Chapter 2: A Decision

By Michelle Michel

"Why exactly would we even want to help you, Drow?" Riquith demanded, eyes flashing angrily, and Lyrrin turned to glare at her once more. Riquith met her glare with her own. "Furthermore," she announced to the slowly dispersing crowd, refusing to take her eyes from her sister's, "why are we standing here listening to you?"

Lyrrin sighed, shaking her head, though more out of annoyance and weariness than actual disagreement. "Please, Riquith, let's just hear him out," she said slowly. She saw Riquith's eyes narrow. "Please," she tried again. Sorren watched the pair with interest, and a quick glance to his right revealed the Halfling doing the same. Grunt stood behind Valaya, tapping his foot in a rhythm known only to himself, looking bored.

Riquith shook her head firmly, drawing Sorren's attention back to the argument. She turned her glare to him and the other two, stopped a moment longer on Sorren, and then turned back to Lyrrin. "No."

"Fine," Lyrrin said after a moment's pause, clenching her fists and straightening her back defiantly. "Do what you wish. But I am going to stay here and listen. No harm ever came from simply listening."

"With you, a lot of harm can come from listening, and that harm is usually to me," Riquith snapped, rolling her eyes. She reached up with her gloved right hand to massage away a starting headache before turning back to Lyrrin. Seeing her sister had made no move to leave, she whirled, snarling at Sorren, "Make it quick then!"

Sorren nodded slowly. "Very well." He turned to Lyrrin and smiled once more in gratitude, before starting his story. "I have been charged, by Head Mistress Faysan of the Mage Guild, to go to the Larinth and retrieve the Staff of Mourning. While it promises to be a difficult task to undertake alone, with a small party - you four, for instance - it should be no trouble at all."

"Why not?" Riquith demanded, crossing her arms over her brown jerkin. Sorren grinned in response.

"Why not, you ask?" he repeated, letting the question hang in the air as he led the group toward the shade cast by a nearby building. The sun was beginning to bother him.

"Where are we going?" Valaya asked curiously, bouncing up beside him. Riquith glared, holding her ground, a restrictive hand on Lyrrin's arm.

Sorren turned to look at the group over his shoulder. "Simply to the shade. My people come from underground, and my eyes do not adjust well to the sun." He waved a hand. "Besides, it is getting rather warm, and I thought it best we not stand and discuss this matter in the street."

Lyrrin drifted out of Riquith's hand, tugging her sister with her as the four travelers made their way after him.

Sorren settled back against the building, pulling his hood off and letting the light breeze cool his head. "Why not?" he repeated the earlier question thoughtfully, bringing their discussion back on topic. He considered his answer momentarily before continuing. "Think. I am but a humble wizard. My powers are not adequate to undertake such a journey. I could very well be killed -"

"Doing the world a favor, I'm sure," Riquith grumbled as she paused just beyond the shade. Lyrrin glared at her, shaking her head in annoyance as she came to a stop beside Valaya, breathing a silent sigh of relief for the slight drop in the summer heat.

Sorren shook his head before starting again. "I could very well be killed," here he paused to look at Riquith, waiting for some comment before continuing, "because I would be ill-equipped to handle the hardships such a journey will undoubtedly reveal. However, with a cleric, "a glance at Lyrrin, "and two fighters," a wave of his hand at Grunt to his left and a pointed look at Riquith, "why, the task should be quite simple to complete."

"Why the Halfling, then?" Riquith growled, waving her hand at Valaya, who had been bouncing from one foot to the other until she'd heard herself mentioned. "What would the thief do for you?"

"Hey!"

"Why, with her abilities, the actual retrieval of the staff will be made far less difficult than it could be without her," he replied evenly. He held his hands out, palms upward. "I do not wish to trouble any of you, but. I do need your help."

Valaya beamed, proud of the praise, and Lyrrin smiled slightly at the sight. Valaya turned to Grunt, slapping his stomach lightly and exclaiming, "Well how do you like that? What do you think, Grunt?"

"Uhn," he replied with a shrug of his shoulder. "Urg uh uhg. Uhn."

Valaya nodded thoughtfully, toying with her hair. "I think so, too. Okay, Sorren, Grunt and I'll go with you. It could be fun."

Sorren stared at the pair, for the first time in his life rendered speechless. Lyrrin chuckled and Riquith rolled her eyes, muttering under her breath. He shook his head, blinking several times before smiling.

"Thank you, Valaya. Grunt," he said, nodding at the pair. Grunt snorted in response, and Valaya laughed, slapping his stomach lightly again. Sorren shook his head and turned to Lyrrin and Riquith. "And you have decided.?"

"Thank you, Valaya. Grunt," he said, nodding at the pair. Grunt snorted in response, and Valaya laughed, slapping his stomach lightly again. Sorren shook his head and turned to Lyrrin and Riquith. "And you have decided.?"

Riquith smiled cruelly. "I think not, Drow," she replied coldly. She spun on her heel and stomped off, not stopping to see if Lyrrin was following. Lyrrin gaped.

"Riquith?!"

The Elf waved her hand over her head. "Come on, Lyrrin," she commanded. "We're leaving."

"But." Lyrrin trailed off as she realized Riquith was no longer listening. She turned to Sorren. "I am very sorry. I will talk to her." Hesitantly, she placed a hand on his shoulder. "I would like to help you, Sorren," she said slowly. She smiled. "For my lady Feena if nothing else, I would go. But. if I cannot convince my sister."

Sorren simply stared, his eyes darting back and forth between her face and her hand still resting on his shoulder. For the second time, Sorren was speechless, at a loss at what he should do. Finally he managed to shake his head. "Go. I understand." He let out a breath he didn't know he was holding as Lyrrin quickly agreed, turning to run after her sister. As she left, Sorren frowned and heaved a sigh. "This is more difficult than I thought it would be," he grumbled, turning to Valaya and Grunt.

*****

Lyrrin ran through the streets until she finally caught up with Riquith. While the Elf had only had a short head start on her, the bustling, pushy crowd had made it near impossible to catch up.

"Riquith!" Lyrrin cried, grabbing onto her arm. Riquith shrugged her off and made her way to the nearest tavern. She rounded a corner to find herself staring at a two story building, a smaller, single floor structure attached to the front of it. A door leading into the front section had a sign hanging above it, reading: "The Flaming Huntsman". The building was kept nicely, no boards old or falling apart, each piece of wood fit perfectly with the next. The windows, plentiful, though not cluttering, were left wide open to tempt a breeze to dull the summer heat. From the looks of it, she had found a tavern, and a rather nice one at that.

"Riquith, stop!" Lyrrin ordered, trying to catch her sister's attention.

Riquith eyed the building carefully, nodding her approval. "This place will do well for a few days, if you do intend on staying. If not, then we can at least figure which city we need to go to next."

She walked into the building, leaving Lyrrin standing outside, staring after her sister in disbelief. Riquith had never, in all their time together, both before and after leaving their home village, been so abrupt with her. She shifted from foot to foot, uncertain how she should proceed.

"Oh, my lady, give me strength," she murmured, straightening her back and smoothing her white and sky blue robes before she ran into the building after Riquith.

The tavern was bright with sunlight, the lanterns mounted along the walls fireless and cold. Tables were scattered around the room without any real pattern unless one studied the room long enough to see the reasoning behind the placement - to allow both servers and visitors easy movement from place to place. A small stage sat in the far corner, directly across the room from the bar itself - for performing bards and storytellers, Lyrrin was sure.

Already seated at many of the tables were townspeople, a wide mix of Humans, Orcs, Half-Orcs, and even Elves and Halfings. Some were finishing off the remaining of a late lunch, but a few were starting to relax and drink. While the tavern was far from full, Lyrrin knew it was only a few hours before the heavy drinkers would show for the night.

She found Riquith already seated at a far table so she could see the rest of the bar, slowly drinking from a tankard. Lyrrin frowned at her, nodding absently to a passing citizen, before making her way slowly over to Riquith.

"Relax, Lyrrin," she said before Lyrrin neared the table. She waved the tankard at her. "It's not ale."

Lyrrin did not know whether to be relieved or confused as she sank into her chair. Her sister was not one to drink in any case, she knew. But today had not been a normal day.

 

"Why don't you want to help, Riquith?" Lyrrin asked after several minutes, nodding in thanks to the server who had brought her some water, grateful for the excuse to look away from Riquith's hard eyes momentarily. She sipped it, sloshing the cool liquid around her mouth before swallowing. Setting the mug aside, she turned back to Riquith, studying her intently.

Riquith sighed, watching the juice within the tankard slosh to the side, then back again as she slowly rotated it in her hands. "Lyrrin, he's a Drow -"

"So what?!" Lyrrin demanded angrily, her voice rising. She paused, looking around to see how much attention she had acquired, and lowered her voice before continuing. "Just because he is a Drow does not make him evil! He may not necessarily be good - I'm not saying he is - but that does not make him evil!" She shook her head, brushing a loose lock of her golden brown hair out of her face absently. "Why do you have such a prejudice against him, Riquith? Or, rather, why do you let it bother you? I would have thought, with what you did for me."

Riquith shook her head angrily. "Do not make this about you, Lyrrin!" she snarled, slamming the tankard onto the table, sloshing juice onto her hands. She glared hard into Lyrrin's eyes. "This is not about you and the wrongs of our village. This is about him and the fact - yes, Lyrrin, the fact - that Drow are no good. That he would sooner kill us, kill you, in our sleep than befriend you. That he -"

"Listen to yourself!" Lyrrin exclaimed, reaching out to take her sister's hand, ignoring the unpleasant feeling of the wet leather. "Riquith, please. You don't know him. Yes, he may turn out to be evil, to be wrong, to be untrustworthy. But." she shook her head, "but, Riquith, anyone could! You cannot live life thinking everyone is going to betray you. Because they're not!"

"This is not about betrayal," Riquith replied, jerking her hand out of Lyrrin's. "This is not about the character of every other living being in the world. This is about one Drow -"

"Exactly!" Lyrrin cried, throwing her hands into the air. "One Drow. One! Don't you think you should give him a chance?"

Riquith sighed, lifting her tankard and draining it, grimacing as the juice finally managed to soak to her hands through the well worn leather. The pair sat in silence for several minutes, Lyrrin slowly drinking her water while Riquith watched the people coming and going from the tavern. Finally she spoke.

"Why do you want to help so much, Lyrrin?"

sighed, running a finger along the inside of the mug. "I don't know," she admitted. "It just. feels like the right thing to do."

Riquith sighed, defeated. "I was afraid you were going to say that," she muttered. "Well, your feelings are seldom wrong."

Lyrrin glanced up at her, a small smile forming.

Heaving another sigh, Riquith finally turned to face her sister. "If he does anything, and I mean anything that could put you in danger, I'm killing him on the spot."

Lyrrin's eyes widened and she jumped across the table, knocking her chair, and Riquith's, over as she did so. She shrieked, "You mean it?!" hugging her sister tight even as they hit the floor with a painful thump.

Riquith grunted, pushing the apparently insane Half-Elf away from her, trying to sit up. "Yes," she managed to gasp out, allowing herself a small smile as Lyrrin jumped up, no longer caring about attracting attention, and grinned happily

"Thank you, Riquith," Lyrrin cried. Only then did she stop and look sheepishly up at the tavern keep standing behind her, glaring until she reached out to straighten the chairs she had knocked over.

*****

Thalec laughed as he watched his older brother hunt around the room, settling down in his rather uncomfortably padded chair. Merin had been ecstatic when he'd heard about Sorren's offer, and even more so upon hearing Thalec had agreed (and under the terms he'd agreed to). Then Thalec had sat through nearly two hours worth of lectures about what he should in some fifty-odd situations, and all of them unsurprisingly included killing something. After Thalec had managed to assure Merin that he would be fine, of which he was still not convinced, Merin had set about searching for "that thing" that supposedly would bring Thalec luck.

Merin, like Thalec, was a mercenary, the pair working together to bring in enough money to make a living. Years of undertaking a wide variety of jobs for an equally wide variety of pay had left Merin lean and powerful, a true swordsman, his blue eyes bright and alert, and his light brown hair cut short to avoid needing too much care. He sported a crooked nose from one too many breaks not healed correctly and a high forehead, the same one that Thalec had inherited from their father. He was shorter than Thalec by half a foot, though he made up for it with his greater swordsman abilities. And, further like his younger brother, Merin often wore little more than a pair of breeches and a tunic, unless out on a job.

When it came to physical prowess, Merin was favored to Thalec. Due to his greater age and experience, Merin was easily the first hired for a job, leaving Thalec with small, insignificant jobs. His skill in sword craft and his own lean build came not from his jobs, but his near constant training on his own time. As it was, his only outward sign to his chosen profession, aside from a lean build and oftentimes graceful movements, was a single, long scar marring his right arm.

"Why do I need luck again?" Thalec asked, thoroughly enjoying watching his older brother shuffle around on all fours, sticking his head into and under various furniture and other items, all seemingly in a random pattern. He'd even gone so far as to look under Thalec's bed twice, though why Thalec was at a loss to figure out. Unless Merin really thought that Thalec had cruelly swiped "that thing" out from under his nose, then Thalec really saw no reason for searching under his bed twice.

"Because maybe then you'll be able to keep from getting too badly hurt," Merin replied, his voice muffled halfway through his sentence as he stuck his head into yet another cupboard. "Again," he finished, pulling his head out long enough to cast a pointed look at Thalec's scar along his right arm before diving back into the task at hand.

Thalec sighed. "That was five years ago, Merin," he said patiently, leaning forward in an attempt to see just what Merin was rummaging through. No luck, as Merin was positioned just right to block Thalec's view. Shaking his head, he leaned back in the chair again. "You really ought to let it go."

"And just why would that be, exactly?" Merin goaded, letting out an "ah-hah!" as he found "that thing" buried deep within the cupboard. He jerked his head out and held it up for Thalec to see.

"It's. mom's old necklace," Thalec said, looking at the battered pendant dangling from the thin chain. He raised an eyebrow. "This is what's going to bring me luck?"

Merin grinned. "Sure thing, little brother." He tossed it to him. "Just take it, all right?"

Thalec glanced at the necklace, a golden chain with a small, blue stone set in a gold bracket for the pendant, before tucking it into the pack at his feet with his other supplies. "Might I ask just what's so lucky about it?"

He older brother shrugged. "I don't know." Mom gave it to me a while ago, claiming it was lucky. So, I figured, why not give it to my little brother. Maybe it'll actually work with him. Couldn't hurt, in any case."

Thalec raised an eyebrow and shook his head. "Whatever you say, Merin," he said slowly, grinning even as Merin frowned.

"Seriously, Thalec, take care. The Larinth is not a place to take lightly. You could be killed."

Thalec waved his worry aside, jumping deftly to his feet and clapping Merin's shoulder. "Calm down, Merin, and stop worrying. I can take care of myself and whatever comes my way."

Merin nodded, reaching up to ruffle Thalec's hair. "As you say, little brother. Where are you meeting Sorren?"

"I'm not," Thalec replied, grinning as Merin's face turned from worried to confused. "He's meeting me here. I think. He simply told me to be ready when he came for me. So, I'm assuming that means he's coming here."

Merin shook his head, pulling away from Thalec and lifting the pack from the foot of the chair. He held it at arm's length for a minute, eyes distant, before turning and throwing it at Thalec. "Why don't you go find him? I'm out of here anyway. I want to make sure this place is locked up before we go - I know you won't do it."

Thalec ignored the jibe. "Where are you going?" he asked curiously, swinging the pack over his shoulder.

"Arnon. Don't worry, it's nothing big. I should actually be back before you. Now, go, young mercenary, and actually earn your keep." With that, Merin pushed Thalec out the already open door. "If I were you, I'd check by the main gates first. If he's looking for a party, outsiders would be the best bet - not as good a chance of them knowing about the staff, and, coincidently, actually having the sanity to back away." He laughed as he closed the door, leaving his brother standing out in the hot sun on his own.

Thalec sighed, shaking his head at his brother's antics. He seemed really eager for Thalec to leave the city. Usually he'd have a lot more to say about his acceptance of such a task from Sorren, seeing as he, more often than not, despised the Drow.

He shook his head and started back toward the main gates, hoping to find Sorren somewhere along the way. He passed several other small homes like his and Merin's, almost all looking the same: a mix of wood and stone making up the buildings themselves, with fenced in yards for some of the bigger, better homes. Some even had small gardens along the sides of the houses.

Moving onto the main street leading to the main gates, Thalec quickly left the houses behind in favor of the shops. Unlike the houses, each of the buildings had at least a small difference from the one beside it, showing the nature of its owners' works. And the citizens of Bitan flowed quickly and busily from shop to shop, going about their business.

As luck would have it, as Thalec neared the Outfitter's shop, he spotted Sorren leaning against the wall in the shade, cloak hood fallen around his neck, long white hair blowing slightly as the random breeze would pick up momentarily. His eyes were closed, his arms crossed, and his long, thin face tilted down toward his chest as he relaxed. Black robe billowed with the random gust of wind, but otherwise remained loose around him, and Thalec wondered briefly how Sorren could wear those clothes and still stand the heat.

What caught Thalec's eye, however, were the two standing with him. A rather tall Half-Orc - green skinned, black haired, small yellow eyes, and very muscular - stood beside him, arms folded, staring blankly out at the crowd. And beside the two of them, bouncing around every few seconds, sending her black hair flying, and talking very animatedly to the both of them, was a Halfling, her skin lightly tanned and her brown eyes wide. As Thalec approached, Sorren opened his eyes and his eyebrows raised in question.

"Merin kicked me out," Thalec greeted once he was close enough to be heard over the bustling crowd without shouting, dropping his pack onto the ground in front of Sorren. "Apparently I'm not trustworthy enough to lock the doors before I leave."

"So Merin does have some brains in him after all," Sorren observed dryly. "No matter. If absolutely necessary, and if we do not leave until tomorrow as I had originally planned, you can stay with me."

"Gee, thank you, Sorren," Thalec replied, shaking his head in mild amusement. "How considerate of you."

Sorren grunted in response, then turned to his two companions. "Thalec, these two have agreed to join us. Their names are Valaya and Grunt." He waved a hand toward each one as he mentioned their names.

Thalec nodded at the two. Grunt snorted in response and Valaya grinned. "Nice to meet you," he greeted. "My name is Thalec."

"Hello, Thalec," Valaya chirped eagerly. She bounced forward, offering her hand. "I'm Valaya. Nice to meet you."

Thalec smiled, turning back to Sorren. "This it?"

Sorren shrugged, turning to watch travelers come and go through the nearby gates. They would not be leaving through those gates, however. Sorren glanced back toward the other side of town, toward the Flaming Huntsman and the gates near the tavern. The Larinth lay to the east, not west. "Waiting on two others - if they show," he said finally.

Thalec nodded his understanding, turning to look through the crowd, hoping to spot Sorren's other prospective party members. A few minutes later he heard a voice call out to Sorren. He turned and nodded behind Thalec, who turned to see who it was.

Coming toward them were two Elves - or rather, one Elf and one Half-Elf. The Half-Elf was beaming happily as she ran up to Sorren, clasping his hand in hers. Sorren jerked his hand back, wide-eyed and gaping. The Half-Elf looked momentarily hurt and confused before understanding lit her eyes and she smiled knowingly. "Riquith and I would be happy to join you, Sorren," she exclaimed happily, her eyes gleaming with excitement, moving her hand to wave toward the approaching Elf. Riquith, as Thalec guessed her name was, looked torn between annoyance and resignation.

Sorren shook his head to clear it and bowed his head to her, trying to regain his composure. "Thank you, Lyrrin." He nodded to Riquith as well.

"I am warning you, Drow," she growled. "Any false step on your part, and you'll regret it." She turned toward Thalec, frowning. "And you are?" she asked coldly, though not harshly.

Thalec bowed his head politely. "My name is Thalec - I'm an old friend of Sorren's. I will be joining you, if you have no objections."

Riquith eyed him warily for a moment before shaking her head, an eyebrow rising slightly. "None," she said shortly. "My only objection would be to the Drow, and I have made that clear." Her eyes drifted to Valaya and she sighed. "And perhaps a few thieves." Valaya, ducking safely behind Grunt, began making faces at Riquith, mouthing her words exaggeratedly. Riquith rolled her eyes.

Lyrrin smiled at Thalec, her eyes bright. "Greetings, Thalec. I am Lyrrin, cleric of Feena. It is an honor to meet you."

"And you, milady," he replied, meeting her smile with his own. He turned to Sorren after a moment. "Well, it seems we have our party," he said, waving a hand to indicate the group.

"It does indeed, Thalec," he agreed, looking slowly from one member to the next. "It does indeed."