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Archives: The Golden Egg

Chapter 14: The Weeping Bell Inn

    Naclia followed along quietly, trying to remain unobtrusive. Even though they had left him behind, Aiden’s anger was still lingering in her mind. She was hoping for little time with Talen, though that might have been a little awkward with Lyassa following. The priestess seemed to tag along like a ghost, and people were always forgetting she was there. For now, she had to do Aiden’s job and make sure nothing happened to Eli.

    Wil slowed his pace a little. He had some apologies that had to be addressed, and while Aiden never acknowledged that he forgave Minstral, there was still a slight discomfort with Naclia he didn’t really apologize for. “Listen, Naclia. Sorry for what I said back on the road,” he said over his shoulder. Wil wanted to be apologetic and say sorry to her face, but Naclia’s breasts were enough to distract him from saying the right things to the right areas. “My comments, and poetry, towards the union of elves and humans was uncalled for. It’s just that my mother suffered so much when my father, her husband, a human, died. I don’t like to see people suffer...” Especially elves, he continued silently. He didn’t want to say that in front of the two women, or even admit that out loud at all.

    “Hmm?” Naclia lifted her head. It took her a moment to remember what he was talking about. The day had been so busy, she had forgotten about his rude comments the night before. “Oh...that. Well, I’ll accept your apology,” Naclia replied. However, remembering his words left her feeling a little bitter. “Who I decide to marry is my choice, and I’m fully aware of the consequences.”

    “Thanks,” Wil said humbly. “We’re here.” He pointed ahead a bit towards the somewhat posh-looking inn. As he announced their arrival to Naclia and Eliamn, a rather pregnant woman and a half-elven man came out of the inn looking rather depressed. Wil immediately brightened at the sight of the half-elf and called out to him. “Hey Cole!”

    Looking up, Cole smiled and shook his head. “Well if it isn’t Wilhelm. I haven’t seen you for nearly a decade. I see you’re adding to your harem.”

    Wil blanched and shook his head. “A-actually, I’m under their employ,” Wil stammered out sheepishly. “I see you’re still pretending to be monogamous.”

    Naclia’s ear twitched in annoyance at being considered part of a ‘harem’, but she let the comment pass.

    Cole grit his teeth and whacked Wil upside the head. “Not ‘pretending’, am. I am monogamous,” he grunted. The human woman giggled a little at the exchange but turned her attention to Eliamn and Naclia.

    “Excuse me, miss elves,” the woman started. “I was wondering, if in your travels you’ve come across a young half-elven woman named Air Telany? You see, she’s been away from home for a while now and I’m a little concerned that she’s not doing so well. She’s my sister’s child, after all, and I promised Jo, my sister, that I’d take care of Air.”

    Cole blanched a little. “C-Catherine, you can’t just go around asking every elf if they’ve come in contact with little Air.” Cole gave a soft bow of apology for his wife’s intrusion.

    Eliamn returned a nod in acceptance of Cole’s apology but then turned to the pregnant woman and shook her head slightly. “I am sorry, but unfortunately we can provide you with no succor in this instance. We have only recently left the Mirror Forest and have not really met with any half-elven women on the road.” Naclia shook her head to Catherine, emphasizing Eliamn’s response.

    Catherine’s face fell with the news that these two also haven’t met with Air. “I see,” she said slowly. “I’m sorry for bothering you two.”

    “I’ll keep an eye out for her,” Wil stated. “If we run into her, do you have any message you’d like to pass on?”

    Catherine shook her head. “No, I’m just worried about her. That’s all.”

    Cole put his hand on Catherine’s shoulder and gave her a soft rub. “C’mon Cat, we should get you home.” Catherine nodded in compliance as the two walked off. “Wil, if you’re in need of your old weapon, it’s still where you left it. You’re welcome to take it whenever you feel like it.”

    Wil shook his head. “Let’s get set up in the inn,” he said to Eliamn and Naclia, changing the subject.

    “This Cole person said he had not seen you for over a decade. Did this have any link to the reason you ran into trouble here?” Eliamn asked as they walked for the door.

    Wil shook his head. “That’s a part of it.” He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “Cole and I used to be really close, when I was a kid. His mother knew my mother, sort of thing. His mother died in that...war and we nearly lost our lives as well.” Despite himself, the memories of the Mirror Forest burning brought tears to his eyes. “We promised to stay close to each other after that, but he eventually settled here, and I...left. Every time I see him it reminds me of that time. I-I gotta hit the head, I’ll be right back.” Wil flashed a smile to the proprietor and went to the rest room.

    Eliamn paused, watched Wilhelm go and then turned to Naclia. {“I guess this is as good an opportunity as any. Naclia, I talk to you about how we are doing and—well—about Aiden too. I have concerns, but I’d rather share them with you first before bringing them up to him.”}

    Here it comes, Naclia thought with a sigh. The elf picked out a table and sat down. {“What is it?”} she asked.

    Eliamn joined Naclia over in the chair opposing hers. {“I am going to go on a long rant, so please allow me to use you as a sounding board. I would greatly appreciate you telling me what you think of the issues I raise afterwards.”}

    The shamaness took a deep breath. {“Here I go.

    {“The night you and I shared a room in the Dragon Roost inn, back in the city of Dragon Breath, we discussed about many things. Those included you putting to rest my concerns about being a burden and not being able to pull my weight in this group.”}

    The shamaness raised one hand to pull some of her blonde hair back behind one long pointed ear and looked around for Wilhelm, or anyone whom might be watching; she then returned her eyes to Naclia and added: {“I believe I was acceptant to the decisions you two made on this trek so far. You wished for more companions and while I personally disagreed, I did not confront you two on it. You both decided to go on a possibly dangerous quest to help Mycen the dragon and I supported you both.

    {“Rylan is a liability to us as a berserker and his company could prove disastrous to the rest of our group, but I have against my better judgement held my tongue on the matter because it seemed the rest of you would have the compassion to grant him the company he seemed to sorely lack.

    {“The same thing goes with Kima, with whom I seem to come at odds often and I derive no pleasure or satisfaction out of giving her a hard time—the wildling often seems to skirt the line of inconsiderate and unacceptable behavior and I personally do not think we need to expend time or take responsibility over her childish antics. But you have both extended kindness and compassion to her and that is fine, despite my dislike of the situation I tried to put up with it.

    {“The same might have also applied to Saga, long lost brother of our Aiden. However, I might not really need to raise this point: when it seemed our Aiden was not really the father he was looking for, he seemed to quickly enough lose interest and leave our company,”} the blonde elfmaid smiled. {“I would like to note that despite me perhaps seeming like a conservative purist that I have nothing really against those of mixed blood, even our Aiden—it was rather obvious by then that his father was not entirely elven. I do not have anything against half-elves... really. I just do not wish to mother them.

    {“The point I believe I mean to make is that we three set out and you yourself said we needed to count of each others in our travels. We needed to take the decisions as to what we do and where we go together.”} Eli huffed indignantly. {“That is not what Aiden is doing—Aiden has been taking decisions by his own and he has been forcing us to bend to them continuously... from the point Lyassa joined us to other things... like his ‘it’s not debatable’ he shoved on me earlier.”} Quoting someone else was probably one of the rare times Eliamn was ever going to utter a contraction.

    The shamaness scowled, a bitter expression crossing over her face. {“To be honest, when he said that, I had to fight away tears—he made me feel as if I was a burden; I was not even worth hearing out! If I wanted to go around and acquiesce to unconditional demands, I would be home being a good heiress and obeying my father’s every whim... but I came out to gain some autonomy, some sense of value for my own individuality... just like Aiden left and wanted to be away from the over-protective umbrella of his mother.”} Eli pressed her lips together in a grim line. {“I knew he wanted to protect me and that he did not trust the half-elf... but I go on faith with a lot of things you two do; would it have been so hard to grant me the same, or at least give me some room for debate so that we might have reached a compromise? Was I not worth this much regard?”}

    Eliamn sighed, her tirade coming to an end. The fire of her indignation sputtered and died, only leaving the hollow ache of the ashes left behind its wake. {“I can play the game of being proud and unyielding as well if he refuses to compromise; you saw how it went back there. But that is a bad precedent and no way we should carry on. I would like to think I reasoned all this out and that I am right, but I figured that I could be as much of a proud hypocrite as I feel Aiden is being—if I am... then at least I have you to tell me so. In the same fashion, Aiden is a childhood friend of yours, I believe, so you may relate to him much more than I ever could and thus benefit from insight I do not share in him.”}

* * *

    Wil came out of the washroom but was stopped by an angry looking older barmaid. “Yer Wil, aren’t ye?” she asked poking her finger into his chest.

    “Me? Wil...?” He smiled as charismatically as possible and shook his head. “My name is Allen, you seem to have me mistaken for another man.”

    “Oh, no ye don’t. I remember ye. That coy smile and those pretty boy features. Yer Wil, the minstrel.” She made a face and poked him harder. “Ye said ye’d come back in a week. It’s been near nigh twenty ’ears.”

    Wil blanched. “I’m afraid you have me mistaken for another man. I’m only eighteen, ma’am. That’d be before my time, you see.”

    The barmaid didn’t buy the innocent act at all. “Now ye look ’ere. I ain’t wantin’ no funny business from ye. The maids are off limits fer yer type. Ye have an understandin’?”

    “Aye aye.” Wil agreed to the terms to hasten his escape from an old fling. “I’ll be sure to remember that miss.” She let him go with a sour look on her weathered face. Ah, the curse of my face does it to me again. Once again I’m reduced to a pretty face and given the old warning of ‘the girls are off limits.‘ Perhaps I’ll save myself the trouble this time and just avoid the girls, just to be on the safe side.

* * *

    Naclia listened as best she could, but eventually, only the ending of Eliamn’s speech remained in her mind. She understood the basic point, however. “Aiden...well, I suppose he is overbearing,” Naclia replied. “His strength was a pillar for me after I lost my family. I just learned to accept his leadership, I suppose. But I did agree with him in this instance. I didn’t feel it was a good idea to let you go off with Wil alone either, though Aiden could have stated his concerns in a better way. If you have problems in the future, let me sort things out for you. He might take your complaints as a challenge.”

    Eliamn nodded slowly. Naclia acting as go-between wasn’t quite enough to content her—it seemed to only be a stopgap solution—but Eliamn was at a loss to offer a better idea and figured this much was already an improvement.

    {“I would explain my reasoning about Wilhelm and why I felt I could take the chance, but that would be for another time; he is coming back.”} Eliamn gestured with her chin toward the bard whom was retreating from what looked like a disgruntled former girlfriend.

    “Welcome back,” Eliamn greeted the half-elf. “Would you like something to eat?”

    “Something to eat, eh?” Wil shook his head. “I ate before I went to the cartographer, thank you for the offer though.” He took a seat at the table and scratched his ears. “You two talking about me? My ears are burning.”

    “Not so much you as our current predicament,” Eliamn smiled to Wil and stood up to go and meet the innkeep.

    “Hello, I would like to secure lodging for three, along with dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow. Being able to take a bath would be nice too.” She smiled. “Would that be possible?”

    The innkeeper nodded with a large grin. “Of course, baths come free with the room, just warn the maids when you’d like to take one and they will heat the water up for you. We have rooms for three, or, if it’s more economical, you can have a two bed room and a single. Meals, of course, come with the room.”

    Eli thought about it a moment and asked, “Then could I have two two-bed rooms and a single one-bed room please?”

    The innkeeper made a small frown. Do we even have that many open? “One second,” he said before looking over the keys. “Yes, we do have those accommodations available. How long would you be planning on staying?”

    “I would think until tomorrow morning,” Eliamn replied as she unslung her backpack from her shoulders, holding in a sigh of relief from being liberated from that weight on her shoulders.

    “Very well then. That will be eight gold,” the innkeeper said after calculating the cost in his head.

    Wil got up and dished out the eight gold in his coin purse to the innkeeper. He was sure Eliamn could handle the price herself, but Wil didn’t really want to wait to get his key as she fumbled around for the gold pieces. The chance of her pulling out a Raiden piece was also too great a risk he wasn’t willing to take since she seemed not to know anything about the human world and its monetary practices.

    “Thank you,” the innkeeper, said putting the gold away in the safe. “The double rooms, rooms eight and nine, are on the second floor, the single room is on the first floor, room three. The bath is on the second floor at the end of the hall.”

    Wil left Eli to take the keys and sat back at the table. The minstrel scratched his head aimlessly and rolled out his old map. A lot of the landmarks were written in elven, but there were a few written in dwarven as well. Taking the quill out of his sack he inked it, and then marked off the towns that were either deserted or destroyed with a quick flick. He blew on the ink to help it dry faster and let out an exasperated sigh. “Hard to believe that towns have lifespans of their own,” he half-muttered to himself. “I bet half of these deserted towns are in ruins now, with bandits using them as lairs.”

    Eliamn took the keys with a smile in thanks to the innkeeper, though Wil had surprised her with coming to pay for her. She was sure he already knew she didn’t lack the coin.

    Still somewhat puzzled, she put the keys in the pouch she usually used to carry her herbs and then looked back up at the innkeep, scissoring her backpack in between her lower legs. “Could we have dinner for two? Whatever you have cooking for tonight, though we would greatly prefer no meat.”

    As Wil brought out the old map, Naclia was reminded of the new one he gave her. Aiden might need it, and she couldn’t imagine that he would want to come back and deal with protecting Eliamn after they butted heads.

    “Oh, excuse me,” Naclia spoke to the innkeeper. “Is there a courier nearby?”

    “We have a nice vegetable stew on the stove right now, and some fresh baked bread to go with it, if that will be sufficient.” The innkeeper replied to Eli. After, he made a short reply to Naclia: “Yes, there is a courier not too far from here, about half a block south of here.”

    After the ink dried on the map he rolled it up and placed it in the weathered case it had been in before. He stored his quill away as well and leaned back slightly in the chair. Just barely above a whisper the minstrel worked his craft, forming a poem on his lips.

    “To mother who lives so far away,
another night has come upon me today.
And to father who resides underground,
I hope that my fears shall never be found.

    I’ve lived one lifetime for my father’s stead,
For his work unfinished piled up while he’s dead.
I sold potions and brews to many a man,
I barely scraped by without a single fan.

    The life of a soldier I lived for my mom,
stupid and simple, no thoughts to come.
I left it all behind when the forest went ablaze,
lost in my own guilty mind, an exit-less maze.

    Now I live for myself, as my hour is near,
I walk through shadow and light with nary a fear.
I’ve forgiven myself for all of my shame,
but always forgetting that I wasn’t to blame.”

    Eliamn, too far away to hear Wil’s whispered poem, gave Naclia a little nod. “I can go and hire a courier. This is my fault, after all. Why not let me handle it and take some time to relax and eat some of the stew the innkeep has for us?” The shamaness extended her hand, palm up, to Naclia: a silent request to be given the rolled-up map.

    “Oh, alright,” Naclia said, then leaned over to find the map in her bag. She came back up and handed it over to Eli. “Have them add a little note that says I’ll be staying with you and Aiden can go on the search.”

    Wil brought out his quill and ink again and quickly scrawled down the poem on a blank sheet in a book. It seemed that Naclia and Eli were having a bit of a discussion about sending the map off to Aiden and the others. Aiden was truly going to let Eli and Naclia go with him? Wil shook his head to himself and continued scribing the poem. It was none of his business after all.

    Eliamn gave a quick nod. “I will.” She placed the map on the wooden counter, hitched her backpack up on her shoulders with a huff and retrieved the map as she turned for the Weeping Bell’s doorway; but stopped and turned her head back to look at Naclia. “Ah... how do I figure out which way is south?”

    Wil burst out laughing at Eli’s question as to which direction was south. Gathering up his stuff he packed it away and patted Eli on the shoulder. “I know the way. I’ll take the map and the note, you take a load off and enjoy your supper.”

    Eliamn’s face flushed lightly, the shamaness ambivalent between being embarrassed and being angry at her own cluelessness. “I am not going to ever learn if people keep doing things for me or pampering me,” she replied, still holding the map in her hand.

    Wil nodded holding back from laughing. “You’re absolutely right. I just thought, perhaps, you were hungry. I’ll try to keep my consideration to myself from now on.” He gave her a small smile, trying to ease her embarrassment a little. “When I was younger I didn’t know North from west, so I had to develop a little trick. The sun sets west, north is always to the right of the sunset, so south is to the left. Since it’s almost twilight, the sun is in its west most position, so find the sun and head left from its direction. That works about seventy percent of the time. When in towns it’s best to remember that the streets are named and that the humans like to keep things nice and tidy. Avenues dissect the city from east to west, and streets dissect the city from north to south. I’m not sure if all that helps though, but this tidbit will: The inn is on the north side of the avenue facing south.”

    Eli listened to the bard’s explanation, understanding lighting up in her eyes... though the last bit was a bit harder to take: it was just straight ahead out of the door straight a block. Had she not asked and embarrassed herself, she might have had seen it anyways.

    “Alright,” Eliamn nodded to Wil’s explanation, still glad he had taken the time to explain. “Then I should be able to return shortly.” She turned and went for the door.

    Funny how giddy I am for just running a simple errand on my own. It required an effort for her not to smile smugly at her little victory. Just half a block away, I direct them to carry the map for Aiden Silvermoon, whom ought to be at the Drecloud manor... then I write a note telling Aiden that Naclia volunteered to accompany me tonight in his stead and pay the courier service. Mm!

    Wil smiled, and watched Eliamn go. With a small look over his shoulder he turned his attention to the other elf, Naclia. “Are you going to follow her to make sure she doesn’t get into some trouble?”

    “It’s only a half a block,” Naclia replied. “Besides, she’d like to feel as if she can handle even the simplest of tasks on her own without someone to guard her.”

    “Yeah, you’re right,” Wil muttered. Eli could handle a little thing like this, and Wil knew that, but he had to test whether or not Naclia thought as strongly that Eli was someone who needed protection as much as Aiden seemed to.

    After Eliamn left, Naclia could think of nothing to say to Wil, but she found her mind drifting back to Talen. He could be dense at times, but she found it endearing. He was also often too concerned with what was proper and chivalrous. It was far too tempting for her to turn those morals on their head.

* * *

    Eliamn was out for around twenty minutes. The courier was actually run by two teenagers—a boy and a girl—whom were relatively trusted and successful errand runners in the city. The boy had a way with people and was a fast runner, and the girl knew her letters and numbers, which helped their business.

    When Eliamn had offered to pay with a Raiden, the boy had staggered back in surprise and refused the payment, saying that it wasn’t right. After inwardly debating if the boy’s honesty was out of ethics or if it was due to the girl paying special attention to his actions, Eliamn had decided to hand him the Raiden anyways and to give it to the blonde male elf named Aiden whom would receive the letter and map. Aiden, in turn, would likely have the appropriate coins to pay the boy and perhaps even reward him for his honesty.

    “I have returned,” the shamaness announced as she crossed the door. Wil seemed busy writing his poem while Naclia looked like she had spaced out. “Shall we eat?”

    Wil gave a reserved smile to Eliamn and welcomed her back. “If you guys are gonna eat, I’ll take a small bath now.” Wil stated as he lifted his sack up. “I’ll return afterwards.” With a small sigh he waltzed off to clean up.

    Naclia gave a start as Eliamn spoke. “Oh, welcome back,” she replied. Talen’s mother probably had a meal ready for them at the manor. Naclia would have liked to indulge, but their mission was more important. She gave a nod to Wil as he left, then flagged down a barmaid and requested two meals without meat. While they waited for their meals to be brought to them, Naclia spoke, “So, what is it that we’re doing anyway?”

    Eliamn walked to Naclia’s table and got herself seated next to her. {“There is a disreputable place in this city which, according to the old cartographer we visited, is an haunt of Roess,”} Eliamn began explaining, leaning over to whisper in elvish. {“Some of his associates might be contacted there and we might be able to persuade them into revealing where Roess might be bound with the egg and the roads he planned on taking to get to his destination.”}

    Naclia’s eyes brightened a bit. {“That sounds promising,”} she replied. {“But it’s probably a good thing that Aiden didn’t come. He isn’t exactly street smart—well, not that you and I are either, but I’d say we’re less threatening, on the surface.”}

    Eliamn nodded, glad Naclia approved of the plan. (“The man we are looking for goes by the name of Roke. Ideally, we need to reach that lace whom several exporters use as a hang out and ask for him at the bar before ordering a pear cider bottle. We set it down with a written note as to the place where we will be staying for the night and by midnight he should come and visit,”} the shamaness kept explaining in elvish. {“It is why we needed to come here beforehand and get lodging for the night—else if we would have gone beforehand without taking this precaution, we would have no place to leave a note... except the Drecloud mansion.

    {“That did not sound like such a good idea,”} Eli added after a pause. {“So instead we took three rooms here: two for us to sleep in, one for us to meet this Roke.”}

    Naclia nodded along with Eliamn’s explanation in approval. {“I see,”} Naclia replied, falling back into her native tongue. {“I hope this works. I don’t think that even in the time we have, and with three rangers, that we could scout all the possible routes through the mountains. But at least we have a direction.”}

    Their dinners were brought to them as Naclia finished speaking. The barmaid eyed them curiously as they spoke an unfamiliar language, but she didn’t seem at all uncomfortable with it. As Wil explained, this place was quite accommodating to elves.

    “Thank you,” Naclia told their server, then took her plate and began to eat. The day had been so busy, they hadn’t had a chance to stop for lunch, aside from the snacks they had at the Drecloud manor.

    Eliamn nodded the barmaid’s way in thanks and began eating once Naclia had started. They had their rooms, they were having a meal and would even be able to take a bath. All that was really left was to kill time until the place Wil would lead them to was in business and they would get underway.

    “You know, a bath sounds nice,” Naclia mentioned around a mouthful of her supper. She wasn’t quite as cultured as Eli, even if she was an elf. She swallowed. “We should go in when Wil is done.” A mischievous smirk turned up the corners of her mouth, and she added, {“Or we could go in now and tease the hell out of him.”}

    Eliamn was meanwhile trying to eat relatively neatly and silently—it was likely a blessing that she was determined to speak between bites, since it allowed her the time it took to chew her current mouthful and swallow to figure out just what to reply to her ranger companion. Blurting out a naive reply didn’t really appeal to the shamaness. After considering what Naclia proposed a moment, Eliamn instead asked: {“Is that what you really wish to do? I thought you fancied Talen.”}

    {“Doesn’t mean I can’t have a little fun,”} Naclia replied. Her smirk fell as she reconsidered. {“Maybe it’s not a good idea though. Never mind, it’s just a silly little prank.”}

    Eliamn nodded with a agreeable “Mhmm” and moved on, not wanting to make Naclia feel childish. Part of Eliamn was a little afraid that she was acting a little bit too seriously. “I have been wondering on something,” Eliamn paused and added after an heartbeat, “if we do get in trouble... what should I do? The last time I got into a battle, I ended up being taken hostage with a knife to my throat along with broken ribs. I would like to prove more effective in the future.”

    Naclia thought for a moment. Her first thought was to tell Eliamn to count on someone else who was a better fighter, but Eli wanted to be more independent. “There are a few tricks that you can use to defend yourself,” Naclia started. “There are several vulnerable points on the body you can hit if you find yourself in trouble. The throat, the groin in men, and right below the ribs. If you get thrown to the ground, try kicking your attacker as hard as you can in the knee, especially on the side. If you’re in a fight, just try to end it as quickly as possible by striking any vulnerable point.”

    Eliamn nodded to Naclia’s instructions, though the ranger’s instructions seemed to have more to do with escaping a grappling opponent than actually contributing in a fight... so she approached that subject next. “How would you suggest I contribute in a fight? The Keepers of the Ancient Tree pursued training to fight to protect against demons; formation which has been much less ceremonial since the war fifty-seven years ago... my affinity with spiritualism, despite my lack of proficiency at arms, could prove of some worth.”

    Naclia giggled a little. “Eli, I assumed that you knew we expected you to back us up with shamanism. You’re far more skilled than Aiden or I. Your summons have been a great help so far,” Naclia replied. Pausing for a moment, she thought back to their previous encounters. “If you feel that Aiden and I are doing enough on our own, well if you would feel more useful, perhaps we could focus more on fighting than summoning—saving ourselves some energy while you back us up with the spirits. You would be able to focus better in a fight if we were in the heat of battle and you were standing back.”

    Eliamn nodded a little. She suspected they would both be able to focus better on the battle if they didn’t have to worry about Eliamn getting hurt. “I’ve trained with pretty much all the spirits I came into contact with in the spirit realm, but since I associated with the ancient tree... I have developed considerably my ease in calling upon the aid of light, earth and water spirits. They are those I can call upon the easiest, the fastest and with the less impact on my stamina.”

    Wil returned after his bath, clean and in a new fresh clothes, and came to sit with the two elven women. He didn’t want to interrupt if they were talking about something so he sat quietly, and slipped his book out of his pack. Quietly screening the pages, he kept his ears alert to the conversations away from his table.

    The shamaness turned to give Wil a look, as if noting his presence, and returned her violet eyes on Naclia. “I expect we might have to fight in the future. I do not believe Roess will hand over the egg if we just ask him. I am confident the rituals I was taught to fight demons would be quite up to the task of defeating bandits, but I feel uncomfortable with unleashing the wrath of the spirits on humans—some things just seem too dire to be used on mortals. Would you agree to me using my shamanistic powers in a supportive role?”

    “I’d personally kill him,” Wil stated bluntly, not looking up from his book. “Anyone who bothers to steal from a mother, let a alone a dragon, has ‘death sentence’ written all over his future. Besides, chances are, turned over to the authorities, they’re going to kill him anyways,” he replied nonchalantly. “...I suppose with this talk of ‘fighting’ I might have to as well.” Wil clicked his tongue. “And here I was hoping never to lift a sword again.”

    “I—” Eliamn looked down at her plate. While she had held interest in the search and pursuit of Roess’ group, she felt shortsighted for only realizing now that a fight would happen. “I am sorry. I guess I am being naively foolish. I never killed anyone before and I am loath to use spirits to do it for me. I am sure they would if I asked; spirits of nature can be gentle and nurturing but also harsh and unforgiving... but I was taught that all life is precious nonetheless.”

    The shamaness shook her head slightly, laying her utensils down. “I am not blind to the underlying hypocrisy in my words, but I am nonetheless facing a dilemma. Even supporting combatants, I still contribute to the possible death of others. Is the situation so crude as to demand a ‘us or them’ choice? Humans helped us in the last war... can we do no better?”

    Naclia silently considered the conversation, then finally spoke up; “If Roess and Mur-Cavendrel die, it will be their own actions that brought them there. If it isn’t us, then it’ll be someone else that’ll help them down the path to their own demise. They were the ones foolish enough to provoke an ancient dragon.”

    “My sentiments exactly.” Wil nodded in agreement. “I’d like to avoid fighting, myself, at any cost. I haven’t lifted a sword since...” he trailed off momentarily. “Well, a long time anyhow.”

    Eliamn left a heavy silence after Wil’s words before saying: “I suppose I will not be able to do anything but see what circumstances will be and what the context of the situation demands.” She half closed her almond-shaped eyes. “As the dwarves say, it is better to be the hammer than being the anvil.”

    “...Does that mean a ‘yes Wil, you have to fight just like the rest of us?’” Wil asked. “Or are you merely quoting a dwarven sayings for the conversational value and eventual topic change into dwarven eroticism, like ‘Aren’t these the same people who prefer their women with full beards?’”

    Eliamn gave Wil a strange, fathomless look which she held for a couple of long seconds—the sort of clueless look people could give when they were drawing a blank on the punchline of a joke. Her lips quivered and then a brief giggle escaped her, with her belatedly trying to stifle it with her hand. “That was funny,” the blonde shamaness said, not able to restrain a smile. “Sorry.”

    Naclia nearly choked on her drink laughing. “Maybe you’re not so bad, Wil,” Naclia said with a chuckle as she wiped her face.

    “Well, that just put more than enough pressure on me to outdo myself in jokes right then and there.” Wil said with a soft chuckle. “When you two are finished with your ‘feasting’ shall we saunter off to some obscure hole in the ground to rustle up some foul creature to dredge some dreary information from them?”

    Eliamn nodded. “If you think it is late enough, yes.”

    Naclia polished off what was left of her supper while they talked about leaving. “Well, I’m ready,” she added. The elf stretched, then concealed a small burp with her hand.

    “Very well then...” Wil said. “Where are we going again?”

    Eliamn frowned, quickly replaying in her head what the cartographer had said. Thankfully, she had a pretty sharp memory: “There ought to be a rather ugly inn in a little niche in the back alleys, owned and operated by a thief guild... but some exporters hang around that place too. It serves pear cider as well.”

    “Oh. That place,” Wil scowled. “You might want to keep anything of any real value behind in your rooms. That area has a lot of residents with very sticky fingers.”

    “Then we can probably leave most of our luggage and money here save for what we will need to pay the pear cider,” Eliamn thought aloud. “Along with something to write on and something to write with.”

    The shamaness slowly stood, bent to grab her backpack and strained as she lifted it. “Let us go to our rooms and set what we will not need aside. We are renting three rooms: one is for Wil, the other is for Naclia and myself, and the third is the one we will use to receive this Roke person.”

    “Alright then,” Naclia replied. The ranger took her coin purse out of her pack, then dropped it through the cut-out keyhole opening in the front her dress and hid it in her cleavage.

    With a grin, she said, “There, now no one can get to it without getting their ass beat first.” She then slung her pack over her shoulder and waited for Eliamn to lead the way to their room upstairs.

    Eliamn blinked in puzzlement at Naclia’s hiding place—Eli’s own bosom was hardly ample enough to allow that... and she was pretty certain it’d get uncomfortable overtime too.

    Wordlessly, Eliamn went up the stairs, pulling the keys for their rooms out of her satchel and unlocked the door for Wil’s room and leaving it in the lock for Wil to retrieve before walking on to her own room and unlocking it as well.

    Once inside, the shamaness set down her backpack and satchel. Her hands came up and she quickly worked on removing the three jade earrings she wore on each ear before plopping them in her satchel. The room key she decided would be secured against her leg with one of the twines of her leg wraps so that no one could filch it.

    The blonde elf maiden opened her money pouch and took out five Raidens which she slipped under the mattress. If a thief would come while they were out and pilfer their things, she would have some coin left. The money pouch she left behind: with Naclia bringing her own and Wil carrying around inkwell, writing implements and parchment... she figured they had all they needed.

    While Eliamn prepared herself for the night’s outing, Naclia had little to do aside from set aside her pack and bow. She slung her backpack’s straps over the post at the foot of what was apparently left as her bed. Her bow would be useless in the city if there was trouble, so she left it propped carefully in a corner of the room with her quiver of arrows. As a final thought, she took her traveling cloak out of her pack and put it on. It would allow her to remain inconspicuous and warm as night fell.

    “Are you ready?” she asked Eliamn.

    The shamaness returned a nod to Naclia. “As much as I will ever be. Let us go.”

* * *

    Wil had his ink well stopped and in his pocket, and the pen quill was in it’s case, also in his pocket so he didn’t need to worry about the bag full of clothes and other personal items, so he retrieved his key from the door, opened the door and chucked his bag into the room without looking in it. He inwardly knew that there was nothing even remotely breakable in the bag, so the rough treatment of his own items wasn’t really on his mind. Shutting the door, Wil locked it and placed his head against the wood. The possibility of getting into a fight was still looming in the forefront of his mind, which scared him senseless.

    “Get a grip, Wilhelm,” he growled lowly. Wil hit his head against the door to attempt to scatter the thoughts of fighting. “C’mon this isn’t like you, just picture some random woman...” His thoughts flew to Eliamn immediately, making his cheeks turn red with the thought. “...Alright, someone other than her.”

* * *

    Naclia stepped out of the room and found Wil leaning against his room’s door. “Wil, you ready?” she asked.

    “Yeah,” Wil said solemnly. “Let’s get this over and done with.” He didn’t like the idea of heading into the nasty hole of a thieves’ den, but it was necessary to facilitate his ‘employers’.

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