CODA AND TERCHI

As Chronicled by Dragonis ex Vici, Follower of Jerbiton
From the Files of Dr. Fritz V. Baugh, GBI Historian

Previously
This story takes place not long after Extreme Ghostbusters: Coda And Terchi's Extreme Adventure, Part Three

Coda Monkeyfang and Terchi Bagwise are halflings ("hobbits") in the service of the Hermetic covenant of Dragonsfall. Terchi is part of a large family that has included a grandmother and uncle that proceeded him in service to the covenant; Coda is an orphan who was raised in the desert world of Kreen, as seen in the story Tales From The Ectozone: Kyrie Was Here.

A few days ago, Coda was possessed by the entity Anthal-Noje, who warped off to Earth in pursuit of a vendetta against the Ghostbusters. The Ghostbusters, with the help of a particularly ballsy and stupid move from Terchi, manage to free her from the entity's control.

After five and a half years of tension between them, it seems that something is about to change for Coda and Terchi. But will it be for good or ill?

Dragonsfall Covenant
The First Day of Aries In The Eighth Year of the Age of Aquarius
March 21, 1998
Ghostbusters Omnibus Timeline Year Sixteen
The sound of scratching at her door woke Coda Monkeyfang from her sleep. "...oh fucks...y'can't be serious..." she groaned.

The sound of meowing came from the other side of her bedroom door.

Coda yawned, stretched, and walked over to the door. A black cat was waiting there; the cat purred and rubbed Coda's legs.

"Yer practically a fuckin' 'larm clock, T'rantula." Coda grumbled.

She walked downstairs to the kitchen area, the cat running ahead, then turning back and making sure Coda was following, then running ahead again. When Coda got to the kitchen, she opened a container and poured a scoop of kibble into a bowl.

The cat hungrily ate it, purring loudly.

"I knows you wuz some ovver wizard's familiar an' can type an' stuff, but sometimes, yer totally still a cat." Coda rolled her eyes. Tarantula kept eating.

There was a scratch at the outside door leading into the kitchen. A loud voice said "Ooo! Meow! Meow!!!"

Coda facepalmed and sighed, opening a much bigger container to pour a much bigger scoop of kibble into a much larger bowl.

She opened the door to the sight of a large, purple colored creature resembling a cross between a dinosaur and a centaur, looking at her eagerly. "Meow?" it said.

" 'Ere y' goes, Dulk." Coda shook her head, putting the bowl down. Dulk started to loudly chew the contents. She was still half surprised he wasn't eating the bowl.

He stopped. "Oops...Dulk forgot: Purr purr purr."

"You are bof touched in th' 'ead." Coda rolled her eyes. "Now 'at you critters ain't gonna die 'a starvation for 'e next ten minutes, maybe I can gets some food m'self."

Some Time Later
A wagon pulled up to the entrance to Dragonsfall. The two ponies pulling it came to a stop. Two hobbits climbed down from it.

"Ponies won't go inside." Rishot Augusty noted. " 'Ey're afraid Dulk will try to eat 'em."

"Proba'ly right." his nephew, Terchi Bagwise, agreed.

Rishot looked at the guardhouse. "Now all we 'ave to do is wait to be let in..."

"Sir Augusty!" came a clipped voice from the guardhouse. "May I inquire as to the nature of this visit?"

"You know why we're 'ere, Styx..." Rishot rolled his eyes.

A head poked up from the back of the wagon. A one-eyed dwarf with wild white hair shouted at the gate. 'DAMMIT, STYX, THE BEER IN ARBORSHIRE IS GETTIN' WARM!!! LET THE DAMN HALFLIN'S IN SO I DON'T HAVE TO COME OUT THERE AND BEAT YER ASS AG'IN!!!"

The gate quickly opened. "My apologies, Sir Augusty, Master Bagwise."

Rishot rolled his eyes again, and nodded at the dwarf. "My thanks, Sir Ironbeard."

Ralshan Ironbeard, former Marshall of Dragonsfall, slumped back down. "Yeh yeh...just hurry it up, Lads. Like I said, the beer is gettin' warm. Grab the lass and let's go."

Terchi gulped. "Assumin' she ain't changed 'er mind..."

Terchi tugged at his collar as he walked toward the Mercer House. Damn strange I feel all nervous goin' to th' place I only lives in most a' th' time... They both lived there, but in separate quarters. "So, Mister Styx, you, er, see Coda today?"

"No more or less than usual." Styx replied. "She came out to do her laps around the Covenant, then did her sword practice. Though she did cut that session short--something about ' 'avin' to battle a buncha' girly crap' I believe she said."

Rishot nudged him. "That sounds promisin'."

Coda sighed as she heard the sounds of Terchi and his uncle entering the Mercer House. Crap...last chance to tell 'im to take a 'ike an' get outa' 'is...

She took a look at herself in the mirror. It had been almost three years since the last time she'd attempted to "girl up" as she put it--in a rather dismissive tone of voice--and, honestly, she wished that Liz Hawthorne Stantz was here right now.

Coda had grown up with her mother, of course, for the first thirteen years of her life. But it was a hardscrabble existence on a desert world; makeup and jewelry were not part of her upbringing. She'd inherited some when she came to Dragonsfall--left behind by her mother--but it's to Lady Enlightenment's credit that Coda had what little and begrudging idea she did of what they were and how to use them.

But she promised herself she'd try today. No matter how fuckin' silly I fink I look...

For Terchi's sake.

Terchi gulped nervously as he knocked on the door to Coda's room.

Inside the room, she gulped nervously too. " 'Alf a moment!"

She opened the door, and Terchi's eyes went wide.

Coda was in the same white and olive blouse with wine skirt she wore not long after they met five plus years ago.

No makeup; that was something Coda'd pretty much decided was not going to happen. But she was sporting a few items of her mother's jewelry--earrings, a bracelet, and even an anklet on her left leg.

Terchi was having trouble breathing.

Rishot bowed. "Greetings, Miss Coda."

" 'Ey yerself, Uncle Rishot." she nodded. She looked at Terchi quizzically. "You get a nosebleed 'is time I'll smack it so it's justified."

Terchi chuckled uncomfortably, turning red. "Oh no, no no! Not like 'at at all! It's just..." He paused. "You look bootiful, 'at's all."

She turned red. "Oh. Well, I'm just glad 'is old fing still fits." She took a look at him, in his neatly pressed waistcoat, vest, and bow tie. "Y' manage a dapper display y'self, Bagwise."

Terchi's eyes glazed over.

"Oh great. Y'broke m' nephew!" Rishot chuckled. "Shall we get goin' ?"

"Right 'is way!" Terchi said excitedly, offering his arm.

"I live 'ere--I know 'ere the front fuckin' door is!" she replied. But took the offered arm.

Rishot was having trouble stifling his laughter. "We need to get goin', you two. We got a wagon waitin' outside."

"A wagon? We're ridin' in style." Coda said semi-sarcastically.

"Only th' best f' you, Luv!" Terchi replied brightly.

Lor, it's like Benny and Orchid all over again. Rishot mused to himself. Which is good.

They got outside to the wagon. "Ride in the back wiv Ralshan. 'E can chaperon." Rishot said with a slight mischievous lilt.

Terchi rolled his eyes, and helped Coda into the vehicle. The dwarf looked asleep, but did grunt a greeting.

Then Tarantula ran into the wagon, and hopped up onto Ironbeard.

"I fink Miss Tarantula's comin' wiv us." Terchi observed.

Rishot was just about to tell the ponies to start walking when Dulk wandered up, looking at him with sad eyes.

Rishot sighed. "The Archmage said you can go, Dulk, but you know the rules: no eatin' the ponies, the guests, or anyfin' else without Mister Ironbeard's or my approval."

That made Dulk seem to be lost in thought for a moment.

" 'At must be painful." Coda whispered to Terchi. He chuckled.

"All right, Dulk behave." Dulk finally said, looking a little dejected.

"We'll ensure ye get a hamburger or two, Lad." Ironbeard assured him.

Dulk perked up at the thought. "Cow!"

The wagon started to move. "And we're off..." Rishot noted.

Ironbeard sat up, pumped a fist, and shouted "Lali-Ho!!!"

He then laid back down and stayed motionless for the entire ride.

On The Way
"Ohright, ohright...let me see if I gots 'is now..." Coda said.

"I know you can do it, Coda Luv!" Terchi said.

Coda rolled her eyes and sighed. "Yer granddad is Lem Augusty. 'E's a musician, an' used to be at the covenant a lot."

Terchi nodded. "Right."

"I just 'ope the Archmage's taste in music is better than 'is taste in art, or I may put m' ears out." Coda noted. Terchi and Rishot both laughed.

"Be assured, 'e's pretty good." Rishot noted. "Though I guess I'm a bit biased sein' 'ow..."

"Don't jump a'ead!!!" Coda barked. She cleared her throat. " 'E married Bree Tosscobble, notorious Treasure 'Unter 'oo worked for th' Archmage." Coda rolled her eyes. "I 'eard all 'bout 'er the day we met."

Terchi nodded. "So good so far."

"Lem an' Bree 'ad two sprogs. A gil, Orchid, an' a boy, Rishot. Which is that bloke drivin' the wagon. Orchid Augusty took up wiv a pipeweed farmer named Benny Bagwise. 'Ey 'ad a son 'oos spent the last five years springin' pop quizzes 'bout 'is relatives on me."

Terchi laughed. "Can't dispute any'a 'at, can I?"

" 'Eir son Rishot signed on wiv the covenant like 'is Mum." Coda continued. "An' 'en 'e got 'itched to Peaches Tealeaf, 'oo runs the library in town. 'Ey 'ad free sprogs: Lilly, Uldane, an' Posey. Gils bookendin' a boy."

Terchi laughed. " 'At's 'zactly 'ow Aunt Peaches likes to put it!"

"You forgot to mention m' pet 'amster." Rishot deadpanned.

"Whut?" Coda looked surprised.

" 'E don't 'ave a pet 'amster." Terchi rolled his eyes.

"So I gots it right?"

Terchi nodded. "You gets a banana sticker!!!"

Arborshire
A few still knew the story: of how during the Tenth Century AD a small German village in the shadow of the Great Arbor was terrorized by a dragon. How a group of Hermetic magi defeated the dragon, and with the help of the grateful village built a covenant in the place the dragon fell--Dragonsfall.

Centuries later, when Dragonsfall moved to a shard realm in the wake of the Shattering and the Sorcerer's Crusade, the shard realm's reflection of the village became the haven of many fae creatures left stranded away from the glory of Arcadia and other realms of the Faewild. With them were many races of magical bloodlines, now also hunted and feared by the mundane world.

The halflings (hobbits) of the village, which formed the plurality of its inhabitants, eventually got the name "Arborshire" to stick.

No one knew for sure whether the Equinox Festival began as a halfling affair, or with one of the other races living there, or was something wholly created by Arborshire, but by the cusp of the Twenty-First Century it's the village's largest celebration, being a far more communal party than the family-oriented gift-giving of Yule.

Coda had to fight a moment of unease as the wagon entered the village; after years either alone or surrounded by enemies, she never forgot the moments of near-panic when first visiting the friendly environs of the Grey Oasis and Dragonsfall. Even after five years, that instinct triggered on the rare visits she made when entering the relatively bustling community of Arborshire.

"Oh!" a high voice called out. "It's Dad an' th' rest!"

Rishot brought the wagon to a stop; a hobbit girl of about fourteen ran up to them. She had messy brown hair gathered into a couple of braided tails. "So whut y' bring me, Dad?"

Rishot chuckled as he jumped down and hugged the girl. " 'Owabout a cousin, a dwarf, an' a couple other guests?"

The girl's eyes went wide. "Izzat a dragon?!"

"No, no, 'at's Dulk."

"The fing 'at tries to eat all th' cows?"

"Yeah." Rishot nodded. "But 'e's been told to be on 'is best be'avior or th' Archmage will roast 'im."

"Oooo..." Dulk said nervously. "You have cow?"

"I fink we can find some 'amburgers maybe."

Coda regarded the girl for a moment. When I was 'er age I was fightin' bugmen an' goblins... Terchi helped her off the wagon.

"Oh, an' 'oos 'is, Terch?" the girl asked. "Lilly said you wuz bringin' a goblin, not 'nother 'obbit gil."

"Oh did she now?" Terchi sighed. " 'Is is my friend Coda Monkeyfang. Coda, m' youngest cousin, Posey Augusty."

"I fink we invited th' 'obgoblin, but 'e turned it down." Coda said brightly. "Too much like 'aving fun."

Posey laughed. "I likes you!!!" Posey grabbed her and hugged her.

"Can have hamburger now?" Dulk asked.

"Calm yerself, Dulk." Ralshan said, dusting himself off. "Which way is the beer, Lass?"

Posey pointed. " 'At way, Mist' Ironbeard. Gran'dad said you'd 'ead right for it. 'E also said 'ere's two kegs, an' the one whut ain't been tapped yet is for you an' the other's for ev'ryone else."

"Yer grandfather is a very wise halfling, Miss Posey."

Terchi coughed. "Y' seen m'Mum recently, Posey?"

"Oh yeah." Posey replied. "She's still tellin' the decoratin' committee everyfin' 'ey did wrong on the big banner. You get 'ere quick enough you can rescue Uncle Benny 'fore 'e passes out."

Dulk tapped Posey's shoulder. "Um..."

The girl rolled her eyes. " 'Is way."

"You can eat the 'amburger, Dulk." Rishot said sternly. "Anyfin' else..." He slid his finger across his throat.

Dulk gulped.

Tarantula jumped off the wagon, and trotted off after Coda and Terchi.

Dulk had just downed his fourth hamburger.

"No more for now, Dulk." Ralshan told him. "Some of the local's ain't had any yet."

Dulk looked dejected.

"You wants a bitta potato salad, Mist' Dulk?" Posey asked.

Dulk blinked. "Dulk not know. Do I?"

"Yes, have some." Ralshan sighed. He finished downing his sixth mug of beer, and sat in the chair next to a punch bowl.

"Y'gonna take a nap, Mist' Ralshan?" Posey asked.

"Not bloody likely." the dwarf replied. "I may not be Marshall of the covenant anymore, but I still look out for the people here. That means guarding the punch bowl from those that would...tamper with it."

Posey shrugged.

"You'll understand some day, Lass."

"Or maybe it looked better on th' lower branch. Could y' be a dear and move it back? I 'ate to be a bovver, y' know, but please? Just f' me?"

The halfling in the tree sighed, and untied the "EQUINOX FESTIVAL VIII AAQ" banner from one branch, and then tied it to another. " 'Is okay, Mizzuz Bagwise?"

On the ground, a hobbit woman regarded the banner quizzically. "I dunno...maybe it was right th' last time..."

The male hobbit next to her sighed. "I fink the banner is just fine, Luv. If we don't quit dinkin' wiv 'is we'll miss Rishot gettin' back wiv..."

"Bad news for y', Dad." the voice of Terchi Bagwise broke in. "Y' already did."

The hobbit in the tree looked relieved as the critical attention shifted away from him. He scrambled out of the tree as quick as possible and ran off before anyone noticed.

"Terchi Bagwise! Oh m' 'eart!!!" the woman exclaimed, grabbing him and kissing him several times, then grabbing him in a bear hug. "Y'made it after all! Oh, an look at you! 'At's the suit I bought for y' last Yule, innit? It's smashing! Isn't it smashing, Benny Luv?"

"Comes by 'is good looks honestly, 'e does." Benny replied brightly.

There was certainly some truth to that. Benny's face was slightly fleshier, and his hair straighter, but his brown eyes and dimples were inherited by his son. And his suit was almost identical.

"Mum, yer smovvering me..." Terchi said.

"Nofin' new 'bout 'at..." Benny breathed.

Orchid Augusty Bagwise released her son. Her resemblance to him was less immediately obvious, but still clear--her brown hair curled and parted in the front of her forehead in a similar way.

Coda inhaled before coughing, as a way of announcing her obviously unnoticed presence.

"Oh! Y' DID bring a date!!!" Benny said. He nudged Terchi with his elbow. "Good on y'!"

Coda curtsied. "Mister and Mizzuz Bagwise." I fuckin' 'ate doin' at, but the look on 'is Mum's face is worf it...

"Oh! Well, I am very pleased 'at..." Orchid blinked. "Waitaminute! I know you!!! You're the gil from Dragonsfall!"

"Miss Coda." Benny bowed. "Nice to see y'gain."

"I just can't...I mean..." Orchid stuttered.

"Wut?" Terchi eyed his mother suspiciously.

"I can't believe 'ow well she cleaned up! She looks like an actual gil!!! I can't believe it!"

Terchi rolled his eyes. "Oh, 'onestly, Mum. Really..."

"Nice meetin' you again too, Mizzus Bagwise." Coda said as pleasantly as she could manage, with a forced grin and grinding teeth. Choke on it, y' snobby ol' sod...

"Coda Luv, I fink I'm ready to eat somefin." Terchi said, quickly hugging his parents once more. "We ought to get over to the food 'fore Dulk eats it all."

"Tooright." Coda rolled her eyes. "Take care, Mister and Mizzuz Bagwise!"

"Y' can call me Benny!!!" he called out as the younger couple left. Tarantula, who had watched the whole scene with much amusement, trotted off after them.

After they were out of sight, Benny sighed, a grin on his face. "I gotta admit, I fink Terchi's doin' quite well for 'imself."

Orchid shook her head twice. "I still can't believe it. I can't wrap m'mind 'round 'at weirdo friend of my bruvver shaggin' anyone, even some just-as-weird gil from the covenant staff." She sighed. "At least she ain't covered in orc blood like th' first time we saw 'er...But still...my Terchi wiv someone like 'at?"

Benny laughed, and put his arm around his confused wife. "You remember, right, 'ow once upon a time a charmin' bloke named Benny got some guff from 'is Mum? 'But Benny, she's onea' 'ose weird Augustys! Her Dad's a layabout musician an' 'er Mum's a criminal! 'Er brovver kills monsters! 'Ow can fings work wiv someone like 'at?' "

Orchid smiled. "Y' do makes a good point."

Ralshan Ironbeard's one eye didn't even open. "Step away from the punch bowl, Lem Augusty."

The old hobbit grumbled, and moved away. "Y' no fun, Ironbeard."

"Now 'at is a great 'amburger!" Terchi said before taking another bite.

Coda nodded, and grunted approval.

"Ooooo..."

"Stop starin' at me, Dulk." Coda said firmly.

"I fink we need somefin' to drink." Terchi said. "I don't want no beer, and I didn't fink you want any eivver, so I'll go git some punch." He looked quickly. " 'Afore one of m' relatives spikes it."

Coda chuckled at that as Terchi walked off. She "accidentally" dropped a tiny piece of hamburger, which Tarantula quickly ate.

She sighed. A part of her hated to admit it, especially after complaining loudly about having to "girl up" and about having to deal with Terchi's relatives and the crowds and everything else...

....But she was enjoying herself.

It wasn't the first year that Terchi had asked--that had been five years earlier, the first Equinox she spent in Dragonsfall--but this was the first year she'd accepted.

Gratitude played into it, certainly. He'd done something mindbogglingly stupid on her behalf when she was the puppet of Anthal-Noje; because he knew better than anyone how deeply she hated being some other being's plaything.

But also...she'd just simply become more and more aware of the fact that Terchi Bagwise was someone that she liked spending time with.

"Well, 'elloooo there!"

The voice that broke into her thoughts belonged to a hobbit boy giving her a cheesy grin. "I don't fink I seen you 'ere 'fore! An' believe me, I woulda noticed you, Miss!"

Coda rolled her eyes. I knew today was goin' too well... "First time."

"Now 'at's a shame." the boy said cheerily, moving closer.

"I skipped 'em because I knew whut kinda grabarses I could run int' " Coda said, taking another bite of her burger.

The boy chuckled, a bit uncomfortably.

"Ay, Mist' Ironbeard!" Terchi said, approaching the punch bowl. "Izzit still safe?"

"Yer grandfather's been by, but I chased him off. It's fine." With that, Ironbeard dipped a glass in it and took a swig.

"Slightly reassurin', but I 'ear dwarves 'ave cast iron stomachs."

Ironbeard laughed. "That we do, Lad. But ye better hurry with the punch--looks like someone's trying to move in on yer lass."

Terchi spun around...

...and then laughed heartily.

As Terchi walked back up to her, Coda's left hand was placing the last bite of her hamburger in her mouth, as her right hand was pinning that of the hobbit boy to the table; he was writhing painfully, trying to get out of the hold.

"Sorry I took so long, Coda Luv." Terchi said breezily. "I sees you met my cousin Uldane."

"Oh, yeah." Coda said offhandedly, letting Uldane go. "I guesses I 'as."

Uldane nursed his sore right hand. "Damn, you're a strong one. Walked right into 'at one, didn't I?" He blinked. "Terch, you know 'er already?!"

"Oh yeah. I brought 'er. Uldane Augusty, Coda Monkeyfang."

Uldane was Rishot's middle child; he had similar facial features, but lighter hair. "I fought Lilly said you wuz bringin' a goblin."

Terchi rolled his eyes and groaned. "I really need to 'ave a talk wiv 'er. I'm not lookin' forward to it."

"If I'd known you wuz 'ere wiv Terch, I wouldn't 'ave bovvered you." Uldane said, then grinned. "Well, maybe I wouldn've..."

"I believe th' deal was you go away an' leave me alone now..." Coda reminded him.

"Well, I see you won't be alone..." Uldane grinned, elbowing his cousin. "Strong an' 'ot. I sees why you likes 'is one, Terch!"

Terchi laughed again as Uldane strode off. "Should I be jealous of you for once?"

" 'E challenged me to arm wrestlin'." Coda shrugged, taking the cup of punch Terchi offered her. "Said if I won, 'e'd go away and leave me alone. If 'e won, I'd 'ave to kiss 'im." She smirked. "I could tell 'at wasn't any danger o' 'at 'appenin'." She took a drink. "Besides, 'e's whut, eighteen? Little too young for me..."

"Said th' mature, jaded twenty-one year old." Terchi chuckled.

"Twenty-one and a 'alf." Coda corrected him.

They were quiet for a minute as they finished their drinks. " 'Bout time for Gran'dad to tell th' story an' start th' dance. We better get goin'..."

The square was filling when Coda and Terchi arrived. Not just hobbits, but other inhabitants of Arborshire were present: some younger dwarves, a number of gnomes, a few animals that were actually pookah shapechangers, and even a couple of larger fae, such as trolls and sluagh.

And Dulk, of course.

"Terchi!!!" He didn't have time to react before he was locked in a bear hug.

Oh here we goes... Coda grumbled to herself. She wasn't sure, but she thought she saw Tarantula roll her eyes too.

"Lor, first Mum now you, Lilly." Terchi said. "Not m' day for easy breavvin' I guess..."

Lilly Augusty, Rishot's oldest child, laughed at this. She looked very much like an older version of her sister Posey, though a lot more primped--Lilly lacked her sister's tomboy streak. One braided tail of hair hung over her left shoulder. "Yer lookin' good, Terchi!" she chirped.

"Fank you." Terchi replied, looking a bit uncomfortable.

"I 'elped Aunt Orchid pick 'at outfit out, y'know!"

Coda rolled her eyes once again, and cleared her throat.

Lilly only just then seemed to realize that her cousin wasn't alone. Lilly blinked a few times; it reminded Terchi and Coda both a lot of Orchid's reaction a little bit earlier. " 'Vandra's eyes...y' can put lipstick on a goblin." She chuckled. " 'Ell, metaphorically, cuz the makeup fing is still beyond y'..."

Terchi's look shot daggers at his cousin. " 'Goblin'? Really?"

Lilly rolled her eyes. "You and Dad bof said it y'self--she was a goblin when y' met 'er!!!"

Coda clenched a fist.

"W' said w' fought she was a goblin, Lilly--'at's totally diff'rent!" Terchi retorted, more forcefully than he was intending to. "She's as much a 'obbit as you are an's been livin' 'ere five years--stop tryin' to piss on 'er first Festival!"

Lilly blinked again. "I know for a fact y' never talked to me 'at way 'fore 'at vulgar savage startin' 'angin' 'round!"

" 'Fore you started gettin' all stupid jealous, I never 'ad to." Terchi snapped back. "C'mover 'ere, Coda...I fink Gran'dad's 'bout to start."

"Lovely seein' you again' too, Miss Lilly." Coda said with just as much sincerity as Lilly deserved.

Ralshan Ironbeard's one eye didn't even open. "Step away from the punch bowl, Uldane Augusty."

"Aw. man." Uldane snapped his fingers. "Gramp's right, y' are good!"

Lem Augusty was not the oldest hobbit in Arborshire; but being within a few years of his eightieth birthday gave him some of the gravitas of an elder. He was a tall fellow by hobbit standards; his hair was still thick, though it and his muttonchop sideburns had gone white with age.

He played a loud tone on his flute, and it caused the crowd to quiet down.

"Fank you, fank you. Fanks to y'all f'comin' today. Special fanks to m' lovely wife Bree, who's 'ere somewhere 'less she's spikin' 'e punch...an' my daughter Orchid who's prob'ly still critiquin' the decoratin'...an' my son Rishot 'oo 'elps keep us all outa trouble best 'e can. Poor sod."

Orchid, who was now in the crowd, rolled her eyes as her husband tried to stifle his laughter.

Rishot, who was standing with his wife Peaches and their daughter Posey, waved to the crowd. Peaches wore eyeglasses and had darker, curlier hair than her daughters, but the family resemblance was clear. She made it easy to imagine what Lilly or Posey might look like in twenty or thirty years.

Lem continued when the laughter died down "Now, nobody quite knows 'ow we 'aflings--as th' other folk like t' call us--came t' be. One story is we're an offshoota' th' 'uman race. 'Nother is that w' basically a diff'rent kinda' boggan--or gnomes, as we call'm."

" "Ere's even one funny story where a great religious leader 'ad a vision 'at we were made up by th' Prince of T'iefs an' are supposed to save th' world some day or some rot." He chuckled. "Bree likes 'at onea' lot."

"But th' one 'at gets us 'ere today goes like 'is: th' Goddess of Nature an' th' Goddess of Spring decided to make a new race: once they w' done, 'ey 'ad a right charmin' little bunch of blokes and gils wiv hairy feet, an' sent us out int' th' world. The two'a 'em kinda lost interest after 'at, but Lady 'Vandra, the Goddess of Luck, adopted us after 'at."

"But still, because the Goddess of Spring was onea' our foremothers, every Equinox, we 'old a great big party in 'er honor!" Lem winked. "An' she's also th' Goddess of Love, so snoggin' afterwards is encouraged!"

There was a round of laughter, and a few catcalls.

"Now, 'fore I bore y' t' sleep, 'owabout we get to th' part where the dance starts? Everybody get y' partner an' get ready!"

"Oh yes!" Lilly said excitedly, and looked for her cousin. "It's m' favorite..."

"Care to dance, Coda Luv?" Terchi asked hopefully.

"...part..." Lilly finished.

Coda looked a bit annoyed. "Y' know I never learned 'ow to dance, Dumbarse."

Terchi laughed. "Well, no time like th' present to learn! I"m told I'm kinda okay at it, so I'll teach y'!"

Coda sighed, but despite her bluster the idea sounded intriguing. "Ohright...so whut first?"

"Ohright, so I don't get 'it, I'm takin' y' left 'and in my right, and my left goes 'round y' waist." He moved closer. "An' y' put y' right 'and on m' shoulder."

She felt her heart flutter a bit as he gingerly did as he'd told her. "Y'fine right 'ere, Terchi, but 'at 'and goes two inches any direction it gets ripped off and I beats y' wiv it."

Terchi smiled. "Unnerstood."

Lem began to play a tune. A band of gnomes with musical instruments of their own joined in.

The tune was slow, but joyful, and in short order the square was filled with dance.

Ralshan Ironbeard's one eye didn't even open. "Step away from the punch bowl, Bree Augusty."

"Aw, c'mon, Ironbeard. " Bree shrugged. "I'm just trying to 'elp m' family 'ave fun!"

After a few minutes, Lem paused. "Can y'take it from 'ere for a little bit?"

"No problem, Chief!" one of the other performers, a female gnome wearing a really tacky outfit of clashing colors and patterns, said. Absent the flute, the band kept playing.

Lem stepped off the stage; a hobbit woman, gray hair peeking out from the scarf that concealed most of it, was waiting.

" 'Bout time, y'old coot." the woman said.

The two started dancing. "Ironbeard chased y' off, didn't 'e, Bree Luv?"

"Damn dwarf's gotta slow down sometime..." Bree snorted.

Peaches Augusty's eyes narrowed. "Rishot Luv..."

Rishot "Yes, Luv?"

"I fink we're about to 'ave some trouble wiv Lilly..."

Warmth

That was the overriding sensation.

And it always had been. From the day he blundered into her life.

She looked into those warm brown eyes. There had been a few missteps in the dance, early on, but dexterity was a trait that both shared. It didn't take her long to get the hang of it.

To enjoy the dance.

To enjoy the warmth.

The word that, if she had to pick only one to describe this young man with his hand around her waist, would be that one.

She didn't want the warmth to end.

Her heart was beating faster.

Her own temperature was getting...warmer

They were already close enough to feel each other's breath.

But it wasn't close enough anymore.

Her right hand moved from his shoulder; her arm circled his neck now, drawing them together.

Their eyes started to close...

...Their lips parted, and started to meet...

...Hot breath began to mingle...







And then a jolt of freezing cold was splashed onto the left side of Coda's face.

Lilly Augusty stood there, fire in her eyes, and a now empty punch cup clutched in her right hand. "Why are you 'ere?! Why are you ruinin' the Festival!?"

"Lilly? Whut..." Terchi started to ask.

Lilly hurled the empty cup at Coda, who dodged the throw easily. "I always 'ad this dance wiv Terchi from th' time we w' old enough to walk! An' then you show up! And 'e's dancin' wiv you!"

Rishot, Peaches, and Bree were on the move.

"I know m' Dad's soft'earted 'bout y' 'cause 'is dead flaky mate shagged onea' th' kitchen skanks t' make y', but 'at don't explain why you came 'ere!"

Terchi heard Coda's growl. All of a sudden he was less angry at Lilly and more worried about what his friend was about to do to his cousin.

"Would y' just stop 'is, Lilly?!" Terchi pleaded, getting between the two.

"An you!!! For five fuckin' years all I 'ear from y' 's 'ow awesome she is! Coda this, Coda that! All I see is a dirty goblin bastard 'oo don't d'serve to be 'round proper people!!! She shoulda stayed on that desert shit'ole!!!"

Terchi saw Coda's sclera darken. He gulped.

Terchi wasn't mistaken.

The macetail was howling at her.

It would be so easy, even without a weapon. The insult to Kyrie would vanish in a flurry of fists and feet, and at the end of it there would be nothing of Lilly Augusty left but a pile of broken bones and a head split like a ripe pumpkin...

Coda sighed. The black faded from her eyes. No.

Lilly was not a warrior. Coda could demolish her without the primal power at her command. But Lilly was also precious to some of those most precious to her as well. She was one of the town that Coda had sworn to serve and protect.

Coda finally said, more calmly than even she expected. "Comin' 'ere today was a mistake."

By this time, the music had stopped. Everyone was watching.

"The 'ole reason my Mum would rather raise me on a 'desert shit'ole' was because 'is place was full of prissy, judgmental arsewankers 'o'd party all night wiv dwarves, gnomes, Gof elves , and whutever th' fuck Dulk is...but not onea' yer own 'cause of dumbarse rules I didn't even break!!!"

There were a number of uncomfortable looks going around now.

"Fanks for remindin' me 'at 'kitchen skank' did th' right fing..." She turned and strode off, head held high. "...Because for a second 'ere, I almost forgot I didn't belong 'ere."

The crowd murmured.

Lilly clapped her hands in a dismissive gesture, as though dusting off. "Now 'at's solved, get Gran'dad to start th' dance again." She grabbed Terchi's left arm. "Fings are back to normal!"

Terchi snapped out of her grip. "Piss. Off."

With that, he sprinted down the same path Coda had strode off on.

Lilly looked confused, then started to go after him.

Her mother and her grandmother got in her way. "Let'm go, Lil." Peaches said simply.

"But...but Mum..." Lilly looked around, her eyes starting to mist. "Aunt Orchid!"

Bree shook her head, glaring at her daughter.

Orchid sighed. "I fink...I fink y' better do what y' Mum and Gran'mum say, Dear."

Terchi's instincts led him accurately; Coda was at the wagon. She had just finished drying off the last of the punch; her hair was now a complete mess. He heard her muttering something, but decided it's probably for the best he couldn't make any of it out.

She realized he was there, and turned to look at him.

"I'm sorry." they both said simultaneously.

She chuckled humorlessly and sat down on the wagon.

"I'm sorry I made y' come t' this fing." Terchi shook his head. "If I fought in a 'unnert years anyfin' like 'is woulda 'appened..."

"Terchi Bagwise, when wuz th' last time anybody 'made' m' do anyfin' an' not 'ave the power of a demon chav behind 'em?" Coda sighed. "An' I fought 'at wanker kickin' and screamin'."

"True." Terchi nodded, sitting next to her.

Coda looked a little embarrassed, a slight blush in her cheeks. "I came 'ere because for five straight years I've been nofin' but a nasty git to you, but y'kept askin'. An'...An' it kept feelin' stupider and stupider to keep sayin' no."

"I'm sorry f' makin' trouble for you wiv your family." Coda continued. "I shoulda' told you 'no' again, an' y' wouldn't'a been in bad wivvem."

"I woulda pissed'm off anyway." Terchi replied. "Because if y' didn't come wiv me, I wasn't goin'."

They heard music from the direction they'd come. "Sounds like 'ey're startin' up again." Coda observed.

"Can't stop th' party for long." Terchi agreed. "I don't wanna go back. Not now."

"Me eivver."

A few more minutes of silence hung between them. The air was thick with unspoken words just daring to be released.

"The main fing is, Coda Luv..." Terchi broke the silence. "...While I love th' Festival, I love you more."

She felt the warmth return, stronger than ever. "Terchi..."

"Am I gonna get 'it now?"

"No." Coda shook her head. " 'Cause I loves you too."

There, in the back of the wagon, came the kiss that was rudely interrupted before.

Passion rose; four hands started moving further and further away from the "safe" zones.

Coda pulled out of the kiss. "Terchi Luv..."

"Coda..."

"I need to make sure y' unnerstand..."

"Unnerstand whut?"

She regarded him with an impish smirk, and held up one finger. "One--I ain't 'ad m' mad on today."

"Right?"

"Two--I ain't been possessed."

He nodded.

"Free--I ain't been shot wiv 'appy goo."

He smiled. He realized what she was saying.

"An' four--I ain't drunk off m' arse." She kissed him again. "Whut's about to 'appen is 'appenin' 'cause we bof want it too..."

Tarantula, watching from a nearby bush, made a slight nod. Despite the setbacks, things were going as she'd intended.

She quietly jumped down, and sprinted back toward the food area. Because not giving them privacy now would be rather gauche. And she was still hungry.

Ralshan Ironbeard's one eye didn't even open. "Step away from the punch bowl, Dulk."

"Oooo..." Dulk replied nervously. "But Treasure Hunter Bree say punch need more salt! Give Dulk salt shaker!"

"No." Ralshan said firmly.

"Oooo..." The purple creature sulked off.

Dragonsfall Covenant, Ten Minutes Later
Styx was shaken from his nap by the sound of rapid footfalls.

Before he could react, Coda Monkeyfang jumped over the covenant wall, carrying Terchi Bagwise over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

"Ay, Mist' Styx! W' decided to leave th' Festival an' turn in early! Uncle Rishot'll prob'ly bring Miss T'rantula an' Mist' Dulk later!" Terchi quite enthusiastically informed him.

Styx smirked as they ran off. "Very well then."

I would say the pummeling is about to commence.

Finally.

Dragonsfall Covenant
The Second Day of Aries In The Eighth Year of the Age of Aquarius
March 22, 1998
The sound of scratching at her door woke Coda Monkeyfang from her sleep. Meowing came from the other side of her bedroom door.

Coda yawned, stretched, and walked over to the door. Tarantula was waiting there; the cat purred and rubbed Coda's legs.

" 'Ere's m' little fuzzy 'larm clock!" Coda said cheerfully, then yawned.

When Coda got to the kitchen, she opened the cat food container and poured two scoops of kibble into Tarantula's bowl.

Tarantula hungrily ate it, purring loudly.

Coda skritched Tarantula's head, and smiled. "I see y' made it back...not 'at I wuz worried y' wouldn't."

There was a scratch at the outside door leading into the kitchen. A loud voice said "Ooo! Meow! Meow!!!"

Coda laughed, and opened the much bigger container of Dulk's kibble, pouring two giant scoops into the giant bowl before opening it to reveal the purple creature.

"Meow?" Dulk said.

"Mornin' Dulk!" Coda said, putting the bowl down.

Dulk looked confused. "Why Mean Hobbit not tell me she have non-mean identical twin sister who not wear clothes?"

Coda laughed. "It's still me, Dulk, y' wonderful dunbarse lunk. I just figured since I ain't worn nofin' since yesterday afternoon, why be in a 'urry now?"

Dulk shrugged and started to loudly chew the contents of the bowl. "Purr purr purr."

"Yeah, I kinda' feel like 'at too..." Coda agreed, and went back inside.

Coda sashayed into her bedroom, where various clothing items were strewn about. A wine colored skirt. A green and white blouse. Undergarments.

A green bow tie with matching waistcoat and vest. And undergarments that were definitely not hers.

"...sounds like y' got th' critters fed..." A woozy voice came from the bed.

"Well, y'now 'ow it is." Coda replied. "Just 'cause I spent th' night in total ecstacy don't mean I gets to shirk off m' duties."

"Just y' knickers." Terchi smiled. "Oh godfuss, I didn't dream it, did I?"

"No y'didn't, Luv." She leaned over and kissed him on the nose.

"Fank the Goddesses."

He looked around. " 'Ow much trouble y'fink w' gonna be in?"

She laid back down on the bed next to him. The warmest place in the world. "Why would w' be in trouble?"

"Coda Luv...w' broke th' damn bed."

She laughed, and snuggled closer. " En w' jus' need t' get a sturdier one..."

They dozed for a while after that, but as Coda drifted off, she found herself thinking about her parents. Was it like 'is f' you, Mum, when y' realized 'at 'Aro was gonna be more 'an just a friend t' you? An' was what happened t' you an' Dad why it took me so long to let myself love Terchi? I wish you were 'ere to ask, Mum, but y' not.

I will promise you this, though.

I'm going to do everyfin' I can to make sure our endin's a lot better.

As scribed on the Twenty-Sixth Day of Cancer in the Twenty-Ninth Year of the Age of Aquarius
Questions? Comments? Go to the Ectozone Message Board
Ectozone.com Editorial Staff: Dr. Vincent Belmont, EGB Fan, TheRazorsEdge
Additional Beta: Kingpin, OgreBBQ, Brian Reilly
Characters herein created and owned by Fritz Baugh unless otherwise noted.

Dulk and Ralshan Ironbeard created by OgreBBQ

Lady Enlightenment created by OgreBBQ and Fritz Baugh.

Hobbits/Halflings are, of course, the creation of JRR Tolkien, though our interpretation also draws on the halflings seen in fantasy RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons , 13th Age, and Pathfinder. Some of the legends of halfling origins allude to those games. Advice on hobbit accents provided by EGBFan.

Tarantula created by James Van Hise and Howard Bender; she first appeared in Now Comics' The Real Ghostbusters No. 12 (1989)

Styx created by OgreBBQ and Fritz Baugh, and any resemblance to a character created by Steven Moffat is a complete coincidence, you Rutan scum.

Reference made to material from Ars Magica, created by Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein•Hagen in 1987; now owned by Atlas Games save a few concepts owned by White Wolf Games.

Lem is a tribute to the iconic halfling bard in Pathfinder (2009) by Paizo. Bree is a tribute to the halfling rogue in the 2010 Dungeons & Dragons comic by IDW, and was created by John Rogers and Andrea DeVito. Uldane is a tribute to the iconic halfling rogue seen in Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition) Essentials (2010)


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