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Rosileen had done all she could, but the wound was beyond her experience. Perah-Perah's breathing was shallow, the bolt didn't hit her brain, but the concussion alone could have killed her.

Victoria awoke shortly afterwards. She had her back turned for just a moment when the orcs rushed her, pushed her down the stairs, and left her for dead. The last thing she remembered was Archibald chasing after them.

Rosileen pushed the bolt through Soo's shoulder, but only stopped the bleeding for now, saving what little power she had to treat Perah-Perah's wound.

They made camp that night, not wanting to move Perah-Perah until she became more stable. Victoria claimed one of the orc horses for herself, as did Soo. They also took what treasure they could from down below, leaving much of the green copper behind. The wealth was divided between them, but there was no joy in it. It had come at too high a price, and in Rosileen's case, a nagging conscious.

Asyra stayed by her sister's side through the night, long after Rosileen and the others had turned in. Nari curled up by her feet and said nothing, but gave an occasional sigh.


The voice was real, and yet not real, as if it was thought rather than heard, but had all the warmth and heart of a human voice.

Rosileen was shrouded in fog, and couldn't tell where the voice was coming from. She was alone, her companions nowhere to be seen.

"Rosileen..." the warm motherly voice said again.

Part of Rosileen's mind told her this wasn't a dream, it was a vision. Being a priestess of Salias it was unlikely she'd get a vision from any other god or goddess, unless it was a talent scout for one of the other powers.

"Yes, Mother Salias?"

The fog lifted a little, enough for Rosileen to realize that she wasn't on solid ground. A figure came forth through the mist. A woman, but women don't usually come in thirty foot sizes. She was clothed in a flowing robe, armor on her chest and forearms, and she carried in her hand a mace. Just like the brochures depicted her.

"Gassenti is in grave danger," said the Goddess Mother, as the fog disappeared altogether. Rosileen saw now that she was suspended high in the air. It was twilight, and she could dimly make out Gassenti far, far below. Too far for anyone's comfort unless they had wings, and especially for a race who live their lives closer to the ground than almost anyone else.

"What is wrong?" asked Rosileen, helplessly, "Why come to me?"

"There is Darkness gathering, far away in Murhn," said the Goddess Mother, and as she did so, dawn broke over the horizon. Gassenti was lightly bathed in its glow. Yet the horizon itself seemed dark and unknowable.

"What can I do? I am just one halfling!"

Salias smiled, a smile that showed she had asked far more from people far less qualified in the past, and they had risen to the challenge... at least Rosileen hoped that was what the smile meant.

"You are not alone," she said, "Follow the Star. Do not harm the Star. On this everything depends."

The vision faded, and Rosileen woke to soft morning light.

They moved Perah-Perah to the church that day, and traveled as slowly as possible. They hadn't yet removed the arrow, Rosileen wanted her power to be fully charged before she even attempted it.

Perah-Perah's breathing was shallow, but stable. The area around her wound was bandaged, covering most of her face, leaving only enough room to breathe.

They arrived in town that afternoon, and holed up in the Church of Salias. That evening, Rosileen felt rested enough to attempt the removal.

Fortunately the bolt had penetrated the back of her neck, but missed the spine. The safest and easiest method of removal would be to cut off the tip, and extract the shaft by pulling it back out. Carefully.

After a lengthy prayer to the Mother Goddess, Rosileen began the procedure. Everyone watched and held their breath.

Except for Soo.

It wasn't that she was squeamish about blood, it was that she heard several horses ride up to the tavern next door. The compulsive side of her personality wondered if they had anything interesting in their saddlebags to borrow.

There were three horses outside the Diarrhetic Warrior, almost identical in appearance, chestnut brown with black leather saddles and saddlebags. She approached quietly. Ranger quietly. There was some bawdy talk going on inside, the riders must be enjoying an ale.

She began to search through what appeared to be the most biggest of these bags when a hand as big as a ham wrapped around her face and threw her backwards. She fell bottom first into a mud puddle.

"Bloody buggerin horse thief, aye?" said the dwarf, nearly half Soo's height. His brown braided beard swaggered down to his belt.

A tall elf emerged seemingly from nowhere, wearing the same black cloak as the dwarf, "Now, now," he said soothingly, "there is no point in getting too rough. I am sure she learned her lesson."

"Learned her lesson, I haven't kicked her arse once yet! Usually it takes thirty or forty before they learn."

"But she is a child," the elf reasoned.

A halfling, shorter than the dwarf by a full head, and also wearing a black cloak, appeared to the right of the group and chuckled, "That's never been an excuse before, if I remember correctly."

"Aye, that you do. Those bloody street kids in Scry Proper. Their arses are used to it, too. Nearly broke my foot on one."

The elf picked Soo up by her coat with a strength that hinted his kindness was not to be taken advantage of, "I think compassion is called for this time," Soo's head nodded so rapidly in agreement that it would have knocked out anyone in its path, "So tell me, little girl, what are you doing out here?"

Rosileen pulled the bloody shaft from Perah-Perah's face, carefully applying a healing touch as she did so.

"Her lower jaw was shattered," she explained to Asyra, "That's easy to heal. It's the spine I'm worried about. If anything was damaged there it will take much longer to heal, if at all, but I think we are okay there. I am fairly sure she is out of the woods. The only thing she will have to worry about is a bit of a scar."

"A scar?!?" Asyra gasped.

"It's better than being dead, isn't it?"

Asyra shuddered, thinking of what might happen when her sister awoke, "You don't know Perah-Perah. She can endure nine kinds of hell, but her looks are off limits to hardship."

"Oh my..." said Rosileen, "Will she be upset?"


"Well... all my spells do is accelerate the natural healing process, I'm afraid this is a scar that would never go away naturally... oh dear. I will do what I can."

The heavy wooden doors burst open, and Soo staggered inside, held by the neck by an unusually tall elf, dressed in black, blond hair drooping over one eye.

"Anyone in here lose a 'horse saddlebag inspector', or can we just throw her to the wolves now?" From his vigil beside Perah-Perah, Nari's ears perked up.

He was followed by dwarf and a halfling dressed in the same manner.

Asyra was shocked, "Soo! You didn't!"

The elf let Soo go and bowed before Asyra, "Milady. Your father sends his greetings."

"Thank you, Lomas."

"Where is your sister? I have news for both of you."

"She's recovering, thank goodness. She was shot by an orc."

Lomas was shocked. Well, as shocked as he could get, which wasn't very much unless you really knew him, "Orcs? In Dreet? How strange."

"Yes, it's a long story, and one I don't have all the answers to..."

Perah-Perah world was pain, but eventually drifted into peaceful slumber. She did not dream, but fragments of memory drifted into her unconscious. Most memorably, that final moment, staring down the orc woman, exchanging shots, again and again.

She wondered if she even hit her, and it was with that thought she realized she was slowly waking up.

Her face felt warm. She opened her eyes, but everything was a blur. Things soon swam into focus, and she saw to her right three figures in black kneeling beside her, their heads lowered.

"I think she's waking up," said a vaguely familiar voice.

"Perah-Perah! How do you feel?" the second voice was undoubtedly her sister.

"I must have fallen down," Perah-Perah said uneasily, "My head hurts."

The first voice, which she now recognized as the little priestess, returned, "You are very lucky to have survived. The wound was almost beyond my means."

Perah-Perah turned her head to the other side and saw her sister and the priestess beside her. She turned it back to the three robed figures. The Three.

"Lomas?" The elf's head raised, "Yes, Milady?"


"Aye," said the dwarf.


"At your service, as always," said the halfling. Of course these were not The Three's actual names, which were now known only to themselves.

Long ago they had been thrown together in the Nydassa Syndicate, but never properly introduced. During the course of their first mission, they saved each others lives several times before realizing they didn't even know each others names. They had always gotten by on indirect statements.

If you find this unusual, you should consider how many times you've done the same thing. You meet with an acquaintance whose name you've completely forgotten, and yet managed to have a lengthy conversation with them, and not once use their name (nor they yours).

They considered this part of their luck, and so they made a pact to work together until such time as they uttered their true names to one another. Until then, they were Lomas, Samol and Maslo, each a play on the word Losam, or Three, from the Old Tongue of humans.

"You are looking better," said Maslo, managing a smile. Though she was recovering, Perah-Perah still had that near-deathbed look that made everyone around her comforting and sympathetic, and giving them the overwhelming urge to bring hot tea and cake whenever she asked for it.

"What happened?"

"You were shot," explained Rosileen, "and it was very nearly fatal. You still need to rest, as do I. I will heal you more in the morning."

"Where is everyone else?"

"Victoria is singing in the tavern, about your adventure, if I'm not mistaken," Rosileen looked around her, "The strange little lying girl is around here somewhere..."

Samol's eyes widened in narrative anticipation. "My horse!" he yelled as he ran out of the church.

"Did we get the journal?" asked Perah-Perah, as the frantic footsteps faded.

Asyra shook her head, "She rode off before anyone could stop her, but your shot hit, I'm sure of that."

"So what do we do now? We failed."

Lomas stepped forward, "This is true," he said. Though exceedingly polite he also tended to be blunt, "but you did what we would have done in your place. As for what we should do, I think our orders should become your orders."

"What do you mean?"

"We were supposed to recover the artifact and report to Lady Lassailia in Dreet. She was young during the Dark Years, and was supposed to assist us with the information the journal contained."

"If there even was a journal," added Maslo.

"It wouldn't be the first wild goose chase we had been on, this is certain," said Lomas, "But it appears that the journal is real, and in the hands of the Halffarthing orcs. Your father's instructions to us were quite clear. Return if the journal didn't exist, or if it had already been taken. However, I think you should meet with the Lady Lassailia. She should be informed as to what happened, and may yet be of help."

Perah-Perah thought about this, and nodded, seeing a chance to regain some respect in this task. She said as formally as possible, "Inform father that we will be delayed in returning until we visit the Lady Lassailia." Somehow the word "father" always rang false with her.

"You will need this," Lomas said handing her a scroll, "It identifies you as 'Collectors and Representatives of the Most Revered Appraiser Nydassa," this was her father's legitimate cover.

"We've taken the liberty of amending it to describe you and your sister," said the halfling Maslo, "You can, of course bring anyone you wish with you as well," he added with a smile Rosileen found quite cute for someone supposedly so dangerous.

Perah-Perah was suddenly suspicious, "You aren't doing this to boost my self-esteem, are you? Or to give daddy a chance to see me prove myself?"

Lomas and Maslo's faces were of shock, "The thought never occurred to us, milady."

Samol noisily came back into the church, dragging Soo behind him.

"Bloody, bloody buggering hell! Yew canno' take yer eyes off her for a bloody minute! She was mounted and ready to ride by the time aye dragged her off," he threw her to the ground in front of the podium where everyone was gathered. Victoria followed Samol inside, expecting to see a show. She wasn't disappointed.

"But he was unhappy," yelled Soo, "he wanted to go for a ride!" she then received a sharp blow to the head from a short staff, "OW!"

"You will NOT lie within my church, young lady!"

"Easy Rosileen," Victoria cautioned, "That's not a rubber staff you have there."

Rosileen glared at her old friend, "I know exactly how hard I can get away with using this staff," she said flatly.

Perah-Perah managed to stand, and leaned against the podium, still somewhat weak. "Can I take off these bandages now?" she felt around her face, trying to find where the knot was. "Er..." began Rosileen.

Perah-Perah knew that sound, "What?" she demanded.

"Maybe you should wait until morning," Rosileen said evadingly.

"Whyyyyy?" persisted Perah-Perah.

"The wound was quite severe and... uh... there may be some... ummm.... scaring."

Asyra covered her ears.

Sephilith had ditched the race horse she stole back in Sorrowtown. If it had been a Ranger horse it would probably be recognized by other Rangers. Even if it hadn't been, it was far too high profile for her, obviously a champion horse, and she didn't want anyone keeping tabs of her movements. She took a less conspicuous riding mare in its place.

She felt the side of her face, which still burned and itched. Though she would never admit it to anyone, she had prided herself on being a ruggedly attractive member of her race. Now she feared she would have to settle for just rugged. _Magic scars seldom healed properly.

It might have been her imagination, but somewhere she thought she heard a scream.

Revenge. Not yet. There was no time for it now, no time for anything, it seemed, but to move on. Even if she was alone. She had the Journal. There was still hope.

Finding Perah-Perah's horse in a farmer's field had calmed her down somewhat, but she was what her sister would politely call 'insistent' that Rosileen do what she could about the scar.

The newly ascended priestess did what she could. She guessed maybe a full year of natural healing had been applied to that one spot. Spent, and unable to do more, she unwrapped the bandages.

"Mirror." Perah-Perah demanded, sitting on a pew.

"Remember," said Rosileen, "All I could do was minimize the profile of the scar. Take it past the puffy and the wrinkly stage to where it is flush against the skin. Hopefully all you will notice is a slightly shiny patch."

She heard Perah-Perah moan as she looked over the damage.

"I'm afraid it will always be like that. The pours and follicles have been destroyed. It would take a cleric of far greater power than I to properly regenerate the area."

She lowered the mirror and hung her head for a moment, then looked at Rosileen, who, even though Perah-Perah was sitting, was still slightly shorter than her.

"Thank you. I know you did the best you could. I want you to know I don't blame you."

Rosileen gasped.

"I know, it's hideous... maybe I can conceal it with makeup..."

Rosileen didn't hear her. The scar was, in fact, barely visible, and would go unnoticed by almost everyone. However, at this moment the light hit the scar in the exact right way as to show off its complete profile.

It was the perfect shape of a four pointed star.

"Aren't you going to warn me about traveling with strangers, Lomas?" Perah-Perah had almost finished adding provisions to her saddle bags. Asyra was ready, and presently brushing her horse's mane.

"No, Milady," said Lomas, "sometimes they are the best people to travel with."

"She is a priestess of Salias," said Maslo, "and a halfling. That makes her about the most trustworthy person in the world," he flashed a smile at Rosileen as she finished packing Ben for the journey. She turned away so he couldn't see her blush.

"I'd follow you even if you said no," said Rosileen simply, "I have been given a sign by Salias herself."

Victoria rode up to Rosileen on her newly acquired horse, "Hope you don't mind if I tag along. There is no way I am going to make any money here. Dreet Proper is where I was heading anyway. You know elves and music."

"About the same as dwarves and gold, halflings and food or humans and the ability to make silly generalizations," Rosileen answered.

Victoria smirked, "Touche."

Rosileen mounted her mule, "Are we ready to go?" she asked.

Perah-Perah nodded, "Just try not to slow us down too much."

"I assure you, Ben is faster than he looks."

Perah-Perah addressed The Three, "You will give da---father my message?"

"Of course," said Lomas with a bow.

"Then we're off--- oh no..."

Everyone looked to see Soo ride up, beaming the kind of smile that made you know her next words would be...

"Hey, gang! Are we ready to go?" "What makes you think you're coming?"

"I've got to go somewhere, don't I? I'm not staying here, you know I am good with a sword, and I doubt you'd want me to go riding off by myself."

Perah-Perah didn't answer.

Rosileen rode up beside her, "I think we should bring her," she said, "if for no other reason than to keep her out of trouble."

"We're not babysitters," said Asyra, still annoyed at the horse thief.

"I don't need a babysitter," Soo's voice had a touch of bitterness, "Why do you think I ran away in the first place?"

Rosileen raised her hand for calm, "She will be my responsibility."

"Besides, Salias told me to come! She said 'They need a kick-ass girl like you'. You wouldn't want-OW!"

Rosileen deftly put her staff back in its saddle harness, "You will NOT lie in my presence, child. And never make light of the Goddess Mother."

"But she did! Last night, she told me-OW! All right, all right! I'm sorry."

"That's better."

"Uh, excuse me," said Victoria,"but if this little love fest is over..." she pointed down the road to Asyra and Perah-Perah, who had already started trotting towards the capital.

Soo looked up at the sky as they rode after them, "Thanks a lot."