"Carnie? Eshcarna?" Imoen's hand made several passes in front of the half-drow's red eyes before they came into focus. "Whatcha thinkin' about? You went far away there..."
"Long ago and far away..." Eshcarna replied. "It doesn't matter. What does matter is getting that curse reversed so you can be back to your old self."
"My old..." Imoen looked down at himself. "Oh, yeah... I was kinda gettin' used to it."
"You could stay that way if you liked." Eshcarna offered wickedly. "Although we'd sure have some explaining to do, not to mention some shopping, your old clothes aren't exactly about to fit you now."
"My clothes?" Imoen blanched. "Crap! You're right, I can't wear any of my old stuff like this. What am I supposed to do? Go to the Temple naked?"
"Wait..." Eshcarna reached into her knapsack.
"I swear, Carnie," Imoen growled, "if that's another cursed item, I'm gonna..." A lump of shiny gold cloth hit him in the face.
"Try those," Eshcarna suggested. "A man in the upper rooms gave them to me. I guess he thought I was the laundry staff, though I've never seen a laundress running around with a harp before. So I accepted them as payment for having to deal with his stupidity." The half-drow shrugged, watching as Imoen pulled on the gaudy trousers. "There, they work."
"They *itch*," Imoen complained.
"It's only to get you to the Temple and back. Throw on a cloak and let's get going. I want to be back before those two nosey half-elves wake up."
Imoen donned his cloak, which, like most cloaks, was fortunately one size fits most, although it was now calf length rather than ankle length as it had been before. "You're not gonna leave them here, are you? They were Mr. G's friends."
"So they say," Eshcarna muttered, "but if they were such good friends, why didn't they come to meet us at Candlekeep? Maybe then we might have at least stood a chance against that, that... thing... or man, or whatever he was..."
"That's not fair," Imoen replied. "Did you see the look on their faces when they realized Mr. G wasn't with you. They *cared* about him, even if you're too caught up in yourself to see it."
"It doesn't matter, Im..." Eshcarna answered with a dismissive wave of her hand. "I'm not leaving them here, much as that Druid woman annoys the hells out of me with her constant staring. She just can't wait to open her mouth and try to tear a strip off of me, I can feel it. Well, she can do whatever she wants to that whipping boy of a husband of hers, but if she tries any of that with me, she's not going to like my response."
"Carnie... I'm sure that..." Imoen began.
"You can't be sure about anything, Im, so just shut up, alright? Get your boots, er," she looked at Imoen's much larger feet and realized that the boots she used to wear weren't going to get anywhere near them. "Just come on!"
She left the room, Imoen following behind.
At the Temple of Wisdom, Gellana Mirrorshade, the kindly gnome priestess, looked at Imoen, then at the belt he was wearing. "Oh dear me," she muttered. "Do ye childs not be knowin' not to go tryin' thing' on without knowin' what they do?"
"I knew what it did, lady," Eshcarna replied.
Giving Eshcarna a brief, odd look, the gnome clicked her tongue and turned her attention to Imoen. She laid her hands on the belt, murmuring a few words, and the offending accessory suddenly unbuckled itself, falling to the floor. A moment's bright flash, and then the suddenly oversized golden pantaloons fell to the floor as well. Once again female, Imoen gave a suitably girlish squeal and wrapped her cloak around herself, her face flaming, as she bent to recapture the trousers slouching around her ankles.
"Will ye be havin' this back?" Gellana asked of the cursed item. "I can't be imaginin' why ye would..."
"Yes," Eshcarna replied, snatching the belt from the gnome before she could change her mind. "It might come in handy again."
The gnome squinted, looking towards Eshcarna very thoughtfully. "And do ye wish to become with child?" she asked suddenly.
"Hells no!" Eshcarna blurted, shocked and dismayed at the mere thought. "I would never be so cruel as to... err... Why do you ask?"
"I think ye be knowin' my girl," the gnome woman replied succinctly, before placing her hands on Eshcarna's middle section, and murmuring a few more words.
"What are you - ?" Eshcarna didn't have time to react before the spell was cast, and a strange coolness settled deep into her insides. "Hey! What did you just do to me?"
"Nothin' that ye cannot reverse at any Temple, should ye wish it," Gellana replied, repeating the same procedure with Imoen. "Regular arcane magics, even spells that be removin' protections, cannot dispel it, but the enchantment will fade on it's own when one year has made it's way round, oh yes. So do what ye wishes, if ye must, 'tween now and then, and then get another. Now get ye gone!" the priestess said, shoeing the girls from the Temple as one might scatter a flock of chickens. "And do be more careful, if ye wishes to play these games!"
Both were silent as they made their way back to the inn, which they were fortunately able to do without attracting much notice. In fact, they were upstairs and down again, drinking tea and nibbling on bread and cheese, with still no sign of their companions.
And the silence continued, drawing out between the two friends like a never ending skein of thread, thread they had tangled themselves in with their actions the night before.
Perhaps her plan could have done with a little more thought, Eshcarna realized. She didn't regret what they had done, but she did regret the gnome woman being so damn perceptive. Eerily perceptive... She suddenly found herself missing the Avowed, Candlekeep's more or less non-denominational priesthood, and the way they bumbled around the library, finding their only clarity in books. Unlike Eshcarna, books did not mind being read.
She looked at Imoen, picking at her bread, and uncomfortably acknowledged that they would have to talk. But what was there to say, really? She was glad it had happened, not wildly thrilled, but content, satisfied, though not in the same context as satisfaction would usually have applied to such a situation. It was all the gnome's fault - weren't clergy members supposed to be tactful? There had to be a rule written down somewhere...
About to ask Imoen what she had thought of Garl Glittergold's representative to the Friendly Arm Inn, she was interrupted by the sound of footsteps on the stairs, as Khalid and Jaheira finally descended into view. If possible the Druid looked even crankier than she had the night before, and both she, and her mate had dark circles underneath their eyes.
They crossed the room to the table where she and Imoen sat, and as they went to sit down, Eshcarna felt the thief's hand slap down on her knee, keeping her in place when she would have risen to find a new spot.
The four looked at each other, not speaking, until Imoen broke the silence. "Are you guys okay?" she asked. "You look terrible, er..."
"Th-that's quite alright, Imoen," Khalid told her, with a kind smile. "It is t-true we did not spend the best of nights."
Imoen gave the couple a sympathetic wince. "Well, like Mr. G used to say, things can only get better."
"And good m-morning to y-you, Eshcarna." Somehow Khalid's eyes still managed to find hers even from within the deep shadows of her hood.
"I don't know what's good about it," she retorted sourly, pulling her hood closer so she could cut off the impact of his dark, patient gaze. "I woke up this morning, Father was still dead, and the sun was shining fit to burn my eyes out of their sockets, yes, with a morning like this, I'm sure the rest of the day will be just *splendid*."
Khalid began to respond, then paused, staring intently across the room. From the sound of it, the last members of their group were about to join them.
Xzar and Montaron were far more jovial as they came down the stairs, engaged in a lively bickering session about something or other that stopped when they reached the table the four of them already occupied. The pause they made before sitting down was insultingly noticeable, and seemed directed entirely towards the half-elven couple who were returning their unsavoury looks with a few of their own.
"G-good morning," Khalid told the two interlopers in a polite enough tone, but there was no mistaking the wariness in his dark eyes.
"And what's so damn good about it?" Montaron snapped. "If you two had been obligin' enough to pass on ta 'appy fun elfland in yer sleep, why, then would be a reason to make merry, but I see yer still amongst the livin'..."
The warrior ignored the jibe, then suddenly acquired a very smug looking smile, one that made the exceeding 'character' of his comfortable features seem almost... pleasant. "Oh Eshcarna?" he addressed her, making her jump as she looked up from her tea.
"What do you want now?" she asked sullenly.
Unperturbed, Khalid continued in an amiable tone. "I d-do believe, our *friend* Montalban, was it...?"
The halfling bristled visibly, like an irate hedgehog. "That's *Montaron* ye scrawny, nebbish, greasy, pointy-eared - "
"Montalban, yes," said Khalid, mangling the name once again, "I believe h-he has something he would like t-to give you."
" - slack-jawed, feeble-faced, tree-huggin' - "
"N-now, Montalban, that last epithet was actually a c-compliment, or at least Jaheira and I have always considered it so."
"*Montaron*!" the halfling growled irritably.
"M-my, you d-do like the sound of your own voice, d-don't you?" Khalid told the little man, his smile broadening as the halfling continued to fume. "N-now, about that s-something...?"
"I've no idea what yer talkin' about, halfwit!"
"There, that was m-more of a p-proper insult, I knew you had it in you," Khalid replied, beaming. "L-let me refresh your memory." He jingled his belt pouch meaningfully.
"You l-left l-last night before gathering up your earnings," the warrior explained to Eshcarna, who was viewing the exchange between the two men with some puzzlement.
"After your s-song," Khalid replied. "W-well, deserved, I might add. Do you n-not agree, my love?" he asked the heretofore silent Druid by his side.
"I've heard worse," Jaheira allowed, speaking for the first time that morning, though only after a suitable pause.
Eshcarna opened her mouth to make a sharp retort, but was cut off as Imoen pinched her arm. "Oww!" she glared at her friend, who just smiled infuriatingly.
Khalid, however, was making Imoen's efforts look distinctly amateur. He grinned at the vicious halfling who continued to mutter dire imprecations under his breath. "Yes, our friend *Montaron* was k-kind enough to gather them up for you. And even t-to *encourage* a little m-more generosity from the reluctant tippers in the audience."
Though their acquaintance was not even a week old, Eshcarna already knew that whatever encouragement Montaron had engaged in most likely involved the point of his sword. Now, *that* must have been a sight to see, and she was a little sorry she had missed it.
"That was so *kind* of you, Montaron!" Eshcarna gushed insincerely, joining in warrior's baiting of the unscrupulous miniature mercenary, or was that mercenary miniature? Whatever contempt she might have felt last night for the offerings and approval of her erstwhile audience, the coins Montaron had gleaned were still hers by rights, and she didn't take kindly to being cheated. "And I am *very* grateful to you, Khalid, for reminding him." This last was said with a lot more sincerity, though that was only a front to further annoy the pint-sized swordsman, of course. "It must be *such* a burden for him to be so forgetful."
"Aye." Montaron glowered at Khalid. "'Tis a burden I be wishin' others could be sharin' if ye get my meanin'..." But he reached into one of the pouches at his waist and pulled out a small bag of coins which he pushed across the table to Eshcarna. "'ere ye are, minus me collectors fee, o'course."
Khalid cleared his throat.
Khalid glared, with an intensity that grudgingly forced Eshcarna to up her estimation of the man. Perhaps he'd learned a few things from that wife of his? Now that *was* an interesting thought...
"Now that I be thinkin' on it, perhaps I'll not be needin' me collector's fee, we be travellin' companions after all..." Montaron hedged and produced another bag of coins, mumbling once more under his breath.
Khalid cleared his throat more emphatically.
"...kitten-coddlin', prissy-prancin'..." Montaron pulled out another bag, setting it down with exaggerated care upon the table, his hands shaking with rage. "Nor me packagin' fee," he told Eshcarna, gritting his teeth around a grimacing smile.
Khalid was now toying absently with the hilt of his broadsword, a massive weapon that was taller than Montaron himself.
"'ere now ye pansy-kissin' elf," shouted Montaron, leaping from his chair to shake his fist in Khalid's impassive face. "Those coins be mine and ye knows it!"
"They used to b-belong to that g-gentleman who was p-passed out at the bar last night," the swarthy half-elf calmly pointed out. "And whether g-gotten by m-means fair or, foul, all r-resources should be shared by the group."
"Ah, take me last coins in the world, ye leaky-eyed leach!" the halfling bellowed, losing control completely as he tossed the last bag onto the table, before stomping off. "May yer pants fall down with the weight of 'em, and may a horny carrion crawler..." The rest of what promised to be a very colourful statement was mercifully cut off by the slamming of the inn door.
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