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Mirelena

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Jakoval regarded the back of the retreating dwarf with curiosity. Such a small body, such a large mouth. He entertained himself by musing over what Eös must be contemplating. It was a well known fact that elves engendered no small dislike for the dwarven race. That he was imagining the hideous, bloody way he would kill this new addition was unquestionable. The dwarf would likely share similar sentiments. The dwarf would share similar sentiments...

Quickly Jak set off after the dwarf. If he could be convinced to help the Rat when the time came, it would make things so much easier. He better keep his grubby hands off Eöna, he thought, I am willing to share the spoils of victory, but to only such a point.
A low sawing noise reverberated through the trees. Warily Jakoval continued on. It was impossible to think of any creature inhabiting this land, aside from the malicious wanderer. As Jak crept cautiously through the underbrush, he tripped on a figure laying prone upon the ground. With a loud cry, Helmin sprang from his resting place and raised a small throwing axe to the ready.

"Thought you could sneak up on me unawares, eh, you-" the dwarf broke off into a string of insults which made Jak laugh, which just served to infuriate the dwarf more, "You won't be laughing when I get done with you!"

The Rat quickly realized that the dwarf was coming unstrung and he hastily tried to pacify him. "It wasn't deliberate, my friend. I was strolling through the woods and I tripped. If I had truly meant you ill, you would not be conscious of it because you would be dead. As it is," he continued, spreading his hands, "I have nothing that should serve to unnerve you. I have left my weapons back at the camp."

"A very foolish thing to do," the dwarf growled while eyeing the tall, suntanned sailor.

"Yes, but it gives me credibility, does it not? If I had come to you armed and woken you so rudely, you would surely have not believed me when I said I meant you no harm. However-"

"However," Helmin interrupted, "You might as well have said, as plain as daylight, that you were indeed looking for me. You weren't simply strolling in the trees, were you? You are a bad lier, bilgerat."

Jak smiled at the name, he had heard it many, many times before. "Yes, I am a bad lier. But that doesn't change that if I had wanted to kill you, you would be dead. Yet, here you stand, still alive. What say you to that? Can we be friends, dwarf?"
 
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Mirelena

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"Where are we going?" Cair panted as he trotted beside Kilio. None of the others seemed to be having problems with the hike. Perhaps Cair was grown soft living among those who did not run him off at the sight of his face. Or perhaps Duathmin's constant swatting at his feet was an extra hassle the other's didn't have to contend with. Whatever the reason, Cair couldn't wait to stop for food and water.
Kilio's brow was furrowed as he contemplated Cair's question concerning their leader. "I don't know for sure," he answered, half to himself, "But Osgiliath is within a day's travel. Once we get among the crowds, I will have fewer worries."
"Fewer worries?" Cair parroted. "Why do you say that? That in itself, my friend, makes me nervous; that you would have any worries at all. What is it that troubles you?"
Kilio sighed and shaded his eyes with his hand. The glint of the River Anduin was bright from the sun that shone down upon it, glaring into the eyes of the travelers. Kilio was a man of few words and he took his time answering.
Cairbrent muttered something under his breath about creating a mask that would dim the sunlight. Darkened and colored glass. I'll call them 'shades,' Cair thought, Every traveler should have a pair. One for each eye...

Finally Kilio called for a halt. Gratefully, Cairbrent threw himself upon the grass. A few minutes later, he felt the need to meander away and discreetly relieve himself. There was a small clump of trees not too distant from where he lay, so it was tagged it as a likely prospect.

He had taken care of his business and was turning back when, suddenly, he was apprehended from behind. A feline roar nearly deafened him. Rarely at a loss for some clever trick, Cair slid out of his leather jacket and his captor's padded paws. Duathmin growled in surprise as she shook the shirt like a rag then tossed it upon the ground.
Cair remained unruffled and began chiding the panther whose eyes narroweed and glittered in anticipation of a game.
"Good afternoon, my lady!" Cair said irritably. "You have tackled me far too often in the last weeks. It's not often I'm apprehended by someone I haven't cheated recently. I haven't cheated you, have I? I'm quite certain that I'd remember a face as unattractive as yours."
Elor's pet simply growled. Cair danced around for a bit, fumbling with his belt. Anticipating a quick attack on the part of his adversary, he feinted to the right. The panther easily followed his movement and pounced on him. She started swatting heavy paws at his head.
Somewhat startled at the fierceness of her attack, Cair rolled away while loudly reprimanding the massive cat, "My dear, you should know that attempting to disembowel someone you've just pounced, is NOT the way to make new friends. Now, if you were to try something like this," he said pulling out a pair of juggling balls and tossing them back and forth, "You might at least get a laugh from the person about to meet their fate!"
The shadow retreated a pace from where Cair stood amusing himself. She no longer looked at him, instead she watched the motion of the flying objects. Suddenly she crouched and gathered herself, then she sprang towards the unfortunate man.
Cairbrent had anticipated her move and a string of brightly colored ribbons was suddenly wrapped around her paws. Hobbled and humiliated, she loudly called for her mistress.
"I knew that taking part in some of Rohan's celebrations as an athlete would pay off someday," he sighed, "The ability to hog-tie has come in handy more times than I like to remember."
Cair whistled gaily as he watched the panther struggle against her bonds. Soon she grew quiet and appeared to give up. When he moved to approach her, she unsheathed her claws and scrabbled at him. In a twinkling she had given him a slash on the arm that was sure to leave a scar, if only for memory's sake.
Cair cried out in pain as she threw off her restraints and tackled him again. Cair yelled in frustration to the sky and struggled against the heavy animal that sat upon him. He squirmed under the weight. Duathmin purred in satisfaction as she began to lick the man's face. It was but the work of a moment, and her tongue only tasted woven cloth. Cair was hiding behind Elor, shirtless and holding his arm. He sighed in resignation.
"My lady," he said with a wince, "If you truly wanted so desperately to have my undertunic, you might well have asked to begin with. As it is, you have my shirt, my blood, my best leather jacket and a really angry friend...."
 
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Ghorim

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"Can we be friends, dwarf?"

Helmin kept trying to blink the cobwebs off his eyes, still not yet fully awake. As the man's words came to him under the guise of amicability, the dwarf couldn't help but wonder whether his ears were also still recovering from his recent repose. He snorted out a harsh laugh, spitting the words back at the mercenary who had literally stumbled upon him in the woods.

"Can we be friends? How long have you worked in this field, vermin? Are you truly such a novice, or do you think me so inexperienced? Friends... ha! They are for children. For those such as you and I, they are a liability. There is a lesson for you to take to heart, boy."

"This I already knew, though I am grateful for instruction from such a knowledgeable teacher," said Jakoval with a wry grin, rather amused by the little traveler's bluster. "I couldn't help but notice, however, that you appear to be sorely lacking in allies at the moment within our camp."

"And what of it?" grunted Helmin, leaning against the tree that had cradled his weary head. Despite this relaxed posture, he kept his trusty throwing axe at the ready. "I need no assistance, especially in fending off such a group of pushovers."

Jakoval shook his head at the dwarf's audacity. "Now it's you who's being naive. That was a fine performance you put on back there, dwarf, but it did not endear you to any of our comrades, least of all Eös and his sister. Granted, you have seen neither in action, but surely you must sense that those two are none to be trifled with?"

Helmin sneered, pulling down his helmet so that his dulled eyes peered up at the man from just beneath the brim. "I've dealt with worse..."

Jakoval leaned up against the same tree as Helmin, bringing his face up close to the dwarf's. "Maybe so. But you ought to be glad that it was me who found you slumbering out here and not one of them, else you'd lie in permanent repose."

The dwarf, sensing a challenge in the rat's disrespectful manner, leaned in even closer, until Jakoval could very distinctly smell the ale that still lay thickly upon his breath. "And why all of this concern for the well-being of my throat when you ought to be ensuring that yours stays intact?"

Despite the veiled threats and offensive odors that now assaulted his senses, Jakoval's smile grew. "Ah... so you can see that I am not overly popular in camp either. Well, dwarf, that is precisely the reason why I sought you out."

"You've something to propose?" asked Helmin gruffly. "Best ensure that neither of the Elves are anywhere close by. They can hear a flea on an orc's back from two leagues distant."

Jakoval chuckled at the expression. "Worry not... they are presently occupied elsewhere, that much I am certain."

"Go on then," said Helmin, carefully maintaining his detached air. "Make your offer. We'll see if it pleases me, aye?"
 
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Elorendil

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Elorendil lay stretched out in the grass, watching the clouds drift by in the clear blue sky above. Her peace was disturbed by a loud exclamation from Cairbrent. Knowing that Dúathmin was, most likely, responsible for his cursing, Elorendil gave a resigned sigh and sat up. As she had expected, she found the panther nearby, sitting atop the Rohirric man with a smug look on her face as she licked him affectionately. She couldn't help but laugh as Cair pulled one of his many tricks and vanished from beneath her paws, leaving nothing but his shirt behind in the beffuddled feline's paws. Looking a bit miffed, Cairbrent took refuge behind Elorendil and glared at Min over her shoulder.

He sighed in exasperation. "My lady," he said sarcastically, "If you truly wanted so desperately to have my undertunic, you might well have asked to begin with. As it is, you have my shirt, my blood, my best leather jacket and a really angry friend...."

Elorendil turned and looked at him, taking in his shirtless torso and wounded arm. Dúathmin slinked nearer, preparing to pounce on the object of her affection yet again. Elorendil brought her to a halt with a single command. Looking a bit chagrined, the panther lay down obediently, almost vanishing into the tall grass as she did so. Elorendil produced a strip of clean cloth and some ointment from her small travel sack and quickly cleaned and bound Cair's injury. She shook her head as she finished. "My apologies, Cairbrent. I do not know what has gotten into Min. Though, I must say, I doubt that scratch was completely unprovoked. Still, I shall endeavour to keep a closer watch on her for the rest of our journey," she promised.

She motioned for her friend to sit. Elorendil rummaged through her pack as she seated herself beside him. "Have you eaten?" she asked. Cair shook his head. Elorendil quickly produced two cakes of bread, a little dried fruit, and some salted meat. "Perhaps you will allow me to make up for Dúathmin's treatment of you by sharing my dinner with you." She offered one of the sweet tasting breads to Cair, along with a piece of meat and some fruit. He took them gratefully and began to eat hungrily. She broke a corner off of her own piece of bread and popped it into her mouth. As she chewed the slightly dry and stale stuff, she assessed her food supply. There was enough for three days, six if she was sparing. She turned to Cair. "How much food do you have left, my friend?" she asked.

An inspection of Cair's supply yielded similar results: enough for a few days, but certainly not enough to last as far as Osgiliath. Elorendil ate only half her piece of bread and saved the rest, then went in search of their leader, Kilio. As she looked for him, she came across Danaeth resting against the bole of a rowan tree. A gentle breeze moved through his light brown hair, sending a stray lock blowing across his strong forehead. She paused to watch him for a moment, taking in his tall, well-muscled form and handsome features. As if he sensed her watching, his eyes flickered open and met her own. Elorendil blushed a bit at being caught watching him and quickly glanced away, then met his intense, blue gaze. "Danaeth, forgive me for disturbing your rest, but I am taking stock of what food we have left. I fear we may not have enough for the journey to Osgiliath," she said softly.

Danaeth obliged her by digging through his large, leather satchel. "I seem to be running a bit low on supplies, too," he said. "I have four days supply of food, though I suppose I could make it last a little longer than that, if I had to."

"But not long enough for our journey to Osgiliath," she mused, thinking out loud. "We shall have to stop in a town for supplies, even if it is somewhat out of the way."
 

Morohtar

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As he opened his eyes he caught the gaze of Elorendil, who stood nearby in midstride. He saw the same shine in her eyes as always, despite the bright midday sun that obscured his vision. She shied away for a moment, then asked, "Danaeth, forgive me for disturbing your rest, but I am taking stock of what food we have left. I fear we may not have enough for the journey to Osgiliath."

He hadn't thought yet about what effect their hasty retreat would have on the journey to Osgiliath, and realized that much of his food had been left out that night. He sat up and pulled his satchel towards him, lighter than he had hoped it would be. Sure enough, he had only a meager supply of meat and bread.

"I seem to be running a bit low on supplies, too," he said. "I have four days supply of food, though I suppose I could make it last a little longer than that, if I had to."

"But not long enough for our journey to Osgiliath," Elorendil said. "We shall have to stop in a town for supplies, even if it is somewhat out of the way."

Danaeth shook his head in agreement, regretting his laziness. Two minutes of effort and he would still have his rations. Well, not much to be done about that now. Doubtless our enemies would not wait while we return to fetch our things. Elorendil went off to speak with the others, and Danaeth sighed as he stood to refill his canteen. His sleep had been more restful than expected, and he wondered how long he had slept. His dream had lasted some time, though he knew that time had no reign in the land of dreams.

The stream he found nearby was dark and deep, and he took his time drinking his fill and cooling himself with it. As he returned to his pack Kilio approached and explained their predicament.

"Well, it seems that between us we have enough food for a few days journey. While we could potentially make it to Osgiliath on the supplies we have, we would be hindered in our journey, and any delay could be fatal. Our idea now is to make for Pelargrir, and hopefully lose them in the crowds. There we can resupply and make for Osgiliath."

"True," Danaeth said, "any delay would give our hunters the chance to make up the distance we put between us today. And Pelargrir would provide us a place where our footprints would be lost."

Kilio didn't seem wholly convinced by the plan they had, his brows furrowed and his eyes focused on something not seen. "Aye, it seems to be a decent plan, although any fool would be able to guess we make for Osgiliath, and they seemed numerous enough to find us there. We need another destination, one which is out of the way and in which we could wait a while, allowing our foes the time to tire of their chase."

They stood contemplating this new quandary for a while, and Kilio finally sounded his arrival at a solution. "Ah!" he said, "and the answer lies with you, Danaeth! You hail from Dol Amroth, do you not?"

Danaeth cringed at the mention of his childhood home. "Yes, though I haven't been there for years upon years, and surely those who I knew as a child would either have forgotten me or passed away."

"And yet the geography of the city could not have changed that much in the intervening years. Surely it provides us a better chance at escaping our fate as any other city within our reach?"

Danaeth agreed reluctantly, and soon they were on the road again, making for Pelargrir. They made camp long after the sun has set, and broke it before the sun returned. They reached Pelargrir at in the afternoon the day following their encounter.
 

Morohtar

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It seemed to Kilio that he had only rested for a few moments before he noticed Elorendil walking slowly towards him, a disconcerted look on her face. Kilio sat up and said, "Well, something must truly be amiss, if such an expression shades such a beautiful face," echoing a conversation had some time ago in the Crystal Goblet. She smiled, but the look remained.

"It seems that in our rush, we left much of our supplies. I have tallied and we have food enough for four days journey, full ration. Any more than that and we shall have a hard journey ahead of us."

Kilio produced his pipe and filled it with tobacco. "Aye, I shall sorely miss that wheel of Camembert; such a fine cheese is hard to replace. Well then, Osgiliath seems out of our means, eh?"

"At half rations we could make it, barely." Elorendil said, sounding as though she thought such a plan was folly. "If we had no need for a quick journey we could slacken our pace, though need now drives us harder than our supplies would allow."

He lit his pipe and puffed on it thoughtfully. "Yes, we must make for our destination with all haste, wherever that may be. I suppose our only choice is Pelargrir; it lies not a day southwest from here."

Elorendil nodded her approval. "Indeed, it is close, and it's cobblestones will hide our footprints. From there we can make for Osgiliath or further if we choose, after stocking our supplies."

"Then Pelargrir it is, and quickly. Though I think we have time to rest a while longer. We must all be well rested for the journey ahead; we shan't be stopping till night, and we should be far away from here by then."

Elorendil left and Kilio quickly finished his pipe. He didn't empty it, but simply put it back in his pack. He knew that it would be hard enough to lose their followers without giving them a breadcrumb trail to follow step by step. He packed his things back up, then went to explain the plan to the others. He met Danaeth first, who was walking back to his things.

"Well, it seems that between us we have enough food for a few days journey. While we could potentially make it to Osgiliath on the supplies we have, we would be hindered in our journey, and any delay could be fatal. Our idea now is to make for Pelargrir, and hopefully lose them in the crowds. There we can resupply and make for Osgiliath." Hearing the plan again he realized that there was something about it that seemed wrong, something they had overlooked.

"True," Danaeth said, "any delay would give our hunters the chance to make up the distance we put between us today. And Pelargrir would provide us a place where our footprints would be lost."

Yes, we would lose them, but for how long? "Aye, it seems to be a decent plan, although any fool would be able to guess we make for Osgiliath, and they seemed numerous enough to find us there. We need another destination, one which is out of the way and in which we could wait a while, allowing our foes the time to tire of their chase."

Danaeth thought on this, as did Kilio. Where else is there to go? Minas Tirith? No, it shares the same road with Osgiliath, and that is a road that we must avoid. West? Dol Amroth? "Ah!" he said, "and the answer lies with you, Danaeth! You hail from Dol Amroth, do you not?"

"Yes, though I haven't been there for years upon years, and surely those who I knew as a child would either have forgotten me or passed away."

"And yet the geography of the city could not have changed that much in the intervening years. Surely it provides us a better chance at escaping our fate as any other city within our reach?"

Danaeth consented, though Kilio could see that he did not enjoy the thought of returning home. They left soon there after and arrived at Pelargrir quickly. The city was large, as could be expected from a port town, with the usual rich and poor and beggars and robbers and all other manner of folk that flock to such places. The streets were well maintained in most parts of the city, cobblestones set firmly and tightly together so as to avoid horses injuring themselves. Carts laden with fruit and fresh vegetables, and others with trinkets and clothes, lined the streets, the loud voices of the vendors adding to the cacophony of sounds that flowed through the streets. The usual pickpockets could be seen in the alleys, waiting for some naive lord or merchant with a heavy purse to stray into their hunting grounds.

They found a nice enough Inn close to the docks and arranged their accomodations. Fortunately no pickpockets had thought them worth their while; they had barely enough money for their rooms and had only a few coins left after purchasing their supplies. They almost allowed themselves to relax, then some sound or sight would remind them that the world held more danger than usual for them, and they kept a watchful eye open for any signs of their hunters, though they knew little of their actual appearances. The voice was almost the only thing they knew of their enemy, and they all wished never to hear it again.
 
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Morohtar

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Eos rose before the sun on the day of their hunt. The others slept in their beds, some soundly and others ready to wake and defend themselves at the sound of a knife unsheathed or the feel of hands on their throats. Few of them had ever known trust, and those that had also knew the sting of betrayal, and it was these few who were ever watchful. Eos saw several hands slide to their sides, reaching for hidden weapons, as he passed through the camp. He walked slowly to the rock he had stood behind the previous morning, and looked into the camp that had been abandoned. Some small part of him was disappointed that they had not chosen to make there final stand here; the sounds of battle and death and agony would have to wait for another day. But the chase would be worth it, he knew.

He walked about within the camp, searching for signs of the last moments before their flight. There were many; so frightened they had been that they didn't take the time to hide their tracks at all. The fire had died, but the coals still glowed in the early morning twilight. Much of their supplies sat untouched in packs, meaning that they left with more haste that Eos had thought they would. There path headed west, making for the road which headed either north to Osgiliath or south into Harad. With what supplies they had a journey for Osgiliath would be impossible; they would have to make for the nearest city, Pelargrir. And there they would be caught and killed, and Eos' hunt would be over. Perhaps they could even find some noble with a grudge or some other person in need of their less than savoury skills.

"They make for Pelargrir." The voice came from the same stone that Eos had stopped at.

"Indeed, and they travel at an... inspired pace. They will be there today, and from there to Osgiliath." Eos smiled as Eonä descended into the camp with her graceful steps. She held in her hand the arrow that had been fired at them the night before. It was Elven, although they barely needed it to know that, the voice of the one who had fired it told them that easily enough. Finely crafted, even by the standards of the elves, inscribed with runes blessing it's true and faithful flight wherever it was meant to go. Eonä handed it to her brother.

"Keep it. Some immeasureably sweet cruelty could come by it, and I would hate to miss such a chance."

Always the Sadist.

They were soon joined by the remainder of the group, scruffy and degenerate the lot of them. Weapons drawn and standing in a slightly misshapen semicircle around them about 10 paces distant, they looked as if threatening a mutiny. Eos simply said, "Let's go." Silence fell, each waiting to see if someone would dare insubordination. Finally they broke, hastily gathering there things, and their hunt began. They moved swiftly, the clues of their quarry numerous and evident enough not to need delicate interpretation. Footprints betrayed their creators, broken twigs brazenly called out their paths. But these things were unnecessary, given that Eos already new their destination.
 
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Mirelena

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The dwarf's saucy banter was beginning to wear on Jak's nerves. He paused for a moment to collect himself and ponder his answer. The shadows from the leaves overhead danced upon the forms of the tense figures below.

"Well?" the stocky figure pressed.

"It would be better for you to have someone watching that pretty neck of yours. It would be better for me to have someone watching mine. I have the loyalty of all the strongest in the camp. Everyone is quickly becoming sick of Eos and his sister. You saw what they did just this morning, he is becoming weak and irresolute. We are tired of acting on his whims and wishes."

"All I hear from your mouth is 'me,' 'us' and 'him.' Where do I figure into all of this and what is my reward? 'Better' is nothing to me. Tell me what I want to hear," Helmin growled, "And then make good on it."

Jak watched, unruffled, as the dwarf exhausted his tyrade, and then continued.
"In payment for your service, the spoils your earn, you keep. In addition, your contract is considered complete. You are free to stay or leave as you choose. However, I believe the most satisfying reward by far is the contentment you will feel as you stand over the cold, dead body of the immortal elf." The Rat was quiet and waited to let the sinister words sink in.
"Each member of the company is ready to act at a word, but the time to act is not yet at hand. When the time does come, can I count on you- and your skill?"

All was silent, save for the sound of the wind in the treetops. When a horn sounded a summons to depart, Helmin reached down to heft his pack to his shoulders. Jakoval laid a heavy hand on his shoulder and hissed a caution.

"Do not wait too long before you make your decision. I'm watching you- friend."

The dwarf gave a non-commital grunt and the duo set off to find their place among the shabby ranks.
 

Morohtar

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Danaeth watched and listened to the bustling street through the small window in his room. A light breeze brought the scent of the ocean into the room, a smell he knew well, though it had been long since he had experienced it in earnest; his journeys rarely brought him to places that gave him more than a hint of the sea. The colourful fabric of the curtains danced for a moment, then stilled.

"Cheese?" The slightly muffled voice came from Cairbrent, who was munching on some delicious looking Camembert. He held out a piece of bread with some of the cheese smeared on it.

"Where did you get that?" Danaeth asked, not sure if he wanted to know the answer, but not so against the idea of eating stolen cheese as to let it pass by. He stood and walked towards the bed that Cair was lounging on to retrieve the treat.

"Well, I noticed it on the ground by Kilio's supplies that he left at the camp, and I thought that such a fine cheese would be hard to replace, so I saved it for him. I'm just taking what I consider to be my fee." Cairbrent spoke with such a nonchalant confidence that Danaeth was almost convinced that this was a commonly understood bylaw.

"I'm not sure which will prove the stronger, Kilio's joy at the return of his treasure, or his anger at the pilfered portion. You'd be best to leave it somewhere for him to find." Danaeth sat back down in his chair by the window, looking out for a face sinister enough to match the voice he had heard. He saw many faces, some swarthy and scabrous enough to warrant a second look, but none with elvish features.

"Find them."

The voice came from directly below the window, and Danaeth recognized it at once. He heard no response, only the light shuffle of feet heading off in different directions. He heard the door to their Inn open, and thought of the others. He dashed to the door, and hoped that they were still resting in their rooms.
 

Seregon

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Triste looked around the crowded inn, not too sure about the savory nature of it's inhabitants, fearing some assault or beating would await him. Yet at the same time, he was strangely comfortable among these people. Even the ghostly elf sitting in back, gazing almost through him.

"A pint, please." He said to a passing barmaid, who nodded, and kept going, barely seeming to notice him. Yet that was alright - he'd rather be unnoticed and able to go about his various quests than noticed and reprimanded...

~~~~~

Litos laughed at the man dancing on the table, clapping at the shiny objects jingling on his sleeves. He bit his lip and stared around the bar for a moment, before the jester caught his eye again, and quickly forgetting everything, he began to clap and laugh. People stared at him, sure, but that was okay - better to be a known fool than an unknown soldier. When the jester finally retired from dancing on tables, and Litos lost his interest in the things around him, he got up to leave, accidentally bumping into a man rather roughly.

"Oh, sorry sir, I don't mean no harm. I just... I..." He bit his lip once more, staring at the wall and the ground, trying to think of something to say, opening his mouth and firmly closing it when no words came to mind.

"Oh, no it's my fault really. I should have been more careful, I'm sorry. Do you need any help getting home?" Litos paused for a moment, rocking back on his heels.

"No... No I knows my home." He said, rocking once more and staring at the wall. The man nodded, apologized again, and left as Litos quickly disappeared through the door.

Down the alley just a little ways, in cover of darkness, he walked more confidently, instead of with the lurching gait he used in public. A smile that was of true mirth came to his face, and he pulled out a bag of silver, tossing it in the air and catching it with ease. And through the quiet streets, a few giddy laughs could be heard as the shadows grew denser and enveloped the man...

~~~~~

"What does it do?" The elf stared with piercing blue eyes. "I mean, I'm sure it's important, but what does it actually do?" I looked down at the beautifully carved ring. The gold shined beautifully in the firelight, and the ruby seemed like a huge eye embedded in the metal, bigger than my own and probably five times as knowing. I'd been pondering over the inscriptions for well over forty years, yet I still had no idea what any of them meant. Study books as I may, through asking wizards and kings and librarians, I still had not the slightest insight even as to the race that wrote it, or the time period, or the type of alphabet! I caressed the jewel. It was beautiful, alluring, yet there was something menacing within that beautiful depth. "I've been over every history book, through every race. I don't know anything about it, still!" I was close to tears with frustration, and the elf's face was already fading. "NO! Why won't you help me?!" I screamed in frustration, clutching the large, bulky ring tightly. Yet the elf was gone, again, with no more answers than before, and it almost seemed like I had less than when I started...
 

Elorendil

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Elorendil sat in the concealing shadows of a dark corner of the Inn, surveying its inhabitants warily. A sense of uneasiness troubled her, a sensation she had learned to trust. It was likely their pursuers would guess where their path had led. It wouldn't be too difficult for them to search the handful of inns in the town and find them. She let one hand drift down to rest upon the hilt of her finely wrought elven-sword as she listened to the conversations swirling around her for the distinctive accents of a dark elf.

Her blood suddenly ran cold as the rough, uncultured tones of a baritone fell on her ear. "I'll have an ale," it demanded in an all too familiar accent. Her knuckles turned white as she gripped the hilt of her sword, half rising from her seat. Her gaze swept the room until her eyes fell upon the dark skinned man that voice belonged to. An Easterling! As quickly as she could without drawing attention to herself, Elorendil rose and made her way to the door.

As Elorendil stepped outside into the darkness, the noise and the bustle of the inn fell away, leaving her only with the sound of her pounding heart. She sharply exhaled the breath she had not realized she was holding. What is an Easterling doing here? she wondered. Surely this has nothing to do with... Her thought was interrupted by the sound of the door opening behind her. She whirled, dagger in hand, to find Danaeth emerging from the common room of the inn. A troubled look clouded his handsome features.
"What is it?" she asked, smoothing a frown from her own delicate brow.
 

Ghorim

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Jakoval was a rat. This fact Helmin knew, even without really knowing, without hearing the man’s comrades whisper the moniker with such acidic disdain. The dwarf had dealt with these types of vermin before, small-timers who thought they could glimpse the grand scheme of things.

He thinks this’ll be simple as seedcake, doesn’t he? thought Helmin with a snort. Taking out two Elves! They aren’t to be trifled with…

Especially not with this motley group… especially if they were pledging their loyalty to this pup. Helmin eyed Jakoval as the rodent made his dubious claims.

Am I to cast my lot in with this one? No doubts the Elves won’t let me leave this party with my skull intact...

Now was not the time to be making any definite plans. Helmin was still trying to ascertain his standing in the group, figuring out not just who he could trust, but who was worth trusting. Was there anything in the rat’s eyes to inspire confidence? The dwarf squinted. No, not in this moment, only empty guile. He saw his own futile gaze reflected back at him.

A horn sounded. The hunt was on. Helmin was gathering his supplies when he felt that dirty paw on his shoulder.

"Do not wait too long before you make your decision. I'm watching you- friend."

There was that word again, intentional this time. It hung in the air, strange and ominous, as if the pair’s individual fates were now suddenly and inextricably bound together. A light breeze stirred Helmin’s beard. It was the daytime. Everything in the wilderness teemed with unseen life.

Helmin felt but a moment’s hesitation, the kind that he could so rarely afford to make. But there it was – for an instant, he knew not how to react. Then instinct kicked back in. He shrugged the reedy hand off his shoulder and set to marching, checking his arsenal as he went.

It wasn’t about profit anymore, as much as the dwarf insisted on talking about his fair share of the spoils. He just needed to survive this ordeal. Supposedly, the mercenary clan was hunting the party of adventurers. But in reality, they were now beginning to encircle each other, drawing ever closer, blades at the ready. The loose confederation of killers was set to burst.

Might be just me who makes it out of this lot alive, thought the dwarf idly as the trees parted and the rest of the group came into view. Aye, it’ll be only me…
 

Rosalee LuAnn

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Bad! *play Darth Vader theme song*

“So… they have stopped at an inn for the night.” Rheddry allowed himself a small laugh. A saying he had once heard, though he had long since forgotten the source, ran through his mind; he whispered it, though he knew nobody could hear him. “Don’t you know that Short cuts make long delays, but Inns make longer ones?” (*wink*)

And these travelers were supposed to be in a hurry. Ha. Perhaps they did not think themselves to be prone to the kind of delays Inns tended to produce. Or perhaps they hoped that those they knew were chasing them would not wish to enter so populated an area. Yes, that would probably be it. He was certain they did not know they had an additional pursuer. He knew his trade well.

He stayed in the shadows between the buildings across the street from the Inn. The only lights nearby were those coming from the Inn, and those weren't strong enough to reach to where Rheddry stood. He would not be seen unless someone was to enter the shadow that now concealed him and allow their eyes to adjust to the light, and he would be around the back of the building and away before anyone could identify him.

He caught sight of some movement at the door. He smothered the instinct to pull further back into the shadows; such a movement would more likely give away his position rather than help conceal it. The two drunken men who had just left the inn made their way down the street, leaning on each other and singing loudly. I need to relax. Being excitable won’t help me at all. He forced himself to calm down and think about his options.

Should I enter the Inn? Get a better look at them? He was sure that those he was pursuing had never yet seen him, and he knew ways to become invisible when in plain sight, a hard learned lesson that had been perfected with experience. Was it worth the risk of possibly being seen, remembered, then later recognized and suspected? While carefully weighing his options, there was another movement at the door. He glanced up, and again almost instinctively moved deeper into the shadows, but again forced himself to be still.


It’s her, he thought triumphantly. She had made the decision for him. There would be no need to enter the Inn, at least not for now; he would simply watch from here, without the risk of being seen and later recognized.

Perhaps luck will be with me in this endeavor, he thought triumphantly to himself. He was no fool, but he was not one to refuse the advantage of luck.

He watched her carefully. She seemed tense and uneasy, but she hadn’t seen him. Something that had happened while she was inside must have upset her. He watched her carefully, and his heart sank as she was startled by the appearance of that young-looking man with the sword. If Rheddry weren’t trying to stay hidden, he would have cursed, loudly.


For a moment he had hoped, wildly, that it could perhaps have all been finished with that night, sooner than even he had expected. It was not to be. Perhaps it would be better to withdraw, to wait for a time when he had a greater advantage, less risk of being seen and discovered. He carefully pulled further back into the shadows, still watching carefully.
 
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Seregon

To wherever it may lead..
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"Where did you get that ring?" Triste looked up immediately. The pale, strong, dark looking woman was standing over him, her eyes transixed on the ring dangling from a chain necklace. He touched it, feeling its giant, red ruby - as big as his eye, its runes, covering the sides, corners, every little bit of it. The gold glinted in the light.

"It was given to me." He paused here, looking into her eyes. "By a friend." She stared at him for a moment longer, light, ice blue eyes wide and filled with some unidentifiable emotion. Then, she leaned in close to him.

"Do not trust what it tells you. It lies. It lies, and it's evil. The best thing you could do would be to kill it, or bury it. Throw it in the deepest ocean of the world. Do not trust it." The words were urgent, and whispered, though they seemed the loudest words that Triste had ever heard in his life. Yet before he could ask a single question, she was gone - dissipated into the crowd like a fine mist.

He let slip one curse word - just one, and no more, before sighing, and retiring to his room.

Her words echoed through his mind. Do not trust what it tells you... The voice suddenly seemed thin, stretched, strained... like some ghost or apparition telling him. It lies... 'How can it lie?' He thought, 'It doesn't speak. It doesn't tell me anything. It's a ring. An heirloom. I only got it because I finished my training, and acted like a son when Litos needed one the most.' It lies... Yet the voice came back, and it couldn't help but give him chills. He picked the ring up, and looked at it. "It's ridiculous. You don't lie." And he was filled suddenly with the overwhelming feeling that that ring was the only honest, beautiful, good thing in the world. That it was the only thing he would have when he was shoved into the gutter and left for nothing. It was the only thing he could cling to. The only shred of anything decent and sweet left in a world of creulty. And he remembered his life, and he wept for the truth in the thoughts he beheld. His parents had left him, Litos had left him. To all the rest of the world, he may as well be dead. But the ring... the ring was good. The ring was sweet. The ring was the one thing that would never leave him. Never...

And it was honest...

It lies...

~~~~~

"One room please." He said it in an odd way, as if he were uncomfortable with words, and he looked off to the side, staring at the wall and biting his lip while handing the innkeeper three coppers. The innkeep didn't even say that a room was five coppers, he just smiled, and handed Litos the key. Litos took it, shifted his weight, and garbled out, "Thank ou." Before fumbling his way up to his room, and closing the door.

He smiled. Oh, how he loved this. With a slight laugh, he threw the new bag of coins he had acquired in the air and caught them perfectly, before setting them on the nightstand and preparing to sleep.

~~~~~~~

I felt drained. The deed had taken far more than I’d ever hoped. One soul is not equal to another. The words seared through my mind as my eyes burned again. I put my hand up in front of my face, yet still, I saw only darkness…
 
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elfgirl

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"HEY!" Moraur jumped toward Draeki, his staff in his hand. Every breath sent screaming pain throughout his side and chest. Draeki turned, eyes wide, shaking with the excitement and apprehension of battle. "You broke something!" Her entire posture slouched, and she sighed.

"So I should've just let them kill you, hm? Let them stab you will you slept? You should be thanking me!" She hissed the words at him, and started turning back to the battle.

"No! But you could've woken me without starting the job yourself!" Now, Moraur was hissing too, eyes wide with anger and pain.

"Well, going up against me, I suppose they deserve a head start." A wry smile was spread across her face, and her tone was suddenly completely sweet, and her face a mock-innocence. "Besides, you're not all that useful anyway." The smile was now spread across her entire face, teeth showing, eyes glittering with mirth. It was a very odd thing to see Draeki smiling, and there was a certain tint of evil that made everyone who saw uncomfortable.

"I'm more useful than you!" He spat.

"Oh please, you can't even stand a few broken ribs!" Moraur was shaking.

"See how you can!" He screeched, slamming his staff into her side. She barely flinched, before turning around and slamming the flat of her sword into his head. His head swung to the side, pain searing through his skull and blood pouring down the left side of his face. "I swear, you *********** whore-" He whispered, lunging at her and swinging his staff around to try and catch her in the head.

She quickly ducked, coming around behind him and smacking the flat of her sword against his back. He stumbled for a moment, then turned to see her step backwards a few paces, quickly following her, drawing his sword.

They spun, danced, parried, thrust, blocked, lunged, and chased each other through the forest, darkness casting deeper shadows than even they could see through. Trees let loose their leaves to fall upon the two fighters, and the underbrush was barely stirred with the footfalls of the elves. Draeki got in a cut on Moraur's arm, he got a bruise on her leg - she cut his chest, he slammed his staff into her head. It was only when they were deep into the forest, and half the night had passed when Moraur stumbled, wavered, and fell with a rough snap to the forest floor. Draeki was about to get another blow, but stopped short, paused, and started to call for the others, suddenly realizing that they were deep in the forest... and lost. She looked down at Moraur - his head was still bleeding, his arm was cut, there was a slash across his chest, one on his left thigh, his right calf, several smaller cuts, and numerous bruises. Suddenly, she was struck by the fact that she had only a bruise on her head, and a few on her arms and legs - only one cut, a minor one from a branch slanted above her left eye.

~~~~~

Moraur blinked. It was day... Shouldn't it be brighter? It was only then that he realized there was a makeshift canvas above him, filtering out even the weak light that made it through the trees. He started to sit up, only then realizing that one of his arms was bound. He let out a small cry of surprise, looking down at himself. All of his cuts had been sown, bound and treated, his forearm had been set and bound, there was a patch over his broken ribs, and all of his bruises were fast disappearing, having been treated with something. He also noted an odd, sort of rotting sweet taste in his mouth. He started to stand, only to notice that his ankle, too, was bound. When did I break that? Suddenly, a very pale face with big, blue eyes popped in the canvas.

"You're awake." Moraur nodded - it was all he could do for shock. "Good. You might not want to stand on your ankle yet - give it a few more hours to set. And drink this." She handed him a big mug full of a bluish-green liquid he didn't quite trust. He took it with his left hand, the only one that was free, looked down into it suspiciously. "Don't be so picky." She said acidly, her eyes burning holes in him. Ah, here's the Draeki I know. A faint smile crossed his face, and he downed the whole mug in front of her, meeting only with a steely look.

"Thank you." He said with a smile, his eyes following her out of his makeshift-tent. He moved just a little, so he was sitting right in the entrance. "When did I break my ankle? And where did you get all of these cloaks?" He pulled on the canvas-like material. She looked up at him, mixing herbs in a bowl.

"Your foot caught on a root when you fell. You lost a little too much blood and passed out. And the cloaks are mine." Moraur looked around at them in shock.

"You carry all these with you?!" She shrugged, her face blank while she poured some more green into the goey-grey substance.

"I have body heat issues. Now here, have some meat." She handed him a well-cooked piece of deer. "We'll need to leave in a couple of days - we're lost out here, and it will be hard finding our way back to the group." To his surprise, she didn't add a remark about how it was all her fault. Instead, she drank the liquid she had prepared, and started cleaning her products. She left after a little while to replenish her herb supply, leaving him to sleep.

He slept maybe twenty-two hours of every day... Possibly more. Two days later, all of his wounds had long-since healed, leaving no scars, and his bones had already mended. He was amazed at how well Draeki's herbs worked. When asked, she had just said the principle was the same as making poisons, which didn't comfort Moraur much, yet was good enough, really. As long as they did what they were supposed to, and didn't turn him green.

~~~~~

"They would be coming through here. Now go off and play like a nice little boy." She smiled darkly at him, and he laughed nervously, going off to get a room and a drink... and maybe a nice, hot meal. It would definitely beat all of the cold, cooked meat Draeki had supplied him for the past two days.

~~~~~

Draeki kept her eyes on him. There was something familiar about him, some feature, something that was so eerily similar to the past. She couldn't quite remember what it was... She sat thinking for hours, barely stopping to sleep. The next day, she saw it. That ring. That beautiful, horrible, evil, vile, vicious golden ring! But no, no... it wasn't even the ring, was it... it was the jewel - it was what was in the jewel. Memories flooded back, errors upon errors upon errors and pain - ferocious, vicious pain searing through her head, and burning behind her eyes. She couldn't remember how it began, it was like the memories slowly faded in... Yet she knew enough. Quickly, extremely quickly, as subtly and quietly as she could, she went to him. He jumped, stared at her, as her eyes locked on the ring, dangling from the chain about his neck

"Where did you get that ring?" Her voice was urgent, lifeless. He fingered the ring, looking up at her with wide eyes, then down at the ring.

"It was given to me." He looked up at her with not-so-big, fearful eyes. "By a friend." She stared at him, remembering all of the fights - all of the talks, all of the anger and sweetness and blinding beauty. He didn't even know about it. She was suddenly filled with something she had not felt in a long time - fear. Absolute, extreme, horrible, blinding fear.

"Do not trust what it tells you. It lies. It lies, and it's evil. The best thing you could do would be to kill it, or bury it. Throw it in the deepest ocean of the world. Do not trust it." The words were whispered urgently. She knew that if he did destroy it, she would be gone with it, but at this point, she didn't care. All she wanted was for that ring to be gone from the face of the planet. The fear of that ring was too much, too deep in something too shallow. Too much of her was gone to feel fear under normal conditions - what was there left to lose but a little bit more of her? And even that, was far too little to make her care. Yet that ring - that ring could do things to her that nothing else could. It could restore her, it could kill her, it could take over her consciousness and body. It was evil... It must be killed. Even if I have to do it myself. These were her thoughts, as she drifted into sleep.
 

Elorendil

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Eviiiiiiiiilllllll!

Another Inn, another town, Beril thought as he nursed a mug of ale, having just finished his master's business. Another mercenary assassin. Unknown to Falathiel, the elf-assassin he had hired just days earlier, he had been given the names of two such bounty-hunters to hire. The second mercenary was a lanky human who was just as eager for money as the she-elf. It would be interesting to see which caught their prey first.

Beril raised the glass to his lips and drained the last of the pale liquid, then contemplated the emptied mug. After a moment, he pushed the glass in the old bartender's direction, with a rough sounding "Barkeeper, another ale." The bumbling old fool kept going about his business, seeming to not hear the Easterling. "Sir, another drink, if you please!" He said a little louder. The old fool! He thought impatiently. The Easterling stood and tapped the ancient barkeep none too gently on the shoulder. The wizened old creature nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw the hulking Easterling towering over him. "I'll have an ale," he said, nearly shouting in the old man's ear as he thrust the empty mug towards him.

When he finally had a newly filled glass in hand (minus a few drops that the trembling bartender had spilled), Beril turned his thoughts to what he would do, now. If he followed his orders, he would return to his master. But returning to his life of slavery had never been his plan. No, he intended to stay in this land so far away from his home, beyond the reach of his master, until he had earned enough money to buy his freedom. Freedom. The word had such a sweet taste to it. He hadn't always been a slave. He remembered what it was like to be one's own master. It was a feeling he had craved for nearly twenty long years, ever since his own father sold him into slavery to pay a debt.
And once he was free... Once he was free, he would be able to achieve his dreams: a wife, a home, a son and heir. A smile played about his thick lips as an image of the dark-haired beauty who had captured his heart danced through his mind. Yes, Earid would make a fine wife. The little ones will have her deep brown, almond shaped eyes. And her- Beril cut off his train of thought. He had to think of the here and now, find a way to earn the money that would buy his freedom. But where should he go to find work?

As if in answer to his question, the door of the inn swung open...
 

elfgirl

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"Draeki?" Her eyes were open, yet there was something odd in them. "Are you okay?" He didn't know what was wrong about them, but he knew it was something. And then, her pale, almost-white eyes widened and engulfed him and he fell into a white, bright space. He looked around, and his eyes fell upon a woman, of Noldor descent, with beautiful, blonde hair and ocean blue eyes. He was at a loss for words. "Who are you?" It was said with little breath, and much shock and awe. She just smiled, and shook her head. She spoke without speaking, a simple phrase. You are a part of this now as much as anyone. And before he could speak a word of protest, she was gone.

Moraur woke up, breathless, and jumped out of bed, running to the room next to his, and peering in.She was awake, pacing.

"Good lord, do you ever sleep?" He said in disbelief. It must've been two in the morning.

"Yes. Do you?" He knew he wasn't meant to answer. It was one of those questions that wasn't a question, yet some stab against your character. It was a moment before she stopped pacing, and looked at him. "Why are you here?" He contemplated saying something, before stopping himself. He could imagine her look if he told her he had a bad dream. Yet she was pacing again, and didn't seem to care. "Do you want to hear a story?" She had stopped in front of the window, and the breeze was only lightly touching her hair. For a moment, he felt as if she'd known his thoughts, before realizing it was a genuine question.

"Sure."

~~~~~~~~~~~~

"And it's here?!" His voice was tinged with a slight sense of alarm. Draeki was still at the window. It was a question not meant to be answered. If Draeki had seen it, she wouldn't mistake it. If... "How do you know of this?" A dark servant...

"I know. Nothing else is important." So that's why she's dark... evil... wasted... And then, a thought occured to him.

"What race are you?" The answer was instant.

"None." She turned to him, and he saw angry determination written all over her face. "I've told you enough for one night. Now, for the question. What do we do?" He pondered. It was difficult. They couldn't change the situation at all.

"We monitor. We observe. We work around it, so-"

"How?!" Her voice was sharp, desperate, enraged. It was a look he'd never seen on her.

"We're going to need to talk to Cair."

~~~~~~~~~~

"I want to bring someone into the group." Moraur, naturally, was the one doing the talking. "He's a good fighter, and young." He tried to have something more to say, but he didn't know what else he could say.

"You mean both of you." Draeki refused to be absent from this. If worst came to worst, she could always hurt him until he assented. Moraur looked at Draeki, as if he'd just seen her, paused, and nodded.

"Yes."
 
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