Art: Written Word

2002: A Quest Is A Quest

Here is my entry, and winner (to win you must simply reach 50,000 or more words, lots of people win), for the 2002 NaNoWriMo event. It tops out to 50,032 words and wasn't finished in any sense of the word. The main characters have been around a long time conceptually. Holly is an old RPG character of mine, and one of my favorites. During her brief stint as a Bard in several RPG games she managed to be the only surviving member of at least two parties and has hence been dubbed bad luck by the GM in charge. In her defense she never once directly caused the death of any one person. She has hidden from dragons, incited riots, fled from pirates, was around for the cause of the fall of the last dwarven empire and witnessed the opening of a gate to another world where she struck it rich in the spice trade. She's the bard and the bard can't die. Everyone else is fair game on the other hand. Millileth is an even older character, but I never did much beyond basic development. There are many hundreds of words written where I tried to start some great Fantasy Epic (in the vein of Tolkein) many aeons ago. The idea never took off, the cyberpunk style was much more to my liking for a long time and the idea of writing High Fantasy anything got shunted to the side. Then I found NaNoWriMo, actually a member of alt.cyberunk.chatsubo found it and posted it to the group. I took it and said, "ha! now's my chance to write great Fantasy!" or at least write some fantasy story or another so I drudged up the above two characters and ran with it. The following train wreck is what came out, and to be honest most of it (I'd say between 25,000 and 30,000 words) was written in the last eight days of the event so it's even worse than you could imagine. But there ya go, completely unedited the raw entry for the contest. I don't remember where the plot was going and I don't care - it was for fun and man was it fun.

//Chapter 01 : Past :: Questing//

Lagrig strode down the muddy lane towards the inn. His lanky form not quite filling out the heavy cloak he had draped over his shoulders. He had a purpose about him as he walked up to the door, hesitated only a fraction of a second and then pushed his way inside. Immediately he seemed stunned by the amount of noise and people inside the inn's tavern room. The place was large enough for two fires. One the hearth in the north wall, the other a large wood oven in the middle of the room, heating the place mostly evenly. Most of the heat came from the large number of people inside. Some at the bar, some at tables, a few playing a game of darts, all talking in slightly too loud conversationaly tone as they try and make themselves heard over everyone else.

Lagrig shook his head as if to clear it and looked about the room, the light not being exactly up to the task of letting one see much further than their own table. He pushed his way forward through the crowd on the look out. He finally spotted who he was after and worked his way quickly to a table occupied by three other men, all of them much bigger than himself. He sat down at the tables only empty chair and sighed.

"Well?" Terrak asked, he was broad shouldered with a gruff appearance. Lagrig noted his full beard was currently occupied by a loafs worth of bread crumbs.

"Nothing." Lagrig answered and poured himself a tankard of ale from the pitcher in the middle of the table. "No one's heard of it." He shrugged.

"I've found nothing either." Barret said, he wasn't much bigger than Lagrig but had a more threatening appearance. Mostly due to the large axe leaning against the table next to him.

All three of them looked at Javinn, who was busy staring off into the crowd, apparently looking for someone. It was a minute before the gaze of all three of his companions caused him to bring his attention back to the table. "Oh, I found a local guide who seems to know something. I'm hoping they show up as arranged." He shrugged, his chain mail shirt making a clinking noise as he did so.

"Local?" Terrak asked dubiously, "I don't like the sound of that much." Bread crumbs were being shaking loose as he talked. Lagrig shuffled his chair a little away from Terrak to avoid the flying particles.

"Well, not really local so much." He picked up his tankard, "I found a bard." He took a swig and looked at the group, who stared back mouths agape.

"A bard?" Lagrig said, "Great!" He threw his hand in the air, "We don't need that kind of attention Javinn. Remember we're trying to be sneaky?" He eyed the warrior.

"Trust me." Javinn replied smoothly.

"Sure, I trust you." Barret said, "In a fight, with Orcs and whatnot coming screaming at us." He slammed his ale down on the table, "But you've been nothing but a hinderance in every town we come to."

"Yeah!" Terrak bellow, mostly so he didn't feel left out of the conversation.

"Relax," Javinn said, doing his best to not be riled by his companions, "Besides, you haven't come up with much better." He pointed an accusing finger at each of them in turn.

Lagrig leaned back in his chair and sighed, "He's right. Maybe we do need a bard on this one. So, can we have the name of this bard?"

"Holly." Javinn said proudly.

Lagrig and Barret groaned simultaneously.

"Thrice damned we are." Javinn muttered.

"Are you kidding me?" Barret leaned close, "Every damn female bard from here to Clanshome is going by that name ever since that blasted elf showed up." His voice was seething with anger, "We probably got some barmaid who's gotten it into her head she can sing and wants to travel about."

"Half elf." Came a soft female voice off to Barret's side, the side opposite the axe. It was the kind of voice that just managed to carry itself as far as it needed and made itself known. Which in this case was only to the table in front of the four men, they all turned in unison to find its source.

What they had in front of them was about five feet tall with long deep red hair, the kind of red autumn produces in its leaves, in a white blouse and deep blue skirt. Her slightly pointed ears poked out of the hair betraying elven heritage, as did the flecks of gold in her dark brown eyes, which took on a sparkle in the low levels of light in the common room. Tucked into her belt was flute, there wasn't a weapon to be seen on her person.

"Excuse me?" Barret blinked and sat up strait.

"And have some respect for barmaids, they control the flow of ale." She reached over and pulled a chair from a nearby table that happened to be empty. Almost as if she planned it that way.

"Can we help you?" Lagrig tried to stare her down and found he simply couldn't make her so much as blink.

"You hired me, I think the question goes the other way around." She smiled at them warmly.

"This," Javinn said proudly, "Is Holly."

"THE Holly?" Barret said, eyeing her up and down.

"If, by that, you mean 'that blasted elf' Then yes. Though I'm only half elven, other half human. She kept smiling, it was the kind of smile that managed to be infectious because both Tarrek and Javinn had it. Lagrig wasn't far off from getting it himself.

"Prove it." Barret said flatly.

"Excuse me?" Her eyebrows knitted and she stood up in her chair, which made her only a little over six feet tall, but still tall enough to look down at the still sitting Barret. She had enough presence just then that the few surrounding tables stopped their own conversations and stared at them. "And who are you? Hmmm?" Her voice was taking an accusing tone, "Can you prove who you are?" She had hints of anger hiding beneath the surface.

Barret looked up at her, mouth open and a bit of worry in his eyes. "Ummmm." He managed to say before her expression changed. Holly's fists unclenched and all anger dropped from her face. It was quickly replaced by a wicked grin that made the party just as, if not more, nervous than when she was angry.

"Ok." she said and hopped off the chair, Lagrig noticed she wore heavy boots designed for walking long distances in.

"Ok what?" Tarrek asked, his inability to be even slightly afraid or worried was notorious amongst the group, which usually meant he said stupid things at the wrong time.

"I'll prove who I am, Holly Greenfire." And she skipped off through the crowd, which seemed to move out of her way as her head bounced through the bar.

"Ummmm..." Barret said looking at the others.

"Anyone else got a bad feeling?" Lagrig said.

"Nope." Tarrek said and took a swig of ale, "So, what next?"

"I don't know." Javinn said picking up his ale cup and taking a big swig, "The real Holly or not, she was the only one who even looked like they knew what in name of the Dark Gods the Amulet of Tabis was." He glared at Barret.

"I've still got a bad feeling." Lagrig continued and made sure he wasn't directly opposite Barret anymore.

"About what?" Tarrik said, spilling more crumbs out of his massive beard.

Just then a green streak arced through the bar and strait into the table in front of Barret who just stared in wide eyed terror at the arrow embeded into the wood in front of him.

"That." Lagrig said meekly. The arrow itself looked normal, if you didn't count the translucent green fire that surrounded it. Only the arrow itself seemed to burn, it wasn't a natural fire.

Holly walked back up, a small bow of unknown make in her hand. The flames on the arrow went out after a few more seconds. Holly sat crossed legged in the chair she'd vacated beforehand and just looked at the four men.

"I don't need any more proof." Lagrig said softly, "Umm.. so.." He looked at Javinn then Barret.

"You want to know about the Amulet of Tabis?" Holly looked to be in much better spirits at the moment.

"Yes." Javinn answered. The tavern had gone back to its usual level of noise and was ignoring their table once again.

"What for?" Holly cocked an eyebrow at him.

"Because..." Javinn started and then looked to Barret for help.

"Because we do. Don't you bards tell tales, isn't that what you're good for?" He was gaining some confidence back. He noticed Holly had no quiver to go along with the bow and therefore wouldn't be shooting any more burning arrows at him.

"Yea," Holly shrugged, "But you're supposed to buy me a drink first." She pointed to the empty space of table in front of her. "And the story behind the Amulet of Tabis is boring any way."

"Boring?" Tarrik said, trying to wave down a barmaid. He was running low on ale and Holly's statement reminded him he needed to get another pitcher before his current mug ran out.

"Yes. Boring." Holly crossed her arms, "Fine, I'll tell it, but not until I've gotten something to drink. Telling always makes me thirsty." She looked at each man, "So, do I get your names, or should I make some up?"

"I am Tarrik." Tarrik said, shaking the last of his crumbs out of his beard.

"I am Barret."

"Lagrig." Lagrig bowed slightly.

"You I know," Holly hushed Javinn with a wave of her hand. "Ok, let's start this off correctly." She looked from one to the other, "Hrm, Tarrik is from the North Kingdoms I'd guess, his name is definately of that origin, so is that sword at his side." Holly pointed at Barret, "Judging by that double headed axe I'd say a priest of Taruss, the Justice Bringer."

Barret looked at his axe, "My axe?"

"Ok, so it was the holy symbol carved into the handle," Holly continued, "You." She pointed at Lagrig, "Are the sneak, probably get all the doors open, have all the connections, know most of the good rumours?" She watched him for a second, "And you're an archer." She pointed at the bow gaurd on his right arm. "And you're also a follower of Taruss." She looked at Javinn, "But probably had no talent for the Gift so you joined the city guard for a while, or a mercenary company and gained skill with all those blades you carry." She looked about them, and was the first to pour herself a mug from the pitcher that had found its way onto the table as she spoke.

"Don't bards write all that stuff down first?" Lagrig said.

"Amateurs write it down, how many bards are going to break out quill and ink in the middle of a fight?" She passed the pitcher across to Tarrik. "I just have to remember it all."

"Must be hard." Barret said.

Holly shrugged, "It's a talent like any other, not everyone can just up and be a bard you know. Just like not everyone can use a sword properly."

"That's for sure." Tarrik barked.

"So, what about the Amulet of Tabis?" Barret asked, leaning forward on the table.

"Easy, it's a short story. Tabis was a priest of Taruss located in the small town of Ell-e-an, which is about two days east of here." She took a swig of ale, "He used to be a high priest in the city of Shillet to the north. But all the politics and such got to him. So he left and traveled. Along the way he came across Ell-e-an and decided that it was a good place to hide from the world. "So he stayed there in quiet for about ten years, then trouble came his way. Some say Taruss was testing him, some say it was just bad luck. Either way it cam down to a goblin raid. It was Tabis versus about three dozen bloody thirsty goblins. Not really good odds. "So he took all his knowledge in magic and evened the odds. Now it was three dozen goblins versus three dozen magical constructs that Tabis called foward. Because Tabis wanted all things fair for each Goblin a construct killed the construct that killed it vanished as well. And each time a Goblin slew a construct another was born in it's place. Always even numbers fighting. "I suppose that's what he wanted, Justice and Equality. Never did find that in the politics of Shillet." Holly took the last swig of ale from her mug and refilled it.

"What's that got to do with the Amulet?" Tarrik asked.

"Everything. It was the amulet that controlled the magic. Not Tabis. He just made it, hence why it's named after him." Holly stated.

"Oh." Tarrik has a slightly confused look on his face.

"So the amulet is in Ell-e-an." Javinn stated.

"Nope." Holly said mostly into her mug as she took a sip.

"Where is it?"

"Have no idea. It's shown up in Hagrig to defeat the invading Tethyr army of General Beshalt. And any number of stories along the Border Lands near the goblin holds."

"How do you know it was there for the defeat of Beshalt?"

"I was there."

"That was over twenty winters ago. How could you be there for that, you look no older than that yourself." Barret said.

"I think I'll take that as a compliment." Holly stared Barret in the eye.

"So you know where the amulet went then?" Javinn questioned.

"Not really, I was kind of busy at the time."

"Busy?"

"Running, I was on Beshalt's side of the line when the construct's all appeared. One for each of Beshalt's men. It was an epic battle really. Quite proud of the ballad I wrote for him.." She looked into her mug for a minute, "Though someone almost forgot to tell that stupid amulet that bards are neutral." She looked at them, "What?"

"We were hoping for information a little more current that some bards memories." Barret said flatly.

Holly stuck her tongue out at him, "I ended up with the amulet when the battle was over if you need to know."

"You? how?" Javinn and Barret said in unison.

"Shooting the idiot who had it first. After the battle the guy, we'll call him, Parchik the Very Dead was going around doing mop up. He'd find a band of Beshalt's warriors and unleash the amulet or some of his personal gaurds on them. When he came to me I was actually with Beshalt. He was dying at the time, but he was also my Lord."

"Lord?" Lagrig asked.

"I owed some fealty to him and his family. Long story that has nothing to do with this one. Just take it that I was with him when he died. Beshalt didn't mind losing in a fair fight, he admired Parchik the Very Dead for using such fair tactics. It was after the fight that Beshalt got really pissed. He was getting ready to retreat, Beshalt the Mighty was going to pull out of a campaign. Parchik could have gone down in history. Beshalt himself was commisioning him to write the epic when that bastard came upon the main camp. We were making haste to leave, taking only personal belongings with us."

"Who's this Parchik fellow you keep mentioning?" Javinn interuppted.

"He's the general who lead the army against Beshalt, I wrote his trecherous name out of history. Ask people in the region though, they still remember. Other songs tell of his glorious victory. Mine are better and I'm better at singing them so mine are more famous. I hate that stupid song any way." She spat out. "Any way," She continued, "He killed Beshalt at fifty paces with a crossbow. Beshalt wasn't even armed! Man was I pissed."

"I remember now, the other version has Parchik and Beshalt killing each other in single combat. The Ballad has Beshalt dying of wounds on the battlefield after his army was driven out." Lagrig said.

Holly glared at him, "Right. Let me give the real version of history as it happened. Beshalt did die of wounds after his army was defeated. Mostly of the one crossbow bolt sticking out of his chest. I had to write out Parchik's death because bards shouldn't write themselves into history."

"I don't follow." Tarrik said.

"Easy, I killed Parchik. Took the amulet and ended up going west after making sure Beshalt's body made it home. That's the quick version." She said.

"The longer version?" Barret asked.

"When I saw my Lord fall and ran to his side, he died with his head in my lap. I hate it when that happens. I really hate it when it's not a needed or even a glorious death. My glorious epic had turned into a sorrowful ballad in front of my eyes. So I did what I usually do when I'm not thinking very strait, I asked for the guiding hand of the Goddess."

"Which Goddess?" Lagrig asked, there were, after all, many Goddesses.

"The Traveler." Holly stated with a slight tone of reverence.

"So, lots of men invoke the name of a God or Goddess all the time, even priests are rarely answered." Barret said matter of factly.

"Tell me," Holly looked at Barret, "What do you know of the Taveler's Chosen?"

"The Traveler has no priests, no real temples. She guards the gates of Dum-Thulle in Godshome." Barret said.

"All her chosen are bards or other such well traveled types." Lagrig said softly, "It is said she grants no magic, but she does grant requests. What did you ask for?"

"A way to avenge Beshalt."

"And?" Tarrik understood revenge, the story had his full attention now.

"I was given this bow," She pointed to the weapon next to her, "So I took it and stood to face Parchik. He immediately used the amulet against me, summoning an archer beast of his own. The amulet made two, probably because my magic was being granted by the Goddess." Holly looked at the bow, "The bow makes it's own arrows. I fired at the constructs, killed it instantly, only to have another replace it." The first arrow that hit me hurt, a lot. A blinding reminder on what I hate getting into fights. Of course the Goddess was watching. She gave me the intrument I asked for. It's why we have the phrase The Gods give you what you need, not what you want." She sat back and absently rubbed her thigh, "It hit me in the leg, I fell to one knee and took aim at Parchik himself. The bow was fading with my resolve. If I could not follow through with my request I could not keep the magic. A heavy price to pay, killing a man." Holly looked at each man, Tarrik simply nodded once at her, "So I killed him, the arrow shattered the chain the Amulet of Tabis hung on. it fell to the ground and the constructs faded. Parchik fell opposite Beshalt, one of my Greenfire arrows sticking from his chest. "The arrow burned through the night as both armies fell back to take care of their wounded. Parchick was the last off his battlefield as is the rule. Beshalt was taken at the same time. The bow is mine to keep, a gift of the Goddess. And Parchik was written out of my story."

"That whole ending is a tale of itself. Why is that left out of all the tales?" Javinn asked. Tarrik nodded.

"Bards don't write themselves into history. To do so would lose favor with Her."

"I see no symbol that marks you as a worshipper." Barret said.

Holly pulled a flute out a pocket in her skirt in response, "This is my stock and trade, I need no other symbols. My worship is between myself and The Shifter."

"Shifter?" Javinn asked, "But.." He sounded confused.

"The Taveler is also known as the Shifter, she can take any form she wishes." Barret said.

"Oh." Javinn said.

"So, what did you do with the Amulet?" Barret asked, trying to get them back on topic, he hated the bardic penchant of always going on random tangents.

"I took it with me, went west, lost it around the isles of Del-Takik."

"Lost it?" Barret nearly jumped out of his seat.

"Gave it away techinically, I had no use for it." She shrugged.

"To whom?" Barret asked quickly.

"A tavern, it should still be over the bar."

"See!" Javinn said, "I told you I found someone who knew about it."

"How long ago was that?"

"Eighteen winters or so." Holly shrugged. "I suppose now you want me to go show you where it is and get it for you." She looked at them.

"Yes!" Barret said.

"Why?" Holly asked him, her eyes drilling into him.

"ummm..." All the wind went out of his sails, he hadn't thought that people wouldn't help him. "We need it."

"Why?"

"It's an artifact of the Church." Javinn said cooly.

"Right. Barret echoed, "The church is gathering all the artifacts made by its high priests and storing them safely."

"Sounds like a stupid idea, but fine." Holly looked up at the ceiling. "It's over the bar in the Gulls Call, ask for Gravvet tell him That Daft Elf sent you to retrieve the Necklace." She looked forward again, "I don't suppose you're trying to get it before some evil general or are being chased the agents of some great evil or anything like that?"

"Nope." Tarrik said, shaking his head almost as if he wished he were being chased around by evil henchmen. He looked like the type who was unusually chipper after gutting half a dozen men in battle, especially if they were evil.

"That's no fun." Holly stood up, "Thanks for the ale, have fun, try not to die." She dismissed them with a wave of her hand, grabbed her bow and walked into the crowd, she seemed to simply disappear into the throng.

"That's it?" Lagrig asked, "She just tells us where it is?"

"She didn't want to come along." Tarrik said with a hint of remorse in his voice.

"We're not on some epic quest, or some world saving adventure. We're just questing for some amulet that only works if you're outnumbered in battle." Barret said, "We barely even register on the bardic scale, we probably wouldn't even make a good short poem." He snorted and then finished off his ale. "Right, still. We have the location of the amulet and that's that." He stood up, "I'll see all in the morning and then we'll head west and sail out to the Isles of Del-Takik." He walked off to his room upstairs.

Holly had made her way up to her own room and went inside. She dropped the bow on the end of the bed and jumped up onto the other end, sitting up she faced the wall opposite her, "I'm going to get involved with them, I just know it." She sighed.

It was that moment that someone took the opportunity to knock on Holly's door.

"See, never fails." Holly hopped off the bed and stomped to the door. She flung it open and stared directly into an elf that was almost a foot taller than her. "Hi Millileth." Holly turned and stomped back to the chair under the window.

"Hello." Millileth greated her and stepped into the room, the door shut itself behind her.

"I suppose I should be glad you decided to show up and not give me some silly dream this time." Holly said.

Millileth shrugged and opened the window. "Nice night out."

Holly thought for a second and nodded, "Clear night, good for traveling."

Millileth turned around and leaned on the sill, "So.."

"I'm supposed to follow them aren't I?" Millileth nodded, "Stop them or help?"

"Neither, you'll be leaving them before they reach the Amulet. But I need to make sure they reach a certain point at the very least."

"Ah, good. I think I've still got a price on my head in Del-Takik." Holly mused. "So what happens when I reach this certain point?"

"A quest." Millileth smiled a rather wicked smile.

"I'm the bard, I don't quest. I follow people on quests." Holly corrected her.

Millileth shrugged, "Times change." Millileth shimmered, "You'll enjoy it, trust me."

"I might." Holly said, "But no promises." She watched as Millileth, the Goddess of Travel, shifted into a large black bird. The bird winked at Holly and jumped out the window and flew into the night. "I thought there were rules about bards and quests." Holly muttered as she undressed.

She slipped underneath the covers wearing only a long shirt, "You left the window open." She muttered to the air as she settled in. The window shut itself with a bang and dropped its latch.

--

Holly walked alongside the slow moving caravan. She had talked the caravan master into hiring her on as another gaurd. Which meant she had to go through the motions of playing up her role as an archer. She had strapped a quiver of arrows to her side and played up showing off the bow. To occupy her time she pulled out her flute and was busy making up new tunes in the gathering mid morning heat.

She eyed the group from the night before, four wagons ahead of her. Which meant she was at the back of the train and they were second from the front. They hadn't seen her yet, no doubt thet would when the train had to stop for the night, assuming they didn't make a town with an inn by sundown.

Holly idly kept an eye on the plains as she walked along the road. After a few hours she hopped onto the back of the wagon and simply watched the sky pass by. The idea that bandits would be out here, on the plains, ready to attack seemed a little far fetched. The first day as a caravan gaurd was always the most boring.

Holly finally thought back to the conversation with the caravan master. She hadn't paid attention to their destination at first, deciding it was more important just to follow the group than actualy know where they were going. In her experience it was safer to just follow someone than know where exactly they were headed. That way, when she was captured they couldn't get any information out of her.

Though now that she thought about it she wondered exactly who would want to capture her to get that group. The caravan master mentioned his destination as Beshalt. A port town, which meant they were getting on a boat. She hoped that she got to leave them before going to Del-Takik, there were at least two pirate captains who wanted her dead. Well, one wanted her dead and the other just wanted her.

Holly yawned and tried to think about what towns were between her and Tark Bay. None really. There was that little hamlet about two days south of it. That was a bit of time away. Holly hopped off the cart and walked to the front of her wagon, scanning the skies. It would rain this afternoon.

Sundown and a drenched caravan had pulled off the the side of the road near some rocks. It had obviously been well used for that activity, the oxen themselves seemed to know it as they went off to one side and grazed. The rain had stopped only a little over an hour ago. Holly took off her drenched cloak and hung it from one of the wagons. Her traveling clothes were damp, but dry for the most part. She took her place next to one of the four fires and warmed her hands.

It didn't take long for one of the four she'd met the previous night to come over and talk. Holly had lay back on the grass just outside the fire pit and was staring up at the sky.

"Following us?" It was the thin little sneak Lagrig that sat next to her.

"Yes." Holly replied without looking over at him.

Lagrig said nothing for a second, not expecting that answer, "May I ask why?"

"Little bird told me to." She said, dead pan.

"So why are you really here?"

"Going west, following you. Never know when a group will stumble onto something more important." She shrugged. "Are you complaining that I might want to tag along?"

"Not at all," Lagrig said absently playing with a twig he'd found next to him. "Last night you didn't seem very interested in us, and here you are today on the same caravan following us."

"Or I could be following someone else, or meeting up with others in Beshalt. Or I could simply be going west."

"I just don't think it's a coincidence. First you talk to us, then you follow us."

"Paranoia can keep you alive." Holly mused, then she yawned, "Or it could get you dead faster as you make accusations you can't find evidence for." She turned her head to look him in the eye.

Lagrig shyed away from her gaze and moved back to his own group. Holly grabbed her spare cloak from the travel pack she had on the wagon and curled up to sleep in the soft grass.

Lagrig sat down next to Tarrik and looked at the rest, "She says she's following us because a bird told her to." He shrugged.

"She's up to something." Barrett said softly.

"What?" Lagrig asked, "She admited to following us. What else do you want? A writ from whomever sent her?" He threw his hands up and fell back onto his sleeping pallet.

"A writ, good idea, we should look for one." Barret said. The other two said nothing and Lagrig was well on his way to sleep. "Or I'll just talk to her in the morning and get this all strait." He said with a yawn and went to sleep himself.

Morning came. Holly was the first one up, woken out of some disturbing dreams. She wiped the sleep out of her eyes, pulled her long hair back into tail and wiped some dirt off her clothes. Only the cook was up at this hour. The dreams had put her in a fowl mood. She only had nightmares when bad things were going to happen, usually to her.

She ate her morning ration in silence, pulling her heavy walking cloak over her and pulling the hood up. Her face was half in the shadow of the cloak, eyes hidden.

Barrett sat down next to her as she waited for the caravan to load itself up. One of the oxen wasn't being as cooperative as it's partners. It could be a bit before they were ready to go.

"So." Barrett started.

Holly turned her head to look at him, eyes hidden in the deep shadow of a deep hood. Except the specs of gold in their soft brown color that showed her elven heritage. They glittered from within the hood as the early morning sun attempted to pierce the shadow. Barrett lost his will to speak. Something about the gaze wasn't normal.

"Don't feel so self important. You're quest will end uneventfully. At least the finding part." She turned her head back and faced strait forward. "Of course, the necklace has its own gease on it. Getting home might be troublesome." Her voice had a hollow quality to it.

"Why didn't you tell me that before?" Barrett wanted to sound angry, instead he sounded small.

"More fun if you don't know." She shrugged and stood up, "Caravan's ready to move." And she turned around and walked toward her place next to the last wagon.

Through the day Holly kept an eye to the north, the wind was blowing from that direction. A soft wind with voices on it, if you could listen to them. Holly always heard the voices on the wind.

Bard's made the history, that's what Millileth was whispering, using the North Wind as her voice. Holly kept her eye on the small cloud being raised over the plain, coming towards them. It was an hour before someone else noticed it.

The caravan kept moving. Out here, in the open plains all you could do was keep moving. Hoping the guards you have with you are a larger force than the one coming down on you. Or at least equal.

This was a small dust cloud. Holly remembered her dream. She climbed up onto the cart, on top of it. She knelt down, finding balance in the load through the slow movement of the ox driven cart.

She dropped her quiver, she knew normal arrows wouldn't harm this beast. She raised the bow, wondering if even her arrows would help. She thought through the fog of her dream from the previous night.

She hated this part of things. She aimed the bow high into the sky and let fly with an arrow. The green streak arced throught the air and then down to where the rider was approaching fast.

The caravan watched in anticipation. There was no change in the clouds approach.

"How many riders?" One of the other guards asked her.

"One." She said, voice hollow.

He got out his own bow and strung it, then got an arrow ready. "Then you and I can pick him off as he approaches." He'd moved his horse around to between the oncoming rider and the driver.

"Just one?" Hardly seems dangerous." The driver commented.

"He is." Holly said and raised her bow. The rider was approaching fast, they could see the outline of his horse moving quickly through the grasses. "But not to the caravan." She whispered to herself, breathe barely escaping her lips.

She watched the figure approach from under the hood of her cloak, knuckle white grip on her bow. Another green arrow of fire formed from her hand holding the bow string and streched its tendrils out to meet the bow itself. A line of strait green light in a nimbus of green flame. This is where Holly got her name.

Holly didn't have a family name. Her father was an elven bard traveling around, leaving offspring behind occasionally. Holly's mother died shortly after her birth. Holly was raised be her uncle. Until she was twelve winters old, then Holly ran north into Clanshome.

Holly's eyes narrowed as the rider approached, it was the same as in her dream.

Holly learned the ways of Telling from the Clansmen who took her in. Then she left after a time. And she wandered. At first she thought she wandered to find her father. All she had was the name she gave herself. Her mother had given her a different name, but Holly changed it.

The figure was a tall man in a large black cloak. He was riding a very large black horse, its eyes had an unnatural tint you could see from this distance. Both Holly and then other let fly with their arrows. Green streak of fire and a stick of wood with an iron tip. They impacted the rider, but nothing changed, he kept charging forward.

When Holly found her father she found out a lot about herself. One that she thought herself a better bard. And second was she didn't want his family name. He was a dilletante, wandering about looking mostly for women. He wouldn't know one of his own children if confronted. And he didn't, at first he made advances towards Holly. She slapped him, cornered him confronted him and walked away. It was an anti-climatic meeting. Holly kept wandering anyway.

Holly willed another arrow into place, the first still burning in the shoulder of the advancing rider. She let fly with the arrow as it split into five in the air. Three of the five hit, the rider kept coming.

Holly didn't get her name until after the incident with Beshalt. The bard with the green fire arrows became famous quickly. She was now Holly Greenfire. Sometimes it caused her trouble, sometimes it meant nothing, sometimes it got her an easy ride.

Holly knocked one more arrow, this one had more intensity to it. She took careful aim and left loose. The arrow shot into the opening in the hood of the rider. It exploded in a green flash with flames licking over both rider and horse.

Neither seem effective as the rider kept advancing, the hooves of the horse pounding into the ground with heavy thuds. The other archer had moved off to the side, seeing his arrows had even less effect than Holly's.

Holly stood up and simply faced the archer. It reached an arm out as it came close, a hand made of bone could be seen extending out of the cloak. Holly cosed her eyes.

The rider came forth and with the sound of rushing wind jumped the caravan altogether. Grabbing Holly from where she stood, arms at her side and eyes closed, on top of it. She disappared in front of the rider as his back was now to the caravan.

He road off even faster than he approached. It was only minutes before he disappeared over the hills of the plains stretching around them. The caravan watched for several minutes, then the Caravan Master ordered them onward again. No one said a word.

//Chapter 02 : Present :: Dreams//

Holly's eyes shot open and she stared at the ceiling. Faded plaster greeted her with it's crack running across it showing its age. She sighed and sat up, looking around her bedroom. It had only a simple dresser, nightstand and the bed.

"I hate dreaming about the past." She whispered and turned over to look out the window next to her bed, early morning appeared in the sky over the city. She sat up and swung her legs over the bed. Pulling a pair of jeans out of the half open dresser drawer in front of her she pulled them on and padded barefoot and shirtless into her living room.

Various instruments, writing pads, notebooks, textbooks and books lay scattered all over the place. She sighed and opened the door to her fridge, the kitchen was little more than an extention of her living area. Pulling out a bottle of tea she sat down on her couch and simply stared at the notebook open on the table in front of her.

It was nearing the end of summer outside, which meant her classes were starting up again. She always had these dreams the first few weeks of class. She stood and stepped in front of the small shrine she kept to the Old Gods, her Gods. Millileth's small statue just a little more prominent than the rest. She was pretty sure this was the only actively worshipped shrine of it's kind on the planet. She made her small offering to each one and payed respects to deities that lay long dormant in their homes beyond the dreams.

There was a knock on the door as she finished. She looked at the only clock in the apartment in it's place in the wall next to the fridge. Who would be coming by her place at six thirty in the morning? Probably Sarah, she was always an early riser. Holly grabbed a t-shirt from the arm of the couch and slid into it as she made her way to the door over the pile notes she prepared for the classes she taught.

Throwing open the door she frowned, it wasn't Sarah. In front of her stood a shapely woman with long black curls and olive skin, at her feet was a black cat. She smiled as Holly stepped back and motioned for the vistor to enter.

"Hello Millileth." Holly said shutting the door.

"Hello." Millileth smiled and made herself comfortable on the couch

"What brings you here?"

"Your dreams." The cat had jumped onto the couch and curled up in Millileth's lap, she started to absently pet it.

"I dream a lot, you don't always come." Holly sat down on the opposite end of the couch, curling her legs under her.

"You don't always dream about what you dreamed last night."

"Right." Holly looked over at her pile of books, "Usually I try not to dream about being abducted by an agent of the Dark Gods."

"We can only exist in dreams now, the more you dream of us the longer we can exist." Millileth said softly.

"How come it is you're the only one who can come down from your home?" Holly asked, it was a question that had been on her mind for the last millenia or so.

"I'm the only one left with a champion, an avatar." She said.

"And Thissle?" Holly motioned to the cat purring in Millileth's lap.

"She can come with me, she is because I am. We are almost the same. As long as I have an avatar so does she." Millileth lifted her hand and the cat stood and in a shimmer of light became a small pixie, hovering on iridescent wings.

Holly smiled, at least one of them assumed her true shape. "Hello Thissle, how are things?"

The pixie flew over to in front of Holly and spoke in her soft, quiet voice. "Things are, they could be better." She flew back and perched on Millileth's should. Though she was stopped her wings kept slowly beating as if they couldn't sit still.

"So what if I dreamed of Gods last night." Holly said.

"You're the last now. We all have to live through you."

"I know that. So what if I dreamed of them?"

"It gets their attention. Since I'm the only one who can freely walk the planes I decided to pay a visit."

"And?"

"And no tricks." Millileth looked out the window across the way in the kitchen, "It gets lonely doesn't it?"

"Sometimes. Especially when I dream of days so far away." Holly ran her hand through strait hair the color of autumn leaves.

"It won't you make you feel better but they get lonely to, you have the dreams so they can wander through the dreams of others at night."

"I know." Holly said, they had this conversation before. "It doesn't make it any easier to relive you know. Especially some of the encounters in the early days when you all had many Chosen."

"Yes well, we never forsaw the day when we could make no more Chosen." Millileth looked down her hands resting in her lap.

"What happened? You never told me why?"

"There are things even greater than Gods, Holly, and it is not wise to cross them." She stood, "And now I'll leave you to your classes, one begins in a few hours if I recall." She walked to the door. Thissle jumped off her should and by the time the pixie had reached the floor she was a cat again.

"Ancient history." Holly stood and walked towards her bathroom, "It's hard pretending your weren't there somedays." She said mostly to herself as Millileth closed the door behind her on the way out.

Holly always kept her hair down, over her ears. In the days when elves were nothing more than human cultures in history books from two thousand years ago it didn't pay to have pointed ears. Sure every once in a while a family line with elven blood might produce someone with slightly elongated ears, or eyes of an exoctic color. But never did it produce someone who's ears were as pointedly elven as Holly's were, she was half elven after all.

She walked into the class and looked at the twenty or so students who had decided to take her advanced history and mythology classes that semester. She had some of the smallest classes at the university but she wouldn't allow more than that in at a time. She didn't like teaching large classes. The university put up with it because she always brought in grants for archeological digs, occasionally even going herself. She was, in all honesty, the worlds leading authority in ancient history.

She dropped her satchel on her old wooden desk and looked at the students. Mostly second and third year students this time. She walked around to the front of her desk and hopped up onto it, perching herself on the edge. She crossed her legs at the ankle and swung them back and forth. The first day of class was interesting for her.

"Welcome to Mythology 201 or whatever they put down in the student guide this year. For those who haven't hear of me you can call me Miss Gellfir." She looked out at the class, most of them were smiling at her introduction. People were in her class for one of two reasons. They were interested in mythology and had probably heard of her, or they needed to fill up some credit slots and figured it couldn't be all that hard. For anyone who bothered to take her class on Ancient languages would know her last name was Old Elf for Greenfire. "Any questions yet?" Holly liked to start off the semester with what they thought mythology was about and then steered them towards what was the historical truth behind all those stories the human race had gathered over the last six thousand years of her life.

A hand was raised near the middle of the collection of students. It was a young woman with blonde hair in tight curls and bright blue eyes. Holly nodded in her direction as a cue to ask her question. "Your last name, it's ancient Evlin for Greenfire. In some older books there's a reference to a Holly Greenfire as being one of their greatest philosophers. Any relation?" She asked matter of factly.

Holly knew she was here on purpose, if she could pull any references to her name at all. Holly had been pretty careful through the years to write herself out of things. But others had a habit of putting her back in and she couldn't always erase the words once put down.

"None I know of." Holly said back without batting an eye, she had been asked that question hundreds of times over the years. It got easier to answer everytime. What bugged her was that humans seemed to forget they once shared the land with other races. To then Evlin was another lost human culture and not Elvin as it really was. "Anything else?"

Another hand was raised, this time a boy, thin and wirey with thick glasses on. He had the look of someone who spent most of their time either buried in books or behind the screen of a computer. Holly nodded in his direction. "Where do you plan on starting as a basis?" He had a nasal quality to his voice, "With the culture's that brought about the myths or with the myths themselves."

A valid question. Holly hopped off her desk and walked to the wall opposite the entrance to the classroom. "Good question." She looked up at her folding maps that always seemed just out of her reach and grabbed a loose chair, she had several lying about the room to give her an extra boost in height. Coming in at five feet had it's disadvantages.

She stood on the chair and pulled down on of the maps curled up there, covering half of the windows that showed one of the universities inner courtyards with it's old trees and gentle shade. "I start with the source of these myths, The Old Gods."

She hopped off the chair and let the students look at the picture drawn there. It was a map showing the eight houses of the Gods and the House of the Earth itself, labeled in a fancy script as Kel-Sindal. Kel-Sindal was in the middle and suroudned by eight other spheres each labeled and had the names of the OId Gods inside each one. There were lines drawn between them all showing the paths to and from each house. All had a line going to Kel-Sindal itself but not all connected to each other.

"To understand all these stories you have to go back and look at where each one came from." She turned and faced the class, "It used to be everyone, regardless of culture, had a common set of Gods to believe in. And therefore a common set of beliefs to follow." And so she began her semester by introducing them to her Gods, the Old Gods.

--

Holly spent her spare time wandering about Shreavport, usually with her small satchel flung over one shoulder ready with a notebook in case she felt the need to jot anything down. She also had her flute tucked into a pocket somewhere. Today she went out in jeans and a simple pullover, the flute safe in her satchel. The wind rustled her hair as she walked along the waterfront. In an effort to further hide her ears she had taken to wearing hats. Her hat of choice lately had been a black short brimmed fedora. She stopped in front of one of the commercial piers, lined with it's kiosks and stores and watched the Saturday crowd move about. After a few minutes she pulled out her flute, leaned back against the railing and started a tune. She matched her beat to the splashing of the water on the piers supports below her. She continued to watch the crowd as she played, swaying her melody with their movements. After a minute she took to wandering about with the flow of the crowd.

She stopped after some time to see where her wandering had brought her, paying attention only to the notes and making sure she didn't bump into anything usually meant she ended up somewhere random. Today was in front of a small kiosk selling soup in a bread bowl.

Holly put the flute away, bought herself some crab soup and a bottle of water. She leaned over the railing nearby and watched the water below as she ate her lunch, only listening to the crowd at the moment.

It didn't take long for Millileth to show up, she was still wearing the olive skinned dark haired shape. Thissle was still a cat, this time walking the railing next to Millileth as her boot heels clicked up the boards to where Holly stood.

"Hello." Millileth leaned against the railing and looked over the edge, pretending to pay attention to the same point Holly had taken interest in. "And how are we this afternoon?"

Holly shrugged. "Harvest season is coming up." Holly said.

Millileth nodded, "I need your help."

"I don't quest, remember."

"You are so much more than a bard, that excuse worked maybe five millenia ago." Millileth's voice didn't hold as much humor as it normally did.

"What's wrong?" Holly picked up on it immediately.

"Three weeks ago I told you that there were things even greater than Gods."

Holly nodded, already she didn't like this conversation.

"Well, she, it, I'm not sure what she is, is back." Millileth's mouth was a thing line, jaw set firmly. "I think it's a she, maybe she can shift like I do." Millileth looked over at Holly who's gold flecked eyes reflected the afternoon sun with sparkles set into deep brown. "She says she's willing to give the world back to us, under some conditions."

"What conditions?"

"First, that we maintain balance over all other things, second she is to become the Mother and Father."

"What about the Mother and Father now?"

"They've been gone for thousands of years now, they left us during the Second War, without their guidance we fell out of balance. Only my house and House Murvag remained neutral."

"Of course Murvag was neutral, they don't care, the only wait."

"Yes well, their wait may be over.

"Over?"

"This new one, They follow her where she travels now. Like her personal guard."

"And Kavu and Kella, what do they think?"

"They are keeping the gates open from House Holleshia to the other realms. They wish to take Dum-Thulle themselves and become the new Mother and Father."

"I see, so where do I fit in?"

"As the last avatar she may come looking for you, I'll not be far from you, but I cannot be there all the time."

"And what if she comes looking, then what?"

"Then I don't know, I don't know what she'll be coming for, but I do know she will take interest in you."

"Does she have a name?"

"None that I can mention, or she'll know I've been here." Millilelth stood up and straitened her blouse, "I have to go now. GodsSpeed Holly." Millileth turned on her heal and Holly watched her walk back the way she came and fade into the crowd.

"Great, I hate it when Gods and other things play games. I always get dragged into these things." She turned back to her cooling soup and finished her lunch. She never let news like this ruin her appetite.

--

She, having decided to check things out for herself, wandered about the lands. Presently She was in Shreavport watching downtown crowds move about. Sitting at a table overlooking traffic at a small coffeehouse she sipped her large cup of coffee.

Two men came over to her table and sat down, the first was massive in side in black bikers leathers with chains and spikes. The other was a tall guant man who looked like death slightly cooled. "We have found the last Avatar." The thing man rasped, his voice coming like cold wind scraped across gravestones.

She took a sip of her coffee, never taking her eye off the crowd, "And?"

"She is regularly visted by the Shifter." The thin man continued. The large man shifted a bit in his seat.

"Something wrong Keggal?" She said, still not taking her eyes off the traffic.

"Nothing." The large man said, his voice a deep bass rumble that seem to come up from the depths of the earth.

"I'm not interested in the Godling, only the Avatar for the moment." She took another sip of her coffee, "You are dismissed." The two got up and left. She sat alone again staring at traffic. "Time to get things rolling." She stood and walked towards Old Town.

She watched Holly for some time. Watching the small half elf walk her way through the shops and streets of Old Town. Many of them still had cobbling instead of pavement, Holly seemed to travel these as often as possible. She took stock of her item of interest.

Five feet, barely, short for either race in her heritage. Deep red hair with browns in it, like a tree turning in late autumn. She was wearing clothing of the time, unlike others who lived so many years who seemed to get stuck in a time frame somwhere. Blue jeans, sneakers and a simple pull over shirt open at the collar. And the hat hiding her pointed ears. She rather thought the hat was a nice touch, it looked good on her.

She walked over to where Holly was coming out of a book store, a little over burdened with a box of books. She seemed to be struggling, mostly due to the awkwardness of the box, which kept snagging on her satchel that hung at her side.

"Need some help?" She said as she walked up from behind, as if she were just passing by.

"Got it, thanks." Holly said with a smile and contiued on her way down the street, luckily she lived only seven black away.

She thought for a second and smiled, once she thought about it she didn't expect her offer to be accepted. Holly hadn't lasted this long by luck alone. She waited a while, about halfway if She figured right, between the store and Holly's own home before willing the bottom of the box to break open.

Which it did, amongst a lot of cursing by Holly in about nine languages, four of which hadn't been spoken conversationally in over two millenia. She stifled a chuckle as she came up from around another corner. The box had broken open in a courtyard which had some benches off to one side. She sat down and watched Holly for a minute.

Holly simply looked down at the pile of books on the ground, at least it hadn't rained lately so the ground was dry, and sighed. Just her luck the box would break at the halfway point. She picked up the box and looked at the bottom, it had decided to tear open, she wouldn't be able to fold it back into place to try and get it the rest of the way home. She needed tape.

"Need some help this time?" She said from her position lounging on the bend. She had occupied the center, spread her arms across the back and her legs strait out, crossed at the ankle.

"You following me?" Holly said stepping back a bit, contemplating if she could outrun her knew companion.

"Yes." She said in the ancient Elven tongue of the world.

Holly cocked her head, no one spoke that language, though they might pick up a bit, she wasn't the only ancient history buff on the planet. It was the pronounciation, the accent was perfect.

"Why?" Holly asked back in the same language. She had an idea of who this might be.

"Because, I'm interested in you."

"What for?" Holly took a good look at the stranger, black leather pants, thigh hight boots, black slik shirt open down the front. Long black hair and pale skin, almost white, complete with dark sunglasses. Came strait out of a fanatasy book. Probably a vampire, or, considering the time of day, a vampire wanna-be.

"How about I tell you over coffee." She stood up. "Let's get these books back into their box. She looked down at the pile.

Holly blinked and the books were back in the box and the box was in the strangers hands. "Fine." Holly threw her hands up, "But first, what do I call you?" She had gone back to the modern tongue.

"Nightshade will do." she said and let Holly lead the way.

Holly pointed at the couch as a place to put the box of books when they entered the apartment. Nightshade looked about and noticed the general sense of organized disarray. She put the box down and sat on the couch next to it, leaving only the chair next to the kitchen table open.

Holly went about making coffee, she got two mugs down from their perch on the lowest shelf, which is about as high as anything that got used in the apt was put. the top shelves of the kitchen cupboards were full of more books, some of which hadn't been opened in years.

"Nice place, though I figured you might have something larger." Nightshade spent some time looking around the place.

"What for?"

"Most who live as long as you spend a great deal of time aquiring wealth and live in large oppulant pallaces."

"Oh." Holly leaned against the counter, "Seems like a bother."

Nightshade shrugged, "Of course none of them are nearly as old as you."

"No eight thousand year old vampires lurking about?" Holly said pouring coffee into the mugs.

Nightshade seemed to think about that for a minute, "No, oldest one currently in this dimension is only four thousand seven hundred and four. you win by thirteen hundred years."

"Gee thanks." Holly said.

"Millileth is only a mere millenium older than you, so I wouldn't worry about it to much."

Holly handed her guest a cup of coffee, "And you?"

"By your counting, you have a word with enough zeros at the end of it." Nightshade took a sip of her coffee, "Not bad."

Holly sat down on the chair, "So, what is it you want with me? I heard of your deal with the Gods."

"That was just to get them active again." Nightshade smiled, "They seemed so bored, I figured I'd give them a reason to start acting up. That's what happened in the first place, complacency."

"What about all their avatar's dying off?"

"Oh they could have protected them, but didn't. At least not all of them. Millileth, and to some extent Thissle, seemed to take a much more active role in your survival."

"Active?"

"Well, They've appeared as companions along the way, helped you out here and there."

"Ah."

"They played according to the rules, so to speak."

"Rules?"

"Oh, every reality has it's own set of rules, and even Gods will make some up as they feel they should be. Things like never interfering with mortal affairs, messes with free will or some such."

"It does though doesn't it?"

"Free will is not knowing what comes next. Certain events can be manipluated so that you have a reasonable idea of what will come, cause and effect and all that. But Free Will exists in that no one really knows what will happen."

"No one? Not even the Father?"

"Especially not him, well, mostly because I had him, them, removed. Same entity really. Mother and Father. Bunch of complacent fools. They thought maintaining balance meant not acting in either direction."

"Removed?" Holly was having her world irrevocably altered, while she had moments of this nature in the past they always made her stomach twirl around a bit.

"Yep, gone." Nightshade snapped her fingers. "Balance is making sure one side doesn't overtake the other, which means not only do you take sides but you keep switching as well."

"So what are you?"

"Not a what, a who. Unique in all the realities, nothing else like me, I'm one of the first."

"First what?"

"Everything. I came from one of the first realities. And became one of the first Elder."

"Edler?"

"Older and more powerful than even the greatest of Gods."

"Ah, a God of Gods."

"Something like that, you pick up quick."

"I've learned to adapt." Holly shrugged and finished her coffee, "You dodged my first question though, what do you need with me? I'm just a little old mortal being who's outlived everyone else due to a little divine intervention."

"You're not mortal for one." Nightshade put her cup down.

"As far as I know there are two things, mortals and Gods, well three now."

"Almost right. Let's break it down differently. There are mortals, those with finite lifespans. There are immortals, those without limit to their natural lives but can die of other means. There are Gods, which are really just extremely powerful immortal beings, but they're tied to a certain reality. It goes, they go but other than that not much can kill them. There are Greater Beings which are powerful enough to not be tied to a specific reality and can't be killed unless another of their ilk does it, most thing just can't do that kind of damage." Nightshapde smiled wickedly, "And then there is me. I can't be killed, I can't be hurt, I can't be banished. Only the Entirety of all realities are greater in force than I and that has no way of directly acting on anything, I am, for all intents in purposes, the will of Life, Death and Time made manifest."

"Um.. so why give a shit about little old me?" Holly had refilled her own cup of coffee and offered the pot to Nightshade, who picked her own mug up and held it while Holly poured.

"Why not? It's all the little details that make things so interesting, occasionally going into the forest, to use a metaphor common amongst realities, and see the trees instead of the forest."

"So you're bored and decided to screw around with lesser beings?"

"That sums up my existence nicely."

"Why?"

"Why not. If you're looking for a greater reason, I keep the Wheel turning. Everything in balance. No one force gets to big for it's own good. I said the entirety of the realities was bigger than me, in truth I am the will of that entirety."

"Still doesn't answer what you want with me?" Holly sat back down.

"You're a muse, a point of creativity. Ideas originate with you, whether you realize it or not. You say something to someone and they inexplicably have an idea for something. A poem, a story, a song, maybe something scientific, the theory of relativity for instance. It also means you pick up on news ideas quickly, you always seem to understand what's going on? Easy to change modes of thinking?"

"I learn languages well." Holly offered up.

Nightshade laughed, "Of course you would. You have a gift for music and story. That would be your specialty."

"There are others for other things?"

"For everything you can imagine, and maybe even a bit more, though your imagination is one to be reckoned with."

"Still doesn't answer the question."

"Persistent."

"To a fault."

"You're a Muse amongest Muses. You have the potential to breach the barrier of idea and reality." Nightshade smiled.

"Umm."

"You have the potential to make anything you think simply be."

"Ah. Sounds dangerous."

"It is. But, it can be other things to."

"I see..." Holly sat back, finally took her hat and tossed it in it's place on a hook on the wall and ran her fingers through her hair. "Got any proof of this? I mean, I don't really buy it quite as you've presented it, and where do Muses fit into that little heirarchy of life you've put forth?"

"About thirty five years ago you were in a cafe with some students at the time and made a comment, you wondered how far things could be broken down before you found the first thing." Nightshade put her empty cup down again, "You were talking about the origin of certain stories that build upon the previous generation of story. "The next table over had a young man sitting at it, he was then a physics student at the university. Years later he would come up with the quantum theory. He took your statement in a different context, he wondered how far you could break down matter before you found the basic brick."

"And you know this because you are the will of the universe and are everywhere?" Holly ventured.

"Yes." Nightshade smiled. "Ever notice how you're univeristy, or at least whichever one you're working for at the time, seems to have a great number of scientific and creative leaders come out of it?"

"Never thought about it, but I suppose you're telling me it's my influence."

"Got it in one."

"Ok, so, back to the question at hand. I've got this potential in me to be something bigger than Gods. And you maintain balance, so are you here to destroy me so I don't throw the balance off?"

"No. I'm here because I also keep The Wheel turning, and Muses are rare enough that they are very precious to me. Not every reality has one. Sometimes other realities have to cluster close to one with a Muse so they can feed off of it's influence."

"Come again?"

"Dimensional crossover. Some places have legends about elves and they never existed there because it got too close with a dimension that did have elves. So a Muses influence extended a bit, bringing creativity and ideas to the other place. Overlap occurs and poof, you have places that have legends of things that never existed in them."

"How many Muses are there?"

"Only a couple hundred thousand."

"Seems like a lot."

"Contemplate infinity for a minute and ask yourself how many realities might exist given all the posibilities that could happen."

Holly thought for a minute, "Well, I kind of get the idea."

"I can show you." Nightshade said.

"Sure."

"You seem so ready to agree."

"I have no idea what's in store. I can say no and wonder for the rest of my life or I can say yes and risk the consequences."

"Nice thoughtline." Nightshade stood up, "This might hurt."

"Hurt?" Holly looked up at Nightshade who was now standing over her.

Nightshade removed her sunglasses and met Holly's deep brown eyes with her own gaze. Her eyes were simply empty black, though when you looked into them you saw something, all of creation stretching out and through the other end and back again.

"Oh...." Holly blinked and fell forward. Nightshade caught the unconcious Holly with her free arm and returned the glasses to her face.

--

Holly woke up with a massive headache, her mind still spinning. She opened her eyes, the room came into a sharp focus. Too sharp. She fell back on the couch and closed her eyes again and moaned.

"Welcome back." Nightshade could be heard from across the room.

"Ouch."

"I can make it go away again."

"The headache or the idea of inifity." Holly spoke slowly and softly. Everything seemed amplified.

"Both, one in the same. Look on the bright side, your head didn't explode."

"That happened before?"

"Couple of times. Though I knew you could handle it."

"Can you have normal eyes?"

"Yes, but this is just a sort of literal way of reminding things I see all of existance, at once."

"I see."

"Bad pun. Many powerful beings have no problem looking into my eyes like that." Nightshade smiled.

Holly felt a damp, cool clothe put over her eyes and forehead. It seemed to ease the throbbing. "I think I'll keep the idea around. It puts a certain perspective on things."

"It does do that yes."

"What next?" Holly said as she relaxed her shoulders.

"Got to find someone first."

"Sounds like a quest. Muses don't quest." Holly pulled the washclothe off her eyes.

"I've heard that line before, only you were claiming to be a bard then."

"Same difference, different level."

"You make these things up as you go along don't you?" Nightshade smiled down at Holly.

"Don't you?"

"I like to plan things out a little better, but mostly yes."

"So who are we looking for? And why can't you, oh all seeing great one, find them instantly?"

"Sarcasm I like that. Because people are unpredictable. This one especially so. And I need you to help me convince them of some things."

"Like what?"

"Like that oblivion really isn't a good idea."

"So what are we going after?"

"Another muse."

"Ah, that explains why you don't just do away with them. We're to rare to kill right off, but to powerful to leave unchecked. Sounds like a sticky situation."

"Makes things interesting." Nightshade opened the front door. It no longer led to the hallway outside Holly's apartment. Instead it showed a shimmering doorway made of irridescent light, no two shades the same. Holly got a bit of virtigo just trying to follow it's motion.

"Don't stare at it, then I'll have to wait for you to wake up again."

"Umm... I'm not going to need anything am I? On this quest of yours." Holly stood up, using the couch to steady her legs, which she found to be a little shaky still.

"Suit yourself, the door isn't going anywhere." Nightshade leaned against the door.

"Right." Holly staggered into her beadroom and pulled a long box out from under her bed. She undid the lock and tossed her key ring on the bed. She pulled out her ancient bow and wiped its length with a clothe, removing the dust. It was as pristine as the day she got it.

Holly pulled off her sneakers, good for mulling about town, but she decided if she ever went trecking about again she'd use some modern biker boots. They seem designed for such occasions. She pulled on the pair of large black boots, she had worn them long enough to break them in, but other than that didn't put them on all that often. She grabbed a warm leather jacket out of her closet and walked back into the living room.

"Prepared?" Nightshade said, "You don't carry much."

"I travel light." She pulled her ID and money clip out of her front pocket and tossed them on the table, "Bet they don't do me much good anywhere but here." She shrugged and put her hat on.

"The hat makes the outfit." Nightshade said and offered to let Holly go first, "Mind the step, it's a bit of a doozy."

"Mind if I tag along?" Millileth's voice came from the couch, she was sitting there in her own version of traveling gear - hiking boots, black jeans and a white tshirt. Millileth sat on her shoulder in pixie form.

"I certainly don't." Holly said.

Nightshade shrugged, "Why not, one more pair of hands couldn't hurt."

Holly looked at the shimmering door and closed her eyes, then took two quick steps forward. Millileth and Thissle weren't far behind, Nightshade pulled the door closed behind her as she stepped through.

Holly landed with a light thud, opening her eyes immediately. She hadn't the courage to do so as she went through the gate. Even on the gates she used to go from point to point on her own world made her woozy, who knows what an interdimensional Gate would do. Or rather, if she got the concept right, interreality gate.

The land was covered in mist, shadows moving in it, giving the place a sinister tone. Millileth landed next to her. Each of them had a bow ready, though not yet pointing at anything.

"Ok, now what?" Holly whispered. Thissle had decided to look behind them as Holly and Millileth scanned the few feet they could see.

"Vaguely human shapes." Millileth said under her breath. "Hold on." She reached over and touched Holly lightly on the back of her hand, a small leaf tattoo appeared there in a light green, a similar one appeared on Millileth's hand. "That's better."

Holly heard Millileth's voice inside her head rather than with her ears. She smiled and thought back, "Good idea." She looked around, "Where's Nightshade" She thought.

"Who?"

"The other"

"Ah, her. Didn't she come through with us?"

"Think so."

"So, what is she?" They were slowing standing up now, the shapes in the mists didn't seem to come any closer to them.

"If I'm to believe her she's the will of everything."

"Like the Mother and Father?" Millileth thought in question.

"Bigger, if I get it right our dimensions, my world and your home amongst the Gods is merely part of one reality. And there are millions upon millions of them."

"Inifinite. Scary number."

"You know the concept."

"Gods are, I learned quickly, accutely aware of the concept. Sometimes they forget mortals aren't. I think that's how we ended up as broken husks living on dreams and memories. We forgot to keep track of time and people."

"Inifinity, to be frank, scares the shit out of me." They were back to back now, staring into the mists, unsure of what to do, "Think it's safe to move?"

"Beats standing around." Millilelth said and took a step to the left. Immediately one of the shadows seemed to notice them, it came forward delibrately. "Uh oh."

"Uh oh?" Holly glanced over her shoulder and saw the shadow moving at them, "Ah, that uh oh."

The form seemed to step out of the shadows and into the small clearing of fog that surrounded the two. It was the corpse of what might have been human once, skin dripping off and peeling away. One eye had fallen out of its socket leaving an empty hole to glare at them. The other eye was bloodshot and full of rage. Clawed hands reached forward for Millileth who narrowed her eyes.

Millileth simply swung her bow around and connected solidly with the side of the things skull. The bow kept gowing in a shower of brains and bone. Half of the things head was missing. It simply stopped for a second then the body fell to the ground inert. No other shadows moved just yet.

Holly knelt back down and felt the ground, it was cold but solid to the touch, like stone. "Got any ideas where we are?"

"None, definitely not in any of the dimensions I know in our reality. Not even the hells."

"You know this for sure?"

"I'm one of the Gatekeepers. It's my job to know all the dimensions available to the Gods. This isn't one of ours."

"Ah, unfamiliar territory. Sounds like fun." Holly raised her bow, "So, what are the chances everything here is like that ghoul or whatever?"

Millileth squinted into the mist, "Better than average."

"I ever mention how much I hate this part?"

"Only evertime you go into battle."

"I think I'll enjoy this one, the undead give me the creeps." Holly let an arrow form on her bow and watched the green streak fly strait. They watched as it cut through the fog, leaving a gaping hole that didn't quite close behind it. After almost a hundred yards it impacted one of the corpses. Holly got a clear view of the thing as the arrow hit it square in the chest. It exploded nicely in a shower of green firey bits.

"Nice shot." Millileth said and raised her own bow. She repeated Holly's shot by firing strait into the mists, her own arrow was a deep purple. It also impacted a corpse causing a shower of flaming purple bits.

"Well then, now what?" Holly said, no other corpses had seen fit to come out of the mist at them just yet.

"Find the Orb of Sello" A voice echoed in all their heads. Thissle's wings drooped, Millileth and Holly just looked at each other.

"You know what this is?" Holly said.

"What?" Millileth also responded out loud.

"Punishment."

"For what?"

"Think about it, what did you do but send mortals questing about for this and that and that and this and all I did was tag along for the ride and make up a neat song about them." Holly said, her voice hinted at just a little anger, mixed with a tiny bit of humor.

"No shit." Thissle's little voice carried through the mists. "I guess it's true, everyone gets what's coming to them." Her tiny voice giggled.

Holly and Millileth just looked at each other, "Well then, I guess we find of the Orb of Sello."

"Which way?" Millilelth put on hand on her hip.

"Ummm... That way." Holly poinyed over her shoulder with her thumb. "I'm just guessing so don't ask why."

Millileth shrugged, "Works for me."

The two turned and started walking through the mist, every once in a while a slow shambling corpse came at them only to be felled by an arrow or good solid whack by a bow.

//Chapter 03: A Muse, a God and a Pixie walk into a bar...//

"How long have we been at this?" Millileth said as the two walked slowly through the mists. Apparently the corpses passed on information because they hadn't seen any in a while. Though a good trail of fallen ones lay behind them.

"Maybe two days." Holly said, "You hungry or tired at all?"

Millileth shook her head, "I don't do that anymore."

"Ah, it's new to me."

"Not getting hungry and tired?"

"Yeah, I feel like I should stop and eat or go to bed, but you know, I don't feel like I need to."

"Ah that. Yeah, took me a bit to get used to it to."

"I keep forgetting you weren't a God originally." Holly said, they'd stopped using Mililleth's psychic link to talk. There was no point in the mists.

"I was an elf. Trained in the ways of a scout."

"Explains why your preffered weapon is a bow." Holly stopped and squinted.

Millilelth stopped and then did the same, "Mist seems to brighten up a bit ahead there."

"Suppose that means something?" Holly said, just a tiny bit of sarcasm in her voice.

They kept walking.

It took them, by Holly's reconning, another three hours to get to the source of the light, which turned out to be the edge of the mist. One second they were in the fog, the in a the edge of a wooded area. Another three hundred yards and they came to the edge of the woods. A short distance away a dirt road moved past them following the edge of the forest.

"Ok, now which way?" Millileth said.

"I chose last time." Holly said.

"Ok." Millileth looked one way, then the other. "This way." And she started off down the road.

"This north or south?" Holly said, the sun was currently off to their right.

"To us or the locals?"

"Us at the moment."

"We'll have to see which direction the sun goes." Millileth said. They were both casually carrying their bows in their hands, neither of them had any to string them with, being magical.

Holly tossed hers from hand to hand after a while, looking at the bow. "You'd think you'd enable a way for us to put them away." She looked at her companion.

"How'd you carry it before?"

"I put it with my pack, neither of us have those." Holly said.

"Ah. Well, If the magic still works right, just do this." Millileth held her bow out for Holly to see and then opened her hand, the bow became a purple light and the disappeared. Millileth showed Holly the back of her hand, a purple tattoo of a bow lay across it.

Holly looked at it, "Worth a try." she looked at her bow and concretrated. It, in turn, turned into a green light and then disappeared. Holly had a tattoo of her own bow in green on the back of her hand.

"Now we're looking more and more similar." Holly said putting both her hands out, one held the green arch and curve of her bow, the other a light green leaf with dark green veins. Millileth put own hands near it, one had an exact copy of the leaf and the other a stylizedmarking of a bow in deep purple.

Thissle hovered over each hand and examined them, "Well, all I've got is the leaf." She said in their minds. The two laughed.

"Let's go, there's bound to be some kind of civilization around."

"How do you know." The two were walking casually down the dirt road.

"We're on a road." Millilleth spoke with a tone that told Holly she'd just been an idiot.

"Right. I knew that." She rolled her eyes, "I think I'm showing my age."

"HA!" Millileth shouting, "A mere six millenia." Holly gave her a dirty look.

They watched the sun disappear to their right, "Guess we're heading south." Holly said as they kept walking casually in the dimming evening. "Can you see in the dark?"

"Of course. You?"

"Mostly, not pitch, but at night I don't have much trouble." Holly replied.

"You know, when mortals normally quest they encounter things that are usually just outside the scope of their abilities." Millileth said after some more time passed.

"I had thought about that. We're not exactly lacking in ability. Though normally mortals are at least going with the pretense it's all against their will. Forced into it and all."

"Well, we were forced."

"Sort of, we agreed to walk through that portal."

"That's tricking us."

"I plan on having a good time, death and dismemberment be damned." Holly said resolutely.

"I see..." Millileth didn't have much of an answer to that, "Just so you know. At the moment my ability to shift seems to be lacking."

"That's a major drawback." Holly said. "Maybe that's tied to our home."

"Maybe, here I might just be a really powerful being or mage or something."

"Nightshade said Gods were tied to their home realities, perhaps you lost your Godhood when you left."

"Then what am I?"

"Maybe you're an immortal being now. Could be that Nightshade changed you."

"Better than oblivion I think." Millileth looked up at the gathering twilight. "Got that flute of yours."

"Of course." Holly pulled the flute out of a belt loop where it always lay tied. She put it to her lips and began a tune to the beat of their marching. It wasn't long before Millileth had lyrics coming to her head and started to sing a light tune in match with the flute.

And the two walked on into the twilight on the long road making their own music as accompanyment. It was about midnight before they stopped making music and just walked in silence.

"You're a pretty good singer." Holly remarked somewhere in the small hours.

"We make a good duo." Millileth said.

"I suppose we could just pretend to be traveling mintrels." Holly said.

"Not to far off the truth, I made a living as a bard before the Godswar came."

"That would explain your pantheon." Holly mused.

"I can still shift." Thissle said whimsically as she turned into a hawk.

"Nice. I can't shift, but she can." Millileth pointed at the hawk now sitting on her shoulder.

"Makes some sense, I was never supposed to be a God, a besides, pixie's can naturally turn into birds." She spoke into their minds.

"Ah, natural magic." Holly mused. "Might be better for us anyway, if she's a more normal looking creature at times. Never know how people are going to react to pixies." Holly said.

Millileth thought about it and rolled up the sleeve of her shirt, over her left arm she created a bracer for a hawk to rest on. "For believability." She said as Holly eyed the leather wrapping.

Thissle continued her pearch as a hawk on Millileth's shoulder. Though she noticed that shoulder of her shirt formed a pad under her after a while. She hopped to the other sholder to find a similar guard against her new claws. Millileth smiled.

It was as dawn was breaking and they crested a low sloping hill that both of them finally saw the town. They had seen a few hearth fire smoke whisps in the forming light but hadn't bothered to guess how far off it might be. They stopped and took in the sight.

"Looks cozy." Holly mused.

"I bet there's an inn down there, I could use some tea."

"We don't get thirsty." Holly said, "Though I could go with some coffee maybe."

"Have to and want to are two seperate things." Millileth said. "Looks like they won't have modern conveniences." She said though, the town was mostly made of wood housing the thatch roofing. A lot like the towns they'd both known growing up.

"We'll look out of place in jeans." Holly said.

"And everything else." Millileth finished the thought. "Cloaks are common amongst this type of set up I'm sure." She finished.

"Good idea, jeans are far to comfortable to give up." She looked at her leather jacket and thought hard for a second. It seemed to shift, then changed into a long black cloak the nearly touch the ground. It came complete with a deep hood. "HA! She was right." Holly said.

"What?" Millileth had made her own cloak, also a deep black, same style as Holly's.

"Nightshade called me a Muse, said I could make my imagination real."

"Ah, a lot like Gods." Millileth said.

"Only Muses are supposed to be able to affect neighboring realities." Holly said.

"Ah, sounds interesting." Millileth said.

"Sounds bizarre." Holly answered. "Shall we see if they can at least fix us a cup of something we'll want to drink."

"Worth the effort. Don't forget we should ask them about that orb, they might know something."

"We can only hope." Holly said as the two started off down the road again.

--

Magrin sat on the stump near the clump of trees just outside the town. Magrin cleaned the stables for the towns only inn. Which was in the middle of the town. Any minute now he'd have to get up, go running halfway across town and start cleaning the stables. Not that it really mattered. The war with Staern had nearly killed off the idea of travelers coming down from Tamid.

Ollisp was a small town off the Great Road, it wa merely as stopping point for those not seeking the main route. Which wasn't much even in the best times. Now, with the war and all, no one took the fork that passed by the Misted Forest and through Ollisp. Tamid, he'd been told was under seige, or burned to the ground, or simply taken over. Depending on which uninformed townsfolk he listened to.

It had been two Months since anything came down the road. And since Tamid was caught in the middle of the war no one came up the other way either. But Magrin sat their anyway watchin the road.

And he saw two figures crest the top of the hill a few miles away. It was still early dawn, but two people standing on top of the bare hill was unmistakable. It would be a bit of time before they got near the town. Definitely after breakfast.

He stood and ran back towards the inn. The first thing he did was burst in the kitchen door and look for Capler.

Capler was the inn's owner. A large man, the kind you'd expect to run an inn of a small town off the main road. The kind who'd seen enough strangers tobe suspicious without immediately disliking them.

Magrin found him cleaning mugs at the bar. A few of the townsfolk were sitting in the main area, Capler's stew was actually known to be amongst the best in the whole dutchy.

"Caplin." Magrin said excitedly, "Traveler's Caplin, coming this way."

"Traveler's?" Caplin raised one hairy eyebrow. "From the north or south?"

"North."

"Ah, news from Tamid I hope." He said and put a mug down, picking up another. "Riding?"

"I don't think so." He said, "I could only see outlines at the top of Bald Hill."

"Best make sure the stables is clean just in case lad." Caplin shooed him out of the bar area.

Magrin went back and, since they'd had no travelers for some time, made a quick tidying motion around the stables. Which consisted mostly of arranging the tools and sweeping the loose dust and straw out of the way. He then ran back to the entrance to the town to see what kind of strangers approached.

Thissle had taken to the air as they started down the hill, just to see the lay of the land. She coasted far up on the cool air where there was more light than dawn and looked at the land below her. The road ran through the town. It say a ways away from the forest they had exited from. It obviously didn't do any logging as there were no trails to and from the forest. There were, however, many many wheat fields surrounding the place. It made it's living from grain. She looked back north along the road and saw something interesting.

She circled her way north back a bit. About a full day behind them if she judged right were a troop of men on foot. A couple of riders, but mostly on foot. they had a couple of ox driven wagons with them as well. Which explained their slow movement.

"We have a company of men following behind us." She thought back to her companions. Maybe forty of them, maybe more. Soldiers by the look." She swooped and caught a current of wind back south.

"Great." Holly said.

"What?" Millileth asked as they made their way along the road.

"A company of men coming this way usually means we're in the middle of some war. This little village is about to be a strategic target." Holly said.

"For what, it's tiny." Millileth said.

"Thissle, what lies around this place?"

"Mostly wheat fields, no logging though, for such a place close to the wood." She thought as she swooped down to join them again.

"Grain. Supplies." Holly said grimly.

"Fifty men." Thissle mused, "If I could only shift. We'd have fifty charred husks."

"Dragons. Always a good way to scare the populace." Holly said.

"Effective." Millileth replied. "Wonder why they don't log the forest."

"You walked out of it, would you log that?"

"Probably not." Millileth conceded.

"Game plan, we're warning the town. Maybe someone can point us in the direction of the Orb." Holly looked up at her companion. "I wonder how they react to elven kind." She said.

Magrin watched the strangers approach. Two on foot, the taller with a hawk perched on their shoulder. One was short, five feet or so. The other was just over five and a half feet. Both had on long dark cloaks. Neither had their hoods up at the moment. They also didn't have visible packs or weapons. just them, walking. The shorter one had long deep red hair, the taller had light brown hair, almost blonde. They walked with the kind of determination that said they knew exactly where they were going.

He ran back to the inn and watched them enter the town from the front porch. Caplin stayed inside, though he almost wished he could await them outside like the boy. Two months without strangers coming through made him eager to meet new people.

"Gloves." Thought Millileth as they approached the begining of the town, "Best to hide the tattoos for the moment."

"Good idea." Holly said, and they both sported black leather gloves as they walked determinedly towards the inn. "What happens when we draw the bows forth?" Holly thought, "Through the gloves?"

"Not sure. Cloud be nothing happens, could be we can't, might burn the backs of the gloves off." Millileth's gaze swept over the town. Maybe a hundred people lived here. "Don't really care."

"Just thinking about it." Holly thought as her own gaze swept over the town as well.

They walked up to the inn and went inside.

Magrin held back a gasp as he noticed they were both elves. It was rare to see them in this part of the kingdom. He'd only seen three to date, counting these two.

Caplin looked up at the newcomers. Only slightly taken aback by the fact they were both elven women. It was known that elves saw their woman as equals, but it still usually the men you saw outside the lands, unless at court. He'd been to the capitol once, the only other time he'd seen elven women.

They both sat a table near one of the walls. Neither of them appeared to have weaponry under the heavy black cloaks. Certainly they couldn't hide sword or bow under them. That left daggers. They also had no travelpacks. Which was odd for men and elves traveling along. Elves were known to do things like this however.

Caplin nodded to Aerlin, his barmaid. She hesitated only slightly before approaching the table. She hoped they spoke Ablen and not Elven only as she prepared to offer them a bowl of stew and see what they wanted to drink.

"What kin I get ya ta drink?" She said softly.

The two looked at each other briefly then the shorter one, with the deep red hair and the gold flecks in her eyes looked up at Aerlin and spoke in a smooth accent like city folk. "Black brew if you have it."

Aerlin nodded and turned to meet the deep green eyes of the other elf, "Same." She said in the same accent.

"Would ye like some stew with that?" Aerlin asked.

"Yes." The smaller one said, the taller answered likewise. Aerlin went off quickly to the back to fetch the drinks.

Holly looked at Millileth as Thissle settled herself onto her shoulder and appeared to sleep. "Find it a little odd we immediately speak the language?" She thought to her companion.

"As a God I could communicate with anything I encountered. Now, maybe Nightshade gave us that as a parting gift before kicking us out into the multitude of realities." She thought as she looked about the room, "If she really does have a plan for us communicating with those we encounter would help tremendously."

"True enough." Holly thought for a second, "Though our accent isn't the same as theirs, perhaps we only know a certain form of the language."

"Most common accent." Millileth offered.

"Sounds plausible." Holly smiled as the barmaid came out with two steaming mugs of coffee. She wrapped her hand around the warm mug and drew in the deep scent. "I love this stuff. Wherever it comes from." She thought through her smile and took a sip.

"I doubt this place has mint tea." Millileth said sipping her own mug.

It was another minute before two decent sized bowls of stew were brought out. Both elves looked at the meal and Millileth gave a slight smile. "This smells excellent." She thought.

"Damn strait." Holly thought back picking up her own spoon and taking a bite, "And tastes as good."

Caplin watched both elves closely, they had order black brew instead of ale or somesuch. Though even he admitted it was a bit early for drink. And both of them seemed to genuinely enjoy his stew. He took great pride in the stew, the secret was to let it sit over night over a low heat of coals.

He let them eat their meal in peace before approaching them for talk. Who knows how long it had been since their last hot meal like that. As they finished the meal and say back with another mug of black brew he went over to their table and sat down between them.

They only eyed him, waiting for him to greet them. "Welcome to Ollisp. I'm Caplin, owner of this establishment." His accent was slightly more refined than the barmaids.

"I am Millileth, and this is Holly." Millileth said in way of introduction

"The boy says came in from the north road." They nodded, "What news of Tamid?"

"None I'm afraid." Millileth continued as the speaker for both of them. "We didn't make it that far before running into a contingent of soldiers headed this way."

"Soldiers?" Caplin raised his eyes.

"That settles it, they're enemy to this village." Holly thought to her companion.

"About fifty men, we thought it better to come this way first and warn you."

"We have no real malitia." Caplin frowned. "Most of the lads went off and joined the damned army to fight off the bastards." He spat.

"Then we shall stay and help." Millileth offered.

"Two against fifty? The whole town will join the fight. But I'm not sure us farmers are much good against trained soldiers." He frowned.

"What do you think our odds are?" Holly asked in her own worlds native elven laguage.

"Pretty good in our favor. We are, after all, powerful magic weilding beings." Millileth answered in the same tongue.

Caplin watched them talk, it was not the same sounding elven he had heard so long ago. But they may be from a different Elven nation than the one he was familiar with. What they were doing this far out of place he didn't know. But he never turned down help when it was needed.

"We don't think they'll be a problem." Millileth said to him.

"No?" He looked a little incredulous. "I don't know your kind, or your language. But perhaps you have tricks up your sleeves I don't know about." He smiled.

Holly spoke next, "Onto another matter. We are looking for an item, perhaps you have heard of it." She said.

Caplin finally understood what they were doing they far out of where their homeland might be, they were questing after something. "What item?" He asked, with only slight hesitation.

"The Orb of Sello." Holly said softly

Caplin raised his eyebrows. The Orb of Sello said to reside in the great chapel in the capitol. It was the guiding light to those who followed Pauril, the God of Knowledge and Truth. It wasn't unheard of for pilgrims of the God to seek it out and prey in it's light. They didn't look like worshippers, but then pilgrims often traveled in different guises. "It lies in the capitol of Goreth some four weeks journey to the south east."

"Four weeks by horse or foot?" Holly asked, being practical.

"Horse."

Holly frowned, "Quite some walking to do." She said in her native elven again to Millileth.

"Can't be helped." She replied, then turned to Caplin, "The soldiers are about a day behind us, I should think they would be attacking tomorrow morning. Have you a room we could use for the night?" She said, back in the native tongue.

"Of course." He said and stood, "We have a room you can use. Let me show you." He waited for them to stand and they both followed him up a flight of stairs to the second, and top, floor of the building. There were four seperate rooms and larger common room. The rooms had only one sleeping mat each. Millileth and Holly decided to take the two closest to the strairwell.

They went back down after being shown the rooms and ajourned to their table. Caplin sent the boy off to gather the town council. It was only mid morning, both elves took the opporunity to appear to rest, apparently tired from a long journey on foot.

It took most of the day for the village to gather in the inn. There weren't many of them, maybe seventy. Millileth and Holly simply watched the crowd gather from their table near the back wall. They got a few odd glances, but mostly they kept their distance. Only those who arrived last ended up near the two elves. Thissle had taken to resting on Millileth's shoulder, only adding to their air of mystery and the nervousness of the townsfolk.

It was nearing mid afternoon as the last of the townsfolk gathered into the room. Caplin seemed to take charge of the proceedings as he banged a mug on the bar for silence. Everyone quieted and looked at him.

"This meeting is called to inform the town of an emergency. Apparently our two travelling guests have come this way to worn us of an approaching danger. There is a contingent of Sillantry soldiers coming this way, no doubt to burn our village to the ground." He bellowed out to the bar.

"What reason have we to trust them?" One of the farmers shouted.

"What reason have we not to?" Caplin answered. "The contingent is due to arrive late tonight, if we prepare and nothing happens then we have lost nothing. If we ignore them and wait for the soldiers we'll have no chance at all."

"The voice of reason as always." Another older man said, he leaned in the doorway, "I want to know what our guests have planned, skip out of town tonight maybe?"

"They plan to help." Caplin shot back.

"I want to hear it from them." The first man responded.

"If you wish." Millileth stood, Holly followed suit. "We plan to stay and fight, we have no wish to watch this village burn to the ground." Holly simply nodded in agreement next to her.

"With what? I see no weapons." The man said, "Do you plan on boring them to death with tales of how glorious Elven cities are?" The villager spat at them.

Holly smiled, "There's one in every crowd." She thought to Millileth.

"Makes life interesting." Millileth thought back. "I've got an idea." Millileth smiled at the man, "You wish to see what we are capable of then?" She spoke slowly and softly. Both of them glaring together had enough presence to quiet the entire room.

Millileth's hand moved fast, slamming down open onto the table they stood in front of. It immediately burst into a deep purple flame that reached several feet in the air.

Holly responded by simply waving her own hand, pal down, over the table, extinguishing the flames. Both elves had a crooked smiled on their lips as they watched the townsfolk take in the act.

"Weapons of steel mean nothing to us." Holly said in her own soft commanding voice. Years of being a teacher had tought her how to command a roomful of people staring directly at her.

Caplin spoke first, "I trust them to help us. But we must also prepare, they are still only two against fifty. I suggest everyone spend the rest of the day gathering whatever implements they have that may be used in a manner such as war." He didn't quite shout, only using a conversational tone. He didn't yet have the command of his voice to shout again. He hadn't expected the elves to reveal themselves as mages. Though it made sense, two women, even elves, traveling alone through these lands had to have a trick up their sleeves.

Morning came. Holly and Millileth walked to the edge of the town and looked up the road. At the crest of the hill stood men, marching down at them. The townsfolk stayed a ways back, closer to the center of town. Should any of them slip past the two elves.

--

Captain Pevol sat upon his horse and looked down the road towards the town. His men were marching in an orderly manner. Fifty soldiers dispatched from the main army to destroy this town, considered a possibly important supply of wheat and other grain for the enemy. He had unofficially given his men permission to loot the town before they burned it to the ground instead of the normal stipend. He hadn't needed to carry a chest of gold in case any demanded payment under their rights as a soldier for the kings army.

He called over to his next in command, "Seargent, what do you suppose those two are doing?" He motioned with one hand towards the town. There could be clearly seen two black cloaked figures waiting at the edge of town.

"I'm not sure, sir." He shrugged and looked up at the dawning day, it was going to be a hot day he judged. "Perhaps they mean to defend the town."

"Two, against fifty? I don't like it. Something's up. Send some scouts off to the fields and check the edge of the wood. I have a bad feeling an ambush is in order." The sergent saluted and immediately went off to dispatch some runners. Captain Pevol stayed at the crest until all his men were over it and on their way to the town. He had a bad feeling about the mornings up coming events.

Holly and Millileth simply waited for the oncoming men to approach. Thissle had appeared to take to the sky, then shifted back to pixie and came back, now safely tucked away in the folds of Millileth's cloak. she peaked out just enough to see what was going on.

"I'm not fond of fighting you know." Holly said as they waited.

"Has to be done sometimes." Millileth answered.

"You seem more relaxed with it."

"During the first Gods War I managed to fall in love with Keggal." Millileth spoke with just a hint of longing in her voice.

"God of war? You're kidding." Holly spoke before she thought.

"No." Millileth looked at her companion.

"Oh. Well, you have no problem with what we're about to do then?" Holly was looking at the approaching men.

"Nope. I'm not saying I'll go out of my way to start a fight, but I have no problem fighting." She explained. The men were a third of the way to them.

"I see. I just never got comfortable taking life."

"Becoming comfortable with it and accepting it as a course of action are different."

"Never really thought about it that way." Holly conceded.

"How long should be give them?"

"Really think we can take them all?"

"Sure. You keep using your bow, once they get close enough I'll switch to knives."

"I feel kind of sorry for them."

"They're the ones coming to burn and pillage." Millileth pointed out.

"OK, I almost feel sorry for them. It's still killing."

Millileth shrugged. "You've seen more than enough death in your time."

"Doesn't mean I like it, I just got used to it."

"Point."

"I say maybe within a quarter mile of us. I know we can both fire that far."

"At least."

"Yeah, but if they get that close they won't have much chance to run."

"I thought you didn't like killing."

"I don't, but leaving them alive lets them go on burning and pillaging at a later date. And it is sound tactics."

"A tactitian as well."

"You learn a thing or two hanging out with generals and writing ballads and epics after them." Holly conceded. "Just because I don't like it doesn't mean I don't know what I'm doing. I did last six millenia, give or take a year."

"True enough. Remember when I gave you that bow?"

"Yes."

"Loved him did you?"

"Yes, I'll only admit that to you though."

"Of course. You can see the attraction I had for Keggal then?"

"Yes." Holly conceded.

They waited in silence. Mid morning was approaching, the sun had already turned the day into a swealtering heat. Holly and Millileth merely stood their ground. Motionless and patient as only long lived beings can be.

Captain Pevol watched them as his men approached. No visible weapons. No, that wasn't true. As he rode his horse watching them, not much more than a quarter mile away each seemed to have a bow.

Holly and Millileth put their hands to their sides and called forth their weapons. The grips seemed to form in their hands and as soon as they closed their hands around them the bows curves formed in their respective green and purple lights. They simultaneously raised their bows, took sight and willed arrows into existence.

"Unarmored mostly." Millileth said.

"Fifty of them. An explosive arrow might catch two, multiple shots maybe three." Holly replied as they sighted down the flames of their magic.

"Mines a long bow, your a light bow, I suggest I use explosive and you use mutiple shots."

"Sounds logical. Your explosion bigger than mine?"

"Of course, proportionate to the power of the weapon."

"Ah."

"Think they'll surrender, turn around and go home?"

"Not really."

They let their arrows fly. As Holly's shaft left the bow it split into five shots of green followed closely by Millieths shaft of purple.

The marching soldiers kept going, they had confidence, there were fifty of them and only two waiting to defend. The scouts had reported no one waiting in the fields to the side of the wood to the other side. It wasn't until they saw the glowing arrows come at them that doubt came into their mind.

The were at a quarter mile, the bowmen should have arced their shots to come down into the midst of them from that distance. Instead they shot strait into them. By all logic the arrows should have fallen to the ground well in front of them.

The first green shafts caught the front row by surprise. Four men dropped, one arrow embbeded itself in a shield. The purple arrow hit another shield and let out a burst of fire that encompased three men and set them alight. The second round of arrows took another six men, three to green and three to purple.

The men panicked only to be greeted by another volley. This time ten arrows, five or purple five or green. Holly and Millileth had decided that simply throwing a larger number of arrows was a better persuader than the explosions.

Captain Pevol watched as the well formed ranks tried to turn and run only to have half their number cut down in a matter of seconds. In two minutes he had twenty scattering soldiers as they broke and run. His seargent was caught by two arrows, one flaming purple, the other green and went down.

The Captain was outraged. He drew his sword, never before had he had men break and run on him. He charged.

Holly and Millileth watched the captain charge down on them. They had taken to single shots now and were picking men off as they fled. Leaving almost none alive.

"Captain's charging us." Holly pointed out.

"I see that. We should leave a man or so alive to pass along this tale."

"Make a legend of ourselves?"

"Never know how long we're stuck here, might as well start."

"Agreed." They both lowered their bows and watched the captain charge down on them. They had left a dozen men alive to flee the scene.

"What to do about him, he seems pissed." Holly remarked.

"I got him." Millileth's bow changed. The curve of wood became a curve of steel in her hand that held a tint of purple to it. She met the charging horse with a graceful jump and sweep of the curved weapon and landed in a crouch.

The captain landed at Holly's feet with a thud, a look of surprise on his face. She went over and calmed the horse, her bow once again nothing more than a tattoo on her hand underneath a glove.

"We should show a marking i think." Millileth said and the gloves disappeared.

Holly shrugged, her own gloves were gone now as well. "Let them talk about us as they wish I think. Legends spread on their own."

"Shall we move on now?"

"We need to take the long way so news can reach other towns."

"That how it works?"

"Normally I'm the one spreading the news, I try to travel faster than those who need a legend made after them, though mostly I just give them wrong directions and get their first at my own pace."

Millileth laughed, "I see."

"They didn't seem to mind most of the time, once I explained that if I went first people would already know who they are."

"And it worked?"

"Mostly." Holly patted the horse and removed the bit and bridle.

"It just occured to me."

"What?" Holly looked up from tending to the horse, which had stopped panting.

"Magic may not be that common in this place. Those men scattered pretty quickly. Armies I know would have reacted differently to magic and I've never heard of any party that large without a priest."

Holly thought for a second, "Perhaps mages work differently here. I don't know for sure. Only one way to find out."

"What?"

"Ask someone."

"Ah. How obvious."

"The direct route involves less problems often enough. Nobody expects it to be, honest."

"Right. Shall we loot the dead?"

"Seems disrespectful."

"They don't need any of this."

"Neither do we." Holly pointed out.

"We need currency."

"That'll help." Holly and Millileth walked up the road to the array of dead soliders.

Holly was the first to find a soldier with coin, most of them had no currency on them. "They were going to loot as well." Holly said and Millileth studied their clothing and armour.

"Oh?" Millileth looked up from the body of the seargent, his armour consisted of hard leather strips attached to a more flexible leather garment.

Holly held up a coin. "Just one." She put it in to the pocket of her jeans.

"This armor, looks light and useful." Millileth had removed the arm of the garment and held up a bit.

"Do we need armor?"

"It might help our disguise." Millileth offered.

"Let me see it." Holly held out a hand. Millileth tossed it to her. Holly studied the armor and how it was made, "Crude but not bad. I think I can do this."

"Do what?" Millileth stood up.

"Make something out of imagination."

"Ah."

Holly thought for a second and pictured how the clothing should fit, she decided that only her forearms and lower legs needed to be covered. The armor came into being as a series of gaurds strapped onto the body. Holly tossed aside her cloak to show Millileth her work. She had also given herself fingerless gloves with an open back hand to show off the markings.

Millileth nodded and did the same. They were close to matching now, something that caused Thissle to giggle. They both looked at the pixie.

"What? You match!" She giggled again.

"Pixies." Millileth sighed.

Holly laughed at this and they walked back to the town. Thissle had formed back into a hawk sitting on Millileth's shoulder.

There were a few townsfolk waiting for them, Caplin among them. He greated them with a warm smile.

Holly pulled the coin from her pocket and tossed it at him, "That's all they had on them." She said in the local tongue.

"A Crown." He frowned, "They're been to other cities in our fair country." He looked up at the strangers. "How can we thank you?"

"Don't charge us for the rooms." Millileth smiled.

"Done." Caplin said, it was a small enough expense.

"We'll be going now, we've a long journey ahead." Holly spoke next.

"You cannot stay one more night in thanks?"

"No, I'm afraid not." Millileth said, "Be well." She started to walk off to the south.

Holly smiled, "I suggest maybe building a watch tower on top of that hill." And followed her companion.

The townsfolk of Ollisp watched the two elves wander out of town and down the south road, then went back to the daily business of living.

//Chapter 04: Making things bigger than you angry//

Keggal. God of War. First of the Horsemen. He stands eight feet tall, clad in massive plate mail so black light seemed to just end where it began.

Currently he was stomping and pacing the great stone hall of Murvag. The other three horsemen sat on their thrones, patiently waiting as they always did.

"Where could she be?" Keggal, voice like moving rock, said out loud.

"Ask the Elder Being." Gomdall, God of Pestilence and the third of the horsemen said. His voice seemed to drip and slither over the air.

"Ask me what?" Nightshade seemed to step out of air and into existence.

Keggal, being as subtle as a moutain, stormed over to her, "Where is Millileth." He demanded in more of a statement than a question.

"Running an errand for me." Nightshade smiled up at the massive God.

Keggal's mighty fist came down onto Nightshade.

Her left hand simply brushed the crushing blow out of the way as if it were no more than a feather. Her right fist came out in a sudden jab that had the impact of a planet behind it. Keggal went flying backwards and crashed into his own throne.

He stood up and looked down at his armor, there was a dent in his chest. In all his years he had never gotten so much as a scratch and here a fist sized dent now blemished his armor. The other three horsemen stood in unison.

One of them was bad news. All of them meant apocaplypse.

They charged. Sword of war, Scythe of death, Claw of famine and Flail of Pestilence came at Nightshade.

She willed them out of existence.

Only a deep cloaked ten foot tall figure stood in their place. It held a massive Scythe in it's bony hand.

"Four horsemen indeed." She looked up at the replacement. "The Great Death, emobodiment of the end. Neutral in all ways as everything must stop."

The figure seemed to nob imperceptibly.

"Welcome to this little reality. Add it to your list."

The figure nodded slightly, turned and was gone.

"Listen up." Nightshade spoke into the mind of every God Kel-Sindal had. "The Gatekeeper is gone from this place. All the realms are open to each other. You may make your presence known to mortal worlds again. Kavu and Kella are now the new Father and Mother." And she was gone.

Deep in old places long forgotten by men thigns stirred. Ancient Gods arose again. They moved on thrones turned to stone with age. They rose and took command of vast armies of immortal beings lying long dormant. Reality was about to change irrevocably.

And the Gods themselves were in for quite a shock when they realized sports stars would hold more status than them in a world that forget there were divine beings that granted magic beyond the dreams of men.

There would be a time of adjustment.

//Chapter 05: Legend of the two elves//

Holly and Millileth had been traveling for two weeks. As they went deeper into the kingdom they traveled through it became apparent elves of their kind weren't common. They took to keeping their hoods up. Their kind being those who didn't appear to be the native elven stock.

They also learned they were being followed. Apparently other elves, the native elves were a lot like them, only they never dressed in black apparently. Or spoke as they did. The native Elven lords had taken an interest in them.

One encounter in the middle of a road between towns was the clincher on the whole relationship. Holly and Millileth were making music on their way down the road when a dozen elven riders came out of the woods that bordered the road to the north. They didn't so much ask as demand that the two of them go with them back to the Elven homeland for questioning.

They refused of course, having decided to handle the object of their search before galvanting about the place willy nilly. Those were Holly's words.

Things being what they are the elves tried to take them by force. The one elf that got away took his story back to the council. And now they were hunted by elves.

Holly currently lounged on the bed. They had decided to stop moving for a day and get sleep more for the sake of tradition than need. Millileth say at the table watching the street below them. Holly had removed her clothes and was simply lying on the bed after a long hot bath that she "Needed more than anything else in existence." Millileth couldn't really disagree to that.

"You know what I miss the most at the moment?" Holly said up to the ceiling.

"What?" Millileth was watching a dozen or more darkly cald figures gather outside the building.

"Showers."

"We have company."

"Ah damn." Holly jumped out of bed, her clothes simply moving from the pile on the chair to her body in a blink of an eye. "How many?"

Millileth stood, "Fifteen maybe."

"This is going to be a long term thing, I can tell." Holly said, her bow forming in her grip.

"We could just go to the Elven court or whatever and see what they want."

"They can just wait for us to be good and ready." Holly said, "Elves are arrogant no matter what reality you're in I wager."

"Probably. My experience with Elven courts had always been bad."

"That's right, you were banished from ours if I remember history right."

"Something like that." Millileth's own bow appeared in her hand. They both listened to foots steps coming up the stairs to that. They raised the bows.

"We forgot to lock the door." Holly mused.

"Oops." Millileth said flatly.

The door flung open and the first two had an arrow each in their chests before taking another step. There were only two more standing there. They had a second to react before they also went down. Millileth ran out the door first, her weapon going from bow to double edged blade. Holly was two steps behind her.

Millileth jumped the bodies and landed in the hallway, another two elves were coming up the stairs. The branch off the hall to the left of the large in was an open balcony to the common room below. Millileth ran towards it. She would have been chased by the elven attackers had not Holly popped around the corner and dropped them with a pair of arrows.

Millileth did a flip over the side of the railing and landed in the middle of a table, crouched down, blade up and ready. Those at the table were more than a little surprised to see the elf land there. "You coming?" She thought to her companion who had a fondness for stairs.

"Yeah yeah." She heard back as another body came tumbling down the staircase, a flaming green arrow in his throat. Holly came bounding down seconds later, three steps at a time. She stopped at the base of the stairs.

The eight remaining elves were in the middle of the room, ready to move in if needed. They all had their elven long swords at the ready. With the red haired one front of them and the other to their side they suddenly realized that it really only does take two people to do a flanking manuver.

"Any last requests?" Holly said out loud.

The elves looked at each other, then at their advesaries. Then raised their swords and went into the Elven Sword Dance. Holly dropped three before they even reached her and was busy parrying the last one with her bow as he arced and danced about, sword flashing brightly even in the dim light of the tavern.

Millileth had flipped off the table and came down, her own curved blade batting aside the four elves that came after her. They were very graceful, moving in quick arcs and slashes and stabs. A very hypnotizing dance you weren't busy trying to not get hit. She stopped one sword dead in motion with her arm gaurd and swung her blade around in a half circle twisting as she went. Two elves fell to the sweep, the thrid stared open mouthed at his suddenly stopped blade. The last came in with a jab that missed and Millileth rolled around him and slashed his back open with her own blade of purple flame.

The remaining two elves backed off and eyed their targets. Never before had they failed, and never before had they lost so many. Maybe one or two, but not thirteen in one battle against only two advesaries. It was disconcerting. They looked at each other and ran for the door.

Holly and Millileth let them go, their weapons going back to being mere tattoos.

"Well then." Holly said, "I suppose we should move on."

"Probably." Millileth said.

"At least I got a bath." Holly reached into her cloack and came back out with a small leather bag of coins. She tossed it on the bar and the two of them went out the front door.

The crowd simply watched them go, no one really sure of what just happened. Which meant that the rumors would fly across the land faster than the wind. Which was just fine with Holly and Millileth, they had decided that a reputation as dangerous advesaries might help them quite a bit.

"You know," Holly began as they walked slowly down an alley. They were currently in a decent sized town called Pent, "I minding killing these idiots less as time goes on."

"That's the spirit." Millileth offered. Thissle had rejoined them, softly fluttering her wings on Millileth's shoulder. They had dropped the pretense of her being a hawk. Thissle seemed to like her pixie form better anyway.

"That's not what I meant." Holly shot her a side glance. "As long as these jerks keep coming at us I'll have no problem dropping them and sending them onto whatever Gods they worship here."

"So, that leaves out assassin's as a proffesion."

"Ha ha." Holly retored dryly.

"So what do we pass as?"

"What, we suddenly need to be something?" Holly threw her arms up, "Two weeks on this chunk of rock and suddenly the elf aspires to be something!" She said loudly to the alley around them.

The emerged onto another lane, a slightly larger road than the one the inn they just left was on. The alley crossed maybe four lesser streets, hardly more than alley's themselves.

"You're elf to you know." Millileth stopped and turned to her companion.

"Half." Holly faced Millileth and looked up at her and stuck out her tongue.

"HA! Tainted blood." Millileth pointed a finger, trying to keep a strait face.

"Not my fault I got elf blood mixed up in everything!" They were using raised voices by this time. A group of merchant's sons, out drinking on the town, were coming down the street now.

They must have stepped out onto a slightly better part of town than what they left. The knot of five men stopped at stared at the two elves, clad in the assassin's black with heavy cloaks argued in a strange foreign tongue.

"Ok, now what?" Holly said, trying not to laugh too hard.

"Find another inn I guess."

"At this hour?" Holly looked around the street and spotted the men. "Ah great, rich kids."

"What?" Millileth turned and saw the group. "Ah, should we roll 'em for coinage?"

Holly made a disgusted face, "Ick, you're always looking to beat people up."

"Just going with the image of blood thirsty elf." She offered.

"We only got that image because you keep killing people with that blade of yours. Should stick to a real weapon like a bow."

"Right, naturally. The bow is so much more graceful." Millileth rolled her eyes, "Especially when one is becoming an expery at throat shots."

"I like that inn." Holly pointed a little further up the street.

"Which, the Prancing Pony?"

"Yep."

"What the hell for?"

"Stupid name."

"Ah." Millileth had found, over the years, that Holly's logic was so far off the probability curve that it almost made sense.

"Get on move on you two." Thissle whispered over the air between them. The merchents men seemed to be taking stock on the two women standing in the street at this hour.

The two stalked off in the direction of hte Prancing Pony, into the common room, which was currently serving bearded men, only some of which wore pointy hats. The two had discovered that, unlike their world, mages here were rare and learned magic from books instead of having it granted by Gods. Cities seemed to have clumps of them, often occompanied by other men who read books, like scholars. Holly's long years as a teacher let her fit right in with the crowd. Millileth merely went along for the ride, often posing as a well learned student.

"Of all the inns you have to choose the one full of books worms." Millileth thought to her companion.

"At least it'll be quiet." Holly thought back and smiled at the jovial man behind the counter, "Any rooms left?" She asked in the local tongue.

"Yes." He said very carefully. He wasn't used to travelers such as these coming into his place.

"Good, we'll take one, preferably with two beds." Holly said, reaching into her cloak and pulling out a small pouch, obviously weight with coins. "And a bath drawn in the morning."

"Meals?" The inn keeper asked as he picked up the pouch of coins, it seemed more than enough.

"Yes." Holly answered.

"Second door on the left, third floor." He said with a smile as he opened the pouch. The dozen silver coins inside would cover the room and then some. They didn't look like they wanted change, which meant they also didn't want anyone to know they were here. A tip to the innkeep to keep his mouth shut.

Holly smiled and the two elves walked up the two flights of stairs and into their room.

"AH!" Holly exclaimed, "Soft beds! I love scholars." She bounced onto one of the beds and pulled off her cloak. She tossed it on the chair next to the table between the two beds and began to unbuckle her armor.

"You put clothes on with magic, but take them off as normal." Millileth sat down at her own chair.

"I like to at least pretend I'm still mostly normal. Otherwise I'll lose touch with what I was." Holly said matter of factly as she tossed first one than a second arm guard on the chair.

"Ah." Millileth removed her own cloak and draped it over the back of the chair neatly, "I guess it's about time I got back in touch with who I was."

"That's the spirit."

"Shoosh you." Millileth was removing her own armor.

"And I only use the magic when I'm in a hurry."

"Like when a bunch of no-good elves kick down our door?"

"Something like that."

"After we get that Orb how about we pay that stupid council a visit?"

Holly seemed to think about it as she pulled her shirt over her head. "Sounds like a plan to me."

They undressed in silence and climbed underneath their respective covers. Thissle flew over and put out the lamp before settling herself onto the pillow next to Millileth.

--

A thousand miles away, deep in the depths of the Elven kingdom, high in a tree, a wizard paced. He was the most ancient of elven wizards. And he had a problem.

Namely there was a disturbance in the Misted Forest in the kingdom of Klant two weeks ago. He traced it with his powerful magics and watched as his scrying mirror focused on a pair of women, both elven in appearence but their auras betrayed something much more powerful than mere mortals.

He watched them for several days, watched them dispatch the invading contigent of men with ease. And sent a group of the fastest Elven riders to meet them and bring them to the councils chambers. He watched the women refuse and then his men killed. He watched as the second batch of men, fifteen Elven Sword Dancers were disaptched to bring them to the council. And then watched as they were slaughtered with ease, leaving two to run back to the council as they were doing so even now.

The one with the blade, she moved in a way so full of ease that the grace of the renowned Elven Dancers was put to near shame. The other was so quick with the bow that only one of four had reached her in a charge starting not ten feet from her position. They were indeed powerful beings, but of what nature? He did not know.

He did know that their king expected a report soon. He stalked out to the council chambers where the other Elven Elders waited.

"Well?" The Great Elven King Malphael the Ninth said from his thrown, even in his great age of nine hundred years his face was boyish and clean shaven, though his eyes showed the rule of ages in them, shining with wisdom.

"We have lost thirteen Swords Dancers to them lord, two were left alive to flee."

"Flee? Sword Dancers do not flee!" Retored the War Master Haladel.

"These two did, or rather, were let go instead of killed like the others, they wisely chose not to follow the two." The great mage responded.

"Fifteen?" The High Priestess Jalliel said, her voice raised slightly in surprise.

"Yes." The mage said.

"I have a theory." The old Historian Padrith said, his voice as creaky as the bark bound books and parchment scrolls he kept watch over.

"Yes?" Malphael turned to him.

"The Scrolls of Prophecy." He said in a voice betraying knowledge, "Mention two great warriors, one of pure blood, the other of mixed, who come from a land not known who will recover the three relics of Golldrem and destroy the Dark Dragon forever." He said, his voice creaking and cracking as he spoke slowly.

"But they do not have auras of elves, or humans, or any other being I've ever known." the Mage said.

"In the scrolls the words 'Talun nen-vetrilis' are used and have been interpreted as Land Unknown, researching further reveals that Talun is the ancient draconic word for World." Padrith licked his lips, "So World Unkown may be a better translation, meaning they may be elves of another world."

"Dimensional rift!" The mage proclaimed. "That was the disturbance, a door from another dimension opened in the Misted Forest out of which these two walked."

"They walked out of the Misted Forest?" Jalliel said, "That cursed place is home only to the undead and none have ever come out."

"They did." The mage said matter of factly.

"So now what?" Malphael asked.

"If they are indeed the ones in the prophecy then I suggest we let them alone for now." The old mage said.

"Indeed," Haladel said grimly, he was looking over a map. "They seem to be headed towards Goreth"

"Goreth." Jalliel folded her hands in front of her, "The Orb of Sello lies there."

"That's not a relic." Haladel said.

"No," Jalliel spoke softly, "But it is said that the Orb reveals the location of ones quest to those who are worthy and look into its light." She smiled, "Perhaps these two know what they're doing after all."

"Perhaps." Malphael spoke, "Haladel, send our best ambassadors to Goreth with a full contingent of Dancers and wait for them there."

Haladel saluted in the elven fashion of two fingers pressed together and then touched to his brow. "I shall go myself with my personal guard." He turned and left immediately to gather the best of the best Sword Dancers the vast Elven kingdom had to offer.

--

"I've been thinking." Holly started in.

"Uh oh." Millileth cut her off, "Trouble starts when you do that."

"Hush you." Holly waved her off with her hand. They were walking across a vast field of untamed grasses, a shortcut Thissle had said would cut two days off the journey. "As I was saying, What's the source of our Magic?"

"I don't know. Usually I'd say Dum-Thulle is, but I don't see that being the case anymore."

"OK, so are we getting from this place?"

"Hmmm... No, I don't think that's the case. I can sense the Gods of this world but don't feel connected to them."

"That leaves on last option." Holly hopped on top of a boulder and took a look around them.

"Which is?" Millileth stopped and waited, traveling both night and day at a leisurely pace with no real reason to hurry meant they both frequently simply stopped and took in the sights.

"Us."

"Excuse me?"

"Us, the magic is from us."

"Ah, that's what I thought you meant."

"Is that so odd?"

"No," Millileth thought for a second. "Actually, it makes some kind of sense. If we're both the kind of Immortal being Nightshade spoke of then I'd see no other explanation. As powerful as Gods but not tied to any one reality for our power, we'd have to pull it from ourselves."

"Right."

"Is there a point to this?" They had started walking again.

"Well, as long as I'm the one controlling the magic, why do I have to stick to convention."

"In what way?"

"Take my bow for instance, back when all this started you said my light bow would do comparable damage."

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Well, because it's still just a light bow, even if it is made from magic."

"Says you." Holly said.

"Ok.." Millileth had an idea of where this was going.

"Let's try something." Holly stopped, formed her bow and turned around. The rock was a ways behind them. "Light bows shouldn't be able to cleave that rock, right?"

"Pretty much."

Holly concentrated, an arrow formed on the bow, not unlike all the other arrows she had ever made. She let it fly. A green streak of fire cut the air with a whistle and then impacted the rock. About fifty yards beyond the rock the arrows magic stopped, leaving a slowly fading green streak. The rock itself fell apart into two pieces, cut in half.

"Impressive." Millileth whistled then looked over at Holly.

Holly was on her knees, bow on the ground beside her, panting.

"You OK?"

"Yeah," Holly said after a second, "That takes a bit out of you."

Millileth thought for a second, "Well, makes some sense, if we're the source of magic then it's our own energy that gets used in making it." Holly nodded, "So, small amounts we probably don't notice, like an arrow or two. That," Millileth pointed at the boulder, "Probably took quit a bit."

"Yeah," Holly said, "It did." She sat back and picked up the bow and drew it back into her tattoo.

"I suggest we leave things like that until we need them." Millileth suggested.

"Better idea." Holly got to her feet, "We practice and build up our power so doing that is as easy as a normal arrow."

Millileth looked at Holly, then the boulder, then Holly, "Magic body building." She smiled.

"I doubt this place has a twenty four hour fitness joint we can use." Holly joked back as they both walked towards their destination.

"You know, we've been at this almost five weeks now."

"Yep."

"What kind of reputation do you think we have?"

"From what I've overheard in taverns we're being posted as psychopathic outlander elves, exiled from our kingdom for atrocities to evil to speak of who wield powerful magic."

"You're making that up."

"Not really. Paraphrasing a little."

"The bard in you will never die."

"Muses, I think, are just really old bards." Holly offered up.

"Right, so what are they really saying."

"We're as powerful as a hundred men, I didn't make up the exiled elves part, though no one says why. We just did some injustice and now we're forced to wander the world in atonement."

"Ah."

"We're also, in some stories, blood sisters, in some we're mother and daughter, in others we're oath sisters and in at least one we're lovers."

"Which one of us is the mother?"

Holly rolled her eyes, "You, you look older." She said flatly.

"I barely show my seven millenia!"

"Hardly look older than two I'd wager." Holly offered back in sympathy.

Millileth stuck out her tongue.

"There are a lot of stories about us actually."

"I bet." Millieth said.

"Though always spoken in hushed tones. And almost every mercenary captain wishes we served in their company."

"Oh yeah, now all you have to do is overcome that little moral stance about not wanting to kill anyone."

"Whatever." Holly continued, "And there's always someone somewhere who claims they know us and such, that our services as assassin's can be bought for the right price."

"What price is that?"

"Never mentioned, implied that it's not in coin though."

"Ooh, neat." Millileth said. The sun was setting slowly behind them. "I'm thinking," Millileth stretech her arms, "That hiring on as mercenaries might help us out a little."

"How?"

"Well, say getting this Orb doesn't actually get us off this rock and we're stuck here."

"Yeah." Holly wasn't sure she liked where this was going.

"Becoming mercenaries would pass the time at least, give us the lay of the land. If we're as good and scary as the stories go eventually we can go where we want with near impunity."

"Point." Holly said. "So, after this Orb is found, assuming we're still here, we join up with a merc troop and just soldier about for a while. We can build our power up that way too."

"True enough. Before you know it we'll be mowing down forests with a single shot!" Millileth shouted, spreading her arms wide.

Holly simply rolled her eyes. "I've got an idea." Holly stopped short on the grass plain.

"What?" Millileth stopped after a few more steps and turned.

"We've got time, teach me how to wield that blade."

"Why not. But during the day, at night we travel."

"Deal. How about tonight we gaze at the stars, never seen 'em before." Holly looked up at the night sky, filled with a million pin pricks of light.

The lay down in the tall grasses, heads next to each other and spoke in soft whispers. Thissle had curled up on Millileth's breast and decided to sleep the night away, she alone seemed to still enjoy resting frequently.

"Which do you suppose form their constenlations?" Holly asked idly.

"Don't know, we should ask someone." Millileth whispered back.

They spent the rest of the night playing the game of telling, each trying to outdo the other with the most bizarre story. Eventually they gave up competing in the classic sense and simply traded off adding new chapters to a winding twisting tale as the night wore on.

They lay quiet an hour before dawn and let the dew mist over them as they watched the sun creep across the sky. Thissle woke as false dawn came and started to move about in a fervent manner, buzzing through patches of flowers and drinking the dew off the leaves.

A little after dawn Holly and Millileth rose and brushed some of the dew off themselves.

"Well?" Holly said, bringing her bow out.

"Why not." Millileth did the same and formed hers into the curved double blade.

Holly took one look at it and thought for a second, then her bow did the same. They spent the entire day practicing wielding the weapon of Millileth's design. Despite their nearly inexhaustible stanima Holly was glad she kapt in shape through all the years. Sweat beaded on her brow as sunset approached and she was breathing hard. They had long since disposed of the cloaks and wore only the armor to gaurd against the occasional mishap of blade strike. The armor, design by their own will, seemed more than sufficient to withstand the light attacks they were putting forth in practice. Still, it would be some time before Holly was as proficient as Millileth was.

At night they traveled slowly across the land, by day they practiced with only a short rest in the middle as they talked about nothing important or played music. Holly always played the flute and Millileth sang notes clear and loudly across the late summer air, together they made an excellent duo.

--

Haladel paced the main hall of the Elven kingdom's embassy. He had been there over a week, almost two, and no sign of the chosen had arisen. He was wondering if they changed their minds and went somewhere else, got sidetracked or had been killed. He wasn't entirely sure they were the chosen but wasn't in a position to argue the point. A runner came into the room and bowed low in the Elven fashion.

"Yes?" Haladel said, stopped abruptly.

"They have entered the city."

"Good." He smiled, finally. He could leave soon he hoped. The Human king was getting nervous. Some of his advisors had worried that Haladel's contigent of Sword Dancers were an advance strike force to take the palace, a consipracy with the enemy they were at war with. The Elves, Haladel knew, were remaining staunchly neutral through the whole affair.

He had only to wait for the two to visit the Orb of Sello and then approach them again, this time he hoped it didn't come down to a fight.

Holly and Millileth were walking in line with a number of others, mostly on wagons, or horses, but many peasants walked. Thissle had pointed out that her shortcut was supposed to cut two days off the journey, not add two as they stopped to play with weapons.

"Hush you." Millileth said as they slowly made their way to the large main gates. The stone wall around the city proper was forty feet tall with battlements every fifteen feet.

"City walls," Holly mused, "I never missed those." She was mostly thinking out loud to herself.

Thissle had perched herself on Millileth's shoulder and stayed there, irridescent wings fluttering slightly. They had decided that having the pixie only added to their reputation, Thissle was just thankful she didn't have to keep hiding in Millileth's cloak all the time. She much prefered the free air.

They arrived at the gate and a bored guard started asking them the usual questions.

"How many in your group?"

"Three." Millileth answered as she looked up at the contigent of guard on top of the wall.

The guard did a slight double take as he only registered two, then saw Thissle perched on Millileth's shoulder. "Umm.. two elves and one.. fairy." He jotted a note down in his book.

"Half-elf." Holly offered up as she examined his writing.

"Right, Elf, Half-elf and Fairy." His voice was steady, like nothing could phase him, he was a gate guard after all. "Business in Goreth?"

"Visiting, come to the see the Orb of Sello." Millileth said, her attention on the guard again.

"Religious pilgrims," He said to himself as he made a note in his book, "Weapons?"

"None." Millileth said as both opened their cloaks to reveal no weapons on them, only Holly's flute and a small pouch each had that was obivously coinage.

"Good." The guard seemed to smile at this. "Names?"

"Holly."

"Millileth, this is Thissle." Millileth pointed to the pixie on her shoulder.

"Gate pass is one Hawk." He said after another round of notes.

Holly reached into her pouch and pulled out a silver coin. They were allowed into the gate. The guard took note of the leaf tattooed on the back of each of their left hands and made one last note before moving onto the next person.

"Now what?" Holly asked as they moved down the main lane of the city. It was a wide cobbled avenue that led, more or less, strait up to the palace. It winded a bit here and there but obivously went to the large hold at the top of the hill near the middle of the town. They supposed a similar lane came fro the other side. A large river lay to the cities western side, it's main form of commerce to other lands.

"It's only midday, I say we see this Orb first, everything else later." Millileth offered.

"Why not." They both looked around, "Ok, I give."

"Chapel of Paurel."

"Oh yeah." Holly tapped her forehead, "Almost forgot what we were here for to be honest."

Millileth just gave her a look.

"I got caught up in the journey, I usually don't worry about the end you know." Holly defended herself.

"Excuse me." Millileth had stepped up to a merchant at one of the stalls.

"Ah young lady," The merchent immediately flattered her, "What can I do for you today?"

"Can you tell me where the Chapel of Paurel is?" She said picking up a piece of fruit she didn't quite recognize as if to purchase it.

"Certainly, take the Strait Lane all the way up, it's on your left before you reach the palace." He smiled at her.

Millileth tossed him a coin and made the motion she didn't need change and walked back to Holly, who had taken to people watching.

"You wouldn't believe how many different races this cities has in it. Most of them I don't even have names for." She said, they were speaking their own common language, it was a safe bet no one else could understand it.

"No kidding." Millileth tentatively took a bite of the fruit she just purchased. "Hey! This is good." She offered it to Holly and took it and bit off her own piece.

"Sweet, juicy." She wiped her chin with her arm.

"Up this way, on our left. Can't miss it."

"We could have guessed that." Holly said setting off after Millileth.

"Yeah, but now we don't have to." They were tossing the fruit back and forth, each taking a bite. Holly got stuck with the pit.

"Ah damn." She said and Millileth laughed, it meant the next meal was on Holly. Not that they had any problems making coinage when they needed or even needed to eat, it was the pretense of the game.

It didn't take long before they reached the Chapel. It was a large building, made of white brick with gold painted trim, ornate pillars stood on the outside.

"Can't miss it." Millileth said as they stood in front of it.

"I hope this stupid Orb is easy to get." Holly said looking around her at the other buildings on the street.

"Let's find out." Millileth said and led them both inside.

The inside was even more opulant than the outside, crystal chandaliers hanging from the ceiling. Scones of polished steel instead of the normal iron lined the pillars that lead up to the front. Pews of wood with clothe seats, row after row, followed alongside the pillars.

"What God is this again?" Millileth asked, her voice carrying a little in the great hall. The place was nearly empty.

"Lousy, rich merchants." Holly said, only a slight tone of disgust in her voice, she disliked religions that required they show wealth.

"I think I found the orb." Millileth said. At the back end was a massive three story stained glass window depicting a very religious scene.

On it were two angelic creatures. The one on the left had crimson hair with gold eyes, the other had yellow hair with green eyes. Between them was a clear piece of glass that the sun shone through. Each figure had a pair of feathered wings coming out of their backs, a brilliant fan of coloured glass surrounded the immensely detailed figures.

"Notice anything famliar about that image?" Holly asked, only a tiny bit of worry in her voice.

"My hair isn't that blonde." Millileth offered up.

"Mine isn't that read." Holly said matter of factly, "It still creeps me out."

they followed the beam of pure sunlight that poured through the center circle of glass down. It shined directly onto a statue of a what could only be the religions God holding a sceptre, in the sceptre was a massive pearl.

"Orb of Sello." Holly said flatly.

"Getting that will be a severe pain in the ass."

"Yep." Holly mused, "Though as I recall we were told to find the orb, not take it."

"That makes like easier."

"Okay, we found it. Now what?" Holly looked up at her companion.

"find the nearest inn and hope we get a message of some kind."

"Dreams, we should sleep."

"What?"

"Things like this are always sent in dreams." Holly said.

"Ah yeah, I forget how I did things sometimes." Millileth said and they turned to leave. A priest in pure white robes with a gold colored rope as a belt was crossing their path.

"May I help you my children?" He said, he looked to be about fifty years of age.

"Just sight seeing." Millileth said, "We were told this was one of the most beautiful Chapels in all the land." She smiled warmly.

"Ah, yes, we take pride in our place of worship."

"If you excuse us," Holly said, "We have traveled far and need some rest." They bowed slightly in the local manner, as they learned, and left the church.

"Pride my ass." Holly said as they walked down the front steps, made of pure white marble.

Millileth giggled a bit, "Relax, maybe their God ordained a place like that."

"Silly Gods." Holly said.

"As an ex-memeber of the Silly God class I might take offense." Millileth joked.

"I've said worse." Holly remarked, she was looking for an inn that might have a soft bed.

"I know." Millileth smiled and followed Holly's lead in getting a place to stay for the night.

They entered an inn down the street from the church, it was a rich merchants in, four stories tall with balconies and other such accoutrements of the wealthy. Holly purchased a room on the top floor and a bath for both of them, a bottle of wine was also ordered, to be sent up to their room. The inn keeper only eyed them once since they appeared to be anything but rich merchants. But seeing as they had no weapons on them he didn't argue about taking their silver.

"It's so much easier to do things without swords and such hanging about." Holly said as they climbed the wide staircase to the top floor.

"Agreed." Millileth said just behind her.

Their room wasn't any larger than other inns they'd stayed at, but it was much nicer. The room held a fireplace, two beds with soft feather matresses and a table with a pair of chairs on it. Holly removed her cloak, armor and boots before going off to the bath. Millileth lit a fire and did the same.

The bath was accessed by a back set of stairs to the bottom floor where one of the barmaids had filled a large stone bath with hot water. By the time Millileth had gotten down to it Holly had peeled off her jeans and shirt and was sitting neck deep in the stone bath soaking up water.

"Enjoying yourself?" Millelth said pulling her own shirt off.

"I still miss showers." Holly said, "But this feels really good."

Millileth climbed in opposite her and sank down, "This water is a bit warmer than I'd expect." She commented as she leaned back and closed her eyes.

"I'm helping it a bit." Holly said with the soft voice of contentment.

An hour later they were back up in the room, Holly was wandering around only in her shirt, staring out the rooms window at the street below them, people watching.

"You people watch a lot." Millileth said, she was running a comb through her dirty blonde hair, wearing only her jeans.

"You learn customs faster that way, watch how people interact and such." Holly answered without turning around.

Millileth finished getting all the tangles out of her hair and let it hang strait, it reached the middle of her back. She moved behind Holly and began to get the knots and kinks out of her companions own hair. Holly simply sat watching the crowd, head resting on her arms which lay crossed on the windowsill.

Holly's hair touch the base of her back when allowed to hang free and strait Millileth discovered, long strait hair. It was soft and felt nice as she ran her fingers through it.

Holly yawned and stood up from her seat, Millileth took only a step backwards. Holly turned and met Millileth's gaze, deep brown eyes with gold in them finding deep emerald eyes.

Millileth's hand lay gently on the curve of Holly's hip as she bent and their lips met. Millileth pressed her hand a little harder as their tongues met. It was half a minute before they pulled apart.

Holly's cheeks were flushed red, her eyes half closed. Her body was still, almost rigid in place. Millileth smiled slightly, her owns eyes sparkled a bright green at the touch of flesh.

"It's.." Holly whispered, "Been a long time... since anyone.."

"I know." Millileth whispered as her hand slid slowly up Holly's side, under her shirt.

Holly woke several hours after it was dark, she was in the hollow formed by Millileth's body curled around hers, one arm holding her close. It had been slow and simple this first time. Needing only to kiss and carress, hormones that lay long dormant in both of them hadn't quite surfaced yet. They only needed each others touch and presence at the moment.

The fire had died, only glowing embers in the hearth now. Holly blinked and looked about the room, lights from the city outside barely made it in, but illuminated the room more than enough for her to see clearly.

Nightshade was sitting at the table, in a manner that said she had been waiting patiently for one of them to awaken.

"Ask the Elves about the Relics of Golldrem." She said in a whisper and smiled softly in the pale light coming in the window.

Holly's eyes shot open, it was dawn. Light streaming into the room through the window, they had left the curtains open. Millileth still lay curled about her, her warm body pressed against Holly.

Millileth stirred and woke, "Morning." She whispered into Holly's ear and Holly stirred herself.

"Last night.." Holly began, "Did you see Nightshade?"

"Yes, she was sitting at the table. I woke in the middle of the night, you were still sleeping, she told me.."

"To ask the Elves about the Relics of Golldrem." Holly finished.

Millileth shook her head, "I was told to ask the Humans the same thing."

"Dream?"

"Probably." Holly said and sat up, she stretched and yawned. Millileth lay back down, looking up at the ceiling.

Holly climbed out of the bed and pulled on her jeans, "We should get to finding those blasted Elves I suppose." She said looking for her shirt.

"Probably. Elven councils can be such a pain in the ass. What about the Humans?"

"One then the other, I'm still curious about that window." Holly said, strapping on armor. "Humans first then Elves, we're already here for the first."

Millileth was dressing as well, only a few garments behind her companion.

"Kind of creepy isn't it."

"Just a little."

--

High priest Mogg was a flurry of activity all afternoon and through the night. He had spent most of it in the catacombs beneath the church. He was looking for the Prophecies of Hok the Mad, from which the images in the stained glass window had been formed when the church was built and the gift of the Orb of Sello was bestoyed upon them by Paurel himself. He had found it near dawn and read carefully. He immediately went himself to the palace to speak with the king.

The king was always ready to speak with Mogg, they were old friends. Mogg carefully, over breakfast, explained what he had seen in the church the day before and what it could mean.

The king beamed, "Then go and bring them before me. I'll send a detachment of my personal gaurd to welcome them." He beamed.

Mogg ran off to get his best robes.

Meanwhile Haladel was dressing in his finest armor to go personally meet the heroes of prophecy, a detachment of his personal guards was going with him, the Elven kingdoms finest Sword Dancers.

Holly and Millileth stepped out into the street and looked about. In front of them were two groups of soldiers, one elven and one human. At the head of the elves was a tall elf in platemail. At the head of the humans was the priest from before in the finest robes he could find. Both of them were eyeing each other with unease, it was obvious they had both just recently arrived.

"How's that for a welcoming." Holly thought to her companion.

"Odd. Unnerving. Weird." Millileth thought back.

"This is just fucked up." Thissle thought to both of them, "I mean really, what the hell are you people here? Heroes of some nearly forgotten prophecy or something?"

"Prophecy?" Holly cocked and eye brow and looked at Millileth.

"No."

"Well shit."

"I hate those things." Millileth said, they were speaking out loud now.

"Don't we need to prove ourselves or something first? I mean, isn't there supposed to be doubt or somethig involved by the time a prophecy comes true?" Holly said.

"Except that most prohecies aren't made into three story glass windows."

"Ah yeah. Doesn't explain the elves."

"They probably had a tree shaped like us somewhere." Millileth said.

So far neither party in front of them had made a move, both had gotten wind of how dangerous these two could be, at least the soldiers had.

"On behalf of..." Both Mogg and Haladel started at the same time, in their respective languages.

Holly held up her hand for them to be quiet, the promptly shut up. "At least they shut up on command." Holly thought, "Ok, first off let's do this somewhere other than the street." She said outloud to the contigent in front of her.

"How about the palace?" Millileth offered, speaking softly so only Holly heard her.

"Let's all go up to that palace and talk indoors." Holly said.

Mogg and Haladel looked at each other, they hadn't expected this really.

Mogg spoke next, "In accordance with the heroes wishes we shall ajourn to the palace, Sir Haladel is most welcome."

the two forces split up, taking a side of the road each, the heroes in the middle and marched towards the palace.

"Get ready for a lot of political clap trap." Millileth thought.

"Don't I know. I plan on getting the details, finding out about these relics and then getting about with the business of doing this whole thing."

"It'll get complicated."

"Probably." Holly looked over at Millileth, "I hate quests." She said flatly. Millileth smirked and only shrugged.

"You know," Millileth thought to Holly, "I don't remember things going quite this smoothly for the heroes I sent or you followed."

"There's a difference between them and us."

"Which is?"

"Several hundred years of experiece and the fact that we've resolved ourselves to this fate."

"Ah." Millileth thought for a second, "Just a few ingredients missing."

"Which are?"

"Something big and evil trying to hunt us down or reach the destination first."

"Ah yeah, that. An adversary."

"Limited time."

"Tension."

"Inexperienced bumbling fools gaining the high ground mostly through blind luck and divine intervention."

"Stuff of any good ballad." Holly said, her thought tinted with absolute amusement, like laughing only in their minds.

They arrived at the palace shortly, gaining only a small crowd of a staring public. The rumors would certainly fly this time.

It took only seconds to clear the hall of appointments, which stood off to one side with only a few snide remarks. It was very apparent that the kings advisors, who surrounded him like flies around honey, were skeptical at the best and all but vocally hostile the detachment of elves in the palace.

Haladel strode forth and payed his respects to the king before any further business was started, making sure that all knew he was there at the bequest of the Elven kingdom and only in regards to those of the prophecy that now stood before them.

Berigen watched the procession enter the Appointment Hall, their soldiers and the elven Dancers moved off to the sides, their weapons all stowed. He watched Haladel, the Elven warlord, bow and pay deep respects to his king and country. He never trusted the elves and was all for strengethening the palace guard upon the arrival of such a large contingent of the elves fiercest warriors. He also eyed those heralded as the heroes of an ancient prophecy shared by the worhippers of Pauril and the elven court. He didn't take stock in prophecies himself and scoffed.

The would be heroes were nothing more than scruffy looking elves. True they bore some uncanny semblance to the two angels that were said to aid Pauril and stand by his side. With the exception of their pointed ears and distinct lack of wings. The angels were also said to wield swords of light, these two didn't look to have a bread knife between the two of them.

Standing in black cloaks with armor showing at their legs and arms. And odd tattoos on the backs of their hands. They looked about with some level of curiosity, but had not stepped forward to pay their respects to his king. "These are the warriors of the prophecy?" He sneered to the advisor next to him, a shrewd man by the name of Tenri.

"Hard to believe, if rumors are true they slew a detachment of Elven Dancers and killed a hundred men outside the village of Ollisp." Tenri replied, his voice held contempt for them. But then, his voice held contempt for everything.

"Rumors mean nothing." Berigen said.

The king spoke loudly, "Would the two heroes please step forward." His voice had command behind it.

Holly and Millileth were looking about the large chamber, several stories tall with great pillars holding up a domed roof. The human king sat admist his advisors on the throne, a throng of attendents on either side at a respectful distance way, on the other side of the pillars, so a corridor was formed right up to the king.

They walked forward until they were at the bottom of the steps that led to the kings dais. Neither of them made a move to pay any kind of respects.

"What do you think, salute, bow or ignore?" Holly thought to Millileth.

"Ignore, I'm not in the mood for silly human games." She answered back.

They stared up at the king without moving a muscle.

"Are you truly the Angels of Pauril?" He asked after a moments hesitation. A lifetime of being bowed to and he was thrown momentarily off guard when these two refused to acknowledge his status. He recovered quickly enough.

"If we say no," Holly thought, "Does that mean we can go?" She had more than a hint of sarcasm in the statement.

It took most of Millileth's will to supress a smirk, "We are, after a fashion." She answered.

"After a fashion?" He inquired.

"We were sent to collect the Relics of Golldrem." Millileth continued.

"I told you they were the ones from the Prophecy." Both Millileth and Holly winced at the words, it was spoken by the priest Mogg.

"Do you have this written down somewhere?" Holly asked him.

"Of course." He said and an acolyte was suddenly by his side and then ran off after some whispered words.

"What do the Angels of Pauril need with the Prophecy, surely you know it already?" Begrin spoke, his voice dripping with venom.

"Speeds up the process." Holly said, "If we knew everything already do you think we'd be standing here talking to you?" She shot back. Her years as a teacher and taught her to hone her voice into a knife that cut air.

"Ouch." Millileth thought.

Begrin looked visibly taken back.

"Here we go, doubt, deceit and politics." Holly thought to her companions.

"Sounds like fun." Thissle said.

"Can we just shoot him?" Millileth asked.

"Not yet." Holly answered.

It wasn't long before the acolyte returned with the scroll and handed it to High Priest Mogg. Holly walked over and took them from him, "Thanks." She said and walked back over to Millileth.

Unrolling the parchment they looked at it, Thissle was hovering between the two of them.

"Pretty strair forward." Holly said to her companion.

"Doesn't tell us where any of this stuff is." Millileth mused.

"Here," Holly pointed as Millileth grabbed the other side, "Three items, Sword, Armor and Amulet."

"Okay."

"And we find them ... by locating the map and braving the tests of heroes."

"Okay."

"Only we're not the heroes who do the tests." Holly read on.

"What?" Millileth said. They were talking out loud to each other, the rest of the court simply waited in anticipation since none could understand them.

"Hold it up to the light." Holly said, she had noticed something odd about the scroll. They held it up and peered at the parchment. "Yep, words written in watermark."

"So..."

"Four mortals, one is the map, the other three the brave warriors who carry the relics themselves. A priestess, an elven warrior and a human warrior." Holly said.

"So what the hell are we?" Millileth was a cross between confused and agitated.

Holly rolled the parchment back up, "Along for the ride."

"Seriously." Millileth said.

"We're supposed to know who these mortals who gather the relics are. We're the Divine Intervention part of things."

"Yay."

"Ok," Holly turned to the king, "We need to prepare, it'll take a few days." She turned to Haladel and repeated the words in Elven for him. He bowed low. "We'll be sure to visit the council and pay our respects." She said.

They turned to the king, bowed low and were ready to leave.

"Until you are ready to embark on your journey would you be guests of my humble kingdom?" The king asked them.

Holly and Millileth looked at each other and shrugged, "We would be honored." Millileth smiled.

The king turned to Haladel, "Please send my deepest respects to the Elven Court." Haladel bowed deeply and left with his elven guard. He was grateful for the opportunity to go home and ahd good news to report to the council regarding the Prophecy.

Holly and Millileth were shown to a portion of the castle reserved for guests, two large rooms split by a center greeting room.

"Do the ladies have any things to be retrieved from the inn?" The head porter asked them. They answered in the negative and watched him close the doors behind him as he left.

There was as single terrace shared by all three rooms that overlooked a decent sized garden. The room was made of white marble blocks, pillars seemed to be a central theme in the palace, as they graced every doorway and arch. Each of their rooms had a large fireplace and it's own seperate bath. Rugs almost complete covered the marble floor of every shape and color. Holly and Millileth removed their cloaks and draped them over the backs of chairs at the large wooden table that sat in the center of the greeting room.

Holly was pulling off her armor as Millileth looked around soem more. "Cozy." She remarked as she started to unbuckle her or arms gaurds.

"Decadent." Holly summed up the place in her own way. She sat down in one of the chairs and removed her legs gaurds, her armor was now no more than a pile on the table, she sat back in jeans and her shirt, relaxed and comfortable.

Millileth sat across from her, both faced the open arch onto the terrace and watched the trees visible from their position.

"Why did you kiss me last night?" Holly asked after several minutes of silence.

"I've often contemplated coming to you in another guise and being your lover." Millileth said.

"There were times when I could have used a big strapping man to lean on." Holly said, they were speaking in soft tones.

"I know. But it didn't seem right to be with you that way, it would have been a lie at some level."

"So why last night?"

"I can't change my shape anymore, I have only my original body. It didn't change the kind of love I felt for you all these years."

"I'm glad you never came under the disguise of anyone else. But why wait until now?"

"You didn't seem like the kind to sleep with other women, I can only recall three occasions on which you did so. Two of them involved a man any way."

"It was different lying next to you." Holly said slowly, "It didn't seem to matter that we're both women, only that it was you." She looked over at Millileth, "Somewhere over the years I stopped worshipping you and started simply loving who and what you were."

"I've always admired your strength of will. That's why I chose you to begin with." Millileth said, she turned to meet Holly's gaze. "Next time we sleep together we should go a little further I think."

"I certainly wouldn't mind." Holly smiled, "It's been at least three centuries since I've had a really good orgasm."

Millileth laughed. They spent the rest of the afternoon simply watch the wind in the trees and the passing afternoon. It wasn't until dusk that they spoke again.

"How are we going to find these people?"

"I have no idea, maybe Nightshade will visit us in dream again." Holly offered up.

"I hope so, because if we don't get some direction soon I'm ready to give it up and go on walking about the land." Holly simply nodded consent.

As night fell each went to their respective rooms and slept. They left the windows open, letting in cool air.

//Chapter 06: First things first - get directions//

Tarra woke up in the middle of the night, her dreams more vivid than ever. Always she was flying over the land at great speed. Across fields, through forests, between mountains and over hills. Last night things came with incredible detail, she could almost feel the cold wind of the high mountain as she raced along a path cut from stone. She turned a corner and was face to face with a massive creature, some troll from the depths of her nightmares as a child. All teeth and claw and muscle. She could feel it's foul breath hit her as it roared and reached out a claw.

Tarra woke up in a cold sweat, only supressing the scream in her throat from years of practice. A scream meant she would wake others, if she woke the mistress she would go without breakfast and probably get a beating. She swallowed hard and looked around the tiny room at the bottom of the castle she occupied. Her mistress, the head maid, had her own a short walk down the hall, she had a bed.

Tarra only had a thin mat to sleep on, like most of the other serving girls. The room was damp but not to cold, it was small and had only a crate for a table. She lit her single candle and looked about the bare stone. She had food everyday, so that was a step above the peasants. And she always had a roof over her head. Every once in a while a lord or merchant took her into his bed, sometimes she received coin as compensation for a nights pleasure at the hands of a fat greasy man. She had learned long ago how to hide her looks to seem undesireable, it was safer for serving wenches to not be pretty. She had also been lucky in that she had not born children to any of those nights, that would only complicate her life further. As long as she kept a low profile few noticed her and she was left alone.

She had daydreams about being taken away to be made the wife of some wealthy merchants son, or a lord. But those were whimsy and best kept to herself.

It was her dreams that troubled her most. Some nights she didn't sleep at all and spent the next day in a haze of exhaustion. Usually she was chided and yelled at, occasionally hit for being such a lazy pig. She almost half believe her mistress when told she was no good for anything and should see how hard the others worked and why couldn't she do the same. Tarra spoke only with the others as gossip through the serving girls went.

She walked outside into the cooling night and stared across the garden. On the ground floor she could see the guests quarter of visiting lords. Rumor had it some very special guests had arrived, she wondered which rooms they occupied. One of the double rooms had all it's windows open on both sides, perhaps that one. It was close to the main hall, usually reserved for the highest of guests. Perhaps that meant a feast would be thrown. She enjoyed those. It meant more work for her but it also meant the serving girls were to dress up in something more appropriate than their normal single piece dresses. Her own cotton dress rustled in the night wind, its rough clothe touching her skin. The dress uniforms were much softer, she even wore shoes with it.

It wasn't long before a guard noticed her candle in the night near the servers entrance.

"Out for a walk lass?" He asked in a rough voice, Tarra knew him. He was a mostly honest man with a wife and three kids. Still not above the occasional pleasure.

"I felt sick." She said coughing once, "Came out to get a bit of air."

He grunted and moved on. Tarra went quickly back inside and lay down on her mat. She blew out the candle and stared into the darkness above her. The image of the ice troll appeared every time she closed her eyes. It was going to be a long day once dawn broke.

It seemed like ages before the morning runner lit the scones in the halls outside the servents quarters and bang on each of the doorways, none of them excepting the mistress had doors, to wake them for the day. Tarra rose with the rest and pretended she wasn't as tired as she felt. She moved quickly about her daily duties, she was assigned to bring breakfast this morning.

Serving breakfast meant Tarra would be amongst the first to see the new guests. They were seated at the table closest to the kings on his raised platform. Among them were the high priests a high lords at the table with them. They talked to no one, keeping to themselves.

It wasn't until she was bringing a pitcher of water around that she got a good look at them. They both elves, one with light brown hair and the other deep red hair that reminded her of autumn leaves. They were dressed strangely as well. Both had on oddly form fitting shirts that still had a loose appearence to them with long tight sleeves. Their footware was very strange. She noticed people's footwear first, spending most of her time looking down at the floor. They were odd boots, obviously built for traveling long distances if the sturdy leather or thick soles said anything about them. Though she didn't know what the soles were made of. They were a similar style, a single strap across the top of the front. They disappeared up into some unusual leggings. She didn't know what they were made of but were a light blue in color.

She took all this in with a practiced quick glance and kept moving. She hadn't the courage to look at their faces. She made her rounds as quickly as she could, but felt the pull of fatigue as she moved about the room. Sounds became a distant roar to her as she forced a sharp focus on things so she didn't make any mistakes.

Back in the kitchen she saw the mistress having words with one of the pages, it was one of the kings personal pages. She ducked in and refilled her pitcher. Near the end of the meal she was approached by her mistress and taken off to on side, her water pitcher left on the table she was passing by at the time.

Tarra feared the worst, that she had done something horribly wrong involving the palace's guests. She kept her eyes on the tiled floor beneath her, focused sharply on her dirty shufflinf feet, not looking her mistress in the eye. She allowed herself to be taken by the arm and led off to a side room.

After breakfast Holly and Millileth quickly retreated to their rooms, "I'm telling you she's the first." Millileth was saying.

"What did the page say her name was?" Holly asked, they had had different dreams the night before, but still prophectic hints from Nightshade either way.

"Tarra."

"Right, so which is she? The map or the priestess?"

"I'd wager she's the map, or has the map, or knows where the map is or something along those lines."

"The scroll was pretty clear, she will be the map."

"Odd, but why not."

"Typical you know."

"What?" Millileth asked, they had stopped outside their room, the doors were closed.

"Castle serving girl, dirt poor, nothing to lose, probably has the confidence of a bowl of jello." Holly said, her hand resting on the curved handle of the door.

"How do you know?"

"What did you notice about all the women around?"

Millileth thought for a second, "You're better at this people watching thing than I am." She admitted.

"Noble women have long hair, often ornately dressed in braids and loops and tied up. Every single serving girl has her hair cropped short like a boys, barely reaching the nape of their necks, bangs hanging in front of their eyes."

"So.."

"Long hair is a sign of wealth here." Holly said, "We only go further to fit the mold." She pointed to Millileth's long strait hair, almost as far down reaching as Holly's own. "Except we don't do much but pull it back into loose tails to keep it out of our eyes and such. Cross between noble and peasent."

"Perfect, we can relate to both classes at once. How quaint."

"Shall we see if your dream is true."

"I hope so."

"I doubly so, because if yours does then my little bizarre trip into fantasy land might hold a bit of water as well." Holly pushed down on the handle and opened the door.

The serving girl was standing there, eyes cast down, in her dirty brown dress that barely reached her knees. Her hands were clasped in front of her, she screamed submission. Her height was between Holly and Millileth, her frame thin. She had black hair cropped short.

Millileth walked up to her and put her hand on the girls chin, she couldn't have been more than nineteen years in age. Millileth looked into light blue eyes, they had a tint of fear to them, otherwise her face was an expressionless mask of defeat. Millileth could tell she'd been put down her entire short life time. Dirt streaked her features, obscuring any beauty she might have under dust and grime.

Holly sat down at the table and watched, waiting patiently for Millileth to gain the girls confidence. This was something they both had a knack for.

"What's your name child?" Millileth said in a soft, soothing voice.

"Tarra." She said after slight hesitation, still casting her eyes down, despite Millileth lifting her chin up and raising her head. Thissle had taken to fluttering about the garden outside, mostly looking for those listening in. She had spotted nothing yet.

Tarra's voice was meek, barely audible in the large room. As if she had spent years making sure her voice carried the correct levels of submission to it.

"You're wondering why we summoned you here." Millileth said, she was speaking in a soft assuring tone, designed to relax the girl. It wasn't working just yet.

The girl tried to nod, stopped by Millileth's hand on her chin, "Yes ma'am." She whispered after another second.

"No titles." Millileth said, "I am Millileth, that is Holly. The fairy, when you meet her is Thissle."

"Millileth." Tarra said softly, as if trying out the sound of the word.

"You have something, or rather, are something, that will aide us on our quest." Millileth said, coming strait to the point.

The girls eyes flashed up to meet Millileth's gaze, they went wide for a second, then she remembered who she was and dropped them again.

"A map, to places unknown, or unseen." Millileth continued.

"My dreams." Tarra whispered in a gasp of breath.

"Tell me about them." Millileth let go of the girls chin to brush the bangs out of her eyes.

"Nothing, I..." She was looking into the deep green of Millileth's eyes and felt only warmth from them, the elf's touch was gentle, comforting. "I dream of places I don't know. I travel far in them, all over. They've been getting very clear lately." Her voice was soft, barely carrying across the space between her and the elf in front of her. Holly had to pay close attention to hear the girls whispers. "I see details of the land, I can feel it, and things come out. I can't sleep most nights because of them."

Millileth's hand brushed her cheek. "Can you tell me which direction they tell you to go?"

"Last night I don't know, I was in some mountains somewhere. A troll attacked me.." Her voice trailed off.

"Hmmm.." Millileth's hand dropped to her side, "Perhaps tonight you'll have a clearer dream of where to go." She looked over the girls shoulder at Holly who bounced up to her feet. "First we need to get you cleaned up and rested."

Holly walked over and pulled the cord that rang the servents bell to summon one. It wasn't long before the head serving woman was there with two other attendants. Millileth turned and looked at them. It was very apparent that the head woman had come to collect Tarra and probably drag her off somewhere. "Draw a hot bath and help Tarra get cleaned up. Also summon a seamstress and the quartermaster."

Holly leaned against the wall and enjoyed the look that came across the head mistress face. It was a cross between contempt for Tarra, confusion and the need to obey her lords wishes. The two serving women with her quickly jumped into action and went to fetch water, one went into one of the bedrooms and started the coals for a bath there. The mistress stalled only one more second and then moved herself to fetch the others as requested.

"I love that." Holly said, "She's angry at the girl because she has a chance to get out of her station in life." Holly pushed off the wall and went into the bathroom where the other server was starting a fire. "No need for that, help your friend fetch some water, I'll take care of the flames." Holly said in a friendly tone. The girl had stalled only a second, she'd never had that happen to her, before getting to her feet and joining the other in retrieving the water for the bath.

"Too bad they don't have running water yet." Millileth said as Holly walked back into the middle room. Holly shrugged.

"Quartermaster?" Holly said.

"She needs to be outfitted for travel, not court. And a soldiers uniform is as good for that as any." Millileth turned back to the girl, who had taken to staring at the floor again. Millileth sighed, "First things first Tarra, stand up strait and look forward. It's hard to take in a room staring at the floor all the time."

Tarra hesitated then looked up and stood as strait as she dared. One of the server girls returned then, "The bath is full m'lady." She said, they had used the alternate servers entrance to the bath.

Millileth led Tarra into the bath, "You deserve this, take your time and get cleaned up." She winked and left the girl with a steaming bath. The coals had gotten unusually hot very quickly, she thought they had a slight green tint to them as she pulled off her dress and stepped into the warm water. She sank all the way down and started to remove the dirt per her orders. She was told to take her time, so maybe soaking a few minutes wouldn't hurt. She lay back against the stone and let out a deep breathe she hadn't realized she was holding.

Millileth and Holly were waiting in the main room for Tarra to finish, they both knew she wouldn't linger long in the bath. Ten minutes later Millileth stood and walked into the bath, Tarra was getting out, wrapping a large towl about her body. She looked up at Millileth who smiled at her.

"You won't be needing this anymore." Millileth picked up the dress Tarra had spent half her life in and tossed it off to the side. "The seamstress is waiting to measure you." She led Tarra out to the main room. Tarra held the towel close to her as she stood in the room. Holly had shut the doors for her modesty.

The seamstress gave her a look and gently removed the towel, got out her measureing string and quickly took measurements then left, Holly had given her instructions as to what type of clothing to have ready.

Tarra quickly wrapped herself back up in the towl and waited patiently.

"You look tired." Holly said, "Would you like to rest?" Tarra merely nodded, between the lack of sleep and the hot water she could barely keep her eyes open. "Sleep in the bed, your clothes won't be ready until evening any way." Holly pointed to the bed she had used the night before. Tarra looked at it, she had never slept in one those, even when a lord took her for his pleasure she was expected to leave when he was done, not stay and sleep. She took one hesitant step, "Go sleep." Holly said, her tone friendly but firm.

Tarra quickly went to the bed, climbed into it and under the covers, it was as soft as she knew them to be, only this time she could settle into the feathers and comforter and sleep. She let her head sink into the pillows, it was barely a minute before she fell asleep. It was a deep, dreamless sleep.

"Well, we certainly have our work cut out for us with her." Holly said leaning back in one of the chairs.

"I know, but it can't be helped, if she's the map then we need her." Millileth said. It was then that that quartermaster knocked on the door, Millileth answered it.

"You summoned my lady." He said, he was a broad man with a massive mustache over a stern mouth.

"Yes, I need a weapon for someone about her size," Millileth pointed over her shoulder at Holly. The weaponsmaster looked at both of them. "It's not for her, just someone of a slight build who has little training in the ways of weapons. Maybe a short sword or a dagger. Both actually." Millileth said.

The quartermaster seemed to think for a second, "It is for that serving girl you've taken?" Word traveled fast amongst the palace's staff.

"Yes."

"I'm afraid if I gave her a sword she could lift she'd be no good at weilding it effectively." He said.

"Leave that part to us, but yes we need to outfit her with weapons, and armor. Something very light and easy to travel in. The seamstress has her measurements."

The quartermaster nodded, he was a practical man. "It may be tomorrow before I can have armor refitted to her size, I'd like to fit test it before letting her go out in it first." He said matter of factly.

"Done. Send for us when you have something for her to try on." He nodded, bowed and left.

"You know why I like those guys." Holly said, "No nonsense, no bullshit and strait to the point."

"It's a refreshing change from the idiotic stares everyone else seems to give."

Holly nodded, "So what do we do with our day?"

"One of us should stay here with Tarra, the other needs to request some horses of the good King and free passage through his lands where we go."

"Flip ya for it." Holly stood and pulled a coin out.

"Not with one your fabricated coins you daft bard." Millileth joked, "Rock, Paper, Scissor." She offered.

"Best of three." Holly said.

A minute later Holly slumped into the chair and pulled out her flute, "You got lucky elf." She gave Millileth a look.

"Yeah, yeah. Boring guard duty. Wah." Millileth closed the door behind her as she left. Thissle was still outside flitting about the entire palace as fast as her little pixie wings could carry her, which was pretty fast considering. She came through the open terrace doors as Millileth left out the front.

Thissle settled onto the table and contentedly listened to Holly play a merry tune on her flute.

Tarra woke near dusk, the light low in the sky. Her sleep hadn't been completely dreamless, she knew they needed to take the north road out of the city, but that was all. It came as she dreamed of leaving the palace, going down the main road and out the north gate and into the wilderness, she had fallen into a dark deep sleep after that. For the first time in years she felt completely rested. She sat up and yawned, stretched her arms as she did so.

"Awake, good." The elf called Holly came walking in, "We've some clothes for you to try on." Holly was closely followed by the seamstress. Tarra hesitated. "Don't be so shy, we're all women here." Holly beckoned her out of the bed. The seamtress had a pile of clothing in her arms that she placed at the foor of the bed and started to sort.

There was as fire in the hearth, the room a pleasent temperature and Tarra climbed out of the bed and stood waiting. She was handed a pair of britches that were normally worn by men. She slid the cool leather over her legs, they seemed a little long in the leg as she pulled them up to her waiste and cinched the cord, she tied it off as the seamstress looked over her handiwork.

She smiled approvingly over how well the cut seemed to fit the girls lanky form. She handed Tarra a shirt which she pulled over her head and let the seamstress lift her arms strait and remeasure the shirt. It seemed to fit perfectly, though the seamstress seemed concerned the arms were long. Holly assured her it was better long than short. Next came a pair of boots, designed for both riding and walking. Good solid boots the likes of which Tarra had never worn. The came up to her mid calf, soft leather with a hard sole. She took a few steps in them, the riding heels clicked on the floor.

Tarra spun once for Holly who smiled approvingly. Tarra felt comfortable in Holly's presence, it was as nice feeling. She even tried to not stare at the ground so much around Holly. Millileth walked in then, all smiles as well.

"You look good." She said, Tarra was begining to feel accepted somewhere. As long as these two were around she felt a bit of confidence in herself. Both of them were so self assured it gave her hope. Her dream of a quiet marriage to a rich noble had been shattered, but a new dream of adventure had taken its place.

Tarra was allowed to stay in the room over night, though she didn't feel as tired anymore she still fell into a light slumber around mid night. She listened to her two new companions talk in a foreign tongue in the other room as she drifted into sleep.

"We've got three horses, I left him his best, but took good ones from his stock." Millileth was saying.

"Good, I'd prefer to walk but I'm afraid our new companion may not be up for the rigors of the road."

"She seems stalwart, you'd have to be in her position."

"Running about a castle all day is different from the wilderness." Holly pointed out. "How do you think she'll take to swordplay?"

"She's all skin and bone, she'll have to gain some muscle before she'll be any good at all."

"And the art of warring?"

"Who knows until it happens." Millileth shrugged.

When Tarra awoke the next morning she was led out to the soldiers training ground where the quartermaster fitted her for armor. It was a leather armor, rigid and constricting. It wasn't completely unheard of for a woman to enter the military, so they had a few breast plates appropriately shaped. It wasn't perfect but it fit well, she wasn't as large in the chest as the tanner had seemed to anticipate the wearer of this armor to be. It was Millileth who used a strange magic to fit it better, making her much more comfortable in it the piece. She moved about freely to test all the joints and her ability to move.

Next Tarra was handed a small sword and taught how to hold it. The steel quickly grew heavy in her hand however and she sheathed it, getting used to having the weapon by her side. Both Holly and Millileth insisted she wear the armor through the day to get used to it and help break it in. She still wasn't used to talking freely so said very little to either of them.

It was as she was being shown how to wear the sword properly and being fitted for a dagger to be on a sheath around her thigh that one of the seargents came over. He recognized her as the serving girl she used to be.

"Aspiring to be a warrior, eh wench?" He asked in a lewd voice, almost a jeer.

She quickly looked to the ground in submission. The quartermaster came out of his supply house then, holding several long daggers when he stopped.

"Who let you out here?" Apparently he had not been informed as to what was going on as of late.

"I did." Millileth said, her voice like a stone falling. Tarra quickly looked up, she had only heard Millileth's soft tone until now.

"And who are you?" The sergeant asked, he was utterly clueless it seemed.

"Guests of the king, Burvet." The quartermaster said.

Seargent Burvet looked down his nose at Millileth he was a tall man, but lean. He obviously disapproved of her. "This is a place of training, yet you carry no weapons to train with." He said, his voice was solid.

Holly has stepped from the shade she had taken to hiding in now, she was in her full armor at this point. Both she and Millileth had intended to get some practice in today. "Too bad we can't just beat the crap out of slugs like him." She said to Millileth in the local tongue, intending for the others to hear her words.

"Guests or not, you have insulted me." Burvet barked with rage, "I challenge thee to a duel of first blood." His face was red with rage.

"That the custom here?" Holly said stepping into the center of the training ring, "Weapons?"

"Of your choice."

Holly walked over to the quartermaster, picked a long thin dagger from the pile in his arms and unsheathed it as she walked to the center. "Your turn to choose." She said slyly.

Millileth moved so she was next to Tarra, "Watch carefully and remember size means very little most of the time." Tarra looked up as the seargent drew his own sword.

"You've heard nothing about us have you?" Holly asked as they stood seven paces apart.

"I need to know nothing about you, elf." Seargent Burvet spat the word out.

"Uh oh." Millileth giggled under her breath. "Poor guy."

Holly moved in fast, Burvet saw her coming and swung his sword. He didn't expect her to take that last several feet in the roll that went well underneath the arc of his sword before she came up, fist first, into his crotch. He staggered back, dropping his weapon.

Holly stalked over to where he sat on his knees in front of her, "Half-elf." And she swiped the dagger across his cheek, creating a light cut, just enough to draw blood. "I win." She wiped the blade on his tunic and picked up the sheath.

Holly handed the blade back to the quartermaster, who looked a little shocked at what he just saw. "He's lucky I didn't use my weapon of choice." She said. "Millileth, shall we practice?"

They both walked to the center of the large dirt circle. The seargent had gained enough presence of mind to get up and walk ashamedly out of the ring. He turned and watched them for a minute. In each of their hands, out of thin air, a bow had appeared, in another blink of the eye they were not bows anymore but very wicked looking curved blades unlike any he had every seen before.

That was the point at which it dawned on him as to who they were. He had reports of them as he traveled home from the war, he hadn't believed most of them until now as he watched them dance about the ring at impossible speeds. Weapons moving like the wind as they danced about with strikes, blocks, counter strikes and other moves that put Elven Sword Dancers to shame. He put his hand to his cheek and no longer felt ashamed of his loss in the duel. She had demanded no tribute from him as a result either. He would be forever indebted to her until such time as she collected on her win however.

Tarra felt a renewed confidence in herself. Holly had won the duel but had not demanded the tribute that went with such duels of honor. It wasn't until after their practice sesson, which had gathered a small crowd, that Holly approached the seargent again.

"Seargent Burvet?" She looked up at him.

"Yes my lady?" Yes said, his voice had a tone of reverence and awe.

"As tribute for winning the duel, I ask that you treat all women, be they common or noble, with respect." She said simply.

"As you wish." He bowed low. It was a request that he followed the end of his days, and died with a reputation many years later of a man who treated all women with respect regardless of their station in life. For the moment he was sufficiently humbled however.

It was that evening as Tarra was pulling off her armor that she spoke directly without being spoken to. "Will you teach me to fight as you do?" She asked of both Millileth and Holly.

Millileth answered her, "In time, for now learn to wield that properly." She motioned to Tarra's own sword.

--

The next day they took their leave of the palace, Tarra was also learnign how to properly ride a horse. She had the basic idea but it was evident she had never ridden on before. Holly guided her steed down the street and out the gates amid little fanfare. Millileth had made it clear they were to leave quietly, hinting at unknown forces that may or may not be following them.

Millileth and Holly had decided to take normal swords from the armory so all three of them appeared armed, though their swords with in sheaths on their horses rather than at their sides. Tarra looked more like a soldier than the other two, with her short cropped hair and soldiers uniform. Holly and Millileth had their heavy cloaks over their own clothes. From out of nowhere Holly had produced a cloak for Tarra that seemed to fit perfectly. For the moment it was tied to her pack, she was hot enough as it was in the armor. She wondered how her companions could wear the cloaks through the heat of the day. She wished to ask but spent most of her time concentrating on learning to manveuver the horse properly, which Holly helped her and showed no end of patience with as she fumbled along all day.

By the end of the day Tarra was sweaty and tired, despite riding, it had taken all her strength to learn how to control the horse. She hadn't expected anything to be harder than being a serving girl. Though her own sense of pride prevented her from wanting to give up. Her companions barely seemed tired by the days journey. But then she figured they were used to this kind of thing, probably did it all the time. She ate a simple stew that night, but it was one of the best tasting things in her life, no longer confined by the castle walls and constricted by the servents quarters she left behind. Her companions traveled almost completely in silence, the pixie always moving about, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, soemtimes above.

She kept watching the little creature as it lit about the air on gossamer wings. When it finally rested as she ate dinner she studied it. She had never seen such a creature in her life and it fascinated her to no end. On closer inspection Tarra discovered that Thissle was in fact a she, a six inch tall woman with irridescent wings sprouting from her tiny shoulders. She wore no clothes and seemed entirely unbothered by the cool night air. She had shoulder leangth black hair that was all curls. She had slender pointed ears like elves. Her body was a tanned color, that showed off the rainbow of her wings even further. Even when she sat still her wings beat slowly as if unable to stop. She moved about quickly in the air and against the wind with ease as well. Tarra always imagined fairies to have little bows that shot tiny little sticks, or fine pointed swords. This one carried nothing that nature hadn't given her. She wondered if other pixies had any kind of clothing or if they all went about as naked as the day they were born.

She yawned as the light grew dim, the only light to see by was cast by the fire now. "Do you sleep in armor?" She asked no one in particular, hoping one of the two would asnwer.

"Yes." Holly said, she had pulled out her flute and begun a soft low song that reminded Tarra of the wind over the grass they sat on.

"You'll hate it at first." Millileth continued, "After a while you'll get used to it. Once the armor is properly broken in. And then the day will come that you're glad you spent a lot of stiff nights stuck in a leather corset and woken up with a stiff back." She said, a bit of humor in her voice.

"It's uncomfortable to say the least." Tarra said, outside the confines of the palace she felt a little more free to talk. Her companions obviously regarded her as an equal, treating her like a student in everything they did but with patience. Not once was she talked down to.

"At first, at some point you'll forget you're wearing it." Millileth lay back in the grass and gazed up at the stars. "Rest right now, you'll need it."

"What about watches or something?" Tarra asked, she overheard enough soldiers tell tales that she knew they needed watches at night.

"We've got that covered. Don't worry about it for now." Millileth answered.

Tarra yawned again and bundled up her cloak underneather her head. In the armor she felt warm compared to some of the cold winter nights she'd spent in the palace without aid of even a thin blanket. She gazed at the stars for a while and slowly drifted to sleep. The sounds of Holly's flute carrying her into the night.

It took another two days before Tarra got the hang of riding the horse slowly, they promised to teach her to ride the horse at a gallop once she'd become comfortable with riding as they did. It was the third day of silence that she finally started asking questions.

"Why do you always ride in silence?" She asked Millileth, who was riding next to her at the moment. Holly was in front riding lazily in her saddle.

"Not much to talk about, once you do this for a long enough time small talk becomes unneeded, and once you really get the hang of it you'll learn to sleep in the saddle. Which is why a lot of travelers don't talk much, most mercenaries are half asleep as they ride."

"Oh." They rode in silence for another minute.

"Keep asking questions, I can tell you're dying to know everything." Millileth smiled. Holly pulled out her flute now and trotted a few yards in front of them before playing again. The sound of her music floated back but wasn't so loud they couldn't hear each other.

"How long have you two been, um, mercenaries I guess."

"We've been at this a long time." Millileth said by way of answer.

"How long do Elves live?"

"Cutting to the heart of the matter?" Tarra flushed as Millileth's questions, "It's OK. By the way you stared at Thissle that first day I'd say you've little experience beyond the pantries and backhalls of the palace back there."

Tarra looked down for a second, "I've never been outside the cities walls except in my dreams, and most of those are nightmares. Or were. I haven't had any since we left."

"I don't know how long Elves here live, where we come from they can reach twelve hundred if they're lucky." Millileth said.

"And half-elves?"

"Maybe one hundred and fifty."

"So, I'd guess you're no more than five hundred and Holly is maybe seventy?" She ventured.

Millileth laughed, "No. We're not really elves, or half-elf, anymore. We started life that way. But one thing led to another and somewhere along the way we became something more."

"More?"

"We're from another reality, dimension, existence. Not sure the right word to really describe it. Doesn't matter. Where we come from we're completely different creatures than what we were born as."

"How different?"

"I became a God and Holly up there is a Muse."

"God?" Tarra's voice was a cross between skeptical and awe.

"Was a God rather. Over the millenia our world changed, Holly kept on living despite the odds and my fellow Gods eventually lost their power and retreated into solitude. I alone retained the ability to walk the world or mortals amongst the Gods where we came from. After some time of this, maybe two thousand years, something else altogether came along. Something much more powerful than any God could ever wish to be. And that being brought us here to find first you, then some other things. That's the really short version any way."

Tarra was staring at her now.

"If you want proof I can't really offer it, you'll have to take my word. The reason we chose you, however, was your dreams. On this world we're supposedly the heroes of some ancient prophecy that the Elves and the followers of Pauril share. We are, according to legend, the two angels who accompany Pauril. Honestly I have no idea what that's all about, but we fit the bill."

"I know the story vaguely." Tarra offered.

"Good, saves me a bit of time. The prophect states that we're to find four mortal heroes and accompany them on a quest to find some relics or another. One of those mortals is the map to guide the way. That would be you."

"Me?"

"Those dreams you have, that take you places, give you direction. The one that led us out the north gate, those dreams are the map."

"I'm not sure I follow."

"Neither am I, mostly we're making this up as we go along. But, as long as you have dreams that lead us in a specific direction we go that way. You said you haven't had any dreams since we left the palace?"

"Right."

"I'll take that to mean we're moving in the right direction. When we come to the next stopping point you'll have another dream that tells us where to go from there. Along the way we'll be picking up three more mortals. One human, one elf and one priestess of an unknown race."

"How will you know which is the right one?"

"Same way we knew you were the map, the Elder Being that sent us here will send one of us a dream message letting us know."

"Ah. A lot of business with dreams and all."

"We figure it's punishment."

"Punishment?"

"When I was a God I'd visit mortals in their dreams and give them tasks to complete and quests to go on."

"And Holly?"

"She's a bard, she used to just follow groups around that were on quests and write stories or songs about them, but she never directly interfered with any of it if she could help it. So now she had to directly help this time. I've been told who the four mortals are, she's being given the location of the relics themselves. Only in typical cryptic fashion she knows what the spot looks like but not where it is. Meaning we have to get there before we know it's the right place."

"That's where I come in isn't it? I get to guide everyone."

"Yep."

"Why me?"

"Phrophecies are like that, they exist to be an inconvenience to whomever they're about. Though, we've decided to relax and just go with the flow here, so we're not so inconvenienced. We weren't doing anything exciting anyway. This should be fun."

"Fun." Tarra said the word as if she needed to mull over it a bit before accepting it at face value. "Maybe."

"Think of it as an opportunity for growth. You obviously needed out of that place, you have no or little self confidence. Still don't. You keep staring at the ground. I'm sure over the course of this journey you'll come into your own."

"I'm not so sure."

"Trust me, I've seen it enough times. By the time we're done here you'll know excactly what you want out of life and how to get it."

"You think?"

"I know." Millileth winked at her.

Holly was riding with the next day, Millileth had gone off to scout further ahead, leaving the two of them basically alone. Thissle was off high in the air keeping an eye on things surrounding them.

"Millileth says you've both been aline for thousands of years." Tarra ventured to say sometime after mid morning.

Holly nodded, "About six thousand for me, seven for her."

"That's a long time."

"Shorter than others, longer than most." Holly admitted.

"So you're not really elves, or helf-elf?"

"Not anymore."

"So you are the angels that accompany Pauril?"

"Not that either." Holly said, "It's like this, we began life on a different world than this. Started out just as normal as can be. Millileth was living her life as an elf, the the Gods of our world went to war, she got caught up in that and went on to become a God herself. Sometime later I come onto the scene, I become a bard and start wandering about. Along the way I gain the favor of Millileth, a patron of bards and travellers in general. Sometime around sixty it occurs to me I've not really felt much older than when I was thirty or so. So life went on that way, things changed, Gods went away and then a little over a month ago some being that makes Gods look like children came, kicked us into this world and then sent us about the business of this quest."

Tarra was watching Holly tell her tale, which involved hand movements almost as numerous as the words.

"So what are you then? If not a God and not a mortal?"

"I'm a Muse, not sure what Millileth is, maybe a displaced God, seeing as I'm really her only worshipper."

"A Muse?"

"It's like a bard, only with added bits." Holly explained. "I, apparently, am a focul point for ideas. Just being around me give some people ideas to go create stuff. Think of it like an incarnation of creation itself I guess."

"I'm not sure I get it."

"I make stuff from nothing." Holly said in the simplest terms she could think of.

"Sounds like magic."

"Yeah, but some of the things I make are simply thoughts other people have and then they go and make new things."

"I think I get it."

"I'm not I get it either just yet. But here I am and that's that."

"So, is the leaf Millileth's holy symbol?" Tarra pointed at Holly's left hand that had the light green leag tattoo.

Holly shook her head, "That's a spell, don't ask me why Millileth chose a leaf for it's shape."

"What does it do?"

"Allows us to talk to each other without speaking." Holly said.

"I don't get it."

"I simply think about talking to her, think about what I want to say and she hears it. That's how we can be so far apart right now without worry."

"I get it. That's like some of the magic I've heard about. But what about those weapons of yours?"

Holly showed Tarra the back of her right hand that held the darker green tattoo of an ornately curved bow. "This is the magic that holds our weapons, each one of us made one. Our bows were made of pure magic long ago, when we came here we decided to hide them instead of carry them everywhere. "At first we only had bows, which is still my weapon of choice, but as time goes on I think we'll shape them into other things as needed."

"Like those curved blades?"

"Like those yes. Millileth is more fond of close combat than I am."

"You move even faster than the Elven Sword Dancers from what the rumors say. Did you really kill twenty of them in Jillek?"

"Just thirteen and they attacked first. Stupid elves." Holly said, "Yes, we did. Of course, we saw the attack coming and had the jump on them before they knew they had started the fight. I won't deny we're fairly powerful beings, I move about twice as fast as most mortals, Millileth faster than that. And the magic of our weapons helps as well."

"I guess I'm safe traveling with you then."

"Probably. We seem to have a nasty dispostition to being randomly attack by things."

They had passed through three towns as they traveled north. Tarra wasn't so sure they were going in the right direction, but she hadn't anymore dreams and the other two were confident they were going the right way as long as Tarra didn't have another dream telling them to change direction.

She only took the armor off when they were in a town, for which she was thankful. It didn't take long to break it in, it soon fit like a second skin as she put it on. It fell right into place on the curves of her body. They spent a day in each town teaching her swordplay. She picked up the technique quickly enough but lacked the stanima to swing the weapon for very long.

Between the second and third town was a three day ride, and it had started to rain early the first day and didn't relent until they reached the third town. At first Tarra wondered why she only had pants and a shirt, she often saw the court ladies putting on underclothes and shifts and such. On the second day of rain she realized that less clothing meant less that got wet and stayed that way. The heavy cloak she was given was good protection against the rain mostly, but it didn't cover everything as she stradled the horse. Holly seemed to enjoy the rain and kept her hood down and cloak open. Millileth was more sensible and had her own hood up and cloak shut as far as she could on the horse. After a day they got off and walked. They didn't want the horses loosing their footing in the mud of the road and throwing them off it was explain to Tara. She was thankful she could finally close the cloak all the way. Her pants underneath began to dry a bit, which is when she became thankful she only had leggings to dry and not any underclothes that could stay damp for hours.

She was thankful also for the taller boots as they walked in the mud she sometimes sunk into her ankle. She found that the others wore boots that went nearly to their knees, they had tucked their pants into them once the rain started. They were a thick black leather all the way up, a kind she had never seen before. If they did come from another world like they claimed that would explain the strange clothing and the odd language they occasionally spoke to each other.

Thissle made it a habit to hide in Millileth's hood during the rain.

It was in the fourth town that Tarra felt something next. She didn't have a dream, but had a feeling that something important was here. "I think we should stop here for a while." She had told Millileth as they approached the town.

"Another dream last night?"

"No, just a feeling. Like something important is here but we need to wait for it to show itself. I don't know. Just a feeling."

"Then we wait, give you a rest and some more practice." Millileth said, Holly didn't disagree.

//Chapter 07: Mandatory love interest//

Daniel slogged through the mud on his way to the stables. He hated this duty, especially in the rain. But if he wanted to learn to be a soldier from Old Man Gibb he had to clean the stables. That was the deal. The old weaponsmaster had retired to the sleep town of Perth years ago and opened an inn. It didn't seem to matter that they got few travelers this far north in the kingdom. It was quiet and Gibb's dream.

When Daniel was old enough to realize that Gibb was an old warrior, a great fighter for the kingdom he wanted nothing more than to be the same. He begged for two summers strait to be trained, finally last year Gibb gave in and made a deal.

He would teach Daniel the ways of fighting if Daniel helped him run the place. Clean the stable, serve customers, clean the rooms and everything else. Room and board was included in the training. Daniel's father didn't stop him, he was the youngest of five and harly noticed anymore. The others ran the family farm and often chided Daniel for wanting to be a soldier. Though an inn-keeper was a more or less repesctable position so it was allowed. Daniel's father was thinking that his dreams of soldiery would come to nuaght but Old Man Gibb might will the inn to him when he passed giving the family another source of income.

Daniel had finished cleaning the stables and slogged back to the inn, wiping his tall boots off on the back steps and coming inside after taking them off. Old Man Gibb's wife had a fit everytime he dragged mud into the kitchen. He was closing the door when he looked up and saw three travelers walking their horses up to the inn's side gate.

Three strangers, each in heavy black cloaks with the hoods drawn up. He quickly got his boots back on and went out to meet them. They had three very nice horses, much more expensive and well groomed than any horses from this area. He took them to the stables and cleaned the mud off their legs and groomed them, he didn't mind taking care of horses much, he almost enjoyed the work. Gibb had told him that an officer always took good care of his horse. You could tell a good captain from a bad one by the condition of his horse.

When he got back inside he got a look at the visitors. They had hung their cloaks on the pegs near the large hearth and were sitting around a nearby table, each holding a cup of black brew. He was vaguely surprised to see they were all women. One was human with deep black hair cut short like a soldiers. The other two were elves, he had never seen an elf in person. The elves were dressed in odd clothing, but the human was dressed not unlike a soldier of the realm in leather armor.

He admired her for a minute, the soft curve of her face and fair skin. His heart jumped when Gibb came up behind him and coughed.

"Lad," He said, Daniel was almost as tall as Gibb, "You're what, sixteen summers old? It's about time you noticed women."

"I wasn't.."

"You were standing here drooling on my floor staring at that lass with the two elves and you know it." He said in his rumbling voice.

"I.." He didn't have much of an answer, aside from the drooling bit, which wasn't true he knew because he checked by wiping his chin, Gibb was right on the mark. "She's so..." He didn't have words.

"Beautiful?" Gibb offered up.

"Yes, that." Daniel looked across the bar at the trio again. They seemed to be sitting in silence, warming by the fire and staring into their mugs. Not paying any attention to the world at all.

It was currently mid afternoon, which meant Daniel had to get supper ready. He went into the kitchen started the fire for the stew. Lady Gibb was there, baking her meat pies.

Holly seemed to like the inn they were staying at, Millileth was her usual indifferent to inns, Tarra was find the whole adventure fascinating. This was a new experience for her and she forgot who she was as she stared in awe of everything. Holly had remarked that the very idea of adventure and new discoveries had finally snapped Tarra out of constant staring at the ground. Tarra blushed at the comment but still kept staring at everything around her.

Gibb watched the three from behind his bar. The two elves, he could tell, were seasoned travelers. They had the look of mercenary all over them, but didn't appear to want to cause any trouble in any way. He surmised they were professional soldiers in every way, respectful of the inn, it's staff and the local laws. They had left their weapons with their packs on the horses, asking them to be brought up to their rooms.

The girl on the other hand looked green. Slightly uncomfortable in her leather armor and staring wide eyes at everything around her. The elves, he noted, wore no armor excepting leg and arm gaurds. That was elves for you, he thought.

They retired quickly to their rooms after the meal, the girl looking very tired. Gibb wagered she was knew to the road. The other two seemed to feign fatigue. Though he could tell the smaller of the two elves, the one with the deep red hair, has a flute tucked into her belt and looked about the room before deciding it was time to leave, like she was sligtly reluctant to do so.

Tarra went to her room, dropped her cloak on the only chair, started a fire in the small hearth and removed her armor. It didn't take long for her to peel the damp leather off and get out of shirt. She peeled off the rest of her clothes and layed them out in front of the flame to dry overnight. She climbed into the bed, bone tired and muscle weary. It seemed every part of her ached as she relaxed her muscles one at a time and closed her eyes. One of the first things that came to her mind was the young lad that took their horses.

She lay dreaming of him for a while, a tiny smile on he lips. He was as handsome as any lord but with a ruggedness about him. His muscles, those she could see under his shirt, were firmed and strong. He was young though, maybe a few years her junior. She could see he would grow into a much larger man. The thought seemed to comfort her. She let her dreams entertain fantasies that night, her new life seemed more carefree for the moment.

Millileth on the other hand seemed dead tired. Holly had to help her out of her clothing, "Ok, so what brought on this lethargy?" Holly said as she pulled Millileth's shirt over her head.

"Not sure." Millileth yawned, "It's an odd feeling, being this tired." She slumped back on the bed when Holly let go and draped her shirt over a chair in front of the fire.

"I bet you dream of things tonight." Holly said.

"Sure." Millileth muttered.

"Lift up, I need to get your jeans off and dry, unless you want to wander around in wet denim for the next week." Holly chided. Millileth cimplied and help Holly peel the jeans off her body.

Holly threw them on the chair and drew the covers back. "Come on, under them." She commanded, Millileth crawled under the covers and was out the second her head hit the pillow.

"Sweet dreams." Holly said and pulled the covers over her companion. She knelt and have Millileth a light kiss on the cheek before turning to the task of cleaning her companions clothes.

Thissle landed on her shoulder softly and sat down. "Hello."

"Thissle," Holly said by way of greeting. She waved a hand over Millileth's jeans, a green glow lit across them as she did so. She cleaned and restored them, they were like new.

"Lady is tired tonight." Thissle said.

Holly nodded as she put out the lantern and closed the door behind her. She went to her own room and cleaned her own clothes, without taking them off. She stretched and enjoyed the feeling of fresh clothing. She liked the idea of not needing to keep a wardrobe around anymore. "Anything planned for the night?" Holly asked her diminutive companion.

"Nope. Not many people in the inn." Thissle said with a quick flutter of her wings. Holly had learned that was her way of shrugging.

"Game of chess?" Holly said and a chess board appeared on the table, complete with pieces. She left her door open so she could keep an eye on the other two rooms. She was strategically across the hall from both her companions.

"I'll beat you this time." Thissle jumped off her shoulder and stood on the boar, she wasn't much taller than the pieces themselves. She moved them by pushing them about the board.

They played several games through the night before Thissle stretched and yawned herself. While she wasn't actuall tired she did enjoy sleep, stating that dreams were the minds way of cleaning house. Stretching was her cue that she'd rather be curled up somewhere and asleep. Holly smiled and winked the board and pieces back out of existence. She was getting the hang of creation magics. Small things were easy for her to do, the larger or more complicated ones were still out of her grasp.

Thissle curled up on Holly's pillow and quickly fell into a peaceful slumber. Holly sat back and watched the hallway. She wasn't even close to tired and did not feel like going through the motions of sleeping this night. She had a feeling there were reasons behind it. Millileth's sudden need for sleep was odd, she figured she was awake to guard over her. And that she would do. Every once in a while she got up and checked on both Millileth's and Tarra's room to make sure nothing had happened behind closed doors. It was a rather uneventful first night.

About an hour before dawn Holly was sitting at her table, playing a game of solitaire with a deck of cards she'd produced. Millileth walked in, wrapped in only her cloak. She had a sad, fearful look in her eyes. Holly stood quickly and ushered her into the room. Millileth feel heavily into the chair and looked up as Holly closed the door.

"What did you dream back at the palace." She said in a tired voice.

Holly cocked her head, "There was a great battle around us, men and goblins I think were fighting. Elves too. All manner of creatures. It was foggy, raining, mud everywhere. I moved through the battle, I passed through a great archway, like a castle gate. Both it's doors and portcullis were gone. I rushed in and past screaming men, in the middle of the courtyard was a well. It was a false well though, I went into it, underneath was a large room, divided up by bars. It was a secret jail underneath. The well was made to look fake with a false bottom of water made by a large steel tank kept full. It ended there. Why?"

"I..." Millileth started, "I had a nightmare. You were hurt, dying, in my arms. We were in a cave somewhere, I don't know where. It was cold." Millileth's voice sounded tired.

"Sounds like a warning, maybe you should learn healing magics." Holly offered her friend, she came over and put a hand on Millileth's shoulder.

"Sorry," Millileth looked at the sleeping Thissle, "I'm sure was just that, a warning. It just seemed so real."

"Dreams often do." Holly said, "You still look and sound tired, try and get some sleep, eh?"

Millileth looked up into Holly's self confident eyes. "You were always so sure of everything. Even when I could read doubt in your thoughts as I watched over you, you never let on to others. Always so sure of the decisions you made."

"Once you decided a course of action it's stilly to second guess yourself all the time. If you have to change your mind later, fine. But why keep going over the same thing time and again." Holly said, "Besides, if the bard is confident it instills a sense of confidence in everyone. After all, if I say we're going to win so I can go off and make you famous, you better well win dammit." Holly smiled. Millileth couldn't help but smile as well. "Here," Holly pulled back her covers, "If it'll make you feel better sleep here and I'll stay in the room with you."

Millileth consented and crawled under the covers. Holly took a second to fetch Millileth's clothes from the other room before settling back down to her game of cards. She looked at Millileth after a few minutes, the elf had descended into a deep sleep and had a slight smile on her lips.

"Happy dreams this time." Holly said to no one in particular. What she never shared with anyone, even Millileth, was that she dreamed of her own demise many many times through her life. Always it was to a gaping stomach wound, but the settings and people changed constantly. Usually it was whomever she was with at the time. But the wound was always the same, something had torn her open in the gut and she was bleeding to death in someone's arms. She shrugged it off. She'd had the dream so often she put it down to anxiety at one point and forgot about it completely. She had decided long ago to not spend her living life worrying about how she was going to die at the end of it all.

Not much after dawn Tarra came into Holly's room, who had opened the door again so she could keep an eye on when Tarra rose. Tarra had put on her pants and shirt but left the armor and boots off. "Morning" She said, still sounding sleepy.

"Morning" Holly chirped. Thissle had awaken at the same time dawn broke and was busy flitting about the room in what she called her morning exercises. It was a lot like watching a humming bird kicked into overdrive.

"Millileth is still asleep?" Tarra said leaning in the doorway.

"Yes, I suspect she'll be that way most of the day to be honest."

"Oh."

"Thissle." Holly looked up at the pixie who suddenly stopped moving. "Let me know if Mill stirs, I'm joining Tarra for breakfast." Holly stood and accompanied Tarra downstairs. Tarra noted that Holly had either dressed completely again or had not undressed from the night before as she was still wearing everything including the armor. Though her cloak was on a peg near the hearth. Tarra figured she undressed enough to clean her clothes which looked as clean as new.

The main room was just filling up at this hour, the air smelled heavily of leftover stew from the night before and fresh bread. Holly took a deep breath and smiled.

They took a small table not too far from the hearth. They got a few stares, mostly due to Holly who was the only one dressed as if ready for a fight. Even Tarra looked relaxed without the armor on.

"So," Holly said after they had some food in front of them, "He's cute." She said.

Tarra was momentarily confused, "Who?" She managed to get out.

"The stable boy, I saw you eyeing him last night." Holly smiled as Tarra blushed a deep crimson. "Relax, he was doing the same to you."

"I, it was.." Tarra was at a complete loss for words. Holly had almost no shame, and exuded confidence.

"Don't worry about it. Let things take their course. Who knows..." She let the thought trail off.

"What?" Tarra was anxious to get something out of Holly, she had almost no experience when it came to matters like this.

"You felt the need to stop here for a reason." Holly shrugged.

"But.." Tarra stoppe as the boy entered the room carrying some bowls, he dropped them off at a table and retreated, but not before stealing a glance at Tarra. Their eyes met for a brief second before each realized it and both averted their eyes quickly, concetrating on something else.

Holly suppressed a chuckle as she watched the exchange. Then she got an idea and a wicked smile appeared on her lips. After breakfast holly told Tarra to get dressed and ready for practice. Tarra was hoping for a day of rest, but apparently Holly had other plans for her.

She went upstairs and put on her armor and got her sword out. She met Holly out back, the ground was still wet from the rains the previous day, but not to bad. The dirst was hard packed enough that it wasn't a mud pit.

Holly was over talking to the Innkeeper, presumably getting permission to use the space. The large man laughed at something and went back inside. Holly came over to Tarra, almost skipping.

"Ok, new partner today, one more your speed." Holly said.

"New?" Tarra said. She nearly blanched when the innkeeper came out followed by the boy. He hadn't noticed them yet. They disappeared into a small house out back. "Ummm... who?" Tarra said with a shaking voice.

"His name," Said Holly, "Is Daniel. He is an aspiring soldier, since both of you need to learn we thought it best to have you learn together as long as we're in town."

"How did..?"

"Easy, I recognize an old mercenary, or soldier in Gibb's case, when I see one. Very disctinct look once you know to look for."

"I don't know if this is such a good idea..." Tarra was desperately looking for an excuse to back out of the situation.

"Nonsense. It's obvious neither of you is up to talk to the other, I played matchmaker. Hate me later. But for now," Holly motioned to the door Daniel and Gibb came out of, Daniel was dressed in leather armor very similar to Tarra's, "Practice." She stepped back and waited for the others to joined them. Holly made the introductions as both Tarra and Daniel worked fiercely to suppress blushes.

Holly left them in Gibb's hands to be instructed in the ways of swordplay. She sat back in the shade and pass the time watching them fumble about. Gibb made no exceptions for either of them, forcing them to pay attention to the lessons. Both were eager to learn the use of the weapons and after an hour or so forgot who they were in the company of and fell into the role of students.

They day brought them a hot sun and no clouds, the rain clouds had moved onto other areas. About mid afternoon Holly went up to check on Millileth, who had still not awoken.

She slipped into the room and crossed to the bed. Thissle sat on the pillow next to Millileth's head, her wings moving slowly, she had a look of concern on her tiny face.

"Lady has a fever." Thissles tiny little voice echoed the concern of her expression.

Holly bent and felt Millileth's brow, it was damp with sweat and hot. She reached under the covers and felt her chest rise and fall with each breath. "She'll be fine." Holly said, "Must have been the rain." She reasoned.

"Lady does not get sick." Thissle said, "Is Lady mortal again?"

Holly stopped in her tracks, maybe they were mortals again. Or maybe Millileth was, Holly was remembering Nightshade's words about her being an immortal being. "I don't know." She said finally, "I'll get some herbs and see if I can help." Holly said a little more brightly. It seemed to cheer Thissle up a bit because she smiled.

Holly went down to the main room and asked the innkeeps wife if there was an herbalist of some kind around, she was directed up the road to the wagonmakers home, his wife was known to dispense herbs. Holly thanked her and went up the street as directed.

The house was easy enough to find. There was a large lush garden smelling of any number of herbs. The wagonmaker was off to one side in a large open barn, repairing a horse drawn plow. His house was the small cottage attached to it. Both his wifes and his pastimes took up most of their lives. Holly stopped momentarily to admire the little cottage squeezed between a large barn and a garden that looked overgrown if you didn't know how to see it. The garden had a large shed built in the middle, Holly could see it's roof peaking out from behind a large tree. The shed was nearly the size of the cottage. There were two paths that led from the road. One was the wagon trail that led up to the barn. The other was a foot path that led to the shed.

A small whisp of smoke was coming out of the shed and Holly smelled the unmistakable scent of boiling herbs. Holly walked up the path and knocked on the door to the shed, which she had decided was really just another cottage for the purpose of storing herbs and other plants.

"Yes?" A woman of middle age came to the door, she was a pleasent woman with rosy cheeks and not a small girth. "What can I do for you child?"

Holly blinked for a second then smiled, "I'm in need of some medicine." She beamed. Holly immediately liked the woman.

"Well then, what kind of medicine is it you need?"

"Mmm.." Holly thought for a second, "Not sure, my friend has caught a fever. She's got a cold sweat but her breathing is normal and regular."

"Well, come in, I think I can find something for your friend." Holly stepped into the large shed, or small house. It was one large room with various plants layed out to dry, or being crushed into mixture and any number of things. A large put was over a fire in one corner, it's conents slowly boiling. "Is she also an elf dear?"

"Yes ma'am." Holly said, she was busy examining a series of flower petals being laid out in an intricate design on a parchement.

"We don't get many like you, elves that is, around here." The woman turned around, in her hand was a small pouch. "Here we go, crush these into some boiling hot water, let it sit for a few minutes and have your friend drink it."

Holly took the bundle from her, "Mint." She said smelling it, "And honeysuckle I think."

"You have a sharp nose." The woman smiled.

Holly reached into her pocket and pulled out three silver coins, "Here." She offered them up.

"Oh that's too much." The woman said.

Holly shrugged, "It's nothing, and I know she'll really like this." Her hand didn't move.

The woman took two of the coins, "You keep the last one for luck." The woman smiled. Holly looked at the final coin in her palm and put it back in her pocket, that one she would keep around.

Holly went back to the inn and asked to borrow the kitchen. She had an idea. Holly, when no one was looking, made some clothe to wrap part of the leaves in. She boiled some water and got a large mug. Once the water was hot enough she put the makeshift tea bag into the water and let it steep. She took the mug upstairs and went to her, now Millileth's, room.

Thissle still sat on the pillow watching Millileth, she looked up when Holly walked in. Thissle sniffed the brew once, "Mint tea, the Lady will like that." She said.

Holly smiled warmly and brushed Millileth's cheek, "Hey, wake up Mill." She cooed gently. Soon enough her gentle stroking of Millileth's cheek woke the elf. Her eyes fluttered and finally opened. She looked over at Holly, her eyes seemed unfocused. Holly held the mug close enough for Millileth to smell the brew.

Millileth's world came into focus as she sniffed mint over the air. At first she thought it an illusion, Holly was holding a big mug of mint tea. Her head throbbed and she felt cold. She tried to sit up, the world became a washed out color, Holly's cool hand helped her as she got to a sitting position.

"Here ya go Mill." Holly said holding the cup as Millileth took a sip of the brew. "Mint, and some other good things that might help."

Millileth sipped the tea and swallowed. The warm liquid slid down her throat and stomach. She felt better already, though still very dizzy. "Where are we?"

"An inn somewhere, doesn't matter. You've got a fever something fierce."

"I don't get.."

"Right I know. You don't get sick." Holly made sure she got another sip. "I don't know the cause, I just know you've got a fever."

Holly put the mug back on the table and helped Millileth lie back down. "I've got Tarra training with Daniel downstairs."

"Daniel?" Millileth's eyes opened again suddenly.

"Yeah, that stable boy she was eyeing when we arrived. The innkeeper is an old soldier. He's been training the boy on the ways of soldiery, I figured our girl could learn a thing or two and get to know some people around and about."

"I've been dreaming a little, names, places, people. The warrior, his name is Daniel."

"What a coincidence." Holly smirked, "Any moment now something will go horribly wrong forcing me to leave you here and go off with, or after, those two."

Millileth gave her a puzzled look.

"Over three thousand years of doing nothing but following adventurers around and you see certain patterns form." Holly patted Millileth on the shoulder, "Trust me, I'm going to start making bets with you people if you don't." Holly stood up, "Almost forgot," She reached into her pocket and pulled out the coin, "From the herbalist, she would take the third coin, told me to keep it for luck. So here's a little luck for you. Get well soon Mill." Holly said, she finally decided to removed her arm guards and put them on the table. She absently left her leg guards on.

She walked to the door, "Thissle, you going to stay and watch over Mill?"

The pixie looked up and nodded, "I shall watch Lady."

Holly went downstairs and out to the back where Daniel and Tarra were still practicing. Seeing as it was getting to be late evening and that Daniel was probably shirking some duty or another she went into the kitchen.

The innkeepers wife, a woman by the name of Gloria, was busy in the kitchen. Holly took one look at the scene, materialized a hair tie with which to pull her long hair back into a tail and found an apron. She tied it on, pushed up her sleeves and dove right in.

Gloria was so used to help she didn't notice it wasn't Daniel until it dawned on her the new person helping was far to good at dodging underneath her and moving around her than Daniel ever was. She and Daniel, despite over a year working together always bumped somewhere. It was her elven guest that had kneeded and was now backing fresh bread for the nights meals.

Gloria stopped dead in the middle of the kitchen and put her hands on her hips, Holly had no way of getting around her girth.

"Hi." Holly said in a light cheerful tone.

Gloria eyed her carefully, Holly wore a smile almost to wide for her face and looked far friendlier than any mercenary Gloria ever met. "How'd you get to know your way around a kitchen so well?" She inquired, "And who let you into mine?"

"Practice and me." Holly said, "Bread's going to burn if you don't let me at it." She said, holding up the iron tongs used to removed the large tray from the back of the wood oven.

"Where's Daniel?"

"Learning how to swing a sword last I checked." Holly said, still brandishing the tongs.

"Very well, but one slip and out you go!" Gloria said and went back to work.

Holly giggled and went to work on the bread. Gloria's daughter, Mellinda came in, she usually helped her parents serve the meals but spent the days with her own family on her husbands farm. She took one look at the scene and stopped. From what she cold tell her mother had hired some strange elf, mercenary type if the leg armor had any say in it, to help her. She wondered where Daniel was.

"Mom?" She said. Her mother stopped and looked at Mellinda.

"Daniel is out back training, Holly is helping tonight." She said by way of explanation and went back to work.

Holly wandered by with a tray of bread, "Hi." She said cheerily and dropped it on a table.

It was just after sunset that Tarra and Daniel had reappeared. Both had managed to bathe and were apparently, as far as Holly could tell, sharing stories of some sort or another.

Holly appeared at the bar where Gibb was already in the middle of helping some early customers. "You look tired," She said as she started up a pot of coffee, or black brew in the local tongue.

"Aye, the lass is as fresh as a daisy in spring but has spirit to learn." He said, "And I'm not so young anymore."

"Need some help out here then?" She offered.

"If you think you're up to it." He said.

"I never think, I know." She winked and pulled her apron off.

"Careful tonight lass, we've got a few more customers than normal."

"I can handle it, I've got a special knack for stopping bar fights." She smiled wickedly.

"A Knack eh?"

"Yep. Worked as a bouncer once for a few months."

Gibb gave her an incredulous look.

"Size," She stated as she flipped a mug onto the bar with a graceful twist of her wrist, "Means nothing we you get right down to it."

"No?"

"What do you have big boucners for? To stop fights before they start, intimidation right?"

"I suppose."

"Once the fight start, you need to stop it fast. Well, that's where I come in."

"I see."

"So, I'll admit I work best with a really big partner." She shrugged and filled another mug with ale. "But I can stop a fight in nothing flat." She slammed the mug down on the bar.

"Well lass, you certainly know your way around behind the bar." He tossed her a rag which she promptly draped over her shoulder. "And I could use the help tonight."

Holly filled a mug with black brew and took a sip, "And I'm up for a little excitement." Her eyes sparkled in the low light of the tavern.

Holly's hands were busy most of the night, so instead of her flute she settled for singing through the night. At some point she'd taken to delivering drinks to the patrons at the table. She flirted mercilessly with most of them, but always ducked out of arms reach before any had a chance to touch her.

Gibb watched her move and had to admit the lass was quick on her feet with a sharp tongue. Through the night she only drank the black brew, without any honey to sweeten it up.

It was close to midnight, the common room still mostly full, that two very tall, broad men walked in. They had on heavy cloaks, not unlike Holly's, with the hoods up. They made their way to the bar and pushed some space in the middle for themselves.

Gibb made a move to serve them when Holly stopped him, she whispered to him at the entrance to the kitchen where he was coming from.

"They're armed to the teeth and don't smell human." She said.

"Hobgoblin." He said with distaste. "Occasionally we see them come down from the hills to the east, but normally they avoid the towns. I'd just assume to serve them and get them out than start something." He said back.

"Let me take care of them, keep the others in drink." She said and bounced over to the newcomers. "What can we get ya?" She said wiping the bar in front of them with her rag and pulling two fresh mugs out of the water trough behind the bar.

The two pulled their cloaks down to reveal ugly pig snouted faces. They were possibly the ugliest humanoid race she'd ever seen, complete with yellowed tusks jutting out of their mouths.

"Ale." One said a deep gravely voice. The room had gone silent.

Holly simply filled the two mugs with ale and placed them in front of the two creatures. "Six Larks." She said, using the local term for the common copper coin.

"And if we feel the price is too high?" The other said, leaving a threat to hang in the air with the question. Holly felt several men around her stiffen.

"Then the first round is on me." She said back, the cheerful tilt to her voice never fading. And she turned to serve another customer before anything more could happen. The Hobgoblin's seem satisfied for the moment and drank their ale at the bar.

Holly did a round through the tables before coming back to the two Hobgoblins, still singing her way through the night. The bar had hushed a bit since their arrival, but conversation was picking back up as the patrons realized the elf that mysteriously appeared was unconcerned with the two hobgoblins.

She appeared back in front of them as they finished their mugs. "Another round?" They nodded consent, "'Kay, the first round was on me, the second is on you." She eyed them as she filled a mug.

"Three Larks for a mug of that swill?" The first bellowed, "I'll pay one." He said and dropped a coin on the table.

"Tell you what." Holly said as she filled the second mug, "I'll make a wager." She walked around to the front of the bar and over to the dart board that lay mostly unused against the far wall. "One game to two hundred, if you win I buy your drinks for the rest of the night, if I win you pay three Larks a drink." She picked up the darts and offered a set to the first hobgoblin.

He looked down at her, whom he towered over by nearly two feet and at the dart board. His companion gave a low chuckle. "Deal." He said and took the darts in his large clawed hand.

"You first." Holly offered him.

The hobgoblin stepped up to the line draw in white paint on the floor and expertly tossed his darts. The room watched them in near silence. He scored an even forty on the first round.

Holly waited for him to collect his darts before tossing her own. She made only thirty three points herself, deciding to let him win the first few rounds.

It took five rounds to finish the game, Holly winning by a mere seven points.

"A good game." She said and returned her darts to their resting place. The hobgoblin stood his ground at the line. Holly had a bad feeling things were going to take a sour turn any second now.

The second one said something in their own language, Holly's first hearing of it made little sense to her. The first ones response brought her attention back to him, she understood him now. A knack for languages indeed.

She wanted to shout a warning but they managed to act before she could, all she got was a truncated shout and a hand up before needing to dodge an incoming dart.

The first had tossed a dart suddenly at her as she rolled away and around, the second had pulled out a long throwing blade and tossed it. Holly finished her spin and faced forward again, her bow in her hand and an arrow ready to fly. The first never got a chance to throw another dart at her before clutching his throat, a green arrow made of fire stuck there. The second tossed a second dagger as he ran for the door and ended up with three arrows stuck into his back instead. He fell forward through the opening and landed with a thud on the ground outside.

The room was in silent shock at the moment, even Gibb stood his ground. Holly was all motion, her bow gone again by the time she reached the dying man with two daggers in his chest. He gargled one last breath and died in her arms.

"FUCK!" Holly screamed in her native laguage and slammed a fist into the wall as she stood up, everyone immediately understood it as a curse, of what nature they weren't sure. Some of them were still staring at the unnatural fire that still burned as arrows in the dead hobgoblins.

Holly walked to the bar, the flames going out with a wave of her hand as she crossed the room. She pulled a bottle of the good wine off the back shelf, it's label made it to be dwarven wine. She popped the cork and produced a small shot glass out of nowhere. It reminded her of whiskey as she put the shot back and simply stared at the corpse in the middle of the common room. Her let the shotglass stay in existance as she looked at Gibb.

"Where do they make camp or live?" She said, her voice even but containing enough menace to make the mens veins turn to ice. They all turned to her at once as she spoke, not wanting to interupt anything.

He shook his head in a negative motion.

"Anyone?" She looked at the crowd.

"North east of here, in the hills they have a camp." One of the men said.

"How far?"

"A days walk, maybe a bit more." the same man said.

"Why did this happen?"

No one spoke. Holly's deep brown eyes, with their gold flecks, had become hard.

Daniel stood up from the table he was sharing with Tarra, "Handril was trading with them, they had come under pretense of peace." He began, "He would trade wheat with them in exchange for the wool from their sheep heard."

"And?" Her voice was no longer cutting like cold steel, now it only reminded them of glass.

"They have unfair ideas of a good trade. They wanted more than Handril would give." Gibb said, "Those were their enforcers. When they don't return more shall follow, most likely a raiding party."

Holly shook her head slowly, "No, none shall come. I will go to them. Then they shall leave."

"I'll show you the way." Daniel said, trying to keep his voice firm. Holly looked him dead in the eye and held his gaze.

"I leave at dawn then. Be ready, be armed and bring just enough food for one day's travel. Nothing else." She looked at Gibb, then the crowd, "Closing time." She said with a hint of regret to it.

The crowd stood and left, leaving their tabs on the table without needing to be told. Everyone was very sober with excellent memories all of a sudden. The nodded their heads or bowed to Holly as they passed by her and left quietly. Only Gibb, Daniel and Tarra remained behind, Mellinda has gone home some time before. Gloria finally came out of the kitchen and looked at the mess on her floor.

Holly went around to the dead hobgoblin on the floor and started to drag him out the front. Gibb moved to help her. Together the dragged him to the side of the building along with the other. There was a large pit used for summer roasts there, Holly piled the two hobgoblins in the center and produced her bow, the arrow she fired spread its flame over the corpses and burned them to ashes in an hour. She watched in silence as they burned, Gibb at her side.

When the flames died finally as the last bit turned to dust he spoke, "You weild powerful magic."

"But not healing or life giving magic." She said dryly.

"Daniel is not ready to test his skill in battle yet."

"I need a guide and he needs to learn quickly."

"It should be at least through the winter that he trains before setting out."

"We are on a quest, looking for the relics of Golldrem. The prophecy speaks of four mortals who join that quest and two angelic guides." Holly's voice was quiet in the still night. "Tarra is the first, Daniel may well be the second if my companions dreams are accurate."

"You are one of the guides?"

Holly nodded, "Neither of them are fully ready, but fate usually has bad timing."

Gibb nodded.

"Make sure Handril gets a good burial." Holly walked back inside. Daniel and Tarra were still there, waiting for her. "Go, rest. You'll need it." Holly said

Both of them left without a word and went to their own rooms. Holly went upstairs and came back down with a pouch of money she had collected, not made, over the past month and placed it in Handrils hands. Gloria and Gibb had placed him on one of their tables to await burial in the morning.

"For his family and funeral." Holly said by way of explanation and went back upstairs.

She walked into her room where Millileth lay in sleep. Holly felt her forehead, it wasn't as warm as before but she still had a fever. She noted the mug was empty. Thissle had curled up on the pillow and slept herself.

There was a knock on her door as Holly was getting ready to sit down and wait the night out.

She opened it to reveal Nightshade standing there, just as she last saw her, complete with sunglasses. Holly motioned for her to step in.

"Now you show up." She spat.

"Do not blame me, I do not control things nor am I able to stop every action that seem unjust." She sat on the edge of the bed, "Besides, now Daniel and Tarra will go with you in the morning and you will start them on the path to being the heroes they can become."

Holly thought for a second, "I dislike how some evil things have to occur before people learn to acheive the potential."

"Conflict forces growth, otherwise men will be content to stay as they are."

"Why is she ill?" Holly motioned to Millileth.

"There is an evil force out to stop you, it tried to kill her by poisoning her dinner last night."

"Not me or Tarra?"

"Here the Gods believe that Pauril's angels contain part of his power. One is his striking angel, the other his healing angel. They wish to remove his ability to heal first, forcing him to strike out where they will kill his second angel who will no longer have her companion."

"It didn't kill her?"

"Not by a long shot. She is a very powerful being, your Mother and Father Gods gave her almost all their power when they brought her into the pantheon. Which is why they faded five thousand years after making her. She is their only daughter so to speak. The power of two Greater Gods went into her and while the process of detaching her from the anchoring reality removed some abilities she retains all her power. Over time she will regain all those abilities she once knew as a God of your reality, until then she can only tap a portion of her power. So what would kill a God here merely gives Millileth a fever that will last a few days with bed rest. She should be fine by the time you return from your side adventure here."

"I see."

"At the moment you and she share simliar levels of power. You will grow together from this point, both reaching your potential over time. But only if you practice, and grow and continue to learn."

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained." Holly said.

"Right. So now what?"

"When they realize she did not die they will think her immune to poison and send physical beasts after you to kill by force."

"What kind of Gods rule over this reality?"

"This is a simple reality of Good and Evil, with simple minded Gods to match. They do not see the need for balance and only exist to force their will over those below them. Constantly fighting for power."

"And the role of our quest?"

"Mmmm.. Can't go revealing everything now can I?" Nightshade said with a smile, "Takes all the fun out of it. But I can tell you that you must not leave any survivors in that hobgoblin village, not even a babe."

Holly sighed, "I suppose that will have to do for now."

"I have complete confidence in you my little Muse." Nightshade walked past her and faded from view as she walked through the wall.

"Yay." Holly said.

Dawn came with little fanfare. Holly walked outside to find both Daniel and Tarra waiting for her. Both dressed in their armor, swords at their sides and spare daggers as well. Each had a belt pouch that appeared to contain only enough food for one day as commanded.

Holly wore only her normal clothes and the heavy cloak. A wind had picked up and fluttered the ends of it off to one side. She snapped both fingers and each of her protege wore similar cloaks, "It might rain." She said and stepped into the street, "Lead the way Daniel." She held one arm out in a northward direction up the street.

They traveled in silence the whole day, stopping only to let Daniel and Tarra eat the mid day meal before going on. They traveled past the farm steads and deep into the rolling hils that borded the east side of the valley the village stood in.

Holly took the lead showing them paths and ways around things. It was nearing dusk as they attained the outskirts of the hobgoblin village. She gathered the two close to her and spoke very softly.

"We leave none alive, kill even the smallest of children." Holly took a deep breath, "This act I've told you to do, it is not a nice act. At any time you feel you cannot carry on then fight on in defense and retreat to this spot. I do not ask you to do this task lightly." They stood, "By morning none shall be a live and we will walk home. This will be one of the longest nights you will ever see." Daniel and Tarra remained silent.

They crept along in silence for a while before encountering a patrol. Holly dispatched them cleanly with two shots of her bow, the flames of the arrows extinguishing quickly. Most of the village was down by the crude encampment at this hour, drinking and singing the early night away.

Holly gathered her energy in and concentrated, she did not want to tire herself completely with the first shot. "When I fire this arrow do not hesitate to ruch into the fray and start the attack."

Both Tarra and Daniel had drawn their swords, "I've dreamed of slaughtering these beasts for some time now." Daniel said.

Tarra had only a grim, but stoic, expression. Her mouth was a thin line her otherwise delicate features. But her sword was out and determination showed in every movement she made. Tales of how these creatures killed without mercy always reached the city, filled with every manner of atrocity. Should could take vengence for every farmstead burned to the crowd by things as evil as these now.

Holly formed an arrow and let it fly. It hit the center of the camp, landing in the fire. Holly used it's power with hers to form a massive explosion. The fireball was a mixed green flame of her magic and red of real fire as it expanded to its full fifty foot diameter. Fully half the hobgoblins were caught in the blast and its light could be seen as far as the village. Who's folk had gathered at the inn in solemnce silence of prayer for both their dead and the deed now being done.

Daniel and Tarra silently ran down the hill they started on and lashed out with their swords at every living thing they met. Holly spent ten seconds recovering before she began to fire arrow after arrow after arrow into the camp. She hit anything that would burn. Be it hobgoblin, tent or bails of hay.

She followed the other two down the hill after a full minute of sustained fire from her bow. The other two were hard at work with small knots of confused but angry hobgoblins. Holly started to slice through them with ease.

Her curved blade cut through everything it met, she was going strait for the largest tent where a dozen gaurds stood and waited for the enemy to come to them. Holly came at the in a blaze of fury, green blade flashing against the night sky. They fell easily to her as she drove the last through the flaps over the tent.

The leader stood there, hatred on his face. Holly didn't stop her advance, letting momentum carry her into him where she removed his head. His harem of three mates looked on in fear and then began to scream as Holly started in on them and the babies with them. It didn't take long before she emerged and stalked from tent to tent.

Daniel and Tarra fought together, back to back, against half a dozen of the enemy. Daniel had been cut on his leg and Tarra her arm. They had fought now for twenty minutes and killed three dozen but there were so many it was hard to go on. They panted hard as the six warriors traded off attacking them, obviously toying with their prey.

Holly had killed everything she could find and came back full circle to the bottom of the hill they started on. She saw that Tarra and Daniel faced three times their number now. Dozens of bodies lay about them. They had done enough killing for the night Holly reasoned and made a bow of her blade.

The six hobgoblins that were fighting them began to drop one afte another. Before any of them realized what was going on there were six corpses and two very tired looking humans who just fell to their knees. Holly walked up to them.

"It is time to go." She motioned them to go back to the top of the hill. Holly made one last circuit around the camp, making a circle in the ground lightly with the tip of her blade. She dragged it up the hill where Tarra and Daniel sat, binding each others wounds with clothe torn from Daniel's shirt.

They both watched as she fired an arrow into the line in the dirt she had made. A fire ran down the line and then around the camp along the circle she had drawn. All three watched as the fire bent inward and consumed everything inside the hobgoblin camp in four hours. The flames climbed into the air and lit the night in an eerie green glow.

Holly turned and started the walk back to the village. Daniel leaned on Tarra for help as the slash in his leg hurt enough that he limped. They rested only once, with no food this time, on the way back. Holly was silent the entire trip, Daniel and Tarra spoke almost none, saying things like, "only a little more now," and "we'll get you back and rested soon enough." To each other.

They walked back into town the next sundown. Everyone had again gathered at the inn and waited for them. Holly walked in, took a look around and met Millileth's gaze who had taken a table in the center of the common room.

Holly walked over to her as she stood up and met her friend.

"I hate killing." Holly nearly sobbed and fell into her friends arms, doing her best to surpress tears. Daniel and Tarra staggered in behind her, two men took each child and led them to tables. The medicine lady removed their bandages immediately and applied her herbs and fresh wrappings. They were taken up stairs to rooms and allowed to sleep.

The whole time Holly simply kept her arms around Millileth and sobbed lightly. After a while Millileth took her friend upstairs and put her to bed. Holly fell asleep quickly into a deep sleep. Millileth went back downstairs.

"You will have no more trouble from hobgoblins for a long while." She said to the room. "She killed every last one of them. Not even their young escaped her blade."

Gibb merely nodded and motioned that the crowd should disperse. They left silently, each leaving a single copper coin in payment for the deed. Millileth gathered them up in a pouch and took it upstairs, placing it on the table next to Holly. She went to her own room and took her turn at watching the others sleep this night.

Tarra dreamed of moving again. This time they went west. She crossed over the hills, wind in her face. It felt good this time as winter was approaching. Only they were walking now, the horses left behind. She swept through a small wood and out the otherside as winter came to them. She stopped in a village where snow was falling and stayed there until she woke the next morning.

//Chapter 08 : Priestess of grey in a world of black and white//

They had been traveling for three days now through the hills. Millileth and Holly didn't question the directions Tarra gave them, the simply nodded and started off on the next leg of the quest.

Tarra herself had gotten used to the armor now, Daniel still seemed uncomfortable traveling in it and definately did not like sleeping in it, always complaining of a stiff back in the morning.

Holly and Millileth smiled and shook their heads, Tarra chided him with friendly jabs. But as they walked Millileth and Holly were almost always silent.

"Do they ever talk?" Daniel asked Tarra as they trudged along a few paces behind the two.

"Not when they travel, no." She answered. "You kind of get used to it." She shrugged, "I suppose I'd run out of small talk to if I traveled with people as long as those two have."

"How old are they?"

"Thousands of years." Tarra said matter of factly.

Daniel had a look of disbelief, "Seriously."

"No, really. Holly is six thousand, Millileth seven." And she recounted the tale as the two of them had told it to her, as best she could any way.

Daniel only believed her because he'd never seen or heard of magic as powerful as Holly's was when they killed the hobgoblin village, nor someone who fought so relentlessly as to kill nearly a hundred of them single handedly as she did.

--

Several hundred miles away, in the small town of Naert the third mortal who would join their group. Her name was Anjia.

Anjia does not know who her parents are, or where she is from. She only knows that the woodsman Vorlen found her as a babe at the base of a tree in his wood.

Anjia had deep brown skin like the bark of a tree. Deep green eyes like the leaves and strait black hair that hung to her shoulders. Her eyes were a delicate almond shape, unlike the more rounded eyes of her adoptive father. She noted that the tree she was found at the base of grew quickly into maturity at the same pace she did.

Vorlen made his home deep in the woods outside on Naert, by the lake that fed the river Naert the town was built on. It flowed strong and clear past the town, eventually finding its way to the capitol to the south and then onto the sea.

Vorlen told Anjia many tales of woodland creatures, some of which no longer came this far out of the deepest depths of the woods. Even Vorlen admitted that while he lived deep in the woods, some seven miles from its edge, the wood extended so far they reached the Carpsin mountains some four hundred miles to the north. And if you crossed the Carpsin mountains you'd be the realm of the Ice Lords where massive dragons dwelt and a land of giants ruled.

Anjia also learned that deep in the woods, called the Jakrin Forest by the locals, was a forgotten elven kingdom. These elves never came out of the forest, never ventured anywhere near it's edge. But they knew everything that went on in the forest, because they spoke to the birds. And the birds were everywhere.

Anjia often just sat and linstened to the birds some days. Sometimes spending a whole day listening to their constant talking ans fluttering from tree to tree. She never understood anything the birds said, hardly believing they had a language at all, she wasn't so sure the lost elven kingdom story wasn't completely made up to scare other humans out of his woods.

Anjia didn't like going to town much, the other people there gave her stares and strange looks. The often spoke in hushed whispers as she passed by then. She only went to town when Vorlen needed something he couldn't find or make in the woods himself, often enough this was steel.

Vorlen didn't like steel much. Because, he told Anjia in a stern voice, steel can't hurt some of the fey creatures that lived deep in the woods. Only cold worked iron could harm them.

He sometimes called Anjia a dryad, a creature that, she was told, was attached to a specific tree and should either one die than the other would soon follow. He said this because her tree, as he said it was, grew with her into maturity and that as long as the tree lived so would she and the other way around too. Anjia wasn't so sure she believed this but the tree had grown from sapling to aduly oak in only a matter of the eighteen years Anjia had been with Vorlen.

Vorlen taught Anjia many things about the forest. Like how you could make a living from it. Live off its plants and animals. He told her to never cut a tree unless she needed the wood for something important, like shelter or firewood in teh cold winter. Or if the tree was dying already, in which case to fell it so that other plants could take root in the trunk and live off of its discarded shell.

Anjia learned to hunt, and kill only for food and use the skin to make clothes and other things. Some of the things, such as pouches and belts and other garments could be sold in the town for money. Money was used to purchase other things they needed. Sometimes Vorlen saved the money and if the winter was a harsh one he would go into town and come back with grains and other foods they couldn't get in the woods.

Anjia learned the read the wind and know the weather patterns by looking at the sky. She could tell the time of year by the smell in the airl. She could move through the forest so silently that not even a deer could hear her footfalls as she approached. She could navigate by the stars if they could be seen. She knew how to tan animal hide to make clothes and other things, wearing fur for warmth in the winter months. She knew the tracks and habits over every animal she came in contact with. She could follow tracks that were days old and most people wouldn't even see. She could also go anywhere a cover up her own tracks so as to not be followed. Vorlen taught her how to use bow and knife and even a long blade he called a sword. Anjia could read trees, tell how healthy they were, guess at their ages, know which animals nested in them. She could name seventeen different kinds of tree that made its home in the forest. She knew all these things about the woods but still had not deciphered the secret language of the birds.

Anjia was out gathering kindling for the winter ahead, according to what she could tell it would be a harsh winter, but perhaps a short one. You could never tell just how long a winter might be, but sometimes the harsh ones were the shortest. She glided through the forest, unseen and unheard, picking up dead branches as she went. It was late autumn now, she loved this time of year. When the leaves, most of them, turned colors. Every color she could imagine from darker greens to yellows and oranges into reds and finally to browns as winter drew near.

She returned to the cabin as the sun dipped below the treeline bathing everything in a deep shadow. Dropping off her bundle of kindling in the large wooden chest next to the wood pile she went inside to the smell of stew that had been over a low heat all day cooking. Vorlen was nowhere to be seen, but this was no concern of hers. She simply went about her duties in a leisurely manner. Cutting and cleaning some fresh roots she had gathered that morning. Vorlen had devised a clever system that brought fresh water into the house from the lake by a simple pump.

The pump didn't work in the deep winter because the water froze then, but the rest of the year hollowed logs cut in half formeda kind of artificial river that ran into the house and gave them fresh clean water. Vorlen had contructed part of the house right over the lake.

Anjia went out onto the large open area, the deck as Vorlen named it, that went over the lake itself, some twenty feet out over the water. She leaned against the railing and watched some fish swim below the surface of the clear water. Sometimes they threw a line into the water with a bit of worm or even a tiny bright feather to catch some fish for dinner. Anjia liked the taste of the fish, especially when slowly cooked over a fire with the smoke taste ever so lightly getting ito the flesh of the fish.

Tonight, like most nights, they were having a venison stew. Anjia liked all the foods she ate, but fish was her favorite. Sometimes Vorlen would shoot a bird of some kind with his bow and bring it back. But Anjia never ate them. That was the only food she never touched, was a bird of any kind. She said if she ever had any chance to learn their language she should not risk offending them by eating one of their brothers or sisters. Vorlen laughed at this but never pressed the issue with her.

The next day Anjia sat and watched as the strangers approached the town, they were travelling close to the woods. There were four of them, two humans who looked like the soldiers and mercenaries that somtimes stopped in the town before moving eastward again. They looked tired though, road weary Vorlen called it. The other two were elves, but dressed very curiously.

The tall one had light brown hair, almost golden when the sun caught it just right. She had with her a pixie that danced about her as they walked. Anjia had seen many pixies deep in the forest, but none that ventured near her of Vorlen. Vorlen said the pixies do not get close to other races for fear they'd be used as ingredients in some magical brew or another. Or worse kept as pets in cages. Anjia thought it very curious this pixie traveled with the group, though it seemed to stay with the tall elf. Perhaps the elf had befriended it, or maybe held it magically captured, for she heard that elves had magic in them, even more so than men.

The fourth was a smaller elf, waifish really. Five feet if she was an inch. She skipped along the forests edge picking various fruits, or berries. She knew exactly which to avoid and which were edible. Sometimes the elf knelt and harvest, carefully like Vorlen had taught her as a child, a root or another and place them in a pouch. It was the elf's hair the got Anjia attention and enraptured her. It was long like Anjias, all the way down her back. But strait, unlike Anjia's curls and loops. It was also a deep deep red, with browns and a tint of orange here and there. It was the same colors as the fall leaves late in the season before they fell from the tree to leave bare branches to hold winter snow.

Though the red haired elf stopped often she kept up easily with her slow moving companions. They didn't seem to be in any hurry to reach the town, enjoying the crisp fall afternoon. Anjia followed them from a little ways back in the forest. All the way to the river where they turned south to go to the bridge crossing back the road not a half mile from the edge of the wood.

Tarra saw the town first, it had taken them several months of travel over the land to get this far. They hadn't met another town on their entire journey, depending on Holly and Millileth's ability to find food no matter where they were. Holly was an excellent cook it turned out. Daniel believed the tale Tarra had told him by now, for neither Holly nor Millileth ate the entire journey, saving all the food for the both of them.

She was bone weary by now. Having spent close to three months in the armor and she almost forgot it was there by now. They took it off but once when they spent a single day resting by a stream and washing everything. Holly had gone hunting for larger game than rabbits or birds that day and they waited. Daniel and Tarra took that opportunity to clean their clothes and wash, and mostly just rest. That was a month ago, the small deer Holly had gotten was gone by now.

Daniel's step seemed to pick up slightly as they walked along the river and could see the sleepy town that lay across it. They were looking for a river ford or a bridge to cross. It took them no time to reach the road and bridge that lead to and from the town on the east end. It went south along the river, Daniel said it must eventually find the capitol far to the south now. They had travelled in a diagnol north and west as they went.

Crossing the bridge and entering the town they found it to be slightly different than the other towns of the kingdom. This town had two main streets, crossing each other at the center. All the buildings were very close together and most of them two stories in height, occasionally a three story building poked up. The town wasn't large by any means, and had no walls. It held, Holly figured, about a thousand people or so. Which was nearly a city by Daniel's standards but Tarra laughed at that. Goreth, the capitol, she told her had thousand upon thousands of people. So many you couldn't count them all. He wasn't sure he believed her until Millileth nodded and told them tales cities from her world, with buildings that reached hundreds of feet into the air and held millions of people. Those neither of them believed. Millileth only smiled.

Holly had picked a nicy cozy in, two stories tall with long balconies across the top floor. It was a long building, with at least two dozen rooms. The common room inside was large but had a second portion divided off with private tables in booths, as Holly called them. Holly said it was the closest to a hotel she had seen since getting here. Tarra and Daniel weren't entirely sure what a hotel was but this inn looked to be the best they'd ever seen. Even Tarra who had lived in the capitol hadn't seen hotels with seperate dining areas, though she did know of restaurants, places that just server food she explained to Daniel, that looked like that.

Tarra wondered how expensive it was, they hadn't much money with them, but Holly just shooed them quiet and went up to the desk that lay at the entrance to the room area, by the stairs. The proprieter was a thin man with a large hawk nose. He looked down at Holly and smiled when she produced a large back of coins for him. Her gave her two keys and sent her on up the stairs. They all followed Holly up two flight to the top floor and then down the hall to the left and to the end. Holly had gotten the room on the end, one facing the street, the other facing the woods behind the town. She gave a key to Tarra and whisper, conspritorally, to be gentle with Daniel.

Tarra wasn't sure what she meant by that but went into the room anyway, Holly and Millileth took the room facing the street. The rooms inside were large, with two beds each and a large hearth on the inner wall, sharing the chimney with the next room over.

Some of the rooms were already filled, Holly noted as she pulled off her armor. One of the things, she noted, was that the rooms all had private baths. She started a low fire and used the bellstring to summon a maid, who dutifully filled the tub with water. Holly decided this was a place where nobles came to winter and tipped the maid a pair of silver. She looked at the coins, then smiled warmly. Holly had peeled off her shirt and jeans, kicking them into a pile off to one side in the bath and just sank into the water, she really missed hot showers.

Millileth had decided to check the town out while there was still daylight. They had arrived a little after noon and since the days were getting short that left barely five hours of daylight to wander about. She found several stores that would normally be out of place for such a town. She also came to the conclusion that nobles and merchants wintered up here in this cozy out of the way town. Most of the homes, she noted at the moment, were empty. Which just confirmed her conclusion even more.

The town was full of clothing stores, mostly for women, a few medicine stores and several pastry and baker shops. The butcher had a sign that said it cut only the finest venison. Several restaurants dotted the streets. A gambling hall with two floors of hotel above lay on the opposite side of town from their inn. A few other expensive looking inns were spread through the town. There were a few weapons and armor shops about, but not many. She also found what appeared to be the only bordello in the place, though it looked at first to be just another inn. She smiled at that, very noble of them she thought.

She figured the nobility would be arriving in the town over the next week or so as it was getting late in the harvest season.

Around dusk she went back up to the room to find Holly lounging in a large chair by the fair, the kind of chair her small body sank into and was in danger of being absorbed by. Holly had either found, or made a large white robe to hide herself in. Millileth summoned the maid again and requested some fresh bath water which was promptly brought up. Millileth tipped as well as Holly did the first time, being notified by a mental queue.

It was over dinner later in the evning at the inns restaurant that they talked of the next step.

"I've not had any dreams in the last week or more." Tarra said, "Maybe tonight now that we're here."

"There doesn't seem to be any large churches or other places of worship in this town." Millileth said, "Perhaps the elven warrior will join us here."

Holly shrugged, "I'm all up for staying at least a week unless we have to go. I want to harras the noble a bit."

"Incorigable." Millileth smirked.

"It's the only chance at fun I've had in the past months." She reasoned.

"How long can we affored to stay here?" Daniel queried, he was a man deeply concerned with immediate needs. Like money, food and shelter.

"Don't worry about that." Holly winked, she produced two small sacks of silver from under the table, "Here, spending money while we're in town." She handed one to each Tarra and Daniel.

"What about me?" Millileth frowned.

Holly rolled her eyes and produced a coin purse for her as well. "Don't go spending it all in one place." She said in a very motherly tone.

"Ha!" Millileth smirked, "All the prices in this place are likely to be twice their worth, especially at this time of the year." She said, "What with all the nobles that are likely to flood this place within the next week or two."