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A Poor Substitute

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He pulled his hood tight as the wind violently whipped around him. The wind pushed him off-balance, but it served to energize him a bit from the exhaustion he was fighting. For the better part of the his long trip, it had been storming. The unseasonal weather almost served as a sign to abandon the journey. If there were ever circumstances that would have necessitated a delay of travel, this weather would have qualified.

As he squinted to read the tavern sign ahead of him, however, all of the fatigue and discomfort flowed off of him. A slight smile crossed his face, and Paultin stopped for a moment to bask in the light of his destination’s windows. He would have traveled through Avernus itself for this.

 

Upon entering the tavern, he was greeted by a crowd of other travelers and thirsty villagers. He scanned the room, and quickly found a table. Paultin pulled the now wrinkled letter out of his jacket to confirm the details. Of course, he was at the right place, their place, but he felt comfort in scanning the letter.

“...I hope you’ll consider meeting me. I’ll be staying at the tavern for a few days. I would love to catch up!”

A warm beer was placed next to him, one he had absentmindedly ordered a few moments earlier. Without looking up, he passed some coin to the waitress and asked her to direct his expected guest to his table with a quick description.

Paultin poured back several slow gulps of the ale. He closed his eyes as he drank it in, not just the beer, but the tavern, the memories, the...

“A ‘petite blonde’?”

Paultin opened his eyes with a jolt as he laid his eyes on Evelyn. She had quietly took a seat while he described her to the waitress.

“I wish I could easily describe you in two words,” she said.

“How about, ‘handsome scamp’?”

“Mmmm, I was thinking ‘drunken musician’.”

Paultin went to correct her, but he instead muttered a “touché” as he took another swig.

 

After tracking down her own ale, Evelyn leaned over the table playfully. “How have you been, Paultin?”

“Well, things have been fine. Gigs have been steady.” Paultin meant to keep the small talk to a minimum. “How about you? The new job keeping you busy? Omin doing well?”

“Acquisitions Incorporated is fine. Lots of craziness. Worked with their field teams, mostly. A lot of opportunities for Lathander’s work to be done.”

“So, is it Lathander you’re there for, or...?”

Evelyn did her best to not roll her eyes. “I asked you to come along.”

“I have a job. You helped set up my gigs, remember? You were my manager? Before you took off to buddy up with Omin and company?”

“We couldn’t stay in that house, not after everything that happened with Strix and Diath. I had to clear my head and heal.” Her calm exterior was cracking. “I needed to be a part of something stable, sane, and outside of Waterdeep.”

“And he was ready with a job, very convenient.”

“And you were unwilling to accompany me.”

In response to their escalating volume, the waitress reappeared to inquire about meals. They waved her away in unison. Other patrons were now staring.

“Maybe we should go to my room upstairs if we are going to continue to cause a scene,” Evelyn offered curtly.

 

The rooms were small here, which Paultin recalled as soon as he walked in. Now. seated in a small chair butted up next to the bed, Paultin leaned back and took a deep breath to steady himself. Evelyn had not asked to meet him to meet her to argue.

“So, you are here for business?”

“No, I lied about that part,” Evelyn admitted as she sat on the edge of the bed. “This visit was for personal reasons.”

That caught Paultin’s attention. “Is there anything I should know?”

“Should? No, I don’t imagine there is anything you ‘should’ know about with me.”

“I didn’t mean to imply...”

“I know what you meant. I wrote the letter to entice you to come because I’ve missed you. It hurts...”

She paused. Her tears drew Paultin closer.

“It hurts when I think of how close we all were, all the things we went through. I like my coworkers, but they are just that. None of them understand.”

Paultin tried to speak, but she interrupted him.

“And I missed you. I missed us. This used to be the best place to hold gigs in the warm weather, remember? This was our place! Travelers would come through, and you were the star of the circuit.”

“Yeah, it was great,” Paultin mumbled.

Evelyn took a handkerchief and began to dab at her eyes. She reached over and held her hand out.

“Did you miss me?”

“Yes,” he whispered.

She pulled him from seated position onto the bed next to her. He wiped a tear from her cheek.

“Tell me how you missed me.”

“I think about you every day. I see you in every crowd.”

Evelyn’s hand moved up Paultin’s thigh. She was heavy handed, enticing Paultin to be more aggressive. He looked in her eyes eagerly.

“Can I stay the night?”

She caught him in a deep kiss and she began to undo her belt. He helped her undress as they got caught up in the freshly uncovered passion.

When she was down to the barest of clothing, Paultin pulled back. He stood up with a smile on his face. “I just want to take you in for a moment.”

As Evelyn sprawled over the bed, she began posing for the bard, writhing on the sheets.

“Tell me what you want,” she cooed.

“Just hold still for me, just a bit more.”

As she laid on her back to let him take in the full view, an axe struck her neck, cleanly decapitating her.

 

The paladin’s invisibility spell dropped as she tossed the axe back on her shoulder. The partially nude clone began to dissolve into a pool of thick slime on the bed. Paultin wiped his mouth with his sleeve.

“Quick question. How many more of your clones are going to try to seduce me?” Paultin asked.

“That was the last one,” Evelyn smiled. “It took a while to track this one down, set up correspondences, and fly under Omin’s radar, but the trap worked flawlessly.” She giddily surveyed her handiwork.

“Well, with bait like this....”

“Oh, stop you.”

 

After some magic and elbow grease got the room cleaned up, Evelyn reported the last clone’s destruction to her private contact at Acq Inc via a sending stone. With the final part of their job done, the pair finally retreated to the room Evelyn had reserved for them.

“I do not think I could forgive Omin for putting us through all this clone mess,” she stated. “Giving them my memories to have them blend in was one thing. Removing my moral compass to get them to do what he needed them to was disgusting, but it also made their actions a bit harder to predict when he lost control of them. Two years of this, hunting and destroying, finally finished.”

“So, you escaped that circus,” Paultin added. “Where to now?”

They were both leaned back on the headboard, the bed covered in plates from dinner and notes from their path of clone destruction. Evelyn began to clear the bed. “Now? I am going to visit my dreams. It’s been a long day. Aren’t you exhausted, Paultin? You traveled for most of it.”

Paultin nodded. He was starting to fade with the adrenaline subsiding. They turned changed into sleep clothes and crawled under the cool sheets. The sound of the storm provided their lullaby.

“You know,” Paultin pointed out sleepily, “I just thought of something. How do I know you are the real Evelyn? What if you are a clone that wiped out her original?”

“Are you saying her seduction act was something I would do?”

“I’m just saying that I’ve only got to see you every few months in the course of clone killing campaign. How do I know it’s really you?”

“Well, I would be glad to go over the love and teachings of Lathander with you,” she deadpanned.

“Eh, no, it’s you, alright.”

They giggled quietly as the rain tapered off. The room grew quiet.

“That’s a good question though. You could be a fake Paultin. What would I do to test you?”

Paultin turned his head towards her. “Yeah, it might not be me. There wouldn’t be much you could do.”

“I could cut off your head as well.”

“I meant to prove it was me!”

“Oh, I think I could think of something.”

She leaned in and nuzzled his neck. He turned and have her a chaste kiss on her forehead. Then another. Then one that was reciprocated.

It turned out that it was really easy to determine what was real between them. Time might have passed between them in the past couple years, but their feelings for one another were as authentic as ever. Their relationship, their passion, their loyalty to each other... some things are not easily replicated.