A Birthday Present

Some people are absolutely impossible to buy birthday presents for. You know the type, right? Already has that gadget, and why that book? He's got the whole lecture series on it. It takes a lot of time to find that one thing that will work...And Jared is no exception.

"Can I take your order?" The waitress frowned at me, considering that I was still wearing my hood indoors. I ordered the "house special", consisting of roast beef, homemade bread, and a drink. "Water? Sure you don't want ale or a lager?" I shook my head. "No thanks. Water's fine." She nodded, and returned with a stein of water. I had been on the road a while, so a hot meal for a good price was quite acceptable.

I took out my silverware and sliced the bread in half, and placed the roast beef in the middle. The waitress looked at me strangely. "Something I picked down in the South." One of the bar's least sober patrons then took the time to address me. "Hey, mamma's boy. Why doent's ya' get som' milk to go with'it? A table knife? What kind 'a freak are you?" I ignored him, and soon heard the sound of dagger being drawn from its scabbard. "Hey, pay 'ttention to what I say, moron!" I turned around on the barstool and flipped back my hood. Some of the other patrons gasp. "Hey, wait, he's a..." He trailed off as the drunk started to charge. I held out my right hand, and chanted "Ada menoris do selaino!" The stun bolt hit the man, throwing him backward and knocking him out. The other patrons stared at me, some in shock, others in simmering anger. I chugged the water, grabbed my sandwich, tossed the waitress a couple of coins, and left.

I suppose if I'm ever going to publish this journal as memoirs, I should explain about myself. I've never really committed it to paper. My name is Tonis Aramil Naïlo. I'm 22 years old, about 5' 2", and I have green eyes and jet black hair. My father is Deraas Naïlo, and my mother is was Julianna Fairview. I should also point out that my father's an elf. My mother wasn't. She was human. I grew up in the city of Hampstead. My mother could afford grammar school, so I went. A couple of other students teased me, as I expected. When I was thirteen, a fight on the schoolyard ended a draw. The other kid was okay, but I was frail enough that my arm bone broke. I still have a bit of a scar. The next year, my mother died of consumption. I was young for my age, a late bloomer for human standards. I lived with an Aunt of the Fairview family for about eight months, but she couldn't stand that I was half-eleven. I packed up my things and caught a caravan to the eleven lands, where I met my father, who was working as a diplomat for the eleven government.

I caught my father when he was returning from a business trip. I tried out the amount of Elven my mother taught me. Deraas tried smiling while twitching slightly at my pronunciation and intonation. While I lived with him, he improved my knowledge of the Eleven language, archery, music, and the touch of magic he knew. Despite his best efforts, the court had a field day of Deraas being "sentimental" to his "half-human" son. At eighteen, I was too young for humans, and too old for the elves, and finally, to allow my father to keep his occupation, I left again, heading northeast. I ran into a human ranger named Davis who offered me apprenticeship. I followed him around the backwoods for about two months, but as I found out on the schoolyard, I'm too frail for heavily physical tasks. I ran into the wizard Jared Fairku Amakür at his home in Highterrace, the southern border of the Northlands. He was the same amiable half-breed that I was, and took me in as his student.

That was about four years ago. The study of the arcane arts takes quite a while, but I've got time. I moved into the empty room of Jared's small estate, nestled into hill about Highterrace. In the large, partially subterranean home, it was just Jared, me, and the maid, Jessie. That, and the endless walls of bookshelves and fireplaces that litter my home. Under Jared, I quickly got beyond the simple mending and light spells my father taught me. My birthday was just after the one year anniversary. I got a spell book, a large, red-leathered hardcover book with nearly a ream of pages. It took me all my free time for the next month to copy all my loose notes into the book.

I should also point out that I'm writing this in an inn in Elchester, using my favorite griffin quill. The innkeeper wasn't too pleased to see me. "We don't offer rooms to elves." "I am not an elf, sir." He looked at my ears. "Still, you've the blood. I shalln't give a room to a half-breed—." The innkeeper trailed off as a man burst through doorway. "There was freakin' mage in the bar. He..." I turned around to look at the man. Upon seeing me, he fled, tripping over his feet. "'Specially not to a half-breed sorcerer." I tried to keep calm. "I am the apprentice of Master Jared Amakür." The innkeeper's eyes widened. "Master Jared, eh? My apologies. Jared is a good man. We had some problems with rogue sorcerers about a year back. Everyone in Elchester's a bit touchy 'bout magic."

That's finished. I should also mention why I came to Elchester. I found an old book in Jared's study, Legends of the Northlands, that mentioned an artifact near Elchester. It's called the ring of the Golden Blood, and is evidently a translation device for the difficult Draconic language (I saw Jared struggling with a few scrolls of it), and according to the book, it also magically creates reading light for the wearer. It talks of the ring being guarded by "The Lady of the Snows", some local ghost. I read into it and found her "…to appear to lost travelers in the mountains near Elchester, sometimes sorrowful, sometimes angry. Her dirge can be heard to echo across the peaks…"

The next morning I set off for the mountains north of town after I had bought some beeswax. A few hours later, I arrived at the base of the tallest, and I noticed something almost shimmering against the midday sun. A further climb through the brush and broken trail left something, a smooth rock wall. It just didn't feel right, and I started to get a tingling sensation. Then I realized what it was. I cast a simple reveal illusion spell and found that the section of rock wall simply disappeared, leaving the entrance to a cavern. That explained why no one had found the ring. After laying my bow on the revealed ledge, I grabbed the ledge and pulled myself up to it, the keen eyes of my father's lineage adjusting to the darkness within.

The first few hundred feet or so of the cavern was uneventful. But then, I heard an echo. The path diverged, the right simply going to a higher spot in the room, so I went left. Soft, crude torchlight and the smell of pitch greeted me, as well as the owners of the echo. In the moderately lit cavern I could easily see about twenty or so reptilian creatures, about three feet high, asleep against the cavern wall. Judging from their skin and piecemeal clothing, they were kobolds, a small race of neutral but territorial lizard men. I swallowed, and crept through the enclave. As I exited the room into a long corridor with a natural bridge and a forty-foot drop-off to either side, I heard stirring. I turned to see a juvenile kobold upright and staring at me in the doorway. I could have used the short bow my father gave me or perhaps the dagger at my hip, but it had done nothing to me. I whispered softly "Akai somnious forkay" and held out my held. The kobold's eyelids shut, and it fell over in sleep. Unfortunately, the thud it created caused two dozen freshly awoken eyes to stare at me. Despite the fact that they only used crude hand axes and knives, I felt this was not the time to prove that hypothesis and thus quickly bolted down the corridor, kobolds in pursuit. By the corridor's end, and the abrupt turn thereafter, I stopped, and quickly cast invisibility on myself, and held very still. The kobolds came past, sniffing loudly for my scent. One walked towards the large room on my left, but an older kobold grabbed it and chattered at it. The whole group then left back to their cavern.

I turned my head left to see a grand chamber with a small temple-like structure inside it, sunlight shining through a small skylight. I took out the wax, separated it, and put it in my ears. Upon walking forwards, a muffled but still ear-shattering wail caused a wave of pain to surge through my body. It happened twice more, and then stopped. I opened my eyes to the banshee, the ghost of a female elf.

"You're the Lady of the Snows!" She looked at me, and responded in Eleven. "You've come to take it, haven't you?!" She sneered at me. "I wanted it too, but look where it got me." I looked at the back wall, at manacles that held a small skeleton chained to the wall, just in front a pedestal with a small golden ring. I remembered an old Eleven phrase. "The punishment must fit the crime. That's why you're here, isn't it, with the Golden Blood just out of reach? You sought it so badly that it destroyed you. And yet, so firm in your determination, not even death could hold you from it." She sneered again at me as I looked upon the tarnished jewelry on the floor besides the skeleton. She drifted towards me. "I've killed quite a few treasure hunters, some with my song, others with my claws. Why should you be different? "Princess, I come to not to steal it." Her eyes widened and twitched. "I…I offer you an equal trade. I wish the ring as a gift. A birthday present." She looked thoroughly surprised. "My mother's pendant." I took out the thing I had promised myself never to give up. "It's the most precious thing I own. I would do anything to get her, but I know that isn't possible. I don't obsess over it. I simply accept it. I hope you can understand." She nodded vaguely, and I switched the items. The ring glowed brightly for a second, as the elf's ghost lost her aged and haggard look. Restored, she drifted forward and kissed me. I shivered where her lips had left a brief, but ethereal cold. She then dissolved and disappeared. A sudden breeze whispered "Thank you, friend."

Some people are absolutely impossible to buy birthday presents for. I'm just glad and lucky that they are people who mean that much to me that I would buy them, and even happier knowing that they'd do the same for me.