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Archives: Search for Azala

Chapter 18: Azala’s Path: Meeting Father

    Bella had awoken in good spirits, despite the fact that most other people in the inn had been upset by the presence of the dark elf Kiran the night before. Not many people had gathered in the common room yet, and she saw none of the new faces from the night before yet. The grassrunner had ordered herself breakfast and was currently enjoying it.

    She wasn’t sure if they would see the Forest of No Return. The elf Mia had wanted to go, but her companion didn’t. Midau was willing to take her, but after all he’d been through, it seemed that the trip might be postponed until she could go on her own. She didn’t want to put Midau in danger, after all.

    Although the previous night was anything but relaxing, Midau found himself in a good mood in the morning. The dark elf dressed and moved to Bella’s room to knock on her door. After waiting a minute to see whether or not she’d answer, he realized that she must have gotten up before him. He gave out a small chuckle and went to check whether she had come down to the common room yet. It didn’t take him long to see Bella amongst the near empty common room of the inn. He smiled and took up a seat near Bella. “Good morning Bella, my dear. How did you sleep?” he asked with a broad grin on his face.

    “Oh, quite well,” Bella said with a smile. “You seem to be in better spirits yourself. Did you sleep well too?”

    “I dreamed I was floating in a lake upside down. It was very relaxing. Much better than my usual dreams of failure and depravity,” Midau joked. “Actually I slept rather well. The bed was rather comfortable, and I feel refreshed and otherwise, happy. Now all I have to do is see my daughter in Moss and I’m ready to pop off to the Forest of No Return, or rather, the Forest of Seldom Return, just maybe not the kind of return you wish for.” He laughed. Calling over a barmaid, he ordered some breakfast and something to wash it down with.

    Mia came downstairs, looking to be in a much better mood, but it was only because she managed to lock all those horrible memories away. She hoped Kiran was gone; if not, she’d kick his ass this time.

    Midau and Bella were already downstairs, and Mia decided to join them again. “Hey there you two,” she said as she walked up to the table. “Mind if we join you again?”

    Yawning lightly, Azala followed Mia downstairs. He hadn’t spent last night alone, but it wasn’t the usual way. He cursed that a bit, but in the end he supposed it was fairly comforting. “Eh, glad to see you’re both still here.” He yawned again. Since his clothes were still fairly rumpled, and his hair a mess, he was clearly not fully awake.

    Midau greeted the pair with a broad smile. “Yeah, it’s alright to sit with us,” Midau cited, giving a small sweep of his hand to any surrounding chairs.

    A handsome half-elf came downstairs carrying a guitar, looking as if he had just rolled out of bed. His clothing was wrinkled, and his brown hair messy, but even that didn’t make him less attractive.

    “Where were ye last night?” the innkeeper said, leaving his bar to scold Nat. “I gave yer set to another bard!”

    “Sorry, I wasn’t feeling good,” Nat replied, lying. It was more a matter of just not wanting to get up. “I’ll play now, for a little breakfast?”

    “Yeah, yeah, I’ll get it for ye,” the innkeeper replied, then left Nat to play.

    The bard sat down on a stool near the front of the dinning room and began to strum his guitar. He sang a familiar song about the travels of Parn and Deedlit, mediocre at best.

    Mia sat down with Midau and Bella, then ordered breakfast for herself and Azala from a passing barmaid. A new bard had taken up performing. He was a good looking half-elf, but he didn’t seem to put much effort into his performance. Maybe it was just a warm up. There was something in his looks that reminded her of Azala. Knowing Azala, the bard could be his son, but he could just as easily not be. Azala was exceptionally handsome, even for an elf, but there were other elves who had similar features.

    “Well, Azala and I decided to go to Raiden instead,” Mia informed them with a sigh. “Sorry to disappoint, but he has his reasons to not go to the Forest of No Return.”

    Midau grinned. “Knocked someone up eh?” He joked towards Azala. “Well, it’s okay, I guess. Bella and I can make it there ourselves. Any messages you want us to give anyone there?”

    “Something like that,” Azala said in another yawn. “And that place is kinda boring besides. I mean, other than the trees and high level spirits, theres not much going on around there.” Looking up at the performer, he frowned lightly. “Eh, that guy’s not too good... Wonder what happened to the one from last night? She was pretty and good at her arts.”

    “She may have been better than this man, but her flute playing left little to desire,” Midau grunted. “I’d rather have my ears removed by ravenous thieving wood sprites than listen to her flute again.” He shuddered. Returning to the comment about the Forest of No Return, Midau smiled. “Yeah, there wasn’t much there, but the hospitality was ever so endearing.”

    Mia snorted after Midau suggested that Azala had knocked someone up. It was a pretty good guess. “Yeah, something was off about that flute, wasn’t there?” Mia replied to Midau. Something was tugging at her to calm down when she had attacked Kiran, but she was too angry to listen. The thought reminded her of Kiran. She leaned into the table, speaking quietly. “Do you know if Kiran is still here?” she asked.

    “Twenty Raiden to a copper says that he snuck off with that bard last night upon hearing about Mica,” Midau said. It was more than just mere speculation. Over the song he heard the half-elf Kiran had come in with ask for a refund on one of the rooms, it being ‘not used’. Midau thumbed towards Olula then pointed to his ear.

    Mia overheard the half-elf after she asked Midau. She was relieved to hear it. “Then today is looking like a good day,” Mia replied and sat back. She listened to the bard’s song, studying his face. “He kind of looks like you, Azala,” she teased. “How much you wanna bet he’s yours?”

    “Thats not funny Mia...” Azala groaned, resting his head in one of his hands, his eyes half closed. Looking up at the bard, he looked at him closely... Yeah, he wasn’t about to take that bet. Nothing good could come from it. “If I were fully awake I’d probably bonk you on the head.”

    “It’s funny to me,” Mia chuckled.

    Bella realized that they could still travel together. The two elves were seasoned and far more experienced than na´ve little Bella, but she was intrigued by this pair. “You know, we’ve decided to go to Moss first, then the Forest of No Return. We can still travel together,” Bella said.

    “Yes, let’s go together,” Midau echoed. “You guys could meet my kid...and her kid.”

    “Of course it’s funny to you, you don’t have to worry about the possibility that it might be true,” the common elf said, making a slight balled fist gesture at Mia. When Bella spoke up, he cocked his head lightly to the side. “Well, no skin off my ears. Probably wouldn’t be a bad idea go get some more to the party—less likely to get hit by highwaymen.”

    “Great!” Bella said and clapped her hands together. “I can always use more friends in Lodoss. This place can be so frustrating to grassrunners.” The shaman suddenly giggled at a thought. “At least you two look more likely to be my parents than Midau!”

    “Eh, you probably shouldn’t say that to Mia...the first person who asks how old you are, and if Mia is a proud mother, will likely receive a black eye at the very least...” Azala chuckled, and it did have some mirth to it. “Or then again, possibly a full bottle of booze to their head.”

    “Damn straight,” Mia said. “But, well, that might fix your problems too, my little friend. I’ll make sure they know you’re an adult,” she finished with a wink to Bella.

    Midau chuckled. “Grassrunners have it hard because no one sees you for the adults you are. I place some of the blame on the grassrunners that proceeded you, however. Perhaps some of them actually wanted to pass as children. It’s almost easier to pass as a child than as an adult, at least, as far as the law is concerned.” Midau grinned. “...Most of the time.”

    “Hmph,” Bella frowned. “Well, I’m not that kind of grassrunner.” She looked up at Mia and smiled. “Well, thank you, but I don’t approve much of violence.”

    “Well, I sure as hell do,” Mia replied with a smirk and a chuckle.

* * *

    Flora walked down the stairs and looked at all the people. Her face burned bright red as she walked over to a table. She sat down on a chair and waited for Olula to come down.

    Olula and Flora came downstairs as Nat began to play. Olula was intrigued by the half-elf man, and she sat down at the table closest to him.

    A barmaid hurried over to take their breakfast orders. “Good morning girls,” the woman said brightly. “We’ve got eggs and bacon and bread on the griddle, or some fresh fruit if you’d prefer something without meat.”

    “Umm...I’ll go with the eggs and bacon,” Olula replied, distracted by Nat.

    “And you?” the barmaid asked Flora.

    Flora frowned as she watched Olula. She sighed a bit and looked at the barmaid. “I would like some fresh fruit and bread please,” she said to the woman and looked around the room. She stopped as she noticed Olula staring at the man that was playing the guitar. She smiled a bit and started playing with her fingers.

    “Sure thing,” the barmaid replied.

    “Wait,” Olula said. “Can we get a refund for one of our rooms? It wasn’t used.”

    “Umm...I’ll ask the innkeeper,” the barmaid replied, then went off to her duties.

    Kris joined Olula and Flora downstairs and sighed. She wasn’t sure if she was that hungry, but she was thirsty. “I’d just like some water,” she said to the innkeeper. She noticed the half-dark elf was staring at the young man, which made her raise a eyebrow, but she made no comment.

    Olula heard Kris join them, and glanced at the other half-elf. “Good morning,” she said. “Are you feeling better?”

    “I’m fine,” Kris replied with a smile as she was given her water. “Are you alright? Your face is a little red...” She also noticed Flora’s face too was red, and she had a feeling that she knew what it was. “Did you see a handsome man?” she asked Olula as she looked around for this man they had seen. She saw the bard playing and blinked. Is that him? she thought, looking over at the two.

    Olula glanced away from Kris when her friend noticed her blush. “Oh, well, him,” she said, tossing a look at Nat. “He is beautiful, isn’t he?”

    Nat was pleased to see that the girls were watching him. He finished the tale and set his guitar aside. He tossed his head, throwing the loose locks of brown hair out of his face. His breakfast should be ready by now, so he thought he’d see if he could eat with the girls.

    The half-elf stood up and walked over to Olula and the girls. “Hey there, mind if I share your table? You seemed pretty interested in my song,” he said to the girls, putting on an innocent act. He knew he was attractive, but he didn’t want them to know that he knew.

    Kris did agree on the beautiful part, but she didn’t blush about it. When the other half-elf asked if he could share their table, Kris didn’t see a problem with that. “If Olula is okay with that,” she replied to him. She was listening to the song and was interested yes, but the main reason she looked over was because Olula did. However, the half-elf kept that to herself and drank some more of the water that she held in her hand.

    “Yes, yes, of course!” Olula said, a bit too eagerly. She blushed when she realized it.

    Flora looked away and sighed. I guess I don’t have a say in this, but he looks very attractive, she thought as she played with her fingers. Life is weird sometimes.

    “Thanks,” Nat said with a smile and sat down. The inn staff brought his breakfast as soon as he sat down, since it had been waiting while he played. “I’m Nataniel, but you can call me Nat,” he introduced himself with a wink, then started to eat.

    Flora smiled at him. “I am Flora. It is very nice to meet you Na... Umm... Nataniel,” she said, blushing as she forget his name for a few seconds.

    “I’m Olula,” she introduced herself in one breath.

    “Lovely names, ladies,” Nat smiled to both of them. “And you?” he asked, looking to Krisatris, who hadn’t spoken yet.

* * *

    Mica brought the trio of dark elves to the Tiger Lily Inn. “There’s really no need to survey the outside, I’m pretty sure that there’s no other possible escape routes, save for maybe the windows on the second floor,” he pointed out. “However, if he was staying here, under an auspicious star, he’d be sitting down to dine for breakfast about now. So it’d be best to flood the common room, with our presence, that is.”

    Adriel nodded. “Very well,” he replied, then stepped into the inn. He scanned the room for a dark elf fitting Kiran’s description, but he was immediately shocked at the diversity of the patrons. Light elves, dark elves, half-elves (both light and dark), humans...this place certainly would have welcomed his father. However, none of the elves looked like Kiran. There was a dark elven man, but he didn’t fit the description at all.

    Mica strolled in after his brother and gazed about the room. His eyes locked onto Midau and his jaw set. His old teacher happened to be here. His fingers tensed but he restrained his urge to go over and murder the man who taught him so much. Kiran was the big prize, Midau would be merely a consolation for not finding his father. Removing Midau from his sight, he turned his attention to the innkeeper. “Tell me, good sir,” Mica stated loudly, so that the other patrons could hear him as well. “Have you seen a dark elven man by the name of Kiran?”

* * *

    Midau looked over to whom the inquiry was made by and blanched. “...If I knew my luck was going to be this bad, I might as well have stayed in Raiden,” he grumbled.

    Mia’s ears perked at the mention of Kiran’s name. Turning around, she saw a man who appeared to be human, but he was quite similar in appearance to Kiran. “Aw shit,” she muttered and turned back again, rubbing her forehead. “Here we go. That’s Mica, isn’t it?”

    Midau nodded. “That’s Mica alright, but I’ve never known him to mix company with other dark elves,” he sighed.

* * *

    The innkeeper tensed at the mention of the name Kiran. He set down the glass he was cleaning and a heavy frown formed on his brow. That dark elf’s mere presence had caused too much excitement the day before, and he didn’t want to experience that again. “He’s not here. Please leave,” he replied to Mica, pointing to the door.

    Mica’s face contorted with anger for a moment, but the half-elf sighed and brushed his long golden hair behind his ears and out of his face. “Listen, I didn’t ask if he was here, I asked if you saw him.” He pulled out a gold piece and lay it on the bar. “I’ll be diplomatic only this once and offer you coin for any information on whether or not he ‘was’ here at one time, and when.”

* * *

    Midau’s shoulders slumped. Mica was close to losing his temper, already. Time had not been able to dull it, obviously. He surveyed his companions to find who would be the least likely to get hit by Mica were they to give him the news that he had been there the night before but probably left. “...So, Mia, you have a bunch in common with Mica, why don’t you tell him when that man came in,” Midau joked.

    “You know, I just might,” Mia said and stood from her seat. She didn’t want the poor innkeeper to be assaulted by Mica, knowing what Midau had said about him being aggressive.

    “Fine, he was here last night, but he left some point between then and morning,” the innkeeper replied, but he didn’t care much for the coin. “I can’t tell you where or when he went.”

    The elf walked over to Mica and his group, then casually leaned against the bar. “You’re a day late,” Mia said with a shrug. “I can’t say where the bastard has gone, but if he was worth the fight I would have taken all your pleasure by killing him first. I’m Mia,” she finished with an introduction and offered her hand to Mica to shake.

    Mica looked at the woman with a skeptical eye. “‘Mia’, eh? What exactly did you mean by ‘if he was worth the fight’?” He turned his attention completely to the elven maiden, if the innkeeper had no further interest in talking he’d talk to this one. “Regardless, I’m his son, Mica Lorelai, and that,” he said with a jerk of his thumb to Adriel, “is his son Adriel. The other two are his bodyguards, somethin’-or-other and what’s-her-name.”

    Mia gave the three dark elves a glance and cursory nod of recognition, then turned her attention back to Mica. “He didn’t even put up a fight. He saw my fist coming from a mile away and took it full on the face, then moped about how he deserved everything he had coming for him. He already kicked his own ass, so I couldn’t find any joy in kicking it further,” she explained.

    “Pity,” Mica stated blandly. “Did someone warn him of our possible arrival, a stupid dark elven female bard with a big dumb mutt, or perhaps sans-mutt?”

    “Yeah, I bet she did. She came in just before him, and he said he’d talk to her later. I didn’t stick around for very long,” Mia said and took a moment to push back the repressed depression that Kiran had brought out. If this kid wanted to hunt down Kiran and butcher him, Mia couldn’t say she cared. Hell, she’d even give him a little help. There may have been no fun in hurting him herself, but if Mica got a kick out of it...well, it didn’t mean much to her. It was clear Kiran had accepted his fate.

    Mica bit his lip. She interfered. What was it that she wanted out of Kiran again? “Thanks,” Mica said earnestly to Mia. He turned to Adriel and the others. “So, do we go visiting gates to see which way he went, or what?”

    “By the way,” she added. “I’m not sure how up to date your description of him is, but he’s got a few scars on his face courtesy of me. There’s a nasty one on his chin that’ll stand out. He’s got a long one on his forehead, and a little chunk of ear missing. Good luck.” Mia gave Mica’s arm a pat, then went back to her table.

* * *

    “Well, that went pretty smoothly,” Mia said, relieved. She was expecting another brawl. Too bad, she thought. I could stand to blow off some steam.

    Midau sighed in relief. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Mica so calm after hearing bad news. That’s a turn for the good for today,” he said in a low tone to Mia and the others around their table. Please don’t incite a fight Mica, just go after your dad. You found a clue that brings you closer to hunting him down, so take your prize and leave the second place at the door, Midau wished inwardly.

* * *

    “Yes, that would be be best, I think,” Adriel said. He was eager to be on his way, now that they finally had a lead. He was surprised to find that Kiran had actually been there not a day earlier. “Innkeeper, where are the gates of the city?”

    Yrsanne watched Mia and the others with her own skeptical eye, but it was all business. Mica pretty well downplayed her importance, but she was not about to pick a fight with the bull about it. She just wanted to get out of there.

    The innkeeper, who was still none too pleased to be dealing with these dark elves, replied dryly, “There’s only two gates and the port. The gates are on the north and south sides.” He seemed to have relaxed a bit since they were about to leave.

    “Perhaps we should split in two to check the gates then. I will go to the north, and you can go to the south. If we find any news, we can send a message via the spirits, or we will meet in the city center if we find nothing,” Adriel suggested. “However, since he met Thiana, he may have tried to escape under the cover of invisibility spirits so he would leave no trail.”

    Olula breathed a sigh of relief as the dark elves got the information they wanted and were about to leave. However, her heart sank as she realized what they meant to do. They’re going to kill him! Olula thought. Without thinking, Olula stood.

    “Wait!” she shouted to the dark elves. What am I doing? Well, there’s no turning back now. “I know Kiran has done some horrible things in his past, but I don’t believe he’s that man anymore!”

    Flora watched Olula and smiled a bit. Tears came to her eyes as she listened to Olula, and she stood up as well. “She is right! He has changed, I know he has. Even though I have known him for a short period of time, he was nice and kind to us!” she said as loud as she could. “Ki... Kiran just don’t seem like the type of person that you guys think he is. He has surely changed,” she looked at Olula. She is so right, she thought to herself.

    Mica’s eyes narrowed at the double mention of Kiran’s name, and then people defending him. Defending the same man who defiled his mother, who in turn, defiled him. His blood boiled at the casual mention of his name, and the very thought of other people defending the beast of a man who sired him made the hairs on his neck stand on end. “...You would both do well to shut your mouths and never again utter his name in my presence,” Mica growled. “A man who commits acts so heinous, regardless of his so-called penance, is still guilty. A half-elf like you should know, there is no limit to human cruelty when it comes to our kind.”

    Mica’s malicious glare softened and he even smiled. “Of course...” he laughed. “He was kind to you, and very sweet and even protective.” He nodded emphatically. “That must mean that he’s changed, because I have never seen a con where they pretend to be nice, buttering you up by protecting you and making you feel safe and then take you somewhere dark and rape you till you have nothing left but a tattered body and a shattered mind. How simply na´ve of me,” Mica retorted sarcastically. The two na´ve little bitches were hardly worth his time or effort to bother spending any nuance of reason on. If they continued to persist, however, he’d be forced to shut their mouths for them.

    Nat cursed to himself as the two girls stood up to defend this Kiran fellow, who sounded like no one worth the defense. These girls were incredibly na´ve if what everything said about Kiran was true. No matter what his convictions, Nat would never stand up to someone as imposing as the six-foot-six son of Kiran. However, he couldn’t leave these girls to the wolves, no matter how foolish they were. So, the half-elf bard hopped to his feet and placed himself behind the two girls, cupping his hands over their mouths.

    “Don’t worry yourself over these poor ladies,” Nat told Mica, putting on his most amicable smile. “They obviously know not of what they speak.” Nat then whispered to Olula and Flora; “Let’s not tempt fate now. I have no doubt this fellow will tear you limb from limb, regardless of whether you be men or women. You will be no good to your friend dead.”

    Olula didn’t fight Nat, because she knew he was right. She wanted to stand up for Kiran though. She heard him admit to those crimes yesterday when the other dark elf accused him. He didn’t seem like the man that everyone else seemed to know. However, what Mica said last did stop her righteousness in it’s path. What if Kiran had been using her? It had been on her mind since the night before, but she was in a constant state of second-guessing herself. Olula’s ears dropped and she lowered her eyes as Nat stood to her defense.

* * *

    As the two girls stood up to defend Kiran, Mia dropped her head into her palms. “Crap,” she groaned.

    “Not sure you’re relieved, or kinda disappointed you didn’t get to vent your frustrations from last night.” Azala chuckled to Mia, which turned into a light groan as the two girls spoke up. At least their third companion seemed to be semi-protective of them. Still, he was going to end this right now.

    “Well, aren’t you just all knowing of elven and human relationships,” he said in a flat tone, and got up. While Azala didn’t look nearly as imposing as Mica or his companions, there was an air of confidence that could not be denied. There was no fear. “Kid, I got it, you have had a hard life. Wouldn’t even wish it on Falaris or Kardis. But you ever hear of something called ‘the living dead’? Yeah, Kiran is alive... In the sense that he breaths and talks... but honestly? Killing him would do him a favor. And as for the rape part? He can’t even get his spirits up, let alone get that particular part of his body. But, I digress...” He shrugged at the last part. “You obviously want to kill him. Fine, whatever. Anything I say isn’t going to change your mind, but you and your companions have wore out your welcome here, I’d say. While I pride myself as a person who generally isn’t violent, you’ve pretty much come across as an unwelcome and violent presence, and I’m not fully awake enough to tolerate it. So, get out, have a nice life, and leave in peace and with my sincerest hope that you find your dear old dad in the sorry state he has become... or, leave in pieces, ’cause your giving me a fricken’ headache with your threats and bellyaching. And the gods hath no fury like an elf deprived of sleep.”

    Midau couldn’t believe Azala. Sure he didn’t seem that intelligent on first meeting, but to actually start speaking after the other boy who looked like him diffused the situation, that was almost beyond the realm of stupidity. He wanted to avoid confrontation, but Azala went and shot his fool mouth off to make sure there would be a confrontation. Didn’t he see that defending Kiran in any way made Mica become violently angry? “Shut up Azala...” Midau growled. “Don’t say anymore before you egg the boy into wanting your face to match my eyes.”

    Adriel sighed as some of the patrons of the inn began to provoke Mica. He in no way approved of his brother beating up defenseless looking women, or strangers at all. “Mica, we must hurry if we want to catch up to our father,” Adriel said, hoping that the desire to chase Kiran would keep Mica from fighting. “Leave them to their ignorance.”

    Mica shrugged. He would have let it go if the common elf hadn’t piped up and started mouthing off. However, the diligent keeper of peace, Midau, seemed to want the common elf to shut up with a valid warning. Azala. Mica would remember that name, and when it came time to deal with the other people in his life he despised, Azala’s head would be one of the many he would dash into a red puddle of pulp.

    “Yes, let’s leave,” Mica said coolly. There was really little time to waste when hunting the bastard that was their father, and he couldn’t bother to waste any more time with the pathetic fools that seemed to want him tardy to their reunion with the foul spawn that created him.

    Paying no attention to Midau, the common elf’s eyes watched Mica and his companions, tapping his fingers lightly against the table. It was emphasis that he wanted them out right then and there. Of course, if he lingered to long, he would probably chime in with something else. When Mica seemed to be leaving, he sat down. “Kids these days... Well, he is the offspring of that bastard, so apparently the apple doesn’t fall to far from the rotten orchard tree,” Azala grumbled, resuming to a half-asleep look. “Only saving grace about his type is that he’ll pick a fight that he can’t win before he’s a hundred and fifty and die cursing his own dumb luck.”

    Midau shook his head. “He’d kill you before you got a spell off Azala,” the dark elf admitted. “Regardless of how strong a shaman you might be, you still have to speak to conjure a spirit. He’d crush your throat first, then take his time dismembering you.” I know that because I was his teacher once. Unfortunately he learned all too well how to fight, Midau sighed. Azala wasn’t going to listen, and Midau didn’t have the patience to warn Azala of picking a fight with a man who killed for a living.

    “Wow, we’ve met for less than a day and you’ve already gauged all my abilities, and what I’m capable of. You’re just that good, eh? I suppose I should be totally impressed, and go outside and beg for my life from the psycho brat. After all, apparently I stand no chance whatsoever,” the common elf said in a very monotone voice, and was obviously not caring about what Midau said, or of the dark elf’s judgment. “See, first off, if he had rushed me, I wouldn’t have to worry to much about drawing a blade to defend myself. I would imagine Mia would have drawn her blade to defend me; just like when she walked over to him, I was fully prepared to draw my own to defend her. Next time you gauge a situation, always remember... neither one of us are knights, and I would imagine we’re just close enough to put our lives on the line for each other.” Judging by the tone, he wasn’t making any boast, but was a rather of matter of fact statement. “Now, enough about psycho brats and who has a larger penis because they use a sword better than someone else; we’ll have more things to worry about when we start on the road... like, not sleeping on a bed if we can’t make the distance we want to in a day.”

    Midau sighed and removed himself from his seat. “Sorry, but as his former teacher I’m a little more sure of the kid who’d stop at nothing to crush the very life from your bones than a man I just met. I’ll remember that any further acts as a person concerned for another’s life will just be unwarranted.” First that idiot mage Jereidon, now Azala. Midau gave a soft scoff and flipped his hand through his hair. “Since ‘common elves’ are the masters of assassination, I’ll naturally bow to your natural ability to size up an opponent.” Midau walked away after his sarcastic comment. The urge to act out of character and pound in the common elf’s face was almost overwhelming, so it was best to vacate the area before he acted rashly and killed Azala to prove a point. The speed of a fist beats the speed of a sword, idiot, he growled inwardly as he went to cool off in the stables.

    “Gods you’re annoying,” Azala said flatly. What could occur and what would were two different things. Unlike Midau, who was very obviously upset, Azala seemed to be indifferent to the whole situation. And, in fact, was indifferent. Turning to Mia, he once again changed the subject, “Well, barring any further interruptions from homicidal individuals, we should really figure out what paths we’re going to take, at least for today.”

    Mia was starting to get a headache of her own. Last night had been stressful enough for her, and now the events of the morning so far were only making the situation worse. “You have a problem with tact,” she groaned at Azala. His bold speech to the half-elf Mica had only exacerbated the situation, but luckily nothing came of it. “I say we get our bags and just get the hell out of here,” Mia said, her voice heavy with the emotional toll of the verbal conflicts that had just gone on around her.

    The little grassrunner sank down in her seat as low as she could through the fighting. The conflict surrounding Kiran, a dark elf she hadn’t even spoken a word to, was suffocating her. Midau, she adored him, but he had a short temper. First, he had been so easily infuriated by Jereidon, and now Azala. Bella just wanted to hide, so she did. While Azala and Mia talked about what they were going to do, Bella quietly slipped out of her seat and darted up the stairs to her room.

    “Eh, never was much with tact,” Azala chuckled, then noted something; out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Bella darting away. Grassrunners seemed to live up to their name; they ran fairly fast. “Yeah, I suppose so. Looks like we might be traveling lighter than expected.” In all honesty, he was more worried about Mia. At this rate, they would run into Kiran again, and he would be like he was, and the pathetic act he had shown here would have been a game. “When it rains, it pours...” he mumbled under his breath, starting for the stairs to retrieve their belongings. Although he was ever watchful for the door, and use of dark spirits. Just because the homicidal offspring of Kiran left didn’t mean he or his friends wouldn’t come back in to try to get a stab or two in.

* * *

    Nat caught the mention of the name Azala and was struck speechless for a moment. He recognized that name from somewhere....his father! What a strange twist of fate this was, running into his father in the middle of Shinning Hill. The half-elf stood by silently and rested his arms on Flora and Olula’s shoulders.

    Flora watched Nat and then Olula, listened to what was going on, and sighed softly. She looked at Nat and tilted her head. “You do look kind of hot,” she said to him and looked at Olula. “Right Olula?” she smiled. She tried to ignore what had just happened.

    Olula looked away from Nat and Flora with a strong blush. Kiran was still on her mind though. He was attractive, but she wasn’t the sort to blatantly flirt, unlike Flora. She didn’t really even know how, having restrained herself her entire life.

    Flora’s compliment snapped him out of his thoughts and he grinned at the lavender haired girl. “Well, thank you,” Nat replied. “You’re ‘kind of hot’ yourself.” Flora was pretty, but Olula was a little better looking. Besides, he found her innocence more attractive, and he’d never slept with a half-dark elf. He’d settle for either, or both, but he wanted to try to crack Olula first.

    “Thanks,” Flora said softly and frowned, then sat down and started to think. “Hmm... that didn’t work,” she said softly as she looked at Olula and sighed. She closed her eyes and started fixing her hair slowly as she thought to herself.

    Olula couldn’t be bothered by Nat’s flirting at the moment. She had a horrible weight in the pit of her stomach. Whether or not Kiran was playing her for a fool, Olula didn’t know. However, she had made a connection with him and gave in to trusting him in the couple days they had known each other. Now, she was sick with worry over his safety. If Mica found him and killed him, she’d never live down the guilt—but what could she do? She was just a barmaid.

    Olula shrugged Nat’s arm off her shoulder. “Where the hell are Thangroth and Trent?” she grumbled, then stormed off toward the stairs to wake the men of her party. She couldn’t believe they had slept that long.

    Both girls seemed to be in a sour mood, so Nat let them be. Instead, he wanted to find out if this Azala elf was really his father. Azala had gone upstairs, but his friend was still at the table. Nat went over and took a seat beside her.

    “Hello there,” Nat said to her.

    Mia glanced up at Nat, raising one of her scarred eyebrows. “’s bad form to be hitting on me with one of your other girlies over there,” Mia replied. “I’m probably a little old for your tastes.”

    “Actually, I’m not hitting on you,” Nat replied with a chuckle. “Not that I wouldn’t, you are beautiful, no matter how old or young you may be,” he added with a wink. “I’d like to speak to your friend Azala. Perhaps you can help me?”

    If he’s going to talk to Azala about what I think he’s going to talk to Azala about I should have put money down, Mia thought. “Sure, what about?” she asked the half-elf, with a very good idea of what he was going to say.

    Nat found it hard to say. Would he even be able to tell Azala? “It’s...rather personal,” he replied to Mia.

    “I have a pretty good idea,” Mia replied with a smirk. “He’s not in the best of moods, but if you’re respectful, he’ll probably listen.” The elven mercenary stood from her seat and moved toward the stairs. “Follow me,” she said.

    Nat gulped, finding it harder to face this moment of truth, even if the outcome was nothing more than a mere acknowledgement of each other’s existence. The half-elf forced himself to follow despite how heavy his feet felt.

    Mia wasn’t looking forward to Azala’s potential temper, but she didn’t want to rob this boy of the chance to meet Azala. There was a small chance that he could have ulterior motives--not all half-elven children of Azala likely had a high opinion of their absent father. If Nat were a threat, Mia would be ready to defend her friend, as Azala had pointed out in an earlier argument.

    Mia brought Nat to the room she and Azala had shared the night before, and out of respect for Azala, knocked on the door instead of barging in.

    Reluctantly, Nat followed Mia upstairs to Azala’s room. He was sorely tempted to just run, but he didn’t want to admit to being that much of a coward. Besides, that would mean leaving Olula and Flora and...whatever the other girl’s name was.

v

    Gathering his and Mia’s things, Azala gave a slight start when heard knocking at the door. It could have been several people, but he figured it was either Mia, or the innkeeper to tell him to get out. Either way, the natural response was obvious; “Come in. I’m almost done packing up.”

    “I have someone who wants to talk to you,” Mia said, then opened the door so Azala could see her and Nat.

    “If its that psychotic elf, tell him I’m busy,” he grumbled, and turned around. It was an elf, well, a half-elf anyway; but of a different origin, he would imagine. “Hmm? Oh, you were the one from downstairs with the two women... So, you wanted to talk to me about something?”

    Though tempted to turn and leave, Nat forced himself to stay where he stood. He didn’t really want anything from this man, aside from acknowledgment. “I uhh...” Nat stammered, then forced himself to say it in one breath, “Thinkyou’remyfather.”

    “Let’s not air our dirty laundry out in the hall,” Mia said, then took Nat by the wrist and drug him into the room forcibly. The boy was stiff as a board. The mercenary shut the door behind them, then stood aside quietly to let Azala and Nat discuss.

    Cocking his head lightly to the side, Azala watched the nervous half-elf with some amusement... until the blurred phrase he said. If his skin could have gone white, it would have, instead his eyes just widened and his jaw dropped. As Mia dragged Nat into the room, he finally spoke; “Did you say what I think you did?”

    “Umm...I’m your son,” Nat replied. At least it was easier this time. “My mum, Irile, she was a bard. She said she met you on the road and had a fling. She ended up pregnant and well...here I am.”

    His ears would have dropped if Nat had said anything else, but instead he stood there, rather wide-eyed, and a look of clear shock on his face. Finally, looking at Mia, he spoke. “Well, either you really wanted to make that bet, and have promised him something... or, considering I recognize that name, he is my son,” he said, then looked at Nat. “Your mother... how is she?”

    Mia forced a small smirk at Azala. “Normally, I’d be happy to make a bet on it, but I’m really not in the mood. This is all him,” she replied. She then stepped aside and picked up her pack, then sat down on the bed. She would let these two talk, but afterwards, she was looking forward to getting on the road.

    With Azala’s reply, a weight was lifted off Nat’s shoulders. “Well, she’s been doing well, career wise. Last I heard she was able to play for the courts in Roid. She doesn’t travel anymore, but I visit her when I pass that way,” Nat explained with a shrug. He hoped he wasn’t talking too much. “She’s never married, never wanted to. No other kids either.”

    “Well, its good to know she’s doing well enough,” Azala sighed. In all honesty it was. Although he probably couldn’t ever fully explain why he had basically abandoned Nat. Hell, Azala didn’t even know why he did half the things he did himself. It must be the human capriciousness rubbing off on him. “So... do you want to know an explanation of why I took off? I think I probably owe you that, but then again, if you don’t want to know I’m fine with that as well.”

    Nat shook his head. “No explanation needed. My mom told me it was just a fling, she didn’t expect anything long term,” he replied. “I’m just an accident.” The half-elf chuckled at that comment. “I just wanted to meet you...and uh...let you know that I existed.”

    “Well, thats a relief,” Azala sighed. He was dreading the thought of an explanation; primarily because it would sound self-serving and maybe it was. Giving a slight chuckle, he continued on, “You sound a bit like your sister. If you ever meet a dark elf looking mercenary who calls herself Whisper, just tell her I said hi. But, in the mean time, it seems you’re taking after me in the skirt chasing—although, knowing your mother, I’m inclined to say either of your parents.”

    Nat chuckled again. “By the way, you have a grandson,” he said. “His name is Ceren, but I haven’t met him. Getting his mother pregnant was what got me chased out of my hometown. They tolerated me up until then. My mother told me about him in her letters, but I assume that I won’t be welcomed back to meet him.”

    “Unfortunately there is still a bit more hatred towards elves than I’d prefer. Most people see us as too aloof to be trusted.” Still, being told he had a grandson made him feel a bit old, but, then again, he’d likely have well beyond that if any of his children, and his children’s children were like him. It might not necessarily a bad thing... If he ended up with her he would learn first had how the human mortal coil can make you feel.

    “Give it time. After all, your lifespan is a lot longer than any of those other villagers,” he said, returning to his normal self. “And your mother is obviously keeping tabs on your child, so you likely will be able to see him if you choose.”

    “Ha, yeah, that’s a good point,” Nat said a little awkwardly. Though the thought of raising his child made him feel a little awkward. How someone as lackadaisical as him make a good father? It would be better if his son met him as an adult...then they could have their own awkward conversation like this. “It was good to meet you umm...father,” Nat said, extending his hand to shake Azala’s. The word ‘father’ was odd on his tongue. “I had better get back downstairs before I get fired though.”

    “Alright...” Azala chuckled, knowing full well this could be the first and last time they met. Taking Nat’s hand, he gave it a shake. “Good luck on your path. Since we same to be of the similar trade, our paths will probably cross again. But, until then, good luck.”

    “Thanks,” Nat said with a grin. “Well, I better get going. Thanks for giving me the chance to talk,” the half-elf said awkwardly, backing towards the door. He gave a slight wave, then stepped out into the hall.

    Leaning back against the wall, he sighed. It went as well as he could hope for, and now it felt as if he had a little closure now that he knew something about his father. After a moment to relax, Nat headed back downstairs.

    “Sounds like a chip off the ol’ block,” Mia said with a chuckle. The elven mercenary stood up from her seat on the bed, then slung her traveling pack over her shoulder. “You’ve got to be more careful though. Those human women are far more fertile than us elves. Knock up the wrong woman and you’ll have some bitter half-elf kid after your head.” Mia began walking towards the door. She was looking forward to getting out of this town, and hopefully that meant going in the opposite direction of Kiran and Mica.

* * *

    Midau re-entered the common room after cooling off in the stable. The commons was emptier than he remembered, with only the half-elf girl and part of her party from last night. The dark elf sighed and moved upstairs to fetch Bella. From what little he knew of her, she’d probably be hiding in her room. With a gentle rap on the door he announced his presence. “Bella? Are you in there?”

    Bella, who had been laying on her bed since she came to hide in their room, sat up when she heard Midau knock on the door. With a sniffle, she wiped her face on the blanket. The stress of the events downstairs had brought her to tears of frustration, but she was glad Midau came back for her. “Yes,” she replied.

    He was relieved to see that she would respond to him. Without opening the door he responded: “May I come in?”

    “Yes,” she repeated. The grassrunner sat up on her bed, and patted her eyes with her sleeve. They were probably still red from crying, but there wasn’t much she could do for them now. Though she didn’t want Midau to see her in this condition, she also thought that it might serve as an icebreaker to say one of the things that was bothering her.

    Midau entered into Bella’s room soon after she gave him permission to enter. Her eyes were a little red, meaning that she had been crying. He sat on the floor in front of her so that they were eye level. “I’m sorry for how I acted,” he said giving her cheek a gentle rub. “Mica puts me on edge, so I tend to get a little testy around him. He’s not usually that calm, however, so I’m afraid that when Azala was goading him, I feared that you, myself and Mia would also get into his sights.”

    Bella listened. Midau seemed to realize what was bothering her, which made it easier. “Well...I understand that, but you still have such a temper,” Bella replied. “First there was Jereidon. I know he was daft at times, but he was such a gentle fellow. You broke his jaw because he upset you so much, but he didn’t even lash out at that. I think he deserved being chastised, but the violence was just...too far overboard. It upsets me anyway.”

    “Understandable. However, I held back with Azala, otherwise that elf might have been wearing the same bruise on his chin,” Midau joked. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “I’m just frustrated with the way my luck seems to dip further and further into the pits of hell.” He gave her a soft smile. “Meeting Mica today, Kiran yesterday, the daftness of Jereidon, the smug arrogance of Azala, the inability to contact the spirits, and the looming fear of returning to the Forest of No Return...” He shuddered. “All that stress piles up. If they weren’t all coming in succession then perhaps I’d have a little lee-way to blow off some steam, beat on some goblins or the like.”

    Bella sighed; he had an answer for everything. So, maybe it was all stress. Hopefully, the next time they ran into someone Midau found offensive he wouldn’t snap again. “Well, what are we going to do now?” she asked.

    “Well, it depends on whether or not Mia and Azala decide they still want to tag along for a bit of a walk,” Midau said with an awkward shrug. “If not, we’ll keep to our original plan, go through Moss, up through the Glassy Woods, and cut across Flaim and the Storm and Fire Desert and then into the Forest of No Return, if that’s alright with you.”

    “You still want to give them a chance?” Bella’s ears perked up a bit. Mia was crude, Azala was blunt...but they were interesting, and elves. They knew what she was and understood her, just like Midau.

    “Of course,” Midau said, noticing the perk in Bella’s ears. “I have nothing against them, and as long as Azala doesn’t mouth off every five steps, we should be able to get along peachy.”

    Bella gave a small smile. “Alright then. You’d better go make peace with them then,” she said.

    “Aww...” Midau half-jokingly whined. “Do I have to? Can’t you just do it for me?” He gave her a peck on the forehead and stood up. “Alright then, I’ll go make nice-nice with the jackass and Mia.”

    “No calling him a jackass though!” Bella said, wagging her finger admonishingly at Midau in jest. Feeling much better, the grassrunner lightly hopped down from the bed and headed out the door.

    Midau forced a sigh while trying to conceal a smile. Fine, I won’t call him a jackass, to his face. He snickered and followed Bella out.

    Bella and Midau returned downstairs, but the common room was notably emptier. Mia and Azala were gone, as was the half-dark elf. The bard was playing again though, and the little grassrunner’s ears twitched to the rhythm, showing she was in a good mood again. However, she worried that Azala and Mia left without them.

    Bella walked over to the table Kiran’s former friends sat at. “Excuse me, but do you know whether or not the two elves have left yet?” she asked.

    Flora looked at the grassrunner girl and smiled. “No, I saw them go upstairs.”

    Midau sighed. “Bella, you remember what room they’re in?” the dark elf asked. “I might as well get this over with.”

    Mia came down the stairs to the sound of Nat’s guitar. At least now he sounds like he’s making an effort, she thought. As she stepped out into the common room, she found Midau in her path to the door. It was a rather awkward position, considering the terms the last parted on. “Uh...welcome back,” Mia said, rather stuck for a good thing to say.

    “Thanks,” Midau said. Mia was struggling for niceties it seemed. “I have been moved enough to attempt an apology to the jackass—er, Azala. I should probably apologize to you too, I’m sorry I got all pissed at your friend.” Even if he is a tactless dick who deserved to get his ass handed to him by Mica, a boy over two hundred years his junior. “I mishandled the situation, and the increasing stress on me has been wearing thin my aging nerves. It’s not the first time I’ve snapped in the last couple of days, sadly enough,” he explained.

    Mia glared sharply at Midau as he called Azala a jackass, despite the fact he attempted to glaze over it. Personally, she wasn’t interested in Midau’s apology, no matter how frayed his nerves, after he slipped that remark in. Azala could be rude at times, but she knew his better side. Unfortunately, he rarely showed it in public. “Well, he’s the one ya talk to,” Mia said, glancing up towards the stairs. “AZALA! Hurry your ass up!”

    “Yeah, yeah...” Azala sighed, moving down the stairs with his pack slung over his shoulder. As he came downstairs, he noticed the look Mia had annoyed look on her face and he somehow doubted it was for him. It didn’t help Midau was by her. Not really acknowledging Midau, he readjusted his pack. “Ready to go anytime.”

    Midau’s ears twitched angrily. Having to apologize to such a crude and stupid individual pained him more than seeing that Mica hadn’t changed. Still, it was for Bella and not himself, and her happiness mattered more at this point in time. “Sorry for snapping at you, Azala,” the dark elf said, mustering as much of an apologetic tone as he could manage. “It would mean a lot to Bella—and myself—if we could still travel with you two.” Frankly he didn’t care whether Azala believed him, but this was for Bella, not for himself. She expressed interest in traveling with the others, and he wasn’t going to rob her of that.

    “Excuse me?” Azala said, turning to Midau with an expression that said ‘What are you doing?’. When Midau was finished, Azala stood there with an unamused expression on his face. “I don’t mind you traveling with us... as long as you leave your baggage here. I don’t want to have anything further to do with Kiran, his son, whatever other progeny that he spawned. I don’t care what your relationship with that whole mess is, but I want no more part of it. Got it?”

    Midau held back from laughing at Azala’s expression, mannerisms and the little speech he gave. “Fine,” Midau responded, keeping a stoic front. He knelt beside Bella and gave her a warm smile. ”Want to be carried or do you want to walk?”

    “I can walk,” Bella replied with a smile. She was happy they worked it out, but she wished he could have made a better effort. Mia and Azala both seemed to realize his apology was lacking.

    Mia noticed some tension in Midau’s expression as he agreed. He’s repressing it again, she thought. Since Azala agreed to let the dark elf join, Mia held her tongue. She wanted to keep Azala out of conflict, but she also did want to know about Midau a little. Hopefully these two could loosen up a bit and maybe get to know each other. “Well then, let’s hit the road,” Mia said and turned for the door. Remembering Nat, she turned back and gave the half-elf bard a wave. “Keep yourself out of trouble, kid!”

    Azala didn’t totally believe Midau, but if any incidents occurred, he and Mia would likely take off and leave Midau. Nodding in Mia’s direction, he briefly looked back at Nat. Things had certainly gotten interesting. Giving a wave, he followed Mia. Very interesting indeed.

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