Character Pre-Selection, Plus Origins!

18 09 2009

It took me a bit longer than I had hoped, but I finally decided on the key characters that I wanted to create. Anyone reading my blog likely isn’t surprised: Theladas and Jerricah are the premiere characters in my writing. I was debating for a very long time if it would be worth making my templar alt now.

Thel got ousted from the rock; Jerri's never been a big fan of sharing.

Theladas and Jerricah, now in Aion! Thel just got kicked off the rock; Jerri's never been a big fan of sharing.

But then it hit me: as unlikely as it is that someone would name their character “Jerricah,” she and Thel have names that matter to me. Ry can go by any convolution of his name, as can ‘Aria.

I’m on the Azphel server. I was pretty undecided on the server front, so I went reading through some guilds online. Turns out that Dark Echo was looking to get some quality work done in the game right-off, and they had an opening for a Chanter. I jumped on the opportunity, and suddenly had a server choice made for me. I’m happy with it so far: the other guilds on the server seem like solid competition, and my guildmates are all pretty stellar. Some of you may know Anikka, over at Sin Healing (go say ‘Hi’ if you don’t!); it’s gotta be good if it has bloggers, right?

Anyhow, now that I have these characters created, I figured I’d share some background on them with you. These are (partial) backgrounds for Thel and Jerri in Aion:

TheladasBanner 3B1

Theladas was raised under the relatively traditional Asmodian adage: the only way to survive is to fight. He came from mundane (non-Daeva) parents, so his resolve to fight for survival was all the keener – there was no immortality to protect him. As a child, he sparred regularly with his father. The duality of a Quarterstaff as a practical tool (walking stick, or readily converted into a hoe or rake with a metal attachment) and a fighting implement led both Theladas and his father to favor them. Theladas often considered blading the ends of his stave in order to add some additional power, but he didn’t have any exceptional skill in crafting.

Theladas learned fighting from his father and morality from his mother. He rolled his eyes at her lessons; he resisted the concepts of generosity and service with the whole of his being. The outside world taught him that any such vulnerabilities could cost him his life: he didn’t understand why taking such a risk could ever be worthwhile. Nevertheless, he humored his mother. He had some elementary practice in acting, too: no normal Asmodian could eat his mother’s cooking with a straight face.

Shortly after Theladas turned twelve years old, his home settlement was besieged by the Balaur. The city went up in flames, and Theladas lost both of his parents in the melee. His mother was killed before she could even leave the house – one of the dragon-like beasts tore through the wall and killed her in the atrium. Theladas’ enraged father forced Theladas into a closet before charging out to seek vengeance. He allegedly defeated three of the Balaur before they devoured him in the town square.

Bitter, angry, and orphaned, Theladas had no choice but to serve as a priest’s servant at the nearby city in Adelle. He loathed the work and stress, and was rarely given any more attention than an obtrusive slave. He lived on meager rations, as he was forbidden to hunt for himself, and was thoroughly alone. He wept for his parents daily, and cursed them afterwards. He hated them for making him care, and he hated them for abandoning him so recklessly.

Some months later, one of the priests of the temple took notice of Theladas. Her name was Allison Mews. She took Theladas aside one day during his work, after catching his unique way of sweeping the floor (it was much like swinging a quarterstaff, she thought). Sure enough, Allison found that the boy had training with a weapon. Theladas almost too readily told Allison his story: he’d gone for months without telling a soul. The next day, Theladas was roughly shoved away by his old owner, and Allison took over as his caretaker.

Over the next year, Allison worked with Theladas to hone his fighting skills. She also taught him how to meditate. In the meditative state, she told him, he could potentially protect himself and others with his willpower alone. Theladas didn’t quite understand her point at first, yet he soon began to feel what it was she spoke of. After a harsh day’s work, Theladas would meditate as Allison had taught him, and the aches in his shoulders would lift. He learned more and more about controlling this new strength, with Allison providing advice and assistance as necessary.

Theladas never fully understood why Allison offered to help him. He asked her about it regularly, yet her reply was always the same. She would shake her head and smile, saying, “I’m just doing Marchutan’s work.” Theladas knew she was lying, but ultimately ended up respecting her reasons. He knew she wasn’t trying to kill him, at least, and had no qualms with taking advantage of an opportunity. And so Theladas learned, and practiced, and practiced more, and injured himself in practice, and practiced more.

Theladas was well past his fourteenth birthday when he was out running an errand for Allison. His journey sent him across the island of Ishalgen: to each person he brought a missive, he was resent to another person with yet another letter. Theladas was grinding his teeth pretty hard by the time he passed through a graveyard. A purple glint then caught his eye: Theladas had discovered the crystalline prison of Munin.

Munin watched expectantly as Theladas approached. At once, he saw something in Theladas’ eye that was more than mundane. “I never thought I’d see another Daeva grace my path,” he said to the boy. Theladas stopped short, eyes narrow.

“Who’re you talking to?” he asked.

“You, of course,” Munin said with a scowl. “Do you see anyone else around?”

Theladas rolled his eyes. “Then you’d better stop looking through that purple thing – it’s messing with your eyes. I’m not a Daeva.”

“Oh, but you are,” Munin insisted.

“Daevas don’t come from mundane parents; everyone knows that,” Theladas said, glaring at the ground.

“Then where did the first Daevas come from, hmm?” Theladas looked back up at the man’s question. “They didn’t just fall out of the sky, you know. They’ve been a real part of this world for a long time, but they came about by chance. From mundane parents, no less.”

“So?” Theladas asked, impatient to get back to his work. Thinking about being a Daeva was making him envious.

“So, don’t let your parents define who you are,” Munin told him. He then pounded on the purple glass of his prison. “How about a deal, then?”

“What deal?”

“You go back to Allison Mews, and ask her why she’s been taking care of you-“

“-How did you-“

“-When she tells you that it’s all about Marchutan,” Munin went on, ignoring Theladas with a wave of his hand, “ask her if she would take care of you if she didn’t know you are a Daeva.”

Theladas stared at the man in the purple crystal for a long minute. “What’s the deal, then?” he said at length.

“If she has been telling the truth, then she’ll simply laugh it off. If she laughs the thought of you being a Daeva away, then you know I’m wrong; you can go wherever you like, and serve your mundane life out however you like.”

“Go on,” Theladas said, a bit reluctantly.

“Mmmm, but if she has been lying,” Munin said with a wry smile, “If she has been lying, then she’ll tell you at once when you ask her that question. She will tell you, just as I have, that of course you have the blood of a Daeva in your veins. And when she admits it, you come back here and I’ll see you onto the next step in your Ascension.”

Theladas slowly started to turn from the prison. “What’s in it for you?” he then asked, stopping dead in his tracks. When Munin didn’t answer, Theladas added, “Why would you want to help me?”

“Why, so that you can help me, too,” Munin said with a grin.

Theladas hurried back to Allison’s chapel quickly, his brow furrowed in contemplation the whole way. “A magical man inside in a giant, purple crystal is the expert on Daevas now?” he asked himself lamely. “What is this world coming to? I don’t even know why I listened to him.”

But Theladas couldn’t help his curiosity and, hide it though he tried, his hope that there was something more to his life. Allison’s eyes went wide when Theladas asked; she knew at once that he had met Munin. However, true to the old man’s word, Allison admitted to knowing that Theladas was more than a normal servant boy.

“You’d best go meet with him again,” Allison instructed. “You have a long road ahead of you.”

JerricahBanner 3C

Not a week after he had met Theladas, Munin had a second curious visitor. A young girl, dressed in fine robes and with the palest complexion he had ever seen. Her hair was a pale blond, vibrant in its luminence. Her eyes were an oceanic blue, and were presently filled with apprehension.

Unlike Theladas, the girl approached Munin’s prison with intent – she had come here to find him. Munin smiled warmly at the girl. “What’s your name, young Daeva?” Munin asked.

“I-I’m Jerricah,” she replied quietly. Her eyes were wide with wonder at the massive purple crystal. “And I’m not a Daeva. N-Not yet.”

“Ah, but you are an Albescent,” Munin said, tilting his head to the side. Jerricah nodded once. “That must be hard.”

“My family hates me,” Jerricah said, dropping her gaze quickly. “I’m nothing like my big brother, Yanis. He got the dark skin and dark hair; I got this curse, instead.”

“It’s not a curse, dear,” Munin told her.

“It is,” Jerricah insisted. “I can’t go anywhere without being ridiculed. Sure, being able to manipulate energy at will is handy, but lots of people can do that – they just have to study for it. I paid for it with this-” she gestured at her body, almost in disgust, “-instead.”

Munin couldn’t help but chuckle. He raised his hand in apology when Jerricah’s icy eyes locked on him. “I mean no offense, dear lady, but I think you underestimate just what a gift it is you have.”

“Looking like one of them is a gift?” Jerricah scowled.

Munin shrugged. “Outward appearances won’t mean much once you actually pursue your path. The mastery of energy that you already have far exceeds what most sorcerers are ever capable of. You’re only what, twelve?”

“Thirteen,” Jerricah corrected, standing up straighter and crossing her arms.

“Thirteen,” Munin agreed. “Do you have any idea what you’ll be capable of in ten years’ time? The very elements themselves will be at your beck and call. Ice storms, walls of fire, earthen monuments, and wind strong enough to shake the mountains shall leap from your fingertips. Albescents have a blessed strength with magic, an attunement and intuition for the elements that no one can ever understand. No number of books, and no number of hours spent studying can ever give you that. You may look like an Elyos, but an Asmodian Albescent who rises to her call is able to fight with unmatched skill.”

Jerricah sighed heavily. “I’m never going to have a normal life, am I?”

Munin raised his hands helplessly. “Sorry, kid; I don’t deal in normal. Last time I tried that, they put me in this prison.” He laughed at his own joke, but Jerricah was still staring at the ground. After a moment of silence, Munin raised an eyebrow. “Was there something you wanted to say to me?” he asked.

Jerricah looked at Munin, slightly confused.

“Something you wanted to ask me, maybe? Or did you just walk out here to mock me in my jail cell?”

“Oh!” Jerricah started. She shook her head and forced a smile. She then bowed deeply before Munin. “I have heard that you are able to help the men and women who are ready to ascend with the road to Pandaemonium. I implore your guidance in finding my way to immortality.”

“So you’re serious about this?” Munin asked.

“Yes, sir,” Jerricah said, still bowed.

“At such a young age, are you sure?” Jerricah didn’t move. “Why not go to one of the Guides in town?” he asked. “I’m but a poor prisonmate, after all; why come to me?”

“Because you are wiser than them.” Jerricah said.

“Don’t lie,” Munin said with a roll of his eyes.

“I didn’t,” Jerricah began. She trailed off, feeling Munin’s eyes boring into the top of her head. She sighed. “I can’t go to any of the Guides. My parents have forbade my ascension; they’d have me slave in the basement for all eternity. I cannot stay here any longer.”

“And so you hope to escape your home by rushing into the world?” Jerricah nodded slightly. “Out of the frying pan and into the fire if you ask me,” Munin said, apparently losing interest.

“Please, Munin,” Jerricah said, standing up and staring Munin in the eye. He could see her determination at once. “Please grant me guidance. I cannot go alone; I don’t know the way. But I cannot stay here, so I must go. Please.” She watched Munin’s expression closely, her small hands balled into fists.

“Well,” Munin said slowly, letting his voice drag. With another glance at Jerricah, Munin threw his hands up in defeat. “Who am I to deny a lady in distress?” he asked of the air. Then, with the responding bow that Jerricah had been waiting for, Munin said, “I’ll do what I can to guide your way to Ascension.”

At once, Jerricah’s face lit up in a smile; Munin laughed. “You should smile more,” he told her, “it suits you.”

Plenty more to come, but I think that should give a little background to these kids.

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Update: I found a sheep!

16 09 2009

Well, not in Aion. I looked, too; it’s hard to get many good fixes on any of the critters in Aion. I really wanted to get a picture of the Elcoro or geckos. However, I’m sitting here at my computer and realize that I’ll be seeing sheep when I play Aion whether I like it or not.

She certainly has a determined stare.

She certainly has a determined stare.

She’s one of a pair; they both live on my desk, either on my monitor or next to my textbooks. They don’t have proper names (Steph never helped me with that part of the raising sheep thing), but they’re fuzzy and curious critters. Or maybe that’s just what they want me to think – who knows what diabolical schemes they’re hatching behind those innocent black eyes? Guess I should keep a closer eye on the two of them.

Anyhow, just throwing up a picture so I’m not such a suspicious blogger. I love all the storytelling I do, and all the gaming is great. At the same time, it’s just not transparent over the Internet. I’m a fan of putting faces to names, so I figure I can start by doing the same. That’s me and… my nameless sheep!

Now that I think about it, none of my stuffed animals have names… not since Wishbone, who came prenamed. Any suggestions?

(For the record, that’s my dorm room in the background. Yes, it’s an underwater mural – I painted it two years ago when I got it.)





Stories of the Recherché (Episode 1)

14 09 2009

Storytelling is a big thing for me. The Recherché are a long-standing race I’ve used for many years now, and they are always looking for adventure. If you’re curious about what they are, exactly, you can find some background in The Recherché Report. It’s not exactly comprehensive, and has no specifics about these characters, but it may give you some insight into their original incarnation.

Theladas and Jerricah are a busy pair. There’s a lot to be said about each of them: who they are, where they come from, and what they can do. No boring biographies today, though; the story I want to share is far more visceral. I’ll shut up now, and I hope you enjoy this segment of their adventures!

The Mau’s eyes rolled back in his head as he collided heavily with the rocky, cavern wall. The staff tip receded from his cheek, letting him stagger away from the wall. He blinked a few times, trying to focus on his assailant. It was no use. With a groan, the Mau flopped to his knees, swayed for a moment, and crumpled to the stony floor.

“Damn, Mau have thick skulls,” Theladas complained. “Slam their skulls between a rock and a wooden rod and they don’t even crack.” With a roll of his eyes, Theladas raised his staff above the Mau. He inhaled, readying his final strike to the back of the furry beast’s head, when a small, pale-white hand caught his elbow.

“Don’t,” Jerricah protested. “We’re not here to dispatch these ones.” Carefully, Jerricah stepped between the cavern wall and Theladas until she was in front of the boy. His arms immediately relaxed. “The Mau don’t know what it is they’re playing with,” Jerricah reminded him. “They don’t know what these demons-“

“Balaur,” Theladas corrected.

“-Balaur, are capable of, or what they’re after.” Jerricah sighed, closing her eyes and turning to face the fallen Mau in a whirl of blond hair. “It’s just a shame that they won’t listen to reason. We aren’t here to judge them, though; that’s not our place. If he’s not going to get in our way, then we should leave him.”

Theladas leaned forward on his stave, looking over the girl’s shoulder. “Should we get moving on to what we’re really looking for, then?” he asked her; she nodded slightly. “I mean, I don’t mind standing here staring at the unconscious Mau for all time, but time wasted in here is time I don’t get to spend with you.”

“But you are with me,” Jerricah protested. She spun to face the boy again, arms crossed across her chest. “I’m standing right here, aren’t I?” Theladas smirked.

“You didn’t let me finish,” Theladas protested with a wave of his hands. “Spending time with you is great, but dragging you around dank caves that smell like death just feels wrong. It’s hardly the kind of date a normal boyfriend would take you on.”

Jerricah thought for a moment, staring off over Theladas’ shoulder. Then she nodded. “You’re right,” she stated matter-of-factly, “you’re not a normal boyfriend, and this is a terrible place for a date.” She turned from Theladas and marched deeper into the cavern. “You’d better take me someplace nice next time.”

Theladas raised his hand to protest, but Jerricah was no longer looking. With a sigh, he gripped the center of his staff and chased after the blond-haired girl. “It was your idea to come here in the first place,” he muttered.

Two rounded corners later revealed a large, open room carved directly out of the rock cave. Jerricah finally slowed down as she reached the threshold; Theladas caught up to her, stepping into the room first. Three pedestals rested at three corners of the room; in the fourth and final corner, a large red portal crackled with energy and fire.

“Figures,” Theladas said, folding his arms across his chest. “The Mau make these tiny tunnels to get here, and then open up the summoning room for the gate’s size. Who do they think comes through those gates, pygmy demons?”

Jerricah giggled. “Maybe we should thank them,” she offered in reply. “The Mau, I mean. With these tunnels so constricting, the summoning rooms would probably just act like jail cells for the Balaur.” Theladas nodded.

“I’ll write them a thank-you note,” he assured her.

After staring at the portal for a moment longer, the pair looked at one another and nodded. “Gate’s all yours,” Jerricah told Theladas.

“Just be gentle with the crystals this time,” he reminded her as he adjusted the chain links on his forearms. The girl spared a brief moment to glare at Theladas.

“It was a one-time thing,” she scowled. “You were making me nervous while you were fighting off Mau in the hallway.”

“And you nearly-” Theladas cut himself off when he saw the look in her eyes. Her eyes may have been a pretty blue most of the time, but they became downright icy when she was angry. The boy merely grinned before turning back to the massive swirling portal.

Jerricah turned to the nearest stone, leftmost of the portal. She shut Theladas out of her mind, instead bringing her focus to the glowing crimson crystal before her. She could feel the binding powers of the crystal, leeching energy from the ground beneath and channeling it towards the portal across the room. With practiced precision, Jerricah extended her left hand to the strands of connection in the air. As a guitarist plucks at the strings of his instrument, so too did Jerricah’s fingers pluck through the strings in the air. At her touch, each strand snapped loose and slipped limply into the ground. One, then another, and another.

As she reached for the last fiber, her eyes suddenly widened. She willed her hand to stop, but it was too late. The last strand snapped like the others, but it did not fall. The strand held rigid in the air, the severed connection sending an impulse into the dark void beyond the portal.

“Oh, no,” Jerricah whispered as she retreated from the pedestal. The crystal fell from its place, but Jerricah’s focus was broken: the strands vanished from her view. “Thel!” she shouted across the room.

At her call, Theladas looked to the blond-haired girl. He needed only an instant to sense the fear in her voice – he knew they were in trouble.

As if in response to the girl, a feral roar trumpeted through the cavern from the portal. “Hurry!” was all Theladas spared in response. He spun back on the portal and readied his staff. A moment later, a spear-like appendage lashed through the gate at Theladas’ midsection. The boy parried the strike to his side, stepping in tandem to avoid the blow. A clawed hand over a foot across raced through the portal next, slapping down on the ground just before Theladas. The rest of a giant, red-scaled demon followed its hand through the portal; its tail lashed back over its shoulder out of view. A large, plated head with gnashing teeth glowered down at the boy.

With a shout, Theladas leapt forward. He ducked into a roll to avoid the passing swipe of the demon’s claw. He returned with a blow to the demon’s stationary hand; it didn’t seem to notice. Theladas glowered, drew his staff back, and brought the other end down upon the demon’s knuckles. In conjunction with the collision, a burst of light surrounded the demon’s hand. There was a howl of pain as the hand recoiled across the ground – deep scars jutted into the stone floor from the demon’s claws. “That’s right,” Theladas told the demon, “This is gonna hurt a lot more than you were expecting.”

Jerricah spared no attention to the combat by the portal. Her eyes were set on the next stone in order, rightmost of the Abyss gate. She dashed across the room to the pedestal, only to stop mid-step to avoid a shower of rocks. She covered her head with her forearms, waiting for the debris to pass before moving. “We don’t have much time,” she reminded herself. She threw her hands out and back to her sides. “Get it done.”

A few more steps brought her to the second pedestal. Once again she let her mind relax. The strands of support became visible once more to her eyes, and once more she reached out to them. “Don’t rush,” she told herself. “Don’t rush; he’s fine, trust him.” Another strand snapped free. And another. There was no trap on the last line this time; one signal was clearly enough.

She sighed briefly as the second crystal wobbled on its axis. As the last of the strands retreated into the ground, the crystal fell from the air. Jerricah caught the crystal this time, peering curiously at the crimson light that seemed to emanate from inside the glass. “This looks familiar,” she mumbled.

A scream from her boyfriend broke Jerricah’s train of thought. She looked to the portal, worry in her eyes. Theladas was on his back now, his staff off to the side. The demon was now attempting to pin the boy with his unwounded claw, narrowly missing as he rolled away just before being crushed. Jerricah glared daggers at the demon.

“My boyfriend is not a mouse,” she asserted. She ran towards the portal gate, ignoring the turn in the demon’s attention. She reached out to the air around her again, drawing upon the heat of the room. Particle by particle, she drew the heat together into a single form. “Kerberos,” she whispered, “come back to me. It’s time.”

Jerricah came to an abrupt stop about twenty feet from the demon. Theladas was shouting at her to back away, and the demon recognized this new morsel as far easier to eat without the metal rings. Neither one noticed the bubbling of the earth just before her feet. Neither one noticed, that is, until the ground erupted with a fiery plume. A fiery spirit as tall as Theladas now stood between Jerricah and the demon, two massive fists bathed in flame and ready to strike. A second later, they did: the demon’s outstretched claw caught fire as it attempted to swat the spirit away. The flames passed a moment later, but the long black scorch remained upon the demon’s scales.

Kerberos lept forward at Jerricah’s command: it dodged the oncoming claw swipes as it looked for open points of the demon to strike. A fiery hook collided with the demon’s stomach, followed by an uppercut to the chest. Scorches erupted from each of the spirit’s strikes, but the demon seemed unphased. Meanwhile, the demon drove its claws down, forcing the spirit to retreat to avoid destruction.

Jerricah spared a moment to look over to Theladas. “Are you all right?” she called.

“Yeah,” he replied. She could see faint green light encircling his leg. Already his skin had closed; any bleeding from the claw stroke was staunched. “I’ve got this,” he assured her.

Theladas then swiped his staff from the ground. With the demon’s attention fixed upon Jerricah’s incantation, Theladas took a moment to find the weakest point on the demon’s exposed leg. Then he saw it: a gap in the plating to allow joint mobility. Theladas rushed forward, calling forth another holy strike. He brought his weapon down, and with it a beam of light collided with the back of the demon’s knee. With an unearthly wail, the demon fell forward to one knee. Theladas grinned – the limb was disabled for sure.

“Thel!”

Theladas leapt back from the demon at the warning. The demon’s spear-like tail only clipped his shoulder. He gritted his teeth as pain sprouted from the new wound. The appendage froze before Theladas’ eyes: solid ice wrapped up around the tail from the ground and pinned it in place. Theladas gave a supportive grin to Jerricah. “I guess I pissed him off,” Theladas said off-handedly. She shrugged, lowering her hand and returning her focus to her spirit.

Indeed, the demon was enraged. It bashed Jerricah’s spirit back, and then raised both its clawed hands. It roared as it brought the clasped hands down squarely on the beast of flame. There was an explosion of fire, burning brightly against the demon’s hands, yet it passed in an instant. Jerricah lowered her arms from guarding against the explosion and, seeing that her incantation was gone, slowly backpedaled from the demon. Its head was now at eye level, glaring directly at the girl. It growled hungrily.

There was a battle cry from behind the demon. Theladas swung into view, running up the demon’s back and springing into the air. His staff glinted in the crimson light of the Abyss gate as it arced through the air.

Theladas then braced the staff against his body, landing with the blunt end placed squarely on the demon’s skull. The impact drove the demon’s head to the ground with a crash. The stave flexed under the collision, but did not break. Theladas smirked in triumph.

However, as soon as it had fallen, the demon struggled up again. The demon threw its head back violently, tossing Theladas into the air. He yelled, and then fell abruptly silent. “Thel!” Jerri repeated, her eyes wide. She could hear nothing but the screaming demon, though. She stepped back again, raising her hand. She noticed again the crimson crystal – she was still holding it. She blinked, and then ran from the demon. It howled over her shoulder, and even managed to throw a boulder from the wall after her. She was beyond the demon’s reach, though, and its lame leg prohibited giving chase. Again it screamed.

Jerricah didn’t stop as she reached the final active pedestal. She didn’t bother focusing either. She simply jumped and delivered a roundhouse kick to the third crystal. The crystal shattered, scattering shards of glass across the ground. She didn’t need to check to know that the supports were cut – crackling explosions from the Abyss gate told her it was fading fast.

The demon was still howling in hatred and pain. Jerricah spun to face the demon, fire in her eyes. “Go sing somewhere else,” she shouted. She stepped forward, driving a fist into the air, directly at the immobilized demon. A gale torrent broke out across the room, driving from the girl’s fist into the demon. The wind’s unnatural strength managed to bowl the demon over onto its back. The demon fell through the gate, tumbling backwards through the rapidly receding portal. Jerricah’s icy prison shattered under the demon’s weight, and the appendage snapped through the portal. The portal then vanished, at last muting the roars of the demon.

After taking a moment to catch her breath, Jerricah dashed towards the vacancy where the portal had been. Her eyes scanned the room until she found Theladas, lying crumpled against the wall. She skidded to a halt next to the boy and knelt down, bringing his head to her lap. “Hey, Thel,” she whispered urgently, brushing the rock and dust from his hair. When he gave no response, her brow furrowed. “Come on,” she went on, “wake up. Demon’s gone; no need to be scared anymore.”

“I wasn’t scared,” Theladas grumbled in reply. Jerricah giggled to cover her sigh of relief. She hugged his head against her chest.

“Of course you weren’t,” she whispered as she kissed his ear. “Only a normal boyfriend would be scared by a demon like that.”