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At first Soo thought a kid had broke into the church, but she had used a key. It also turned out not to be a kid, but a priestess.

A very, very, annoyed priestess.

Soo had looked at the remains of the pew and the smoldering fire in front of the alter, and ummed and awed for a moment, made a couple of quick excuses, then bolted out the window she broke, the little woman chasing after her. She limped heavily, however, and couldn't chase her past the window in any case.

Soo saw the horses outside the bar and quickly "borrowed" one. She had often heard full Rangers talk about "borrowing" this and "borrowing" that, always in that tone of voice that indicated something else entirely was meant, but never really explained how it was done, so she improvised.

She left the note on the hitching post and rode off into the night, a giant wolf of some sort chasing after her. An upset priestess was bound to attract the wrong kind of attention. Parental attention.

She took the nearest road, a small little dirt path that appeared to lead to nowhere. She didn't know which way to ride, she only hoped there was a caravan along the way she could join. She had no idea how that was done, either, having heard only stories about Rangers joining caravans to remain inconspicuous. She assumed you just walked up to one and asked nicely.

Luck seemed to be with her. There were a dozen hooded men on horseback on the road ahead, riding silently.

She rode up to the lead horse, "Hello! I was wondering if you need an extra hand to ride with you. I'm good with a sword and I work cheap!"

The lead rider looked her over, then took off her hood as the rest of her party drew their swords. She was an orc, as were they all.

"You had better be really good."

Nari came back disappointed, after unsuccessfully chasing the stolen horse. Perah-Perah comforted her sister, but it was too dark now to chase after it, and they weren't proper trackers.

"Maybe she will bring it back?"_Victoria said, having only seen the girl, "She didn't seem like the lying type."

"She said she was thirty-five!" said Perah-Perah.

"She said she was a pew integrity inspector!" said Rosileen.

"She said she'd bring it 'right back'!" sobbed Asyra, as if that was the ultimate clue as to how unlikely it was to be true.

Perah-Perah waved over the barkeep, and said to her sister, "Look, we should go to bed now. We have to find Lysander and give him the message from daddy. Then maybe we can hire a tracker and find out which way she went with him."

Asyra nodded, "Okay."

Perah-Perah rented a room for the night from the barman, and looked over to her other companions.

"Thank you for your support, but we're going to call it a night. Got work to do early tomorrow."

Rosileen bowed to them, "My door is always open," then half-muttered to herself, "and my window too until I get it fixed. I will be staying there."

Victoria stretched, "I'm beat anyway. Time to turn in," she smiled to Asyra and said, "Don't worry, I'm sure you'll find your horse. Things have a strange way of working out," then after thinking about her own life added, "...usually."

Soo woke up to a slap in the face. Not the most pleasant way to wake up. But then, being bashed over the head wasn't the most pleasant way to go to sleep, either.

"Wake up, girl." said a voice like fine sandpaper. Soo stared into the face of a female orc, who might have been considered attractive by other orcs, but Soo would never have noticed. Rangers were taught from birth that Orcs were the Enemy.

"What do you want?" Soo said, feeling the warmth of the slap on her cheek.

"You're lucky I let you have your little nap, girl, but don't push it. Where are the others?"


The orc woman grabbed Soo's necklace, which carried a simple silver rune on it. "Don't lie to me, Ranger. You're just a child, and children don't just happen to receive the symbol of Wardren. We looked for your parents."

Soo gasped, before realizing how that statement had been meant.

"They're smarter than you are, apparently," the orc continued, "We couldn't find them anywhere. But WHY would they send their child out on such a stupid ploy, carelessly brandishing the symbol of the Rangers around her like a talisman in front of a dozen orcs, unless there was some kind of angle?"

"But I'm not a Ranger!" Soo said desperately.

"Who are you, then?"

"I'm just a traveler, a wanderer and I wanted to see the world and someone told me about a caravan nearby and I thought you were it and the necklace was a gift from my dad before he died and..."

Soo was struck across the face again.

"Enough! You are a terrible liar! I suggest you consider telling the truth. My men are on their guard, and you will not escape. If you tell me the truth, I MIGHT let you go. And I don't lie."

Sephilith Vess left the damp and abandoned room the girl prisoner was being held in and addressed her lieutenant.

"Have two men guard her, Chack."

Chack nodded. "What do you think is going on, Captain?" he asked.

Seph put her helmet on, "What do I think? I think she is a runaway and a liar, but I also think her parents are Rangers. They might come looking for her, and that could destroy everything. How goes the search?" Chack shook his head, "Nothing yet."

"Do I need to bother saying 'keep searching'?"

"No, ma'am!"

Perah-Perah and Asyra woke up early to look for Lysander's place. A few inquires revealed where he lived and worked as an appraiser. An appraiser of what, nobody seemed to be sure of. But everyone knew he didn't open for business until after noon.

The sisters decided to pay him an early visit. After all, it was supposed to be an important message. They came to his door and found it slightly ajar. Both of them became uneasy, and drew their weapons as they opened the door.

"Hello?"_Asyra called out.

A muffled voice could be heard in the other room. "Hrmmr!!"

They found Lysander on the floor, hog tied with a gag in his mouth. Perah-Perah ungaged him.

"It's about bloody time someone came in here!_ Untie me already!"

Victoria tuned her lute, while Rosileen had a drink at the bar.

"Nobody has come for healing yet." she mentioned.

Victoria shrugged, "Maybe you're not advertising enough. Send out some pamphlets, have the church lit up bright at night, some choir singing, that sort of thing."

Rosileen took a sip of mead, "Perhaps."

Her friend looked out the window, "What do you think those ladies we hooked up with are up to?"

"Nothing interesting, I'm sure. They said they were just delivering a message."

"Orcs?"_gasped Perah-Perah.

"Yeah, bloody lot of them, too. Took me by surprise. Didn't have a chance to fight back."

"Why didn't they kill you?" asked Asyra.

"What, and break the Pact? They're vicious, but not suicidal."

"What Pact?" asked Asyra.

"I think he means a Pact of Nonaggression, the Treaty of Halffarthing. The one Halffarthing signed with the surrounding counties."


The Treaty was signed hundreds of years before, after the last invasion of Gassenti. Thousands of orcs, cut off from the escape, instead surrendered, and pledged loyalty to the Lord of Halffarthing in exchange for their lives. These orcs hadn't made such a pledge before the invasion, it was just sort of assumed they would fight to the end.

The Lord of Halffarthing at the time, a kind hearted, perhaps even naive man, took them at their word, and gave them a section of land to call their own within his county, and allowed them the same rights as the other races.. The elves and dwarves protested, and most of those who lived in Halffarthing moved away. But Halffarthing's ruler was steadfast, he would not slaughter those who surrendered to him, and they were now under his protection as far as he was concerned.

And so it came to pass that Halffarthing was the only county on the entire island to house a tax-paying orc population. For the most part they stayed out of trouble. When they found it, it was within Halffarthing boarders.

"Those orcs know a good thing when they smell it. They wouldn't want to risk a skirmish with Dreet because they killed an elf! If I were human, sure, Lady Lassailia would probably diplomatically excuse that, but me? She'd demand blood."

Lady Lassailia was the ruler of Dreet, a High Elf who married the human king and outlived him without being able to bear his child. She now had an elf consort and it was likely the Monarchy would now be elvish. Most of Dreet's population was elvish, especially deep in the woods and on the coast.

Lysander rubbed his sore wrists and looked the girls over. "Say... you wouldn't happen to be Seren's little girl, would you?" he said.

"I am."

"I thought as much, your skin is dark like your father, though not as much so... Well I'll be. I was expecting someone to come, that last message must have been intriguing to Old Tacky."

"Well, we have a message for you,"_said Asyra

"I'm sure I know what it says, but let's have a look at it anyway." he took the scroll from Perah-Perah and looked it over.

"Yep. He wants the map."

"What map?" asked Perah-Perah

Lysander sucked his teeth and said, "Standard treasure map. X marks the spot and all that."

Neither sister believed him, but said nothing. Perah-Perah looked at the mess around her. "So what did the orcs take, anyway?"

"The map."

"WHAT?!" the sisters shrieked.

"Didn't take anything else, just the map. I figure they are part of the Thieves Guild in Halffarthing Proper."

"Damn!" said Perah-Perah.

Lysander smiled the smile of an elf who had seen and done more than the sisters ever expected to in their lives, "You think I didn't make a copy?"

Perah-Perah's recovery was almost flawless, "Of course, but it means they also have the map, and a head start."

"Oooohhh," said Lysander, pretending to believe her, "Well, that may well be, but just because they find it first doesn't mean they get to keep it, right?" he smiled his knowing smile again, "Where are The Three? At the tavern?"

Asyra shook her head, "On assignment. We were supposed to bring the map back to Scry and father would let them handle it."

Now it was Lysander's turn to swear. "Dammit! That puts us in a pickle, doesn't it. I wondered why they weren't here with you."

"We could always go after them."

"What, just the three of us?"

Outside, Nari growled at a passing hound. The hound ran away and pretended he just had a bad dream.

"Four of us. There's also Nari,"_Perah-Perah corrected.

"Who... or what is Nari?"

"My wolf. He's polite enough not to come inside without permission."

"Well, wolf or no wolf," Lysander continued, then saw Nari's massive head poke through the door (wondering why they were talking about him), "er... and even if it IS a demon wolf, there were at least a dozen of them. We'd need more help."

Asyra looked at Perah-Perah. "That little cleric could be useful, my arm never felt better."

Perah-Perah nodded, "And that bard knows her way around a crossbow. Do you know anyone else, Lysander?"

Lysander thought about it, "We have a hunter in town. He's quite good, and I'm only semi-retired, remember. That makes seven." he added, expecting another growl, but Nari was out of sight, busy pouncing on a rat playfully.

"How goes the search?" asked Sephilith harshly.

"We found more gold and jewels."

"That's it?"

"I'm afraid so, Captain Vess."

The female orc frowned, "Keep looking, and keep guard. And Chack..."

"Yes, Captain?"

"We've fought side by side for years. You can call me Sephilith."

Victoria and Rosileen stood outside the Diarrhetic Warrior, wondering how long it would take for the others to arrive.

"What did they promise you?"_asked Victoria.

"A sizable donation for the church. Standard. How about you?"

"I'm a starving artist, what do you think?"

"Ah. So...why didn't you stay with the others?"

"I don't want to talk about it."

"But they're..."

"I know what they are!"

"You're going to tell me eventually."

Victoria smiled, but there was no humour in it, "Perhaps. But not today."

Perah-Perah and Asyra rode up on horseback, sharing the same horse. Following them was an older elf and a gruff looking human with a longbow on his back.

"I don't think your mule will be fast enough," said Perah-Perah, "So you and Victoria should ride with Lysander and... what is your name again?"

"Hrmph." muttered the hunter.

"Lysander and Hrmph. The ruins aren't that far from here, so it shouldn't be too uncomfortable." Victoria mounted with Lysander, and Rosileen with Hrmph. They then rode off.

"Sephilith!" called out Chack, his voice echoing all through the ancient abandoned basement, "We found it!"

Soo wondered for a moment what it was they found, then pretended to be dozing when her guard looked back at her.

It was obvious even to city dwellers like Perah-Perah and Asyra that the road had been used recently. The ground was chopped from hoofprints and hadn't yet settled from time or weather.

"How much farther?" asked Perah-Perah.

"An hour, tops. This road winds to the top of the hill, that's where the ruins are."

"What's so special about these ruins, anyway?"

"If your father didn't tell you anything more, I don't think I should either. Let's just go there, get what he wants and send you back home. I'm sure he'll shower you with praise or whatever."

"There is no need to be condescending about it." Asyra said with unusual harshness.

"Sorry, sorry. I just know Old Tacky, and he probably spoils you both rotten."

Perah-Perah changed the subject, "How much of a lead do you think they have on us?"

"They got me in the middle of the night," said Lysander, "so they probably rode the path in moonlight."

"Wasn't this the direction that girl who stole your horse was going in?" asked Rosileen.

Asyra nodded, "Yes, but that thought doesn't exactly comfort me right now. I half expect to find it dead in a ditch."

"That won't happen," said Lysander, "orcs hate to waste perfectly good food."


Soo heard noises outside of the damp dimly lit room. She was alone for now, it seemed that their leader wanted everyone to be present for the meeting. She fiddled with the ropes and listened to snippets of conversation.

" sure ... right one?"

"...I am ... should leave at ..."

"...about the TREASURE?"

"Leave it! We're here to.... not..."

" worth ... while... keep..."

There was muttering of agreement on that point. A subdued and reasonable female voice was eventually overruled.

"Fine! Gather... and... -thing magical.. be QUICK!"

"... about ... girl?"

"... her to me."

The clearing was overgrown in grass and weed, and a fog began to creep in, or perhaps always lurked there for ambiance. Some hearty varieties of tree tried to get a foothold here, and failed, only withered bonsai like shrubs could be found.

"The roots couldn't go deep enough, I reckon," muttered Lysander to nobody in particular.

They had arrived ten minutes earlier, and, much to Asyra's joy, had found all the orcs horses, including hers, captured, confused, but unharmed.

They quickly drove off the orc's horses, but kept one for Victoria, and hid their own in a different area.

"That'll slow them down, at least." said Asyra softly, not wanting to attract attention.

Perah-Perah had been surveying the ruins. Though she had never been on an expedition before, she knew much of the theory from talks with The Three, and other agents of the Syndicate.

"This appears to be a classic TIFER scenario." she said to Asyra, who nodded in agreement.

"Tifer?" asked Rosileen.

"Treasure In Forgotten Empty Ruins," Asyra translated, "One of the five classic scenarios for artifact retrieval."

Victoria loaded her crossbow, feeling the wind was somehow too still, "You do this often?"

"Of course," lied Perah-Perah.

Rosileen looked lost, "How do we find our way in? I don't see any obvious entrance."

"There won't be one," Lysander interjected, "This used to be a mighty castle, but it was destroyed shortly after the fall of Faustus the Last. The Dark Years swallowed this place up along with so many others, and forgotten to almost everyone. To everyone in town, it's just a ruin. What you're looking for is the remains of a staircase flush against the ground, leading to the basement."

The party searched, Nari sniffed the ground, growling occasionally at the smell of orcs. After a few minutes, Hrmph raised his arm to signal the others, careful not to shout when other ears might be listening. The rest of the party came over to a spiral staircase, hidden among foundation stones.

"Good job." said Perah-Perah.

"Hrmph." said Hrmph pointing to a fresh footstep in the grass beside the steps. Perah-Perah nodded, and unslung her bow, as did her sister. Lysander drew a long sword, and Rosileen readied her staff.

"We'll need a light." whispered Perah-Perah, "But I don't want to use torches. Orcs have good noses."

"I know a Light spell." offered Rosileen.

Perah-Perah nodded, "So does Asyra and I. That should be sufficient. Once we go down there we should stay in two groups of three, spread out and avoid contact if possible..."


Perah-Perah looked to Lysander, who was slightly annoyed. "Excuse me, I may be semi-retired, but I have hundreds of years more experience than you.

"Of course, I defer to your expertise."

It should be noted that this comment was unusually uncharacteristic of Perah-Perah's personality, which meant she had an angle. That angle being an unspoken 'have you got a better idea?'

"Er... uh... right, then. Okay, we should go down there in two groups of three and spread out, avoid contact if possible."

"Sounds like a good plan." she said as they started cautiously down the stairs.

"Er..." whispered Rosileen, "you know, we could wait for them to come out and ambush them..."

Everyone paused on the stairs simultaneously. Somewhere, a god cursed.

Lysander considered this for a moment, then shook his head, "There could be another way out that we don't know of. And this is too important to leave to chance."

"You know, nobody has bothered explaining to some of us just what is so bloody important about this place."_Victoria's voice was dangerously close to leaving whisper territory.

"This isn't exactly the best time to explain, is it?" said Lysander, "Besides, you're hired help."

"That doesn't mean I don't want to know what I'm risking my life for."

They gathered at the bottom, and several Light spells were cast. Rosileen cast it on her staff, and Perah-Perah and Asyra on themselves.

"What about you,_Lysander?"

"No thanks, I'll let you be the glowing targets if its all the same to you."

Perah-Perah, Asyra, Lysander and Nari traveled in one group, while Hrmph, Victoria and Rosileen made up the other.

Through the passages and rooms they passed, careful to be as quiet as possible, but there was nothing. The damp unlit walls held no secrets. This was a basement of a castle, not a labyrinth.

There were occasional signs that they weren't alone, and Victoria found a few copper coins green as an orc from corrosion, but that was it.

"Where are the orcs?"Asyra whispered to her sister, her bow seeking a target.

"You're asking me?"

"There must be a second basement floor somewhere," Lysander answered, "keep an eye out for that. It won't be hidden, I don't think."

Rosileen and the other group were careful to stay in eye contact with Perah-Perah, or of their glow at least as they explored.

"Why don't they just use that hairy monster to track the scent?" Victoria asked.

"Hrmph. Wouldn't work. Orcs have been everywhere."

"Did you actually say something, Hrmph?"


Soo had almost worked through her ropes when Sephilith came back and tightened them up.

"Not bad," she said, "that was good knot. Think you can do it again?"

Soo said nothing, but her bruised face was one of defiance.

"Good. Once we're done, you're on your own."

She gestured to two of the guards, one fat, the other small and thin, almost goblin like, who then stood on either side of the prisoner, "But we don't want you cause trouble prematurely, do we?"

After she left one of the guards muttered to the other, "We should just kill her, be done with it." "You want to disobey an order from HER?"

"I didn't say I was GOING to... just that we should."

"I dunno. She didn't do anything to us."

"Hah! She's Ranger kin, and the only thing Rangers like us for is trophies, don't you forget that! There could be a whole tribe of them coming for her right now."

"All the more reason to keep her alive, I say."

"Yeah, maybe you're right."

Hrmph found the second staircase, and silently motioned everyone to gather around. He listened carefully down the opening, as did the others.

"I don't here anything." whispered Perah-Perah.

Lysander shrugged, "That doesn't mean anything. We should change groups. The sisters should stay together and take the priestess with them. Victoria, you come with me and Archibald."

"Archibald?!?" the girls half-gasped.

"He has a name, you know, even if he doesn't talk much." Archibald nodded, and gestured for Victoria to follow him.

"Do you think he put the ones he considers less experienced in this group, sis?" asked Asyra.

"Why do you ask that?"

"Well, for one thing he put the crippled cleric in our group..."

"Hey!"_Rosileen almost shouted.

"I didn't mean it like that. He hasn't seen any of us in combat, so he doesn't know if we're any good, but Victoria had her crossbow ready since we arrived... now that I think about it he might even be using us as bait."

"What makes you say that?"

"No one in his group is glowing."

The second level was no more interesting at first glance than the one above. Dark unlit stone walls, dripping with dampness and smelling of moss were all that could be seen.

Victoria and Archibald peered down the halls, Lysander stayed close behind.

"Seems clear," he whispered, "Do you hear anything?"


"Me neither." he waved the glowing trio down, and they started exploring the second level.

At first it seemed as if there would be nothing new here, but soon they saw that this floor was far less disturbed than the one above.

Perah-Perah's ears perked up, "I heard something. Down that way." She drew her bow, but saw nothing.

"Let's split up."_said Lysander, noticing how close the glowing targets were to him, "We will try to keep you covered."

"I heard it again."

"So did I," said Victoria,

"In the room on the left. Sounds like... singing."

"Bad singing," said Victoria, "No sense of timing at all. She's almost tone deaf."


"Definitely. Human, too. I know my singing voices. Despite what they say, you can tell if it's a young boy or a eunuch."

"What do you think," asked Perah-Perah, "our little horse thief?" Asyra's eyes glared and gave just the slightest hint of wanting some payback.

"There is another door nearby, might lead to the same room, let's check it out first. Quietly." They all started forward before Lysander stopped them, "Uh, the Light Brigade should stay here until we give the signal."

"Ooooooh! There was a young woman

who did love the trees

she loved all about them

except for the bees!

And when she did try

to remove the beeeeeEEEES...!"

"For Dralg's sake, make her stop!" the short orc moaned.

"She was stung up her skirt right up to the knees!"

"That's it," said the big one, hefting his ax, "orders or no orders, I'm gonna kill her."

It is not known if he was serious. It is only known that he rose his ax at the exact wrong moment, when both sets of doors opened and a half dozen people and one wolf burst in.

The big orc never had a chance to explain, even if he wanted to. Two arrows in the chest and a bolt in the head gave him more immediate, and final, concerns. The other orc fell a moment later, to prevent him from yelling for help.

"There, that's two down, and they still don't know we're here," said Lysander, "Let's try to keep that up, shall we?"

They walked over to free the girl, and though Asyra had intended to chew her out for stealing her horse, she couldn't bring herself to do it when she saw her bruised and cut face.

(Of course, had it been Perah-Perah's horse, she would have felt this was only a good start.)

"Mom? Dad?" Soo said looking through an eye nearly swollen shut.

"No. It's not," said Perah-Perah.

She gasped in relief, "Thank Zephil!"

"Don't you care who we are?"_asked Asyra, as Rosileen prepared a healing spell.

"You're not orcs, you're not my parents, it can only go up from there."

As Rosileen laid her glowing hands on the girl and the wounds began to melt away, Asyra couldn't resist saying, "I'm the person whose horse you stole."

The now unswollen eyes looked at her in horror. "Oh crap. I can explain! I needed a horse because I heard a bunch of orcs were going to attack the village, and I wanted to ride to get help from the capital-"

"-by riding in the wrong direction." Perah-Perah interjected.

"Well, I got lost, and rode in the wrong direction. Next thing you know I was ambushed by fifty orcs who took me prisoner and brought me here."

"Well, that explains the dozen horses," said Lysander snickering, "Everyone knows orcs ride horses four at a time."

"Well, there were a lot of orcs..._I lost count. Er, I killed most of them!" Nobody could keep a straight face.

"Is it even possible for you to tell the truth?" asked Asyra.

Perah-Perah untied her. "She's probably never tried."

"I'm not a liar!" she protested, "I'm just... bad with details." Even Archibald, a seemingly humourless man, was chuckling.

Lysander waved everyone for silence, "Okay, now, back to the business at hand. We have to stop these orcs before they find what they are looking for. I think we should really split up at this point."

"Wait a minute," said Rosileen, "What about her? She's just a kid and she's still somewhat injured. We should take her to the surface."

Lysander shook his head, "The orcs could escape in that time. And if they find it..."

"IT this and IT that! You haven't told us anything about what IT is! If its treasure, so what? Treasure is not important, life is important. I will not be part of the taking of life for mere treasure! If it is something more, then what makes it so special that we should risking our lives?" It was clear the little halfling was resolved not to budge without an answer.

Lysander sighed, and turned sharply to the sisters, "Look, would of you explain to them the place of Henchmen and the importance of the Chain of Command? If your father didn't see fit to tell you, there must be a reason. He's no fool."

"I think they have a point, Lysander," said Perah-Perah, "You should tell us something."

Lysander humphed, "Fine. I believe there is journal here. A very important journal that has been around since before the fall of kings. The information in that journal will shed light on things lost since the Age of Darkness. And with the rumours of Murhnian forced building up across the Northern Sea, that could be bloody important. Good enough?"

Rosileen's eyes smoldered, "Not really, but it will have to do. After this, we will have a reckoning, and you may yet repent to Salias for your actions."

"Repent my pointed ears! I've got only one regret in my life and she's too far from here to care."

"Excuse me," Perah-Perah interrupted, "As interesting as this is, it doesn't get us any closer to finding this journal. If it's so important, then I agree with Lysander and we should split up. We will take the girl up afterwards. Are you any good with a weapon?" she asked her.

"I can use a bow and sword."

"I'm going to assume that's the truth, and that this is your gear in the corner," she stroked Nari around the collar and said loud enough for the girl to hear, "If she tries anything funny, eat her."

Sephilith held the journal under her arm, her patience growing thin, "Are you quite finished yet?" "We've collected just about everything, Sephilith," Chack said, dropping a bag of copper coins, "We figured it would be easier to haul it up to the surface through the hole in this room," he gestured up to where age and perhaps battle damage had created a large hole that went from the second floor up to the surface. Water condensed from the fog dripped down heavily from the top.

"The sooner we leave the better. We have what we came for."

"Doesn't mean we can't get rich on the side. Old habits die hard for thieves."

"Don't remind me..."_Sephilith muttered bitterly.

The orc fell without uttering a sound.

"That's three for me," Perah-Perah said to her sister in a hushed tone, "and two a piece for you and the liar."

"My name is Soo."

"You sure? Anyway, if there was only a dozen of them, then they can't possibly beat our score. So much for the 'Light Brigade' jokes."

"Any idea where we are?" asked Rosileen.

Asyra had been sketching a sort of map on paper, "I think we've explored most of the... well 'West' side, if you assume we entered from the North. And I think this is as far South as it goes... just guessing mind you, based on the shape of the hill. We'll probably be checking out the southern perimeter now."

"You seem pretty prepared," said Rosileen.

"Just lots of studying."

They entered a room which was empty, but recently explored. So far they had only found some money on the dead orcs themselves, and a few dropped green coppers.

"What kind of school did you go to? Are you Thieves?"

Perah-Perah shook her head, "The Thieves Guild are just interested in wealth. We're treasure hunters. We look for the rare, the arcane, the powerful." _They entered another room, perhaps once a library, which was also ransacked. Not that there was much to ransack. Where the shelves and books once were was only various kinds of rot.

"You're independent then?"

The sisters looked at each other for a moment, "Sort of," they said simultaneously.

"So you're not part of the Thieves Guild or Wizard's Guild, but you're 'not exactly' and 'sort of' independent."

"That's right."

"Fine. Be a mystery, see if I care."

Perah-Perah almost didn't hear her as she noticed the carving on a nearby wall. Between two piles of rot was a stone shelf, with ancient runes written on it. Something had been on it, removed only recently.

"Damn." Perah-Perah said, unable to make out more than a couple of symbols "I knew I should have studied ancient languages more."

Rosileen looked it over, "It is ancient. Even when it was written it was ancient, these runes haven't been used since the beginning of the Kings, and this castle was built centuries after it went out of use."

"Can you read it?"

"'May Salias protect us in the Darkness to come, and may this guide us back to the Light.'"

"The journal was probably here." said Perah-Perah.

"Shouldn't it be rotted pulp like the rest of this?" asked Rosileen.

"It would still be here if it was."

Asyra cursed. "That means we're too late."

Perah-Perah shook her head, her face suddenly grim. She was not about to let her first mission, her first step up the Syndicate ladder become a failure. "They still have to get out of here alive. Let's go!"

Sephilith heard the orc cry out, a faint gasp of air she had heard all too often. It had happened, down the hall, out of sight, and almost completely silently.

The Rangers. It had to be.

She counted her men. Three able bodied orcs stood by her side.

"We leave. Now."

"But what about-" Chack began.

"The treasure is gone, and so are your lives if we don't flee. The Rangers are here."

Two of the Orcs were terrified, Chack managed to maintain his composure.

"You can't be sure of that, Sephilith."

"That's Captain to you, if you doubt me. Someone is here, and they are better trained than you sorry lot. Now you can either leave, or face them."

There was silence for a moment, then one of the orcs said, "What's the fastest way out of here?" "That's more like it."

They found the treasure room guarded by only one orc, who barely got his crossbow raised before he was killed. Unlike the other rooms, this one was well lit, due to a gaping hole in the ceiling that apparently extended to the surface.

"Look at this stuff!" said Victoria, "There's got to be hundreds of copper and silver pieces here!"

"Better than that," said Perah-Perah, pointing to some of the items in the back, "This is proper loot."

"They seem to be gathering it here on purpose," said Asyra, "perhaps they planned to haul it up out the hole using the horses?"

"Maybe," agreed her sister, "but more importantly the journal might be in there. Sort through it, quick!" Asyra cast a spell to detect any magic within the small hoard.

They found a sword, a ring, and a necklace that seemed to be magical, but further testing would be required to determine their properties.

Before they could examine the items in detail, a scream echoed down the hall.

"Orc?" asked Asyra.

"Elf." said Perah-Perah.


They ran through the corridors towards the sound of the scream, and came across Lysander, laying in a pool of blood that should have been inside him, but several bolts and arrows had made a convincing argument otherwise. An orc lay nearby, also dead.

They barely had time to make sure he was dead when there was another scream, but more faint and distant.

"Upstairs," said Perah-Perah, "Hurry!"

Victoria was laying near the top of the stairs, but no blood could be found.

"She's unconscious," said Rosileen.

"It wasn't her that screamed," said Perah-Perah, "It had to be an orc or Archibald."

Asyra looked Victoria over, "I don't see a wound. It could be a spell. She could be a booby trap."


"Tactic 47: Charm an enemy, knock them unconscious, and let their allies find him. When he wakes up someone gets an unpleasant knife in the back."

"Help me tie her up on Nari," said Perah-Perah. We can't leave her down here, and we can't afford to carry her."

Nari made only the mildest of growls as Victoria was tied to his back. The great wolf was large enough to support her weight, but nevertheless lagged behind the group alongside Rosileen.

As they ran down the corridor towards the surface exit they stumbled upon another orc, shot in the back. He was apparently running away, as it was unlikely he was trained in backwards combat.

They reached the stairs and saw Archibald laying on the ground, four crossbow bolts in a tight grouping on his chest. An orc stood at the top of the stairs, who raised his short bow and fired a wild shot.

"Sephilith!" the orc yelled as he reloaded, "Hurry! _They're-" his body collapsed down the stairs, the arrow that buried into him broke off at the shaft.

Perah-Perah led the charge to the surface. The one named Sephilith probably had the journal, and she'd be damned if she would be robbed of victory on her first mission.

At the surface Perah-Perah saw a terrible sight. It wasn't the tall imposing orc in menacing battle armor, which pointed out both that you were facing a female orc and that you should, in fact, be MORE afraid as a result. Nor was it the fierce helmet worn by her, black with large horns. It wasn't the way her eyes seemed to glow red within that helmet, which otherwise shadowed her entire face. It wasn't even the huge crossbow she held, designed to fire four crossbow bolt in clockwise rotation that held Perah-Perah in shock.

It was the fact she was on HER horse!

The orc-woman leveled her crossbow and fired, but Perah-Perah had recovered enough to roll out of the way first. The others reached the surface just in time for the orc to fire two more bolts in their direction. Soo was hit in the shoulder, and slumped to the ground in pain.

The orc woman reared Perah-Perah's black steed Feria and readied to leave, but Perah-Perah was not about to let her go that easily. Her hand glowed for the briefest of seconds as she raised her hand to fire a magic missile. The orc caught this, and leveled her crossbow.

They fired.

The orc's head flung back as the missile found its mark past her helmet, and she growled in pain. She spurred the horse forward, and fled out of sight.

Asyra almost cheered. The orc might have got away, but her sister had left her mark, and they might be able to catch up to her on horseback.

"Perah-Perah, hurry! We-"

It was then she noticed her sister was on the ground, unmoving. She ran over, and saw that Sephilith's missile had also found its mark. A crossbow bolt stuck square in her cheek. Perah-Perah's eyes were wide open, but she did not move.