A Beginner's Guide to Adventure

Chapter 1

Chapter 1

 

It was a time for mead. Or maybe a time for ale. Or maybe a time for whatever drink that humans were willing to ingest as long as something was fermented in it. Amelian looked at the bartender with a hint of disgust. She didn't hate humans. Some of her best friends were humans. But in the back of her mind, tucked in those dark spots which you were not allowed to admit to because such thoughts were cruel and mean and you would be considered a judgemental flerk if you spoke them allowed, she wrinkled her nose.

 

She wasn't racist! Not at all. She spent time with a lot humans, had them live with her in a little flat that she had rented outside of the town. She would employ them if she needed to go on a hunting raid, and one of her favourite tutors was a human. Well, of course, she was being tutored in the ways of human food preparation so the tutor had to be human, but she was much more agreeable than her lute instructor, who was an elf, and even though one of her own kind, she hated that teacher more than she had hated any other living being she had ever known.

 

In fact, most humans she had met were warm, inviting, friendly, and quite funny. And they were passionate. By the tree were they passionate. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that their speck of life made a naught of difference in the grand scheme of things. And thus, they needed to retaliate against the fates by attacking every situation, no matter how banal, with a degree of fanaticism that any other race would have decreed unhealthy.

 

Of course, most of the evil entities that needed to be vanquished tended to be human, or undead humans, or once-was-human, or monsters uncovered by humans, but Amelian guessed that came with the territory. And it certainly made for a more lively world, that's for sure.

 

Humans have been around for centuries, but before that, the wars between dwarves and elves were long, bitter, and mostly mild skirmishes. Dwarves didn't like to leave the mountains. Elves didn't like to leave the forests. Not much fighting happened except for where mountains bordered anything forests.

 

And then, inexplicably, there were humans. No one knew where they came from. They were a stupid lot and couldn't seem to master basic hunting or tool making. And they seemed to die all the time for really stupid reasons. Oh no! The humans are dying of plague! STOP EATING THE RANCID MEAT YOU USELESS EXCUSE FOR A SENTIENT RACE!

 

Ahem. But that wasn't the thinking of a cultured and tolerant race. So she didn't think it. At least not out loud.

 

Amelian shook her head as if to that would erase the thoughts from her mind. She loved humans, and they were good to her. But sometimes, she wanted to ring their grubby little necks and beat some sense into their meat faced heads.

 

Wait, what was she thinking about. Ale! That's right. The thought thread had started because she was longing for a drink, but she didn't want to test her immune system with the unsanitary practices of the establishment.

 

She took a small swig from her water canteen and sat at her booth. She was waiting for humans. Well, she was waiting for anyone, really, but in particular, she was waiting for human adventurers. The Adventurer's Guild was the place that adventurers gathered looking for adventure, and this was the only place she could think of to recruit them.

 

No other race really had an Adventurer's Guild. Dwarves were content with mining. Elves were content with staring at things for eternity. Halflings were content with eating. But humans, they needed adventure. It probably had something to do with the whole short life span, but a halfing's life wasn't eternal and they seemed to find contentment.

 

There wasn't really a good system to finding an adventurer. The Adventurer's Guild seemed to be set up to accommodate those that were looking for adventure, but not those that were wanting to find them. There was a large billboard specifically reserved quests and jobs and Amelian had placed her notice on it. It looked out of place amongst the other quests.

 

Well, they weren't quests, really. No one seemed to be needing anyone for quests. Most of the postings were jobs. Someone needed to have a flower delivered to them. Another one had lost their child and needed an adventurer to find him. This one really struck a chord with Amelia. A child was LOST and instead of going out to find them, they just stuck a notice on the board? How long has this child been lost? It's a dangerous world out there, why not contact the city guard? Why not contact someone other than leave it to a stranger desperate for coin.

 

And that's what adventurers were. They were desperate. At least, they used to be desperate. The Adventuring Profession was wild back in the old days of humans, (smug sniff at what humans thought of as 'old') however that had gone the way of human chivalry as well as practical armour for women.

 

Now the boards were filled with jobs and one solitary pathetic request for a quest. This should have been a selling point. There were no other quests on the board. Adventurers preferred quests!

 

What was missing from this equation, however, were the Adventurers themselves. Where were they? She had been sitting in the tavern since early that morning and the place was only occupied by older men all playing simple board games and giving her looks that they probably thought was flattering.

 

She ignored them, of course. If there was anything her race had mastered it was being cold to all the other races.

 

Amelian leaned back in her chair. The Adventurers Guild may have been glamourous at one point in history, but it was really nothing but a small pub. She couldn't have imagined this was the original guild, considering she had heard stories sung of the adventurers of old. There were hoardes of them, all swarming the country side in a desperate need to fulfill every quest and rid every evil. She had no interest back then, she was stuck playing the lute. And having to learn the lute for a century may have made you a good lute player, but she couldn't really see the practicality of it.

 

Oh, she had plenty of other skills of course. There really wasn't much else you can do when stuck in the trees for eternity. However the lute playing was what really drove her to leave the forest and find out what life was like outside of the Elvish ways.

 

Life outside amongst humans was much more frantic than back home. Except for times like this, where the old humans just sat and played their games, and leered at any women that walked outside the guild.

 

No one was rushing off to get anything done. No one was yelling or arguing. No one was bartering or selling. It was almost peaceful. Except for the creepy old men.

 

She wasn't impatient. No, Amelian could sit in the guild all day. All week, in fact. Her brother was tasked once with forming a decorative stone ball to be used for one of the harvest festivals. He had settled on using the will of his mind and the gentle touch of his breath. Took him two hundred and twenty three years. Elves were born pertinacious.

 

Chapter 2

Chapter 2

"No," said Alonna.

 

"We can beat the rush! Hurry!" said Lorren.

 

"I don't want to go to the Adventurer's Guild. We were there yesterday. They just had errand jobs. One person had lost their child. Seriously! Why put it up on a job board? That's not a job! That should be a report that you file with the City Guard and they will hopefully get your kid back," said Alonna.

 

"I don't want to miss any new quests!" said Lorren.

 

"There aren't new quests! We've been there every day, and there hasn't been any new quests since, well, since we started! It's the same jobs. They don't put any dates on those notices either, did you see that? How long have they been up there? Maybe that kid who is lost is already eighteen and off and making his way in the world!"

 

"Oh, I hope it's a quest with a dragon!" said Lorren.

 

"Look! There is no quest with a dragon! There is no quest with a lizard. Or even a small rat. There aren't any quests. I don't want to go."

 

"I will get some cider. I like the cider there," said Lorren.

 

"I don't like it there! It's filled with creepy old men with a doctorate in leering. I hate it there," said Alonna.

 

"It's the only place to get quests!"

 

"There aren't any quests! Would you listen to me for once?" asked Alonna.

 

"And after we find a quest, I want to get some wings," said Lorren.

 

"It's not even noon!"

 

"Oooh, right! Wings with Eggs! Ah man. I love eggs! I'm so hungry now! Ok, maybe we should go get lunch first!"

 

"I'm in for lunch. Better than that guild."

 

"Oh, that's not good, I don't want to derail you from that. Ok. You convinced me. The Adventurers Guild it is! To the Guild, where Adventure Awaits!"

 

"Lorren! Give it up!"

 

"It's just down the street! See! I just want to take a quick look. If there is nothing on the boards, then we go get some lunch."

 

Alonna looked at him and glowered.

 

"You don't even have to go in. I just want to see. If there is nothing there, then we leave. But if there IS a quest, then you can come in."

 

"I don't have to go in the Guild," asked Alonna.

 

"Nope, you don't have to go in."

 

"And if there's nothing there, we can go."

 

"Go get lunch, yes," said Lorren.

 

"It's too early for lunch!" said Alonna.

 

"Then brunch then. I don't care what you want to call it. Should I use the term second breakfast? Honestly, halflings are the smartest people on the planet."

 

Alonna grunted and pulled Lorren towards the guild, "Let's get this over with."

 

-~*~-

 

Amelian looked up as a man entered the guild. He wasn't one of the older humans looking for a drink and a place to settle in for a long day of ogling. He looked much younger and, in fact, an actual adventurer. Amelian sat up, she wasn't expecting someone on the first day. Nor was she expecting someone that actually looked like a real adventurer. She had formed images of what an adventurer looked like, but when she came to the city, all the young humans were dressed in the most strangest of styles.

 

This man had on a leather jerkin, a dark cape, and a mace at his side. He must have been a cleric. A cleric looking adventure! She was surprised. She realized she hadn't really been expecting anyone to come. At least not on the first day. And now, now someone had shown up!

 

The man went to the job board with the attitude of someone who expected something special to be there. And he was not disappointed.

 

"HUZZAH! LONPONS! LONPONS!" he screamed out.

 

The older men hadn't given him much notice of before, but when he screamed they looked up at him and donned their most visibly annoyed face. The cleric paid them no heed however, so the men went back to their business, but not after stealing another glance at her. It wasn't kind to wish ill of the elderly, but she desperately wanted to punch one of them in the face as an example.

 

"LONPOOOOOOONNNNNNSSS!" continued the man's scream. Amelian wasn't too sure what this was, but it didn't look nor sound like an incantation. Clerics weren't usually this loud, for that matter. He ran out of the guild and she could hear the excited conversation of one side.

 

"THERE'S A QUEST! THERE'S A QUEST!" Amelian heard.

 

Muffled sound of disbelief.

 

"NO! THERE IS! COME IN! YOU'D SAID YOU'D COME IN IF THERE WAS!"

 

Muffled sound of someone thinking she was being tricked.

 

"I WILL BUY YOU BRUNCH IF I'M LYING! COME IN!"

 

Defeated muffled sound of acquiescence.

 

The door burst open as the cleric ran in and to the job board. He was followed by a shorter woman, dressed in a leather jerkin. A sword was at her side and she carried herself like a fighter. Albeit, a rather embarrassed looking fighter.

 

The older men looked up, interested that another woman had entered the premises.

 

"In my day, women knew how to wear armour," grunted one.

 

"And it was a lot more form fitting," grunted another.

 

"And a lot more practical for suntanning," said another.

 

"WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!" screamed Amelian.

 

In her mind.

 

She turned her attention back to the pair who had entered. Actually, no attention had to be turned, considering the cleric was well versed in outside voice.

 

"THERE! THERE! LOOK! IT'S PRETTY! IT HAS PRETTY HAND WRITING!"

 

"Calm down! I see it, jerkface. Fine, you're right."

 

"Now you owe me wings."

 

"I don't owe you anything!" said the fighter.

 

"After we find out how to do this quest, we get wings, and then you get your armour. Why aren't you wearing your chain mail?" asked the cleric.

 

"Because it's hot and it's heavy?" said the fighter.

 

"I'm wearing my armour!" said the cleric.

 

"It's what you always wear! You even wear that stupid cloak! What on earth do you need a cloak for?"

 

"Cloaks are cool. I like how it billows out when I walk. Billoooowwww.... billoowwww" said the cleric as he started to jump around the guild.

 

"Lorren! Be normal in public!" scolded the fighter.

 

The cleric walked back to the board and carefully removed Amelian's quest.

 

"LOOK! LOOK! This parchment feels so soft!" said the cleric.

 

"How can I look at how something is soft?" asked the fighter.

 

"Mmmmm, it smells good too! Mmmm... parchment smell...." said the cleric.

 

"Ok, you're being a freak now. What if the person who put that quest up is here?" asked the fighter.

 

"Oh, I think she's sitting over there at the table," said the cleric as he indicated to Amelian.

 

"What?!" said the fighter as she looked over. Horrified that Amelian was looking back at them she turned away and started to inspect her sword. The cleric walked over to her with a huge grin on her face.

 

"Hello! My name is Lorren! You must be Amelian," said the Cleric as he procured his hand.

 

Amelian stood up and smiled as she took his hand. Humans really enjoyed physical contact. It was one of the customs that she had to overcome. The first few times she had wrinkled her nose at the thought of touching them, they weren't the most cleanest of races. Dwarves, despite looking ungainly unhygienic were in fact very clean and not only resilient to magic, but most diseases. A human could just look at curdled milk and break out in some form of black death that would decimate a village. She would be immune, of course, but it still bothered her from time to time.

 

"Yes," she replied, "I'm Amelian. I take it you are looking for adventure!?"

 

"AM I!? AND HOW!"

 

"You don't have to yell," said the fighter.

 

"This is my trusty and worthy companion, Lonpons," said Lorren.

 

"Alonna," corrected the fighter, "but you can call me-"

 

"Lonpons," interrupted Lorren.

 

"LONNA! You can call me Lonna."

 

"Or Lonpons," said Lorren.

 

"Don't listen to him. He's a bit insane," said Alonna.

 

"It's good to meet you," said Amelian desperately trying to gain control of the conversation.

 

"You're an elf! That's fantastic! I haven't seen elves around her in a long time! And now I get to talk to an elf! What an awesome day!" said Lorren.

 

"Yes, and I see you're both human. But... I can't quite place you," said Amelian. Lorren looked different than any other person she had seen, either elvish, dwarfish, or halflingish. His hair was quite dark, and his skin colour not the normal shade that she was used to. It had a dark tone to it. The only other race that had a different skin tone were the dark elves. And Lorren's eyes had a shape that was not oval in nature.

 

"Nah, don't worry. No one knows what I am. Some people think I'm another race," said Lorren.

 

"His parents were born in a very far land," said Alonna.

 

"But, I'm an Elf. I've been around for hundreds of years, and yet I don't know what land you come from," said Amelian.

 

"It's one that's far away. I don't suppose this is a problem," said Lorren.

 

"Oh! Not at all! I find it fascinating! I rarely come up against something new," said Amelian.

 

"Could we not discuss this? It makes me uncomfortable," whispered Alonna to Lorren.

 

"When aren't you uncomfortable," said Lorren.

 

"Well you keep pointing out race! That's impolite!"

 

"She started it," said Lorren.

 

"She did not! You pointed out she was an elf!"

 

"But she is an elf!" said Lorren.

 

"Well yes, but you don't have to shout it!"

 

"I didn't shout it. I shouted about the Quest!"

 

"You know what I mean!" said Alonna.

 

Amelian was starting to wonder if this was a good idea. However, she did need a fighter and a healer in a traditional party of adventurers.

 

"Excuse me, about the quest?" she ventured.

 

"QUEST! I'M IN ON THE QUEST! What are we questing?" asked Lorren.

 

"Well, I hear there's a dungeon-"

 

"YOU FOUND A DUNGEON!? WHERE?! HOW ON EARTH DID YOU FIND A DUNGEON?! DO YOU KNOW HOW IMPOSSIBLE IT IS TO FIND A NON-RAIDED DUNGEON?!"

 

"Quit shouting!" said Alonna.

 

"Well, there's a dungeon not too far from my home glade," said Amelian.

 

"Whoa, elves have dungeons?" asked Lorren.

 

"Well, it's not exactly a dungeon. It's more like a barrow," said Amelian.

 

"A castrated male pig? Why on earth would we be exploring that?" asked Lorren.

 

"No! You're disgusting! A barrow is ALSO a burial mound," said Alonna.

 

"Wait! We're going to be digging around in Elvish burial grounds? I may be human, but I know dumb ideas when I hear them," said Lorren.

 

"It's not an Elvish burial ground-"

 

"Wait! I thought you guys were immortal! Why would you need to bury all these elves?" interrupted Lorren.

 

"Let her speak!" said Alonna.

 

"The barrow is more of a legend than it is a burial mound-"

 

"Hold on, can Elves have legends considering they lived through them? Isn't that more history?" asked Lorren.

 

Amelian looked at Lorren. Lorren smiled back. Amelian gave him her most practiced look. Lorren grinned. Amelian gave up and just continued with her story.

 

"The burial mound was said to be the resting place of an ancient god over twenty two thousand years ago. No one was allowed to set foot in the place and it was revered for centuries. Until about two hundred years ago, when a group of adventurers were seeking access to the barrow. There were skirmishes, there were arguments, there were quests we gave them hoping they would never return, but return they did. The short story of it all was these humans found the real burial place of the old god, ransacked it, and then came back with proof that what we had been revering was just a natural formation."

 

"Wait, don't you guys always worship natural formations? Like trees, and waters, and woodland creatures? Deer, for example? You guys like deer, right? I'm not fond of venison at all. So no worries, I will not be killing deer when we go to your house."

 

"LORREN!"

 

"Wait, does that mean we have to be vegetarian when we go to your house?" asked Lorren.

 

"It's called a glade!" corrected Alonna.

 

"When in my home glade, yes, you will eat what we eat."

 

"I better stock up now then," said Lorren.

 

Amelian looked at Lorren. This was why they smelled as bad as they did. She never did get used to the idea of eating meat, let alone trying any. But she also understood the little savages needed to survive, and it wasn't one for her to judge the practices of a species that needed to claw their way out of whatever gestation pool they spawned in.

 

"So when do we leave?" asked Lorren.

 

"She hasn't hired us. And we haven't even discussed terms of service!" said Alonna.

 

"Oh! Right. You deal with that, ok, Alonna? I'm going to order breakfast. Or lunch. I take it Ames will not want anything here, since it's all soaked in animal grease, but I could get you a drink. Do you want a drink, Ames?"

 

"Ames?" asked Amelian.

 

"No, I'm Lorren. You're Ames," said Lorren.

 

"You're such a jerkface," said Alonna.

 

"I am ok with refreshments," said Amelian.

 

"Cool, well, tell me if you change your mind, Ames," said Lorren as he went to the server.

 

Amelian watched him. He was a confident man, and it wasn't for show. She'd been alive longer than the adventure guild was around, and although her exposure to humans had been limited, elves were rarely conned by humans. Their passion exposed them more than they realized.

 

But this man, this strange man of an unknown race with his excitement at the most trivial things and no adherence to any polite societal norms, was genuine. It would make for an interesting adventure.

 

She turned towards Alonna. She looked like a fighter. She wore the clothes and she carried herself as a woman of confidence, but there was a hesitation - as if her mind were doing quick glances of suspicion at every aspect of life. Was that caution? A cautionary fighter? She couldn't quite tell.

 

"Your friend is quite the character," said Amelian.

 

"Yes, but he's reliable. I wouldn't worry about him. He'll get on your nerves, that's for sure, but he won't fail you in battle. Well, I'm assuming that. We're both level one adventurers, so we really haven't had any battles as of yet. But he's not really let me down in any other situation, so I guess I trust him. Funny that," said Alonna.

 

Humans also talked a lot. If there were some practical way for them to narrate their life in written form, Amelian was sure that the entire race would be up for that.

 

"Well, you're both hired. The adventuring profession isn't really in season at the moment. And I don't have a cleric or a fighter. I do need a few more people to make up the party, though. I'm a ranger, if you haven't guessed that."

 

"YOU'RE AN ELF! OF COURSE YOU'RE A RANGER!" yelled Lorren from across the room.

 

"So we need a magician of some sort and a thief?" asked Alonna.

 

"If we want to go by the book, yes," said Amelian.

 

"Cool, I know a thief. She's very nice, we get together for knitting," said Alonna.

 

"That sounds... exciting," said Amelian.

 

"I KNIT TOO!" yelled Lorren again.

 

"Well, we haven't been adventuring much. Your quest is the first one in years. No one comes by because no one expects any quests to pop up," said Alonna.

 

"Except for your friend," said Amelia.

 

"Except for my friend, yes," sighed Alonna.

 

Chapter 3

Chapter 3

 

Students filed out of the classroom with the gait reserved for those on prison detail. Kariss watched them. She tried to hide the glower on her face but years of teaching in this one class had a debilitating effect on her mood, physical features, countenance, and general outlook on humanity.

 

She didn't mind people who were stupid. Well, to be honest, she did, but she didn't mind teaching people who didn't know anything because that was her job. But why did they revel in it? Why did they defend their stupidity with such a ferocity that if applied to actual learning it would garner them scholarships and accolades? Why did they feel so entitled to their ignorance? She watched them file out. She knew they didn't understand today's class, and she knew she would get messages on how they didn't understand the class. And she knew they would argue with her not on the content of the class, but how they didn't understand. Anything.

 

Everyday was filled with surprises. She was in a fowl mood that morning, and just when she thought it couldn't get any worse, a day with first year students proved her wrong.

 

She gathered her inks and her scrolls and debated whether or not to go to her office for the next hour, or just hide herself in one of the many dank basement rooms of the university. She liked those rooms. They were dark and no one ventured into them. There were whispers and rumours of course of hauntings and ark ominous presences. However, when it came to foreboding and disdain, no evil essence could hold a candle to her.

 

The basement it was then. An hour of stewing but at least in peace. However, the Don had caught sight of her.

 

"Kariss! There you are, I was wondering where you were," said the Don.

 

Kariss bit her tongue. Her schedule was on her office, in the calendar, in fact it was the same schedule she had had for the last four years. She was always there, at this time, always on time. Her soul trapped in some perpetual hell of stupidity.

 

"Good morning, Don," said Kariss.

 

"The headmaster is looking for you," said the Don.

 

"Is he," said Kariss.

 

"Yes. He is," said the Don who then looked at her expectantly.

 

Kariss wasn't one for small talk, and returned a look back to the Don. Did he expect her to thank him? Smile? Ask about his day? Start another thread of conversation that didn't relate to this already agonizing exchange that had gone on longer than she would have liked?

 

The Don cleared his throat, "Well, uh, be on your way then."

 

"Thank you, Don," said Kariss. She looked at her belongings and wondered if she should take them with her. If she dropped them at the office, some student may catch her and then she'd have to spend the next fifteen minutes trying to convince the student she had somewhere else to be. And that was always an exercise in futility.

 

Kariss liked the headmaster. The headmaster was always to the point, albeit absent minded. But she was brilliant and everything she had to say had a purpose. Well, usually had a purpose. Sometimes she couldn't follow where the headmaster was heading with some of her conversations, but she was a pleasant woman, and treated all of her faculty with respect.

 

The headmaster's office was not that far and it wouldn't take her long to reach it. Students filed around her. They were all caught up in their own world, but had enough presence of mind to avoid obstacles. And that's what she was to them, an obstacle. A impenetrable force barring them from acquiring that scroll of graduation they felt they rightfully deserved regardless of the lack of knowledge or education they did not desire to learn. Kariss hated students.

 

She knocked on the headmaster's door and it opened.

 

"Come in, Kariss," came the voice from inside.

 

Kariss came in, her arms still full from her previous class. Maybe she should have risked dropping them off at her office.

 

"Please, put your scrolls on the desk beside you and come sit. I have an opportunity for you," said the Headmaster.

 

Kariss hesitated for only a microsecond. She could no longer tell if it was her and her pessimistic look on life or just the way the headmaster formed the word 'opportunity' that gave her the briefest of chills.

 

She put down her scrolls and sat before the headmaster.

 

"You've been with us for almost thirteen years, Kariss," said the headmaster.

 

"Yes, headmaster," said Kariss.

 

"And yet, you have not expressed any desire to advance any further from where you are now," said the headmaster.

 

"No, headmaster," said Kariss.

 

"Why is that?" asked the headmaster.

 

"I'm content where I am," said Kariss.

 

"No, that's not true, Kariss. Before advancing, you need to prove your practical skills outside of these theoretical walls of scrolls and words. You need to exercise and utilize what wisdom and knowledge you have accumulated in real world applications. Yet you have not applied to any of the jobs that have been offered," said the headmistress.

 

"I like it here," said Kariss.

 

"You fear the outside world, Kariss," said the headmistress.

 

"I don't know if I can spend a month helping bread rise. Or making sure that latrines are working. Magic should have more of a purpose than that," said Kariss.

 

"No, magic shouldn't. Magic is a means to an end. It is not something that should be revered, no more than a midwife's ability to deliver a baby. It is a skill, yes, but not any loftier than any other skill," said the headmaster.

 

Kariss remained silent.

 

"However, an opportunity has arisen for you, Kariss. A group is going on a quest and they are in need of a Magic User," said headmaster.

 

"A quest?" asked Kariss.

 

"You disbelieve me?" asked the headmaster.

 

"No! I mean, a little. There haven't been quests for over fifty years," said Kariss.

 

"Are you interested in partaking in this quest?" asked the headmaster.

 

Kari remained silent. She had read every quest, every adventure that had occurred in the last three thousand years. She knew every beast, every villain, very demonic force that had attempted to devour this world. It was her dream to actually be a part of anything that would have magic be used for more than just basic city maintenance and home repair.

 

"Considering this is the first expression that I've seen you use that didn't involve some hint of disdain, I take that as a yes. They will be back this evening. So prepare your office and you will be relieved of your duties for as long as needed," said the headmaster.

 

"Thank you, headmaster. Thank you very much," said Kariss.

 

"Oh, don't thank me until you're back, Kariss. The world holds many mysteries that may even surprise you," said the headmaster.

 

Kariss smiled, a genuine smile, and collected her things.

 

Chapter 4

Chapter 4

 

"Ok, let me get this straight, not everyone looking for a quest goes to the Adventurer's Guild?" asked Amelian.

 

"Well, Ames-"

 

"Amelian," corrected Amelian.

 

"Just ignore him, he doesn't listen," said Alonna.

 

"One should go to the Adventurer's Guild, that's the best place to go. But even when questing was at it's golden age, there were still certain professions that were too good for something as banal for the Adventurer's Guild. For example, if you wanted a cleric, you'd never find one at the guild," said Lorren.

 

"Except Lorren," said Alonna.

 

"Except me. But there was no me back then. So no one from the church ever went to the guild. If you wanted a cleric, you would have to go knocking on each church or monestary that you could find and see if any were available. If you were fortunate, someone may have known someone that could have led you to someone that knew where someone lived. Clerics were in high demand, it's not like you could heal by resting all night," said Loren.

 

"And magic users?" asked Amelian.

 

"Well, they're so wrapped up in their books they hardly ever leave the university. The younger first year students did everything the could, of course, to leave the university and get some partying done. But they were absolutely useless on anything that required something other than drinking. It's the graduate students you wanted, but it was hard to coax them out to do anything," said Lorren.

 

"But we found one," said Amelian.

 

"Seems that way," said Alonna.

 

"And this is the same for the thief?" asked Amelian.

 

"Yes, she's a friend of mine. I've known her ever since we were kids. The problem with thieves is that no one trusts them. Right? Their thieves. So people didn't really like having them around in establishments and bars because you didn't know what they would be thieving. Of course, that meant that the most unreputable places were the only places to go to get a thief, however you never found true thieves there. You found rogues and cutthroats, and although they're useful in battle, years of skullduggery may have cost a finger or two. They weren't the sort of people if you wanted actually lockpicking or thievery to be done," said Alonna.

 

"You humans do like to label and classify yourselves," said Amelian.

 

"How else would we discriminate?" said Lorren as he gave out a loud laugh.

 

"Speaking of discrimination, people sure stare at you, Lorren. I thought I was the one that would get stares, being an elf and all, but it's like you're a completely foreign entity," said Amelian.

 

"I do get that a lot. There aren't many asians in this land," said Lorren.

 

"There aren't many what?" asked Amelian.

 

"Asians. That's what I am," said Lorren.

 

"What is that?" asked Amelian.

 

"Someone from Asia," replied Lorren.

 

"I've never heard of such a land, and I've heard of many things," said Amelian.

 

"It's not really that important," said Lorren.

 

"Don't bother, I've been trying to get him to talk about this 'Asia' place for years, and Lorren is a man that can talk. But when I bring that up, it's like he has nothing to say," said Alonna.

 

"Look, I can't remember anything about the place. It's not like I'm keeping it secret!" argued Lorren.

 

"You can't remember anything? What about your parents? Don't they know anything about it?" asked Amelian.

 

"He has no parents," said Alonna.

 

"Yup, none. Brought up in an orphanage. Main reason I'm a cleric, really. The church brought me up, saw I had an affinity to healing, and voila! I'm a cleric!" said Lorren.

 

"Wait, you are from an unknown land and have no parents! I know how this goes! You could be some long lost king!" said Amelian.

 

"Of some long lost land that no one has even any legends about? I doubt it," said Lorren.

 

"Up there, that's the thieve's guild," said Alonna.

 

At the end of the street, resulting in a dead end, was a two story, fancy looking building. An ornate sign hung right beside a set of doubles doors. In golden letters, it read "The Guild."

 

"It only reads 'The Guild'," said Amelian.

 

"They don't really consider any other guild as worthy as they," said Lorren.

 

"Rather smug of them," said Amelian.

 

"Welcome to humanity," said Alonna. "It costs money if you want a thief, by the way. How much gold did you bring?"

 

"What? You have to hire a thief? Can't they just steal things?" asked Amelian.

 

"For someone looking to put together an adventuring party, you seem to be woefully inadequately prepared for the task, Ames," said Lorren.

 

"It's Amelian."

 

"Look, you need money to have a thief. You don't have to pay them anything, but the nature of a thief is to steal. They will just steal things. They will steal things off of you. And so you need to make sure you have money on you for them to steal," explained Lorren.

 

"That's ridiculous," said Amelian.

 

"If you don't have money on you, then they'll lift other things off of you. For example, he could steal my mace. Of course, he can't use a mace so he'll just either return it or sell it. A good thief will return it when you aren't looking. That's why you have to make sure that the thief likes you," said Lorren.

 

"That's sounds like the most deviant behaviour I've ever heard," said Amelian.

 

"Don't hire an assassin then," said Lorren.

 

"So he will steal from all of us," said Amelian.

 

"No, just you, because you're the leader of the party and usually the one in charge of the gold. You may decide for each of us to keep all our spoils, but normally, we'd just rather have you carry it all. Not only does that lighten our encumbrance, that also means the thief will have a good target to steal from. He could steal from us, but he knows he'd get something useful from you," said Lorren.

 

"I have about eight hundred and thirty five gold," said Amelian.

 

"DON'T SAY THAT OUT LOUD!" hissed Alonna as she looked about. "Don't you see how close we are to the guild as it is? Are you trying to get us mugged?"

 

"Mugged? During the day? There's three of us," said Amelian.

 

"So what? That doesn't mean they won't try and mug us! We have money. You already announced to the world your entire savings which, I may add, is very impressive and now I'm just nervous just thinking about carrying that much gold around us."

 

"It's not my entire savings," said Amelian.

 

"Great, and now they can kidnap us and hold us for ransom of even more money. Are you trying to get us attacked?" asked Alonna.

 

"She's like this all the time," said Lorren.

 

"There's nothing wrong with being cautious!" said Alonna. "Come, let's get to the guild before more people have us in their targets. I knew this was a bad idea."

 

"You think every idea is a bad idea," said Amelian.

 

"But this one especially!"

 

"You want to go on a quest! You've always wanted to go on a quest!" argued Lorren.

 

"It was all well and good to be nostalgic for quests when one couldn't come along! But now we're on one. And it sounds dangerous!"

 

"How dangerous can it be? It's a barrow!" said Lorren.

 

"That used to house a dead god!" said Alonna.

 

"No! It was thought to house one. But it doesn't! It could be a harmless hole in the ground!"

 

"Or it could be hiding something even sinister! A death god of pestilence and torture!" said Alonna.

 

"The elves would have certainly noticed that presence if that were the case," said Lorren.

 

"Maybe the god was skilled in masking his evil presence, ever think of that?"

 

"If you two don't mind, I am going to knock on the door, ok?" asked Amelian. She used the metal on the door as the cleric and fighter continued to bicker. After a few moments, the door opened up. An older gentleman dressed in formal wear stood before him. His eyes looked down at them.

 

"May I help you?" he asked.

 

"We are here to hire a thief," said Amelian.

 

"Do you have an appointment?" asked the gentleman.

 

"Well-"

 

"Yes, we do," interrupted Lorren.

 

"Right this way, then," said the gentleman as he indicated for them to enter. "May I ask with whom you have an appointment with?"

 

"Jenise," said Alonna. She was looking nervous.

 

"Very well. She'll be with you in a moment," said the gentlemen as he lead them to a small waiting room. He then left, closing the door behind him.

 

"You need an appointment," asked Amelian?

 

"I guess so," said Lorren.

 

"What do you mean guess so, don't we have one?" asked Amelian.

 

"How could we have one? We just got here!" said Lorren.

 

"You always do this! How on earth are you so cavalier about lying? You're a cleric!" whispered Alonna.

 

"Look, I'm not going to wait around for the Thieves guild to give us papers to hand in next week just so that we can speak to your friend. She knows who we are!" said Lorren.

 

"There's a process to follow! And I follow it!" said Alonna.

 

"She's your freaking friend! She's told you many times just ask for her at the door!" said Lorren.

 

"I don't like getting the guild mad at me!"

 

"They won't be mad! Jenners is fine with it!" said Lorren.

 

"Jenners?" asked Amelian.

 

"Ya, just ignore him. He won't listen anyway," sighed Alonna. She sat back in her seat and folder her arms.

 

"I love the waiting room of the Thieves Guild. Look at all these fancy books! Do people even read these books? Where do they get them? I wonder if they're stolen. That wouldn't be all that interesting, to steal a book from the library. I bet they do things to make it more exciting. Like, they come at night, when no one's around, and then they break into the building, which isn't that hard since nothing's locked at the library. And then they decide instead of taking the books on the main floor where they've entered, they'll enter the lower levels where all the archives are, and they'll take one of the more archaic books. And not a small one! No! The largest tome possible so that stealing the book is worth it! And then instead of leaving by the back door, which is also unguarded, they'll leave by the skylight! I mean, that's what I'd do if I had a task to steal from the library," said Lorren.

 

"No you wouldn't. You'd go borrow a book and then just not return it," said Alonna.

 

"I would not! That wouldn't be nice!" said Lorren.

 

"How is that not nice? You are stealing the book!" said Alonna.

 

"But they would be expecting the book back! If you stole some unknown book that no one ever intends to read, then it's not hurting anyone!"

 

"You are incorrigible," said Alonna.

 

"That's my goal," said Lorren.

 

The door opened and a woman dressed all in black entered the room.

 

"Alonna! I could hear you guys shouting from out there," said Jenise with a smile. She gave Alonna a hug.

 

"Jenners! Good to see you," said Lorren.

 

"As always, it's a pleasure to see you," said Jenise as she shook Lorren's hand.

 

"This is Ames! She has a quest for us," said Loren.

 

"It's Amelian. And yes, I have a quest," said Amelian.

 

"Wait, you mean a real quest? You're not just saying that as a hyperbole for some errand to get bread from the bakery?" asked Jenise.

 

"Lorren has a tendancy to do that," said Alonna.

 

"Yes, he does," said Jenise.

 

Amelian looked at the group assembled before her. She didn't know what to expect when she first started this little endeavor of hers, but this wasn't it.

 

"Well, yes, I have a quest. And we need a thief, as all parties need when they embark on a quest. We have already sequestered a magic user. You would be the final piece," said Amelian.

 

"You mean, an honest to goodness quest?" asked Jenise.

 

"Do you know, Amelian rhymes with chameleon?" asked Lorren.

 

Alonna punched Lorren in the shoulder.

 

"OW! But it does! Can I call you chamchams?" asked Lorren.

 

"Ames is fine," said Amelian.

 

"So what's the quest?" asked Jenise.

 

"Ancient Burial Ground of Death!" said Alonna.

 

"Sounds exciting!" said Jenise.

 

"I wish it was that exciting," said Lorren.

 

"Tell you what, we need to meet our magic user this evening. We can go for dinner now, get to know each other, and I can tell you all about it then," said Amelian.

 

"DINNER! That sounds AWESOME! HUZZAH! I want wings! Can we go for wings?" asked Lorren.

 

"I'm a vegetarian," said Amelian.

 

"Right. Right. Uh, do we have to be vegetarian?" asked Lorren.

 

"No, you don't," said Amelian.

 

"HUZZAH! WINGS IT IS!" said Lorren.

 

"How long is this quest going to be?" asked Jenise.

 

"Too long," said Alonna.

 

"Hey, you're the one that hangs out with him all the time. I still need to tell the Guild how long I'll be away for. Amelian, what's the estimated time?" said Jenise.

 

"It should be about a week," said Amelian.

 

"Oh! Not very long then, very good. That should be easy to get the time off. Just give me a moment," said Jenise as she left the room.

 

"Wings! I'm so hungry!" said Lorren.

 

"We had lunch not too long ago!" said Alonna.

 

"But it wasn't wings!" said Lorren.

 

"Yes it was!"

 

"Oh, right. Hah. Ok, let's get something else then! Mmmm... I want... RIBS! Can we get ribs?"

 

"Do you think you can do this for a week?" asked Alonna to Amelian.

 

"I guess I have to," said Amelian.

 

Chapter 5

"Whoa, dressed like that, you don't look like a thief," said Lorren.

 

"Well, I could hardly go to the pub dressed like one. No one would let me in," said Jenise.

 

"And you're allowed to not wear the normal thief clothes? You have a colour other than black on!" said Lorren.

 

"It's a special night!" said Jenise.

 

Lorren started into another story about special nights and clothing. Jenise was enjoying herself. She rarely got to go out. Thieves only went out on assignment, for the most part, they stayed in the guild honing whatever craft the overseers deemed worthy of honing. Assignments would come in, and she would sometimes take them, but then she'd be wearing the traditional garb for a thief.

 

Alonna would come by and once in a while, they may get a chance to visit the city, but rarely did she ever have enough time to change into anything non-thief like, and that was frown upon. It was a dishonour to them to dress down to societal norms. But society didn't like them, at least, they didn't trust them, and so she had to wear her uniform.

 

Unlike the more advanced thieves. Those thieves of trickery and deception, they were allowed to wear anything. But one needed to be a high enough level for that, and she wasn't there yet not by a long shot.

 

Jenise was very excited to see the elf. She normally kept her emotions in check, as a thief, you kept a straight poker face at all times, but she had never seen an elf before. Considering she never left the Guild that often, and also that Elves rarely came to the city, it was something of a thrill to see a genuine elf standing in the Guild.

 

She was gorgeous, of course, as all elves were. She had long dark hair, sharp features with a hint of gentleness, and that mystical grace that was bestowed upon all elves. Jenise had to train to be as agile as a cat, and dextrous as a monkey, but Amelian's movements were as if through water. It almost seemed every motion was an intricate dance with harmony, and she wondered if this was from practice, or innate.

 

"I understand, Jenise, that you may try and steal from me," said Amelian.

 

"Oh! Hah, don't listen to Lorren. He always tells that story. Of course, for the most part, he's right. But don't worry. I don't really steal from my friends," said Jenise.

 

"Steal something from Lonpons!" said Lorren.

 

"No, that's ok," said Jenise.

 

"No! It's awesome. Steal something from her!" said Lorren.

 

"It's not a party trick, Lorren! Let her just enjoy the night!" said Alonna.

 

"But it's so cool! Steal something from me! Steal it!" said Lorren.

 

"Leave her alone!" said Alonna.

 

"It's ok!" laughed Jenise. "If Lorren is so set on having something stolen, I can steal from him. Here."

 

Jenise put a ring on the table.

 

"Whoa. That's my ring. Off my finger. How on earth. I didn't even go near you," said the cleric with his mouth open.

 

"I still don't know how you do that," said Alonna.

 

Amelian was impressed. She didn't see Jenise move towards Lorren, she didn't see her hands, she didn't notice anything, and elves notice everything. Lorren picked it up off the table and placed it back on his hand.

 

"I love that trick. I never know what you will steal either. One day, I'll hide something in my-"

 

"That's enough of that," said Alonna.

 

"I'm a bit confused about the quest, Amelian. I know we're going to search a barrow, but, why do we need a full party for that? Barrow's aren't exactly dungeons," said Jenise.

 

"No, they aren't. But there is something different about this barrow. It has a sense of power and magic about it. The elves used to keep it off limits, but now, they don't really care. And no one goes on quests any more, so no one has attempted to discover the true nature within."

 

"Wait, you mean the elves aren't curious?" asked Lorren.

 

"No, elves aren't curious. Curiosity is purely the trait of humans," said Amelian.

 

"And cats," said Lorren.

 

"So there's a potential for waking up something dangerous?" asked Alonna, not without a hint of anxiety.

 

"No, the sense of power and magic is not sinister in nature. It's just neutral, just a normal well of power that goes unnoticed as all wells of power do," said Amelian.

 

"Wait, Ames, what do you mean goes unnoticed. How many sources of powers are there?" asked Lorren.

 

"Hundreds, all within miles of where we are. Even in this city. Thing is, humans can't detect the power. Magic users can, but if the sources of power cannot, say, summon a being of ultimate power or wisdom, they don't really care. The wells are small, and of no use for anyone bent on taking over the world," explained Amelian.

 

"But if you could link all those wells together," said Lorren.

 

"With what? One can barely put up a sign without some barbarian coming along and burying his axe into it. Imagine trying to inscribe symbols of power stretching from one well to another. Not only are buildings in the way, but no one would allow it. Even if you used the catacombs or sewers, someone is bound to come along and erase your work," said Amelian.

 

"And so there is a well of power in this burial mound, which you think may contain something worthy of a Quest?" asked Jenise.

 

"Yes, I do," said Amelian.

 

"I'm in regardless," said Lorren.

 

"Yes, we know," said Alonna.

 

"And you honestly expect traps to be sprung. Jewels to be thieved? Monsters to be backstabbed?" asked Jenise.

 

"No, I don't, in fact. I may not need any of your services at all," said Amelian.

 

"But who can resist the temptation of an adventure," smiled Lorren.

 

"Well, elves should be able to," said Amelian.

 

"You're one of the few elves that live amongst humans. Some of human nature may have rubbed off on you," said Lorren.

 

"I hope not," said Amelian. The she caught herself. "Oh! Don't take that as an insult!"

 

"No insult taken. Trust me, the life of an elf is not something I would enjoy," said Lorren.

 

"Are you kidding? I'd love to be an elf!" said Jenise.

 

"To live forever? Good grief, not at all. To live, for all eternity, emotionless, expressionless, taking... what... lute lessons for hundreds of years? Honestly, that sounds awful," said Lorre.

 

"Well, the lute lessons were awful," said Amelian.

 

"And then you'd have to be a vegetarian. For all of eternity. No thanks," said Lorre.

 

"He's a savage, Amelian. Please, pay him no heed," said Alonna.

 

"Each race has its own benefits as well as its own curse. None are perfect. No offense is taken, Alonna," said Amelian. Alonna smiled, but she didn't look convinced.

 

"Is it time to meet the magic user? I want to meet him or her! Oh man, I've NEVER met a magic user! Well, except for the first year students who are out getting drunk. But they don't count. I want to see someone who can do magic! They don't do that anymore," said Lorren.

 

"They do too. There is magic happening all the time," said Alonna.

 

"Well, yes. If you need someone to help you move in, you can hire one to levitate in furniture but that's BORING! I want real magic! I want to see fire balls! I want to see sheep morphing!"

 

"Sheep morphing?" asked Jenise.

 

"I want to see someone turn someone else into a sheep! That'd be awesome!" said Lorren.

 

"I don't think there's a need to turn anyone into a sheep," said Alonna.

 

"Wait! Elves can do magic! You can do magic, right?" asked Lorren.

 

"My elvish magic is not that impressive. I can start a fire without the need of flint," said Amelian.

 

"Oh! That's useful. I suck at lighting fires. Anyway, can we go see the magic user now? I've always wanted to meet one," said Lorren.

 

"It's about time, yes. I'll pay up and meet you at front," said Amelian.

 

"This is awesome. You get your meals paid for! I love quests!" said Lorren.

 

"You are a barbarian," said Alonna.

 

"Don't compare me to your boyfriends," said Lorren.

 

"Shut up!"

 

-~*~-

 

It was still dusk when they arrived at the University. The University campus was large and a large gate stood before them. It was open when they first arrived to hire a magic user, but now, it stood closed and barred.

 

"Why would they close the gate? Who would try to break in to a University?" asked Lorren.

 

"You'd be surprised," said Jenners.

 

"But there's no bell or anything to ask to be let in. This was the time they said to come back," said Amelian.

 

"You're looking for me," said Kariss.

 

"Whoa! How did you do that? You were invisible! And then you were there! Did you have an invisibility spell on?" asked Lorren.

 

"No," said Kariss.

 

"Or an invisibility cloak! Or maybe a spell that makes us not want pay attention to your surroundings. That's pretty awesome," said Lorren.

 

"There's a door. I came through it," said Kariss.

 

"Oh! Heh, that's a very well camouflaged door," said Lorren.

 

"Hello, my name is Amelia. I understand you are the magic user we have hired for our quest?" asked Amelia.

 

"My name is Kariss," she said as she shook Amelia's hand. She was taller than Amelia, and wore a robe of deep velvet. She wore a hat, as the custom for most magic users, and she held a staff in one hand. She didn't seem to carry anything else that would indicate she would be going on a long trip.

 

"Is that all your bringing?" asked Amelia.

 

"It's all I need," said Kariss.

 

"And you're a magic user!" said Lorren.

 

"I am," said Kariss.

 

"And you can do magic!" said Lorren.

 

"As the title indicates, yes," said Kariss.

 

"That's so cool!" said Lorren.

 

"Yes," said Kariss.

 

"This is Lorren, the cleric," Amelia interrupted. "The one in chainmail is Alonna, obviously a fighter. Jenise is the thief, and I am an elven ranger. We are on a quest which we will explain as we get on our way. I want to make it out of the city before night fall. The terms for your employment was left with front desk when we applied. I hope they are satisfactory?"

 

"Yes," said Kariss.

 

"That's great, if things are in order, we should be on our way," said Amelia.

 

Kariss nodded. The party turned and headed towards the city gate.

 

"Do we need to do some practice battle or something? I mean, we are probably all well and good in our own right, but this is the first time we've probably all been on a team. Right? Oh oh oh! We need a team name! We could be Ames Team of Awesome! Or possibly ASSAULT ON EVILTRY! Those could be team names!" said Lorren.

 

"We don't need a team name," said Alonna.

 

"Why not! What if we needed to yell out our cheer? ADVENTURERS ASSEMBLE! See? We could have a call to action like that! Or maybe, we could call ourselves a fellowship. That would be amazing!"

 

"We don't need a team name," said Alonna.

 

"I think it's up to Ames. She may want to call us something to separate us from all the other parties she's been a part of," said Lorren.

 

"I haven't been on a quest before, either," said Amelian.

 

"Hah! We're all Level 1 adventurers! Well, that makes sense, there would be no point in someone of a veteran level joining us. He'd get bored," said Lorren.

 

"Or annoyed," said Alonna.

 

"Kariss! You probably want to know more about us!" said Lorren.

 

"Not really," said Kariss.

 

"Ames is our fearless leader. You can call her Ames, if you wish. I do," said Lorren.

 

"I'm good," said Kariss.

 

"Jenners is an awesome thief. She can steal something off of you and you won't even notice. Do you want something stolen?" asked Lorren.

 

"No," said Kariss.

 

"You can steal from a mage, right Jenners?" asked Lorren.

 

"We try and keep ourselves away from magic users," said Jenise.

 

"Right, right. You never know what you could steal from a mage. It could be fatal and all. Anyway, Jenners is a pretty good thief. I've never seen her backstab anyone, though. So I guess there's always something to look forward to. Lonpons is our fighter. I think she can fight."

 

"I am quite skilled at every weapon, thank you very much," said Alonna.

 

"But you hate conflict!" said Lorren.

 

"That doesn't mean I'm not a good fighter! But I'm not going to start a fight with every person that comes down the street!"

 

"You don't fight with anyone. How can you call yourself a fighter if you don't fight?" asked Lorren.

 

"Look, you stick with what you're good at, and I'll stick with what I'm good at. I don't need you critiquing everything I do!" said Alonna.

 

"I'm not critiquing. I've seen you spar! You're quick. You're strong. But you don't seem to have the confidence that you'd make it through a fight. And I know you can!" said Lorren.

 

"I don't want to hear this. Not now. Especially not in front of everyone else!" said Alonna.

 

"Don't worry, guys. Lonpons is awesome, and in the heat of the moment, I know she can take down anyone. Why, there was this one time when we were at the market, and this one guy started to pick on this beggar. It was a sight to behold, Lonpons lost control and started whaling on him. It was funny. She didn't kill him, of course, but she sure did give him a beating," said Lorren.

 

"Lorren! Enough! You know I don't like that story," said Alonna.

 

"Well, yes, I know you don't like the thought of losing control, but you regained your composure eventually. And then felt guilty for weeks. Oh man, you can't imagine how guilty that girl felt after that," said Lorren.

 

"Are you going to talk the whole time?" asked Kariss.

 

"Oh, I don't have to talk. Please, Kariss, you're a teacher as well, right? I know that you guys have to teach students in that university of yours. What do you teach?" asked Lorren.

 

"I teach English, History, Magic history, and Folklore," said Kariss.

 

"Cool. Why do you teach English?" asked Lorren.

 

"Because there's a proper way to speak it," said Kariss.

 

"Oh. Makes sense," said Lorren.

 

"What are you?" asked Kariss to Lorren. Kariss wasn't one for conversation, and quite enjoyed someone else was doing it. But she couldn't hold back her curiosity any longer.

 

"Asian," said Lorren.

 

"What is that?" asked Kariss.

 

"Someone from Asia," said Lorren.

 

"There's no such land. And I should know," said Kariss.

 

"Yes, so should Ames. But there ya go. I'm from Asia," said Lorren.

 

"But are you a different race? Do you have a different genetic structure like elves or dwarves?" asked Kariss.

 

"No, I'm human. I just have a different shape to my eyes and face, and my skin tone. I'm also mostly hairless like the elves," said Lorren.

 

"So you are similar to a half-elf?" asked Kariss.

 

"No. I have no elvish abilities whatsoever," said Lorren.

 

"We don't know what he is. He doesn't even know. He was brought up in a church," said Alonna.

 

"Hence the cleric. And what do you think of our little party, Kariss?" said Lorren.

 

Kariss was silent for a bit. She looked at each of them. Jenners was walking along with them, staying quiet and just listening to the conversation, a good trait in someone wanting to be unseen and covert. Amelian, the elf, was unreadable, as all elves were. Alonna seemed to be a bit worried. As for Lorren, he was strange.

 

"Abnormal," said Kariss.

 

"Abnormal?" asked Amelian.

 

"Abnormal," said Kariss.

 

"Well, I guess you can't argue with that," said Lorren.

 

Chapter 6

They were a few leagues away from the city. It wasn't that far, and they could have afforded to wait a night, but Amelian wanted to see how her little party would fair together after a few hours of travelling.

 

Lorren, surprisingly, didn't talk the whole time. He and Alonna argued sometimes, but it was nothing that made the rest uncomfortable. No, it was just the normal bickering one would hear between a brother and sister, although they were obviously not related.

 

The rest remained silent for most of it. Jenise was a quiet girl, and Kariss was quite set on not saying anything more than a few words. She didn't even question her on the quest, which was surprising.

 

"I think we should stop for the night. I'd like to get up in about four hours time and start again," said Amelia.

 

"FOUR HOURS?" asked Lorren.

 

"Quit being a baby," said Alonna.

 

"And, we're going to stop here? I know that if we go a bit further, maybe another hour or so, we'd make it to an inn! With beds! And food!" said Lorren.

 

"I brought some bread," said Amelia.

 

"Ooooh! I've always wanted to eat your elvish bread. That's the stuff that nourishes you on a wafer a day, right? Wait... that's not the ONLY thing we're going to eat this whole time, is it? Fighters need their strength, you know!"

 

"You're not a fighter," said Alonna.

 

"Excuse me, I am too. This mace isn't used for carpentry, I'll let you know," said Lorren.

 

"Yes, I know your lack of skills in the trades," said Alonna.

 

"Yes, this is very true. However, why stop now? No one said anything about camping," said Lorren.

 

Amelia gathered a few sticks and some kindling and a lot of dry wood that was plentiful near by. A spark flew from the pile she arranged and within seconds a fire burned brightly.

 

"Whoa, that was good. I'm never that quick at lighting fires," said Lorren.

 

"You've never been successful," said Alonna.

 

"Oh! Are you going to go hunting for some rabbit to cook over the fire?" asked Lorren.

 

"Vegetarian," said Amelian.

 

"Oh, right. Yes. I forgot," said Lorren. He removed his cloak and spread it on the ground. He got on his stomach and stared into the fire. The rest of the crew settled down for the night.

 

"Did you want us to sleep in shifts?" asked Alonna.

 

"No, I'm good. I don't need much sleep, actually," said Amelian.

 

"That can't be healthy," said Lorren.

 

"I'm an elf. I'm good. We don't sleep much," said Amelian.

 

"Must be nice. I think I need twelve hours!" said Lorren.

 

"That's because you're lazy," said Alonna.

 

"What's your home like, Amelian?" asked Jenise. She was obviously fascinated by the elf.

 

"More beautiful than what the artists can portray in the books at the library, or the murals in the city center" said Amelian.

 

"Do you miss it?" asked Jenise.

 

"No, not really. I was there for many years, and I know I shall return some day. So, it's not something that one misses," said Amelian.

 

"I guess your perspective on life changes if you can live forever," said Jenise.

 

"I don't miss my home," said Lorren.

 

"You don't remember your home," said Alonna.

 

"So it's like the same thing!" said Lorren.

 

"No it isn't, let other people talk," said Alonna.

 

"There are some foods that I miss, yes. But then, I can just choose to go home and prepare. However, I don't go home. I stay where I am. So I guess I don't miss it as much. There are many things I have learned by living amongst humans. And at the same time, there are many things I have learned I will never understand," said Amelia.

 

"Like what?" asked Jenise.

 

"You have passion," said Amelia.

 

"Lonpons has passion for men," said Lorren.

 

"Shut up," said Alonna.

 

"I'm serious. It's one of your downfalls, but it also drives you to greatness. Elves have tenacity, longevity, and perfectionism. However, there is no passion. When things are, then things are. Even death does not drive us to despair, and if you think of it, we have more to lose," said Amelia.

 

"True, I guess an elf isn't used losing someone," said Jenise.

 

"Imagine being stuck with Lorren for eternity. Wow. That's a special circle of hell right there," said Alonna.

 

"Ha ha," hahed Lorren.

 

"But even though we have lost someone who had been with us for almost eternity, even though any potential that this elf may have had for the rest of eternity afterwards, we elves do not mourn. We do not despair. We continue with life. And it lasts forever," said Amelian.

 

"That sounds awful," said Lorren.

 

"Behave!" said Alonna.

 

"That sounds beautiful," said Jenise, "I've always wanted to be an elf when I was younger. They were so graceful, and strong, and lovely. One reason I became a thief was because I knew that the only other profession that needed dexterity and grace would be this particular art!"

 

"Well, there is dancing," said Lorren.

 

"My parents didn't want me to be a dancer. It wasn't a respectable profession," said Jenise.

 

"Funny that thievery was," said Alonna.

 

Jenise laughed, "Very true! I also knew I could never be an elf. It's not something that you can choose to be. So when you came this afternoon, I was ready to accept anything you asked of me if I got to meet you, Amelia."

 

Amelia smiled and said, "the pleasure is mine, I assure you. Humans are also very varied. Elves are a rather bland race."

 

Lorren snorted. Jenise looked at him.

 

"You aren't that fond of elves?" asked Jenise.

 

"Oh, I like elves. I had an elf friend," said Lorren.

 

"You did? When?" asked Jenise. Amelian's interest was piqued as well. She didn't know many elves around the city, and it wasn't common for one to befriend a human. She would have known.

 

"She lives around here too," said Lorren.

 

"I would be aware of any elf that lives around here," said Amelian.

 

"Well, I understand that normal elves rarely interact with shade elves," said Lorren.

 

Amelian paused. She looked at Lorren searching for a hint of insincerity.

 

"I've heard this story so many times," said Alonna.

 

"You know a shade elf. And she was your friend?" asked Amelia.

 

"Well, not my friend, really. You don't become friends with a shade elf. No, we were companions," said Lorren.

 

"You were companions?" asked Kariss.

 

"Whoa, you talk," said Lorren.

 

"Please, continue," said Amelian.

 

"I made a mistake. I found her, she was injured. And I thought I would help her by healing her," said Lorren.

 

"You can't heal a shade elf," said Amelian.

 

"Well, how was I supposed to know? Anyway, I tried. And I failed. And in the process I opened up a link," said Lorren.

 

"A link?" asked Kariss.

 

"Yes. We became bonded psychically," said Lorren.

 

"And how did that work? How on earth did you not go mad?" asked Amelian.

 

"Who said I didn't?" asked Lorren.

 

Amelian looked at Lorren. Things were becoming more and more interesting with her little group.

 

"And how did you break it?" asked Amelian.

 

"I didn't," said Lorren.

 

"So you are psychically linked with her right now," said Amelian.

 

"I'm always linked with her. It's just there," said Lorren.

 

"And she's ok with that?" asked Amelian.

 

"Why are we not worried if I'M ok with it? Because I'm not! If anyone wants to know what it's like warring off a tsunami of despair every single second of my life. But I got good at it. And the further I am away from her, the easier it is. I think. Actually, no, I just fooled myself into thinking that. It's not that hard, though, or maybe she took pity and is trying her best not to overwhelm me with her emotions."

 

"And so every day, you are linked with her presence," said Amelian.

 

"It sure has hindered my dating life," said Lorren.

 

"Wait, you and Alonna are not together?" asked Amelian.

 

"Definitely not. I'd rather be dead," said Alonna.

 

"Hey man, it's not like you would be the goddess catch you think you are!" said Lorren.

 

"I'm not saying I'm the gorgeous one that all the men fall for. However, I am actually tolerable when on trips, when in public, and also probably when I talk to the opposite gender!"

 

"I'm super tolerable!" said Lorren.

 

"I may have contention with that," said Kariss.

 

"You have contention with everything," said Lorren.

 

"Everyone! Calm down, it's the first night and we don't need this right now. We need to be a cohesive group and this isn't getting off to a good start."

 

"Humans aren't as easy to placate or organize," said Kariss.

 

"I can see that," said Amelian.

 

The group fell into silence. Amelian looked around. The shadows of the fire played on each of their faces, hiding emotions or possibly revealing them. Jenise looked concerned, and a bit worried. Alonna looked like she was flustered. Kariss looked grumpy, but her face hadn't changed once from when they first picked her up. And Lorren looked completely lost in his own world. He was the safest bet to start up the conversation again.

 

"Will this be a problem, Lorren? I mean, being linked to a shade elf," asked Amelian.

 

"I don't think so. It's been like this for a while, and it hasn't affected my healing, or even my concentration. I do get nightmares though," said Lorren.

 

"Great," mumbled Kariss.

 

"Is this the type of nightmare where you find yourself back in school and you aren't prepared and have completely forgotten you have the final that afternoon and you know nothing about the course?" asked Jenise.

 

"I hate that nightmare," said Kariss.

 

"No, this is the type of nightmare where I wake up screaming in the middle of the night because my soul is being pulled into an empty void of loneliness and despair. With an added plague demon gnawing on my entrails," said Lorren.

 

"This will be a problem," said Kariss.

 

"We can work through this," said Amelian.

 

"Can we work through this tomorrow? I'm really tired," said Alonna.

 

"Me too! I'm off to bed," said Lorren.

 

Lorren stood up and got his pack. It wasn't a large pack. In fact, it didn't look like it would hold much. He pulled out a small package and opened it. The contents were poured into his mouth and he started crunching. Louder than what one would expect from someone's whose mouth was closed.

 

Lorren then started to look around, crunching while he was doing it. He walked around in circles until he found something to his satisfaction, lay his cloak on the ground, and dropped himself on it.

 

He then looked up, noticed that the distance of his cloak from the fire was a lot further than he liked, and scooted towards it, draggin the cloak with him. Bits of food from his package started to spill out of the package he held in his hand. This upset him greatly and he started to pick it off the ground, trying to save every morsel.

 

The rest of the crew watched him, mesmorized. It was akin to watching a small rodent being attacked by a predator and there was nothing you could do about it, except in this case, the rodent was sanity and Lorren was attacking it for everything he was worth.

 

"Ah, much better. Wait, do you want us to sleep in shifts, Amelian?" asked Lorren.

 

"This was asked already, fishbrain," said Alonna.

 

"Right! Good night," said Lorren as lay down.

 

"Wait, don't sleep on your back," said Alonna, but it was too late. Lorren had instantly fallen asleep as soon as his head hit the ground. His mouth opened, and from it emerged the loudest noise possible one could imagine could be generated from two pairs of human nostrils.

 

"You're kidding me," said Kariss.

 

"You sleep with that, Alonna?" asked Jenise.

 

"We don't sleep together!" argued Alonna.

 

Kariss sat up, her fingers playing an intricate dance. She spoke, but not with a voice that her normal voice. No it seemed to echo through a plane of existance that had a different set of acoustics and a lot more impressive reverb.

 

It lasted only a moment, as if magic occupied a different dimension of time, and Kariss was done. She lay down, and then fell asleep.

 

"She did magic!" said Jenise. "That was a lot different than when you lit the fire, Amelian!"

 

"You haven't seen magic performed before? I thought that it was commonplace," asked Amelian.

 

"It is, but thieves don't really get out much. We have to stay in the Guild. What kind of spell was that?" said Jenise.

 

"Well, considering that there is no more noise emanating from Lorren, and Kariss hadn't actually killed him, I would assume it's some type of Spell of Silence. Clever. I should be her friend," said Alonna.

 

"Well, it seems that most of you have nodded off. Alonna, Jenise, please, go to sleep. I'm fine for most of the night," said Amelian.

 

"I don't need any more convincing. Night guys. See you in the morning," said Alonna.

 

"Good night," said Jenise.

 

"Good night," said Amelian.

 

Chapter 7

The night had presence. Jenise never noticed it before. Anytime she had been out it was because of an assignment, and her senses needed to be alert for the abnormal and not the ordinary.

 

And although she was technically on assignment right now, she had no responsibilities. She didn't need to look out for guards, she didn't need to analyze the pattern of a search light, she didn't need to stay hidden. She could just be.

 

And just being was exilarating. They weren't allowed out of the Guild that much. It's not that they were prisoners, no they could leave when they pleased. However, thieves were too noticeable when they were allowed to be noticeable.

 

It was funny that way. A lifetime of training to be as much of the background as possible so that when they did not need to be, they were obnoxious on how gregarious their mysteriousness could be. Thieves would go around in black clothing and capes with enough billow to make Lorren proud. They had their faces half covered, and black hats that obscure the other half of their faith. When they didn't need to steal, they wanted to make sure everyone knew they could.

 

And thus, the populous did their best to stay out of their way. Even make snide comments, but out of earshot in case of retribution. Thieves, of course, were only a few levels away from an assassin.

 

Jenise could never be an assassin. She didn't like the thought of maiming let alone killing. She wondered if this would be a problem considering she was on a quest which would involve a lot of maiming, slicing, bashing, stabbing, and then, eventually, killing. However, she had been a first level thief for long enough and it was about due that she had to at least try to advance. All her peers had advanced long ago, but they seemed to be ok with taking on assignments that seemed quite barbaric to her.

 

Low level thieves got simple assignments. Assignments she liked to do. She was a great look out. She was great at picking locks. She was great at scaling buildings. She was awfully good at poison discernment, along with the proper dispersement of antidotes.

 

But, she wasn't good at thieving. Well, to be fair, she was awfully good at accessing places she was not allowed to. She just didn't have the kleptomaniac's drive to possess another person's property.

 

"That's quite impressive," said Amelian.

 

"I am a good thief!" said Denise a little more forceful than she liked.

 

"I don't doubt it. You have an amazing knack for attention displacement," said Amelian.

 

"Wasn't so wonderful when you're a child and you just want the attention of your parents," said Jenise.

 

Amelian was quiet for a few seconds. Sometimes she understood humans, and then suddenly they displayed emotional attachment to issues she never realized would be issues.

 

"What are your parents like, Amelian?" asked Jenise.

 

"Well, they were warm. They were present. Always present. And they did what they needed to do," said Amelian.

 

"What did they need to do?" asked Jenise.

 

"Educate us. Honestly, that's all elves seem to do. They learn. They have all of time to exist in, and they spend that learning," said Amelian.

 

"That sounds amazing," said Jenise.

 

"Well, in theory, yes. I would assume it is. The constant pursuit of knowledge. However, your universities put a cap on how long you are allowed to attend, and I think it's because eventually, theory becomes an excuse to not do," said Amelian.

 

"People put theory into practice all the time. Magic is a perfect example," said Jenise.

 

"Skills are one thing. Wisdom is another. It's like elves understanding of humans. We don't. We have no idea what goes through your little hamster wheel of a head. When we see you gather in your cities, milling about in a wild, disorganized, mass of noise and needs, we think it's only a reflection of your brain. And thus we theorize about how you think, and how you feel, and what your motivations are. And when any official encounters occur between the two races, both go away confused and flustered," said Amelian.

 

"Is that why you chose to live with us? Are you a type of spy? Are you under some covert operations to understand the intricate workings of the human mind?" asked Jenise.

 

"No, I'm here without any elfish approval. To them, the thought of living amongst humans to learn about them is about as foreign as living amongst fish to learn to breathe underwater," said Amelian.

 

"Then why did you come?" asked Jenise.

 

"Lute lessons," said Amelian.

 

"You are learning to play the lute?" asked Jenise.

 

"No, I'm escaping it," said Amelian.

 

"You're serious?" asked Jenise.

 

"Very," said Amelian.

 

"The reason you are living amongst humans is not for any noble pursuit other than escaping lute lessons?" asked Jenise.

 

"You have assessed the situation accurately," said Amelian.

 

Jenise sat quietly. She didn't expect that. She was hoping that the back story of a powerful and beautiful creature who's essence had no bearing in time amounted to more than just dissatisfaction with hobbies.

 

There was a small rustle and then Lorren sat up without a sound. His eyes were panicked, his skin glistened and his mouth was open, bellowing a silence that was uncomfortable. Jenners and Amelian were instantly up.

 

Amelian had her bow ready, and Jenners had disappeared into the shadows.

 

Loren did not move from his position, but his body shook with effort. In the far distance, one could hear a scream.

 

"That man is loud," said Kariss.

 

"Kariss, you're up," said Amelian.

 

"You shouldn't be able to hear him, there is no way that his sound waves could escape. They are being redirected elsewhere. And yet, we can still hear him. Faintly, but we can hear him. That's impossible," said Kariss.

 

"Alonna, you awake? Alonna, wake up," said Amelian as she prodded Alonna with her toe. Amelian still had her bow out, even though there was no apparent threat. The scream was unnerving though.

 

"Ugh. What? It's early," said Alonna.

 

"I think Lorre is having one of his nightmares," said Amelian.

 

"No, you'd be able to hear him if he was," said Alonna.

 

"Well, there is that spell of silence on him," said Jenise.

 

"Oh right!" Said Alonna as she sat up. "Wow, that's weird to see."

 

"Yes, can we do anything about it?" asked Amelian.

 

Alonna looked around, she spotted a bucket of water. She grabbed it and through it at Lorren. He flailed about as the cold water hit him. It was strange watching it all occur in silence.

 

Kariss muttered a few words and the sudden noise of gasping broke the night. Lorren eventually caught his breath and sat, trying to wipe the water away from his eyes. Eventually, his teeth began to chatter.

 

"You have no idea how to be quiet, do you," said Kariss.

 

Amelian felt sorry for the human. He was cold and had underwent an intense mental strain, she could even feel it. She wondered if this was how humans felt towards puppies. She grabbed her blanket, wrapped it around Lorren's shoulders, and whispered a few words of enchantment.

 

Steam rose from Lorren's body as the water evaporated away. Within a minute, he was bone dry.

 

"Wow, that's an amazing spell!" said Jenise.

 

"Thank you, Amelian," said Lorren.

 

"Can I go back to sleep?" asked Alonna, who was still laying on her pack trying to will away the activity.

 

"Actually, that was good timing on Lorren's part. We had to get going anyway," said Amelian.

 

"What? That was never really four hours just now. Please?" asked Alonna.

 

"I can't go back to sleep anyway," said Errol. He stood up, grabbed his cloak off the ground and wrapped it around his body. He went to the fire and stood staring at it.

 

"Does that happen every night?" asked Amelian.

 

"Sorry, it does. Will that be a problem?" asked Lorren.

 

"It's kinda creepy," said Jenise.

 

"Well, it's a good way to make sure all of us get up on time," said Amelian.

 

"Normally, I don't sleep that long. Something wakes me up. I'm sensitive to noise. Nothing woke me up," said Lorren.

 

"Sorry. Sphere of Silence was cast on you," said Kariss.

 

"Well, at least only I could hear it," said Lorren.

 

There was a large grunt as Alonna stood up. She was getting tired of the serious talk.

 

"Ok, grumpy grumpers. I've never seen you like this!" said Alonna.

 

Lorren looked at her. His eyes widened in glee.

 

"EGGS! I WANT EGGS! WHERE CAN WE GET BREAKFAST?" he bellowed in a loud voice.

 

Kariss jumped.

 

"We don't-" started Amelian.

 

"Wait, I can hunt for eggs. Is that ok? I'm good at that!" said Lorren as took out his mace.

 

"Wait! What are you going to do with a mace? Bash a bird on the head?" asked Amelian.

 

"No no no, I'm going to bash a tree!" said Lorren.

 

"You are NOT going to bash a tree," said Amelian.

 

"Aw man, how on earth will we have eggs for breakfast? I love eggs!" said Lorren.

 

"Eat some of her magic bread, Lorren. You'll survive," said Alonna.

 

"Bread? Who wants bread. Is it at least fried in pig fat?" asked Lorren.

 

"Definitely not," said Amelian.

 

"Can I just say camping sucks?" said Lorren.

 

"I'll try some of that bread," said Jenise.

 

Amelian had a leaf which was wrapped in a small package. She opened it to reveal a white, soft, dough.

 

"Soggy bread? Where did you keep that anyway? In your pocket?" asked Lorren.

 

"Eat the bread, jerkface," said Alonna.

 

Amelian split the bread into five pieces and distributed it amongst the party. Jenise nibbled at it, and giggled in delight.

 

Kariss looked unimpressed. She took a bite.

 

"Always wanted to try this. Quite tasty and filling," said Kariss. Her face didn't change.

 

"Whoa, filling indeed. Is it made from some type of magical yeast or something? I just swallowed it and now it feels like my stomach is bloating," said Lorren.

 

"Lorren! Behave! I'm sorry, Amelian. He's not used to hanging around culture," said Alonna.

 

"I am surrounded by nothing but culture, I'm a cleric. Remember? Culture is so smothering," said Lorren.

 

"Ok, well, I'm glad that was so favourable amongst you. That should last you the day, believe it or not," said Amelian.

 

"Not if there's no eggs," said Lorren.

 

"Shut up!" said Alonna.

 

"We have a few more days travel, so we should be going. There is an inn we can stay at. There we can find better lodgings and if you so wish, you can order whatever you want," said Amelian.

 

"Then why are we waiting around here munching on spongy dough? Let's go!" said Lorren as he walked off.

 

"I'm surprised he went in the right direction," said Amelian.

 

"I'm surprised you haven't kicked him out yet," said Alonna.

 

~-=*=-~

 

The landscape was quite easy to navigate. They followed the river northeast to get to the Floundering Forest which was the closest forest which had any Elves in it.

 

Jenise made sure to walk by Amelian, hoping for any wise saying that could only be a product of a multiple lifetimes of learning. Sadly, Amelian talked about her Lute Tutor the whole time. Jenise was getting the sense Amelian did not like her Lute Tutor.

 

Kariss kept to herself and didn't say much. Most of the non-silence was because of Lorren. He was doing all the talking, ranging from animals, to food, to clouds, to food, to how some clouds look like food, and then back to animals and how they are tasty food and better than soggy bread.

 

It was about dusk when they got to a rocky outcrop. A perfect place for being ambushed.

 

"This is a perfect place for being ambushed," said Lorren.

 

"Shut up," said Alonna.

 

"If we are ambushed, we can see you fight," said Lorren.

 

"I don't want to fight," said Alonna.

 

"Well, you're the fighter, right? You take the hits, we do all magicky magic stuff," said Lorren.

 

"You're a fighter too!" said Alonna.

 

"But I have a duel role! No one expects me to fight well. I'm just a bit more useful when I run out of mana points," said Lorren.

 

"What are you talking about?" said Alonna.

 

"Nothing, just something I read in a scroll once," said Lorren.

 

There was a loud yell as a group of seven men jumped out from behind some craggy rocks.

 

"Your money or your life," yelled out the largest one. He was in front, had the average amount of scars on his face, but was unstereotypically clean looking.

 

"Wait, why are you all out here?" asked Lorren.

 

"No talking! Your money or your life!" yelled out the bandit.

 

"But seriously, you could have surrounded us. You could have had four bandits in the front, three in the back, and blocked off our escape. But now all seven of you are in the front and the rest of us could just high tail it out of here," said Lorren.

 

"Uh... we could chase you down," said the lead bandit.

 

"With what. You aren't on horses. And your weapons are bigger than your body. Honestly, that guy right there? Who needs a hammer that big? I have a mace, smack a guy on the knee and it doesn't matter how big the mace is, it's going to put him out of commission. And do you think you could outrun us? That's an ELF there. She can run on snow!"

 

"Err.... It's not snowing," said the bandit.

 

"So it's even EASIER for her!" countered Lorren.

 

The bandit was a bit confused. This wasn't the normal course of a hold up. The other bandits were grumbling. Either they were impatient, or they may have been agreeing.

 

Alonna was sweating. The thought of facing off seven bandits was terrifying to her. Of course, she did have her companions, but she only knew how well Lorren fought, and it wasn't that well.

 

The bandit postured and stuck out his chest as he shouted into the sky.

 

"I am Pocky Sam! I rule these lands, and I have a hundred men under my command. They are in the hills, they are in the rocks, they are in the trees, and they all bow to me! Turn and run, and they will smother you."

 

"No," said Amelian.

 

"What?" asked the bandit as he turned sharply to her.

 

"This is an unused road, you get one traveller a month through here. You wouldn't be waiting around with one hundred men to steal a peasant's wage once a month," said Amelian.

 

"Listen to the elf, she knows things. Like, bandits don't like trees," said Lorren.

 

"It's just the seven of you. And you are tired. I can tell. You have been riding hard all day, possibly escaping the wrath of some larger group of bandits whom you have swindled, and it just so happened you saw us coming from down the path. It was easy pickings, seven versus five, and so you waited behind those rocks to do your nefarious deed," said the elf.

 

"And we will nefarious you dead!" screamed the bandit as he lifted his arm in triumph. The other bandits cheered.

 

"Wait, you all have melee weapons," said Lorren.

 

"No, Jimmy has a slingshot," said another bandit.

 

"Look, you attack us, the elf takes down two of you because she's an elf, and she's fast, and can hit small targets like eyes in half a second. Half of you lot don't even have any type of protective head wear," said Lorren.

 

The bandits hesitated. They didn't like the idea of being shot in the eye.

 

"Then it's five against five, but all it takes is three seconds and our mage, who is another range fighter, can take down another two of you because she has area of affect spells," said Lorren.

 

"Area of what?" asked Jimmy.

 

"One of her spells can hit the whole lot of you. And who knows what she has planned? Maybe it's a fireball. Maybe it's an ice shard storm, slicing your skin to ribbons. Maybe you just get to all be turned into sheep. Either way, it won't be pleasant," said Lorren.

 

The bandits were not saying anything. Their mouths hung open and the air began to get warm.

 

"Lorren, shut up for a bit," said Alonna.

 

"Don't interrupt, I've got a good thing going," said Lorren.

 

"I'm serious. Shut up for once," said Alonna. She wasn't looking at Lorren. She was looking behind him.

 

"Alonna, let me guess. There's a nasty monster behind us, right? Some beast of utter death and destruction and everyone's petrified?" asked Lorren as he turned.

 

There was no monster. There was only Kariss. But she was not very happy. In fact, she was as unhappy as Lorren had ever seen, and he thought he had seen her at her unhappiest.

 

She had both her hands held up, and above it was a fireball. A fireball the size of a large cave troll.

 

"This looks dangerous," Lorren peeped.

 

"What is it with you?" Kariss bellowed. "You aren't the leader of this party. Amelian is the leader of this party. In fact, she is a capable leader. She's smart, quick and can read situations far better than you can."

 

"She's talking to you," said Alonna.

 

"Ya, I guessed that," said Lorren.

 

"And yet, like all clueless entitled males, you take over the situation. You don't think that Amelian could have had a plan, or had known about the bandits. Maybe she wanted them to attack to give us experience. I knew they were there. She obviously knew they were there considering she unsheathed her bow and readied five arrows ten minutes before this."

 

The ball of fire pulsated and Kariss got louder, with more of an echo to her voice. And with each enunciated word, the fireball got louder.

 

"And you!" said Kariss as she turned her gaze towards the lead bandit. The bandit pointed innocently to himself.

 

"What did you see? Did you see four helpless women? Is that what you saw? Did you think that you could easily take down four women who were too stupid to get a male escort for these oh so dangerous hills?"

 

"Uh no, we were going by the odds, five against seven and all-"

 

"SILENCE! You saw us! And you laughed. OH, I KNOW you laughed. And then you thought of nasty things you could do to each of us. And then one of you made a lewd gesture and you laughed more because for some reason this is the funniest thing that can exist in that infantile mind of yours. And you probably pointed to one of us. Maybe claimed us as your own. As men have done over the CENTURIES. You don't want money. You would be much happier to do what you would with what you deem a weak and ignorant gender good for nothing but your sick pleasures! And when you were satiated you'd leave us to die or be savaged by more of your kind!"

 

"She can control where that goes, right?" asked Jenise. Amelian was backing away.

 

"A fireball is too good for you. Maybe I should give you the century of pain that we have endured. Maybe you would like your soul ravaged and shredded for all of eternity. Maybe I should do that!"

 

"I hope that means the nasty fireball goes away," whimpered Lorren.

 

Alonna stole a quick glance towards the bandits. Jimmy had wet himself. She hoped to heaven that she did not.

 

Amelian took control.

 

"Go. Leave us. We don't want trouble. If you don't leave now, that fireball will burn down not only you, but half the country side, and I don't like to see trees burn."

 

The bandits scrambled off.

 

The only sound that could be heard was the crackling of fire, and the breathing of the five.

 

After a few minutes, the fireball dissipated, remarkably fast for something so huge.

 

They stood there, Lorren was having a hard time looking at anyone in the face. Alonna quickly checked the state of her jerkin. She was relieved to see it was dry. Five more agonizing minutes passed.

 

"I have issues," Kariss said.

 

"Yes. Well. The next pub is about three more hours. Drinks are on me," said Amelia.

 

"I don't drink," said Kariss.

 

"Maybe you should start," said Lorren.

 

Alonna punched him hard.

 

Chapter 8

They were quiet around the table, the five of them. Jenise made some light talk about the decor of the pub, how she never really got to go to pubs because that wasn't respectable for a thief, and how quaint and delectable the meal was, but for the most part, it was pretty quiet.

 

The pub was well populated. Some halflings were drinking. Well, that's normally a redundant statement, but there were halflings in this pub and they usually didn't associate with humans.

 

It's not that they were racist, no, halflings loved humans when they were happy. But not all humans were that happy when drinking. Some of them got obnoxious and halflings loved them. But the angry drunks were scary and sad drunks were such a damper to the party that halflings tried to keep their drunken revelry out of ear shot of humans.

 

But here they were, in a human bar. There would be a fight soon. But the adventurers didn't seem to care.

 

"You're right, Kariss," said Lorren.

 

"I know," said Kariss.

 

"I'm sorry," said Lorren.

 

"It's ok. That was actually fun to see," said Amelian.

 

"And exciting!" said Jenise.

 

"I could do with less excitement," said Alonna.

 

"I wasn't trying to take over the situation. I honestly didn't understand the logic behind their attack. It was bad strategy. We had two melee fighters, three if you include the thief, but no one does."

 

"Lorren!" said Alonna.

 

"He's right, I don't mind," said Jenise.

 

"And a magician and an elf. Why attack us? Sure, they were big, but that wouldn't have mattered. Did they not think?"

 

"They didn't expect women to be a threat," said Kariss.

 

"Yes. I didn't think of that," said Lorren.

 

"Because you're male," said Kariss.

 

"OK! Well, you know what? Maybe we should get a good night's rest," said Amelian.

 

"I'm in for that," said Alonna.

 

"You two normally share rooms?" asked Amelian.

 

"No. I don't like his snoring and screaming anymore than you guys do," said Alonna.

 

"I prefer a room on my own anyway. I can order pig skin and no one gets upset!" said Lorren, his mind already disconnected from the conversation with the thought of future animal fat.

 

"Right. Ok, well, if the rest of you don't mind, there is a room large enough for the rest of us," said Amelian.

 

The other three nodded in agreement and they headed to the rooms. Except for Jenise.

 

"You not going to bed yet, Lorren?" asked Jenise.

 

"Oh, no. It's pretty early. And I find the presence of people restful, believe it or not," said Lorren.

 

"I find it very exciting! You mind if I sit with you?" asked Jenise.

 

"No, of course not! We're in a party together! We're like best buds now! I look after your back. You look after mine, I hope. And not do the stabby thing," said Lorren.

 

"Don't worry! I have never stabbed anyone in the back," said Jenise.

 

"That's good! Don't practice on me though!"

 

Lorren took another sip of his drink and stared out at the crowd. He looked happy, despite the fact that he had been silent for most of the night. 

 

"I like elves," said Jenise.

 

"I could tell," laughed Lorren.

 

"Oh, that was abrupt. Sorry. I was wondering... what exactly a shade elf is. I've never heard of one. I did ask Amelian, but she was very cryptic," said Jenise.

 

Lorren took another drink. He formed an uncharacteristic face, as if formulating an answer to a personal question. 

 

"Elves... don't like to talk about shade elves. A shade elf isn't natural, really," said Lorren.

 

Jenise was about to interrupt, but she held herself.

 

"You've seen Amelian, she's an elf. She is stoic, she is calm, she is calculating, she expresses thoughtful and proper emotions," said Lorren.

 

Jenise nodded.

 

"Elves are like that. However, when a human and elf get together, sometimes they... uh... you know... have... uh... relations..."

 

"Are you serious? I'm in my twenties, I'll have you know," said Jenise.

 

"Well, you look young. Anyway, they spawn a half-elf, right? But half elves look like elves. Dominant genes or something. And so they don't fit amongst humans because humans are so... exclusive when it comes to things like racial harmony. Yes, the races can coexist as long as the races don't try and talk to each other. Anyway, half elves try and integrate into the elvish life but they have all the emotions and passions of a human. Half-elves despise that, because emotions are complicated and they hurt," said Lorren.

 

"Yes, it does," said Jenise.

 

"Such pain at such a young age?" asked Lorren.

 

"Just continue."

 

"Anyway, they undergo a ritual. They rid themselves of their human emotions. They don't rid themselves of all emotions, I'm not saying elves are cold, uncaring voids of calculating reason. But their emotions aren't as intense as those of humans. Half elves have a way of removing those intense emotions."

 

"Interesting," said Jenise.

 

"But it doesn't go away," said Lorren.

 

"Oh, you mean the emotions get buried into a half elf? It's not truly gone?" asked Jenise.

 

"No, it's gone. The emotions, however, don't go away. It goes somewhere. It goes into another elf," said Lorren.

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"Every few thousand years, a shade elf is born. An elf, that has all the accumulation of  disposed emotions. That elf, can't handle living amongst elves, or humans, or anything, and they become wild. They run off somewhere, probably some place to find their own kind, or just to weep in the woods, I don't know," said Lorren.

 

Lorren paused here. Jenise could tell this was knowledge she was not allowed to know, but for some reason, Lorren told her. And then it hit her.

 

"Wait, you are psychically bound to this creature," said Jenise.

 

"I'm the luckiest man on the planet," said Lorren with no hint of his regular humour.

 

"Where is she?" asked Jenise.

 

"It doesn't matter. She's there. She's always there," said Lorren.

 

"That sounds... difficult," said Jenise.

 

Lorren's eyes focused on Jenise. He gave her a huge grin.

 

"It's not so bad. Emotions aren't bad, Jenise. They are just challenging. Remember, happiness is an emotion too. And excitement. That link, that made me excited about every small miracle on this planet. I am in wonder at every iota in the universe. This drink, for example? This is FANTASTIC! I love it here," said Lorren.

 

"And you don't feel the negative emotions?"

 

"I feel them at night. When I sleep. I think... I think she holds those back during the day. For some reason. But at night, when it's dark, and my natural defenses are down, she can't hold it any longer, and that's when loneliness, despair, anger, anguish, all of those...  hit me."

 

Jenise didn't know what to say to this. So she remained silent. The halflings were still dancing a loud jig. Someone was throwing a ring around. It was a very strange contrast.

 

"What's her name?" asked Jenise.

 

"I call her Dai," said Lorren.

 

"That's a rather... short elvish name," said Jenise.

 

"I can't pronounce her real name," said Lorren.

 

"Fair enough," said Jenise. She was fascinated by this story which she realized no one else really was privy to, but the night was wearing on her.

 

"I assume I'm not allowed to repeat this to anyone," said Jenise.

 

"You are a thief, I know how much secrecy means to you and your profession," said Lorren with a smile. 

 

"Well, thank you," said Jenise.

 

"Dai says good night," said Lorren.

 

"What? She... knows who I am?" said Jenise.

 

"Well, we are psychically bound."

 

"That's really creepy," said Jenise.

 

"For all I know, I'm either possessed or insane. But in the end, it doesn't matter, does it," said Lorren.

 

"Uh, I guess not?" said Jenise.

 

"I guess it's too late for philosophy, and this water is going to my head," said Lorren.

 

"You're drinking water?"

 

"With the tsunami of emotion that relentlessly batters away at my sanity, the last thing I need is to be inebriated," said Lorren.

 

"Good point," said Jenise.

 

"Good night, Jenise. Thank you for keeping me company," smiled Lorren.

 

"Good night, Lorren," smiled Jenise as she went to her room.

 

-~=*=~-

 

When Jenise arrived at her room, she could hear some type of muffled but controlled commotion. She entered tentatively only to find that there were three men, gagged and tied up, sitting on the floor. She recognized them as part of the bandit group. One of them was Jimmy.

 

"Hey Jenise, seems our friend came back to do a bit of revenge," said Alonna.

 

"But they sent only three people?" asked Jenise.

 

"If we were sleeping, maybe we'd even be more useless," growled Kariss.

 

"Should we bring Lorren here?" asked Amelian?

 

"Why?" asked Kariss.

 

"He is part of the team, Kariss," said Amelian.

 

Kariss shrugged.

 

"Well, we do have things under control, and honestly, I don't think he'd care. He may want to badger them, but they don't deserve that," said Alonna.

 

"Yes they do," said Kariss.

 

"What are you going to do to them?" asked Jenise.

 

"We need to stop them from bothering us," said Amelian.

 

"Send there heads back in bags," said Kariss.

 

"Orrrrrr not," said Alonna. 

 

"At least we'll only have to capture four of them the next time," said Kariss.

 

"Head chopping is not that easy," said Alonna.

 

"We can send back other parts," said Kariss

 

The men started to wimper. Jenise smelled something pungent. She looked at Jimmy. He had lost control again. 

 

"I'm not cleaning that," said Amelian.

 

Kariss whispered a few words and flicked a few fingers. Jimmy's eyes grew big and he screamed behind his gag. The puddle he had formed had disappeared.

 

"Done. I reversed it," said Kariss.

 

"You can REVERSE THAT?" asked Lorren.

 

He was standing at the door, very amused at the sight before him.

 

"This is our room, Lorren. We can handle this ourselves," said Alonna.

 

"Uh, I didn't say you couldn't! But I can sense fun when it's not being had by me, so I had to come!"

 

"We're trying to figure out what to do with them so they don't attack us again," said Amelian.

 

"Send them back as sheep," said Lorren.

 

Kariss looked at him. She shook her head, "Eighth circle spell."

 

"Send sheep back as them," said Alonna.

 

"Oooh, that's awesome!" said Lorren.

 

"I'm a bit confused," said Jenise.

 

"I think that's a brilliant idea," smiled Amelian.

 

-~=*=~-

 

It was a slow night. Well, most nights were slow. Normally, the thugs would try to find a farm that had its guard down, but tonight, they had a task. An actual task. 

 

There were four of them, seated around the fire. They waited as patiently as they could. 

 

"It's taking too long," said a young man, sharpening his blade on a whetstone. 

 

"And that's why you didn't get to go. You, Barnab, are impatient. Had you been on that mission, you would have bungled everything," said their leader. 

 

"Then why didn't you go, Forn? You're the one that wanted to get them so bad. Why did you send Jimmy and the boys?"

 

"What kind of name is Forn?" came a voice from the darkness.

 

The bandits got on their feet, their weapons ready.  

 

"Do you always have to get the first word in?" asked Alonna.

 

"Look, no one said anything about not speaking! All you guys said was we were going to drop off their friend. Did any of you say that Amelian was going to do all the talking? No. No one said there was any other plan than just march in and give them their sheep."

 

The bandits were tense. They could see they were surrounded from all sides. 

 

"We'll take you all," said Forn.

 

"Just take your friends," said Amelian. 

 

There came the bleating of sheep, and the clanging of bells as Jenise lead the animals into view. 

 

"Why are you bringing us sheep?" asked Forn.

 

"This one has a bladder problem," said Lorren as he indicated to one of the sheep which was wearing a headband. 

 

"I'm glad you dress up your pets. Prepare to die," said Forn.

 

"They're not getting it," said Jenise. She found this funny.

 

"Of course they're not getting it," said Kariss.

 

"Forn, these are your friends. Kariss, the mage, turned them into sheep," said Amelian.

 

"What do you mean?" asked Barnab.

 

"They were turned into sheep with a polymorph spell. It was cool, although not as cool as that fireball Kariss made. Well, technically, that's not cool," said Lorren.

 

"Wait, that sheep is Jimmy?" asked the one called Barnab.

 

"Congratulations, we clued in," said Kariss.

 

"Bandits, we grow tired of your interference. We have returned your friends, which is far more merciful than what you would have had done to us. Any more trouble from you, and any more trouble we hear from the neighbouring countryside, and the rest of you will be forced to be mutton potential," said Amelian.

 

"That sheep is Jimmy?" asked Forn.

 

"Yes, we went over this," said Alonna.

 

"Many times," said Kariss.

 

"That's my brother, you witch!" screamed Barnab as he started to charge. Forn held him back.

 

Kariss raised her hands and started chanting. The air became thick with magic. Nerves not normally tuned to thaumatic sense began to react violently.

 

"Enough! They are not harmed?" asked Forn. 

 

Kariss lowered her hands.

 

"No, you just have to take care of them," said Amelian.

 

"Leave us," said Forn.

 

"You forget who is making the demands here," said Kariss.

 

"We have no time to deal with petty thieves," said Amelian.

 

Jenise looked up, a little hurt.

 

"Sorry, Jenise. We do not wish to be involved in your petty dealings, but you have made life a little less bearable than it should be. Leave, and you will be spared the docile life of a domesticated animal," said Amelian.

 

Barnab was about to protest but Forn restrained him again. Forn gave a hint of a scowl at Amelian but didn't say a word. He turned his back on them as his men watched on, confused at what to do. Forn didn't pay them any heed and walked away. The men followed, bringing  the three sheep with them. Soon, the party was alone at the still burning firepit. In the distance, they could hear the clanging of the sheep bells as it slowly faded into the night.

 

"Do we trust them?" asked Jenise.

 

"No," said Kariss.

 

"Let's go back to the inn. We'll rest there and then continue early in the morning," said Amelian.

 

"That's a great idea!" said Lorren.

 

Chapter 9

The next few days were surprisingly uneventful save for the normal squabbles of the eclectic group. The land had changed to hills and sparse forests as they were getting closer to the home of Amelian. 

 

"I don't think we gained any experience from our first encounter with bandits," said Lorren.

 

"I think we gained too much experience," said Alonna.

 

"We didn't kill anything," said Kariss.

 

"And without killing, we can't prove to our respective organizations that we deserve to advance in our levels!" said Lorren.

 

"You know, we could probably get some experience without all that killing," said Jenise.

 

"She has a point, Lorren. I for one don't want to be killing anything," said Alonna.

 

"You're the fighter, Lonpons! You're the tank! You make the damage, and you take the damage! We don't get experience for minor wounds!" said Lorren.

 

"Well, we get a little experience from it," said Jenise.

 

"But not as much as if we killed the person," said Lorren.

 

"Why are you obsessed with killing. That's sick!" said Lonpons.

 

"I am not obsessed with killing. I'm obsessed with experience! Look, how long has it been since we've advanced in our profession? Years! Now that adventuring has gone the way of the ancients, there hasn't been a way to increase in our skills. There are only so many boars you can slaughter until you cause mass extinction and drive the food market into the ground," said Lorren.

 

"But you shouldn't just go around killing bandits," said Jenise.

 

"They were going to kill us!" said Lorren.

 

"I, for once, agree with Lorren," said Kariss.

 

"That makes me slightly uncomfortable," said Lorren.

 

"I'm ok with killing already dead things," said Jenise.

 

"What?" asked Alonna.

 

"Well, if we have to go up against the undead, or skeletons, or maybe a liche," said Jenise.

 

"Wait, are there undead in this barrow? Please tell me there is no undead. No one said anything about taking on any undead. Are their wraiths? I hate wraiths. I had stories told to me about wraiths. They devour your soul just by looking into your eyes. I don't want my soul devoured. Amelian, are there any undead?" asked Alonna.

 

"I don't think so," said Amelian. She began to wonder about this fighter she had hired.

 

"Don't worry about it. A skeleton is just another creature you have to slay that just happens to not be alive. It's no different than hitting a tree!" said Lorren.

 

"I'd prefer you to didn't hit trees," said Amelian.

 

"Sorry about that. Anyway, don't worry, Alonna. I keep telling you, the undead aren't as scary as you think!" said Lorren.

 

"They are too! They are once dead but now walking about when they shouldn't be! It's not natural! I don't want to be undead!" said Alonna.

 

"Some of my best friends are undead," said Kariss.

 

"Oh?" asked Jenise.

 

"Well, we do commune with the spirit world," said Kariss.

 

"Whom do you speak to? Are they past family members?" asked Jenise.

 

"No. I just talk to ... dead wizards. They're the only ones restless enough to want to talk to the living. The other souls are quite happy where they are," said Kariss.

 

"What's the other side like?" asked Jenise.

 

"I don't know. They don't talk about it," said Kariss.

 

"You've never asked?" asked Jenise.

 

"They aren't the type to listen. They just want to talk. They relive their glory days of living. I think the other side is a bit more egalitarian. They  aren't as revered and respected as they once were. And their residual power allows them to make a stronger connection with the living. So they contact anyone who has the magic and knowledge to listen, and then they just talk," said Kariss.

 

"And you just listen?" asked Lorren.

 

"Yes," said Kariss.

 

"I couldn't do that," said Lorren.

 

"We know," said the other four.

 

"It's fascinating. You can learn a lot about history, about magic, about other races by listening. Of course, it's entrenched in a story where the person speaking is the hero of whatever tale he is regaling, but it's still an engaging story nevertheless."

 

"What's the most fantastic story you have heard?" asked Jenise.

 

Kariss was silent for a few moments. She looked ahead, as they came to the edge of a forest. Amelian didn't say anything and continued on. The forest was dark, and within moments, they were engulfed in green and woods. Light poked through sporadically, but it was very dark. As Kariss spoke, her voice seemed small as if the trees didn't like the air disturbed.

 

"His name was Kanley. He was a wizard of great insight and formidable power. Surprisingly enough, he was also blessed with much wisdom and humility. And he was voracious in his appetite for knowledge. 

 

Magicians and wizards from around the world knew of his intellect and wished to learn from him. Kanley, not wanting to waste time tutoring, created a vast library of his knowledge. He conjured up books and scrolls and paintings and placed them for anyone to read and learn from.

 

But other mages were wanting more information of the darker arts, and failing to find any from Kanley's books, they assumed that Kanley had hidden those books elsewhere. 

 

They feared him though. Any man with that much knowledge would be a force not to be dealt with lightly, so they came up with a plan," said Kariss.

 

"Does this plan involve a princess?" asked Jenise.

 

"I hate princesses," said Kariss.

 

"That's surprsing," said Lorren.

 

Kariss ignored him and continued, "It is surprisingly easy to unleash evil. Doesn't require that much skill. The trick is controlling the evil. Evil cannot be controlled, but if it could, the power you could attain would be immense. And thus the mages decided the best way to seize that power from Kanley, assuming that he possessed it, was to release upon the world an evil large enough that it would require his attention."

 

"That sounds like a dumb plan," said Alonna.

 

"Humans," said Amelian.

 

"Now the mages weren't ignoramuses. They knew that only they could release evil and it would be them that would be targeted after the fallout and destruction had cleared, so they needed a scapegoat. And they found one in a student by the name of Mace Inkwell. 

 

Mace was a bright apprentice and like all young students, hungered for knowledge and power. Under the tutalage of the mages, they gave him everything he wanted. If he wanted to learn the art of bestiary splicing, they gave him beasts to torture. If he wanted to learn about necromancy, they gave him the keys to the most guarded secrets. There were no classes on ethics. There were no practical disciplines. There were no warnings."

 

"They tortured animals?" asked Amelian.

 

"It was a success, of course. Mace became exposed to every magical source known to humankind, without the proper defenses, without the proper wards, without anything to guard his young mind.

 

And everything took over."

 

"Everything?" asked Jenise.

 

"The hubris of humankind is infuriating, really. They lack the desire to discipline and control the base and trivial vices of their mind and body, and yet they fully believe they have the will to resist the full onslaught of hell," said Amelian.

 

"Mace summoned everything. Every horror, every evil, every creature imaginable, and there was one place for them to go. One place that offered the least resistance, and that was his mind. They took over. And they fought. And they grew, because within Mace's body was the potent power of all the magic he had learned and was exposed to."

 

"Wait, I know this story," said Alonna.

 

"Yes, you all do. That was the beginning of The Empty. The first dark age of horror that engulfed the land and brought upon a hundred year terror," said Kariss.

 

"But who is this Kavendish guy you first brought up?" asked Lorren.

 

"His name was Kanley. And he saw The Empty as it was beginning. He knew destruction that it would ravage on humanity. And so he fled, with his library," said Kariss.

 

"Must have been a small library," said Alonna.

 

"Wait, your most fascinating story is about a guy that runs away?" asked Lorren.

 

"I want to find that library," said Kariss.

 

"But the Kanley is dead, isn't he? You should have asked him where it is," said Jenise.

 

"He's not dead. That's what fascinates me. That library is somewhere," said Kariss.

 

"Oh," said Jenise.

 

"So whom were you talking to that told you this?" asked Alonna.

 

"Mace Inkwell," said Kariss.

 

"You mean the evil guy that destroyed almost one third of humanity," said Alonna. 

 

"He died long before the evil took him," said Kariss.

 

"We don't have to fight anything like that in the barrow, do we Amelian?" asked Alonna.

 

"Well, we're almost there. I guess we'll find out," said Amelian.

 

"What? We are?" asked Lorren.

 

"Yes," said Amelian.

 

"And we didn't have to pay tribute or anything to the elves?" asked Lorren.

 

"No, why would we?" asked Amelian.

 

"We're on their land," said Alonna.

 

"And I'm an elf. They don't care. They're probably busy with their lute lessons," said Amelian.

 

"Aren't they going to surround us with bows, and then we can learn to respect their ways and win them over, and then they give us amazing magical presents of wonder we cannot understand yet but will save us in our darkest peril?" asked Lorren.

 

"I hate elves," whispered Kariss.

 

"No," said Amalian.

 

"Oh, I wanted to see more elves," said Jenise.

 

"I don't," said Kariss.

 

"Wait, we're not getting magical protection before going into the barrow?" asked Alonna.

 

"No, it's a barrow. It doesn't even give off evil vibes. We are exploring it. Maybe we'll find treasure. Maybe we'll find dirt. But it does have something magical about it, so we're going in," said Amelian.

 

"Without protection," said Alonna.

 

"We're protection," said Lorren.

 

"I'm not feeling protected," said Alonna.

 

"You never feel protected," said Lorren.

 

"Could we go in now?" asked Kariss.

 

"Isn't there a protection spell you have, Kariss? I'm sure there is one," said Alonna.

 

Kariss sighed and muttered something. There was a slight shimmer that surrounded Alonna. 

 

"Thanks. But I don't feel any safer," said Alonna.

 

"I could cast a sleeping spell," said Kariss.

 

"If we're done, I'm ready to go in," said Amelian.

 

"I'm ready," said Jenise.

 

"So am I," echoed Kariss and Lorren.

 

"You guys go ahead," said Alonna.

 

The party groaned.

 

"Standard party formation of this group, what is it?" asked Lorren.

 

"Fighter and cleric in front, range fighters in back," grumbled Alonna.

 

"We can't go in without you, you know. You're the strongest one of us all," said Lorren.

 

"I don't want to be strong," said Alonna.

 

"The gifts we're given are there for a reason," said Amelian.

 

"Yes but what if the gifts are curses? What if the gifts are to your detriment? What if the gifts you get should be utilized more efficiently but you aren't too sure how to use the gifts because you preferred other gifts like the nice gift of cooking! Or maybe gifts of music! I like music! Why can't I have learned to play the lute?" said Alonna.

 

"Yea, encouragement is getting us nowhere here," said Lorren and he pushed Alonna into the barrow.

 

Chapter 10

"You know, I've never been in a barrow before," said Jenise.

 

It was chilling. There was utter silence around, and all light immediately dissapated as soon as they had gone only a few feet. It was larger than they had thought, plenty of head room to accommodate Kariss who still wore her large wizard hat.

 

The ground was dirt, and surprisingly square, it was not naturally formed but carved out of the earth. It didn't look ancient, although it must have been. However, there were no indication that the place had been at rest for the last thousand years.

 

"No one has been here before?" asked Alonna.

 

"The place is only known by the elvish folk, and we aren't the curious type. We're also a bit more formal in our exploring. Had we wanted to explore the barrow, it would have first involved a few meetings to form a committee which would discuss the need for a team to explore the merits of considering the barrow," said Amelian.

 

"What?"

 

"Elves aren't really impulsive. A lot of planning is involved before they embark on any endeavour," said Amelian.

 

"That would explain a lot," said Lorren.

 

"How so?" asked Jenise.

 

"There have been a lot of wars between the elves and humans," said Kariss.

 

"All of them instigated by humans," said Amelian.

 

"True," said Kariss.

 

"In every instance, elves are superior-" said Lorren.

 

"As they keep reminding us," said Kariss.

 

"And yet, humans would win a lot of the skirmishes. In fact, for the most part, things ended in draws," said Lorren.

 

"We prefer draws," said Amelian.

 

"Elves cannot improvise as well. Humans, due to the shorter lifespan, follow their gut more often than not in the heat of the moment, and it is this that has surprised and confounded many elvish commanders," said Kariss.

 

"And now we live in peace," said Amelian.

 

"Well, you stay in the forest, and we don't bother you," said Kariss.

 

"Until you need more wood. Your appetite for consumption is astounding," said Amelian.

 

"You know, this is all very exciting, but could we get a bit more light? It's frightfully dark down here, and I'm sure, that if there were any menacing beasts, they would be fully aware of our presence by the constant chatter that we keep perpetuating," said Alonna.

 

Amelian held up her torch a little higher, but it didn't do a very good job of piercing the darkness.

 

"Yellow lights is never comforting. Don't mages have a light spell?" asked Alonna.

 

"Magic is not an infinite source, it needs to be conserved for when you need it. Torches are the most efficient light source," said Amelian.

 

"I don't see how efficient it is if we can't see further than three feet in front of us," said Alonna.

 

"You'll be fine, lonpons. I'm sure that whatever beast there is down here is no larger-"

 

"EEEEEEE!" screamed Alonna.

 

The team jumped, nerves on edge waiting for any attack.

 

"A rat!" screamed Alonna.

 

"A rat?" asked Jenise.

 

"A rat!" exclaimed Amelian, "It's so cute! Come here little rat!"

 

"It's not cute! It's a menace! It has red eyes! Look! It wants to devour our souls!" screamed Alonna.

 

"It's a rat, Lonpons," said Lorren.

 

"And it has a hoarde of ratty friends ready to overwhelm us with disease and then crawl down our throats to eat our innards! Kill it! Kill it with fire!"

 

"You are not killing it! It's harmless!" said Amelian.

 

"It's from the foul pits of hell! It is destruction! It is plague! It is death!" screamed Alonna.

 

"Lonpons! It's a rat! I'm shocked it's not scared off by your screaming," said Lorren.

 

"It's not scared because it knows its brethren is waiting to feast on our eyes when the darkness finally comes!" screamed Alonna.

 

"Oh for crying out loud," muttered Kariss. She raised her hand, whispered one word and bolt shot from her fingers. It hit the rat squarely on the head, killing instantly.

 

"You killed it!" yelled Amelian.

 

"Yes," said Kariss.

 

"Why did you kill it?" asked Amelian.

 

"Because it's a rat," said Kariss.

 

"And Lonpons was loud," said Lorren.

 

"That was a magic missile! I've never seen a magic missile before," said Jenise.

 

Alonna was on the ground, the threat finally defeated she was hugging herself.

 

"What is wrong with you humans? It was a rat! It wasn't even attacking us. And Alonna goes into a fit and Kariss instantly fries it with a spell meant for creatures ten times the size of that poor creature!"

 

"Not only that, I don't think I could admit that the only experience I've gotten in three days is one rat kill," said Lorren.

 

Amelian was ignoring them. She had knelt by the rat, and was checking it for any vital signs. She placed her hands around the creature and started to sing a soft song. It was ethereal, and echoed in such a way that one could not tell the source.

 

"That's beautiful. Is she resurrecting it?" asked Jenise.

 

"No, only clerics and priests can resurrect. I don't know what she's doing," said Lorren.

 

"Sounds like it's a spell of preservation," said Kariss.

 

Amelian gently picked up the rat, smoothing it's fur in the process.

 

"It's a freaking rat," said Kariss.

 

She pulled another leaf from her pack, and wrapped the rat, completely encasing it. She then stowed it safely away and she stared at them.

 

"I hope you don't get that leaf mixed up with the one storing the soggy bread," said Lorren.

 

"We aren't killing any more rats!" said Amelian.

 

"But they're-" said Lonpons.

 

"Lonpons is scared of rats," interrupted Lorren.

 

"You are a fighter, right?" asked Amelian.

 

"I am! I just don't like rats. I can kill almost anything else!" said Alonna.

 

"And she's scared of ghosts," said Lorren.

 

"Ok, yes. Undead things give me the willies. But that's it," said Alonna.

 

"Rats and ghosts," said Lorren.

 

"Look, it's not all ghosts!" argued Alonna.

 

"Oh, there's a ghost you aren't scared of?" asked Lorren.

 

"Yes! I'm not scared of... tiny... ghosts..." stammered Amelian.

 

"Are you fine with everything else. Can I count on you when we get in a real fight?" asked Amelian.

 

"Of course! I am a very capable fighter!"

 

"Except for creatures twice our size," said Lorren.

 

"Those are fine too! That bear just startled me, ok? I wasn't scared. I was startled! There's a difference!" said Alonna.

 

Amelian watched the two argue as she began to assess the situation. She had a fighter that seemed too afraid to fight. A cleric that wouldn't shut up. A mage with some serious anger issues. And a thief which, well, she didn't even know what was up with her. To top it all off, she had a dead rat in her backpack.

 

"I'm going to bury this rat in a proper place," said Amelian.

 

"There are proper burial grounds for rats?" asked Lorren.

 

"So unless they pose a threat, we do not kill off any more rats. Do I make myself clear?" asked Amelian.

 

"Very," said Kariss.

 

The rest of the group mumbled in agreement. Amelian held her torch up high and continued down the passageway. The rest of them followed.

 

Chapter 11

The party of five were in a solemn mood. The rest of the barrow posed no more threats. However, they had been walking for almost two hours with nothing other than the occasional rock. There weren't even staircases, just a gradual slope downwards.

 

"I don't think barrows are supposed to be this big," said Jenise.

 

"Is there at tomb at the end of this?" asked Lorren.

 

"I don't know, we haven't explored this," said Amelian.

 

"Whoa, that's a big door!" said Alonna.

 

Before them was a huge door, made of stone. There were no carvings on the door or any type of markings whatsoever. It was just a solid stone door. A metal handle was attached to it.

 

"I think this is it," said Amelian. She pulled on the handle. The door slowly opened. It did not make a sound.

 

"Wow, this is one disappointing door. No stone grinding on stone sound. That's the most awesome sound, it reminds me of trap doors and hidden passageways and encroaching doom as a room closes in on itself," said Lorren.

 

"Lorren! We're trying to focus here," said Alonna.

 

"On what? The door opening? You can't honestly be afraid of a stone door," said Lorren.

 

"I am NOT afraid! I am just trying to ready my wits because we don't know what's behind that door, and you tattering away like this is a Sunday trip to the park is not helping matters!" said Alonna.

 

Amelian stepped back from the door. It seemed to only need a gentle nudge for it continued to open. Beyond the door, as it slowly came into view, was darkness.

 

"Is it a room?" asked Lorren.

 

"Wait until the door is completely open," said Amelian.

 

The door slowly came to a halt, and then there was a spark of light. This coupled by a few more flashes and then the whole doorway lit up in a burst of colour. The group shielded their eyes as they got used to sudden change.

 

"That's a portal," said Amelian.

 

"A portal?" asked Jenise.

 

"A portal to where?" asked Lorren.

 

"Wait, were portals in our original contract?" asked Alonna.

 

Amelian looked at Alonna. She was about to give a visible sigh but thought against it.

 

"Originally, no. You are correct, we only discussed the exploration of this barrow. So far, it ended up being on long tunnel to this portal. There were no side passageways, no chests filled with treasure, and no life other than a defenceless and victimized rat. As of now, your contract with me is technically over," said Amelian.

 

"Whew! I don't like portals," said Alonna.

 

"What are you going to do now," asked Kariss.

 

"Well, I'm going to go through the portal. I can extend your contract to include the portal. Normally, the contract for adventuring is about seven scrolls, with a few appendices to cover events like portals, the netherworld, the spirit world and a few other dimensions we don't talk about, but I didn't have the foresight or space to include all that," said Amelian.

 

"So the adventure continues with the portal, and any goods and treasures we find is still split evenly, right?" asked Lorren.

 

"Yes," said Amelian.

 

"Can I think on this?" asked Alonna.

 

"What do you need to think on?" asked Lorren.

 

Alonna smiled at the rest of the group as her hand shot up and pulled Lorren closer. She hissed in his ear, "Who goes through that portal first, huh? It's the person in front. That's me! Do we know this is a portal. How do we know that? Maybe it's just some sick way to dispose of dead bodies. Did you think of that? Why are you so anxious to jump through the first magical bright light you see?"

 

Lorren looked up at Amelian and gave her a reassuring smile. Alonna roughly yanked him down again.

 

"I want to think before we act for once. I want us to assess the situation and maybe Kariss can analyze that swirling, hypnotic, light of death and we can better prepare ourselves for whatever horrors would meet us on the other side. Ok? Can we just do something with a little more thought for once?" asked Alonna.

 

Lorren removed himself from the iron grip of Alonna, with a bit of difficulty.

 

"Amelian," said Lorren.

 

"Yes?"

 

"Alonna wants to go through first."

 

"I DO NOT!" said Alonna.

 

"Well, thanks, Alonna," said Amelian, "However, that honour goes to me. I'm the one that started this journey, after all, and I assume that going through a portal carries with it some risk."

 

"Some?!" said Alonna.

 

"I do not sense that we are in any danger with this portal. Kariss, do you have any opinion on it?" asked Amelian.

 

"Portals teleport you elsewhere," said Kariss.

 

"Thank you. For that. Yes," said Amelian.

 

"Portals are no longer used as a vehicle of transportation though. Most of them throughout the land have been shut down. Where would this lead?" asked Jenise.

 

"I don't know, that's why I wish to go through," said Amelian.

 

"Wait, what if there is no other doorway. What if we jump in and get caught in some netherworld of nothing for all of eternity?" asked Alonna.

 

"Portals don't turn on without its linked pair. This portal goes somewhere," said Amelian.

 

"I'm in," said Lorren.

 

"So am I," said Jenise.

 

"I have no where else to be," said Kariss.

 

"..."

 

The party turned towards Alonna. She was staring at the portal. It looked more menacing than the bear she was definitely not afraid of since it only startled her and nothing more.

 

"Of course! I'm totally in for adventure. Excitement. I love exploring. Of course.. I'll... I'm... not one to be the only one keeping anything or anyone back..."

 

"She's in," said Lorren.

 

"Let me finish!" said Alonna.

 

They looked at her patiently. Alonna cleared her throat and gave a brave smile. "Lead on, oh fearless leader."

 

Amelian gave a short nod of her head, and stepped into the light.

 

Chapter 12

Jenise found herself waking from a dream, but she was standing up. She couldn't remember her dream. She vaguely remembered something about a dilapidated house. But that post-slumber confusion had taken her and she wasn't too sure where she was. Was she still at the house? Did she have responsibilities she was forgetting at the house. Why was she standing and why did this place not seem like the house.

 

Noises eventually hit her. They were loud noises. There were roars, there was yelling, there was battle. She focused on her surroundings.

 

She covered her mouth to stifle a yell.

 

The largest most foul beast was trying to kill Amelia. It had four legs, hairy with spines, and long appendages protruding from it's back like spider legs. It's head was like a snake, but instead of eyes there was nothing but a large spiked mouth. She looked around, they were in some type of light forest. The monster was as tall as the trees there. Beyond it, she could see a lake.

 

Amelian was doing her best to take the beast down, avoiding the spider appendages while shooting multiple arrows at the thing. Kariss was trying different spells on the creature, from fireballs, to magic missiles, to ice shards, but it was having very little effect on it too. Alonna was battling the creature, and she was the more effective one for her sword seemed to cause wounds on the creatures legs.

 

But the legs were massive and Alonna had to do her best to keep from being trampled underneath.

 

Where was Lorren? She spotted a cloak figure on the ground. He was struggling, trying to get up. Was he injured? Did he get hit? What was wrong with him?

 

The beast started to close in on Lorren, and Alonna rushed in and with all her might shoved Lorren out of the way. Lorren was pushed back about twenty feet, and Alonna rolled as a large foot came down. She quickly got to her feet and sliced at the foot where purple goo started to ooze.

 

The beast roared and began to stab the fighter with its spider legs but Alonna either dodged or deflected with her sword. She couldn't seem to slice them off though, and they seemed as hard as steel.

 

Jenise reached into the pockets unknown to most people that weren't thieves and pulled out some vials. She doused some daggers with them and then charged in.

 

She could see any eyes on the creature. Nothing indicated that it had any sense of sight. This was a pity, eyes were very susceptible to piercings. The next place would have to be the belly.

 

Jenise ran in, dodging black appendages as they tried to stab her. They weren't flexible, and a bit easy to figure out where they were going to thrust into the ground, but they were rather quick and she had to make sure that she didn't run into anything else.

 

Strangely enough, she trained for this. There were many hours of dodging multiple arrows, and spears, and boulders and columns in preparation for any trap she couldn't spring successfully.

 

One small roll and she was underneath the creature's body. She slashed upwards, making small 'x' marks as she ran along the length of it's torso. She could hear the creature roar in agony again, and she jumped out of the way of thrashing tail.

 

As she cleared the range of the monster, she could see that her poisons had little effect. The monster was still in a frenzied state of attacking, and Kariss had stopped casting spells on the monster and began with more defensive ones to help the weary warriors.

 

She looked over to see Lorren had finally stood up, but he was resting against a rock. He didn't look injured, but his countenance was quite haggard. She was about thirty feet away from him, but he could see his face. He was sweating like he had been running a marathon, and his mouth was open, drooling even. Bags were threatening to drag his eyeballs down. He was not doing well.

 

She ran to him, thinking a poison had infected his system. His eyes caught hers and he just stood and waited.

 

"Are you poisoned? What happened," asked Jenise.

 

"Hold me," said Lorren in a whisper.

 

"Excuse me?" asked Jenise.

 

"Up. Hold me up," said Lorren.

 

Jenise didn't argue and she braced Lorren as he tried to stand on two legs. She was about a foot shorter than he was, so it took a lot of effort but she managed. She hoped that the monster would not come any closer because she could not see anything past Lorren's body.

 

Lorren began to chant, and his arms moved in a circle. They looked tired, but he kept circling them. She could see a shimmer form.

 

Was he going to heal someone? What was he doing.

 

The chanting got louder, and a ray of light appeared above the monster. The creature paused, as it sensed the light. The rays slowly turned different colours, settling on a dark purple. It got brighter and more brilliant.

 

Lorren kept chanting. His voice got softer as the light intensified. The monster had stopped thrashing. It was screaming though. Screaming as if in the utmost of pain.

 

Amelian had withdrawn, as did Alonna. They didn't want to get caught in whatever light Lorren had conjured up.

 

"What's he doing?" asked Jenise when Kariss came close.

 

"I don't know," said Kariss.

 

They continued to watch.

 

The beast had stopped screaming, and then it lay down. It's snake like head curled in and rested on it's front legs as if to sleep.

 

The light intensified again, and then Lorren stopped.

 

"WOW! AH man, that was AWFUL!" he yelled.

 

"What?" asked Amelian.

 

"What did you do?" asked Alonna.

 

"You aren't tired? After that display of strange power, you aren't exhausted?" asked Jenise.

 

"She's here," he said as he walked towards the monster.

 

"Wait, what did you do? What's wrong with that thing. It's not dead, it' just lying there," said Amelian.

 

"Dei's here," said Lorren.

 

"Dei? Who's Dei?" asked Amelian.

 

"That's his shade elf," said Jenise.

 

"She's not MINE! I don't want her! Uh... no offense, Dei!" he shouted to the general area.

 

The monster gave one final breath, and then lay completely still.

 

"It's dead. I no longer sense life from it. You killed it," said Amelian.

 

"Don't tell me you wanted that thing alive too!" said Lorren.

 

"No! How did you kill it? What did you do?' asked Amelian.

 

Kariss stood there, her mind working out the logistics.

 

"Lorren eluded to the emotional effect that Dei had on him," said Kariss. "If she is here, maybe her power was stronger. Magic can be fuelled by how we feel, thus the size of that fireball I had conjured up a few days ago."

 

"I'm shocked it wasn't larger," said Lorren.

 

"Clerics work by transference. They transfer health, they transfer peace of mind, they transfer tranquility. I didn't realize, you could transfer negative emotions," said Kariss.

 

"You wouldn't believe the amount of negative emotion that hit me when I teleported over. I couldn't control myself, it was over powering. It took every effort to stand and cast that spell. And I channelled all the sadness I could into that thing," said Lorren.

 

"Wait, you depressed it to death?" asked Alonna.

 

"Pretty much," said Lorren.

 

"What is that thing?" asked Jenise.

 

No one said anything. No one knew.

 

"Maybe this is the start of some new age of darkness. Maybe portals have been opening up, sending demons from the dark dimensions to devour our land and steal our children. This is it. This is what we have been training for. And am I ready? I don't think I'm ready. I didn't do barely any damage to that thing. If that's just the first wave of creatures what will the higher level ones be like? We're not going to survive. There's no way we're qualified to take this on!"

 

"Alonna! Look at me!" said Amelian.

 

Alonna looked at Amelian with a brave look as she could possibly muster. Lorren tried not to snort and be insensitive.

 

"You were good out there, Alonna. You were brave, you did what you could, you did not run away. I have been in battles where warriors much more experienced ran at the sight of things that came no where close to what we just encountered. You did good, Alonna, and I don't what you sabotaging it now with your self doubt. Understand?" said Amelian.

 

"Yes, Amelian. Thank you," said Alonna.

 

"Now what?" asked Kariss.

 

"Now we loot the corpse!" said Lorren as he ran to the creature.

 

He examined the spider appendages, tried to lift a leg and fail. He prodded at the snake head with his mace.

 

"Still nothing!" said Lorren.

 

He went over to the monsters tail and was about to move it, but then thought better of poking around there. He tried to look underneath the monster, but it was too heavy to lift.

 

"This is hard. Lonpons! I need you!" yelled Lorren.

 

"What for?" asked Alonna.

 

"We need to cut it up. You know I don't have bladed weapons!" said Lorren.

 

"I am not slicing through that with my sword," said Alonna.

 

"Monsters eat adventurers! Maybe it has treasure inside of it!" said Lorren.

 

"There haven't been any adventurers in hundreds of years, remember?" said Amelian.

 

Lorren sighed, gave the monster one last kick, and then walked towards them.

 

"Does anyone know how we're going to get back?" asked Jenise.

 

They all turned to the portal which was not there.

 

"Oh great, there's no portal. We're stuck here and we don't even know where here is. Where are we? What if we're a million miles away from home?" asked Alonna.

 

"And if we were, what do you care? You were complaining the whole time we were in the city," said Lorren.

 

"But that city was our home! I wonder if I left the burner on. I probably left the burner on," said Alonna.

 

"Well, when a thief is on a mission, it doesn't matter how long they're gone for. No matter for me," said Jenise.

 

"I have no where to be," said Kariss.

 

"Don't you have classes to teach?" asked Amelian.

 

"Meh," said Kariss.

 

"Well, it's still day, so we should try and get our bearings. Strangely enough, I don't know where we are," said Amelian.

 

"I never know where I am," said Lorren.

 

"We could climb that ridge there, and then maybe we can get a better look at the land," said Jenise.

 

"Good enough for me, let's go. Maybe we can find a village, get some supplies, and start our way home," said Amelian.

 

Alonna looked at them all. They were all so calm about being in some unknown part of the land. They were lost. They could die. They could be eaten. Why were they so tranquil about this.

 

"We're adventurers, Lonpons. This is what we do," said Lorren.

 

"What are you talking about?" asked Alonna.

 

"Your face. It had this look of horror on it. You don't understand how we're so calm about this all," said Lorren.

 

"I was NOT thinking about that. I was worried about leaving the burner on!" said Alonna.

 

"Sure you were. Come, let's go. There's plenty more adventuring we have to do."

 

Alonna stewed to herself. She didn't mind being so transparent, but did Lorren have to be so smug about it?

 

Chapter 13

From the vantage of the ridge, they could see for miles. Behind them, towards the sun, was a vast valley filled with more trees, some forest, and far off in the distance a mountain range.

 

In the opposite direction was where the woods petered out and a vast plain stretched out before them. In the distance, they could see a large city. It looked about a three day journey from where they were.

 

"What city is that?" asked Jenise.

 

"I don't know," said Amelian.

 

"Neither do I," said Kariss.

 

"Where are we? How can there be a city we don't know about," said Lorren.

 

"Well, I'm sure there are a few cities we don't know about. However, a city so large would be a difficult one not to place," said Amelian.

 

"Lonpons, you like geography, don't you? What city is that?" asked Lorren.

 

"I don't like geography. I don't know. I haven't even left my city, remember?" said Alonna.

 

"Well, you're a lot of help," said Lorren.

 

"Shut up."

 

"We should get started. We want to make it to that city so we can figure out how long we are from home," said Amelian as she started walking down the ridge.

 

"I knew it. We're probably on a different continent. Probably across the sea, or the ocean! We're in some foreign land, and they probably don't have humans on this land. Maybe the whole land is populated with those spider snake monsters, and we just killed their leader," said Alonna.

 

"Why would their leader be all alone out here and not carrying any treasure for us to loot?" asked Lorren.

 

"How are you not worried about the other monsters around here? I don't even know what that last monster was! And it was near impossible to kill if it weren't for Lorren projecting the sad on it!" said Alonna.

 

"Are you going to complain the whole way?" asked Kariss.

 

"She hasn't shown any deviance to the pattern so far, has she?" asked Lorren.

 

"Shut up! Look, maybe you guys are all ok with absolutely no plan, but I'm not," said Alonna.

 

"If there is a portal all the way here, there must be a portal back. That's why I want to go to the city. Maybe they would know if there is a portal of some type back," said Amelian.

 

"But most of the portals have been shut down, remember? Can't we go find an elvish enclave somewhere? I noticed all those forests," said Jenise.

 

"I didn't sense any elvish presence there," said Amelian. She did not let on that this concerned her. There were elves everywhere. If there were no elves in the forest, and it was a huge forest, where were they? Why did they abandon that forest? Did something else move in that was too powerful for them to handle? She stopped thinking about it.

 

They walked for a few hours along the ridge until it met with the grassy lands of the plain. A few rocky outcrops dotted the landscape but other than that, there were no other features save for the mountains in the distance and the city which beckoned in the distance.

 

Jenise was concerned. She wasn't that concerned being trapped in an unknown land, the city was in walking distance and she trusted her companions. She wasn't concerned about survival, they seemed more than capable to survive in the wild land. She may have been a bit concerned about monsters, but none had shown their head. Not even birds.

 

No, she was concerned because she did not recognize the plants. There weren't many plants on the plains, but the ones she saw she wasn't familiar with. She considered herself to be well studied in poisons and antidotes, and a lot of that was knowledge of the plants. She was not only familiar with plants local to her home town, but exotic ones. Especially exotic ones. Some of the best poisons were from far away lands. But none of the plants she had seen were ones she knew about. Maybe they were just normal, ordinary plants, and had no special properties that would have warranted further study. However, it still unnerved her. Not knowing a particular plant was almost a challenge to her intellect.

 

She caught up to Amelian, who was walking at the front of the party.

 

"Amelian, a word?" asked Jenise.

 

"Sure," said Amelian.

 

"I don't recognize the fauna in these lands," said Jenise.

 

"Neither do I," said Amelian.

 

"This concerns me a bit," said Jenise.

 

"As it does me," said Amelian.

 

Jenise nodded. She looked at Amelians face, which gave away nothing. She could not read her at all.

 

"You guys are worried about gardening?" asked Lorren.

 

"Surviving requires a lot of knowledge of plants you can use and plants you can avoid," said Amelian.

 

"And none of these plants are familiar?" asked Lorren.

 

"No. Kariss, do you have an extensive knowledge about plants?" asked Amelian.

 

"I'm not well versed in potions, which utilizies a lot of reagents . I know the basics but not enough to have any confidence in botany. I am unfamiliar with the plants I've seen so far," said Kariss.

 

"And your knowledge?" asked Amelian to Jenise.

 

"I have studied a number of exotic plants. None of them look like the ones I've seen here," said Jenise.

 

"We're having this long of a discussion on plants?" asked Lorren.

 

"Shut up," said Alonna.

 

"Oh, speaking of leaves and things you wrap in them, wouldn't this be a good place to bury an animal?" asked Lorren.

 

"No," said Amelian.

 

"No?" asked Lorren.

 

"I don't know where we are. I don't want to bury the rat in an unknown land," said Amelian.

 

"It's a rat," said Kariss.

 

"That deserved a better fate than what we afforded it! We will find this rat a home!" said Amelian.

 

"It's dead," said Kariss.

 

"I will bury it when I find the right place! I forest glade, where it's spirit can be set free!"

 

"Rats have a spirit?" asked Alonna.

 

"All living creatures have a spirit! I want it to rejoin with its family," said Amelian.

 

"I don't care what you do with it. But if you start to smell, I'm not bunking near you," said Lorren.

 

"No one bunks near you, Mr. I-Scream-At-Night. Remember? Couple that with your snoring, you are the worst man to be with in bed," said Alonna.

 

"Interesting choice of words," said Kariss.

 

"She has a thing for me," said Lorren.

 

"I DO NOT!" said Alonna.

 

Lorren started to laugh. Amelian held up her hand, but she kept walking.

 

"Aw come on, it's funny," said Lorren.

 

"No, we are being watched," said Amelian.

 

"How do you know these things? Even I haven't spotted anything. How many are there?" said Jenise.

 

"About a dozen," said Amelian.

 

"Whoa. Can we take them?" asked Lorren.

 

"Well, can you make them all sad again?" asked Amelian.

 

"No, I don' t think so. When I first crossed the portal, the well of emotion was overpowering, but once I released it, I was feeling much better. It's not as intense as it was," said Lorren.

 

"So that's one powerful advantage we no longer have," said Amelian.

 

"I could make them morbidly melancholy, but that's about it," said Lorren.

 

"Where could the attack us? It's hard to take us by surprise out here," said Alonna.

 

"They can surround us," said Kariss.

 

"Let's pick up the pace. Keep your eyes out for any kinda of escape," said Amelian.

 

"Escape? Where would we escape to?" asked Lorren as looked all around.

 

Amelian started to run.

 

"Now that's not fair. She's taller, has longer legs, and she's not wearing chainmail!" said Alonna as she tried to keep up.

 

"It's not easy running in a long robe either," said Kariss.

 

"It's at least lighter," said Alonna.

 

"I just don't like running period. And of course Jenise would be able to keep up," said Lorren as he saw the two girls making good time ahead of him.

 

"Wait up!" cried Alonna.

 

They ran across the field, their eyes keeping a look out for any thing that may wish them dead, and any escape from their current situation. The sun was going down and the first glimmers of twilight began to dot the sky.

 

"Sun's almost down," said Alonna.

 

"I think the elf can figure that out," said Lorren. He was running out of breath.

 

They kept the pace up for another fifteen minutes but it was getting a bit much for the three stumbling behind. In the distance, they could hear a rustling.

 

Amelian suddenly stopped. The rest of the company caught up, breathing heavy. Lorren sat on the ground.

 

"They are almost upon us. There's no point in running and tiring ourselves out," said Amelian.

 

"Too late," gasped Lorren.

 

They stood there, gathering their strength as the sun slowly lowered on the horizon. Amelian had her bow out. Jenise had her daggers. Alonna was leaning on her sword. The rustling sound was getting louder, and they could also here some type of chittering. It came from all around them.

 

Jenise's eyes darted back across the plain. She thought caught signs of something, but they would dart in her periphery and then disappear. She wondered if Amelian saw anything. Elves had night vision.

 

The rustling and chittering were almost to a point of comically loud, but then from the ground sprung some large creatures, gangly creatures that resembled insects.

 

The party tensed up, waiting. They were completely surrounded by this chittering mass.

 

"Why is nothing familiar?" grumbled Amelian under her breath. The creatures stood almost eight feet tall and were a dark brown in colour. They had mandibles and huge eyes very similar to that of a fly. They had on some type of thick armour, although it was difficult to tell if this was worn or part of their body. They held spears and we're pointing it at them.

 

They swayed back and forth, the spears bobbing with them. No one said a word, but the chittering and rustling was still there.

 

"Are they talking now?" asked Jenise.

 

"I don't know," said Amelian. She cleared her throat, "We just seek passage through your land. We have no quarrel with you."

 

"Does that work ever?" asked Lorren.

 

"Shut it," squeaked Alonna.

 

"Maybe they're peaceful," said Jenise.

 

"And those are just very sharp peace sticks," said Lorren.

 

"Please, we just wish safe passage. We have nothing of value," said Amelian again.

 

The bugs did not seem to pay any heed to their pleas and continued to sway back and forth.

 

"That's a bit hypnotic," said Jenise.

 

They stood there, bugs and humanoids, waiting for something to happen. Nothing did.

 

"I think I have to go to the bathroom," said Lorren after about fifteen minutes.

 

"They may see that as an act of agression," said Alonna.

 

"What do we do?" asked Jenise.

 

"I'm not too sure. They aren't saying anything, they haven't made any move. They don't seem to want anything from us," said Amelian.

 

"They could be communicating with all that background noise," said Alonna.

 

"I've tried a few spells of understanding. I got nothing," said Kariss.

 

They continued to watch the bugs as they swayed and chittered. It continued for another fifteen minutes.

 

"Ok, I no longer think I need to go to the bathroom. I now know," said Lorren.

 

"Then go, it's not like it will make a difference to your smell," said Alonna.

 

"Ha ha, aren't you funny when panicked," said Lorren.

 

"I'm not panicking!" said Alonna.

 

"You totally are! Look at you!" said Lorren.

 

"This is a fighting stance!" said Alonna.

 

"Your eyes say panic," said Lorren.

 

"My eyes say I'm prepared," said Alonna.

 

"Prepared for panicking," said Lorren.

 

"I think they grew in number," said Amelian.

 

She was right. Behind the initial group of bug people was a smaller contingent of bug people and it slowly started to grow.

 

"Maybe they are just waiting for a performance and they're wonder what's taking us so long," said Jenise.

 

"I should have brought my lute," said Amelian.

 

The rustling and chittering were at a deafening noise now. The party could not tell from their vantage point how many bug creatures there were.

 

"This isn't going to end well. This isn't going to end well," said Alonna under her breath.

 

Lorren sat on the ground.

 

"What are you doing?" asked Alonna.

 

"I'm sitting. I'm tired, ok? And I have to go to the bathroom," said Lorren.

 

"They could attack us any minute," said Alonna.

 

"Yes, they could. Until then, I want to rest," said Lorren.

 

"What if this their tactic?" said Alonna.

 

"What, they are going to wait until we get tired and then attack? They have about fifty spears pointing at us. I think they could gut us whether we're sitting or standing," said Lorren.

 

It was night now. The sun had disappeared and the moon filled the night sky. Two moons, in fact.

 

"There are two moons," said Jenise.

 

"I noticed that," said Amelian.

 

"That means we're not in Kansas anymore," said Lorren.

 

"What?" asked Alonna.

 

"We're not in our own world," said Kariss.

 

"Could you guys turn around, I really need to go," said Lorren.

 

"LORREN!" said Alonna.

 

A droning filled the air. The bugs began to sway quicker.

 

"Great, you antagonized them," said Lorren.

 

Jenise looked up towards one of the moons. A dark shape was flying towards them, with a number of smaller shapes escorting it. It looked to be a much larger version of the bugs that were surrounding them, and it had large wings.

 

"This is looking grim," said Amelian.

 

"I think that's their mom," said Lorren said as he stood up.

 

"I'm glad you're willing to join us," said Alonna.

 

"Hey, that's a long time to be standing tense. You are going to get a cramp if you don't relax," said Lorren.

 

"Shut up," said Alonna.

 

"Would you both shut up?" asked Kariss.

 

"I can't believe we waited almost an hour just so that slowest bug on the planet could come and meet us," said Lorren but no one could hear him.

 

The newest arrival was huge and was almost upon them. It's shadow blocked the light of one of the moons and the noise from its wings completely drowned out any banter that Lorren and Alonna wished to have.

 

The other insects that were surrounding them began to hover. They slowly rose to form an interlocking dome that completely enclosed the party of five. At the top of the dome, the larger creature covered the top.

 

The droning was intense. Four lights glowed underneath the beast, illuminating the adventurers. From the under belly came tendrils that slowly lowered on them.

 

Amelian pulled the other party closer to them.

 

"Now's a good a time as any," she said.

 

Kari spun and a ring of fire ignited the grass around them. She waved her arms and a gust of wind spread it to the insects around them.

 

The chittering and rustling got deafening and they launched their spears at the group, but a shimmering dome protected them from the flames and the wind.

 

The wind turned into a gale and mixed with the fire it spread out. The insects started to squeal and tried their best effort to escape. The flames grew higher and the tendrils from the large flying insect got singed. It made a noise that echoed through the plain and tried to make its escape.

 

Amelian started to lay her arrows into it, and as each landed true, the creature shuddered. Before long, it started to descend. Other insects came to its rescue, but most of them were on fire and as they got closer to the large beast, it too started to be engulfed in flames.

 

Before long, the insects were all but gone and the ground was black from burnt grass. Carcasses of cooked bugs littered the ground and a few feet away was the giant, blackened husk of the parent insect.

 

"What's that smell? Don't tell me you did what I think you did," said Alonna.

 

"I'm not telling you anything," said Lorren.

 

"I just wanted a smoke diversion! I just wanted smoke! What was that?" asked Amelian.

 

"And if smoke didn't work, we would have had to fight off a hundred of these bugs! This got rid of them a lot quicker," said Kariss.

 

"And totally destroy the ecosystem! I'm glad the flames petered out but you destroyed half the plain in doing so! And we don't know who those bugs were. We didn't have to kill them all!"

 

"You were killing it with your poisoned arrows!" said Kariss.

 

"I was putting it out of its misery! You heard it! You saw it! It wasn't going to escape your pyrotechnic display of death! I got Jenise to give me some sleeping poison to ease the pain of burning!" said Amelian.

 

"Is it weird that every time we come against an encounter, we have to justify defending ourselves," said Lorren.

 

Alonna went up to one of the bugs that was on the ground. She poked at it with her sword. It was dead. It's hard shell was the only thing left. She stabbed at it a couple more times.

 

"Good grief. What are these creatures made of?" said Alonna.

 

Lorren walked to one and bashed the shell with his mace. It didn't break. He bashed it as hard as he could. The shells didn't shatter or break.

 

"They would have been impossible to fight," said Jenise.

 

"Since when were you able to do a protection field like that," asked Alonna to Lorren.

 

"Since I came into this world. Dei is here. She's siphoning things through me," said Lorren.

 

"Convenient," said Alonna.

 

"Not really. I need to release her emotional energy. If I don't, it builds up," said Lorren.

 

"That is the weirdest source of power I have ever encountered," said Kariss.

 

"Guys, we need to prepare ourselves. We should take as many shells with us," said Amelian.

 

"We're not going to bury them, are we?" asked Lorren.

 

"No. These bugs, and the mother bug, may be very valuable. We should take what we can to the city. If we're in a new world, then we have no money and nothing we can barter with," said Amelian.

 

"We could make a sled, maybe, and just drag them with us," said Jenise.

 

"Yay, bug caracasses," said Alonna.

 

"You're scared of bugs too?" asked Lorren.

 

"Shut up!"

 

Chapter 14

The party wanted to rest for the night, but the didn't feel comfortable doing it on a field of burnt bodies, so they decided to walk for a few more hours. They were able to put a number of the bug shells on the larger mother insect. They were incredibly light, weighing almost nothing. Even with the larger shell laden with a number of the smaller ones, Amelian found that she could pull it on her own once she had tied some rope to it. It was pretty incredible.

 

As they journeyed, for the most part, they remained quiet. Even Lorren didn't have anything to say.

 

Jenise felt a bit shaken. She hadn't expected this. In fact, no one had expected this. She had just been involved in two fights within one day, against impossible creatures, and they escaped only because of pure luck on their part. She was overwhelmed, but she didn't know how to express it. Should she talk to them about it? Was she the weak link? That was her biggest concern. Was she useless on this journey? Was she dead weight?

 

She wasn't strong. She could not win in a melee battle. She was quick, but she didn't have great range weapons like Amelian did. She didn't have any magic skills, and with a cleric in the party, she wouldn't need to cure anyone of poisons. She felt useless, and she wondered if the others were thinking it was a mistake to have her along.

 

When it came to experience, it seemed Kariss and Amelian had it all covered. For the most part, she felt scared, clueless, and out of place. Would they leave her to die if she became injured? Do they want her to die?

 

"Pretty sombre bunch tonight," said Lorren.

 

No one said a word.

 

"Amelian, you have to know something about humans. They are beings of intense insecurity. Almost all actions on a human's part that don't seem to make sense is basically a coverup for some insecurity," said Lorren.

 

Jenise looked at Lorren. How did he know? Was it showing on her face?

 

"Let's take a look at our intrepid fighter. She currently feels useless and inadequate," said Lorren.

 

"What? I do not!" said Alonna.

 

"Yes you do," said Lorren.

 

"I'm fine!" said Alonna.

 

"Lonpons is a competent fighter," said Lorren. "You saw her against the snake beast earlier. She did not run away, she attacked the legs and did her best to lead the creature away from the range fighters. When Jenise went in to attack the weak spots, Alonna once again got the attention of the beast to keep it from trampling our thief. When the show is on, Lonpons will be there 200% and will not let you down. That's why I stick by her. She's reliable, she's good at what she does, and she's a competent fighter."

 

"I saw that myself," said Amelian.

 

"But no amount of accomplishment will convince her. Right now, against those bug things, she didn't do as much. She couldn't do as much. It was a game of waiting, and if there's one thing Lonpons hates, it's waiting. So here she was, completely aware that she could do nothing against a hoard of bug beast, and once she realized how strong their armour was, it sunk in that her effectiveness would have been next to nothing," said Lorren.

 

"It's true!" said Alonna.

 

"And in the past hour, she's been worried about this. Is she useful to the party? Against the spider beast, she did no damage, what was the point of a fighter that can't take down a large beast? Against the bug creatures, she was just one fighter against many. If she had been a magic user, she could have helped with protection spells, or range spells. Heck, if she were a thief, she could have provided poisons, or even healing balms. But right now, she is nothing but a 'useless' fighter and she feels like a burden to the group."

 

"I... don't think we should be talking about this," said Alonna.

 

"She's worried that you are having second thoughts about her, amelian. You know now that she gets anxious and scared. You know that we are in a world where we don't know anything, which only hightens Lonpons anxiety. She is worried you will want to leave her at the next city, or possibly abandon her to die if she gets injured," said Lorren.

 

Jenise was looking at Alonna. She had an angry look on her face, but she didn't counter anything Lorren said. Jenise felt a little relieved, she wasn't the only one thinking it.

 

"Humans are confusing people to discern. Alonna, is this true?" asked Amelian.

 

"The worst part is, he's smug about it. I hate his smuggy face of smugness," said Alonna.

 

"So he's correct in his assessment of you," said Amelian.

 

"He's always right. I hate that. He always thinks he knows me so well, and sometimes he DOESN'T know what I'm thinking. And then I get to wipe that smug look on his stupid smugpug face. But he's right. The stupid jerkface is right," said Alonna.

 

"And does that mean I need to encourage you more?" asked Amelian.

 

"No! I'm fine! I just need to get over myself, that's all. Look, I know I get a bit anxious about things, it's just what I do. But I get over myself, and as long as you don't pity me and give me a kick in the butt from time to time, then I'm good. Just... let me work on it in my own way, but don't let me stew. Does that make sense?" asked Alonna.

 

"Not really," said Amelian.

 

"Basically, I just laugh in her face," said Lorren.

 

"Thanks for that," said Alonna.

 

Amelian looked at Alonna. She had already retreated into her own thoughts and didn't look like she wanted to say anything else. Lorren was looking quite pleased with himself and even had a bounce in his step. Kariss still looked the exact same and Jenise was looking at the ground.

 

They walked for a few more minutes and Jenise walked up to Alonna.

 

"Hey, how are you?" asked Jenise.

 

"I'm fine. Sorry about that," said Alonna.

 

"Sorry about what?" asked Jenise.

 

"I'm sorry I worry so much. I know it must get you all down having to deal with someone who can't seem to deal with the most mundane things," said Alonna. She was looking a bit down.

 

"Don't be ridiculous. Alonna, I feel the same way," said Jenise.

 

"You do? But you are awesome! Did you see how you moved when going up against the snake monster? You were dodging all the spider legs, your blades went in and out . And no matter what the situation, you keep a calm demeanour, your blades are out, and you attack the situation without hesitation nor recklessness. Just seeing you makes me feel confident that we have a chance at this," said Alonna.

 

Jenise was a bit stunned by this. She didn't think of herself like that.

 

"Well, the thing is, Alonna, your pretty amazing yourself. Everything Lorren said about you was right. Look, this is new to all of us. Think of it. We were almost killed four times in the last few days. And now, we are stuck in a completely different world, fighting against creatures we don't know, and we are surviving! Is it strange that no one is freaking out by the fact we are no longer on the same planet? No one has even voiced the very real concern that we may not be able to get home ever."

 

"I'm fully aware of that fact. I'm trying not to panic over it," said Alonna.

 

"If I've learned anything in the last couple of days, we are survivors, and we work well together. We are rough around the edges, but we are surviving. And we all have a part in this. Lorren was right. Thanks, Lorren. You made me feel a bit better too," said Jenise.

 

"Oh. Uh. No problem," said Lorren.

 

"How is Dei?" asked Jenise.

 

"Quiet. It's night time, where it's worse. But that last release of raw emotion helped a lot," said Lorren.

 

"And you will still need to do that periodically," said Jenise.

 

"If I don't, it will cripple me," said Lorren.

 

"Well, I hope we have more encounters then," said Jenise.

 

"I don't," said Alonna.

 

"I think it's a good time for us to call it a night. Get some rest. We can start again early in the morning. We can get shelter against that outcrop" said Amelian as she pointed to it in the distance.

 

They made their way to it in silence, and Amelian position the sled of bug carcasses against one side of the outcrop. She hoped it look natural and wouldn't attract curious onlookers.

 

"It's warm enough here, I don't think we should light a fire. We don't know what else is out here, and the last thing we need is another fight," said Amelian.

 

"I can stay up for the first shift," said Lorren.

 

"Will that be safe, what with torrent of emotion that stirs within you?" asked Alonna.

 

"I'll be fine. It's when I'm sleeping when it gets worse. Besides, I think I'll be good for a while," said Lorren.

 

"I actually can use some rest. Just wake me when you get tired, Lorren," said Amelian.

 

"No, I'll take the next one after him," said Kariss.

 

"Sounds good. Let's try and get about five hours before we go again," said Amelian. She took out a small blanket and lay down by the sled. The rest took as much shelter they could within the shadow of the outcrop and they fell asleep.

 

-~=*=~-

 

Lorren stared at the two moons that hung in the sky. It was a strange sight. Neither of them were a full moon, but they were bright enough to illuminate the plains around him for as far as the eye could see.

 

There were copse of trees and rocky hills and outcrops that littered the land. Sometimes he wondered if he noticed movement, but he knew it was more a trick of the land.

 

He did not know what the shade elf did to him, but he was now sensitive to emotion. He could sense it. And he hated it.

 

A voice whispered in his head, the same voice that had been whispering for years but it seemed like decades. The problem was, he could not drown it out any more. He could not ignore it. In this land, it was far stronger.

 

"I shall come to you," she whispered.

 

"I don't think that's good," he said allowed. He did not mean to say it allowed. But by speaking, he could control what he wanted to say.

 

"You need my help," she said again.

 

"You can help me from where you are," said Lorren.

 

"I can help you more if I were present. I have skills," said Dei.

 

"I can barely control the emotions you send me as is, Dei," said Lorren.

 

"I can help," said Dei.

 

"Is this where all the shade elves go?" asked Lorren.

 

"Some of them. I have only met a few of them in this world. Most of them go mad though. They don't survive long as other elves," said Dei.

 

"Unless they can find an outlet," said Lorren.

 

"Unless they can find an outlet," said Dei.

 

"What is the city like?" asked Lorren.

 

"I don't know. I don't go near other humans," said Dei.

 

"So there are humans in that city?" asked Lorren.

 

"There are. They are numerous here, and there are many types. I stay away," said Dei.

 

"And the creatures we encountered?" asked Lorren.

 

"There are many more," said Dei.

 

"Will we be able to take them?" asked Lorren.

 

"Not without my help," said Dei.

 

"I don't know if that would be good for either of us," said Lorren.

 

"Your companions are listening. They don't understand you," said Dei.

 

"Who understands anyone?" asked Lorren.

 

"Are you talking to her?" asked Jenise. She had appeared beside Lorren and was sitting there still, like she had been there all along. Lorren still couldn't figure out how she did that.

 

"Hello, Jenise. I'm sorry, did I wake you? I was hoping I was quiet enough," said Lorren.

 

"When I so choose, I can sleep through anything, and be aware of everything," said Jenise.

 

"Yes, I guess a thief would need to be," said Lorren.

 

"Where is she?" asked Jenise.

 

"I don't know, and I don't wish to know. As long as she's not here," said Lorren.

 

"Why don't you wish her to come?" asked Jenise.

 

"I don't think that would be a good idea," said Lorren. His tone indicated he didn't wish to discuss it further.

 

Jenise sat there and looked at the two moons. There were no other sounds of the night. Not even any insects or wild animals. It was a very strange.

 

"Did she tell you anything about this place?" asked Jenise.

 

"The city we are going to has humans in it. I know that," said Lorren.

 

"That's helpful. Maybe we will be able to find our way home then," said Jenise.

 

"Do you have anyone to go home to?" asked Lorren.

 

"I'm married," said Jenise.

 

"You're married!" asked Lorren.

 

"I am," said Jenise.

 

"And you're here? What? How does your husband feel about that?" asked Lorren.

 

"Well, he works at the university. He's engrossed in his research. Besides, he knows what I do. Sometimes, some of our projects will keep us apart for months at a time. It's a bit hard, but you do get used to it," said Jenise.

 

"Is he a mage? I thought only mages work at the university," said Lorren.

 

"Well, he knows a bit of magic, but that's not his area of study. I'm not very sure what he studies, to be honest. It's all very academic and I start thinking about other things when he tries to explain it to me," laughed Jenise.

 

Lorren smiled and looked over the plains. He became lost in thought.

 

"And you?" asked Jenise.

 

Lorren stayed quiet for a long time. Jenise wondered if she asked the wrong question.

 

"It's hard to hold a relationship, when you are bound to another," said Lorren.

 

"Oh. Understood. Alonna doesn't seem to mind," said Jenise.

 

"Well, we're not together. We're good friends, but that's it," said Lorren.

 

"How did you two meet?" asked Jenise.

 

"She saved me," said Lorren.

 

"Saved you?" asked Jenise.

 

"Yes, I was stupid actually. I was in a tree and I fell out," said Lorren.

 

"Why were you in a tree?" asked Jenise.

 

"Because I was climbing it," said Lorren.

 

Jenise waited for more explanation. None came.

 

"Anyway, when I fell out, I broke my ankle. No worries, I started to heal it, but that's when a kobold attacked me," said Lorren.

 

"A kobold?" asked Jenise.

 

"Yes, I didn't know what it was doing there, but it attacked me, and I had to defend myself. However, my ankle was broken and so I couldn't move that much and the pain was intense. So I was rolling on the ground, trying to keep the kobold away. That's when Alonna came in and drove it away. We've been friends ever since," said Lorren.

 

"You guys are loud," came another voice.

 

"Hello Kariss," said Jenise.

 

"Kariss! You're awake! Are you going to join in our conversation?" asked Lorren.

 

"It's my shift now," said Kariss.

 

"Oh right. Has it been two hours already?" asked Lorren.

 

"Well, I can't sleep anyway," said Kariss.

 

"Anxiety keeping you awake?" asked Lorren.

 

"You're loud," said Kariss.

 

"Oh! I could whisper, if you want," said Lorren.

 

"Just go to bed. It's my shift," said Kariss.

 

"I feel bad though, if you it's not your time yet. I could keep you company!" said Lorren.

 

Kariss looked at Lorren. Jenise looked at Kariss. Lorren was looking at both of them and smiling.

 

"You know, we should get some sleep," said Jenise.

 

"I guess so. I'm tired anyway. If you get lonely, wake me up!" said Lorren.

 

"One option I am glad to have," said Kariss.

 

"Oh, and do the silence thing on me. I may have nightmares," said Lorren.

 

"You don't have to tell me twice," Kariss.

 

Chapter 15

Amelian woke up not in a damp sweat. Had she been human, she would have woken up drenched from head to toe. But she was not and body temperature was something she could control quite well. She did, however, have a nightmare. It involved a lute, a shade elf army, and rat genocide. This was not a very nice dream. She hoped whatever was happening with Lorren wasn't rubbing off on her.

 

It was still dark out, but it was time for them to head out. She noted Kariss standing a few feet away from her, still as a scarecrow. Amelian got up and walked over to her.

 

"How was the night?" asked Amelian.

 

"Quiet," said Kariss.

 

"That's good, isn't it?"

 

"Yes," said Kariss.

 

"Would you like something to eat. I have some bread if you like," said Amelian.

 

"Yes, please," said Kariss.

 

Amelian removed some bread from her pack and gave a small chunk to Kariss. She placed it in her mouth and chewed it slowly. She didn't look like she enjoyed it.

 

"You're not fond of elves, are you," asked Amelian.

 

"You're not fond of humans," said Kariss.

 

"Touche," said Amelian.

 

They chewed in silence as their eyes surveyed the landscape.

 

"The city is filled with humans," said Kariss.

 

"Oh?" asked Amelian.

 

"Lorren told that to Jenise, which I overheard," said Kariss.

 

"Lorren talks a lot to Jenise. I don't understand the nuances of human relationships, but is there something there, and will it be a problem for us?" asked Amelian.

 

"I don't understand the nuances of human relationships either. However, she is married. And he doesn't seem to be interested," said Kariss.

 

"That's good. Not that it's my business, but I worry about it affecting the party morale. You know how humans get when they're in love," said Amelian.

 

"They lose all manner of sense and start to do stupid things?' asked Kariss.

 

"Well, I wouldn't put it that way -"

 

"You should. Love is stupid," said Kariss.

 

"Right," Amelian.

 

"Love isn't stupid," said Jenise. She had appeared beside Amelian. Jenise was surprisingly good at that, even Amelian didn't notice her. It was almost creepy.

 

"Good morning, Jenise," said Amelian.

 

"Morning," said Kariss.

 

"Love is amazing," said Jenise.

 

"It is pointless," said Kariss.

 

"It makes life worth living," said Jenise.

 

"It complicates life," said Kariss.

 

"It brings joy!" said Jenise.

 

"It brings pain," said Kariss.

 

"All you need is love," said Jenise.

 

"A girl has got to eat," said Lorren.

 

"What?" asked Amelian.

 

"He always says stupid things like that," said Alonna.

 

The rest of the party had already woken up. The spell of silence had worn off on Lorren, much to Alonna's chagrin, but at least he wasn't flailing about trying to get their attention. They had lined up, the five of them, staring out towards the rising sun.

 

"Isn't that beautiful?" asked Jenise.

 

"It is," said Amelian.

 

"I can't believe we're up this early just to see the sunrise," said Lorren.

 

"You don't like sunrises?" asked Amelian.

 

"I like them just fine! I'd be more worried if it didn't rise. I just like sleep more. And breakfast! I wonder if there are any eggs on this planet!" said Lorren.

 

He looked around. No one was sure what he was looking for, considering no sign of any animal had appeared for hours, let alone an animal that could potentially lay eggs.

 

"If this world has no eggs on it, I'm blaming you, Lonpons," said Lorren.

 

"Why me?" asked Alonna.

 

"Because you were all scared of bugs," said Lorren.

 

"That doesn't even make sense," said Alonna.

 

"Yes, I'm getting that impression. I think if we're ready, we should get going. I have some bread for you if you like," said Amelian.

 

"Oh. Bread. To be fair, I do like the doughy taste. But it seems a bit lacking for a breakfast, don't you think?" asked Lorren.

 

"Just eat the bread," said Alonna.

 

"Shall we take turns pulling the bug carcasses?" asked Lorren.

 

"Sure. Will you take the next shift?" asked Amelian.

 

"I'm in! I wonder if there's a hill. I bet we could sled down it on the shell," said Lorren.

 

"That would end up badly," said Alonna.

 

"You suck all the fun out of life," said Lorren.

 

"It's called being responsible," said Alonna.

 

"The city looks to be a days journey away. I bet we could make it by nightfall if we increase our pace," said Amelian.

 

"And no one thinks of anyone wearing the metal armour," said Alonna.

 

"Look, if the bug shells are as good as we think it is, maybe we can get one fashioned for you," said Amelian.

 

"I don't know if I can wear someone else's skin," said Alonna.

 

"Don't worry, they don't need it anymore!" said Lorren.

 

"You know, let's just get going, I don't want to think about it," said Alonna.

 

The rest of them took this as a signal to pack up their stuff. Some finished off their bread and within a few minutes, they were making their way towards the city.

 

-~=*=~-

 

The heat was much more oppressive this day. Either that, or the pace was wearing on them a lot more than they thought. Alonna was cursing the fact that she didn't remove her armour, but she wasn't about to do that in a land filled with more monsters than she ever dreamed of. In fact, she slept in her armour, which didn't really amount to a good sleep.

 

Lorren was happily pulling the sled of insect shells. Sometimes he'd speed up. Sometimes he'd slow down. Every time, he'd let out a 'whee'. Alonna wondered if Kariss would cast another spell of silence on him, but she just kept to herself. Her wide hat covered most of the her face and provided some shade from the sun.

 

Jenise had walked up to Amelian and was involved in an animated talk about some elvish weaving pattern. Alonna wasn't too interested in this. She looked at Kariss. Should she try and talk to her? Kariss didn't look like the type who would invite such a thing.

 

Her only other option would be Lorren but that was an exercise in frustration and futility. She walked over to Kariss.

 

"Hey, Kariss," said Alonna.

 

"Hi," came Kariss's voice.

 

"How are you enjoying the adventure?" asked Alonna.

 

"It's hot," said Kariss.

 

"Yes. Very hot," said Alonna. This was going to be difficult.

 

"I've never met very many mages, you know," said Alonna.

 

"That's understandable," said Kariss.

 

"And they don't normally do the spells that you have demonstrated," said Alonna.

 

"No, we're usually not employed for battle," said Kariss.

 

"But you seem to be able to pull them off quite well," said Alonna.

 

"Practice," said Kariss.

 

"Practice?" asked Alonna.

 

"Yes," said Kariss.

 

Alonna walked along beside Kariss in uncomfortable silence. She almost went over to Lorren but this was still better than that. She decided to try again.

 

"Are you worried you can't go home?" asked Alonna.

 

"Not really," said Kariss.

 

"No? Don't you have family that would worry?" asked Alonna.

 

"No," said Kariss.

 

"Friends?" asked Alonna.

 

"No," said Kariss.

 

"No friends at all," said Alonna.

 

"Still no," said Kariss.

 

Alonna wondered about pushing this current line of thought. Every avenue of conversation she could think of seemed to end up at Awkward Street.

 

"Are there many female mages?" asked Alonna.

 

"There are about five or six, but not that many. There are almost forty professors employed at the university. Students, on the other hand, there are a lot more female mages now than there are male," said Kariss.

 

"Oh? That's surprising," said Alonna.

 

"Most men seem turned off at the discipline of higher learning. Plus, they don't like the dress code of only gowns," said Kariss.

 

"But imagine the power that comes with magic!" said Alonna.

 

"And imagine the responsibility and discipline that is also required to go with it. You heard the story I told earlier. Eighty percent of your classes are spent on disciplinary techniques," said Kariss.

 

"Like what?" asked Alonna.

 

"Like spending three hours staring at a blackboard covered in words. One of those words will change and you have to catch it. If you catch the word, then you pass that day. You do this for one hundred days. Every day you miss a word, you fail that day. If you have under eighty days, you fail the course," said Kariss.

 

"That sounds pretty, uh, dull," said Alonna.

 

"Furthermore are the finger exercises," said Kariss.

 

"Finger exercises?" asked Alonna.

 

"Gestures and signs are often used when casting a spell. There are devices which you can practice on, imagine it like a practice dummy that you use for sparring, except in our cases we rest our fingers on them. And then we practice forms of the hand. And we do that for two or three hours. We go through the same form, over and over and over again. Once we master that, we go on to the next form. However, we still need to keep up the practice of the other form. This goes on for years," said Kariss.

 

"Uh hunh," said Alonna.

 

"And then comes the memorization. There are passages amongst passages of spells we have to learn. There is no space for error," said Kariss.

 

"Oh, I get it. You utter one word out of place and you suddenly burn down a whole town," said Alonna.

 

"It's not so dramatic. The spell just doesn't work. Nothing happens. But magical energy is still drained. Furthermore, my students are morons," said Kariss.

 

"Uh... what?" asked Alonna.

 

"I teach history and spells. And all the students now are morons. They complain that I'm not teaching them the right spells because it doesn't work. And why doesn't it work? Because they don't practice. Because they don't enunciate. Because they forget MOST OF THE WORDS. You can't cast a spell by making up half the words. If that worked, then you'd get any half-wit accidentally turning sugar cubes into pig fat without even trying. No, magic is a precise and exact skill which requires discipline, intellect, knowledge and practice! You aren't some gifted savant that can will anything into existence you entitled piece of wasted brain matter," said Kariss.

 

"Right," said Alonna.

 

"How can I teach it wrong? There's only ONE way to do it. You either do it the RIGHT way, or it doesn't work! A spell isn't up to interpretation. That happens in the advanced classes once you start generating your own spells. But a fireball spell is always going to be a fireball spell. No, you don't utter extra words to add flare, it won't work then! Just SAY THE STUPID WORDS FOR A FIREBALL SPELL!"

 

"Makes sense," said Alonna.

 

Kariss had fallen silent. She didn't say anything else, but Alonna could tell she had worked her up. She opened her mouth to apologize, but Kariss interrupted, "So no. I am not worried about not going home."

 

"I can see that. Okaayyyyy. Well. I guess, I should get back to walking... over there. Maybe Lorren needs someone to tease. Yes. Yes, I see he is not too happy about not harassing someone. I better go help him," said Alonna. She tried to smile without looking awkward, which only intensified it.

 

She walked over to Lorren.

 

"You need help with that sled?" asked Alonna.

 

"Nah, I'm still good," said Lorren.

 

"You look tired," said Alonna.

 

"I'm fine," said Lorren.

 

"I'll take it off of you," said Alonna.

 

"If you're that keen on it. I was having fun. It's surprisingly light. I wonder how it responds to friction. I mean, if there was more weight on it, could we still carry a number of people on it? That would make sense, wouldn't it? If you had armour that was frictionless, wouldn't weapons and such bounce off of you even more?" asked Lorren.

 

"Maybe?"

 

"But then that'd be like walking on ice all day long. Imagine if you fell, and then you slid for like twenty feet! That'd be awesome. I have to try it!" said Lorren.

 

"I don't think Amelian would-"

 

However Lorren was off. He grabbed a shell from the sled and threw it on the ground. And then he kicked it. The shell glided for a bit and then came to a halt.

 

"These things are AWESOME!" he screamed. He then jumped on the shell, slid for a few feet, and then fell off.

 

"Ok, I admit I'm not that dextrous at these things," said Lorren.

 

Jenise saw Lorren fall and laughed. She grabbed the shell and jumped on it. Her sense of balance was much better and she skated across the grass.

 

"You can kick up a speed with this!" she yelled out.

 

"Aw man, she makes it look easy," said Lorren. He went back to the sled and grabbed another and threw it to the ground. He was a lot more tentative thist time. He still fell.

 

"This is hard! How are you doing that?" asked Lorren.

 

"Why, if you could carve this just right, you could get a pretty decent travelling device," said Jenise.

 

"I'm going to get this yet," said Lorren and he kept trying.

 

Amelian watched them in good humour. It looked like a lot of fun. She walked over to Alonna.

 

"Do you want to give it a try? I can pull the sled for a while," suggested Amelian.

 

"Oh no. I would just fall. I'm perfectly fine when counterbalanced with the swing of my sword. But put me on something like that, and I'm doomed," said Alonna.

 

"I don't think our mage would want to give it a try," said Amelian.

 

"No. I don't think she would," said Alonna.

 

-~=*=--

 

Lorren and Jenise had tired themselves out soon enough. Lorren because he was sore from falling, and Jenise because she was sore from yelling. They had returned their shells and continued walking towards the direction of the city. It was midday when they came up against another altercation.

 

There was a group of men standing a couple of hundred yards in the distance. They did not move. They did not advance. They simply waited for them.

 

"Seriously, how often do these encounters happen? I think we're averaing two a day. Is that fair?" asked Alonna.

 

"They didn't try to jump us. Maybe they are peaceful," said Jenise.

 

"You think everyone's peaceful," said Alonna.

 

"We may meet some peaceful people yet," said Jenise.

 

As they got closer to the group, they noticed something strange about them. They were all human, but they had different skin tones and facial features. One of them had a similar look to Lorren.

 

"Wait. What kind of humans are these? One of them looks like you!" said Alonna.

 

"I see that," said Lorren.

 

"And another one has dark skin, and another one has not as dark skin, and another one, normal human looking," said Alonna.

 

"How do you know I'm not a normal human and you guys are all freaks?" asked Lorren.

 

"Don't be silly. Why do they all look different. Are you from this world, Lorren?"

 

"I don't think so. But let's not stare and point, ok? They have big weapons, and they don't look very happy," said Lorren.

 

The party of five walked up the group of heavily armed men, which numbered the same as them. They were lightly armoured, and overly muscular. The one in front was dressed in black with a red sash around his waste. He had no visible weapons. He held up his hand and stated, "None shall pass."

 

Lorren looked around them. There was nothing that stopped them from simply going around the small group. They had, in fact, chosen to walk up to them. If they had veered slightly to the right, would the armed men shuffled to meet them? That was an amusing thought.

 

"This is rather an arbitrary place to have a check point. Is there no bridge or pathway you could have used instead?" asked Lorren.

 

"Shut up! Let Amelian speak," hiss Alonna.

 

"We just seek passage to the city. We do not wish any trouble," said Amelian.

 

"Honestly, I've never seen that statement work. It only invites it," whispered Lorren to Alonna.

 

"If you wish passage, you must pay the toll," said the man with the sash.

 

"How much is the toll?" asked Amelian.

 

"You're in luck. That supply of Chikayta Shells will do nicely," said the man.

 

"Oh, I bet those bugs were called Chikaytas," said Lorren.

 

Alonna ignored him.

 

"I honestly don't think that a whole supply of Chikayta shells is a fair price for a toll. We'd be happy to give you one," said Amelian.

 

"There's nothing stopping us from taking them though, is there?" asked the man again.

 

"I don't think they're peaceful anymore, Jenise," whispered Alonna.

 

Amelian stared at the man. She was getting impatient. It took a lot to make an elf impatient. And a lot was what they went through. It didn't help that some of her party members were loons.

 

"If we resist?" asked Amelian.

 

"A sign of agression? Well, I guess we'd just have to defend ourselves," laughed the man.

 

In a microsecond, Amelian armed her bow and let off an arrow towards the eye of the man before he could blink it. And he caught it with one hand.

 

"That was impressive. I guess we shall have spoils tonight," smiled the man in the sash. He turned to his mates, "Atta-"

 

His voice was cut off with a wet choke.

 

"You don't turn your back on a theif," said Jenise.

 

THe man in the sash went down as Jenise pulled to daggers from his back.

 

Amelian felt the crackle of magic and she turned to see Kariss spit out a spell. A blue glow engulfed them, and then time slowed slightly. The other men charged them but they were sluggish, as if the air was suddenly thicker.

 

Alonna took full advantage of this and charged in. She had been waiting for a chance to do something with her skills and her opponent's weapons were easy to parry in their slowed state. She stabbed one guy, lopped the arm off of another, and sliced at the knee of a third. The fourth had held back, his arms flailing as a red glow started to form above him.

 

Amelian had two arrows pierce his head within the second.

 

All the men were down, the fight was short and quick.

 

"Aw man. I didn't even get a chance to hit anyone. You were too fast, Alonna!" said Lorren.

 

"What was that, a Haste spell?" asked Alonna.

 

"The leader caught Amelian's arrow. I didn't want to risk the others being equally fast so I needed to even the odds a bit," said Kariss.

 

"Well, they weren't any trouble. I took them down in under ten seconds. That was amazing!" said Alonna.

 

"They weren't ordinary thugs, though. I don't know many assassins that can catch an arrow loosed by an elf," said Amelian as she stared at the group before them.

 

The leader and what may have been a magic user were dead. Another was mortally wounded, nearing death, and the other two were in shock now that one of their limbs had been severed.

 

Amelian went to the one who was missing an arm. He was about six foot, wore a simple cloth shirt and a skintone that was darker than Amelian had ever seen.

 

"Who are you?" she asked.

 

"Liss," said the man.

 

"Well, Liss. Why did you attack us?" she asked.

 

"You shot the arrow," said Liss.

 

"I could shoot another one. You don't need both eyes, do you?" asked Amelian as her bow pointed at Liss.

 

"Our elf isn't that fond of humans," said Lorren.

 

"That's an elf?" asked Liss. His eyes widened.

 

"That?" asked Amelian, her eyebrow cocked.

 

"Whoa, I've never seen her cock her eyebrow before. You, sir, have angered her," said Lorren.

 

"She's an elf?" asked Liss.

 

"Yes, I'm an elf. You can address me," said Amelian.

 

"You're an elf?" asked Liss again.

 

"I don't think he understands English," said Alonna.

 

The man's eyes darted from Amelian to Alonna and then back to Amelian again.

 

"What profession is your leader? Is he an assassin?" asked Amelian.

 

"You're asking these people what their career was? That's weird," said Lorren.

 

Liss looked at Amelian. His eyes were wide, he didn't answer.

 

"Hey, Liss. One, that's a strange name. Two, your leader. What profession was he?" asked Lorren.

 

Liss looked at Lorren. His features relaxed a bit, but he still looked tense.

 

"He had a red sash and a black uniform. He's a monk, obviously," said Liss.

 

"A monk?" asked Lorren.

 

"What's a monk?" asked Alonna.

 

"Yen was a monk. One of the best too. I do not know how your little friend was able to do what she did, but revenge will be had!" said Liss.

 

"Not by you folk," muttered Amelian.

 

"And the rest of you? What about you?" asked Lorren.

 

"I am not hear to answer questions!" said Liss.

 

"I can cut off more arms," said Alonna.

 

"A bit bloodthirsty now, aren't we?" asked Lorren.

 

"Well, I mean. If you need to intimidate him. I know how it works, the intimidation part. Why, I get intimidated all the time," said Alonna.

 

"Lonpons. Not... in front of the prisoners, ok? I'm trying to hold an interrogation," said Lorren.

 

He looked at Liss. The other man, the man stabbed in the stomach had lost consciousness. The man who was injured in the leg was crawling away, albeit very slowly.

 

Lorren raised his arms and started to chant again. A cold chill settled in the otherwise hot sunlight.

 

Liss froze. His eyes became wider and his face contorted into abject fear.

 

"Who are you," yelled Lorren.

 

"I am Liss Crelldon. I am a barbarian of the seventh level. I joined this current party for we are on a quest to rid this plain of the monsters that roam it. The man who was leading us was Yen. I do not know his last name. He was a monk of the Nulan Order. We think he has other motivations for this quest but as long as we get paid and get our share of the loot. We don't care. The Illusionist which the elf took down was Farstoon. He didn't say much and kept to himself."

 

"Seems to be a pattern amongst mages," said Amelian.

 

"The man crawling away was an assassin and the man that was stabbed a third level hunter. He was the least experienced of us all but we needed someone who had skills in tracking. We saw that you had a number of Chikayta shells and so Yen thought it would be fun to take it from you. He was wrong," babbled Liss.

 

"And why are you surprised I'm an elf," said Amelian.

 

"Because Elves are myths. They don't exist. And you don't look like the elves that the village folk whisper about. You have the strange ears, but you don't have the blue skin and the ghoulish face, the claws and the sharp teeth. Your hair isn't ragged and wild. I don't believe you are an elf," said Liss.

 

"Kill them," said Amelian.

 

"What?" asked Alonna.

 

"I'm kidding. Can you heal them?" asked Amelian.

 

"Well, not the dead ones. The other ones are no problem," said Lorren.

 

"Do it. We have a city to go to," said Amelian. She walked away from the men.

 

"I think she's upset," said Lorren to Alonna.

 

"And not at you. That's impressive," said Alonna.

 

Chapter 16

The group walked in silence towards the city. No one said anything, but there were many things that was wanting to be said. By about a half an hour of walking, Jenise couldn't stand it anymore and she walked up to Kariss.

 

"I'm scared to talk," said Jenise.

 

"Yes," said Kariss.

 

"But I have so many questions," said Jenise.

 

"So do I," said Kariss.

 

"Did you recognize any of the professions the men had?" asked Jenise.

 

"No," said Kariss.

 

"What's an illustionist?" asked Jenise.

 

"Someone that casts illusions?" asked Kariss.

 

"But why did the humans look so ... varied? The leader looked like Lorren too. Is Lorren from this world? And where are the elves? How could there be no elves? Did they go somewhere? And I didn't realize shade elves looked like that," said Jenise.

 

"They don't," said Lorren. He wasn't one to miss the chance of a conversation if one was happening.

 

"Shade elves are wild, dangerous and quite powerful. However, they keep to themselves and would not wish to be amongst humans. But if people caught a glimpse of them, I could understand the urban legends that would have arised from blue creatures of fear and anger. They emanate emotion, you know. And they usually emanate the bad ones," said Lorren.

 

"Did anyone else notice we seemed to ... jump the spear on the attacking thing?" asked Alonna.

 

"You're the one that cut down three men," said Lorren.

 

"Well, that was after Amelian shot an arrow at the monk! And then Jenise went and backstabbed him!" said Alonna.

 

"That was my first kill," said Jenise.

 

"Your first?" asked Alonna.

 

"Yes," said Jenise. She was holding her hands together. Alonna could see that she was shaking.

 

"That was a pretty impressive backstab," said Lorren.

 

"Mhmmm," said Jenise.

 

"Suddenly, you were there and your daggers were in him. I didn't even see you! And then suddenly... BAM! There's Jenise and her daggers are deep in your back," said Lorren.

 

"Mmmmhmmm," said Jenise. The shaking was now visible throughout her whole body.

 

"Did you even have time to think? Or was that all honed reaction of awesome? Not even a blink of the eye and then DEATH BECOMES YOU! That was crazy!"

 

"Lorren!" shouted Alonna.

 

"It was the training!" said Jenise. "I didn't want to kill anyone! Sure, we practiced on dummies and sure we were taught pressure points, and sure we were shown the best way to inhume a person but I never did it to anyone real! But then all of a sudden we were in a tense situation and it looked like we were going to be up for another fight and that Yen guy turned and it was suddenly slow motion and I was just behind him, and my arms were there immediately in the two most vulnerable spots and they dug in deep. It was all muscle memory and I even positioned myself so that I wouldn't get blood splatter."

 

Jenise started to shake uncontrollably. Alonna, not know what to do with herself, patted Jenise on the back as consoling as she could be while wearing chainmail.

 

"I didn't think much would happen on this adventure. I thought it would be just a quick jaunt into the forest and then back again. I didn't expect any of this," said Alonna.

 

"And you cut down three men," said Lorren.

 

"I didn't kill anyone," said Kariss.

 

"Well, you slaughtered those Chaykay bugs, whatever they're called," said Lorren.

 

"Chikayta," said Alonna.

 

"Whatever," said Lorren.

 

Jenise was walking but she didn't look very well. Her body was shaking and she was hugging herself. Alonna had her arm around her shoulder. Kariss was unreadable. Well, if one saw here, you would read her as being grumpy, but she didn't deviate from that.

 

Alonna didn't know what to think. She was worried about everyone. She looked up at Amelian, who was still a few yards in front, walking towards the city. She didn't join in, she didn't say anything, she just kept walking.

 

Her arrow did fly almost unprovoked. Sure, they were threatening to attack, but still, it was uncharacterstic of Amelian just to let her bow loose so quickly. And it wasn't even a shot to incapacitate, it was a shot to kill.

 

The original plan was for a fast pace. But Amelian was setting it now and it didn't amount to more than a brisk walk.

 

No one attacked for the next few hours, and they continued walking in silence well into the night.

 

-~=*=~-

 

Amelian stopped when she found another rock outcropping. She dropped the rope that had been pulling the sled and gathered some kindle. The others pitched and found enough firewood.

 

Amelian sat down and lit a small campfire. She stared into the fire and didn't say a word. The rest of them, exhausted but unable to sleep, sat around the campfire with them.

 

Lorren didn't say anything.

 

The two moons shone over head. There were no noises save for the crackling of the fire. Lorren could tell that people were tense, but he didn't want to say anything. People were facing some deep and personal issues, and he didn't want to face deep and personal issues.

 

If he sat and thought about things, then Dei would start talking to him. And he didn't want Dei to start talking to him. Especially now when everyone was all around being self reflective and melancholy.

 

He stared into the fire and tried to think of his past. He couldn't recall much of his past. Did it look like anything of the world he was in? He didn't think so. Usually, if something from his past was triggered, he would at least utter sentences or get snatches of memory. But nothing in this world seemed remotely attached to anything he could recall.

 

And then Dei's eyes were in the fire.

 

"No," he thought.

 

"I am close," said Dei.

 

"No. Please, don't come," thought Lorren.

 

"I can help you," said Dei.

 

"Do you see the state of these people? If you were here, that would just intensify whatever issues they are dealing with," said Lorren.

 

"It helps to know oneself," said Dei.

 

"I am not here to encourage personal development. Let them work that out in their own time when I'm not around!" said Lorren.

 

"I will be there soon," said Dei.

 

"No!" said Lorren out loud.

 

The rest of the party looked at him. They didn't look curious though. They only seemed weary.

 

"I could sense it," said Amelian.

 

The party rightfully stayed silent.

 

"Elves can sense one another. We know that we are always around, even if we're thousands of leagues away," said Amelian.

 

She took a blade of grass and stared at it. Jenise wondered if Amelian would say something profound about one amongst the many. Amelian through the grass into the fire.

 

"I didn't recognize the silence. I didn't understand the silence, to be more precise. I just thought something was off. And then, there it was. When those men stared at me. They stared at me as something unknown. They didn't stare at me with the familiarity that I am used to. They stared at me as something that was alien to them. And it was then I knew. And I grew angry. I grew irrationally angry at these men. Was it their fault? No, of course it wasn't. Maybe there were no elves on this world, but I blamed the humans. I blamed for driving them out, driving them down, possibly even hunting them down," said Amelian.

 

Lorren was almost going to clear his through at the insult towards humans, but he held back.

 

"I loosed an arrow on Yen. And when it failed, I got even angrier, and lost my concentration. Had it just been me, I would have been dead because the emotion of my rage was becoming overwhelming. Thankfully, you guys were there," said Amelian.

 

Lorren stared at the fire. What was it about night and campfires that made people want to talk about there emotions so much. Why did everyone in this party have issues they needed to work through?

 

Amelian sighed and rubbed her face. "I won't be able to sleep. I can take the shift."

 

Kariss and Lorren didn't need any convincing and were soon snoring. Alonna went away from the fire for she was too warm. She settled by the sled and fell asleep.

 

Jenise didn't move. She stayed there. After a half an hour, she whispered, "I'm sorry."

 

"Why?" asked Amelian.

 

"I was hired to do a job. And when I do the job I was hired to do, I break down into this useless bundle of nerves."

 

"I don't like killing animals. You don't like killing humans. Understood," said Amelian.

 

"But it is my job," said Jenise.

 

"You are doing your job well," said Amelian.

 

"But what if I don't want to do it well," said Jenise. She paused. "I enjoyed it too much."

 

"You enjoyed killing?" asked Amelian.

 

"Yes. No! I don't know," said Jenise.

 

"You were proud of yourself, because years of training came together in wonderful balance of mind and body. Your skill was at its peak, and instead of choking, you executed it beautifully," said Amelian.

 

"Let's not use the word execute," said Jenise.

 

"You haven't stolen anything from me," said Amelian.

 

"Uh. No, I haven't," said Jenise.

 

"I was told that thieves steal from the leader as a form of payment," said Amelian.

 

"Well, yes. We do. Well, we're supposed to. But I'm not even that fond of stealing, to be honest."

 

"Your choice in profession then seems a bit strange," said Amelian.

 

"Well, I didn't choose it. I was good at it. I was very good at it. And I got pulled in to the Guild at an early age," said Jenise.

 

"How did they recruit you?" asked Amelian.

 

"Funny thing. I was out with my mom at the market. A thief pickpocketed her. Now, my mom wasn't one to carry much money with her, and the thief was someone in training. He actually stole a polished stone that I had asked her to buy for me. It was a very small thing, not worth much, but difficult to pickpocket so perfect for someone in training. Thing is, I saw it being done and I was so angry. I followed that pickpocket and who returned to his teacher not more than ten feet away. He started bragging what a piece of cake it was and when he went to show his teacher the stone, it was gone. And then I piped up saying it was a very bad thing to do. First, they were both shocked I was there for they didn't see me appear. Second, I had taken the stone back. When the master thief saw my skill at such a young age with no training, he decided to approach my parents to recruit me," said Jenise.

 

"How old were you?" asked Amelian.

 

"I don't remember. I think I was eight at the time. Thing is, I didn't like stealing and I didn't like killing. I always volunteered to be the lookout. And so I didn't advance. But I was good at it. And because I normally avoided missions, all I could do was practice because really, there's nothing to do in the Guild otherwise. I think my teacher was annoyed with me. Impressed by my skills still, but annoyed I never amounted to much."

 

"Any reason why you came on this adventure?" asked Amelian.

 

"Well, for one, I didn't think it was going to be a real quest. And Alonna asked me, we're friends. I thought it was one of Lorren's stupid ideas but it was better than hanging out in the Guild all day trying to avoid assignments."

 

"Can't you spend time with your husband?" asked Amelia.

 

"No. He's usually busy on a research project. We see each other on the weekends normally, but now he's off doing some month long project at the university."

 

Jenise fell silent. She missed home, and she missed her husband. At the same time, there was something exciting to be out here, in a strange land, on a real quest. This was something no one at the Guild had done before.

 

"That man said they were on a quest. That means, they still have quests here," said Jenise.

 

"Yes," said Amelian.

 

"We could do a quest here," said Jenise.

 

"Wait, you're not anxious to go home?" asked Amelian.

 

"Well, I am, slightly. But no one has ever gone a quest before. Well, at least back at home. The thought that we have a chance to partake in one, or more, is really exciting."

 

"You're right. I guess I should stop moping about then, shouldn't I. I guess I've been hanging out with humans too much. Oh! Don't take that personally," said Amelian.

 

"You really don't like us, do you," said Jenise.

 

"I'm sorry. I do like humans. However, Elves are brought up privileged. They truly believe they are a superior race. However, a few elves have noticed the superiority of humans," said Amelian.

 

"What? How so? Elves are beautiful, and magical, and immortal," said Jenise.

 

"And that's our downfall, immortality," said Amelian.

 

"How so? You get to live forever!" said Jenise.

 

"And thus nothing gets done. We live our lives perfecting," said Amelian.

 

"And why is this bad?" asked Jenise.

 

'Because then nothing new is created. We have our old ways, and we wish to perfect those ways. So we perfect, and perfect until we don't even realize what is perfect anymore. The goal is perfection, but it may take hundreds of years. Who cares if one perfects the lute? Honestly? Who really cares?" asked Amelian.

 

"Lute players?" asked Jenise.

 

"Elves are boggled by humanity. They don't understand how a short lived and primitive race could survive. But not only do they survive, they surpass. Humans are destructive, yes, but they are ingenious."

 

"And so are you bitter because... humans are doing so well and you don't understand?" asked Jenise.

 

Amelian let out a big sigh. It was the most emoting Jenise had ever seen her do.

 

"No. I'm bitter because I don't wish to be close to humans," said Amelian.

 

"What?"

 

"I fell in love with one, once," admitted Amelian.

 

"What?" asked Jenise.

 

"WHAT?' said Lorren.

 

Amelian turned and frowned at Lorren. "I knew there was something wrong. Kariss didn't case a silence spell on you. And you were quiet this whole time!"

 

Lorren came to the campfire, "Hey, not every night is plagued with dreams. I could have been sleeping normally. Enough about me, tell me about this lover of yours!"

 

"Lorren! Maybe she's still sensitive about this!" said Jenise.

 

"She's an elf. She experiences emotions differently than we do," said Lorren.

 

"That is a horrible thing to say!" said Jenise.

 

"No, it's ok. It's true. We don't experience it the same way that you do. And I fell in love with a human. And we had our quarrels, but in the end, he was mortal, and I was not," said Amelian.

 

"Did you have children?" asked Jenise.

 

"No. And that was my choice..." her voice trailing off.

 

"Well, who wants kids anyway," said Lorren.

 

"It was a wrong choice," said Amelian.

 

Lorren was about to say something but Jenise gave him a look. Lorren closed his mouth.

 

"Humans remind me of children, really. And then they remind me of children I chose not to have and I am mostly angry with myself for that. I try to convince myself that having a half human children is a terrible idea. And being tied to humans in that way would be an even worse idea. But I can't convince myself fully. I haven't been able to. After so many years," said Amelian.

 

"How old are you?" asked Lorren.

 

"I'm not that old. Only four hundred and thirty one," said Amelian.

 

"Spring chicken," said Lorren.

 

"Wow. Wait, you've been around when there were quests," said Jenise.

 

"Yes," said Amelian.

 

"Was it like this?" asked Jenise.

 

"No, nothing like this at all. And that's a good thing," said Amelian.

 

"Wait, don't change the subject yet! I want to know the name of this guy!" said Lorren.

 

Amelian looked up at Lorren. "I want to know more about Dei."

 

Lorren's excited look faded and he gave Amelian a crook of a smile. "Heh. You win. I should get to sleep anyway."

 

"Yes, you should," said Amelian.

 

"Will you be able to stay up all night?" asked Jenise.

 

"Shouldn't be a problem. I don't think I can sleep," said Amelian.

 

"Well, good night. I think I feel better. Thank you," said Jenise.

 

"Thank you," said Amelian.

 

Chapter 17

"I wonder if to those Chikayta bugs lay eggs," said Lorren as he mournfully chewed some soggy bread.

 

"That's disgusting," said Alonna.

 

"Look, I'm thankful for this bread and all. But sometimes I want a bit more than raw dough, don't you think?"

 

"Well be at the city by this afternoon. We can buy something there," said Amelian.

 

"We don't have any money," said Alonna.

 

"What? We have tons of money," said Lorren.

 

"Hunh? How do you know those shells will sell?" asked Alonna.

 

"No, I took it from those guys," said Lorren.

 

"You stole it?" asked Alonna.

 

"It's spoils of war! They attacked us! And because we won, we got to keep their armour, weapons and gold!"

 

"You took their weapons?" asked Alonna.

 

"Well, no. I don't know what kind of weapons they used. We did take some weird book though. I gave that to Kariss. Did you get a chance to read it?" asked Lorren.

 

"Yes," said Kariss.

 

"Well? Is it useful?" asked Lorren.

 

"Probably," said Kariss.

 

"Do you understand it?' asked Lorren.

 

"No," said Kariss.

 

"Are all conversations with you going to be this difficult?" asked Lorren.

 

"Yes," said Kariss.

 

"Anyway," continued Lorren as he turned to the others, "they had a significant amount of coin on them. They also had some food, but it looked slimy and I really don't want to know where they've been storing it, so I didn't bother taking any."

 

"And you just stole it off of them," said Alonna.

 

"Look, two of them were dead anyway! Here," said Lorren as he tossed a coin to Alonna.

 

Alonna stared at the coin. It had the head of someone unrecognizeable on the front, and on the other side was a strange symbol of a circle and a small star in the center.

 

"I gave one to our thief. I figured she may want to know the weight and feel of such things," said Amelian.

 

"Does everyone know about this except me?" asked Alonna.

 

"You were too busy fretting over ... well... whatever it is you get upset about," said Lorren.

 

"I don't always get upset," said Alonna.

 

"Yes you do," said Lorren.

 

"Jenise, do I always get upset?" asked Alonna.

 

Jenise looked at Alonna. She looked back over at Lorren who was giving her a look of 'Tell the truth'. She looked back at Alonna and smiled, and then focused on the piece of bread that she had for breakfast.

 

"Aren't you uncomfortable always sleeping in your chainmail?" asked Lorren.

 

"Always be prepared," said Alonna.

 

"We haven't been attacked in the night yet, surprisingly. We've been attacked every other time," said Lorren.

 

"See? Odds are we are going to be attacked. For that matter, we will be attacked today. I just know it. Every day we get attacked. Is this what adventuring is?"

 

"Yes, you know that," said Lorren.

 

"I didn't think it was a DAILY thing! I thought we got in minor ruckuses once a week or something. I could deal with one a week. But every day? Sometimes twice a day? Why are people so set on attacking us?" asked Alonna.

 

"We should get going," said Amelian. "We can make it to the city by mid day."

 

The crew packed up their belongings and headed east towards the city. It was much closer now. Sun was just rising and bathed the city in an orange light. It was larger than they suspected and it was walled. In the middle of the city were tall spires, and a few other stone buildings that towered over the rest of the sprawl. They could see that the city was on a large river, now that they were closer, and it seemed to be bustling with the activity of trade and commerce.

 

On their right, the mountains lined the horizon. One particular stood out.

 

"That mountain looks ominous," said Alonna.

 

"You are not the one I would trust with judgements of ominous," said Lorren.

 

"I'm serious. Look at it. Is there some sort of fortress on that mountain?" asked Alonna.

 

"Ask the Elf. They can see better," said Lorren.

 

Amelian turned her attention to the mountain. "I can't really make out anything. It's pretty far."

 

"Dragon probably," said Alonna.

 

"What?" Lorren.

 

"There is probably a dragon there, and we will eventually have to vanquish it," said Alonna.

 

"Must your mind go to worst case scenarios?" asked Lorren.

 

"I'm just preparing," said Alonna.

 

"That's not preparing. That's fretting over things that don't exist. You're neurotic," said Lorren.

 

"Do you two ever shut up?" asked Kariss.

 

"Not really. I thought that would be apparent by now," said Lorren.

 

Alonna didn't respond and the group continued in silence.

 

-~=*=~-

 

Around mid afternoon, they arrived at the walls of the city. They were on a small hill looking down on, and they were able to take in the full splendour of its size.

 

Amelian could not guess how many people inhabited the space. It was completely enclosed by a wall, save for the section which opened up onto a large river on the one side. The spires, she could see, belonged to a large stone palace, and there were other buildings and towers which decorated the various parts of the massive population centre. She realized one could spend days in this city and never explore the whole of it.

 

Amelian felt funny about dragging in the huge sled of bug shells and she dragged it to a small escarpment.

 

"Kariss, do you have any spell that would make this invisible?" asked Amelian.

 

"I have a spell that will make people not care about it," said Kariss.

 

"That's perfect," said Amelian.

 

Kariss because to mumble some words and her hands began to form patterns in the air. The familar crackling feeling of energy filled the air as Kariss wove her spell. It lasted for almost ten minutes.

 

"Did it work?" asked Amelian.

 

"Lorren. What's over there?" asked Kariss as she pointed at the sled of shells.

 

"What? I dunno," said Lorren.

 

"I don't think he counts. He doesn't even pay attention to the landscape," said Amelian.

 

"It will work, trust me," said Kariss.

 

They walked down to the front gate of the city. Amelian, worried about the affect that she would have on the population, wore a cloth band around her forehead, covering her ears. She took her long, dark hair, and held it back with a piece of rope.

 

"Do you think this would fool them?" asked Amelian.

 

"Much easier than if you were a troll," said Alonna.

 

"I think the first order of business would be to get ourselves some lodging. I don't expect us to find an answer soon, and I wouldn't want to be stuck trying to find a place to sleep while the night looms. This will allow us to get rid of our packs and hopefully make us less conspicuous as outsiders," said Amelian.

 

"We don't really dress like the people here," said Lorren.

 

"Maybe we should purchase some clothes," said Jenise.

 

"The best way for us to blend in is to look like the peasant population," said Amelian.

 

"Well, let's not go for straight peasant look. The last thing I want is for someone to start asking us to shovel manure. Do peasants even have rights in this land? What if they start kicking us for fun? Or dumping sewage waste on our heads," said Lorren.

 

"No one pays attention to peasants," said Amelian.

 

"Unless they want someone to kill. I say we go for a little bit more well to do than peasants. I don't know what the next level up is," said Lorren.

 

"Maybe, shop keepers?" asked Alonna.

 

"How do you get peasant clothes anyway? Do people just make those?" asked Lorren.

 

"Yes, people just make there own clothes. Or they get it done cheaply," said Amelian.

 

"Do elves make their own clothes?" asked Jenise.

 

"Yes, we do. If you're immortal, you tend to want clothes to fit your body well. And you want different clothes. It's embarassing showing up to a gala in an outfit you wore fifty years prior," said Amelian.

 

"I thought you all just wore various shades of green and white," said Kariss.

 

"Sometimes we wear blue," said Amelian.

 

"Are we done with talking fashion? I kinda want to get going here," said Alonna.

 

"And I'm hungry for some real food. Can we eat first?' asked Lorren.

 

"Let's find an inn, and then get some food. Then we can get started," said Amelian.

 

"I'm totally game for that," said Lorren.

 

"Just stay close, I don't want to lose people in this crowd," said Amelian.

 

"I'll follow the big pointy hat," said Lorren.

 

"You do that," said Kariss.

 

-~=*=~-

The main thoroughfare was a pickpocket's dream. It was about forty feet wide, with a decorative fountain in the center, and it was jam packed with populace. There were people on all sides of Jenise, and they were all pressing and shoving trying to get to whatever destination they had needed to get to in the slowest manner possible. Jenise wasn't a tall woman, advantageous for a thief, but she could not see much and she had trouble keeping up the other five who, she would have assumed, were having an equally as difficult time.

 

However, she could see Kariss's hat, and that was important. And so she followed it.

 

She was tempted, of course. The people around her made it so easy to lift the slightest thing. She wondered if people had some sort of defense against it, because she could have made a living on just pickpocketing alone if every day was like this. There was so much physical contact she even knew which person had hidden what within whichever container. Had she been a real thief, she would have already lifted a number of things by now.

 

Well, she was a real thief, just one that wasn't fond of stealing. She looked around. Thieves could tell themselves apart from the other. There was something more, observant about them. She didn't see one though. Even the younger urchins that roamed the street didn't have the look mischievous look of one who knew what was going on. Maybe punishment was more severe here, for no one seemed to worry about losing their valuables.

 

The pointy hat turned up a street, and Jenise made her way to the street so as not to lose sight of Kariss. She didn't know where the others were so she picked up the pace until she caught up.

 

"Hello, Kariss," said Jenise.

 

"Hello," said Kariss.

 

"Do you know where the rest of the group is?' asked Jenise.

 

"No. I can't see anyone in this stupid crowd. There are SO many people. I hoped by going up this side street it would get better. But it hasn't," said Kariss. She looked visibly distraught. She did not like the number of people there were.

 

"It looks to be more of a marketing street. There are stalls along the side, as well as shops all the way down," said Jenise.

 

"Then that's not helpful. We need to go where no one is," said Kariss.

 

"Those are the places that people normally get mugged," said Jenise.

 

"That would be preferable to this," said Kariss.

 

"Wait, down that way, I see an inn," said Jenise.

 

Kariss didn't waste any time and she tried her best to wade through the crowd to get to the next street. The crowd didn't thin out that much, but Jenise could see that Kariss relaxed a bit more. Or at least, didn't look as angry as she usually did.

 

Jenise looked behind her and could see Alonna, Amelia and Lorren appear from the never ending hoarde of people.

 

"That... was awful," said Alonna.

 

Amelia didn't look like she was going to argue with her. She caught the eye of Jenise and walked up to her.

 

"Did you observe any type of monetary transactions?" asked Amelian.

 

"All sorts," said Jenise.

 

"So you understand how their currency system works?" asked Amelian.

 

"I'm pretty sure, actually," said Jenise.

 

"Do you mind if you keep track of it then? Elves don't normally deal with money, and so it's always been a foreign thing for me I never got used to," said Amelian.

 

"No problem. Is there a budget we should keep within?" asked Jenise.

 

"I don't want to go over 20 Gilds a night, if we were using our currency. I'm not too sure how that translates here," said Amelian.

 

"I got it, don't worry," said Jenise.

 

"And if we run out, you could always score us more, can't you?" asked Lorren.

 

Jenise shot him a glance. She did not glance back and forth to see if anyone was listening because thieves don't do stupid things like that to raise anyone's suspicions. She didn't even utter a word, and Lorren realized this was not the time and place to be discussing things like thievery.

 

"Can we go in the inn now?" asked Kariss. She looked very uncomfortable.

 

Amelian nodded and they all went in to what was called the Happy Harpy.

 

The place was posh. There was green velvet that adorned the walls with thick wooden pillars. Elegant paintings were hung at various intervals to keep the place form looking to tacky. The center of the room had a small fountain carved out of a white marble and in there was a musical troupe playing some light melodies.

 

A concierge greeted them with a held out arm. "Welcome, ladies and gentleman. You have come to us at the most busiest time of the year, however you are in luck, we do have at least one suite available.

 

"Thank you, kind sir," said Jenise and she walked to the front desk that the concierge had been indicating. A tall man with straight, jet black hair stood there with a stoic look on his face. His uniform was a red, with a white vest underneath a thick jacket. He had red gloves on and on seeing the troupe, he gave his best attempt at a smile.

 

"Good afternoon. May I help you?" he asked.

 

"We're looking for a room. Possibly a suite to accommodate the five of us?" asked Jenise.

 

The other female adventurers did their best not to look shocked at the thought of being in the same room with Lorren. The man at the desk looked at the party of five and assessed them as eclectic. He did not brush them off, however, for some of the most strangest people had money.

 

"Yes, we do have a suite available. That will be sixty four Crowns a night," said the man.

 

"That will do well," said Jenise as she took out a few coins and gave it to him. The man wrote out a slip of paper and gave it to her. He then handed her five keys.

 

"You will find the room on the second floor. Up those stairs and then make a right. It's room two fifty five."

 

"You are most kind, thank you," said Jenise as she gave a small nod.

 

She turned to her companions and handed each of them a key and then they walked in the direction indicated towards their room. They remained silent, not too sure if the establishment was really going to allow them to sleep there.

 

The second floor was equally as fancy as the first. It was a white finish, with golden trim around each door. The doors handles were of jade, which brought out a stark contrast compared to the otherwise bright decor. On each door, carved in marble with a white inset, was the number of each room. Room 255 was just a few feet from the stairs.

 

Jenise took out her key, a wrought iron key that had a bit of heft to it, and opened up the door. The suite opened up to a large living room mostly decorated in a dark green colour. An ornate table adorned the main room, with chairs and some other couches to lounge on. There were a few doors leading off, possibly to other rooms. A window opened up onto a large balcony, which overlooked the alley next door. There wasn't much of a view, considering it was the second floor, but at least air could get in.

 

Lorren whistled at the fancy place.

 

"Are you sure we can pay for this," he asked.

 

"The money that we illicitly gained was a lot. I think they were saving up for some armour or an enchanted item because it was a lot more than one should be carrying," said Jenise.

 

"They probably stole it, if they were so willing to steal from us," said Alonna.

 

Lorren when and began looking through the different doors.

 

"I find a cooking area! And here is a large room. Oh! I found the bathroom! Which reminds me, I have to go! And oh, here's a nice small room! Can I have the small room? I'm assuming you want me to be in the small room. I think that door over there has another rooms and you guys can figure out who is sleeping where but I want this small one! It's right by the bathroom. Sometimes, at night, I just have to-"

 

"We don't care! Have the small room," said Alonna.

 

Lorren disappeared into the room. They could hear him dropping his gear on the ground. After a few minutes, they could hear him jumping on the bed.

 

"Did we get a contract of any sort? They may not want him doing that to the bed," said Alonna.

 

Jenise shrugged and examined the balcony. It was a very wide balcony, and there were a number of balconies that surrounded her. And since they were on the second floor, they could easily escape from the room if the entrance was blocked. Of course, that also meant someone could easily enter the room via the balcony. Jenise close the windows and barred it.

 

"What are you doing that for? Do you think people are going to try and kill us here? Do you think those men would come back and do us in? Maybe they'll get together a party to kill us, or throw us in jail!" said Alonna.

 

"I'm just being cautious, that's all," said Jenise.

 

"But you are being cautious for a reason! No one is cautious if there is no reason to be cautious," said Alonna.

 

"Give it up!" yelled Lorren from his room.

 

"Ok, I'm assuming Kariss wants her own room," said Jenise.

 

"Thank you," said Kariss.

 

"And there are two other rooms. Do you mind bunking with Jenise, Alonna?" asked Amelian.

 

"No, don't mind at all," said Alonna.

 

I say we change into some fresher clothes, clean ourselves up a bit, and then we head out and get something to eat," said Amelian.

 

"Eat?! I'm in for that!" said Lorren as he popped his head out the door.

 

"Good. I'm not too sure what kind of food they have here, but I did see a few pubs on the way over," said Amelian.

 

"I smelled food in this place, but it may be a bit too pricey. I say we go to an all you can eat rib place!" said Lorren.

 

"I'm a vegetarian!" said Amelian.

 

"I'm sure they serve some type of vegetables there too," said Lorren.

 

"Wait, if there aren't any elves in this world. Finding vegetarian only restaurants may prove to be difficult," said Jenise.

 

"I'll survive. Let's leave in a half an hour, ok?" asked Amelian.

 

Lorren was back in his room jumping on the bed.

 

"Did you hear that, Lorren?" yelled Alonna.

 

"I did! I'm good! And I vote ribs!" yelled back Lorren.

 

Amelian finally let out that sigh she had been holding in.

 

Chapter 18

The party was ready to go and seek their fortune, or at least a way back. Kariss was sitting in the main room. She had not changed. She was still in her dusty grey robe and her pointy green hat. Her hands were crossed, and she had the same expression that she had worn the first time they met her: unimpressed.

 

"Kariss? Are you ready to go?" asked Amelian.

 

"I'd rather not," said Kariss.

 

"But we may need you!" said Lorren.

 

"Perhaps. But, I'd rather not be surrounded by that many people again," said Kariss.

 

Amelian looked at Kariss. She seemed dead set on her choice. Of course, every choice Kariss made she was dead set on, so Amelian didn't know if she could change her mind. Of course, they were only going to find out how to go back home. There was no need to have them all go.

 

"Well, if you are set on not coming, there's no point in you coming," said Amelian.

 

Kariss pointed to something on the table.

 

"That's a scrying stone," she said.

 

"Ooooh! A scrying stone! These are great! For.. uh... scrying!" said Lorren.

 

"Don't take it, Lorren. Give it to Amelian," said Kariss.

 

"Why do I need a scrying stone?" asked Amelian.

 

"As Lorren said, for scrying. Don't lose it, please. It's mine," said Kariss.

 

"Do you need anything?" asked Amelian?

 

"Do you want us to pick anything up? Like a take out for ribs?" asked Lorren.

 

"No. I'm fine. I have some money, I'll get food here," said Kariss.

 

"Does everyone have money except me?" asked Alonna.

 

"Oh, did you want some?" asked Jenise.

 

"Well, in case I want to buy something too!" said Alonna.

 

"Wait! Is it safe to let you loose in a city full of men?" asked Lorren.

 

"What? What do you mean by that?" asked Alonna.

 

"I mean you will want to date all of them," said Lorren.

 

"I do not!" protested Alonna.

 

"Sure you do. It's all you ever talk about!" said Lorren.

 

"Excuse me! I have been with you people for how many days now? And not once did I bring up anything about men," said Alonna.

 

"So now you have all this pent up desire," said Lorren.

 

"AAaaargh!" said Alonna.

 

"You know, maybe Lorren should stay here too," suggest Amelian.

 

"NO!" said Kariss.

 

"Come, let's go, I'm starving!" said Lorren as he walked out of the room.

 

-~=*=~-

 

The city, or Stromdell, was not lacking in bars. It wasn't lacking in anything, really, except for personal space. They walked only a few steps when Lorren spotted a pub not too far. The sign that hung above the door had a large dead pig on the front, with the name "The Bountiful Boar." Lorren wouldn't take no for an answer, had he stayed long enough to hear one, and he walked right in.

 

The smell of cooked meat hit their sense and Jenise found her mouth watering. She was used to not eating solid meals for long periods of time, but she hadn't realized how long it had been since they had something other than soggy bread. Lorren found a large booth in the back, and he was sitting there immensely enjoying himself.

 

The Boar was loud and boisterous, the perfect place for keeping people like Kariss away. There was a stage where some dancers were dancing some local jib and a rowdy band was playing with them. A bar and kitchen lined the one wall, and there were a number of people on the stools drinking their choice of poison. Tables filled the floor such that the servers had barely any room to navigate. Behind them was a stairway which led up to a second floor.

 

Jenise couldn't hear herself think, but the music was infectious. She and the rest of the gang minus one mage, sat at the booth. Soon, a bar maid made her way over.

 

"Hiya! My name is Toria and I'll be your server for the night," she said. She was short, with wild curly hair. She reminded Jenise of a hobbit she knew back home, and this gave her a quick pang of homesickness.

 

"A round of your finest for the folk here! And also whatever you have on special for the night" said Lorren.

 

"And," interrupted Amelian, "A pot of vegetables, please."

 

"Vegetables? That's an odd request. But we have plenty. I'll be right with you," smiled the bar maid as she went off to serve another table.

 

Jenise looked around the bar. Most of the people were quite inebriated by now. Lorren had leaned back and was tapping along with the music on the table. Alonna looked as comfortable as she ever could, and Amelian had and expressionless look.

 

"You know what the great thing about this place is?" asked Lorren.

 

Alonna ignored him. Amelian was waiting. However, Lorren was expecting a response.

 

"What?" asked Jenise.

 

"It's too loud to discuss our feelings!" said Lorren as he laughed. He leaned back as Toria came by with a round of drinks.

 

"Here you go, luvs. The food will be with you in a moment," she said.

 

"Thank you! You're the best," said Lorren as he grabbed the drink. He folded his hands over the drink, as if in prayer, and chanted a few words. The drink glowed a slight orange, and then it was over. He smiled at the others and raised his glass.

 

"To adventuring," said Lorren.

 

Jenise and the others raised their glass and clinked them! "To adventuring!" they echoed.

 

"And Kariss, who couldn't be here," said Lorren.

 

"To Kariss!"

 

Lorren took a big swig of his drink and then, without putting his mug down, lay back and enjoyed the music.

 

Jenise leaned over to Alonna and asked, "What did he do to his drink?"

 

"Lorren doesn't like alcohol," said Alonna.

 

"Oh? I thought clerics made the best alcohol," said Jenise.

 

"They do. But he's not fond of it. He removed the fermentation from the drink," said Alonna.

 

"You can do that?" asked Jenise.

 

"He can. A very strange ritual, if you ask me, but he can do it," said Alonna.

 

"Don't see the point in drinking then," said Jenise.

 

"He's heard that many times," said Alonna as she emptied her tankard.

 

Jenise watched her with wide eyes. Alonna slammed her glass on the table with a grin and caught Toria's eye.

 

"Another round," Alonna yelled out and Toria grinned in acknowledgement.

 

"I can't drink that much, Alonna. I barely finished this one," said Jenise.

 

"Don't worry, I'll drink it!" said Alonna as she laughed. Jenise was shocked by her demeanor. One tankard of spirits changed her drastically into a confident, happy person.

 

"Of course, we don't make a habit of this, but she does enjoy herself more," whispered Lorren to Jenise.

 

"You haven't touched yours, Amelian," said Alonna.

 

"No. I really have only a taste for fine wines," said Amelian.

 

"You should have said! I'm sure the establishment has some wines in the back!" said Alonna.

 

Toria had come bye with a large serving of board, as well as a huge helping of vegetables in a separate bowl. She laid the food out with some cutlery.

 

"Do you have any wine?" asked Alonna.

 

"Of course we do," said Toria.

 

"Could we get some of your best wine?" asked Alonna.

 

"Coming right up," said Toria as she rushed off.

 

"I'm ok, you don't need to do that," said Amelian.

 

"There's no point in just us being happy! I want all of us to enjoy ourselves," said Alonna.

 

Lorren had started eating and he was savouring the food to the point of disgusting. Alonna, who would normally have been the person to point this out, grabbed a bowl for herself and began eating with the same gusto. Jenise laughed and ate as well.

 

"You know," said Amelian as she ate her vegetables, "these vegetables aren't too bad. Amazing spices they have here."

 

"Huzzah! Amelian is enjoying herself!" shouted Lorren aloud.

 

The rest of the bar returned the chorus of "Huzzah!"

 

It was an entertaining night.

 

-~=*=~-

 

Alonna staggered out of the Bountiful Boar. She was holding on to Lorren who was struggling a bit.

 

"Did you have to wear your chainmail?" he asked.

 

"You never.... you never know! You never know what... what... when you need to sleep in them!" said Alonna. She drank all the rounds that had been ordered, as well as a few more. Amelian had two glasses of wine, and to her surprise, enjoyed it. Alonna drank the rest of the bottle.

 

"And now is the dangerous part. We have a drunk lonpons on the prowl for men. Like a cat in heat," said Lorren.

 

"I have full fa... facul... full control over my senses!" yelled Alonna. She stumbled.

 

"Well, we don't have to go far. We just need to go back to the inn," said Amelian.

 

"The inn! We have some researching to be doing! We need to find the way home! Home! Home to wear the stars are bright and my love is a bonnie lad!" sang Alonna.

 

"Yes, you will get to that bonnie lad of yours. We need to get you into bed," said Lorren.

 

"I share my bed with Jenise! You stay out of it!" said Alonna.

 

"That's... uncomfortable," said Lorren.

 

"I once knew a thieeeffff... who stole my heaaarrtt..." sang Alonna.

 

"Did you know this was going to happen?" asked Amelian to Lorren.

 

"She hasn't been like this in a while. I wasn't watching her drink! She's a big girl!"

 

"Well, let's just get her to bed," said Amelian.

 

"It's a KITTY!" screamed Alonna and she ran / stumbled into another alley way.

 

"Oh by the Light," said Lorren as he chased after her.

 

The alleyway they turned into was pretty dark and abandoned. There was no light save for the what trickled through the tall buildings above from the twin moons.

 

"Oh little kitty... was a cat! And on a rooof, a kitty sat!" sang Alonna.

 

"I think we should go now," said Lorren as he caught up.

 

There was a small flash, and then a small flame. It illuminated a scarred face, who was holding a pipe. He puffed out a few wisps of smoke, and the flame died out.

 

"This is our alley," came a deep voice.

 

"Yes. Sorry. My friend is having problems with things like restraint at the moment," said Lorren.

 

"And the three of you have trespassed in our alley," said the voice again.

 

"Oh! Sorry. We weren't aware of the zoning laws. We will be out of your hair," said Lorren.

 

"Are you making fun of my hair?" asked the man as he walked into the moonlight. He was incredibly tall, impossibly pale, and completely bald. His scalp was scarred, as if he had been burned. He wore a long cloak of black, and it was clasped around his neck with a red stone.

 

Behind him were some shadowy figures who's eyes glowed red.

 

"Ooooh! Menacing men! MENACING MEN! I SHALL VANQUISH THEE!" screamed Alonna.

 

The man smiled the smile given to children you would soon punish. "That would be a sight to see. There will be vanquishing, mark my word, but I fear it won't be me."

 

"What's your name!?" yelled Alonna.

 

"You don't have to shout, he's right there," said Lorren.

 

"I'm Drend Vir. I come to the city periodically, and every time I do, I am not displeased," said Drend.

 

"Wait, I thought you said this was your ally. It shouldn't be if you only come periodically," said Lorren.

 

"You're friend is a strange one," said Drend.

 

"Well, she's drunk. What do you expect," asked Lorren.

 

"I mean the tall lanky one beside you," said Drend as he pointed to Amelian.

 

"Hey, it's called being fit and slender. I am NOT lanky," said Amelian.

 

"She intrigues me. In fact, her scent makes me hunger," said Drend.

 

"Ok, that's pretty creepy," said Lorren.

 

"YOU ARE A CREEPERS! DOWN WITH CREEPY MEN! Where is Kariss when you need her. She would have fireballed your face to match your head!" yelled Alonna.

 

Drend gave a deep laugh. "Fire has no effect on me, you stupid little human. Don't you recognize me and my brethren? I got burned by the sun!"

 

"Well, you should have been more careful then, shouldn't you?" asked Lorren.

 

Drend hissed.

 

"I tired of this. I shall feast first on the thin one. I can't imagine much nourishment, but I sense something different. Her blood shall be interesting," said Drend.

 

"YOU'RE A VAMPIRE!" screamed Alonna as she tried to wield her sword.

 

"Such a crass word. Fear not, your blood is currently tainted. I shall bring you home so that the effects of whatever swill you've been drinking have worn off."

 

"This world is weird," muttered Lorren.

 

"Minions, grab the thin one," said Drend.

 

"Wait," said Lorren.

 

"I do not take orders from you," said Drend.

 

"It's a request, hear me out, sir Drend?" asked Lorren.

 

Drend paused, and then smiled. "Sure, why not. It's not like the sun will come any time soon."

 

"You're the undead, are you not?" asked Lorren.

 

"Aren't you an observant mortal," said Drend.

 

"Interesting, things that stay the same and things that differ, don't you think?" asked Lorren.

 

"I don't quite follow, and I bore quickly," said Drend.

 

"Do you recognize my profession?" asked Lorren.

 

"No."

 

"I have a mace, no bladed weapons," said Lorren.

 

"Bravo," said Drend.

 

"And yet I am able to wear most of the fighter's regalia," said Lorren.

 

"Ok, I tire of this. Bring the green one to me - AAAAUUUUUKKK"

 

"I wasn't finished. I am a cleric. I protect the innocent. I cure the sick. I heal people. I can turn wine into water," said Lorren.

 

"That last one is a stupid skill," said Alonna.

 

"But most importantly, especially for this night, I can Turn Undead," said Lorren.

 

"What... are you - AAAAAAUURRRKKK" screamed Drend. The dark shadows beside him moaned in agony.

 

"Interesting skill. I'm surprised you don't seem to recognize it. But then again, no one seems to recognize us. And all the creatures we have gone up against have been crazy difficult. You, I'm afraid, have been the most easiest to vanquish," said Lorren.

 

"VANQUISH THE SPAWN OF HELL! VANQUISH HIM!" yelled Alonna.

 

"And guess what?" said Lorren.

 

"What?" asked Jenise, who had appeared out of nowhere.

 

"It too, can be powered by emotion," he said and the brightest light this side of the sun lit the alleyway. The vampires screamed, as if daylight had suddenly appeared and within seconds, they had turned to ash. Their clothes, fell to the ground and the light soon dissipated.

 

Jenise had shielded her vision from the bright light. She then stared at the pile of what once was Drend.

 

"Sorry, I wasn't hiding, I was going to backstab again. But then I saw Lorren had it under control," said Jenise.

 

"BACKSTAB! STABBY STAB THE BLOOD SUCKER IN THE BACK! BAAAACK STAB!" yelled Alonna.

 

Lorren rooted through the remains and found a few belongings of the vampire. One was a leather satchel, filled with coins and gems.

 

"Good grief, it's like people carry loads of money with them wherever they go. Aren't they scared of thieves?" asked Lorren. He tossed the bag to Jenise.

 

"You may as well keep them. I know nothing about the value of things," said Lorren. "Oooh, a ring. Amelian, here's a ring. I'm not dumb enough to put it on. Check to see if it has magical value?"

 

"I'll do that when we get to the hotel. Anything else of value?" asked Amelian.

 

"I dunno, would vampire ash be good for anything?" asked Lorren.

 

"Take some. Maybe Kariss can use it," said Lorren.

 

"Wait, will the vampire resurrect from his ashes?" asked Jenise.

 

"No, that spell was like a million light stakes through his heart. He's done for," said Lorren.

 

"MY HEART HAS A STAKE IN YOUUUUU," sang Alonna.

 

"And let's get her home before someone else tries to mug us," said Amelian.

 

"That's a good plan," said Lorren.

 

Chapter 19

Jenise followed Lorren as he burst into their room. She saw Kariss still sitting on the couch. She may have moved. Or she may have just sat there the whole time.

 

"Kariss! Kariss! We got you a ring!" said Lorren.

 

"What?" asked Kariss.

 

"Not one to wear, one to examine! I got it off a vampire!" said Lorren.

 

"You're not making sense," said Kariss.

 

"And you're surprised by this?" asked Amelina.

 

"There is a maaage down yonder!! And shee has planted a spellll! A spell of loovvveee," sang Alonna as she staggered into the room.

 

"We had an interesting night," said Jenise.

 

"I can see," said Kariss.

 

"Oh whereeee has the mage gonnne for I am in neeed of looooove!" continued Alonna.

 

"And I can hear, and smell," said Kariss.

 

"Come, Alonna, let me get you to bed," said Jenise.

 

"We need to take down the vampire!" said Alonna! Her eyes all wide with ... something.

 

"It's ok. It was vanquished by the cleric," said Jenise.

 

"Oh right! Undead don't like clerics! That's why I teamed up with him. Otherwise, he was an annoying git!" said Alonna.

 

"Yes. Right. Let's get you to bed," said Jenise as she lead Alonna to her room.

 

"I take it you didn't find any leads on how to go back?" said Kariss.

 

"But we got this ring! And I think it's magical! Ames! Can you give Kariss the ring?" said Lorren.

 

Amelian handed the ring to Kariss. She looked at it.

 

"You didn't happen to bring any food, did you?" asked Kariss.

 

"Oh! We had plenty left over. There was more drinking than eating, which would explain Alonna," said Amelian as she handed Kariss a bag from the Boar. Kariss thanked her and walked to the table. She took the food out and started eating.

 

"There are vegetables too," said Amelian.

 

"I'm good," said Kariss.

 

"Did you just stay here the whole time?" asked Lorren.

 

"Yes," said Kariss.

 

"Personal reflection time?" asked Lorren.

 

"Sure," said Kariss.

 

"It was a brilliant night, Kar. I vanquished a vampire! Many of them, in fact! They were going to take down the lanky one," said Lorren.

 

"I'm not lanky," said Amelian.

 

"They've never met a Cleric before! Or at least, they didn't know I was whatever passes for a cleric here. It was almost too easy. They just perished at my ability to turn them!"

 

"Yay," said Kariss.

 

"Have you taken a look at that ring yet? Is it magical?" asked Lorren.

 

"No. I've been eating," said Kariss.

 

"Right. Well, I think we should go back out and see what we can find. Now that I've had some food in my belly, I think we can start asking around. We should see if there is some type of adventurer's guild around here. They would know," said Lorren.

 

"That's a good idea," said Amelian.

 

"Oh! Really? Awesome! OK, tell you what, I'll go downstairs and see if the Thorston or Old Man Guinzy know where the adventurer's guild is," said Lorren.

 

"Who?" asked Kariss.

 

"Concierge and front desk guy. They don't call him Old Man Guinzy to his face though. Just call him Mr. Guinzy," said Lorren. He went outside the door and they could hear his footsteps, even they were loud, walk down the hall and down the stairs.

 

Amelian pulled a chair out and sat at the table with Kariss. They heard a small creak of the door. Jenise had put Alonna to bed and came to the table as well. She sat down with them.

 

"You're night seemed full," said Kariss, trying to drum up a conversation.

 

"You don't know the half of it," said Amelian.

 

"I can surmise," said Kariss.

 

"We plan on going back out, we're going to see if we can locate an Adventurer's guild in this city," said Amelian.

 

"Oh! That's a good idea," said Jenise.

 

"Don't tell Lorren that," said Kariss.

 

"Did you want to come, Kariss?" asked Amelian.

 

"It would probably be a lot quieter now, however, I shall stay behind and make sure the sleeping one doesn't do anything damaging," said Kariss.

 

"May be a good idea. Although, I can stay behind. I don't want you not getting a chance to gain any experience," said Jenise.

 

"I'm not worried about that," said Kariss.

 

Kariss put the ring in the middle of the table.

 

"Maybe magical, but nothing that impressive," said Kariss.

 

"Didn't think so. Gave off very weak magical essence," said Amelian.

 

"Oh, that's the ring? Do you want me to keep it? If I find myself in a appraiser's or artifact shop, I can ask," said Jenise.

 

"Yes, that would be good," said Amelian.

 

 

The sound of footsteps were coming down the door. They were excited footsteps. Only Lorren could have excited footsteps.

 

"I got a map!" said Lorren as he came in. He pulled out a chair and sat down with the four.

 

"Oh! Did you figure out anything with that ring?" he asked.

 

"No. It's not magical," said Kariss.

 

"Pity. Oh well! Look at this map! It's a magical map! See! It show's where we are, and then it has these magic lines that go to where you want to go. See, if I place my finger here, ta dah! It maps a route from where we are! How awesome is that?" asked Lorren.

 

"This is a map that shows us where we are? I don't think I trust anything that can pinpoint us," said Jenise.

 

"No no no! Don't worry. The map knows where it is in the city. It doesn't keep track of where the owner is. Although that'd be cool if we keep losing people. Anyway, the Adventurer's guild is over here. It looks like it will take us twenty minutes to get there if we're walking," said Lorren.

 

"And we don't get mugged again," said Jenise.

 

"Right. As long as we don't get attacked. I really didn't ask Old Man Guinzy if there were streets to avoid, hmmmm," said Lorren.

 

Jenise gave a puzzled looked to Amelian. Amelian just shook her head signalling not to ask.

 

"Anyway, whenever you're ready, I'm good to go. You coming Kariss?" asked Lorren.

 

"No," said Kariss.

 

"But it'd be fun! We will need you if we go up against anything that could kill us!"

 

"I would hope the city is safer than that," said Kariss.

 

"You do have a point. But the fact that they let vampires roam free is a bit disconcerting," said Lorren.

 

"Yes," said Kariss.

 

Lorren got up from his chair and went into his room. He grabbed his mace.

 

"I didn't bring my weapon last time. Weird, not to take your weapon with you, dont't you think?" asked Lorren.

 

"I think it's weird to live in a culture where you DO have to take your weapons with you," said Amelian.

 

"Yes, bring your bow this time, Amelian," said Lorren.

 

"I think I shall stay too. It's been a long night," said Jenise.

 

"We may need a thief. What is up with you people?" asked Lorren.

 

"We'll be fine, Lorren. Let's go," said Amelian.

 

"Ok! But if we run into more fun times, don't complain to me!" said Lorren.

 

"Noted," said Kariss.

 

Amelian and Lorren left the room.

 

 

"Could you do me a favour, Kariss?" asked Jenise.

 

 

"Yes?" asked Kariss.

 

"Well, Alonna is quite loud when under the influenced," said Jenise.

 

"Understood," said Kariss as they both got up.

 

Chapter 20

Lorren and Amelian were trying to navigate the streets of Stromdell at a time where only the ne'er to do were willing to be on those streets. Amelian wasn't scared, she just didn't want to take up any more time than they were already spending. It seemed wherever they went, there was a random encounter of some sort. She wasn't too sure if it was like this years ago, but she didn't recall the constant fights to the point of tedium.

 

Lorren didn't help. He had the map out. Having a map out pinpointed you as someone that was just waiting to be mugged.

 

"Lorren, could you not look at the map with such confusion and earnest? We bring attention to ourselves," said Amelian.

 

"I don't understand this map. I'm sure there was a street we were supposed to turn into," said Lorren.

 

"And it was a dark uninhabited street and we don't have time to invite yet more skirmishes," said Amelian.

 

"Here, do you want to look at it then? I'm lost," said Lorren.

 

"Let's go in there, we could ask for directions," said Amelian.

 

"Ugh, I don't want to ask for directions," said Lorren.

 

"Of course you don't. Don't worry, I'll do the asking," said Amelian as she turned into a pub called the Happy Harpy.

 

The pub wasn't that populated, despite the traffic that was outside it's doors. There were only a handful of patrons who didn't even look up when they entered. Neither did the bar tender. He was at the counter, cleaning some glasses. Amelian wasn't too sure why he was cleaning glasses, since it didn't look like there was anyone around to dirty the glasses up.

 

He wore a small white hat that was served more as an indication that hats could be worn, as opposed to an act of vanity. His thick curly hair didn't look like it liked the idea of being interrupted with the wild frazzled look by a common white hat. The bar tender had a white apron on, covering a white shirt and some white pants. He was wearing a name tag, and it claimed his name was Jim.

 

"Excuse me, I was wondering if I could ask a question," said Amelian.

 

Jim didn't look at her. He was staring at some point in the bar.

 

"I was wondering if you could tell me where the Adventurer's Guild is," said Amelian.

 

Jim didn't say anything.

 

"I think he wants us to order a drink," said Lorren quietly.

 

Amelian removed a crown from her pocket and placed it on the bar table. It was immediately snatched up. Jim didn't lose a beat when it came to cleaning the glass.

 

"North," said Jim.

 

"Well, we were aware in which direction the Adventure Guild laid, we were hoping for a bit more detail than that," said Amelian.

 

Jim, remained quiet. It seemed information was an expensive commodity. Amelian pulled out another crown and placed it on the counter. Jim grabbed it again. He was either really desperate for coin, or didn't want scuff the counter.

 

"Go north about ten minutes, then turn east at Execter Aley. You will find the guild there," said Jim.

 

Amelian got up and said to Lorren, "Let's go."

 

Lorren pulled out another coin and placed it on the counter. Jim hesitated a micro-second before grabbing it.

 

"Hey, thanks," said Lorren.

 

Jim grunted.

 

Amelian and Lorren exited the Harpy and continued north.

 

"Why did you give him more money?" asked Amelian.

 

"I dunno. Seemed like a nice thing to do," said Lorren.

 

"Nice doesn't seem to work here that much. What if he gets other people to mug us because all we do is flash money around," said Amelian.

 

"Then we get free experience," said Lorren.

 

"Technically, it's not free. We paid a few crowns for it," said Amelian.

 

"True. But then if we get some loot back, it will pay for itself," said Lorren.

 

"Do you enjoy looting corpses?" asked Amelian.

 

"I see it as recycling," said Lorren.

 

"Mmmhmmmm," said Amelian.

 

They made it to Execter Alley, just as Jim said. It was thin but it was quite well lit, and there were a throng of adventurers milling about. At least, Amelian thought they were adventurers. They certainly had the look of adventurers, what with the armour and the wardrobe. There was only one entrance that seemed to be of any worth in the alley, and it was the entrance of the Adventurer's Guild. No signed adorned the wall or the door, but it was open and an orange light spilled out. There was the noise of a crowd, but not one you would expect at a bar or even a market place. This was much louder.

 

Amelian and Lorren made their way in. The place was packed, and people were screaming and cheering. There were three levels to the adventurer's guild. It was circular, and on each level, there was a railing with people leaning over and screaming. There were no seats nor tables, not that there would have been any room. Close to them was an enclosed booth with a ticket seller inside.

 

"How many?" asked the man in the booth.

 

"Uh, two?" replied Amelian.

 

"Your name?" asked the man again.

 

"Uh. Amelian."

 

"And I'm Lorren!"

 

"That will be two crowns," said the man as he handed her two wooden tickets. Amelian took them and paid the price of two crowns. She handed a ticket to Lorren who returned to watch the hubbub. He was overly excited.

 

"This isn't an adventure guild," said Lorren.

 

"What?" asked Amelian.

 

"This is an Arena! People are fighting!" said Lorren.

 

"Great," said Amelian. She didn't understand the whole purpose of fighting for sport. Life was difficult enough trying to survive out in the wild, why make it even more cumbersome by fighting when you are in a civilized city.

 

"I'm going to see if they have a job or information board. Maybe I'll even post a quest to find information," said Amelian.

 

Lorren wasn't paying attention, he had started to go to the second floor to see if he can get a better look at the fight.

 

Amelian looked around, trying to get through a number of large men who were yelling and screaming at the spectacle in the center of the Adventurer's Guild. She eventually saw a board and another booth beside it. The crowds thinned out just a little, but it still took her almost five minutes to make it to the bulletin board. To her dismay, it wasn't a job board, but a listing of the people fighting and the odds of wining. She went to the booth anyway.

 

"Excuse me, do you have any type of board which may show quests or jobs that adventurer's need doing?" asked Amelian.

 

"You want the Adventurer's Guild. This is the Arena. The Adventurer's guild is another block to the east," said the man.

 

The crowd gave another large roar and then there was more cheering. She could barely hear the announcer through the din but apparently the fight was over.

 

"You better move, little lady. The crowd will want to collect their winnings and make more bets," said the ticket booth seller.

 

Amelian nodded in thanks and went to find Lorren. The last she saw, he was on the second floor. It was near impossible though, for half of the crowd which was previously surrounding the arena, were now trying to make it to the one ticket booth to collect their winnings. She didn't feel sorry for him. A horrible thought came to her: what if Lorren would try and bet on a fighter. She started to look around to make sure she could stop him. They had no time for this now, and she knew where the adventurer's guild was.

 

It took another ten minutes for her to even move ten steps. She was glad Kariss wasn't here, she wouldn't have stood for this. Amelian spotted on the second balcony, talking to someone animatedly. She looked around for stairs and spotted them on the opposite side of the arena.

 

"Of course," she muttered to herself. Once again, she had to wade through the mass of people who were now returning to their positions to get a better view of the fight. The announcer came on trying to speak over the crowd but he was failing miserably. The crowd started to get louder as the excitement began to climb and Amelian then changed tactics and tried to make it to the edge of the room.

 

The room started to chant. Amelian wasn't too sure what they were chanting, but assumed it was the upcoming fighters. She wished she knew the spell that Kariss cast that would silence people. She looked up to see where Lorren was, but he had gone from his spot on the balcony.

 

Amelian let out an audible grunt of frustration. It didn't matter anyway for no one would have heard how frustrated she was. The smell, the shoving, and the noise was getting to her. She no longer cared where Lorren was. He was a big boy. She would go to the adventurer's guild herself, and find the information she needed to know. If Lorren wanted to stay and bet on fights, so be it.

 

She was less gracious pushing through crowds this time. After another five minutes, she made it to the front door.

 

"That's her," she heard as she passed the booth.

 

Amelian looked up into the arms of two large men that blocked the door.

 

"You can't leave now," said one.

 

"What? Why? I didn't do anything wrong," said Amelian.

 

"I don't care if you don't have the guts, once you sign up, you've signed up," said the other bouncer.

 

"What?" asked Amelian.

 

"Get on the arena. Now. They've been waiting for you for five minutes. That's an eternity to a crowd that lusts for entertainment," said the other as he roughly pushed her in the direction of the arena.

 

Amelian was fuming. She had no other option than to get this over with. She recognized the chanting now, and for that matter, the name. They were calling her name. They were just pronouncing it wrong.

 

The arena was a small wooden floor, no larger than twenty by twenty feed. Very small. She saw Lorren on the Arena. He gave her a sheepish smile. She stepped on and the crowd roared with cheering and laughter.

 

Next to Lorren stood the announcer, dressed in a striped black and red uniform. He was bald and sported a small moustache.

 

"You've never fought before, have you young lady. You're brave," he said.

 

"More like stupid," said Amelian.

 

"Well, considering you two are new, I granted this gentlemen's request," said the announcer.

 

"Request?" asked Amelian. Why was she the last to know about these things.

 

"Ladies and gentlefolk!" yelled the Announcer. "We have a special treat for you tonight. New people, who have never fought in the Arena of Death."

 

The crowd roared again, but there was mostly laughter.

 

"To accommodate our visitors, we are jumping the program a bit, and we are going into the tag team fight."

 

"The Dome! The Dome" came the loud cry as the crowd, against all physical odds, moved back to allow for a larger arena.

 

"What are we doing?" asked Amelian to Lorren.

 

"We're fighting," said Lorren.

 

"How long do we have to do this for?" asked Lorren.

 

"I don't know. I didn't get that far in the rules," said Amelian.

 

"There are rules?" asked Amelian.

 

"Well, just one. We're not allowed to kill anyone not involved in the fight," said Lorren.

 

"You can kill people in this fight?"

 

"I think they're pretty lax on that last rule, though," said Lorren.

 

The announcer pointed to two large men that entered the room. They were about seven feet tall each, and sported only a loin cloth. There were more muscles in one of their arms than Lorren had on his whole body.

 

"And if we die?' asked Amelian.

 

"Well, we have to pay for resurrection. But, they wanted a deposit. I didn't have enough on me, you had the money," said Lorren.

 

"I don't have any money, I gave most of it to Jenise," said Amelian.

 

"Well then hopefully, she will know where we are and pay for our resurrection," said Lorren.

 

"How did we get bumped up so fast in the roster anyway? We just got here," said Amelian.

 

"No one wanted to go up against the reigning champ," said Lorren.

 

"These two?" asked Amelian.

 

"Oh no. Because we're going in pairs, we've change the schedule. These guys are the bottom of the rung, apparently," said Lorren.

 

"What?"

 

"It's a Dome match. We keep fighting until we lose," said Lorren.

 

"Well, then I forfeit," said Amelian.

 

"No, no. We only forfeit via death. If we choose not to fight, then they just bash our heads into the ground repeatedly until we die. The crowd wants blood after all," explained Lorren.

 

"Humans are sick," said Amelian.

 

Chapter 21

Kariss was sitting on the couch practicing. It was getting pretty late but neither Kariss nor Jenise could sleep. Jenise had pulled out a whetstone and had been sharpening her daggers.

 

"They've been gone for a while," said Jenise.

 

'They've been gone for only an hour," said Kariss.

 

Jenise nodded and continued to sharpen her blades. She watched Kariss. She had taken out a small wooden mechanism with various springs and what looked like levers. Kariss had said earlier that this was a Mages Artifact. The Artifact was used as a tool for mages to practice their finger forms. Kariss was mindlessly practicing a variety of forms on the Artifact. She wasn't even looking, or for that matter, concentrating.

 

"You're very fast," said Jenise.

 

"Coming from a thief, that's a compliment," said Kariss.

 

"How come you don't accidentally set off spells, with that?" asked Jenise.

 

"You need to say the correct words, in the correct order and at the correct time intervals. Furthermore, you need to concentrate on the spell. I'm not saying anything, nor am I even concentrating on the finger patterns. Thus, no spell occurs," said Kariss with little expression. Jenise got the sense that she had explained this to her students many times.

 

"Do you miss, the university?" asked Jenise.

 

"No," said Kariss.

 

"Do you know everyone that works there?" asked Jenise.

 

"I don't remember your husband, sorry," said Kariss.

 

"Oh. He works in research. He's in the top tower, I think," said Jenise.

 

"Then I would never meet him. That's in another wing and the tower is on a different part of the campus for that matter. We would rarely cross paths. I have to stick on the side of the campus where all the first year students go. They try to segregate them. If any of them tried to attempt a higher level spell, then ... well... nothing happens. But the older students start to do things like turn them into sheep," said Kariss.

 

"Mages have a thing for sheep," said Jenise.

 

"It's an institution that has, for the most part, been male and single," said Kariss.

 

"Oh," said Jenise.

 

Kariss continued to practice her finger forms. Jenise had put away her daggers and was now organizing her poisons. She hadn't used much, but she knew she would need to replenish some of them soon. She wondered if the poisons and antidotes in this world were similar. Judging by the flora, she was worried her skills with poisons would be useless. This wasn't a sobering thought.

 

"They're in trouble, by the way," said Kariss.

 

"Who?" asked Jenise.

 

"Amelian and Lorren," said Kariss.

 

"How do you know?" asked Jenise.

 

"Scrying Stone," said Kariss.

 

"Oh, so you saw the whole vampire encounter," said Jenise.

 

"Yes," said Kariss.

 

"And what are Amelian and Lorren doing now?" asked Jenise.

 

"They are at an arena," said Kariss.'

 

"What? Why would they be doing that?" asked Jenise.

 

"The went into the wrong building. And now, they suddenly have been set up to fight two very large men in some type of match to the death. But even if they win, it doesn't start there, they keep on fighting until one is left standing," said Kariss.

 

"They are fighting each other?" asked Jenise.

 

"No, as a team," said Kariss.

 

"I don't know what is worse. Should we go and get them?" asked Jenise.

 

"We won't make it in time. Or at least, it will take us a half an hour to get there," said Kariss.

 

"They could surely last a half an hour, can't they?"

 

Kariss looked at Jenise.

 

"We'd better go. What about Alonna? She would be helpful. Do you have some type of anti-drunk spell?" asked Jenise.

 

"No. Clerics only," said Kariss.

 

"Should we bring her just in case?"

 

"We'd never get there," said Kariss.

 

"Good point, ok, let's go." said Jenise.

 

"There are huge crowds. I don't like crowds," said Kariss.

 

"If Amelian and Lorren die, then that leaves us to deal with the crowds without there help," said Jenise.

 

"Yes, yes it does. Let's go," said Kariss.

 

-~=*=~-

 

The crowd chanted "Dome! Dome!' as the announcer finished off the rules of the game. He then stepped out of the arena, signaled to someone on the balcony, and a blue shimmer enclosed Amelian, Lorren and the two fighters. The sound was dampened quite a bit, and Amelian relaxed.

 

"Honestly, how can you stand that?" asked Amelian.

 

The two large men charged them. Amelian took out her bow and was able to sink two arrows into both of the men, but it had no effect. She had aimed for the legs, not wanting to kill anyone out right.

 

One man tried to swing at her, but she was able to dodge in time. They were fast, but no man was faster than an elf and she sunk another arrow into his thigh.

 

Lorren was warding off blows with his mace. The man attacking him was using nothing but his bear hands, but he seemed to not notice that his blows were being deflected by steel.

 

"These guys feel no pain?" asked Amelian.

 

"Apparently not," said Lorren.

 

"Can't you chant a spell of some sorts," asked Amelian.

 

"Not in these close quarters," said Lorren as he rolled away and deflected another blow aimed at his head.

 

The man chasing Amelian changed tactics and started to go for Lorren.

 

"Oh no you don't," thought Amelian as she shot another arrow at the man's arm. This wouldn't have done anything to deter him, except for the fact that this arrow was one that was anchored by strong twine. Amelian held on tightly, and the man was lurched backward by his arm.

 

The man roared, and turned towards Amelian. But she was quick and notched another arrow and shot it after the second man. This arrow was attached to the end of the twine of the other arrow and it lodged deep into the second man.

 

Lorren saw this and immediately did his best to entangle the two. The men were clever, but it was too difficult not to get caught up in the twine. And Amelian didn't help by shooting off more arrows.

 

After a sluggish two minutes, both men were down, and the dome disappeared, giving way to the deafening roar outside.

 

"You're pretty fast with those arrows," said Lorren.

 

"They start you young," said Amelian.

 

The announcer started to continue his job with announcing, while Amelian was looking for a way out. There was none. The crowd had completely closed them in. She looked up, but the roof was high and she could not see any visible skylight that she could climb out of. All the balconies were packed, so even if she could shoot an escape rope to one of the other balconies, the crowd probably wouldn't let her past.

 

The announcer was now introducing the next foe who was just entering the ring. It was one man, or to be more precise, being. The man looked like a man save for the arms, which were a number of tentacles.

 

"That guy has tentacles for arms!" said Lorren.

 

Amelian just stared.

 

"I don't have bladed weapons. I can't cut them off. Do you have any daggers or anything?" asked Lorren.

 

"Just my bow," said Amelian.

 

"Maybe we should save your arrows for the more difficult fights," said Lorren.

 

"This isn't difficult?" asked Amelian.

 

"Well, let's conserve them just in case," said Lorren.

 

 

They heard a chime and the dome shimmered into place. The tentacle man let out an inhuman scream and charged them.

 

"Why do they always charge?" asked Lorren as he swung his mace. A tentacle grabbed the mace in mid swing and swung at Lorren. He ducked just in time.

 

"YOu just gave him your weapon!" said Amelian.

 

"He took it!" said Lorren as he dodged another blow. Tentacle boy, however, was having a hard time controlling the mace, what with his arms lacking bones to properly wield a weapon.

 

The other tentacles, however, grabbed the Lorren and lifted him into the air. They then tried to rip Lorren apart.

 

"Ugh! I can't keep it together!" yelled Lorren.

 

Unoccupied, Amelian chanted a quick spell. One of the tentacles was covered in ice. Lorren hit the tentacle with a free arm. It shattered.

 

The tentacle man looked at the stub of his lost tentacle and screamed. Another tentacle was encased in ice, and Lorren shattered that as well.

 

The man screamed again an dropped Lorren and his mace. He then ran back to the edge of the dome. He was still screaming.

 

Amelian and Lorren looked at each other. The tentacle man was afraid. They were suddenly stuck not knowing what to do.

 

-~=*=~-

 

Kariss and Jenise were running up one of the streets which looked like every other street in Stromdell.

 

"You know where to go?" asked Jenise.

 

"The scrying stone helps. I think we're running in the right direction," said Kariss.

 

"And what's the situation now?" asked Jenise.

 

"They beat the two men, rather easily, actually. With no armour on, Amelian shot off two arrows attached to each other with twine, tangling up the men. Now, they are fighting off a tentacle guy," said Kariss.

 

"A tentacle guy?" asked Jenise.

 

"Instead of arms, he has tentacles, but not just one tentacle per arm. There are many tentacles," said Kariss.

 

"But there's just one of them, right?" asked Jenise.

 

"Yes. In fact, they got the upper hand. Amelian froze the tentacles, and Lorren smashed them into pieces," said Kariss.

 

"Maybe they don't need our help after all," said Jenise.

 

"They have a problem though," said Kariss.

 

"Uh oh. More enemies?" asked Jenise.

 

"Moral dilemma," said Kariss.

 

"How so?" asked Jenise.

 

'They don't know what to do now. The guy ran away. He's cowering in the corner of the dome, if domes could have corners," said Kariss.

 

"And Amelian and Lorren?"

 

"They look confused. They don't know what to do. They aren't going to kill him, if I know both of them," said Kariss.

 

"What are they doing now?" asked Jenise.

 

"They're fighting," said Kariss.

 

"Well, yes, they're in an arena," said Jenise.

 

"No, they are fighting with the announcer of the arena.The dome which surrounds their arena has been lifted and they trying to tell the announcer they don't kill people for fun."

 

"That's not going over well, is it," guessed Jenise.

 

"No, its' not."

 

"They've come to a compromise it seems," said Kariss.

 

"Oh? What are you seeing?" asked Jenise.

 

"It seems, every opponent they don't kill gets to fight with them in the next round of opponents," said Kariss.

 

"So now they've just made it harder for themselves," said Jenise.

 

"Pretty much," said Kariss.

 

 

-~=*=~~

 

Amelian and Lorren were standing in the arena as they faced off three opponents. The tentacle man, now with only four tentacles instead of six, was on the edge. He looked menacing, but the loss of his tentacles had really deflated his confidence.

 

The other two opponents were two knights with huge axes. Their armour was thick and black, and not one inch of skin was exposed.

 

"Eye slits," said Lorren.

 

"Eyes slits," said Amelian as she let off to arrows again. They bounced harmlessly off the helmets of the knights. The knights laughed and threw their axes at them. Amelian dodge while Lorren deflected with his mace. The axes flew back to their masters who were now charging them.

 

One knight bashed Lorren in the side, knocking him to the side of the Arena.

 

Amelian had jumped out of the way. She couldn't find anything in the armour that was visible to shoot.

 

As she landed, tentacle guy grabbed her foot, and then slammed her into the side of the dome. Fortunately for her, it was a magical dome and wasn't solid enough to cause any harm.

 

One of the knights tried to hack her with an axe. She was able to pull out of the way. The next slice was aimed at her head, but she deftly pulled tentacle man into the path of the axe. Tentacle man let out a large squeek before meeting his demise.

 

Meanwhile, Lorren was having a hard time avoiding the axe and the assault from the other knight. He was fast, and the arc of his axe swing seemed to fill the whole arena.

 

Lorren swung his mace at the knight, who parried it easily and swung again at Lorren's torso. Lorren ducked in time, and then threw his mace at the knight. Without effort the knight knocked the weapon away from Lorren, but Lorren was suddenly in close. With a large cry, he grabbed onto the helmet of the knight and ripped it off.

 

-~=*=~~

 

"Wow, she's good," said Kariss.

 

"What. What do you see?" asked Jenise.

 

"Lorren pulled the helmet off of one of the knights. Amelian, at this point had dodged a swing and a punch from one of the knights. However, Amelian then maneuvered herself to kick that knight and move him off balance while she jumped into the air. While airborne, she removed her bow and show an arrow straight into the naked head of the first knight attacking Lorren. He went down, and Amelian landed next to Lorren. Now it's two against one," said Kariss.

 

"Oh, are they going to rip his helmet off too?" asked Jenise.

 

"No, he just took it off. In fact, he's removing all of his armour," said Kariss.

 

"What?" asked Jenise.

 

"I think Amelian had cast a spell to make the armour red hot. He can barely touch it and get it off his body," said Kariss.

 

"Oooh, that's a good one," said Jenise.

 

-~=*=~-

 

"Are we done?" asked Amelian.

 

"No, I think that's just round three," said Lorren.

 

"How many rounds are there?" asked Amelian.

 

"I don't know," said Lorren.

 

There was a roar, and the bottom of the arena fell out. Lorren and Amelian fell to a pit below.

 

"Now, this isn't fair," said Lorren.

 

They heard the roar again, and they turned to see a large beast skulking in the shadows. It was crouched over, for it's full height was restricted by the roof. It was on chains, probably to keep it from crawling up onto the main floor of the arena but there was a the sound of metal being clinked, and then the rolling of chains.

 

The beast started to walk towards them.

 

"How are you with emotion spells at the moment?" asked Amelian.

 

"I can sense emotion, stupidly enough, and that beast has only one and it's rage. If I made it angrier, we'd be in a lot of trouble," said Lorren.

 

"We're not in trouble now?" asked Amelian.

 

"Wait, I saw a movie that had something like this, come, over to that portcullis," said Lorren.

 

"Movie? What's a movie?' asked Amelian as she followed Lorren another part of the room. There was an iron portcullis in front of them with a wheel on the other side.

 

"You can squeeze through these bars. Pull that wheel and open the gate," said Lorren.

 

"There's a gate beyond that, and we can't fit through that one," said Amelian.

 

"This is the trap," said Lorren.

 

Amelian nodded and slipped through the gate. Lorren heard another loud roar and he dodge just the right time as a claw tried to squish him against the gate. There wasn't that much room and he had a hard time trying to avoid the beast.

 

"Hurry up!" shouted Lorren.

 

"This thing isn't light!" said Amelian as the gate eventually started to give.

 

The beasts tail caught Lorren and he tripped. Seeing his opportunity, the beast picked up Lorren! Lorren grunted as the arms folded in tightly around him. His arms were caught so he could not do anything.

 

"Amelian! Amelian!" screamed Lorren.

 

Amelian locked the wheel and took out her bow, she aimed and shot the beast in the eye. It screamed and dropped Lorren, who rolled under the portcullis which was now half raised.

 

"Thanks! You're great! Come," grunted Lorren as he helped raise the portcullis to the full height.

 

The beast was thrashing around, but he noticed his two victims on the other side of the portcullis. It walked through, and Lorren and Amelian let go of the wheel which held the gate up.

 

The metal portcullis came crashing down on the head of the beast. It roared and started thrashing, bending the gate around it's neck, but still quite alive.

 

"That didn't work," said Amelian.

 

"Don't believe everything you see on screen," mumbled Lorren.

 

"I have a better idea," said Amelian and she ran to the second gate which barred their access. Lorren went with her.

 

The beast was furious, but he was half blinded and the gate was making it difficult for him to maneuvre. Its arms was thrashing at them, hitting the walls, the ground, and everything around them.

 

"I hope they built this sturdy," said Lorren.

 

Amelian cast a spell, another heat spell, and they smelled the burning of flesh. The beast started to bellow. It pawed at the gate around its neck but it couldn't take it off, and every touch burned his hand.

 

"Oh, that's cruel," said Lorren.

 

The flesh began to sizzle loudly, and the stench began to fill Lorren and Amelian's nose.

 

-~=*=~-

 

"She's cooking it alive," said Kariss.

 

"What?"

 

"Well, I guess she's really grilling it," said Kariss.

 

"That's, awful! Don't tell me anymore," said Jenise.

 

"Well, that's not much to tell. The beast is thrashing about while it's head is being grilled to death."

 

"I don't want to know," said Jenise.

 

"It's pretty gruesome," said Kariss.

 

"I bet it is," said Jenise.

 

"It's down on the ground now. And Amelian stopped. I don't think she could go through with killing it like that. In fact, she froze the gate now. I think the monster is unconscious with pain," said Kariss.

 

"Are they safe yet?' asked Jenise.

 

"I don't know, it's hard to tell. Do they have any more rounds to fight, or are they going to escape?"

 

"I don't know, what is everyone else doing?" asked Jenise.

 

"I don't know, I can' only see them," said Kariss.

 

"Well, let's go meet up with them," said Jenise.

 

"And where are you young lovely ladies going on such a dark night," cackled a voice from the darkness.

 

Kariss and Jenise looked up. Four men, dressed in black, were blocking their way forward. They had the look on their faces of people completely pleased with how lucky they were.

 

-~=*=~-

 

"Are we done? It's dead. Well, at least it's unconscious," said Amelian.

 

"You didn't kill it? You know what that means now. That means whatever comes through those doors now will also be aided by that beast, if it wakes up," said Lorren.

 

They heard a noise that sounded like a throaty, echoey clicking. They looked further into the darkness, and shapes, which looked liked lizards started to come towards them.

 

"This was not the price of admission," said Lorren.

 

The lizards were bipedal, and walked slowly towards them. They hissed, baring sharp teeth. Their claws were also quite impressive. Lorren had armour on, albeit not very tough, but Amelian still just had her cloth jerkin on.

 

They were in luck though, because they were not looking for them, they were pleased by the large feast in front of them, and started to eat the cooked flesh of the monster that had almost crushed them.

 

"Well, we have a moments respite as they eat that thing," said Amelian..

 

"And then maybe they'll just go and have a nap?" asked Lorren.

 

"If we're lucky. By the tree, that is disgusting," said Amelian as she watched the lizards tear out hunks of flesh off of the monster.

 

"Hey, it's nature. You should like that," said Lorren.

Share this on: