CHAPTER ONE: RUNAWAY

She had been gone for about five months, at least that was the guess. She knew, because it all started shortly after her birthday. Everything started back in September. Whether anyone was looking for her didn't matter, because she doubted it. No one was coming to get her -- if she wanted to go home, she'd have to do it herself.

She sat alone in the dark, in the smallest and least confortable cabin of the ship. It was somewhat decent, but comfort was not a prime factor. There was a bed at the end, if you could even claim it to be a bed. The matrress was old and the springs speaked loudly, but it was something you could get used to. The sheets were rough, blue fabric that seemed faded with a few holes in it as well. Under the bed was a small leather pouch which contained the only thing that was truely hers -- money. It was a good amount too, but no one but herself knew about it. These weren't rich people, they would have wanted it for more food if they knew of its existance. But for the most time, ever since she found out about the next stop, she had in her pocket of her large coat. No one ever knew a thing. And if she planned what she hoped, she would need all of her money today.

There was a single window next to the bed, that let in soft starlight whenever the time came that the stars felt generous enough to share. While everything seemed slightly unbearable at times, the view was the best anyone could ask for.

Granted, she was handled well with the crew, the captain and first mate for starters. She worked, as anyone would, and disciplined harshly, but never threatened. The only brusies or blood spilled came from herself, for many times she had daydreamed too deeply and lost her balance accidently. And how could one not? The places she had seen while on this ship, nothing like she had ever seen. She had never been on a ship before now, and certainly never out of her country. The star constellations told her storys, and landscapes welcomed her to come and explore. In fact, if in any other circumstances, she would have gladly taken the chance to roam on a ship and go to places she never would have otherwise. But she wasn't on an adventure...the adventure was to get back home. Even if nothing ever happened to her on this ship, she was still afraid...and most of all, she was very lonely and unhappy. Not only was she the only teenager on this entire ship, but she was the only human as well as anything else. She wondered if she'd ever seen another human again.

She didn't know what they wanted with her, they hadn't told her anything. She stayed silent, for she doubted anyone would tell her anything -- no one ever did. It must have been something important, because the one time they landed at a port, she had to be completely covered and not to speak at all. The entire crew had gone to take supplies, and she was taken along with the captain, to keep a good eye on her. She saw nothing, she met no one. Obviously, it seemed...if someone saw her, they'd want to take her on their boat for whatever reason she was on this one. She heard things at the crew dinners...she just didn't know what.

Yet now, finally, they were reaching a second port, in which to gather more supplies and meet some people, of course she didn't know who. Nor did she really care. She just wanted to leave. Escape. To get out. She didn't belong here.

A knock came to the door. She snapped out of her gaze from the window. At least they were courtious to knock, that was a good sign she learned on her first week here. She started to climb down off her bed.

"Commin," she mummbled.

It was the captain, the only person on the ship that ever really talked to her. Which was fine, she never talked to anyone else. Captain Daniels was what he was called, simply enough. He had the body features of a large cat, mostly a large tiger, yet stood on his broad hind legs, looking at her with his gleaming yellow eyes. He towered over her in a muscular, feline body with sharp claws and fangs as any would expect. He was always mild with her, but still very intimidating. She would never admit it, but even after all this time she was still afraid of the captain. After all, she had only been around humans her entire life.

"We've arrived," he spoke, holding the large cloak she recgonized from their last stop. "Put this on over yourself, Lynch."

She took it, and with no expression, slung it over her shoulders and lifted the hood over her head, letting it fall far over her eyes. All that was truely visible was her nose and mouth, but even they were in shadow. She placed her hands in the pockets of her frist coat and slimmed out the door, saying nothing, drained of any sort of excitement as the captain closed the door behind her.

She walked off the deck of the ship alongside the captain, as he always made her do. She looked up slightly, catching a glimpse of the sight around her. Thousands of sailors and travelers rushing in all directions around her. Cargo was being handed, deals were being made, and familys were being reunited everywhere she looked. In such a large crowd of people, she never felt more invisble to the world than now. She seemed to just drift alongside the captain, lifeless in her large gray cloak that consumed her. No one could even tell she was human.

The captain talked with other officers that seemed to be at his level of power--about what she didn't care, not like she would be interested enough to listen. She scanned around -- looking -- for anyone human like her. Just to remind her of who she was. And then she noticed something so obvious:

It was an awfully busy and crowded port.

She smirked. For someone so shy and clumsy, she was awfully clever. She looked behind her, the captain was in deep conversation. A ship has just docked, a cruise ship it seemed, and a large group of passengers was about to move right past where she was. They came closer to her, and quietly enough -- as the captain had sharp eyes -- she walked along them and blended into the crowd, and it was now pretty much impossible to be found. It was such a perfect place to hide in.

She hadn't walked twenty feet when she twirled around, saw the captain still in his position, completely obivious to the situation. She chuckled softly to herself, then made a sharp turn to the right and broke into a jog. Surely things should be so easy!

For a moment, a sense of bliss rushed through. And then it disappeared as quickly as it came when she remembered that she was now going to be hunted down -- surely the captain would have noticed by now. She tried to plan something quickly...

"Oh goodness, so sorry!"

She snapped out of her panic for a moment and looked over. Someone had just bumped right into her -- and with the given situation, she wondered why it hadn't happened sooner.

Whoever it was was some sort of a canine, picking up the few pieces of parchment that slipped out onto the ground. He bent up and looked at her, which was nearly impossible with the hood covering her face. "Erm...good day."

"Do you have a ship?" She asked quickly. Although he couldn't see it, there was a huge look of desperation in her eyes.

"Me? Oh, no...not of my own I mean. I'm actually on my way out of here --"

"May I come with you?"

She prepared herself for the worst. Surely there was no way there would be room for another person. Her heart leaped when he said it wouldn't be a problem.

"Just stopped by for some errands for a friend...travelling to Montressor, I hope?"

She didn't have a clue to where that was, but nodded like she did.

"Well, for whatever reason you're going, I know of a place for you to stay if you need it."

She smiled. Whoever this person was, he seemed awfully nice to such a stranger as herself. She almost felt safe, and had a feeling that things were starting to turn around.

"May I -- erm --" they both stopped. She looked up at him, waiting for whatever he meant to say. "May I ask your name?"

No harm in that. "Fiona," she replied. "Fiona Alana Lynch, if you care to know." It was common to tell your full name where she came from, but doubted anyone would know of the Lynchs.

"Ah, a pleasure, Miss Lynch," he extended out a paw. "Dilbert Doppler."

Fiona smirked and accepted. "Nice name."

"Well, it's mine and that's all I care about," he replied quite proudly. "Now, quickly -- we don't want to miss our ride!"

Fiona realized how important that was to her and agreed. She could see the one taking her away from this place, nearly ten feet away --

"Now, what are they making such a racket for?!" Doppler said, annoyed, turning around to where a bunch of noise was starting behind them.

"LYNCH!!" growled the captain from afar. Fiona's eyes widened and she quickly grabbed the canine's arms.

"Hurry! Don't ask, just run!"

As Dilbert was never one to ask, they quickly rushed up the ship's dock as it was about to set sail. The captain was too far away to ever catch her, but Fiona still felt unsettled until the ship set off, and when it did, she sported a devilish grin and waved goodbye.

"Well now...this shall be interesting to tell Sarah."

Fiona, as with everyone else, wasn't listening to Doppler's comments. She saw the cresent moon-like spaceport slowly fade away into the distance. At her pleasure, she found that her next destination was hardly far from the port, and would arrive in short time. For once, she enjoyed herself.

For reasons beyond her, Fiona kept onto the raggety gray cloak, except pulling the hood up just enough to see better around her. Strangely, it was a bit comfy, and since she only had one set of clothes otherwise, Fiona felt it be wise to hold onto as many as she could until she could buy more.

"May I ask where you're from?"

Fiona shrugged. "...Moria."

"Really!" said Doppler with some excitement. "I didn't know that place even existed!"

Fiona blinked. Did people think Moria was some sort of fairy tale land? Perhabs this was not the most intellegent being she could have met...

"...well, I suppose I shouldn't be that suprised. Erm, anyway...that's always far off, where they say it is, I mean! I hope I'm correct...I'm just assuming...from the stories and theories and all."

Fiona fell silent. She didn't have any idea where she was now. "I've never been outside Moria. But I've been away for some time...so it is far off. I guess."

"That's so interesting, you know...well, maybe not you I suppose." He looked at her. "Do you mind...I'd just like to see..."

"Oh," she replied, knowing exactly what he meant. Fiona pulled back her hood to reveal her hair, which certainly stood out. Not many people had wavy hair, but Fiona was the curliest of them all. Many upperclass women tried to copy the mythical curls in their fashion, but none ever came close to how natural Fiona's was. She had two clumps on each side as "bangs", coming to her chin, while the rest of her copper hair was pulled back into a ponytail, which barely touched the collar of her robes. For a teenage girl to have hair like Fiona's was very uncommon.

"It's longer than it looks." She shrugged.

"Well, all you had to do was show me that and you wouldn't have had to say a thing! Now I see why you were wearing that cloak..."

She shrugged again.

"Oh, erm...what about the -- the birthmark?"

"Oh, that." Fiona reached and pulled under her two coats and undershirt, revealing a small design on her left shoulder. "Everyone in my family has it. So if we ever get lost or something."

"So I've heard," Dilbert replied. He meant to continue, but figured that would be all she was aware of.

"They're good friends of mine, and I'm sure they'll have a room set up for you. Wait here."

Dilbert walked into the comfortable looking building at the edge of the wharf, with plenty of small ships posted outside. She looked around, and above her head.

"Benbow Inn..." she read to herself. "Hmm."

The door opened. Fiona turned around and quickly tried to make sure there weren't any curls visible from under her hood. She smiled, as if trying to look cute enough to get a room.

"Fiona, this is my dear friend, Sarah Hawkins -- she owns the Benbow."

"Hi," Fiona said, exploding with happiness to see another human person.

"Sarah, Fiona has some...er--"

"Burn scars," Fiona remembered to say. "Around here and..stuff." She notioned to the upper parts of her head and cheeks.

"Oh, that's alright," Sarah said immediately in a warm voice. "Don't worry about it, I've seen worse things. C'mon, I have a room for you."

"How much?" Fiona asked, tossing her coins in her undercoat pocket with her fingertips.

"Oh, we'll discuss that later."

"I can work," Fiona said, anxious. "Clean and stuff."

Sarah Hawkins seemed flattered. "Well -- I -- how about you come inside first and eat something." She looked at Doppler.

"Oh, yes! Ahem...we'll discuss everything after dinner, alright?"

Fiona nodded. She walked in, not believing her luck.

It was very quiet, without many people at all occupying the dinner room. A lone, elder creature sat in the corner, reading a foreign newspaper and enjoying himself to some sort of smoking beverage. Sarah picked up some dirty dishes leftover on a nearby table.

"So, what would you like? Um..." Sarah tried to think. "We have...well, here." She grabbed a menu and handed it Fiona's way.

"Just some soup would be good. Just some vegetable, please?"

"Alright, I'll be right back," Sarah replied, rushing off to the back of the room into the kitchen.

"Oh, I've forgotten...I should introduce you to Jim!"

Fiona stared. Why would she want to meet this person?

"He's Sarah's son...JIM!" he shouted from the bottom of the staircase. "Can you come down here, please? I believe you two are about the same age...I know you'll get along."

"Alright, I'm comin'! Geez..." Fiona heard from above. Oh, how eager that made her!

Fiona shrugged and looked down at her foot. She heard footsteps trample down the wooden staircase and looked up through the thick cloak cloth over her face. She blinked to see if she was seeing things clearly.

It had been so long since she had seen a human teenager that she had to look him over to make sure he didn't have a tail or something. He looked small and scrawny in his obviously-too-big-for-him clothes, and couldn't help but noticed how his dark brown bangs fell over his eyes as if trying to hide from everyone around him, like she was doing.

After hearing Dilbert's gasps when he first saw her, Fiona finally realised why she had been taken in the first place. Her heart sunk -- this boy would never treat her like a normal person, only as some sort of mythical animal someone sees in storybooks. She had grown up around people exactly like her -- Fiona never knew they were "special" or anything.

She delibirately didn't look Jim in the eye.

"Jim, this young lady will be staying with us for a while. Fiona Lynch...Jim."

"Hi," he said simply.

She smirked, shrugging. "Hey."

"Here you go," Sarah said, running in with a hot bowl of soup at the perfect time for Fiona's sake. She smiled. "Thank you."

Fiona sat down at a nearby table -- She looked up and saw Jim asking something to his mother -- Fiona knew he was asking about the hood. Delbert noticed and put a hand on her shoulder.

"You can trust Jim, believe me...he's not going to bite you!"

Fiona shrugged again, finishing her soup. She still doubted he was very friendly.

"Well, I must return home. Awfully late you know...I'll see you tomorrow, Sarah. Night Jim, Fiona."

Everyone gave Dilbert their farewell as he grapped his scarlet coat and walked out the door. Sarah came round to Fiona's table and scooped up her bowl.

"My, you were hungry!"

"It's really good..." Fiona said honestly. Nothing she had ever had, at least.

"Jim! Go show her up to her room, please!" Sarah said in a somewhat fustrated voice that Jim hadn't done it already. He glared and mummbled as she walked away.

"Up here," he said quietly. Fiona followed. She figured Jim wasn't the one to bother and befriend her anyway.

He led her to the seond door in the hallway. The one on the end was his, she assumed. It was wide open, filled with posters and drawings of planets and space all over the walls. He opened it for her.

"It's not much..." he admitted.

Compared to her old "room", it was wonderful. A large comfy king size bed with a dresser set, and a large window to see the stars out of. She smiled widely.

"Oh, this is a lot better than my last....well..." she fell silent. It wasn't the greatest thing in the world to discuss.

"Erm -- my mom told me about your -- well, anyway...it's cool with me."

Fiona folded her arms.

"Can I see?"

Fiona looked at him, startled. "Why?!" Even if she did have burns on her face, why --

"Sorry, sorry...it's just, the hood...it's making me curious. I'm sorry, that's a real dumbass thing to ask."

Fiona looked up, a bit offended. "Sorta. But I don't blame you."

She looked around. For some reason she could understand, Fiona spoke, "Close the door."

Jim did, a bit confused. "Look, don't think I'm some sick guy who likes seeing beat up girls or something messed up like that..."

"I don't. Just...promise you won't tell anyone. I've been with Delbert a while and I trust him...and he told me I could trust you."

"Alright, alright, I promise." Jim shoved his hands in his jacket pockets and walked closer, trying to look up the hood into her face, but he saw barely above her eyes.

"I don't have burns."

"Then what is it?" He asked, lifting his hand to pull away her hood. Fiona turned her head, flinching.

"...has you ever heard of Moria?" she whispered, almost scared that she would regret doing this.

"Moria? You mean...that place in the stories? Yeah...something about the people there, they're magical or something..."

"Magical...right."

"Hey, that's what they say. They're the only human looking people with curly hair, and they're...well, I don't know what exactly...but they're in legends and myths, the Morians. Some really strange people think they actually exist...if they did, I bet people would be trying to catch them all the time."

Fiona stared. "You promised you wouldn't tell..." She lifted off her hood, looking back at him, hoping for a positive response.

Jim stared a moment, trying to figure out the joke. "Alright, you're...you're a strange one, you know. So you curled your hair to look like a Morian...whats embarressing about that? Girls do that all the time...though I may say -- you did a really good job -- "

Fiona started fuming. "I can't believe I even bothered!" She threw the hood back on and started to march toward the door, opening it. "Get out, You're a waste of my time if you're not going to help me!!"

"Hey, woah...sorry...it's just...I mean, c'mon, you don't see someone like you everyday."

Fiona stared. "Like me?"

"Well, maybe you do see others like you everyday -- "

"Well, I did!" She smartmouthed, full of emotion. She slumped onto the bed, curling her knees close to her. She was angry with everything...no one wanted to help her. She'd have to hide forever, far away from her family. No one cared. Anger, confusion, homesickness, sadness was all bursting inside.

"....then what are you doing here?"

"I was kidnapped, Jim!" she screamed, as if he should have read her mind and already known. "Someone took me around six months ago and I'd been on a ship ever since! Only recently was I able to run away and come here...but now it doesn't seem like anyone even knows where Moria is! I certainly don't! I don't know what to do...it seems now that everyone wants to catch me and sell me for amusement like I'm some sort of...some freak! And I don't even know why! I'm not special, it's all crap, I swear! I'm just like anyone else!"

Jim stood there, doing nothing. He hoped she had just been through a lot of trama, and wasn't always this emotional like he figured teenage girls were. Then again, he was still getting over the shock of having something only in fairy tales right in front of him.

"Look -- I -- I'll find it," he said finally.

Fiona looked up at him, angry and not believing him. "What?"

"I'll find Moria. Whoever took you must have known where it was, right? Besides...well, let's just say I have a thing with finding places no one else thinks exists."

"But how--"

"There's bound to be a map somewhere. Or--Or someone who knows...Look, don't worry about it...I'll see you in the morning."

And before she could form the words to tell him this wasn't funny, Jim walked out her door.