Temple of Ravens

Discussion in 'Original Works' started by Black Tattoo, Jan 14, 2008.

  1. Black Tattoo

    Black Tattoo The Corruptor

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    Trayla had crept through the shadows, dragging herself high up into one of the many massive trees in the courtyard of the temple and from the safety of her perch watched the monks going about their morning chores far below. There was a sound of someone pounding on the front gate, and she leaned over to see who it was when one of the clerics opened it, her long white hair falling across her black skinned face.
    The moment the latch was lifted, a burly human dressed in full armor stormed into the courtyard. "We're hunting a Drow that's been seen in this area. She attacked a farm woman last night."
    Attacked Trayla snorted as she crouched lower in the shadows among the branches. A Drow half-breed, she was always careful to stay out of sight, knowing the absolute hatred the surface races justifiably held for her father's race. The fact that her mother had been Coyote hardly mattered, she looked Drow and that was enough to put most off. That was what had gotten her into this mess in the first place.
    Unable to find any decent food for the past fortnight, Trayla had taken to begging. Hiding her long white hair and black skin under her heavy hooded cloak. If the wind had never picked up the wrong way, the farm woman never would have known. But that was not how things were to go. The woman freaked, screaming to her husband and sons that they were being attacked by Drow and Trayla had fled, dodging flying arrows and trying desperately to outrun hunting dogs. She had nearly made it to the safety of the forest when an arrow caught her in the side. Bleeding and tired she had made her way to the this temple, thinking herself safe and now the humans had tracked her here. Undoubtedly, their damnable dogs had followed the scent of her blood.
    The man was saying, "We're going to have to search your lands."
    A tall cleric stepped forward. Dressed in a long white long-sleeved tunic over black leather pants and leather boots, he looked to be in his thirties and of the race of men. He had dark brown hair around his head, a small brown goatee and mustache and on top of his head two tattoos of long thin lines of green that came down over his eyes. He spoke in a calm voice.
    "I'm sorry but that will not be possible. This is a holy place, Captain, and should not be subjected to your intrusions."
    "Didn't you hear what I said? You could have a Drow hiding in your forests!"
    For a moment, the cleric looked down and Trayla saw a splotch of her blood on the stony ground where she had climbed up into the tree. Frightened, she froze where she was.
    "That is doubtful. The Drow would avoid a place as pure as this. If you insist on finding this Drow attacker, perhaps you should try the roads where victims would be easier for her to find. Good day, Captain."
    Confused, Trayla craned her neck to watch as the cleric ushered the man he called captain and his men from the courtyard, latching the gate behind him. The monks went back to their pious work. She could not understand why the cleric had said nothing about the blood stain, but she was too tired and in too much pain to really care. Allowing herself to relax in the crook of the massive tree limb, she awaited the comfort and safety of darkness gingerly holding a rag to the open wound on her side.

    The sun moved across the sky and was soon setting, casting the world in the misty purple hues of dusk. Trayla watched as the monks and clerics went about their evening chores. When she was sure that they had retired for the night, she carefully and with great difficulty crept down from her high perch.
    A shallow stream wound its way past a small clearing within the temple walls, and while the clearing was brightly lit with torches, the banks of the stream were in blessed shadow. Just as Trayla started to sneak across the clearing, though, her sharp hearing picked up on the sound of a door opening and she ducked back into the shadows, not daring to try and climb back up into the trees.
    Trayla carefully slipped further into the darkness as a man came close to where she stood, and entered the clearing. In the light of the torches, she recognized him as the cleric who had turned the captain away. He did not seem to see her as he knelt in the center of the barren space, closing his eyes to the torch light. Tilting her head slightly, she strained to see his face and what he was doing. He seemed to be meditating, or praying.
    "Hello."
    Trayla jumped at the sound of his voice and slinked further back into the comforting darkness of the trees, ready to run although the pain in her side would undoubtedly slow her. The cleric had not moved a muscle and his eyes were still closed, but she took no chances.
    "You needn't fear me, all are welcome here."
    His voice was calm and soothing, but Trayla had met others like him before and when they saw her black skin and white hair, they hunted her until they could chase no more. But in spite of her better judgment she lingered, watching him carefully.
    "You have been hiding on our grounds here since the captain and his entourage chased you here this morning, why do you hide in the darkness?"
    In surprise, Trayla took a hesitant step forward, her voice thick with the lilting Coyote accent. "You saw my blood, why didn't you turn me in?"
    "If you had intended harm, you would have done some already. What is your name?"
    "Trayla."
    "'Trayla', a beautiful name but not of Coyote origin and unless I very much miss my guess you have a Coyote accent."
    "My mother was Coyote and I was raised among the Northern Packs."
    "Ah, I see. Then I am guessing your father was the Drow?"
    Trayla remained silent, watching the cleric intently with vivid blue eyes.
    "My apologies, I didn't mean to pry." Slowly, the cleric stood facing the direction Trayla's voice had come from, and put his hands out wide to show he held no weapon. "Truly, you have no need to fear me or any of the brotherhood. Won't you please show yourself. I have nothing against speaking to the trees, except when I'm not addressing them."
    Hesitantly, Trayla stepped from behind one of the massive trees, leaning heavily to the side, and waited. To his credit, the priest did not react in fear, although his eyes widened in surprise. He did not even back away when he spied the twin swords strapped to her back but smiled with a slight bow. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Trayla. My name is Dorian."
    It was then that he noticed the thick dampness on her side and the blood stained rag she held there. "You're injured." Dorian took a step forward and Trayla made a hasty retreat backwards. "Please, Trayla, allow me to help you. We clerics of the Temple of Ravens are very good healers."
    "Temple...of...Ravens." Trayla repeated the words slowly, remembering the two massive statues of stone she had slipped past when she had snuck into the temple. They had been graven images of birds that towered hundreds of feet over her head. She remembered the fear they had invoked in her, and shrank back. "Why is there a temple to them?"
    "The Temple of Ravens is a holy place for the dead. Ravens carry the souls of the dead into the afterlife."
    "A beautiful thought." Trayla closed her eyes to the sudden spinning in her head. She had lost a lot of blood and infection was beginning to set in.
    "One you will soon be experiencing if you don't allow me to help you."
    "I don't need help...I just need - " Trayla started for the stream but she fell forward to her knees, blackness swirling before her eyes.
    Dorian was by her side in an instant; rushing forward to catch her.

    When Trayla awoke, she was naked to the waist with her side tightly bandaged; a thin sheet covering her bare chest. Slowly, she looked around to find that she was in a small cell simply furnished with the bed she lay in, a wardrobe, a rickety wooden chair and a small table on which sat various items of healing - bandages, salves and the like. Thin beams of brilliant sunlight streamed through the cracks in the shutters on the only window. On the wall just above her head hung a small scroll depicting the face of a man with a long beard and one eye, two ravens sat before him.
    "Woden."
    "Yes, He is the God we serve here."
    Trayla clutched the sheet to her chest in surprise to find Dorian standing in the doorway holding a small tray.
    "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you but I thought you might be hungry." The cleric motioned with the tray.
    "Yes, I am...a little."
    Dorian entered the room, letting the door swing shut behind him and set the tray beside her on the bed. His eyes avoiding her upper body.
    "Um...could I please have my shirt back."
    "It was almost rags and soaked with blood." The cleric went to the wardrobe and pulled out a white shirt which he handed to Trayla. "It may be a little big, but we have no sisters in this temple."
    Trayla did not care. She was glad to be dressed again, even if the shirt did slip off her shoulder. Dorian, she noted wryly, quickly turned his back and started for the door as she carefully pulled the shirt on over her wounded side. Accustomed to being alone, she was determined to let him go, planning to sneak away after she ate. But a part of her did not want to and before she could stop herself the words came tumbling from her lips, "Please. Don't go."
    Dorian stopped in the doorway, a curious look on his face and Trayla suddenly felt very self-conscious. "It's so rare that anyone is willing to talk to me."
    Shutting the door, Dorian sat down in the chair beside the bed, his arms resting comfortably on his knees, and waited.
    Being so close to him, the Drow half-breed could see his eyes were a dark blue-green and was surprised that she felt a heat in her cheeks when he looked at her. Avoiding his gaze, she looked up at the shuttered window. "Thank you."
    "As I recall, Coyotes are harmed by exposure to daylight, and the Drow aren't too fond of it either. Your body's fighting off infection as it is, I didn't want to make things worse. Besides, you needed your rest and the sunlight would have only woken you."
    "No...I mean thank you. I probably wouldn't have survived if you hadn't helped me."
    "You're welcome."
    "You've taken a great risk. Not just by trusting a Drow, but by turning that captain away. He didn't seem very happy about it."
    "Woden judges each of us on the right action of our minds and hearts. You've done no wrong here, it would have been wrong to turn you away in your time of need."
    Trayla hazarded a glance at the cleric. "I didn't attack the farm woman."
    "I didn't think you did."
    "How could you know?"
    Dorian motioned to the untouched tray of food. "You might want to eat it while it's still hot. It tastes better that way."
    His smile put Trayla at ease and she picked up the bowl of stew. The warmth felt good in her black hands and the smell was enticing but it was not until the warm broth touched her lips that she realized how hungry she was. She had to fight to keep from engorging herself.
    "You didn't answer my question."
    "It was a gut feeling and one should always go with one's gut instinct."
    Dorian winked playfully and Trayla hesitantly smiled, falling into a thoughtful revere. "It is strange, I have never heard of a temple dedicated to ravens."
    "The Ravens Hugin, Thought, and Munin, Memory are Woden's constant faithful companions to Woden who report back to Him all that is happening in the nine worlds. They represent deep magic, the mystery of the unknown, death and transformation, creation, healing, wisdom, protection, and prophecy. Ravens are sacred not just to those of us who serve the temple, but to many who follow other Gods."
    "What is it your Order does here? Besides heal wayward travelers of less than savory descent."
    Dorian laughed softly. "We live - we eat, gather food, worship our Gods and tend to those less fortunate than ourselves. It is against the ways of our Order to strive for more than is possible to attain, to fight over gold or land and kill each other in senseless battle."
    "But you can fight." Trayla eyed the cleric's build, the muscles of his arms showing the tempering of martial training even under the thick sleeves of his tunic.
    "Even the peaceful must be ready for battle, if only to maintain the peace they hold dear. I do not like to fight and avoid it whenever possible, but I will fight if I'm forced to."
    "I've never known peace."
    "I thought the Code of the Coyote People was much the same, only fighting in defense of themselves or others."
    "It is, but there's always someone attacking and so there is never peace." Trayla's tone was matter of fact, having long ago accepted this aspect of life particularly as a Drow half breed. For a long moment, she nibbled on a piece of bread shyly looking up at the cleric through a shock of her long white hair, staring at the tattoos that adorned his skin. She noticed there were more than those atop his head; bands of green knotwork ran down either side of his neck until they disappeared beneath his shirt.
    Catching her stare, Dorian grinned. "What?"
    "What are they?"
    She gestured to his head, and the cleric slid a hand over his scalp. "They're a symbol of my Faith in Woden and in the Endless Cycle - Birth, Death, Rebirth."
    "I've never seen tattoos before."
    "I thought I heard voices in here."
    Trayla jumped at the sound of the new voice and looked up to see a regal looking man with white hair dressed in a white frock and carrying a tall staff topped with a white stone.
    "Trayla, this is Corin, head of our Order."
    Corin smiled, though it hardly put Trayla at ease. There was a strong Divine Magick about him that she found intimidating. "I'm glad to see you awake, you had us worried for awhile, particularly Dorian." He smiled at the younger cleric who suddenly stood, excusing himself from the room.
    "I'd like to thank you...."
    "Corin, just Corin."
    "Corin, for you people's help and the risk your Order has accepted in taking me in. I won't be a bother and I shall be on my way as soon as I'm able."
    The wizened cleric put a hand up. "Please, please. I did not mean to give the impression that we were in a hurry for you to leave."
    "Nevertheless, I - "
    Corin sat down where Dorian had been sitting, a pleasant expression on his face. "Where will you go?"
    "I hadn't really given it much thought. Anywhere, I suppose."
    "If you have nowhere to go, you're welcome to stay here. You would receive room and board in exchange for for helping with the grounds and gardens."
    Trayla felt her clear blue eyes widen in surprise and her mouth fall open in shock. "I-I couldn't. I'm endangering the members of your Order just by being here. Why would you risk giving me sanctuary? I am no friend to you and you have no reason to trust me."
    "But we are friends to all." Corin smiled and stood. "Think on it as you rest and heal."

    For seven days and seven nights, Trayla thought on the offer made by Corin. Every day she would walk as far as she could before exhaustion overtook her and would watch with great curiosity the daily chores of the monks and clerics. At first she was careful to keep her distance, but soon grew comfortable in their quiet kindness and acceptance even daring to venture into the temple to listen to their chants and prayers. Having grown up among the relatively solitary Coyote People, such an observance was fascinating to her.
    Every evening, when he had finished his chores and prayers, Dorian would come to Trayla's room to speak with her. With rapt attention, she would listen as he recounted tales of Woden and his ravens and in return she shared legends of the Coyote People. Much against her will, regardless of the arguments of her reasoning, she found herself letting her guard down. She enjoyed the cleric's company and learning about his Order. Within the walls of the temple's grounds, she felt safe and accepted. Here she was happy. Which made her decision that much harder to make and she was grateful Dorian did not pry.
    On the seventh evening when he came to see her, Dorian did not find Trayla in her room but out in a small clearing in the garden. Surrounded by ancient dogwoods and willows, she wielded her thin twin swords with grace and poise. The fine blades glittered in the fading sunlight as the moved around her body in fluid harmony. She was well aware of the cleric's presence, but did not allow it to break her concentration on her practice of Joung Jouwa - the sacred ritual of her mother's people which attuned a warrior to the soul of its weapons of choice. It was a method which honed the deadly skills of its practitioners and at which she had become very adept. With eyes closed, she could sense each weapon's energy, an extension of her very essence. All were in balance: mind, body, spirit, weapon.
    Mesmerized by the smooth, slow, yet undeniably powerful, movements, Dorian lingered until she was done. "You must be healed to be able to hold such mastery in your practice." His soft voice sounded happy, but with an unmistakable undertone of sadness that could not be missed.
    Trayla glanced over her shoulder, her long white hair falling gently across her face hid half of her soft smile. With a wince, she sheathed her weapons and carefully made her way over to sit on the stone steps leading into the garden. Gazing up at the countless stars that filled the velvety night, she sighed deeply and nodded. "Yes, the wound is healed and I can move freely once more."
    Dorian sat down beside her, following her gaze. "They're beautiful."
    "Yes...they are." Slowly Trayla looked down toward the lightless horizon, though to her heat sensing eyes it was hardly devoid of light. "There is a saying among the Coyote People, that when two people are a part and look up to the night sky, they gaze upon the same stars and are never truly parted."
    "Then you have made your decision."
    "I had a dream....that everyone here paid for my presence. A portent, I believe, of what is to come if I remain. For the first time since I left my home pack, I have felt....like I belong. I care for everyone here and I cannot let...." Suddenly Trayla felt at a loss. It was too late, her heart was not hers anymore and unable to tell she stood. "I plan on leaving in the morning. I should go tell Corin."
    Avoiding Dorian's questioning stare, Trayla ran back into the building.

    The next morning, Trayla was up and dressed before dawn in the hopes of any long, sad goodbyes. Yet when she quietly crept out into the main courtyard, she found all the monks and clerics gathered, waiting for her. Slowly, she looked around at all those gathered, trying very hard to remember the faces of those who had touched her life. It was not long before her eyes fell on Corin and Dorian standing near the gate, a large brown horse saddled and waiting beside them.
    Shaking her head, Trayla approached confused but smiling. "What is all this?"
    Corin came forward, clasping her hands warmly in his. "You didn't think we would let you leave without saying goodbye, did you?"
    "I'm sorry I'm leaving but - "
    "I understand. We all do. Everyone must make their choices for their own path in this world, Trayla, and we respect yours." Corin motioned to the horse. "To help you on your journey. We don't have much but there's some food and supplies in the saddle bags it should be enough to get you through any hard times you may encounter."
    "I - I don't know what to say." Trayla turned to the gathered monks and clerics. "You all have been so kind to help me when my need was so dire. I could never thank you enough, how could I ever repay you?"
    "Do one thing for us when you leave these gates." Corin smiled slightly as he stepped back amongst the others. "Help someone else when their need is dire."
    "I will."
    Dorian smiled sadly as he handed her the reins. "I will miss our talks."
    "So will I." Trayla's voice was almost a whisper as she climbed up onto the horse's back, her eyes locking on her friend's dark blue green orbs. Yes, Dorian was her friend, though much more than that in her heart. "You saved my life and introduced me to a whole new outlook on what remains of mine. I could never show my gratitude enough."
    The cleric reached his hand up and slipped a small medallion on a long tether into her hand - two ravens carved on one side, two wolves on the other. "That you may always remember. May Woden protect you, my friend."
    Slipping the necklace over her head, Trayla smiled. "I could never forget."
    The large gate silently swung open and the Drow half-breed raced the horse out of the courtyard.

    One night after having been on the road for several days, a terrible and violent storm broke unleashing icy rain, powerful winds and terrifying lightning upon the land. Though Trayla had been avoiding roads and towns as much as possible, in the terrible tempest she sought shelter in a cliff side cave that overlooked a road leading to a small town in the distance. Sharing the small space with her horse, she had just set down to starting a fire when a scream cut through the storm's fury.
    Running to the cave mouth, Trayla allowed her vision to slip from the spectrum of visible light to that of the infrared and stared hard into the darkness. Squinting through the driving rain, she could see a small wagon under attack by bandits. Her first instinct was to ignore them. They were humans attacking humans and she really had no urge to expose herself for their sake, but Corin's words came back to her. She had made a promise - she would keep it.
    Drawing her twin swords, the Drow half-breed carefully made her way down to the wagon, her black skin allowing her to easily blend in with the night. As she neared the wagon she could see five men tearing into the cargo. A man lie face down in the mud, judging his quickly cooling form, dead. A woman huddled in the corner of the wagon cradling a small child in her arms.
    For a long while, Trayla patiently bided her time, but when one of the men approached the frightened woman un-fastening his belt, she had had enough. There were many ways she could go about this, she knew, but decided on the one that had the best chance of producing the least carnage. Lowering her swords until their tips gently touched the ground, she stood straight, her long white hair drenched from the rain clinging to her face neck and shoulders. In the night, devoid of light except from the lightning, her heat sensing eyes glowed a bright red.
    "One more step toward her, and you'll lose what little you have in those pants."
    All five men turned toward the voice with the glowing red eyes, daring to approach with weapons drawn. A streak of lightning tore across the sky, revealing her black skin and white hair and two of the men dropped their weapons and ran. Their three companions, however, stubbornly remained.
    The burliest of the three, the one she had addressed, sneered. "The cowards. We out number you, devil. You're caught and what a fine coin you'll bring."
    His two companions slowly surrounded Trayla, but she kept her eyes on the obvious leader. "Are you that much of a fool? You could walk away, right now with the loot you've already stolen. Why lose your life trying to take more?"
    The two men that had flanked her suddenly charged, their weapons at the ready. Taking a step forward, Trayla spun with the attack bringing her swords up to deflect their weapons while guiding the man on the left to strike his companion on the right. Without stopping she lashed out with one blade to catch one of the men in the lower back. He howled in pain and crumpled to the ground mortally wounded. The leader meanwhile suddenly whipped into action, running forward shouting a battle cry. Continuing with her spin, Trayla shoved the second man into the leader and took advantage of the distraction to jump back.
    At first she was confused as she watched the two men momentarily freeze until she realized what had happened. When she had shoved the man into the leader, Trayla had inadvertently shoved him into a waiting blade. Hardly stopped by grief, the leader yanked his sword from his companion's chest and rushed toward her.
    Spinning her swords easily in her hands, Trayla locked the hilts together in a "V" and snapped upward to meet her opponent's descending sword. Forcing it upward, the Drow half-breed lost no time in whipping her blades down and around each of them piercing a lung. With a gasp of surprise and horror, the leader dropped his weapon and fell to his knees, hands clutching his mortal wounds before he collapsed to his side, dead.
    The world seemed to stop and Trayla stood with swords lowered. The rain continued to pour down upon her bowed head, washing the brilliant red from her white locks and black skin. She was Drow, but she was also Coyote and she hated killing. A sharp crack of thunder tore her from her thoughts and in its resulting flash of lightning, she looked up to see the frightened woman and child staring at her in wide-eyed fright.
    It was the farm woman whose panic at the sight of her had nearly cost her her life.
    Trayla's calm voice belied her own surprise and fear. "Are you alright?"
    The woman only continued to stare.
    "I said are you alright?"
    Nodding in wide-eyed fright, she stood clutching her small child. "What devilry have you saved us for?"
    Trayla resisted the urge to roll her eyes in annoyance and whistled for her mount. Hoisting herself onto its back with ease, she turned it around to head away from the town in the distance.
    "Why?"
    It was not the question that stopped Trayla, but the emotion behind it - the same confusion that had been in her own voice when Dorian and his Order had saved her life. Looking back over her shoulder she answered simply, "It was the right thing to do."
    Again the Drow half-breed started to urge her mount forward when the woman's voice, catching from cold, or fear, cut through the raging wind and rain. "How can I ever repay you for saving my life and that of my child?"
    "Help someone else."
    "I will...the Order of Ravens." Trayla paused and looked back to see the woman hesitantly approaching. "My brother, is Captain of the King's Guard and as of yesterday's dawn he has been given authorization to destroy the Temple of Ravens in search of the Drow he knows they were giving sanctuary to. The King will not tolerate a Drow dwelling within his lands." Through the torrent of rain, tears poured from her eyes. "I'm sorry."
    Spinning her mount around, Trayla trotted up to her and reached down a hand, "Then help me save them." The woman shrank back a look of confusion on her face. "Your brother will not listen to me, but he may listen to you."
    Slowly the woman reached out and took the black skinned hand of the Drow half-breed.

    Trayla had seen war, she had seen the detestation and sorrow it wrought wherever it occurred, but nothing could have prepared her for the scene that welcomed her. Most of the beautiful forest that had once surrounded the Temple of Ravens was charred or still burning. Soldiers marched forward cutting a swath of murder and destruction through the forest, temple grounds, and the clerics and monks who stood to defend the sacred place. Passing between the two massive stone ravens that guarded the entrance, scorched black by forest in flames around them, the Drow half-breed saw the unmistakable stains of blood, a brilliant red against the black.
    Frantically, Trayla searched through the smoke and flames for the leader of the massacre.
    "Captain!"
    The noise of battle seemed to die down at the sound of her voice and an anxious silence reigned, broken only by the hissing roar of the fires in the rain and the moans of the dying. Slowly the man turned; the moment his eyes fell of the black skinned warrior pure hatred twisted his face into a grimace.
    Not giving him a chance to call to his men, Trayla turned her mount around so that he could see his sister and gently handed her down to the ground.
    "Brother, stop! Stop this madness!" Holding tight to her child, the woman ran to the captain. "We were wrong! We were wrong to judge her!"
    "How can you say that? She's Drow, and these men committed treason by giving her solace!"
    Much to Trayla's surprise the woman did not back down. "They saved her life and she saved ours!" The captain paused, the tension easing around him as his ambiguity grew. "Highwaymen attacked us, John was killed and we would have been killed too, or worse had the Drow not come along. Look around you, Brother, all this death for one who has done no wrong!"
    Trayla watched as the captain's shoulders slumped and he gently wrapped his sister in a tight embrace.

    The storm passed. The fires died. The sun filtered through the smoke, casting a hazy light upon the blood stained battlefield.
    Trayla walked among the gutted remains of the once humble buildings of the temple, the blackened skeletons of once lush trees and the bodies of men, so many she had known and many more she had not. Following the scraping sound of a shovel at work led her to the temple cemetery where the surviving members of the Order of Ravens silently buried their fellow clerics and monks along with the soldiers of the Captain's army. The Drow half-breed kept a respectful distance as she watched the care and observance taken with each burial.
    Dorian, she noted with relief, was among the survivors, his head bowed as he dug a new grave. Soot and blood stained his once white tunic, grief weighed heavily upon his once calm countenance. When all had been buried and many prayers had been said, the other clerics and monks moved on to other tasks, but Dorian remained. Leaning on the handle of his shovel, he knelt before the last grave and lowered his head in wordless communion.
    After much time had passed, the cleric raised his head to stare at the freshly turned earth. "You still hide in the shadows."
    "The shadows have always been my home, Dorian," Trayla answered quietly letting her graze drift over the countless grave mounds. "So many", she whispered then suddenly looked at him. "Corin?"
    "He is among the dead."
    "So many."
    "Too many for the sake of prejudice and irrational fear."
    "'Irrational fear'? Dorian, that isn't fair. The reputation of the Drow is well-earned and I can't blame others for the way they act when they see the color of my skin and hair."
    "That doesn't make it right. The unfair judgment of you brought about all this."
    "Do you regret your actions of that day?"
    Dorian fell silent for a moment before answering with so strong a conviction that Trayla was taken aback. "No, never once."
    Trayla struggled to regain her poise. "What will become of the Temple of Ravens now?"
    Sighing deeply, the cleric stood and faced her. Blood and soot smeared his face, his dark blue-green eyes looked weary from the long battle of the night and the sorrow found at its end. "We will rebuild and continue with our service." Dorian reached out a hand to her. "Will you stay this time?"
    "I will stay." Hanging back a moment, Trayla slowly slipped her slim black hand into his, smiling when she felt his fingers gently close around hers. Dorian, though exhausted from the fighting and sadness, managed the faintest of smiles in return.
    pb