Wednesday, December 8

Elaine Intro Part 1

Conversation between Elain and Mangus

(you may have been just outside the door, or, awoke with your head agaist the wall or something of that nature).

"Mangus, I need to have a serious talk with you, but I don't want you stabbing yourself in the heart again under any circumstances, agreed?" Elain said, as Magus entered her room and shut the door.

"Fully understood my lady." Mangus answered and sat down in the offered chair. It had been easier of late to see Mangus and his crew as simply part of their group. Fighting with someone in life and death situations, does that to relationships.

"Good, because we need to talk, and I need to know that what you say is 'you', not some version of duty or simulation of what you believe you need to say. I need to hear 'you'. Do you understand?" Elain asked.

"I believe so my lady, and to show you I understand I will address you as Elain for this conversation, and see you as my equal, but only for this conversation, Elain." He answered.

A slight auditable sigh escaped Elain's lips, but she recovered quickly.

"I'm changing Mangus." Elain said, getting straight to the point while the moment lasted.

"I've noticed this Elaine."

"I'm sure you have noticed the outside mistivous antics, yes, but I'm changing inside Mangus. You came to me because you were touched by a powerful, and ancient good. A goodness that tore at you, burned you as you described it, but then had mercy on you and not only let you live, but did not chain you to it either. You could do anything you wanted from that moment, except of course harm me. That goodness was not me, but I know now that you knew this then. It was only out of respect to that goodness that you chose to honor it by becoming my protector. I understand that too."

"And you have done your duty, I am here, in my father's ... well, near my father, and in his protection now. I have completed my given task, to deliver the sword of his ansestors to him, a sword with the power to heal him from whatever it was that damaged him so greatly. A task that perhaps I was called to by this goodness you felt, or maybe by my father himself.

"Though I am half elven, and the half I am is royal, I was rasied human, and that half is homespun peasent. Crude, and uneducated, and when I was forced from my village for showing the powers of sorcery, I could barly read the road signs I followed to the sea. I am not a warrior, or even brave Mangus, and I'm certainly not pure of heart. A bunny rabbit saved me from orcs Mangus, that is how pittiful I am. I was cornered by three orcs and a bunny rabbit saved me."

"Must have been some rabbit." Mangus said.

"Well, actully it was a strange rabbit, it belonged to a very nice old man who helped me read and showed me on a map where my father was. His name was Pinbrook, and he sent me on my way with enough money to get me here. He also taught me the little elf tounge that I know."

"All of that? Must have been a very good teacher."

"He was, and a very kind man. I hope I see him again and can repay him for his kindnesses to me. But that is not my point really. When you swore your life to me you saw a young girl, who was lost, and what you saw was real. As real as your oath to her and the goodness that touched you. And you have, with the loss of three good men, seen her home, or as close as she is ever likely to be in this lifetime, to her father."

Elain stopped and took in a deep breath, as if readying herself for a plung into cold water of unknown depth. Uncertain if she would surface again. Mangus waited. He was a solider, and it was one of the skills he did very well, waiting. Elain got up, poured them both a glass of wine, and offerd the cup to Mangus. He took it and sipped it with her when she sat down again.

I met my father in Shelazar, Mangus, for the first time. I didn't know, really, what he would be like, but our meeting was nothing like I thought it would be. I knew from my mother's stories of him, and the stories in our village that he was a hero. That was what they called him, a hero. I knew from Pinbrook that he was a Prince, one from the houses of the Elf kingdom. The seventh house I believe. The house of history and rememberance. What that is exactly I couldn't tell you. Pinbrook said it like I should know, and I just nodded my head like a fool. I didn't do that because I didn't want to look stupid, I already knew Penbrook knew that quality of me, I nodded like a fool because I was overwelmed by the fact that my father was real, and truely a hero, and a Prince. It was all very romantic too me.

"Later I rationalized, on the boat over here, that a man, or an Elf rather, of his stature and personality may not have the time for a daughter he didn't know he had. That he might be over here doing things that she couldn't be a part of, and I may bave to return to the city and wait for him to come back. I set myself up to be an unwelcome discovery so that I wouldn't be hurt too bad if that be the case, do you understand?"

"Yes, I understand that, and have done it myself in times when it was my heart that my be cut, and not my body." Mangus replied.

"Good, so I did that. After a few thousand details, which I won't go into right now, I did meet my father. It was much worse than I could ever have prepared myself for. I was far worse than being chased from my village to die in the wilds." She stopped, a small shudder went through her.

"He did not accept you as his daughter?" Mangus asked, and Elain laughed abrutly.

"No, no." She said, still giggling. "I'm sorry, but it is a bit of relief to know that the worse you could think of was that as well. No, he accepted me as soon as he saw me. When he first came in the room and looked into my eyes, a ... how do I describe it, I've thought about that moment so many times, holding on to it as a talasman against all that is evil since then, when the vampire hand me in his grasp I thought of that moment to push him out of my head. It worked too, for some reason. I guess it was like a tone, like a bell sounded inside of me, and I could hear it inside of him as well. I could see in his eyes that he saw me for what I was. He never even questioned the fact that I was his daughter. He never even asked who my mother was, or what my story was, or how I came to find him. It was like he knew everything already.

But then it got ugly Mangus. It got ugly fast. With this acceptance of me he jumped our relationship forward as if I had been with him the whole time. He took me in the room, away from the others and turned around to face me. He was sick Mangus, very sick. I could see that inside him a disease or a poison was withering him away. I could see that he was in pain, constantly. He did not talk to me for a very long time, maybe a half an hour, he just sat, and stared into my eyes. And in my head I saw visions of anger and pain, and a suffering I had never known existed. He then got up and removed his shirt, and there were scars Mangus. Not only the scars like you have, the scars of a warrior who has fought many battles, but scars on his soul. I could see them, bleeding on his side, and I could see the poison dripping from his wound, a wound that would never heal. I could see the light of his soul burning out, but still fighting, because that was all it knew how to do.

"Then he showed me the wol..." She paused for a moment, "Never mind that, I don't want to think about it. Just believe that what he showed me next was far worse than I what I have described so far. It terrified me so bad I thought I would die there in that room. I have never been so afraid, before, or since, and you know about the vampire." Her voice shook with real fear, as she said this.

Mangus nodded, but said nothing, waiting for her to continue.

"Then he spoke to me, he said, "This is what is left of your father. There is nothing else. He has fought, and lost. Many fathers have died fighting, and so it is with me. I am very happy that life has allowed me to see you, and to know you are so very beautiful, and that my life passes leaving such a wonderful child here in a world that has so little beauty left in it. But I am dead, do not seek me futher, for what you may find the next time, will be far worse than the state you find me in now. Go with those that brought you, they are young, and inexperienced and not very good at life yet, but they are honerable, and you can trust them. Go with them. I will see that your way is cleared and your path is started. But that is all I can do for you. I can give you nothing of love, and you don't want any of my soul. Always remember that while I knew you, I loved you."

"And then he left. Heland, his body gaurd, said the same thing. "While I knew you, I loved you." I thought it was odd, but since then I have discovered that it was meant, do you know what I mean? He meant it, that for every second we were in that room, he loved me as deeply as he could, to try to make up for a lifetime we would never have."

"No, not really." Mangus said, "That one I don't really understand."

She smiled at him. "Maybe its an Elf thing, and I have to admit, it took a long time for it to sink into me as well. Because that night, and the next three nights all I felt was pain, and saddness. "

"I heard through my friends, and their friends, little bits of information. There were deaths that night, many deaths. Those that tried to find me, and those that wanted me found died. They didn't just die Mangus, they were slaughtered in brutal and horrible ways. I had visions and dreams about them. I saw him, my father, the demon souled tearing these men apart with teeth and claws. Each time he killed them he timed it so that some servant or maid or witness could see the death of that person, and run away to tell their masters. Tell them that he was coming for them next, or, that he would if he ever heard they were coming for me. And he would hear, he told them. He would hear it as soon as they dared to think about it. "

"And I saw these men Mangus, I saw them, and they were not the kind to be afraid of such things as this. They were powerful men, but they backed off anyway. All of them. They may not have backed off because of fear, maybe it was some honor of war thing. It was just understood that somethings were not done, and my father declared this to be one of them, and they accepted this. Be that as it may, they backed off, and the deaths stopped. It was not a truse, it was just a change of battlefields."

She sighed. "I think too, that many of those men knew how damaged my father was as well, and simply decided that he would be dead soon anyway from his wounds, so why risk loosing more resources over a little girl?"

Mangus nodded. "I understand that last part much more than anything else you have said so far. Except that teeth and claw bit. But, I'll let that pass as a detail in the story, rather than the needed meaning of the tale." He paused, made a point of sipping his wine, and said, "But there is more, because you have not told me what it is you needed this wine to tell me."

"Yes, there is more." she admitted, and took a sip of her wine. "On the third night I learned the aliance my father had with the Godess. I was torn apart. I found my father, and he was sundered, and there was nothing I could do about it. I had no cunning, no ability, no resources. I was helpless, the little girl again who had to be saved by a rabbit. Lost.

I wandered the streets that night, unafraid of anything that followed me, and there were a few men that did. A few cut throats and a few slavers for the pleasure houses that kept pace with me for a while. The lost and terrified girl, wandering in the night was just too good of prey to pass up. But a few accidents took care of them. I know this now, but it was far beyond my ability to notice it then. I couldn't stop crying and I didn't know where to go to from here. I thought of going back to Penbrook, since he was the only person so far that knew who and what i was, and only wanted to be kind to me. Then I saw the temple of my father's Godess, and went in there."

"I did not know her, or anything about her followers. The temple was dark, with only a few candles. It was clean, though, and I could see well enough. It felt warm, and safe, and nothing had felt that way for days. Its not that I felt like I was in danger the last three days, it was also the feeling that what was saving me was perhaps far more dangerous than the threats. As if each action to my bennifit some how tainted my heart a little more. If you are saved by a demon, it is still a demon, isn't it? It is still darkness and taint? And if you love that darkness, doesn't that love taint your soul even more? This place felt safe, and safe to me as well.

A woman came in and sat beside me, she didn't talk, just took me in her arms and let me cry. I cried for many hours, and told her everything, just as I'm telling you now. And when I asked her those questions she told me the answer was no, that love never tainted us, no matter what it was that we loved. Love was pure, and love saved us, and love could save those who were tainted.

She held me back and looked me in the eyes Mangus, and she was so beautiful, so raident. She looked me in the eyes and said, 'And your love can save your father', and I believed her Mangus. I did. It was silly and pathetic, the way it sounds, but I believed her, and I asked her what did I have to do to save him, and she told me, and I accepted it.

Elaine paused again. "That woman was a cleric, Mangus, who brought me into the fold of her Godess as a cleric as well. A cleric of Drendari, Mangus. Do you know the one I speak of?"

Mangus didn't answer for a beat and a half, and then said, "Yes, I know Drendari, she is the Goddess of shadow, secrets, and rouges. Her father is Enkili, the patron god of that city in fact. Elaine, you need to say something to me, and soon you will be out of time. What I mean by that is I can tell you are trying to sneak up on this thing, and you are circling around it so much, you may loose your nerve. I know about these things Eliane, and I know that you will never get the courage to do this again, if you don't meet it head on soon. I have promised to be your equal while you go through this with me, and that promise holds. But please consider me at friendly equal, and I will not hate you or turn on you no matter what darkness you need to reveil to me. Nor will I consider the men I lost in keeping you safe a waste. And I will never repeat what it is you tell me in this room."

"You are wise, Mangus, I wish I had your wisdom, instead of just a soul full of too much emotion. Okay, as you say, I will give it too you straight." She took a deep breath again, and sipped her wine. "I became a cleric of Drendari that night, a foolish child, hopping to be closer to her father. I did not understand what it was I was doing. I'm sure, looking back that the nice woman did not fully understand either that I had no knowledge of what and who Drendari was at the time. She couldn't. Everyone in this land knows the gods and goddess who fought against the Titans. But I did not, and she didn't know this."

"When I finally did find out, fully, what and who Drendari was, I bauked. This was only the next day really. My friends were leaving on a search for some treasure in a old ruin and so I went with them, to give me time to think. I knew the woman, and perhaps Drendari herself would be upset with me, making the promises I did, and the oaths, and then walking away so soon. But it was a shock to me, and I needed time to think.

It was in that period you met me, and made your oath to me. I was not, really, a cleric of Drendari then. Not at that moment. Call it a pause if you will. You saw only the goodness that touched you, and the lost little girl. So your oath was pure.

What it is that i need to tell you, is that I have decided. My father is indeed healed. Well, much better than he was yesterday. So it is not for him I make this decsion any more. I have been to a book store here in Mithril and have read many things about Drendari, and I corndered the local cleric and asked him some pointed questions as well. So, i know what it is I am saying now. Ignorance is no excuss for my actoins at this point. I also know a great deal more about your country, and you, as a solider of that country. I know more about my Goddess, from my Goddess, as well.

I have chosen, Mangus, to re-affirm my vows and oaths, and to be a cleric of Drendari in every aspect of that title. This puts me, currently, at odds with many of the things and beliefs that you have fought for over your life time, and every man you have lost, has been lost to protect your country against what I now am, and what I exist to protect. My existance will insure, at this point in time, that more of those soilders will die for the same reason.

Mangus, the little girl you swore to protect, made it home, your oath has been fullfilled. She is now gone, far beyound your reach, and is safe in her father's home. Hear this well Mangus, the woman you see before you, you do not know, and have never met before in your life. If you choose to follow me now, if what I have said does not fullfill your vow, know, in your soul, that what you follow is not what you made your oath to. Is that clear enough Mangus?"

Mangus swirled the last bit of wine in his glass, and looked over to the window. Outside, he could see the Mithril Golem. What an amazing work of art that thing was. It radiated a power he only could imagine. He looked at the girl before him, she had changed. He had seen it happening over the last few days, and he also knew she had made this desion many days before this. She was only now making the desions to tell him. She was this person here, the one sitting in this chair, when she told her 'friends' and him to rescue that 9 year old girl.

No, she was not the girl he made his vow to, but, then again, he never made his vow to any girl either. He made his vow to a Goddess, much like Drendari, in many ways. Drendari is certainly darker than this one he met, but in many ways, they were of the same cloth. This Goddess, who he had never heard of, saved him, showed him a world he could not see before. A world of beauty, where control and power were not needed to keep it beautiful. People could walk on the grass, and sit on the fountains, the beauty she showed him was more powerful than that. He heard her and found his home. To honor that vision, and the life she gave him that day, he swore to protect this little girl, who she found worthy of protection. He did not make that vow for a time period, or because of what or who she was. Those were never the condistions of the vow.

He drank the rest of the wine and set the glass down, "Yes, my lady." He said, "what you have said is perfectly clear to me, and my vow remains unchanged. Is there anything else you need from me at this time?" He stood, and waited for her reply.

She looked up at him, tears in the corners of her eyes. "Yes, Mangus, there is one more thing and then I won't be needing you until after dinner tonight. Drink this." She said.

"What is this?" He asked, taking the small vile of liquid from her trembling hands.

"Anti-toxin, for the poison that was in your wine." She said.

He handed it back to her, "No need for that my lady, I took the liberty of adding my own to the glass when you turned away after giving it to me. I hope you don't mind." He said, his face showing no emotion, but his eyes smiling warmly at her.

She wiped the tears from her eyes, "Then I'll keep it for another day Mangus. Thank you, that will be all."

"Yes my lady. Are you going out with Jason then, after all?"

"Yes, he sent another invitation with flowers earlier, and I've been told that he might be a useful contact to have in Mithril. Do you know anything about him? Ever fought against him Mangus?"

"Yes, in fact I did fight against his reginment once, only last year in fact, on the invasion attempt against Burok Torn. I had the pleasure of un-horsing him during the battle, but he dosn't seem to remember me. It is not his fault of course, there were so many faces and people to remember, a lone Sargent was hardly at the top of the list."

"You unhorsed him? From what I hear about these knights, I should be a bit impressed, if I was that kind of girl." She said, smiling.

"Yes, well, thankfully you are not that kind of girl, it would probably be trully unbareable, this life I have choosen, if you were. As for impressed, yes, these knights are very difficult to unhorse, on the field or off, if you get my meaning, my lady, so watch yourself, and make sure who is checking out who at all times. There is a very high ratio of deaths to attempts by those that underestimate them." He answered.

"I'll stay close to a shadow at all times Mangus." she said, "Oh, and what of this halfling we rescued, what have you heard about him?"

"There is an intrige, my lady. Though I'm sure your Mistress knows all about him already. He is what they call a Monk."

"A Monk? What is that, some kind of Mithril Holy man?" She asked, far more interested.

"No, not really. A Monk is a fighter, but one who takes the art of war to a whole differnt level. In one-on-one combat they are probably the most deadly force in this land. They live the life of combat like a cleric might live her life, as a worship, a purpose of the soul. They see combat as a means to express and test the purity of their souls. Not for conquest, but only for the war itself."

"So not like your Chardun, but more like this Vangal I read about."

"No, not like Vangal at all, but," he paused, trying to work it out, "no, not like Chardun either. I guess, like,... well, like nothing i know enough to talk about really. But i hear he is very aproachable and you can see him in his temple just down the street if you like. I only ask that if you go, I would like to come as well, because I would like to learn more about these Monks."

"Agreed, and yes, perhaps we should go now, before it is too late then. Have you ever fought against a Monk?" She asked, getting up and putting her hair in the pony tail to get the 12 year old look back.

"Yes I have in fact. In the same battle. He saved me from Jason's wrath after I unhorsed him moments before."

"Saved you from Jason?" She said turning around her face lit with the excitement of a good story about to be heard.

"Yes, I unhorsed Jason, and he, unlike most knights in full armor, did not fall to the ground with a thud, unable to move because of their own weight. He rolled, in that armor and came back to his feet, with his great sword swinging in an unerring path for my open mid section. Really, I was done for. There was no way to turn my horse or block the blow. And then, this Monk, a Mithril Fist, flew over Jason's horse, and kicked me in the chest. He kicked me so hard I flew off my horse, and slamed into another warrior taking him off his horse. And Jason's sword only cut through the air where I once was. It was a very powerful kick, and certianly nothing I would expect from anything less than a battering ram. In fact I almost died because my armor was dented in so far I couldn't breath, and had to take it off."

"With his foot?" Elaine asked, with the look all 16 year olds have when they think older folks are putting them on.

"Yes, with his foot. They don't use weapons in combat, usally. The Mithril Fists use a long sword at times, but this Narrin only uses his fists and feet."

"He's blind now, so I'm sure he doesn't use anything any more." She said, turning back to fix her hair.

"I don't know much about Drendari my lady, and it is not my place to tell you your buisness, but may I suggest that summing up a situation before you explore it may not always be the best course of action."

"What do you mean?" Elain mumbled around a hair pin in her mouth.

"He was blinded while fighting, by himself with no aid, twenty to thirty ratmen" he lifted his hand to pause the coming question, "never mind what they are right now, just think 'very tough and dangerous fighters' any time you hear the term, until you find out more. He was blinded with acid in that fight and still, un-armed, managed to best them and get away. Since that time he has fought and won against, at least 20 Charduni warriors, a group of 10 orcs, a Penebral lord, a group of 8 of my home land's warriors, two knife fighters of Shelazar, and five ogers. Those are the battles I've been able to verify. Blind or not, he is a very dangerous fellow, and knowing him as I met him in Vesh, I rate him probably the most dangerous person I have ever heard about, bar none."

She put on her over cloak, as the sky was looking like it might rain, and looked at him, "Why do you say that? Why on that information, and not the battles."

"The humility of him. He let you use him for cover on our little venture, probaly knowing full well that we were not 'saving' him, but he let you do it anyway. He let himself be overrun by a teenage girl, without trying to let us know who he was, no title, no boistrousness, no nothing. He was a begger hobbit in your eyes and he let himself stay that way.

This is a person who thinks little of what this world calls power, or wealth. He has no secrets, no point in his life where he is vunerable. There is no kink in his armor, no hidden area that he is weak. If you ask him where he is most vonerable, he will probably tell you, straight out, with no hesitation. And, what's more is, he would probably tell a person trying to kill him as well. You see, he seeks these places out himself, for the purpose of eliminating them. So he would see a situation like that, as a means of testing whether or not he has been successful.

A person like that, is probably the most dangerous foe I could imagine."

"Hmm," Elain said, allowing Mangus to open the door for her, "A man without secrets... I do have to meet this one then."

"Yes, I thought you might find him interesting if nothing else." Mangus said, as he followed her out into the hallway, closing the door behind him. He did not check to see if it was locked. There was certainly a benifit to being a Cleric of Drendari, he thought, no thief would enter this room, except for the shrine hidden behind the bed, under a few pillows.

--------

It was late on the fifth day after her meeting with Edrin Northstar, that he appeared beside her, catching Mangus off guard, and dis-arming him before Mangus could fully react. He handed the warrior back his sword belt, and asked him for a little privacy with his daughter. Mangus gave a short, if abrute bow, and backed off, just out of ear shot.

They were in Shanty town, Elaine was distributing some of the collections she had gathered from the rouges who came to see her, and welcome her to Mithril, to the poor in this part of the city. She was also learning quickly that a cleric of Drendari was not always a welcome sight to a thief. Espessially if that thief's prey was normally the poor or the helpless.

A rouge's life was a life in battle against a force he can't hope to win against head on. It was the battle of a poor and helpless person, who decided he was going to battle anyway. The war was personal, private and secret. The target may never know who his opponent was, only that there was someone, somewhere, willing to hurt him any time he could. And that pain was through the removal of objects, or belogings of other kinds, he held dear. And also, the reminder that anyone could be killed, no matter how careful or powerful he was. In this way, the rouge was a counter balance, a pointed lesson to the powerful, and the cruel alike. A lesson that said, "Don't go too far, or else I might go too far as well."

It was true that often, a rouge of this kind, would lift the purse off a complete stranger, only knowing that the stranger was probably able to loose the contents of that purse and not miss any meals from it. These things happend, it was true, and when they did, the thief normaly thought of it as a failer on his part, by not being more successful in the hounding of his true mark. But it was a nessessary thing, to get a bit of coin so the battle could continue.

Rouges had little time for anything else than being rouge. It was a costly profession, requiring specialized tools and skills, both tools and skils not really aplicable to any other trade.

Then there were the theives and the cutthoats. These were not really rouges as Elain, or Drendari saw them. They were not the underdog, the single warrior of the night fighting against the evils that power an coruption create, using only their wit and guile. These were those that were corrupted already, and trying to gain power by stamping on those less powerful than themselves. These were, in fact, future marks of any true rouge. And Mithril had more than its fair share of them.

To an outsider, watching this dance in the shadows, the distinction between rouge of Drendari, and a group or guild of thieves and cuthroats, might be hard to make. To a cleric in that shadow world, Elaine saw the difference very clearly, and understood the need for a cleric to help her rouges from crossing that very hard to see line in the darkness. Her floak were no angles. She knew that, but they were good men and women in their souls. But men and women, who by choice or circumstance, could loose their way and fall more easilly than the normal person of the world. When is theft an act of defiance, and when is it an act of evil?

Her Jason, and his Mithril Knights, saw any theft an illeagle and immoral act, no matter what the reason for it was. He was completely unbending on this matter. And yet, when questioned on the use of spies, he admitted their need, and place in war, and the defence of a city. In fact, he admitted that without spies, the knights themselves could not hope to maintain any law or order at all.

"But isn't stealing information, still stealing? In fact, isn't stealing information more damaging than stealing your purse in the market place?" She asked.

Jason didn't answer for a very long time, and then he said, "I love the people of this city. Really, I do. The only reason I'm a knight is because I grew up here, and I wanted to insure that every person in this city was safe, and could sleep at night, with some assurance that they would not be killed in their sleep, or their children stolen for food, or worse. It is not a love that comes between man and wife, you understand, it is something far deeper. I love every man woman and child in this city with every bit of my soul. And because of that, I am willng to face what ever evil, whatever horror, that comes to these gates looking for trouble. And I spend most of my days training ot make sure that when that evil shows up, it knows better than to return.

But I, unlike Master Narrin, am not blind. And even Master Narrin can see the suffering of the people in Shanty Town, and the gangs that prey on them, and the shoppkeepers who have lost their life savings from a burglar, or the woman who was rapped. I see them. Every one of them. And like many of the knights, make a point of walking through the dark places of our city, to make sure we see them. And my heart is in a constant state of pain and sunder because of it, because I know there is nothing I can do about it right now. I am a knight, but I am still only human. I have to sleep, eat, and have days where I do nothing except go to dinner with a pretty young girl.

Many things are changing, even the orcs of the plains, some of them are seeking out other means of survival than war. It is hard, but they are changing too. There may come a day when I will not be required to spend 15 of the 20 days a month fighting off the titan spawn that threaten this cities survival every day. There may come a day when the threat to our nieghbors and frineds in other countries are not so active. When that day comes, I will be able to do more for the city I love.

Until that day however, I understand the rouges and the spies. I understand them, because in a way, it is my failure to keep this city safe that creates them. I understand them as a need that I have to do my job in the field. I don't agree with them, and I seek other answers, not only for myself, but for them as well.

We turn away about 300 men and women a year from joining the ranks of the knights. That is not the full number, it is really more, but these 300 are those that in their heart of hearts are turly Mithril Knights. Paledons in every sense of the word, except physical stature. They are simply too weak to make it through the training and survive in the field. They have all the love I have, all the purity I have, in fact some might even have more, but they just don't have the physical body I have, and because of that, we turn them away. Many of them have all the pain I have as well, and I can see in their eyes the crushing blow we have given them, the day we turned them away, unable to help fight the evil that killed their mother, or daughter, or wife.

And then, some night, many months later, I see the same man I crushed with my denile of admitance. I meet him in a back alley, and he hands me a slip of paper, and I hand him a small pouch of gold, and that small slip of paper kills off many evils that have hounded his life, i make sure of it with my sword, and that small pouch of gold lets him continue his private war, and he does. I pray for his soul to find peace, and I believe that what he does is wrong, I do. But, I understand it, and I give him the gold to continue it, and I pray for a day where I hand him the gold and say, 'good work my friend, it is over now. Go in peace, there is no more need to walk in darkness again.'

He is not really a wise man, her Jason, but he is a lot deeper than she imagined at first. A wiser man would know that such a day will never come, because the world need balance. And the gods make sure that there is a balance, by their very existance. No Jason, you do not ever want to say that to my rouge, because in that world you would find that the evil you distroied, was your very life, and your blade just killed all the children of your beloved city. That day I do not wish on you, because I kindof like you, and you don't deserve that hell.

She gave the little girl she had been talking to a copper piece for reading the small page of words Elaine had given to her yesterday to learn, and gave her a new piece of paper as well for tommorow's copper piece. The girl smiled and hugged Elaine, then ran off to find her mother. Copper was safe, silver a bit tempting, gold was not a good thing to give to the poor. She smiled at the guild tough, in the alley watching her, and cracking his knuckles, and almost laughed when that same tough almost bit off his tounge when she said, "Good afternoon Father, come to see how I spend my allowance?" and the tough saw Edrin come up behind her.

She knew now that Edrin could never sneak up on her, no matter how good he was, and he was more than aware of that himself. She made a note never to forget that, because he probably felt the tone of their souls meeting each other, long before she did.

"No, I've come to make sure I'm giving you enough." He said, keeping the line going, without the need for winks or elbows. "I see that I am not, and will make the nessesary arrangments with Marrian when I get back to the house. There are so many here, more than last year I think."

"You fought for these people last year didn't you?" She asked, not sure how she knew that. She just suddenly got a flash of him surrounded out here on the the docks by monsters, trying to get to the people here in Shanty town, out here, unprotected by the walls, and unable to get inside because the doors are already closed. Helpless, defensless, except for him, out here alone... Why was he alone? Where was Heland? Sorlaya? Natalie? Where was Narrin, who so loved these children, or at least said he did.

She suddenly turned on him, angery, "Tell me about that day, I need to know." she demanded suddenly. "Why were you out here alone? Why? Where were those that keep saying how much they love you? Why were the gates closed on you? Why!

He put his hand on her shoulder, and made a motion that 'it was alright' to Mangus, who was approaching fast. "I see my gift for divination may have been inherited by you afterall. They call it 'the sight' back home in my city, I call it, the 'bane' myself. Knowing only parts of things, certain view points. Can really mess up your mind when you meet people. I'll give you a bit of advice before I answer, don't ever make an opinion on someone based on your 'sight', it will always be wrong."

She laughed and hugged him suddenly. "I think Mangus was telling me the same thing the other day, and see how quickly I forget simple rules?"

"Then I'm glad he is around you, to help you remember. Forgetting little things like that can be really upsetting. And maybe Mangus should be able to hear our 'private' father daughter chat, if he would like to, if he is such a good stewart to my daughters wellfair." He said loud enough for Mangus to hear.

Mangus responded by coming closer, but not so close as to be part of their group. "I think I could use some of the lemon drink they make down here." Edrin said, "Have you tried it? It is very good, and quite inexpensive."

With cups in hand Edrin led them to the spot, "Let's see, if I caught your vision right, I was out there on the dock, near the water. If you could see me, then the eyes you borrowed were up there on the wall, right near that balista, yes?"

Elaine nodded, and was a bit in awe at his accuracy. She had visions before, but never questioned things like the 'eyes she borrowed' aspect of them. Could that be a factor in her inical feelings about what she saw as well? Was her reaction to the vision really the reaction of the person she saw them through? An interesting question to be sure.

"Ah, so from this angle" Edrin was saying, as if laying out a scene for a play, "you can't see a great many things. For instance, you can't see over here, a crowd of terrified children and mothers, and unarmed fathers, facing a hord of sea monsters and blood tainted titan spawn. You can't see that the only reason they are still able to scream is a little hobbit between the children and the monsters. You can't see a young Knight back behind me, trying to keep the doors open just a little longer, so he can get those people inside. You don't hear him cry out as if stabbed through his soul as the doors are finnaly shut, and barred. You don't see three warriors, jumping down off that wall, to fight along side Narrin, knowing they are only giving their lives away so these people can live a few more minutes.

You don't see that young knight finaly convincing his captian to let him and his squad get outside the city and try to save those people, so our lives being lost are not a complete waste. There are many things you don't see from this angle. Keep that in mind, your teacher here, Mangus isn't it? is very correct in his lesson."

She looked at the dock, and willed the vision back into her mind. It took some effort, and then suddenly she was there on the wall again, the sun had just gone down, the children were screamning, fathers, knowing they were going to die stood in front of their wives and family, so perhaps there was a chance they might get out, as they themselves were taken. But her father down there was the center view, she couldn't turn her head, because the 'eyes' never quit looking at him. Who were these eyes, she wondered, so focused on Edrin as they were. And yes, she could feel a since of panic surrounding the scene coming from her borrowed eyes.

He is fighting like a whirl wind, against huge monsters. It is inhuman,his speed and power. He cuts one of these monsters in half with his blade. His power is emense. Sure, he's strong, by any standard, but there is something wrong with this, something terrible about his speed, and strength. One of the monsters strikes him with a wicked looking blade, it tears into his chest, but his only reaction is to turn and cut that monster down. His chest is ripped open, she can see the wound, but there is no blood on his shirt. This is wrong. This can't be what happened. Her 'borrowed eyes' are not seeing reality. She shakes herself out of the vision, willing it away. She looks at him, sipping his lemon drink, smiling at her. Not knowing what to say to him, but needing to have so many answers.

"Family is hell isn't it? I've always thought so. Get people in your life that close, and you don't know where you stand. Now, if your vision was of Mangus here out there on the docks, you would have already asked him, right? No problem at all, but your Father out there, well, that's a whole different story isn't it. Get all tied up in what you want to know, and what you don't want to know, but need to know."

"I can tell you one thing, if having a Father means having someone around that can look inside you that well, then you are right, family is hell, and I'm moving back the Shelazar in the morning." Elain said, sourly.

Magnus spit just a bit of his lemon drink out, trying to hold back a laugh, and failing miserably.

"Dad eyes, girl, might as well get use to it, I had to. I always wondered why my father knew everything just by looking at me, and now I know. Dad eyes are every where." He smiled. "So out with it, might as well get this behind us as you have already seen it, besides, it will give me a chance to go through it myself before I have to face my father and his eyes."

She looked out on the dock again. Not using the vision, just remembering what she saw. A few children have gathered, just in hearing distance, trying to hear the tale as well. Some of these children, she thought, were probably here that day.

"There are seven of them out there, surrounding you. You are fighting with two swords. You aren't moving back to the gate. I know someone is calling you inside, they have to close it. A general panic is surrounding you. More of these things are coming out of the water, and still you fight." She chants, going through the vision.

"Where is the blood, father? You were hit several times. Where is the blood?" She turned to look at him for answers but the children interupt.

"You're talking about the day the monster saved us, aren't you?" A boy calls out, coming closer, others behind him, daring because he dares. "He was great, you should have seen him. Whosh, Whosh whosh!" He shouts, making the motions of a sword fighter with two swords, chopping through imaginary beasts. "He was the best. The monster saved us." He says proudly.

"No!" says another, finding his voice, outraged that his hero was forgotten. "Master Narrin saved us, and used his bare hands, Kia!" He shouts, making several punches in the air and some awkard kicking motions. "The monster had to use swords." He says, sticking his tounge out at the other boy.

"Yeah, well Master Narrin can't afford swords, cause he's so poor, that's all. Keeps giving us all his money. He would have used swords if he had them."

"I think the dwarf was the best, his axe cleving through them like they were fish sticks at the diner cart." Says another boy. They all agree that the dwarf was pretty cool, and jumping off the wall like that was probably the best thing they ever saw.

"Too bad the monster died like that." One said. And the rest lost their joy of the moment and nodded their heads, thinking of the fallen hero.

"He came back though. That was him that got Sarah and her mother out." Another said.

"Yeah, but getting eaten by sea spawn can't feel good." Said the first. This was agreed by all.

Elaine's blood is cold, she's smiling at the children, but there is a chill in her that won't go away. She kneels down and gives each a copper piece and tells them she will come back to hear their story, but she wants to talk to her father right now.

Edrin watches them run off, waving back at her. She is their princess, he thinks. The princess of poor children and lonely rouges. That is his offspring's choice in rein.

"Why do they call you Monster, dad." She says, her eyes filled with tears and terror. "Why weren't you bleeding after that horrible weapon ripped your chest apart? Why are you alive?"

He looks at her, knowing that not telling her might cause her more pain than telling her everything. There is so much pain there, he thinks. Will she have to live every painful moment of his life? Is this her fate?

"I am alive now, because I was dead then." He says. "The dead don't bleed, nor do they fall from weapons not blessed by a good force. The creatures were evil, to the core, created by evil itself. The weapons they held were no threat to me, but mine were death to them. I was never in any real danger at all. There was no hero in my actions. And I knew it as I fought. I didn't go back to the gate because I didn't want those that cared so much about this lone warrior out on the dock, fighting for their lives, to see who they were caring so much about. That would have been cruel. So, after Narrin and Tordek and the young knight, along with the others risking their lives, were able to get everyone inside the city, I faked my fall out here, and slipped away."

The vision rushes in on her, taking over every sense, sight and sound. Terror grips her throat, she's right up next to him now, she can hear him growling, the sound is terrible, and demon like. The things around him, the sea spawn, she can see he even affects them, there is fear in their horrible evil eyes as he rushes at them, his face full of furry and hate, and ... joy? Yes, he is loving every second of this, every death, every blow. His eyes are blazing red, and his teeth... oh Goddess.. his teeth, those eyes, she's seen them before, he's not, elf.

He howls suddenly, it is a terrifying howl, like a hell hound and it shakes her soul to hear it. She turns and sees wolves pouring out of the Shanty town area. Three full packs of twenty wolves each, answering his call. He's in a frenzy now, shouting for more to come up from the sea and meet their doom. His cloak and shirt are in tatters. His skin is ripped open by countless wounds, she can see bones, white as chaulk, and just as dry. Suddenly he lunges at her, faster than thought, coming to kill her borrowed eyes, this demon, this Vampire. He sliced through her neck so fast she can't see the sword as it passes through. She screams, and the world snaps back in on her. Mangus is alert and staring at her, Edrin is calmly looking out at the docks. One of his ships is there.

"That one is probably more true than your last." Edrin says calmly. "I mean, the perspective. The borrowed eyes, this time, had less hidden places, and a clearer view."

Elaine is sucking in deep breaths, trying to calm down, her terrified scream has attracked quite a bit of attention from the dock areas. She trys to ignore them, and their stares. Most of them think she is a sweet innocent girl who comes down to help the pour. Going through this with him here is not a good idea, if more of the same is to come. Thinking like a rouge helps calm her mind, she looks inside for the silver line, between dark and light, finds it, follows its clarity, it changes, calming her mind and body. "We should go I think, finish this some place else, like maybe my room."

"I would love to, but I'm afraid I have to go. There are things I still have to do today, and the night is coming. But some other time I'm sure will come up that we can go over my dark and sorted life." Edrin said, taking his cup back to the drink stand. Saying on his return, "If you are going to keep coming down here, that fear of spiders you have has got to go. That was just a little one. They have some really big ones down here on the docks." A few people chuckle and go back to their own business.

Elain smiles nervously at them, and ajusts her hair, and turns to go to the gates. "I need to know father. Why did I see ... what I saw? How is that ... and you standing here, possible? Was my vision wrong?"

"You should always question that." Edrin said. "I've been privy to many false visions. The future and the past are not certain, never trust visions of them fully. But in this case, it is dead on, so to speak. But I don't have time, as I said, to go into that, so it will give us something to talk about the next time we meet. It was good to see you, and you too Mangus, feel free to come to the house any time, both of you, together or alone if you need something, or just want to visit." He walked forward into the crowd and then her eyes lost track of him.

"Do you see him Mangus?" She asked suddenly, "Can you still follow him?"

Mangus scowled at the crowd. "No, I lost him. Damn he is good, or bad, depending on how you look at it."

"So many things are." She answered. "I want you to be able to follow him Mangus. That is your task, and goal. Learn how to do it, it may be very important some day."

"Yes my lady, I will."

"We should go home. I'm tired, drained."

"If I may ask, what did you see your father as. I know you had one of your sights, what was he then?"

"A Vampire Mangus. He was a Vampire, and not a cutesy little vampire you hear about in some of the Bard tales, but a real devil spawn nasty vampire, that the children call Monster." She answered, picking up her pace, wanting to be home.

"By the Goddess." Mangus whispered in surprise and shock.

"Something tells me that she may be in this tale, yes." Elain answered, and then wondered why. She almost broke into a run then, but found the silver path inside her, just in time. It's winding complex pattern holding her mind away from panic, and terror, clearing her thoughts to what is now, and real.

It was only because of this that she noticed a woman in her home. The woman was freting over something, something that was terrible for her. Her hands wrung and combed through her hair, like someone on the verge of panic. Elain suddenly sympothised with her, and noticed the woman's house was the back of a buisness shop, as were most shops in Mithril. She stopped, turned and headed for the shop enterance.

"Where are we going my lady?" Mangus asked. Turning to catch up with her.

"I'm thinking about getting a tattoo Mangus, what do you think? Maybe a spider on my butt, or a blue bird on my left breast. I saw one like that in Shelazar, on one of the whores. It looked kinda cute."

Mangus scowled at her, and said nothing as she reached the front of the shop and went inside, not waiting for an answer. He was still scowling when he followed her inside, and the womann who ran this tatto parlor entered from the kitchen side of the building, patting down her hair and failing at her attepted smile. She did nod and motion for them to come inside.

"Hi," Elaine said, the 12 year old back on her face, the pony tail dancing. "I want to get a tatto, but my Governor here says they are dangerous and bad for your health. Is that true? Do they really cause your skin to break out?" She asked the woman.

The woman suddenly smiled a genuine smile and placed a hand on Elaines face, almost thanking her for being young and niave. She then sat down and wrote on a tablet of paper a short message.

No, the ink doesn't make your skin break out, youth does that. But some times, if not done properly, people do have bad reactions from the process. This is probably what he is conserned about. --

Elain read the note, and handed it to Mangus, lifting an eyebrow as she did, regarding the lack of speach from the woman. Mangus read the note, and nodded, handing it back. "No, he said, I'm not that conserned about the health aspects, really. I'm more concerned about what your father might say when he finds you marked up like a northern tribesman when he gets back young missy."

Elain smiled just a little at Mangus's ability to follow a lead. She shot quick glances at both the side and the front windows. Marcus turned, as if angry away from her, and she turned back to the proprietor, who had seen this scean between eldar and youth a hundred times, and was only conserned with the amount of paper it used up. Mangus stepped away from them, to a point where he could see outside both sets of windows. Elain smiled at the woman and placed two silver coins on the desk between them, "I was thinking about a small blue bird on my breast." She whispered, "and that is really what got him so mad I think. The thought of my breasts." She smiled again, but the woman didn't smile, she stared at the two silver coins. And then looked at the young girl in front of her.

Elaine then placed one of the coins edge, on the edge of the other, and pressed down, making the other pop up, and with a fast tip of her finger, practiced over and over with a shadow walker one night, the other landed ontop, stacking them. The sign of her office, a cleric of the shadow, to those who knew what to see, and a young girl who could do a cute trick to anyone else.

Her reaction was enough that Elaine felt she could speak. "There is something wrong, I saw you through your kitchen window. It is important to you, this something, and has to be set right. There is no one here, yes? just us? and Mangus, my friend keeps his eyes on the windows. Can you speak at all, can you tell me what is wrong? Is it possible that I can help you?"

The woman continued to stare at her, saying nothing.

"Then perhaps I have mistaken, and am prying into something that is none of my business. I will leave then, and bid you good luck and health." Elaine said and got up from her chair, reaching for the coins as she did so. The woman's hand shot out grabing her's suddenly, then, opening, but pressing on to her hands and the coins inside.

"I understand." Elaine said, sitting back down. "It is difficult sometimes talking about something important to someone like me. Hard to see why I might want to help, when it is most likely someone of my type that caused the problem in the first place." Elaine continuned, feeling the other woman through her hand, still pressing on her own. "It is something that is missing. You can talk, but you can't. A promise, no, a vow. It is important to you never to speak again." Elaine said, in a chanting voice. The woman stared at her, but kept her hand where it was, knowing Elaine was working through the bound between them.

"Something missing, something valable, but secret. Something stolen. Yes, but should not be here in the city." Elaine continued.

"Not dangerous though... wait," Elaine looked up at the woman, "Not dangerous if it's in your hands, but very dangerous in anothers." Elaine said. The woman nodded, desperatly, motioning for Elaine to continue.

Elaine closed her eyes and felt for the woman through her hand. Patterns appeared, patterns weaving, knotting, chasing each other. A child is healed of the Pox. A woman is kept a live after child birth, and man is calmed down and his body healed after the loss of an arm. The patterns change, just slightly, the knots alter, a strand or two, a weave is made a little different. A man grows stronger, a woman no longer feels the frozen cold, a child is able to see in the dark. The weaves change, the knots unravel, the patterns alter. A man grows tusks, a woman's finger nails drip blood, an child attacks and slaughters his pet dog. Elaine snaps her eyes open and yanks her hand back from the woman.

"You don't say much, but you are effective, I get the point." Elaine said.

The woman smiles, it is an honest smile, mostly of relief that someone has understood, and she has been able to keep her vow.

"Can you show me where this was?" Elaine asked "Is that okay? I think I know what it was, but it might help if it will not tread on your privacy too much."

The woman smiled, and nodded her heand, to say yes, and follow her.

"How we doing Mangus?" Elaine said, without looking at him.

"So far okay, a few possibles, but no takers.

"You see dad following us?" She asked.

"No, did you feel him?"

"No, just a thought.

A cabnit with inks, in rows and viles, in wooden holders. Mostly primary colors, a few mixes left over from a job here and there.

"Like these but nothing like these. Same in shape and size though." Elaine said.

The woman nodded her head.

"Could I use this ink? I mean, can anyone just 'use' this ink, or does it take a skill, a training. I can't even draw, could I use it? Would it do 'something' if I drew with it on my friend?"

The woman shook her head, no.

"No, it is more complicated than that, I have to have some clue of what I'm doing?"

The woman shook her head no again, but not so sure.

"Something might happen if I knew something, but to really use it I need knowledge, training."

An affirmative yes, from the woman this time.

"That cuts the poplation down, at least in this city." Elaine said, putting her finger to her lips. "Why steal from you, when there are so many inkers in other cities, if your sale was to someone in another city?". She paced a little, "So it must be one from here, and for someone here."

She turned to look at the woman. "Your clientel must be small, brought in by trusted few." She said. The woman nodded. "The trusted few, at least a couple are rouges, or you wouldn't have understood my greeting." She continuned. "Those that understand that, very few would make a betrayal like this, espesally since it cuts off a steady income for nominal gain.

"Mangus." she said loudly enough for him to hear.

"Yes my lady." he replied.

"We're safe, ... past the secret part. Go to the other, ask about inks, in vials, very recent. Offer 5000 gold for the set, no questions. 7000 if it happens today. 2000 on a name, if the inks are gone already. If he knows nothing, tell him I want to know and fast. It could be very important to our standing here, and very important to the walkers as well.

Suddenly the room vanished, and she was looking at the inks, a hand was there, a male hand, putting drops of blood into the inks. They smoked as each drop fell into the colored liquids.

The woman was shaking her arm and rappidly shaking her head "No!" but not at the vision Elaine realized, at the money she had quoted out. "Don't worry about it," Elaine said, patting her hand on her arm, "You can do that blue bird on my tit or something later, if we find them in time." The 'in time' stopped the woman cold. "Mangus, this is more important than that. Tell the other, if he knows nothing, to contact the walkers, this could be a live one that they will want to know about very soon. I can't explain, tell him I will, tonight and the normal time." She finished.

"Yes my lady, I'm engaged." He said, and the door opened and closed.

"Hmm." said Elaine after Mangus had left.

The woman looked at her questionly.

Elaine smiled at her, a little embarassed. "I'm not really suppose to walk around by myself in the city. Sort of this promise I made, but I just sent Mangus off, and my room is kind far from here, up by the Golem. It's not really that far I suppose and there are all those knights walking around up there in Temple city, so I know I'll be safe, but there is that promise." She stopped and looked at the woman, a young girl again, a little lost in what to do next. "Do you suppose you could walk me home? It really isn't that far, and I'll get one of the others to walk you back here."

The woman smiled and nodded a, 'yes of course I can do that', and grabbed her shawl. Elaine smiled at her, and the agreement to have one of her 'guards' come back with her as well. It would be enough. Word would spread that she was interested in this one. Anyone noticing something from this point would get the news to her. In effect, the woman now had around the clock observation, if not protection, depending of course, on who, saw what. But if nothing else, Elaine would hear of anything that happened here of any real interest.

As it turned out, having Barain walk her home wasn't nessessary, but it happened anyway. As they left the woman's shop, five of Elaine's own, came out of the coffee shop just down the street, all five saw her with the tatoo lady, and saw Elaine holding her hand. "How lucky is that?" Elaine thought, and gave her Goddess a warm smile of thank you.


Later than night two hours before dawn, Elaine returns to the Golemn Inn, Mangus is sitting in the public room, beside the coals of a dieing hearth fire, he stands and follow her to her room, after trying to spot the escort she had coming back here. He can't. Not even a whisper. He knows they are there however.

Elaine is silent, as she motions him inside the room. It is not usual for her to do this, so he baulks just slightly, then enters. The commands between them, the silent conversation eye glances as hand motions are getting so slight now, that occasionally he misses them. He realizes he is being trained, but doesn't mind. Such a skill would come in handy in any situation, not just the ones she is training him for.

He closes the door behind him, but she doesn't speak. Instead she grabs her staff from under her mattress and extends her hand, there is a pulse, a minor wind passes him, and for just a moment, he can't hear, then it is gone. "We can talk now, she says, putting the staff back in its resting place.

"Word on the inks?" he asks.

"No, though I was right, they are interested. Apparently several of them have used her services in the past, the Walkers I mean, and the loss of her inks is an interest in that regard. My vision of the blood being used with the inks caused a bit of a stir, but I took yours and my fathers advice and qualified it with the fact that I didn't know if it was future, or present or even real. I just knew it was evil intent, and had to do with the inks."

"Well done then I expect my lady, I do have some news myself. I felt it only right that since you had your conversation with me, that I in turn had the same converstation with my men, with a few edited variations."

Elaine froze, and turned slightly to face him, looking for that part she knew she wasn't going to like. "How m..." she started, took a breath, calmed herself, "How many accepted me for who I am?" she asked finaly.

"None, I'm afraid, all three are gone." He answered.

Tears welled up in her eyes, "Gone?" she sat down in her chair, stare at him. "All three are dead? You poisoned them?" She shuddered. They were good men, they didn't... she couldn't have really gone through with poisoning him, he had to know that... didn't he?

"No my lady, I'm not much of a poison person, and killing my own men was never really something I could do, even in the service of my former country. One of the many reasons I was never brought up for officer ranking." He answered, smiling at her.

Now she was caught by another emotion, and unsure how to go on, "But they know my standing, my purpose?"

"No, since I wasn't willing to kill them, I, as I mentioned, had to edit a few of the details. I basically told them that this was it, your father was here, being a bit rich, you would be staying in this Inn, or soon to a house in the City, but either way, the real soilder work was done. It was over. We could stay, and you would see us with enough money for a soilder's pay, but it was just shift work from here on out, and likely more butler and house man stuff when and if you got married, espesially if it was to a man like Jason, whom you seemed to take a liking to, and was taking a liking to you as well. "

I informed them that they could if they wished, take on other work. I was staying, any of them could stay as they wished, but that was up to them. They all decided that house soldier was a bit too much for them, and if it really was okay with me, and you, that they would take the other work offered, until such a time that you needed them as soiders, with of course prayers that you never would see that day come again."

Elaine looked at him, for a long time. "And, what was this other work?" she asked.

"Sea mates. On one of your father's ships. I went down to ask his advice on this, shortly after you left for your meeting."

"Work on my father's ships." She repeated, "and this is real work on my father's ship, right? Not code for drowning them at sea."

"Ships, and yes, real work." He said, "Ships because they are all working on seperate ships, so one of them will always be in one of four cities if we ever need them, or coming in soon. Again, your father's suggestion."

"I've been told he is a very good tactian." She said.

"I believe so, yes. He seems to see many things others don't." he said.

"Everything except what he needs to see to save himself." She answered, turning to the window.

"So I gathered as well."

"Okay, good. That sounds very good. They will not go soft taking care of a little girl, and also will not be under foot if we have to move fast. Yet still available if only in ones and twos if we really need them. Might help with messages to other cities as well, having a trusted hand to put a message in now and then. Yes, I'm liking this more the longer I think about it. Very well done Mangus." She said, turning back to him with a smile.

"Okay, down to our real business. I need you, as secretly as you can, but without any of our contacts or resources, to make arrangments for us to leave Mithril, with Naiil and MacAnu. We will be going to Tera Avil, to meet with Elves there and then down to Burok Torn. I will be a messanger for my father. An Emessary."

"Really?" He said, a little disappointed.

"What's wrong." She asked.

"Well, it is just that he didn't mention it to me, and I thoght I had gained a level of trust with him, is all. But he is elf, and so I shouldn't be so disappointed." He said.

She smiled and put her hand on his chest, looking up into his gray eyes, "Silly bear, he doesn't know anything about it. The Walkers want to see who, and where makes arrangements for my arriavale in these places, and what arrangments are made and how well I am being watched. We will be going down to Mullis town for a few days and coming back here." She finished, and walked to the wine crystals and poured herself a drink.

"Which reminds me," She said, handing him a glass, "How did you know there was poison in that glass of wine? Did I do it wrong, was there some on the rim? Did it have an odor?"

He seemed lost in thought for a moment, "What? Oh, no you did it fine, perfectly really. Very smooth, no taint to speak of. No it was my ring here, it gives me a small tingle when it is near poison of any kind."

"Oh," she said, disappointed. "They make those?"

"Yes, very popular where I come from, as poisoning is the normal method of advancement in the military. At least in the officer ranks, the soilders generally dual for possitions of any importance." He answered.

"So why the ring then, you were a Sargent?"

"Yes, that's true, but sometimes the Sargents are targeted by the officers, as someone who might be after an officer's seat. And they use poison." He said.

"So this army you are from is constantly at war with others and themselves?" She asked.

"Usally one or the other, it is considered bad form to mix the two." He said, sipping his wine.

"Ah, bad form." She said. She supposed she couldn't judge really, after all, her flock spoke of doing things like poisoning all the time, and she herself was instructed to poison him if he didn't keep his vow and stay with her. Did they know about the ring as well? Was that the true test? To see how he would react to that? She suddered a little. Maybe it was a test for her, to see if she could really do it. Layers over layers, sometimes to cover the real, and sometimes just to make layers.

"They have heard something about you haven't they?" he asked. "This isn't just an exercise. Something is tracking you."

She looked at him, his gray eyes seeing the grays in the world so easily. "It is possible, but unlikely. Rumors, words in the wind. But yes, enough that they feel we should ferret them out." Saying the word she thought about her mink, Silver, he was still on the roof, watching the two Walkers outside. They hadn't left yet. They were waiting for something. She consentrated a bit more and Silver ran to the other side of the roof and looked down from there. Yes, something was there as well, someone with magic on them.

Elaine thought about trying to shadow out there and take a better look, but decided against it. The Walkers had been trying to teach her to walkk in shadow, but she had yet to make a walk successfuly on her own. It was difficult, and she couldn't keep the nessesary clarity of mind to make it work right. She decided to practice her mental exercises tonight instead and use her men for what they did best.

"There is someone outside, in back, hiding by the large oak there. He has some powerful magic on him. Not sure what type or kind. Perhaps your men, might enjoy a cigar and some night air." She said, and dropped the silence spell on the room.

"Good night then my lady, and do try to get back to sleep. It was only a dream after all." He said, and left, closing the door behind him.

She watched though Silvers eyes as she kneeled by the alter, beside her bed and worked through the silver patterns of the shadow world. Focusing on the balance, the single path, following it through each sepearte dance. Outside, two of the men were lighting cigars. Janaor and Ranis. Both very young, who looked at their Sargent like he was a God. She had him, but he had them. It was right that he did the oath check with them, and handled them as he chose to. They were not hers, and never really were hers to begin with. They followed him, no matter what. Did she follow Drendari, no matter what? The answer didn't pop right up there, so, she knew she didn't. She wondered why? After all, she re-affirmed her vows, and she did mean it this time. She servered her Mistress, and only sought to serve her. She didn't question the Walkers or the older Clerics when they gave her tasks to do, or question the tasks themselves.

Yet.

That was the unspoken word through all of those things, 'yet'. It was the 'no matter what' part of the pledge that she bauked at. She could not say that, nor did she ever think she would be able too. She felt that perhaps she would never be a truly useful cleric to her Mistress because of this, but she would be a loyal one, and take care of the areas she was trusted with to the best of her ability. Comfortable with this line of thought again, she focused on Silver. The two boys were by the tree now, smoking their cigars and telling some rather sexual jokes. She tried not to listen. She was going to have sex some day, and she didn't want one of these jokes in her head when it happened.

The attack on Janaor happened so fast she almost missed it, but both boys were ready, and not as relaxed as they appeared. Ranis' telescoping pipe exteneded as Janor twisted and ducked, leaving Ranis a clear shot at the lunging attacker, catching him straight across the forehead with a wicked thunk. The attacker's body stopped in mid air, it twitched in a strange way, and then fell to the ground. She consintraed on Silver, telling her to keep still, thinking she was twitching herself at all the excitement and making the seeing crystal attached to her collar bounce around too much. Silver told her she wasn't the one twitching. The body convulsed again on the ground, as Mangus walked up.

"I'm sorry sir, I think I might have hit him too hard. Do you think the Mistress might be able to bring him out of it?"

Mangus bent down and looked at the attacker, Elaine was already moving for the door, to go down there, until she hear Mangus, "No, this one is gone beyond her ability I'm afraid, beyond most healer's ability at this point. You really need to get a better understanding of your strength Rainis. You are growing fast, and much stronger than you use to be. You might want to go through the basic exersises again, to re-calibrate yourself. This might have been important." There was a hard scolding in his voice and it slapped Rainis across his face as if Mangus had physically hit him. The words were not so hard, but they didn't have to be. For these boys, Mangus only need show disappointment in them, and it was far worse. She wondered how long these boys had been with him?

"Take him over to the hospital, and tell the clerics there you found him out here by the tree, cooperate wtih them as they need, and then come back and report. I've got what I need here." He stood up as the boys bent down, "No, not you Rainis, Briant will go with Janor, you have the feel of guilt in you, the clerics will pick it up. Ranis walked behind his Sargent and stood at attention, the look of failure deepening in his eyes.

Elaine, again, knew that Magnus was who should govern these boys then. If Ranis ever looked at her like that she would cry, she knew she would. And that would get a boy like Ranis killed in battle. She understood that from listening to Jason talk about the cadets. He needed guidance and good training, not sympathy and tears. Later, in a few years, he would need her, like Magnus needed her now?

She thought about that for a while, as the boys hauled off their burdon. Did Magnus need a woman to look after him, to balance his soul, now tempered by the Father? Did he need a daughter to look after, letting him be a father to something more than soliders? What was sex to a man like Magnus? To her father, an Elf, sex was natural. He was a sexual being, as was Natalie. Women in Chardun's outlook on life were something a man bred with to build his country, and not much more. Prostitutes were a known need she had been told. Taken out to the battle fields, as a nessessary evil, that if they could find a way not to need them, they would. No, they were not prostitutes as Shelazar saw them, they were slaves. They serviced the men when those men simply had to have sex and could not contain the need any longer. Was Magnus like that? Would he soon need to have sex? Did he see the women he slept with as objects, slaves?

She thought about Jason again, he was a solider, he fought as hard, and as fierce. Did the knights also require women in the battle field? Did these boys she felt so strongly for see her as an object as well? Is that why their oaths were to Magnus and not her?

Adding sex to any combination and any relationship she decided complicated it beyond her ability to see the silver lines. She decided to learn more about this issue between men and women. She needed to know what it was, and how it affeted them. Natalie was the obvious place to start, or the Sorcores. She thought about Natalie for a moment, and really that woman scared her to death. She would go to Nabilia first, and then, Natalie if she had blanks to fill in. Going to Natalie completely unarmed was just something she didn't think sane people did.

The Walkers are fiercly interested in Natalie. Very little was known about her and finding things out was damn near impossible. On top of that she was able to spot them any time she choose. Not a single Walker was able to get within 60 feet of her without her giving them some sign that she not only knew she was being followed, but knew exactly where they were. It was said that only a handful of Walkers were left that hadnt showed up for this challenge, and all had failed miserably on every attempt.

They also knew she was strong, much stronger than she looked. And her ability with a bow was ledgend. Some even suggested, though very quietly, that she could match Tanil. This was laughed at, but in a way that people laugh at ghost stories in graveyards.

But beyond all of that, Elaine knew that Natalie was an itch to them, something that wouldn't go away, and got worse every time you paid any attention to it. They didn't understand her, and that made her a source of couriosity, and there is very little more active, than a curious Walker.

Sorlaya was a puzzle as well, but not as much of one. They felt that they knew her, and they understood her pupose as well. They talked about her, like they talked about the Vigiant of Vesh. The Rangers empressed them. Their ability to track down foes, and go long distances quickly and still be able to fight. They talked about trying to follow Sorlaya a few times when she headed out, and loosing her, because they underestimated her ability to cross ground at a rapid pace more than once.

But Natalie was different than these Vesh Rangers, or Sorlaya. She could simply disapper, while they were looking straight at her, without shadow. In a crowd it was impossible to find her, if she didn't want to be found. She also seemed to know about the game, and it was assumed that Edrin had told her of their interest. One of the Walkers, Adela, a very gifted Walker, was caught by Natalie one night, down in the main Market area. She was trying to follow her, and she lost her in a small gathering. She jumped from shadow to shadow, trying to find the she-elf again, and then felt the knife blade on the back of her neck. Natalie whispered, "you are good. I am better." And sliced through the top of Adela's tunic. When she turned Natalie was at the end of the alley, and then she was gone.

The sliced tunic was in the shrine, with 5000 of Adela's own gold underneith it. Anyone able to slice Natalies tunic, and return, could claim the gold. None had even tried, from what Elaine had heard. They were still trying to get within 60 feet of her, before she looked up from the fruit cart or vetable stall and smiled at them.

Nabilia was much more approachable Elaine decided, even if Natalie was her 'soon-to-be' step mother. Besides, she lived with a giant bear. Getting the birds and bees story from Natalie might be a whole different experience.

The bear was something of a nusiance, if a beloved nusiance to the knights. Jason talked about it several times. Apparently it doesn't like being in the city, which is said of Natalie herself quite often. But the bear, about every other day, gets up from Edrin's back yard and heads out the main gate. The wall guards have developed a whole new system for alerting the front gate guards for when this happens.

The thing is huge, Jason exclaimed over dinner one night, and it just won't fit through the gate if there is a wagon or even another rider there as well. And it panics most horses to death, literaly. Two have died so far, after seeing this huge bear coming down the road at it. They just whinnied, and shook, and then died;. And the bear doesn't understand the consept of lines at all, it just goes through the gate, moving aside what ever needs to be moved aside to get past it. It has, apparently, figured out the signal system, and makes a few false starts for the gate, before really heading that way. It finds there are less things to move aside doing it that way. So apparently it either understands that things don't like to be moved aside, or it is basicaly lazy.

Once it gets out past the gate however, it leaves the carts and horses and people alone, making its way as fast as possible for the Golden circle, and then out into the plains.

"You can't follow it on horse back, once it gets moving." Jason said, "It covers ground faster than anything I have ever seen before, that is until I saw Natalie keeping up with it one morning."

The bear saved a patrol of five knights out past the golden circle once however, and since that time, the knights have been much more tollerent of its need to come and go periodicaly. They wonder why it comes back inside the gate at all and a few have suggested a shelter for it out by the main gate. But suggestion has been as far as this has gone.

The five knights say that they were on their way back in, and close to the golden triangle area, when they were ambused by a large group of Proud, who were very well armed and caught them in the ambush as a veteran group of warriors might. It was sudden, and very well executed. The knights were caught dead to rights, and knew they could only make their last stand a firece one, and try to take as many as they could, if they were given that chance, which it didn't look like they were going to get. And then the bear came over the horizon of one of the low hills and sat down, looking at the proud and the knights, all gathered there in the little bowl, just about to attack each other. It sat down, yawned, and then looked back at the group.

The Proud didn't know what it was, and anything they don't know about, they attack to see if it is a real threat or not. The bear took the first attack with a bemused wonderment, scratching with its hind leg a spear out from the heavy side fur of his face, and then shaking the multitude of arrows out of its fur like a dog might shake the water form it's coat. The arrows acted the same as the water might. Then it sat down again, thinking it was over, and watching the the Proud circle around it, very warry now, and just about forgetting the Knights they had captured altogether. The knight however lost themselves abit, they admitted, because even though a way was now open for their escape from the certain death the found themselves in, they couldn't decide whether it was right to just leave the bear with this group they knew meant to kill it, when the bear seemed unable to grasp that idea.

It is now believed that the bear couldn't grasp the idea, not because it didn't understand the concept, but it had just been so long since anyone, or anything thought seriously of tring to pull it off. On the second wave of attacks the Bear saw that these cat like people just weren't going to grasp the obvious and roared in on them faster than the Knights, or the Proud themselves thought it possible for such a large beast to do. It brought down over eight of the Proud on its frist run through them, turned and took down seven more. Then it roared and decided to really get serious.

The knights decided it was okay to leave the bear to its own devices and headed out of there as fast as they could. The bear didn't show back up at the city until the next morning, seemingly as mellow and undisturbable as it ever was. The patrol, sent out the next day, to scout out the area, found the remains of 42 proud, in various states of carnage. The bear seems to eat what it kills, or tries to at any rate. Three clerics, hearing the tale went down to Natalie and asked if there was anything they might do for the bear, and if he was injured or not. This idea seemed to come as much of a surprise to Natalie, as the proud's attack was to the bear, so she went out back with them to check on him, apparently a bit conserned herself. The bear had no marks on him that they could see, and 'told' Natalie it was fine. In bear language, a long low yawn seems to mean this.

Natalie said, "It's not a complicated language, mostly it is about things to eat, drink or have sex with. And those areas as summed up in either good, or not very good. Nothing apparently is, bad. The rest of life is unimportant as a whole".

Now it comes, it goes. It kills Titan spawn, and occasionaly kills a horse by fright. Children come every day it is in the city to stare at it for the hour after school Natalie allows them, and none stay any longer than she has given. They are more afraid of her, than of the bear. It has been known to spend a few days outside the walls, just above Shanty Town. It lays down on the hill there, and watches the boats. This scared the population of Shanty Town quite a bit, seeing it up there, looking down on them, though it never made a move to them, or seemed interested at all in their existance. But the more the poplulation heard about the bear killing Titan spawn, the more they seemed to realize that with the bear there, they were much safer, than when it wasn't. The children of shanty town say it is the monster, come back to watch over them. Narrin has commented that homework is getting done much more often as well.

Natalie herself has been out on the Plains more than a few times, riding with the Rangers of Vesh, who she says are adiquate. This ruffled a few hairs until she was out with them, and by demonstration, showed areas they could due with some serious improvement. These areas covered, the Vigil told Jason over a few beers, while licking their wounded pride, just about everything they thought they were good at. Archery, tracking, two weapon fighting, hand to hand combat, hiding, comunication with the world around them, awareness, just to name a few. She has turned down every offer of payment for training by the various Vigil stationed here and doesn't give favor to rank or age when she goes out with them. Those that do go out, have learned a great deal just watching her track.

Sorlaya is the only one Natalie spends a great deal of time with, and those two go out on their own, on foot, for days at time. It is rumored they have gone down to the swamps, and harass the Ratmen patrols who try to come out into the Vesh lands. Several Vesh patrols have discovered the signs of large groups of Ratmen, who were coming out to raid the villages, who were turned back by an apposing force, which they could not find any sign of. Vesh would dearly love for Natalie to become an instructor for them, but again, her only real interest is Edrin, and Sorlaya. Everything else is just amusement and distraction to pass the time.

The Vesh leaders all agree that the presence of Natalie on the Plains has been a great blessing. It has sparked their Vigial out of a complcancy they didn't realize they had fallen into. And fewer have died in the field because of it. The numbers show a drastic change since she has started going out with them.

Elaine looked out at the setting moon, it was time to go to sleep. She couldn't sleep into the day too much as it wasn't an acceptable thing for young ladies to do in this city, and would cause talk. Silver came down the wall and into the window, and on her pillow, saying she agreed, it was time for sleep.

Mangus was still here, going through the would be attacker's items. The boys were long since back and asleep in their rooms. There was no trouble from the clerics, about the discovered body.

"How long before Alastia puts out a price for Natalie?" she asked Mangus.

"They havn't already?" He asked in return.

"Are they that afraid of any once person with powerful abilities in Mithril." she asked.

Mangus leanded his head back, looking at the cieling. "Yes." he finaly said, and returned to his work.

"Well they haven't yet. There are some rumors about a group coming to hunt the bear though." She said.

"They havn't learned their lesson on that one I guess." Mangus said under his breath.

"What does that mean?" She asked, yawning a little.

"A while back a few hunting parties went up north to kill a Hurous. The great white bears of the frozen lands. The last bears in this world. The are sacred to the Barbarian tribes up there. The party found a Hurous and almost succeeded in killing it, and then the Barbarians showed up. Not a single member of the party survived. The next party, and the next five, never made it to the hunting grounds. The message was pretty clear, mess with the Hurous, we kill you. I can think of more than one creature in this world who would have an active interest in seeing that bear remain a live as long as it was here to roam the plains or mountains."

"Do these creatures have names?" She asked, climbing past him, into her bed.

"One is Garath, a powerful man most say is a Lycothope, a were-bear, but I'm certain he's something else. The other is Lilith, who you might have heard about at least in Shelazar." She shook here head no, to this. "Then you were not very attentive while you were there. She took out a great deal of the city, which they are still repairing." She nodded her head that this much she knew about. "Another is the druids and Tera Vera Elves, who I am surprised havn't come out to see the beast, though it is possible they have, just finding it on the plains some where instead of coming here."

He sat back, from the pile of various effects on the floor and stood up. "I would wager that any hunting party that comes for the bear itself, won't get past the boarders of Vesh without a great deal of trouble."

"How much?" Came the half asleep responce of the fading girl.

"Five gold, I'm just a humble working class soldier." He answered walking to the door.

"You're on, but I wager they won't get to past Mullis Town at all." she mumbled.

Two days later, she paid Mangus five gold. But only because Natalie and Sorlaya setup their ambush in the mountains, instead of in the fields. A price was issued for Natalie the next day in Calistia, of 10,000 gold.

Five days later a young would-be assasin tried to claim the bounty. Natalie took him alive to the garison in the middle of town, naked, and whipped with the shaft of an arrow. She also carved in his forhead the Elf rune for Assasin. It was difficult for Elaine to look at the young man and not feel sorry for him.

Three days after that, a three man team suffered the exact same fate. The next day Natalie publicly humiliated two men in the market place, "You are horrible at this, would you just stop? It is embarassing being followed by you, you can't even move with the damn crowd! I can see you every time I pass a reflective sufface. You stand out like tits on a bull! Look at you, you can't even hide your knives properly. Just get out of here, you aren't even worth the whipping stick." She then turned her back on them and walked away. The two men left the city as quickly as they could. One of the guards reported the younger of the two was crying.

The next day, after yet another failed attempt, and another public flogging by Natalie, she issued a proclamation at the top of her lungs in the market place near the center of the city, with the naked man at her feet. She said that if within the week, the bounty on her was not withdrawn, or rasied to a sum greater than 100,000 gold, so that an assasin of resonable skill would come after her, instead of these amatures, she would kill a general, or high ranking offical of Calistia, every day after that time, until one of those two things happened. She then drug the man by his right foot to the Garason.

"Interesting way to commit suicide." Remarked one on-watcher.

Three days after that, the bounty was withdrawn.

"Didn't see that one coming." Remarked Barconas. "I guess they just don't want her over there.

"Probably afraid she wouldn't know the differance between the king and just a high ranking offical." remarked a fisherman on the docks.

"Even if she only got one General, it would cost them more the 10,000. Just not worth the bounty, or the trouble. Its an accounting thing." said a merchant in the market place.

"All of the above." Said Elaine to Magnus, lifting an eyebrow at him.

"No bet this time, you are fully awake." said Magnus.

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