Bill considered himself to be a pretty patient man, even when pressed. On the rare occasion he did lose his temper, it wasn’t what most people would call severe. That aside, he found himself struggling to not throttle the small man with the expensive eyeglasses at the desk of the hotel.
It would have helped, he knew, if Kris had not been making all the potted plants in the lobby dance.
“Can we just cut all the crap,” Bill growled. “Give me a price, and I’ll pay it, but for the love of the Fates, let me have my damn room.”
The small man in the expensive eyeglasses frowned. “I am very sorry, sir, but as this is a full service hotel, we have an obligation to ensue that we are giving our clientele exactly what they want. There’s a principle to be upheld here.”
“I get that,” Bill sighed. “But, really, we want the full service package. I’ve said that five times now. Should that not tell you exactly what we want.”
Kris had the plants in a conga line. Bill strained to pay it no mind. The rest of the staff stared in confusion.
The small man sniffed a bit. “Well, sir, there is full service, then there is full service. Forgive me for saying so, but I simply wish to be clear on which sort of full service a man such as yourself would be seeking.”
“A man such as myself?” Bill inquired with a snarl. “Let’s get something straight. A man such as myself is seeking the finest service this establishment can provide. Now, forgive me please, but if you don’t give it to me, I’m going to rearrange you into a shape that even a modern artist wouldn’t recognize.”
Kris had the plants doing the Cha Cha around the lobby. At least one bellhop fainted.
The small man did not even blink. “Very well, sir. Will you paying with cash or credit?”
Bill slammed the letter from the Bank of Hillian down on the desk. “Bill me.”
Kris burst into hysterical laughter. The plants rolled around clutching themselves. Bill crumpled the expensive looking gold bar that encased the desk with his hand. The woman standing behind the desk, at the small mans side, went pale.
“You said bill me,” Kris howled. “And your name is Bill!”
“Kris,” he warned. “Park it.”
The hotel staff backed away from him quickly. The small man in the expensive glasses coolly examined the letter. Kris kept laughing.
“This appears to be in order,” the small man said, managing to sound exasperated. “I’ll be sure to forward your charges to them.”
“That would be fine,” Bill nodded. “Now, can we have our room, please?”
“Of course,” the small man nodded, snapping his fingers to summon a reluctant bellhop as he fetched a key. “You will be staying in our ambassador suite. Please enjoy your stay.”
“Long as I can relax a little, I’ll enjoy it fine,” he grumbled. “Kris, knock it off and come on.”
“Okay,” she squealed before turning to the plants and giving them a flawless curtsy. “Thank you for the dance, kind sirs.”
They bowed in return before retreating to their proper places and returning to their careers of inanimate decoration. Bill sighed again, rubbing his temples. The bellhop trembled.
“I like it here,” Kris told him. “Everyone is so nice.”
“Yeah,” Bill grumbled as he waved the bellhop on. “It’s great.”
With little more difficulty, they where shown to their room. Bill gave the bellhop a tip. He managed not to faint. It was all Bill could hope for at this point.
The Morninglow Hotel was the finest resort in the entire Verithorn Empire, catering to nobility, merchant lords, and other absurdly wealthy individuals from all over. It was known to even attract members of other kingdoms upper crust, due to its high standards and lavish services. Bill had heard rumor the even the royalty of the Empire preferred to vacation there when they needed to get away.
Looking around the room, he had to admit he believed it. He gave a low whistle as he took in the sprawl of crystal light fixtures, satin seating, and velvet carpet. Part of him felt a little strange standing in such a place, almost as if he were intruding. He put that aside and eased himself into an armchair, sighing as he did. Rarely had ever known such luxury, but he grinned at the thought of how quickly he could get use to it.
“Bill!” Kris squealed. “We have a balcony! And I can see the ocean! Come look!”
Grunting, he pulled himself up and joined her on the wide balcony, eying the comfortable looking loungers crouching to one side. The view made him forget them almost instantly.
Sweeping away from them was the wide expanse of white sand and crystal blue water known as Thronspike Bay. Carefully manicured palm trees dotted the landscape as the ocean waves rolled in with a steady calmness he found soothing. The gentle wind that blew in was warm and invited him to forget his worries and relax.
Bill really wanted to relax.
“Let’s go swimming!” Kris yelled, jumping up and down at this side.
“Would be nice to grab a chair and just take it easy,” Bill agreed, eye turning to the many loungers the beach offered. More than a few were under those gently swaying palm trees, scantily clad servers passing out drinks sporting tiny umbrellas to the patrons.
“Blah,” Kris cried, hanging her tongue out. “Let’s do that!”
Bill followed her finger to farther out in the water, where young noblemen were surfing. His stomach rolled a bit at the very idea.
“No, wait, let’s do that!” Kris exclaimed
Bill looked to where other young noblemen were windsurfing and felt his stomach roll even harder.
“No, wait, let’s do that!” Kris exclaimed again.
Bill followed to see even more young noblemen diving from the high cliffs that half encircled the entire bay. His stomach screamed in horror.
“No, wait, let’s do that!” Kris cried, leaning far over the balcony rail.
Bill grabbed her and pulled her back. “We’ll do all that, honey, I promise, but there’s no hurry. We’re booked for two weeks. We have plenty of time. First, we should hit the kitchen and grab something to eat.”
“You always think with your stomach,” she pouted. “I wanna go fishing for sharks.”
Bill put a hand on his stomach, hoping to stop it knotting up. “Maybe a bit later, okay? I’d like to take it easy first.”
Kris sighed heavily as she flounced across the rail. “You never wanna have fun.”
“I think we have a different view of fun,” he muttered.
“I guess I am hungry, though,” she admitted. “Maybe we could eat, then go outside and play.”
“That’s my girl.”
“Oh, I just thought of something,” she giggled, then gripped her head to keep the pain away.
Bill waited for her to recover. “What’s that?”
“You said you thought of something.”
“Shh,” she hissed, throwing a dark glare towards the couch. “There’s a headache hiding right over there.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t let it get you.”
“Your so sweet, Billy.”
“What did you think of?”
“Did I think of something?”
“You said you did.”
“Probably nothing then.”
“Maybe, but we still have to get swim suits if we’re going in the water.”
Lunch was eaten, and drinks were had. Bill drank more than Kris. The very idea of putting on a swim suit had him terrified. There were people around, lots of them, most young and good looking. He was neither of these things, and felt that old shyness rearing its ugly head.
Reluctantly, he allowed Kris to drag him to the rental booth, where customers without their own could rent swim suits. Part of him felt as if the entire thing was a bit surreal. They passed handsome young noblemen and lovely young noblewomen on the way, making Bill tremble at the very idea of being less than fully dressed.
“Greeting, ma’am,” the perky young woman at the booth said, smiling a little too broadly. “Can I interest you in our latest fashion from Kiang? They are all the rage among the nobles.”
“I’ll take one!” Kris declared.
“Shouldn’t we see them first?” Bill asked.
The young woman operating the booth looked up at him and went pale. Bill tried to smile, but that only seemed to drain more color from her.
“Billy, half of having an adventure is taking a risk,” Kris chided him. “Now, let’s roll the dice and see what happens!”
“I’d feel better if we didn’t jump in blindly,” he sighed.
Kris waved a hand at him. “Give me your most fashionable new fashion. I want to be the fashionablist!”
“Right away ma’am,” the young woman nodded. “And for your friend?”
“The same,” Kris nodded.
“No,” Bill barked. “I’ll take something normal, if it’s all the same.”
“That’s no fun,” Kris whined.
“But more considerate to others,” Bill argued.
“How so?” Kris asked.
Bill buried his face in his hand. “Just get them already, miss.”
“Of course,” she nodded, retrieving two boxes from the back of the booth. “Changing rooms are around to the side.”
“Thank you,” Bill smiled, sending her back a step.
“Let’s go!” Kris yelped, running ahead.
Bill sighed heavily and trudged after her.
Ten minutes later, he eased out of the changing room, feeling more than a little self conscious. The trunks he now wore, a dark blue, hung to his knees, but left him bare chested. It wasn’t something he felt was appropriate for a man such as himself. The group of young women who shied away as he emerged told him he was right.
The battle scars he carried did not shame him, they were the story of his life, carved on his body, his victories and failure, joys and sorrows. No, it was the simple fact he was wearing so little that made him flush red. Bill had always been a modest man. Still, it was what Kris wanted, so he would endure.
Making his way around to the front, he left his clothes with the young woman who operated the booth, ignoring the horrified look on her face as she took him in. He was not a handsome man, not by any estimation, and was long use to the fearful reactions of others. That aside, he felt he was wearing far too little to be in public.
“How do I look?” Kris purred from his side.
Bill turned to look and felt his jaw hit the ground. However little he was wearing, Kris was wearing less. Emerald green, what there was of it, hugged her small, voluptuous frame like a lover, leaving little to the imagination. Bill felt his face go even redder as passing young men paused to admire the Elven druid.
“Y-You l-look…” he stammered.
Kris posed a little, making Bill feel dizzy.
“Hey baby,” a young man said, stepping between them. “I’m Cliff, son of Oren, Baron of Lorrincal. How you doin?”
“I’m great, Cliff, son of Oren, Baron of Lorrincal,” Kris giggled.
“Excuse me, son,” Bill growled darkly. “But the lady is with me.”
Cliff snorted without looking at Bill. “Not anymore, buddy. Take a hike.”
Kris grinned. “You shouldn’t of said that, Cliff.”
“Why not?” he asked, eying Kris in a far too familiar way.
She pointed at Bill. Cliff turned. Bill cracked his knuckles. Cliff screamed and ran.
“That was fun,” Kris giggled.
“This is not going to be a very relaxing vacation,” Bill sighed.
“Don’t be so sure,” Kris replied with a suggestive look.
Bill wished he was wearing more.
“What is that thing your in anyway? Looks like somebody wrapped you up in a pair of slingshots,” he told her, waving a hand at the skimpy outfit.
“It’s called a bikini, Billy boy. It’s the latest from the province of Kiang to the east,” Scarlet told him.
Bill jumped. Kris squealed and launched herself at the Half Elf, hugging her tight. Bill tried not to look at the royal purple outfit, similar to Kris’, that his sister was wearing. Scarlet just laughed.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“Oh, just taking a little break from work,” she replied casually. “Kind of funny that we’d all end up here at the same time, isn’t it?”
“It’s great!” Kris laughed. “Bill doesn’t wanna do all the fun stuff this place has to do. Will you do it with me, Scarlet?”
“Anything for you, doll,” the other woman chuckled. “We can have fun while Bill hides under a tree.”
“I won’t be hiding. I’ll be relaxing.”
“It is,” Bollin nodded, making Bill nearly faint from shock. He hadn’t even noticed the old Dwarf arrive.
“Where’d you come from?” Bill gasped.
“Bollin!” Kris squealed. “You still have your pineapple!”
“Of course I do,” he grunted before addressing Bill. “Scarlet offered to take us all on a retreat, so I figured I could leave off my drinking for a while to enjoy the surf.”
“Two questions,” Bill said, holding up two fingers. “Who’s all of us, and why aren’t you wearing any pants?”
Bollin looked down at the thong he wore. “This is traditional Dwarven swim wear, William,” he scoffed. “I can’t very well go swimming with my Dwarven pride intact without wearing this.”
“Put some pants on,” Bill insisted.
“No,” Bollin snapped, crossing his arms over his burly chest.
Bill buried his face in his hand. “This is not going to be a very relaxing vacation at all.”
“Don’t be silly,” Scarlet replied, resting an arm on Kris’ head, the Elf still clinging to her waist. “It’s the first time in over ten years we’ll all be back together. What could be more relaxing than that?”
“We… all?” Bill asked slowly.
“April is here as well,” Bollin nodded.
Bill went pale. “Kris, time to go. It’s been fun, but we have to go to work now.”
Kris frowned. “I thought we were here for two weeks?”
“Hey, so are we,” Scarlet grinned.
“Pack!” Bill bellowed. “Now! Hurry! Before she sees us!”
Kris hid behind Scarlet. “I don’t wanna!”
“Then you can stay,” Bill snapped, eyes scanning. “I have to go, quick, before April…”
Bill hit the ground, face fist, eating sand.
“AHAHAHAHA!!!” came the familiar laugh as he felt a slight weight land on his back.
“Too late,” he muttered into the sand.
“Oh, I forgot, Kris hasn’t met your other sister, has she?” Bollin asked.
“No,” Bill spluttered. “Kris, this is April, my other sister.”
“And all around superior combatant,” the Halfling woman with the short dark hair laughed from atop his back. “I am April Triggerblade, the finest assassin ever trained by Bollin Anvileye! Undefeated in eighteen sparring matches with Bill Wick!”
“You don’t have to yell it,” Bill complained.
“She has a right to be proud of it,” Bollin snorted.
“The one person even you can’t beat,” Scarlet added.
“She’s so cute!” Kris screamed, releasing Scarlet to tackle the Halfling.
April had time to look surprised before Kris bowled her over and hugged her up, burying the other woman’s head in her cleavage. Bollin arched an eyebrow in appreciation. Scarlet seemed surprised. Bill just lay there.
“You are just adorable,” Kris giggled, rolling April’s head in her hands. “You’re so small and cute and pretty! I wanna hug you forever!”
April struggled in vain to escape the Elf, gasping for breath in the embrace of her arms and breasts. “Help me!”
“No,” Bill muttered.
“Not likely,” Bollin chuckled.
“In a minute,” Scarlet grinned.
“Traitors,” April snarled, trying to free herself of the Elven druid’s tenacious grip. Every time she almost wiggled free, Kris had her again, cooing over the tiny woman like she was a kitten.
Pulling himself up, Bill rubbed the back of his head where April had struck him with her foot. “Kris, put her down. She’ll suffocate in there.”
“Okay!” Kris agreed, dropping the Halfling suddenly.
Panting, April pulled herself up to her full height of three feet and scowled. “Who in the seven hells is she? I thought this was a family vacation?”
“It is,” Kris grinned. “You’re shorter than me. That’s so cute!”
“April, this is Kris, she’s my… uh…”
“Wife,” Kris offered.
“What?” Scarlet and Bollin exclaimed.
“Long story,” Bill sighed. “Kris, this is April, my other sister.”
“You’re half Dwarf too?” Kris asked in wonder. “That explains why you’re so short.”
“I’m not half Dwarf, I’m a Halfling!” April barked. “Wait, did she say wife?”
“Still a long story,” Bill sighed again.
“Hmph,” April grumbled. “Well, I guess it’s okay if she’s here with us, then, seeing as how you belong to her and all.”
“Hold up a sec,” Bill yelped.
“Don’t even try,” April declared, jabbing a finger at him. “If you give yourself to a woman, then you are her property forever after. That’s the way of things, so don’t even try to wiggle out of it! Men should know their place, and that place is at the side of whatever woman deigns to have them, so be thankful, Bill Wick!”
“So very not relaxing,” Bill sighed heavily.
“You are so cute!” Kris squealed, grabbing April and hugging her up again.
The Halfling struggled in vain to get free. Scarlet helped Bill to his feet with a warm smile. Bollin chuckled at the antics of his ever rowdy children, and felt half his age for the first time in a very long time. If only their brother could have been here, he thought, his face darkening. If only he hadn’t betrayed them all.
“I can’t stop hugging you!” Kris squealed.
“Get off me!” April yelled.
“Put her down,” Bill ordered.
“Yeah, it’s my turn to get squeezed,” Scarlet grinned.
“No, it is not!” Bill snapped
“I want a hug,” Bollin laughed.
“Put some pants on!” Bill snarled.
They were a family.
Several days passed, Bill spending them sipping fruity tasting drinks from coconut cups adorned with tiny umbrellas, relaxing under the shade of a palm tree. Bollin roamed the beach, impressing the young noblewomen with his chiseled physique, to the dismay of every young nobleman in sight. Kris, Scarlet and April dove from cliffs, learned to surf, and played with dolphins.
Despite his earlier complaints, Bill was forced to admit that this was indeed a relaxing vacation. It had been, as Scarlet had said, more than ten years since all of them had been together. It was good to spend time with them again, sharing meals the way they once had.
He looked at the bandage on his hand where April had stabbed him with a fork over a choice piece of lobster. Okay, so mostly good.
Kris had even managed to get him in the water to play a game with a beach ball, which had lasted until he had accidentally hit it too hard, knocking the plug out that held the air in. He’d spent nearly an hour blowing it back up while Kris had pouted.
The days were spent in laughter and relaxation, the nights in comfort and joy. It had been a long time since he had known so much calm and serenity, if he had ever known as much before. When he tried, he couldn’t remember a time.
Kris routinely snatched April up for long sessions of hugging, which the Halfling assassin was learned there was no escape from. Despite his initial fear April may accidentally hurt his love trying to escape, he’d gotten over it pretty quickly. The Halfling was helpless before Kris, and he kind of enjoyed seeing her suffer a little.
Another such round of adoration had ensued when Bill stirred himself from his lounger, Bollin snoring heavily one the one next to him. Not far away, Scarlet was enjoying the attention of another of the young noblemen that adorned the beach like seashells. With a soft smile, Bill rose and headed towards the hotel in search of a snack.
Reaching the cool stone patio, he paused to tug his shirt on over his head, feeling a bit more at ease when he did. No sooner did it fall into place than he saw a familiar face looking at him, one he had never guessed he would ever see again.
“Mr. Wick, I must speak with you,” the gypsy fortune teller said.
Bill seized her by her shirt, growling, “You again.”
“Please, Mr Wick, wait,” she gasped as he shoved her back into a recess, away from prying eyes.
“Who the hell are you?” he demanded. “And what the hell are you doing here?”
She gripped his wrist in a panic, trying to escape him. “I can explain. Please, let me go!”
Reluctantly, Bill released her. “You better make it good, or I’ll be pretty compared to you when I’m done.”
The gypsy woman eyed him warily. “I believe that, Mr. Wick. Completely.”
“What I said to you before, at the carnival, you did not heed it,” she told him slowly. “I had hoped you would.”
Bill crossed his arms over his chest, scowling. “I don’t know what sort of parlor tricks, or magic, you used, but there are things you are better off not sticking your nose in. This would be one of them.”
“If only it were so simple,” she sighed, looking out to where Kris was chasing April across the beach. “But your time with her is running out, and if you are not careful, she will be lost to you.”
Bill stepped back. “You know who she is?”
“I do,” the gypsy smiled sadly. “And I know all that you have done for her, to protect her, and why. Soon, sooner than you think, that will end. Krysthalanis Shirafilannia Ar’Verum will wake from her long dream. May the Fates have mercy on us when she does.”
“Who are you?” Bill demanded.
“A friend, Mr. Wick, nothing more.”
“My friends are not usually so cryptic, and that’s why they are my friends. I don’t like games, woman.”
She gave him a sharp look. “I play no game, Mr. Wick. He is coming back around into your life. The one who shattered her mind. If you do not act, all will be lost.”
“No, he’s dead,” Bill replied, anger rising. “He must be dead.”
“He is not, I assure you,” she said. “Your brother still lives. Theron Ashscale draws breath, and looks to finish what he started in the Fields of Shana’Thar.”
“No,” Bill gasped, growing pale. “It can’t be. I won’t let it be.”
“Then you must send her away from you, Mr. Wick,” she told him. “When he comes, you must send her far away, or she will die. Die, or worse, awaken to her true self.”
Bill said nothing, staring at the ground in rage. Theron lived. He hadn’t died in the Coldrise Woods. Somehow, he had escaped the werewolves Farathor had summoned. Which meant, as the gypsy woman said, that sooner or later, he would come looking for Kris, to finish the job he had started in Shana’Thar.
“How can you know all this?” Bill asked, his voice low and dark.
She said nothing for a moment, watching Kris play with a wan smile. “It is my curse to know all that happens, and all that will happen. I am sorry, Mr. Wick, but for the sake of Krysthalanis Shirafilannia Ar’Verum, if you do truly love her, truly wish to protect her, then she can not be by your side when you and your brother cross blades once again.”
“You know all that happened that day? That, and those that came after?” Bill asked.
She nodded slowly. “I do.”
“Then what of Tashiori? Will she be safe still?”
The gypsy smiled at that, looking at Bill fondly. “You carry the weight of so many on your shoulders, Mr. Wick. It’s why you are on this path. I marvel at you.”
“Tashiori,” Bill pressed.
“She is safe for now,” the woman nodded. “And will be, for the time being. Theron’s master has plans for her that require her to live yet.”
“Theron’s master?” Bill gasped. “He’s working for someone? He did all this as a job?”
“You did not know?”
“No, I didn’t,” Bill said. “I always thought he was just grabbing for some quick cash. Never guessed it to be part of something bigger.”
“How quick of mind you are,” the gypsy said. “To figure it out so fast. Theron acted on orders of his master then, as he does now.”
“And I’m guessing he has for the last eight years, then, too,” Bill replied. “Since that day he tried to kill me and set all of this in motion.”
“Indeed,” she sighed.
“I’ll keep Kris safe,” Bill said after a long moment of silence. “No matter what. It’s my fault she’s like this. I wasn’t strong enough to save them in Shana’Thar, and she paid the price. I won’t fail a second time.”
“I am sorry, Mr. Wick,” the woman told him. “I wish there was a better road open to you than this.”
“Doesn’t matter,” he scoffed. “I’ll walk it, till the bitter end.”
“That is all I need to know,” she replied with a smile.
“Tell me the truth,” Bill said softly. “Who are you really? Why are you helping me? How do you know all of this?”
She smiled at him warmly. “Even if I told you, I’m not sure you would understand. It is my destiny, I guess. Perhaps, you could even say, it is my fate.”
“I don’t believe in fate,” Bill replied.
“No, but they believe in you,” she told him before walking away, leaving Bill to ponder more things than he really wanted to.
“Come at me then, big brother,” he finally said in a low growl. “Come at me, and I’ll put you down, like I should have eight years ago.”
“Do we have to go?” Kris wailed.
“We do,” Bill smiled.
“Fourteen days goes by fast,” Bollin sighed.
“Too fast,” Scarlet agreed.
“Time always passes quickly when you spend it with those you love,” April added.
“That almost sounded wise,” Bollin chuckled.
“I heard it from a smelly old Dwarf once,” April waved.
“Smelly?” Bollin snarled.
“You are kinda smelly,” Kris nodded.
“I don’t wanna hear that from you,” Bollin grumped.
“Kris doesn’t smell,” Bill chided.
“I don’t smell,” Kris chided.
“She does smell kinda good,” Scarlet teased.
“Back off,” Bill warned.
“Ohh, sibling fighting over me,” Kris swooned.
“No figuring taste,” April snarked.
“Least they are fighting over someone,” Bollin jabbed.
“I’m not ready to settle down, so back off,” April bellowed.
“She means she can’t find anyone to settle down with,” Scarlet chuckled.
“I could if I wanted,” April grumbled.
“I’m sure you could,” Bill sighed.
“You are so cute!” Kris squealed.
April ran. Kris caught her. Scarlet tried to pry her free. Bollin laughed. Bill found himself smiling.
Smiling, while he could, for soon, he now knew, he wouldn’t be able to anymore.
Soon, he would lose his only reason to smile.
Soon, Kris would wake up.
©-2017 Cain S. Latrani
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.
Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
No beach balls were harmed in the writing of this short story.