear them.” He didn’t ask if they understood; his tone demanded obedience.

Billi gently pushed his wife towards her father. “Stay with your father,” he said softly. “We will handle this.” He looked meaningfully at her. “I need you to be safe.” He noticed that neither Etjar nor Trajan had drawn weapons, so he didn’t draw his either, but had his hand on the hilt.

He turned to the mercenary trio. “Any ideas where Josh and Able are?” he asked softly, too softly to be heard by his father-in-law, wife, or the porters.

The three knew enough to not give a visible sign; they needed to avoid a panic. “No idea,” they echoed.

Marissa explained further, “Things are not looking good. Most tales are just that, but this one is looking ugly.” She grunted in unison with Etjar and Trajan. “We need to assume the worst. The best case is that we’re wrong.”

“What do we do?”

Trajan spoke first, “Act like we are in control and know what we are doing. It will give the others confidence.” He shrugged slightly. “It’s no different from being a sergeant in the militia.”

“Do we have any idea what we are doing?”

“No. But that won’t stop us.” Trajan’s tone was light but the glint in his eyes said he fully meant what he said.

“I missed you two. You’re scarier now than when we were kids.” Billi looked at Marissa. “How long have you and Trajan been together?”

Her instant wrath backed him up two steps. “We ARE NOT a couple!” she hissed.

“Sorry, I just assumed-”

Billi looked at Trajan’s now stormy face, then at Etjar, who sported a sardonic grin. Seeing Etjar almost imperceptibly shake his head no, he added, “I won’t make that mistake again.”

Etjar noted that Londo and the porters watched them with concerned expressions on their faces. They had no idea why Marissa and Trajan were angry – even flamingly mad, as Marissa had not raised her voice. He took charge to set their fears at ease. “There’s no good reason to go out searching for the missing men in the dark. If they are hiding, or fell down a bank without us hearing them, we’re not likely to find them stumbling around in the dark. They’ll be found at dawn, if they don’t stumble in sooner.” To Billi he said, “I’m going to have an unhappy conversation with that pair when they give up on their joke and stumble into camp.”

Billi looked puzzled, then he understood what Etjar was doing, and nodded his agreement. Etjar continued softly, “If something got them? That gives us even less reason to stumble around in the dark, and more reason to stay here and protect the ones we know are alive.”

Etjar realized he had accomplished his second goal, distracting Marissa and Trajan from reacting to Billi’s words about them being a couple. They were both looking past Etjar, into the dark, focusing on potential danger and not making a newbie’s mistake of watching the person talking. About that time Billi realized he was looking at Etjar and recalled his militia lessons. His gaze moved off into the darkness, scanning vainly for movement.

Etjar dropped his voice to a lower whisper. “Marissa, do you need to see the target for a Light spell? Can you set it to happen maybe a hundred feet out?”

She frowned. “I can’t send it through a barrier, like a stone or wooden wall, but here in the forest I can set it at any point within range.” She grimaced. “The version I can cast has a short range, fifty maybe sixty feet.”

Trajan shrugged lightly. “Then that will have to be far enough.” Glancing briefly had his right-side partner he asked, “What are you thinking?”

“We listen carefully and if Marissa hears anything, put a light source about twenty feet in the air, as far out as she can.”

Billi asked, “What will that do?”

“Hopefully light up anything out there.” Glancing as Marissa he asked, “That spell lasts a long time, doesn’t it?”

“About an hour and a half.” She scanned the darkness. “I know the better spell that lasts for years and has longer range, but it takes longer to invoke, and it takes a lot more energy.” Spells were grouped in ranks, according to the amount of energy the caster had to put into casting. The amount of personal energy for casting was a limiting factor for lesser spell casters, differentiating them from full wizards. Marissa was more than halfway to being a full wizard, but understood her own limitations. “I haven’t studied it recently, so I can’t cast it now, too many other useful spells to use in its place.”

Trajan’s voice had a hard edge to it. “It would have helped now.”

She retorted, “The Fireball I roasted those bandits with was a lot better than any type of light. You weren’t arguing then!”

Etjar cut them off. “If there’s something bad out there, a Fireball might do us far better. We have what we have.”

Trajan’s reply was cut off when a hoarse growl sounded behind them. Fast as they were, by the time they turned a porter was down, blood spurting from a ripped arm. A black shape that suggested a huge, bulky dog darted into the night.

The other porters stood frozen as the man’s arm continued spurting. Julia snarled orders that were ignored. When no one moved she pushed through the kneeling men and clamped her hands on the gaping wound, trapping the spurting blood. She snarled at the nearest man, who shook himself into action and ripped the sleeve off his shirt. Moving forward he worked with her to bind the wound.

Another growl sounded the warning as a black shape charged into the light, bowling over the man farthest from the fire. It savaged him in passing, then mauled another man before disappearing into the darkness.

The first man wasn’t dead yet, but there was no healing his gaping throat. The second man was luckier, his shoulder ripped and bleeding, but not an instantly fatal wound. The beast had gone for his neck and missed.

All the porters struggled to their feet, some drawing fighting daggers. The nerve of three broke and they ran into the darkness, shrieking shrill cries.

Less than fifteen seconds later the shrill cries of panic transformed into agonizing howls of pain.

“HOLD YOUR PLACE!” Julia took charge of the porters.

“Marissa, put a light as far out as you can on the other side of the fire, where the things came from,” Trajan ordered. Etjar expected her to argue with his friend’s order, but that never happened when they faced danger. “Etjar, you and Billi take that side, we’ll take this one.” He gestured to a point to the right of where the light would be, but didn’t move. Marissa was casting and he turned towards the nearest darkness to protect her, watching for more attackers.

A bright point of light appeared twenty feet in the air, maybe thirty feet on the other side of the fire. It lit an area of at least fifty feet in diameter nearly as bright as day, eclipsing the bonfire.

The howls of the three men who ran continued on for a minute, then lessened. One of the men tapered off, dead or just incapable of crying any further.

Trajan led the woman to their appointed guard spot. “Marissa, put another Light there,” gesturing past the area they had just vacated.

Before she could start the spell a rustling of leaves and a trio of growls warned of the next attack. The beasts charged in from the dark, unguarded area, savaging three men before charging through the lighted area and into the darkness.

Marissa completed the second spell, making another lit area on that side for the beasts to charge through.

Etjar fought the urge to look back at his friends. He and Billi had their appointed areas to watch. Marissa and Trajan had theirs. Hopefully the beasts would not attack through the lighted areas.

This is going to be a long night … or a damned short one!” he thought.

After a few minutes he asked generally, “How are the hurt men?”

Severino replied, apparently in control of himself, or maybe faking it amazingly well. “We have two dead, two badly hurt, and two walking wounded. Plus the three in the woods.”

As if his words were foreshadowing, a howl of agony came from the wood. One of the men was alive, but it sounded like he was being tortured.

The surviving porters, all full grown, hard handed men – they started crying. Broken sounds.

The man in the woods stopped screaming. Dead or unconscious.

Severino asked, “What are our options?” He sounded like a businessman, calmly talking about trade. His attitude might not relax his men, but it couldn’t hurt.

Trajan answered. “We have another hour or more of Marissa’s light spells. Keep the fire burning until then and build it up before the magical light ends. We have enough wood for a good fire until dawn.”

“Can Marissa use more light magic?”

“Yes, but she is saving her energy for spells that kill things like this.”

Etjar thought, “What is he doing? We don’t have enough firewood and we have no idea if Marissa’s other spells will hurt these buggers.” He heard Trajan moving away from him. Not far, but out at least a few feet. Etjar fought the urge to turn and look. “I hope he knows what he’s doing!

Then he silently thanked Demeter for his attention being where it should be. Only a brief rustling of leaves warned the soldier before a creature was in mid-leap. The gods damned thing was fast! If his attention had wavered even a moment it would have got him.

He side-stepped, drawing his sword and slashing in one motion through the space he had just vacated.

In the split second he had to observe it, the creature resembled a large, bulky wolf. Instead of fur its outline resembled smoke tendrils, giving it a hazy outline. If he had been aiming at the creature he’d probably have missed, but he lashed out at the area he expected it to pass through, not the creature itself.

His professional guess was good – he hacked the creature as it flew by him. The wound broke its momentum, so it crashed into the fire, scattering flaming embers, and catching its fur on fire. It howled its pain, an odd, broken, coughing sound unlike anything the soldier had ever heard. Scrambling to its four feet, it darted into the darkness, small patches of flame on its fur.

The light emitted by Etjar’s enchanted blade shed more light than the fire, augmenting the light of the wizard’s spells. He noted that Billi’s longsword did not shed light. “Too much to hope he has an enchanted blade!” Magic – both spells and imbued objects – were fairly common in the world, but that didn’t mean everyone had them.

Trajan had been talking for the benefit of the monsters. They apparently understood and coordinated attacks, one to ensure that Etjar and Billi were distracted. How Trajan knew they were intelligent eluded him, but his left-side partner was good in outguessing opponents.

Three monsters charged Trajan and Marissa. She had enough warning – she screamed out bizarre syllables none could understand, sounds that echoed through the mind but passed without a trace. No matter now often Etjar heard spell casting, he could never remember anything of the strange words spoken.

Four bolts of bright red force flashed from the fingers of her right hand, punching into and burning the beast that charged her. She caught it as it began the leap – the magical energy burned it and tumbled its leap. It hit the ground in front of her clumsily and rolled with legs thrashing. She had just enough time to leap upward so it passed under her. It struggled to its feet and ran, whimpering. A porternear it slashed at it with a belt dagger, but didn’t seem to hurt it.

The other two hit Trajan from different angles. His hand-and-a-half bastard sword flashed from its sheath over his left shoulder, slashing downward at the beast on his right. His aim was off, the blade caught its side instead of splitting its skull, only cutting fur and flesh. Blood, red in the magical light of Trajan’s sword, sprayed the night.

The other one hit Trajan in his armored chest, bowling him over, with the wounded one landing on top and then sliding off. Blunted claws did nothing on his chain mail armor, but the snapping jaws went for his face and throat.

Screaming incoherently Marissa drew a dagger that also shed magical light, yanking it from its sheath on her hip as she threw herself on the unwounded beast. She stabbed it twice, the blade drawing blood from its ribs. It was bigger and heavier, so it shook her off and ran.

As she stumbled to her feet the one Trajan wounded snapped at her with slavering jaws. It caught her right hand and probably would have ripped her hand off if the dagger had not been in the way. Instead it slashed its own mouth raggedly. Howling that same broken coughing sound, it fled after its companions.

She dropped the dagger, her hand torn enough she couldn’t hold it.

Etjar reacted to human howls of agony. Three other wolf things had attacked, downing three of the remaining porters. Two beasts grasped Julia’s wrists and dragged her across the leaves at a near run.

Billi yelled, “JULIA!” and charged after her. At the edge of the light two dark forms tackled him, knocking his sword out of his hand. They dragged him after his wife into the darkness.

Etjar took stock. Trajan was pulling himself to his feet. The blood on his armor didn’t appear to be his. At least not much of it. He moved to Marissa and immediately pulled clean cloth from a pouch, wrapping her hand. There was blood, but it looked like teeth scrapes. Definitely painful, but probably not bad – well, not according to the way they judged such things. “We’ll clean it later, hopefully they’re not poisonous,” he thought.

Trajan knelt, picking up her fallen dagger. He grasped her left hand in his and slapped the pommel into her open palm. She reflectively grasped it, looking into his eyes with a frightened, uncertain gaze.

Etjar tore his gaze from his friends. Two porters were left standing, both wounded. He wasn’t certain if the ones on the ground were dead, but honestly – they’d live or die – probably die. There wasn’t anything he could do for them. The living had to retreat to some defensible place and hope for dawn to come. He couldn’t carry them.

Severino pulled himself to his feet. He had been bowled over by one of the beasts and had not been a recipient of fangs. “Julia?” he moaned.

No nice way to put it,” Etjar thought. “They got her. She’s gone.”

“Noooooo,” he screamed.

“Marissa, guide him along. Trajan, you ready to fight?”

“Ready as ever!” He scanned the darkness. “What are you thinking?”

“A couple of hundred yards back along the trail there is that rock outcropping. If we can climb it, we’ll be twenty or thirty feet up, it will slow down the charges. Hopefully prevent them.”

“OK. All we have to do is survive that far. Grab your packs and let’s go!”

“What happened to you?” Billi asked. “I was never told.”

“Never told?” Marissa frowned, then shook her head and continued, “The beasts were loath to get too close to our weapons. It appeared that mundane weapons wouldn’t hurt them, but our enchanted weapons could and did. We didn’t kill any, but we wounded those that got close.”

“We lost both porters before we made the outcrop,” Trajan interjected. “One collapsed and the other panicked and ran off. Marissa cast a climbing spell on me and I climbed the outcrop. It was too sheer to climb otherwise. I dropped a rope and pulled them up.”

“First light was a welcome sight,” the woman breathed. “We heard them walking around our perch, but it was too sheer, they couldn’t climb it. As the sun came up, we heard them leave.”

“When the sun was fully up, we climbed down and checked the camp site. All the bodies were gone as were some of the packs. We scavenged enough travel rations and bedding for the trip back to Kieldar.”

“What happened to Londo? And to Etjar?” he said somberly. Then he smirked. “And how did you two, who were not a couple, end up together?”

Trajan and Marissa looked at each other sadly. Marissa stated, “Etjar was killed by a bereaver a few years after we lost you.” She looked back at her husband. “After he died all we had was each other. We got past our childishness and made a life together.”

Trajan’s eyes brightened. “A good life together.”

“There’s more to that story.” Billi made it a statement, not a question.

“Yes, but that’s the short version.”


Trajan took over the telling. “We marched as soon as we had picked up what we could from the camp site. Severino wanted to find his daughter and you, but we made him leave. Even if you were alive, there was no way we could do anything for you.” He sighed. “We followed the trail to Kieldar, stopping only when we had to. That first night we setup camp on an inaccessible rock outcropping, but never saw anything. After the second night we decided we were not being chased. But we moved quickly anyway.”

“Severino recovered physically but all his energy was gone from him. He sold out to one of the larger merchants and became a caravan master. We lost track of him, no idea what happened to him.” Trajan looked hard at Billi. “Not that I’m complaining, but how are you alive?”

“THAT is a long story, for another time.” The expression on his face was hard to decipher. Trajan guessed he wanted to talk but for some reason was unwilling to do it now.

Bisonbit stood up, taking the hint. He was a surprisingly perceptive young man. “Come on you two,” he said to Jake and David with as much gravity as he could. “Time for lessons.”

The pair slowly stood up and followed their tutor, grumbling all the way.

Billi exhaled slowly. “There’s a lot more to the story, but I didn’t want to tell it in front of the children.”

“Bad stuff?”

“Mixed. The Anyuri, as I learned they call themselves, captured us for food and slaves. They have no problems eating humans, although for the twenty-three years I was their captive, I refused.” His face showed his disgust.

“So why did they capture you?”



“Their species is from another reality, one of the elemental planes, I think. A small number were trapped on our world and managed to survive. They have an oral history, but it’s unclear if their ancestors understood how they got here.” He drew a breath. “They have a limited shape change ability and can transform from their natural shape, which resembles the bulky wolves you saw, to a human-like shape.”

“Their histories say that at first their numbers increased, but at some point the number of live births lessened. They’re about as smart as humans, and realized they were having problems with inbreeding.”

Billi smiled. “It turns out they can, in their humanoid form, breed with humans. They are also class conscious, so they wanted me – plus you,” meaning Trajan, “and Etjar for breeding stock. We were warriors while Londo and the porters were beneath their notice. They intended us to breed with their females.”

Marissa asked, “What would they have done with me?” She looked horrified.

“Julia became one of the young male’s mate, as you would have.”

“For breeding?” She looked puzzled.

“Definitely not! Their females get pregnant as humanoids but change to their natural form to give birth. The resulting pups are their kind.” He shook his head. “If Julia had gotten pregnant the birth would have been human, and they didn’t want that. Making humans is worthless to them.”

Marissa and Trajan both looked confused, so Billi expounded, “Anyuri mate for life, so the female selected for me became my mate. Human women were selected to provide a mate to the young males who would otherwise not have a mate. But to not produce children.”

“So you became part of their society?”

“Yes and no. I was mate to one of their females, but not treated like one of them. But more valuable than Julia, and far more valuable than the slaves.”

Trajan frowned. He didn’t like what he was hearing. “Good thing we escaped. I don’t think I’d have tolerated them touching Marissa.”

Billi let out an explosive breath. “It was hard, seeing that male with Marissa. I fought it at first, but my mate informed me that if I wanted Julia to live, I had to accept my place and I had to accept Julia’s.” He chuckled, a sound containing no mirth. “I would have resisted and made them kill me … but I wanted Julia to live.”

“She lasted nineteen years, but most of it was just surviving. She hated her life. She dreamed of escape. She hated the one that she was mated with.” He let out a long breath. “At times she hated me because I accepted my fate to help keep her alive. The anyuri understood what Julia meant to me, and they used it against me.”

“Then one winter she got sick and died.” He face showed that Billi felt the pain, even after all the intervening years. “Yeah, she was a bitch.” He looked up at Marissa and Trajan. “Yes, I knew what she was. But she was MY bitch. If I had loved her less, I’d not have given in, and they would have killed me.”

“After she died I became obsessed with escape. It took several years. One spring I was gathering shoots near a river. When none were near me, I leaped off a cliff into the water and floated down stream for three days before climbing out on the opposite bank.” At Marissa’s questioning look he continued, “They are deathly afraid of quantities of water. They panic and hide during a heavy rain. There was no chance they’d cross the river to get me.”

“I made my way down the river to the coast and ended up in one of the larger trading cities. I figured I was safe.”

Billi shook his head. “I took a position working for a merchant, one that kept me in the city. Over a year later I was returning home after dark when I saw her.” He looked up at them. “I saw my wife. My mate. The anyuri. In her natural form.”

He shook his head sadly. “Probably because of their otherworldly origins, they are unharmed by mundane weapons. I never owned a magic weapon, so I prepared to die; I had no way to defend myself. I had abandoned her and they took that type of thing VERY poorly. I expected her to take her vengeance.”

“She shifted into humanoid form and threw herself into my arms, crying. She begged me to kill her instead of leaving her again. She was ready to die before she’d give me up.” He shrugged his lack of understanding. “They mate for life, and after twenty-three years I was her mate. That I was human did not matter.”

Marissa and Trajan both had their jaws hanging open in surprise.

Billi smiled a small, sad smile. “If you think her actions were strange, mine were stranger. I took her home and kept her as my wife. Which she was. It doesn’t matter that I had no choice or that I was already married when mated with her.”

“We lived together for nearly thirty more years before she passed away. We had three litters while at the monastery, but she was beyond childbearing years by the time she found me.”


“That’s what I call our children. We mated as humans, but she changed to her natural form once she knew she was pregnant and stayed in that form to give birth. In general, a birth is four to eight pups.” He laughed, “I had sixteen children, nine which lived to grow up. I have over ninety grandchildren and can’t even count my great-grandchildren.”

“A year before she died, several of our grandchildren found us. They wanted us to go back to the monastery, but we refused. Our life was in the city after so many decades.”

“So several stayed with us.”

“Now that she’s gone, they’re taking me home, but I wanted to see Kerr first.”


“The monastery.”

“Do you need protection?” Trajan asked. Both he and Marissa looked ready to act, even at their advanced ages.

Billi laughed again. “No. I don’t have a lot of years left, but I’m going to spend them with family. I guess living with my wife on my terms, not hers, changed my feelings. I miss her so much, some days it’s hard to make myself get up. Being with my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren helps.”

A young man and two women entered the tavern. They were too dark to be Kerrean and their skin had an odd black hue to it. Billi smiled at them, then turned to Trajan and Marissa. “It’s been good to see you. Time to go home.”

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