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Chapter 21: Azala’s Path: Adan

    After a day’s walk, the quartet arrived in the city of Adan. There hadn’t been much talk on the walk. Mia and Azala both gave Midau the cold shoulder and focused on getting to the next city. After all that animosity, Mia was beginning to feel a little bad for Midau though, and hoped that they could possibly salvage a potential friendship over a mug of ale, or something stronger.

    Mia chose a familiar old inn she frequented in her travels, and that was hospitable to anyone with gold and good intentions. That included dark elves. After getting their rooms set up and belongings stashed away within—one for Mia and Azala, the other for Midau and Bella—Mia ordered a bottle of spirits, and set up four shot glasses on a table near the hearth. “Alright guys, I think we need take some time to loosen up and get to know each other, eh?” she said with a broad grin.

    “Over many rounds of booze... Well, fine, but if you wake up with some random guy, like you generally do, I’m not going to defend you when you find out you were just using him as a quickie.” Azala smirked, taking one of the shot glasses. He had his own close calls to speak of, and Mia probably knew the majority of them. “Well, I’m game.”

    “...I don’t normally drink,” Midau stated. He knew his alcohol limit, and as long as he stayed within the boundaries of just getting a light buzz, he should be still cognoscente enough to carry Bella to bed if she became completely tanked. “I’m in though, within moderation, however.”

    “Well, good, because if you’re honest, you won’t get drunk,” Mia replied, then took Azala’s shot glass back and set it on the table. “The game is Truth or Drink,” she announced, then began pouring a drink for all four of them—only half a shot for Bella, though.

    “The object is that one of us ask a question to the group, or an individual. If the questioned can’t answer, then they take a shot instead,” Mia sat down. “When you ask a group question, the person to your right answers first, then the next, and the next, ending up at the original asker. Then it’s the next person’s turn to ask. For an individual question, the person asked will pose the next question, and so on. So, take your seats!”

    Bella was apprehensive, as she had never drank, but she had nothing to hide. So, the grassrunner climbed up into the chair next to Mia and looked into her half-full shot glass warily. “I’m ready,” she said, kneeling in the chair.

    Midau took his seat by Bella and nodded. “I’m ready whenever you two are.”

    “Alright then, first question,” Mia paused, pondering on a question that didn’t delve too deep yet, but would still be somewhat hard to answer. “How old are you, to the year?” she asked, then began to silently try and count the years to remember her exact age. Azala would be the first to answer, then Midau, Bella, and back to Mia.

    “Hmm, I don’t suppose ‘older than I look’ is an acceptable response?” The common elf chuckled, thinking a bit about it. He had seen quite a bit of recorded history, but his own age eluded him until... there...that was it. “I believe I’m three-hundred and thirty, give or take a year or two.”

    “Two hundred eighty-eight,” Midau stated. “Approximately. Might be a year off.”

    “Twenty-seven,” Bella replied, then giggled. She was incredibly young compared to all of them and she was possibly the only one certain of her age.

    “Three hundred and seven,” Mia replied. She had done the math while they answered. At least it was easy to remember as she just had to count the years since she turned three hundred. “Your question Azala.”

    “Alright, lets see...” Azala thought about it. Nothing he was in dire need of knowing, but he could always ask something mundane. “Whats the weirdest place you’ve been to... and why.”

    Midau scratched his chin. He hadn’t been anywhere particularly weird in his life, except the Forest of No Return. Not sure what to do in the situation, he took up the shot glass and downed it. “Pass,” he stated after downing the liquid.

    Bella’s eyebrows went up in playful astonishment as Midau decided to skip the question. Maybe it was about the Forest of No Return? The grassrunner thought for a moment as the game came around to her. “Well, I suppose I’d have to say Raiden,” she replied. “I haven’t been to a lot of places yet, but the ‘free city’ was really interesting and kind of scary. It was the first place I went when I came to Lodoss.”

    “Marmo,” Mia replied, though she was somewhat sour about it. “One hell of a place...I went there to find my dad.”

    Azala thought about it. While he had heard stories about Marmo, he had never been there. The denizens may have been annoyed by his presence, he would imagine the dark elves would see him as a hostile intruder. “Blue Dragon Island. Never have seen so many dragons in my life. You’re up Midau.”

    “You never said why,” Midau stated. “The question probed why as well as where.”

    “Hmm, I thought I did... ah well. Anyway, after going to Moss, you find it weird to see wild dragons outnumber the tame ones,” Azala said passively. “I guess it should go around. Probably would have said Moss first if I had visited that place second.”

    “Alright,” Midau said. “How close are you to your family? Rating between one and ten, one being heavily estranged and ten being a tight-knit family unit. Include any children if you have them, or knowledge of them.”

    “Ten,” Bella answered. “My family was my whole world before I came here. Though maybe a nine...I don’t mind some independence.”

    Mia thought this over for a moment and gave an exasperated sigh. “Eh...five I guess. All I’ve got is my mother, but she and I are either too different or too alike. She loves me, but I’d rather not spend much time with her. My father’s dead, not that I ever knew him, and I have no children, thank Falis.”

    “Hmm, thats tough to say,” Azala said passively. Considering he had just met one of his children... well, so far he wasn’t on bad terms with them. Even Whisper had not shown open disapproval. Then again, he hadn’t exactly been on great terms with the rest of his family. “I’d say a three. My family and I aren’t on bad terms, but we don’t see each other often enough to really be on good terms.”

    “I myself have a daughter and a son, both from my second wife, as well as the two children from her previous marriage. Martin died on the sea, Eliza and I lost touch—those two where her children from her previous marriage. Arieh, my daughter, married a Mossian Knight whom she outlived. I believe she has a son who followed his father’s path. My son, Melarl, left Lodoss and married someone on Alecrast. So sad to say, I’d have to rate my connections to my family at a strained three,” Midau admitted. He hoped that he could at least see Arieh in Moss before he and Bella made their way to the Forest of No Return.

    Bella smiled softly as Midau spoke of his family, but now it was her turn for a question. The grassrunner sat and tried to think of something probing, though both the questions she had in mind had been asked by Midau. “What is the furthest you have ever been from home?” she asked, though it didn’t seem to be as probing as to make someone drink.

    “Well, I suppose that would be Raiden,” Mia said with a slight sigh, staring into her drink. She was hoping for more serious questions, but she would have to cover that on the next round. A part of her was tempted to just take that shot sitting in front of her. “I’d like to go to Alecrast one day...but honestly, I just haven’t quite got up the courage to go that far away from all I know and am familiar with. I must be getting set in my ways as an old woman.” The elf laughed at that, not that she was really old in elven terms. Living with humans made one feel that way, though, which was something that both Midau and Azala were familiar with as well.

    “Maybe when I go back home, you can come with me!” Bella said gleefully to the elven woman. “I’m really not familiar with much of Alecrast, outside the grasslands and the port I left from, but it’s a start.”

    “Farthest I’ve ever been from home was Kanon. I was planning on traveling through Alecrast and visiting the Chaos Lands next century, but funds for a trip like that take a while to get,” Azala said passively, then looked at Mia with a slight grin. “Well, you certainly are looking the part of an old lady these days... just look at those wrinkles.”

* * *

    The high elf had traveled along the northern route to Adan, as it was faster than the southern route, so the map seemed to tell her. Her previous forays into the human world proved to be no help, as so much had changed since she had been this far from the Forest of No Return. The farthest she had been in recent years was Alan; it was proclaimed to be the center of knowledge, and thus, the best place to find medical texts. Not that she enjoyed going there, as it was...

    She had picked her inn at random—there were so many choices in this city—and entered, nose in the air, avoiding looking at the humans. Walking proudly and maintaining her aloof elven presence, Lien went to the bar to speak with one of the employees. After paying for her room and meal (specifically requesting a vegetarian meal), Lien turned to examine the common room and decide if it was worth sitting in here amongst the humans. However, she soon noted a long-eared group which drew her eye. As she observed them, she was stunned to realize she recognized each of the elves—though the shorter one with her back to Lien was unfamiliar thus far. Midau, the dark elf who dared to marry Otora, and led her to her untimely death. Mia, the “grey” elf, a friend of Seri’s, and most ironically of all, the incredibly handsome common elf Azala. The very man Seri had left to find, Lien had blindly stumbled upon in her search for Seri.

    The high elf crossed the room while the group was engrossed in their conversation, then spoke up in her native tongue. {“My, my, I never imagined I might cross paths with all three of you in one place,”} Lien said. {“Midau, the husband of the late Otora. Mia, the grey elf. And Azala... the one sought by the one I seek. What an unnerving coincidence,”} Lien’s gaze drifted from Azala to Midau, her voice taking an icier tone when she looked on the dark elf. The loss of Otora had been hard on the entire high elven race, but no one aside from her parents had the bond that Lien did, which was the same bond she had to every child born to her people. She had helped bring Otora into the world, and held her in her first moments. Lien never anticipated that she would live to see the end of that child’s life.

    Azala probably would have continued, if not for someone speaking elvish and coming right at them. He turned to see an elf... well, that wasn’t true. She was a high elf, the unearthly beauty, and that haughty air about her was a dead giveaway. The way she was staring at Midau was not a very friendly one—he shared that in common with her at least. Although he supposed he didn’t quite hate the dark elf anymore. {“Well, well, don’t see to many high elves around. What brings you out of the Forest of No Return?”}

    Lien’s attention returned to Azala. He knew nothing, she assumed. He didn’t know her duties among her people, nor anything of Seri’s pregnancy. It was likely that he never received the messages Seri sent to his family. {“That concerns you as well, Azala,”} Lien said. {“Perhaps this is not the best place to discuss it either.”}

    “You’re old than I am, geezer,” Mia muttered with a smirk in response to Azala, despite the fact that he was already talking to to the high elf. She still had to get the last word in. She vaguely recognized the elf, but she didn’t have the opportunity to meet all of them, so she likely never heard her name. She definitely wanted to hear what she had to say though.

    “Well, we are playing Truth or Drink,” Mia chimed in, slipping back into the common tongue. “You might as well tell us all, or take a shot,” she said with a grin, offering Lien her shot of whiskey.

    Midau looked to the table and took a shot. The sudden appearance of a high elf stunned his tongue, and addled his mind. The name of his dead wife spoken to his ears made his heart grow heavy with the long buried grief of the loss. “I didn’t expect to see you again,” Midau said with a low sullen tone, his ears dipping slightly. Her gaze burned into his body so any further conversation with the high elf would be met with Midau’s reluctance to speak, shamed like a naughty child before their elder.

    Lien shot a glare at Mia for her boldness. “Azala, this is a subject that requires some sensitivity. I would rather speak to you in private,” the high elf explained, though the response seemed to be directed toward Mia more than Azala.

    Bella, though not involved with anything these elves may have done, was as equally uncomfortable with the high elven woman who just approached them, and was now standing behind her. It didn’t help matters when she looked to see Midau shrinking in his seat. She had never seen him like this before, and though she knew a little of his sordid past, this reaction was to more than just the thoughts of his lost wife. This elf was obviously someone he highly respected...or feared.

    Eyeing up the high elf passively, Azala gauged her. She was rude, at the very least. He didn’t recognize her though, so she might have been used to people being cowed before her. “I guess she wants to handle this with subtlety.” He yawned, getting up and motioning for her to lead the way.

    When Azala agreed, Lien led him to a quieter corner of the inn, as far as possible from eavesdroppers, then sat at the table in that corner. Once he sat, she began her explanation, spoken softly in elven; {“My name is Lien. I, among other things, serve my people as a midwife. A few months ago, after your visit, Seri realized she was pregnant, and against my wishes, she left to find you. Her pregnancy is nearing its end, and I must find her soon. I assume the messages she sent to your family in the Glassy Woods never reached you.”}

    {“Must be a boring job, being that high elves are rarely pregnant and all,”} Azala said passively when she finished. So Seri got pregnant? At least the kid wouldn’t have to deal with half-elven stigma. After all, there was no real difference there, unlike a half-elf child. {“I only visit my family in glassy woods once in a great while, and thats primarily to rest from my travels. Anyway, I have not seen Seri since I left the Forest of No Return. So if your looking for her, I can’t really tell you anything beyond that.”}

    Things were getting interesting at the very least. {“By the way, you might receive a warmer reception from people if you didn’t raise your nose to them. Its been my observation that the typical human doesn’t like it when you treat them as beneath you.”}

    Lien was shocked and disgusted at his lack of concern. He proceeded to give her some advice on dealing with humans, which she didn’t care to listen to. Instead she was suppressing urges to physically harm him for his indifference. Seri was trying desperately to find him so he would know about their child that she was probably heavily pregnant with and he just brushed it off like it meant nothing.

    {“So, you don’t care then?”} Lien replied, and though she was doing her best to restrain her emotions, it was obvious that she had become tense.

    {“I care a great deal,”} Azala said passively, standing up. He didn’t really like this high elf; it was a reminder of why he left his own forest in the first place. Everything was taken to extremes, and the higher than thou attitude never sat well. {“However, that would be between myself and Seri. Unless you wish to ask me something else, I believe our business is concluded. If you want to talk to me anymore, your going to have to be civil with my traveling companions while I discuss something with Mia. If not, I bid you farewell.”}

    Azala didn’t give her time to respond. This had hit him, but things weren’t exactly in his favor here. He never was a tracker, and he had no clue on how to locate Seri. Yeah, not good in the least. As he approached the table, he motioned to Mia. “Hey Mia, I have something I need to talk to you about. Privately, if you don’t mind.”

* * *

    As Azala walked away, Lien was left frustrated and annoyed. What could Seri see in such an immature individual? Lien thought. Seri was still a child in her eyes as well, but from what she knew of Azala, he was only a few hundred years old—not even half Seri’s age. Perhaps he needs time to digest this, the high elf considered, though his casual attitude toward the entire affair left her feathers ruffled.

    If Azala wanted to find Seri, that would likely mean traveling with Midau. Her anger towards that particular dark elf would not make the journey easy...yet, it was high elven nature to understand that patience generally brings resolution. Perhaps some time with Midau would help her overcome her grief and anger, so that she could understand how much remorse he felt for Otora’s death. He had made a mistake, as many youths do, and unfortunately that mistake led to the death of one of their children, and his wife. Creis had punished Midau by severing his link to the spirits, though Lien wondered how much the dark elf had punished himself...

* * *

    “This can’t be good,” Mia muttered as she stood from her seat. “We’ll be back,” she said to Midau and Bella as she went to join the common elf. As she stepped up next to him, she asked in a whisper; “What is it?”

    “Something rather unexpected, to say the least.” Azala frowned. He had known a few instances where he had impregnated someone, but in all of them they hadn’t asked for help, or apparently wanted it. In all cases, what was done was done, and there was no turning back. Still, a high elf was something more. Pregnancy among humans was common, but among high elves? A huge deal.

    “When I went to the Forest of No Return, I visited Seri,” Azala whispered, frowning lightly. Mia would either hurt him for this, or laugh. Either prospect was not a pleasant one. “I ended up seducing her... and well, apparently something more than I expected to happened... Seri is looking for me... and expecting.”

    It took Mia a moment to process all if it, during which she said, “You what?” While Mia knew that he had a crush on Seri, he never expected him to love her and leave her. In fact, she hoped that if he ever did make his feelings known, they’d have a real relationship. While Mia didn’t care about all of his flings, and had her own fun with Azala when the mood struck, Seri was someone she highly respected—and feared to a degree. “You got Seri pregnant?” Mia confirmed, maintaining a whisper, though the anger was evident in her voice.

* * *

    Midau nodded. Leaning over to Bella he gave her a little nudge. “Azala knocked some woman up,” he whispered to her. “The only reason that the high elf—Lien—would come out of the Forest of No Return would be to find the mother. I don’t think she’d care much to find the father, but if she couldn’t find the mother first, she’d seek out the father to ferret out any information on the possible whereabouts of the mother,” he whispered his speculations. “She’s the midwife of the high elves, after all. Otora, my late wife, talked a lot about her, I found out later that she was talking about her because she was pregnant at the time. Then the accident...well...” He flinched. “That pretty much defined the moment when my childhood ended and my rough tumbling graceless fall into adulthood began.”

    Bella was struck with sadness as she listened to Midau talk about his first wife. To think that he lost a child broke her heart. Comfortingly, the grassrunner patted the dark elf’s hand. “I’m sorry,” she said softly, as it was the only thing she could think of to say.

* * *

    Judging by the tone of her voice, and the rising anger that was creeping on her face and deep in her voice, Azala opted to get a little more defensive in his stance. Last thing he needed was to get blindsided by a well placed punch or kick. “It would appear so. That high elf is apparently some sort of midwife, although I would imagine her job is pretty much non-existent.” Giving a light frown, he crossed his arms. “I have to go find Seri. Apparently she’s looking for me, but I don’t know much else beyond that... other than the pregnancy.”

    Mia sighed, the anger fading. When he said he wanted to look for Seri, it suddenly made Mia feel much better. “Alright,” she said. “In the morning, I suppose we should go on with this midwife. Maybe she has a good idea where to find Seri.” Mia glanced back at Midau and Bella their table. “What about them?”

    “Well, she seemed to be searching for Seri, although I would trust myself finding her long before another high elf. They don’t exactly travel around Lodoss to often,” Azala said rather passively. He was still a bit dumbstruck, and still attempting to figure out what he could do about this. “Them? I would imagine we’ll part ways. They want to head to the Forest of No Return, right?”

    “Midau wants to go to Moss first,” Mia replied. “Depending on which way we go, I suppose, our paths will probably be the same for awhile—it’s only north or south out of here. Do you have an idea on where to find Seri?” The elven mercenary didn’t think for a moment that she wouldn’t be going with Azala. There was no way she could walk away from two friends in this situation.

    “Not a clue,” Azala replied with a shrug. “That midwife probably has a better idea. As for the other two... well, if we’re going in the same direction, then I suppose we’ll still be traveling together.” The common elf sighed. “Go talk to Midau and Bella, I’ll talk to the midwife.” With a nod, Mia went back to their table while Azala headed to the far corner where Lien waited.

    The mercenary sat back down with Midau and Bella and leaned across the table to speak to them as privately as possible. “Azala and I are going to travel with the midwife. I suppose as long as we’re traveling the same path, you’ll be with us,” Mia said, shrugging.

    “Sure,” Midau said with a small nod. “We’ll accompany you for as long as we can.”

    Mia nodded. “Alright,” she replied. The mercenary slipped into her seat and sighed, looking at Azala talking to the high elf. “So much for Truth or Drink, eh?” she said, then took the bottle of spirits and took a few swigs from it.

* * *

    Azala rejoined the high elf at her table. {“Alright, I’ll go with you to find Seri, but my companions will be traveling with us,”} he explained, sounding reluctant. He wasn’t looking forward to this, but he wanted to find Seri, and if this woman was a midwife, Seri needed her.

    {“Very well,”} Lien replied passively.

    {“Do you have any idea where Seri might be?”} Azala asked.

    {“In the west, is all I can say,”} Lien replied. {“I have been communing with the spirits to find information of her whereabouts, and speaking with humans along the way. The only information they have been able to tell me is that the saw her and her traveling companion pass through no less than two months ago. She may be returning home now, but she has not yet passed this point, nor is she close enough for the spirits in the area to be able to tell me where she is.”}

    {“So we go west then. Either to Moss, or to Flaim,”} Azala said softly, mostly thinking to himself. Elves didn’t fare well in the desert—especially a pregnant one, he could imagine—but if she was that desperate to find him, she may have been passing through. He’d traveled through the desert himself several times, once quite recently. Seri may have heard of him passing through.

    {“We shall see which direction the spirits point us in when we reach the crossroad,”} Lien said.

    {“We’ll be leaving tomorrow morning,”} he said and stood, signifying the end of the conversation. Lien regarded him with a nod of agreement. With this news, he didn’t know how well he would sleep though.

* * *

    A few moments later, Azala returned to the table, seeming much more sullen than before. “I’m going to bed. We’ll be leaving with the high elf tomorrow.”

    “They’ll be traveling with us so long as we’re going the same way,” Mia informed him. Azala nodded in acknowledgment, then bid them a mumbled goodnight and headed upstairs. Mia realized he probably had a lot on his mind. First her meeting Kiran again, and him finding out that Seri was pregnant, after all the complications there had to be in that relationship... this was looking to be a rough week, emotionally. Setting aside her bottle, Mia sighed again. “I’ll be headin’ to bed too. See you two in the morning.” With that, Mia followed Azala up.

* * *

    Midau made his way over to Lien and took her hands in his. He knew that she would hate the forwardness of his, but he had words to share with her that he did not wish her to ignore. “...I’m sorry,” he started, finding it hard to grasp the words he had thought so long to say to her. “I—I was a young fool. Too long have I lived a life of shame after the death of Otora, and still I will keep my shame with me. I don’t seek your forgiveness, I just wished to express my deepest condolences to you as well. I...I have decided that I shall face her father once more, I know the wounds will still be deep, and that I could ask for no forgiveness from him either, but I wish to at least stand before him again and offer my apologies so that I may visit the grave of my—of Otora and our child.” His eyes had not moved from hands, as he was still too ashamed to look her in the eye. “I...I suppose that is all I had to say.”

    The high elf was struck speechless. A swell of forgiveness rose in her heart, but Lien was choked by the pain of loss. She was conflicted, which led to her inability to speak. Lien lowered her head, hiding her eyes behind her bangs in case the dark elf managed to muster the courage to look her in the eyes. Scrambling to find words, she found none. Gently pulling her hands back, Lien slipped from her seat and walked past Midau. “Excuse me,” she said, nearly in a whisper, as she retreated from the entire awkward situation. There was no doubt that Midau would only see high elven arrogance as the reason for this, but she could do nothing else. Lien carried herself at a fast pace to the stairs, seeking the sanctuary of the room she rented. There, she could take the time she needed to make sense of her emotions.

    Bella watched from the table, and when she saw the high elf remain silent, her heart went out to Midau. The woman wasn’t leaving a good impression on Bella; she was cold and distant, as she heard high elves could be, but the extent of it she didn’t realize. As soon as she arrived, the midwife seemed to suck all the joy out of the room, right while they were in the middle of mending their relations none the less. The little grassrunner hopped out of her chair and went to Midau so she could offer him her comfort.

    Midau found some comfort in Bella’s presence but opted for joking around to show her that he was fine. “Wow, she’s a feisty one, ain’t she?” Midau said with a small chuckle. “If she were four centuries younger you’d have competition for my heart.” He gave his grassrunner companion a large smile and knelt down so that she could look him in the eyes and not in the shins. “How’re you holding up?” the dark elf asked her, brushing a few errant strands of hair out of her small face.

    Bella smiled up at Midau, though she knew he was only trying to distract himself. She’d let him. “Just fine, Midau,” she replied. If anything, she was the only one in good spirits at this point. “We should probably head to bed too.”

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