Worms: Apocalypse

Interlude: Keeper of the Flame

In Which Love Has Come for Liberty Grace.

Posted by Darth Krzysztof

12 Wealsun, 595 CY

Liberty lay on her stomach in her smallclothes, legs up and ankles crossed, considering the words on the scrap of paper she’d found tucked into Mom’s journal. The words, barely visible in the candlelight, read: ‘Know that your kindness and compassion can win out over your drive and passion. Not occult them, no, but temper them and keep them from causing unwanted harm.’

I’ve struggled with this for so long, she thought, and he knew it better than I did. She’d taken his lessons to heart (as best she could), and was finally learning to control her impulses. She’d come to care about people, too – not just her family and companions, but people, even the ones who’d called her a witch, or worse.

‘The best I could do was to be there for you when you needed me and I am most deeply sorry that I cannot be there for you now.’

You’re always with me, Mom. You always will be. His sacrifice had shown Liberty the way she needed to go… to choose forgiveness and mercy over vengeance, hope over despair, sacrifice over greed. And Signore di Mezzanotte would guide her as surely as Mom would have; Liberty planned to find out everything she could about Pelor’s ally, the fiery Joramy, as soon as her other business was concluded.

She wept a little less for his loss – no, for her loss – each day, for Mom hated to see her cry. But the last part of his message made her weep anew:

‘I have long loved you and longed to watch over you and protect you… to you, Liberty, I leave my heart, for there is no other more worthy to carry it.’

She had never known… had never had the slightest idea. Mom kept his deepest secrets better than Constance ever did. Liberty had never thought of him that way, had never considered it. No, that wasn’t entirely true – she remembered him walking shirtless on the road to the Free City, remembered how her thoughts had become more than a little wicked by the time the trolls attacked…

But it didn’t matter now. Mom was gone from her life, just like Ilya and Ekaym. Perhaps someday, once the Age of Worms was averted, Liberty could find the Honest Minstrel in the Amedio Jungle, and ‘fraternize’ with him, now that their business was concluded.

Yeah, right. Then, afterward, I can ride a gold dragon to Bahamut’s palace. Maybe I should have gone for a tumble with Korush, before I betrayed him.

I’m not like that anymore.

She turned the pages of Mom’s journal, getting to know a man she’d thought she knew, when a soft knock came at the door. Behind it, the din of merriment in the Crooked House’s common room had ebbed, but not died out entirely. Who could be bothering her at this hour – whatever hour it might be? Well, it can’t be Xan. Xan would just let himself in.

Liberty took her continual flame ring (another gift from Mom) from its leather pouch and set it beneath her ash-tinted spectacles, filling the room with moody half-light. She slipped into a black silk nightshirt that covered her legs to mid-thigh, then crept to the door barefoot. “Who’s there?” she called.

“It’s Ilya.”

She resisted opening the door for nearly three seconds.

Ilya Starmane stood there, her face beautiful as ever, her expression unreadable. The way the sheer gold dress clung to the curves of the elf’s body made Liberty’s head swim. “Hello, Ilya,” she managed.

“You are surprised to see me.”

Liberty nodded. “I was sure you got my letter. When I didn’t get a reply, I knew better than to blame the carrier.”

“It’s… complicated.” Ilya glanced at the hall behind her for a moment. “May I come in?”

She wouldn’t have come all this way to tell you off. Would she? “I’m sorry, my manners are… of course, please.” Liberty stepped aside, her room seeming brighter for having Ilya in it.

The elf looked around briefly before noting the journal on the bed. “I hope I’m not interrupting?”

“No. I was just reminiscing about Mom. I.. he died.”

“I wondered why he didn’t fight with you after the first round.” Ilya considered the room’s lone chair before taking a seat on the bed. “I know he was dear to you, and I’m sorry to hear of your loss.”

“Thank you.”

“Of course. Please, sit.” Ilya moved the journal to the nightstand, patted the bed next to her. Liberty took a seat, leaving a few feet between them, certain she could feel the elf’s gaze on her bare legs. But she didn’t cover them.

“I was mad at you,” Ilya began, “over Arcane Auriga. I’ve been – I was a fan of theirs for years, But, more than that, I was mad because you didn’t tell me what you really are. But then, I realized you’re young, and human, and still learning what you are.”

“Ilya, I –“

The elf raised one slender finger, quietly saying: “Please, let me talk. So, after I received your letter, I came to see you fight Pitch Blade. I hoped you were telling the truth about controlling yourself… and, if you weren’t, I hoped the dwarves would punish you for it.”

“They tried.”

“I saw how they came at you, yes. And I saw you offer one of them mercy.” Her head tilted. “I’m not sure that burning him to cinders was the right answer, even if he was trying to kill you, but you did try to give him a way out.”

“And I paid for that, too. His brother tried to murder me in my sleep.”

“I see. Is he dead, then, too?”

“Yes. I wasn’t the one who killed him, though.”

“I see,” Ilya said again, just as flatly.

Liberty’s hands fidgeted in her lap. “I’m not a wizard, Ilya. I can’t pick and choose what spells I know; they just come to me. I don’t know how to do anything except kill. So far.”

“And you are very good at it, as Madtooth found out.” Ilya leaned back against the pile of pillows at the head of the bed. “But you can use that power for a greater good. You can restrain yourself. You may be the flame, but you’re also the one who keeps it.”

“That’s what Mom was trying to tell me.”

“He was a wise fellow.” The flickering half-light of the room danced purple in Ilya’s eyes. “Don’t mistake me, Liberty Grace. Your power terrifies me, and I don’t want to get burned by getting too close to it.”

“Then you’ve taken a risk coming here.” She tried to make it sound like a joke, but Ilya didn’t laugh. “Why?”

“Because I saw what the wizard’s spell did to you in the final round. I saw people pointing and laughing at you, and I felt so furious… part of me wanted to just beat them to death with my bare hands…” The elf reached for Liberty’s hand, took it in hers. Ilya’s skin was as soft and smooth as she’d remembered… more so, even. “Because I care for you, Liberty. More than I dare to admit. Because I couldn’t live with myself if I simply turned my back on you. Not when I owe you my life and my freedom.”

“You owe me nothing. If you… if you want to be with me, let it be because you want to, not because you feel that you must.”

Ilya shook her head. “My heart is my own to give.” She held Liberty’s palm over her chest until she felt the elf’s heart beating through the sheer fabric of her dress.

“Are you sure, Ilya?”

The elf took quick, shallow breaths. Liberty realized that she’d been doing the same. “I have never been more sure of anything. Why? Aren’t you?”

“Of course I am.” And she was. Liberty no longer cared what anyone else thought of Ilya, what Ilya’s family thought of her. She felt as if her entire being had flowed into her hand, suffused by the heat of Ilya’s body. “But after everything you’ve been through, I thought you’d want more time…”

“It does still hurt. But not when I’m with you.”

Liberty had to agree; her own pain seemed very far away, now. “You should know, soon I’ll have to leave Greyhawk for a while. We found out who hired the facedancers to kill us, and we need the counsel of a sage back in Diamond Lake.” I also have a friend to bury…

“I suppose it would be too dangerous for me to come with you.”

“Yes. And I don’t know how long I’ll be gone.”

Ilya closed the distance between them, her free arm sliding around Liberty’s back until her hand rested on the sorcerer’s shoulder. “Then we should make the most of whatever time we have left together.”

This is happening. This is really, finally happening. She felt the need to say something in agreement, but no words came.

Ilya’s lips parted slightly to meet Liberty’s in a soft, slow kiss. She pulled the elf closer, and Ilya moaned into her mouth as the kiss intensified. She jolted as the elf’s tongue found hers, causing Ilya to stop and pull back. “What is it?” Ilya asked.

“I should have expected that. It’s just that… I’ve never done this before,” Liberty said with a sigh. “I’m sorry if I’m not…”

“Don’t be sorry, Liberty. Just be with me tonight. I’ve never done this, either, if it makes you feel any better.” Ilya guided Liberty’s hand, which still covered the elf’s heart, down and around to cup her breast, while her other hand stole under Liberty’s silken nightshirt to trace patterns on her back. “I have a lot of ideas, though. And we have all night to try them.”

As the night went on, Liberty also tried a few ideas of her own.

* * *

The brush of elven lips on her forehead awakened her.

Ilya’s smile greeted her opened eyes, her golden dress shimmering in the light of the magic ring. No sunlight streamed through the shuttered window… was it still night? Or had she slept the entire day away? “Timezit?” Liberty slurred, stretching her arms out until her fingers found her lover’s side.

Is that what she is to me? Liberty thought. My lover? “Girlfriend” isn’t intimate enough, and “partner” sounds more like a professional relationship…

“Still early. I have to get home before dawn.” Ilya glanced away for a moment. “I don’t want Mother to know I’ve been gone.”

Liberty propped herself up on her elbows. “Are you ashamed of me?”

She turned a scandalized glance on Liberty. “No, of course not. I just… my family isn’t ready to hear it, yet. They won’t understand.”

“Oh. If you like, I can come and explain it to them.”

“Liberty, please don’t joke about this.”

“I’m not joking. I’m sure they’ll see reason.”

“I hope you’re right. But this still isn’t the time.” Ilya stepped away from Liberty and walked around the bed, sitting on the room’s lone chair to collect her sandals.

“If not now, then when? Ilya, my friends and I are trying to stop people from bringing about the end of the world. Chances are better than good that I’ll get killed doing it, too.”

“I know. And it terrifies me.” She stopped, looking at the shoe in her hands. “I’ve seen what you and your friends can do… but I also saw that worm, and I’m sure there are even worse things out there.”

“Is that what this is about? You don’t expect me to be around for very long, so it isn’t worth troubling your parents over me?” She fought to keep her voice from rising.

“I am a gray elf, Liberty. No matter how long you live, I am sure to outlive you… but no, that isn’t it.”

Liberty swung her legs to the floor and walked over to Ilya, kneeling before her. “What is it, then?”

“You’ve forgotten what I said last night.”

“Not a chance, Ilya. Though you did say a lot of things.”

“I told you that I care for you, more than I dare to admit.” The elf’s slender fingers ran through Liberty’s hair. “And what did you do?”

“I…” Liberty bowed her head. “I took it. And I didn’t say the same to you. I thought my feelings were clear, but I’m sure you still wanted to hear me say it.”

“Yes. If your interest in me is purely sexual, then I am yours. But I hardly think that my parents would be proud to hear about my… escapades.”

“Oh, Ilya.” She took the elf’s hands in hers, gazed into the violet of her eyes. “Of course I care for you! I was so furious when I thought I’d lost you… I know it sounds like madness, when we’ve only known each other a couple of weeks, and spent so little time together, but I think I love you.” She could barely hear her own voice at the end.

But Ilya heard it. The elf’s face drew closer. “Don’t you dare lie to me, Liberty Grace. If you claim to love me, as I know I love you, and I find out that you’re lying, it will quite likely kill me.”

“I’m not lying. I love you. I’m going to be with you. And I don’t want to hide it, from your family or anyone else.”

Ilya smiled gently. “Then let’s go back to bed, and we’ll speak to my parents in the morning. Both of us.” With a sigh, she added, “I’m sure I will need your help.”

Liberty stood, then helped Ilya to her feet. The gold dress slipped from the elf’s shoulders, and they left it pooled on the floor. Once back in the bed, Ilya shared her warmth with Liberty, her head on the sorcerer’s shoulder, one leg draped over hers, one hand on her stomach.

“I watched you sleep,” Ilya said, “for a little while.”

“You did?”

“Yes. We don’t sleep like you do, you know – we rest by entering a deep trance, but it only takes about four hours. So, I was watching you sleep.”

Liberty closed her eyes, trying to decode the message Ilya’s fingers wrote on her belly. “And what did you see?”

“You seemed very peaceful. Either you didn’t dream of the chimera, or you found a way to slay it.”

She half-remembered telling Ilya about that, but couldn’t remember when or where. The Star of Celene, perhaps? That whole afternoon had been a blur. “This is the most relaxed I’ve been all summer. I thank you for that.”

“The pleasure was half mine.” The circles drawn by Ilya’s hand spiraled away from Liberty’s navel, further north, further south. “Should I put you at ease again?”

Liberty drew breath to reply, but could only release it in a body-shaking yawn. “Spirit is willing,” she mumbled. “Body can’t take it.”

Whatever Ilya said next slid right through Liberty’s mind as sleep reached up to claim her again.

She dreamed, and not of worms.



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