A/N: The scene with Kivan and Maiyn was inspired by suggestion from Arix Despana (which she should recognise) and so full credit for this development goes to her :D

General disclaimer: I own nothing, even Maiyn generally decides her own path.

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The Svirfneblin Village

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"Edo, od golver d'tanyon! Da sugden os tera!"

Maiyn sighed. The language of choice in the Underdark was clearly unlikely to ever be common or elvish, and so she just stared blankly at the deep gnome until he paused in his speech to stare back at her.

"I'm sorry, but your meaning escapes me," she explained slowly.

The svirfneblin peered at them cautiously and cleared his throat. "You there, you who are there! Stand and identify yourself and your purpose!"

"I am Maiyn, these are my friends, and we're not here to cause trouble. We come in peace, as they say."

The three gnomes exchanged a few glances and then studied the strangers some more. Small and dark, the svirfneblin were armoured with chainmail and wielded a variety of weapons between the three of them as they stood at their post. The bridge behind them led over another of the Underdark's ravines, and into the deep gnome village that Camaris had helped them to find. Their progress from the Illithid city had been slow and strained, with nerves running high through the group. The former slaves were un-armoured and unarmed -- completely vulnerable in one of the most hostile environments Maiyn had ever experienced, but thankfully they'd met nothing except some myconids on their way to this potential safe haven, and those creatures had been dispatched safely.

"Hmm... you are not a resident of this place, are you?" asked the central gnome. "Strangers from above then? Come here you should not, though useful you may be. You may enter, but on your best behaviour be. Go and speak to the Lord of our fair granitehome. He will see to your well-being."

"Thank you," replied Maiyn courteously as the gnomes stepped aside, allowing them to pass. The group carefully crossed over the sturdy wooden bridge and travelled down a short tunnel that was reinforced with wooden supports at various intervals, and home to piles of crates in every available natural alcove. It wound round at the end, one passage splitting off and travelling further into the gloom, while the other led into what appeared to be the actual town. The party and their companions followed that route, climbing onto a wooden ledge that ran along the side of the gap in the earth and passed through the first doorway.

Several beds of varying sizes lined the room, and several low burning torches provided a tiny amount of light. Each bed had a plain, wooden chest at its foot and a small table at its side with an unlit candle on top. The gnome in the room turned around to look at them.

"Ahh, travellers to our fair city," he said pleasantly in common. "That would be rare enough, but you are surfacers by the look of you. I am Goldander Blackenrock, leader of this settlement. May I be having the pleasure of your identity?"

The party took a few moments to introduce themselves, then Camaris explained the misfortune that had befallen both sets of adventurers. "My friends and I were not lucky enough to find our belongings in the flayer's city before we left," he concluded, "and it is only due to the kindness of these strangers that we were able to get here with any safety."

Goldander nodded sympathetically to him. He appeared to be a fairly old gnome; his long white hair falling neatly down to his shoulders and settling on the thick woollen cloak that was swathed around his leather armour. His dark eyes never settled on any one of them for too long, studying the array of people who had come to visit his town, almost as if he was assessing them for any potential threat.

"We have equipment at the inn next door," he said at length, smiling to Camaris. "We can donate what we can afford to; though not much can be given for free I am afraid."

"We have coin to purchase as much what they need," interrupted Maiyn quickly. "We are willing to trade as best as we can to ensure they can prepare for their own travels through the tunnels."

Camaris looked at her with wide eyes as Goldander nodded. "Then, sorting you out we will be," he said calmly. He then turned to look at Maiyn. "But first -- I would have words with you, if you are willing to hear."

The ranger raised an eyebrow. "Speak and I will listen, though I'm not sure what I can do for you."

The gnome sighed heavily. "It is a matter that I would prefer to trust to an outsider. Too much svirfneblin blood has been spilled over this as it is. I will give you details of the task first, and you may decide if you wish to accept. I tap rock that you will."

"I am sure we will do what we can," smiled Kivan.

"As you can see, our granitehome village is quite empty," began Goldander. "I have sent the majority to deeper climes, far from here. It was no longer safe, and it is our own fault. We tunnelled too deep recently, and unearthed a monstrosity. A strange cavern that yielded death, a monster we have not seen outside of dreaming. What I ask of you is simple to explain, but difficult in deed. I ask that the beast be killed, and the tunnel be closed."

"What type of creature is this?" asked Jaheira.

"As I said, it is a beast out of dreams, or nightmares, if you prefer," replied the svirfneblin carefully. He frowned slightly. "It is not of the rock. I do not know what to call it."

The group exchanged glances, but all offered a small nod to Maiyn. "We will look into this," she offered the gnome who smiled delightedly to her. "But we will need help from you in exchange."

"I am listening," said Goldander.

"We seek two surfacers whom passed near to this way. I am not sure if you will have seen them, but-"

"Wait!" The gnome frowned thoughtfully. "Surfacers other than you? Ahh, I know of them, but you will have a hard time finding. They passed within the city of the drow, Ust Natha."

Maiyn sighed. "We had been told as such, but we had hoped there may have been a mistake."

"Ah, do not be sad, tall one," advised the deep gnome. "I may know a way into the drow city. Well, I know a being that might help you. She could see you safely inside, but after that you would surely be dead."

"You can help us to get into the city?" It was Maiyn's time to widen her eyes in surprise.

"I know of one that maybe can offer such assistance," chuckled Goldander. "But before I impart such information, I must ensure that you assist us first. I apologise, but it has to be this way."

"No... I understand," nodded Maiyn. "We will see to your problem after we have helped our friends to restock themselves."

"Thank you, Maiyn," the svirfneblin said solemnly. He pulled a piece of parchment from his belt and held it out to her. "Take this stoneshape scroll. It is linked magically to the stone of the cavern and when the beast is dead, you can use this to bring the cavern down upon it. I shall make it a forbidden area forever after."

The ranger accepted the scroll and examined it closely. It seemed like a simple enough incantation and she showed it to Xan. The enchanter nodded confidently.

"We will do that," said the ranger, turning to lead the party through to the inn. It was much like the hostel had been -- the lanterns burned low in sconces on the wall, and only a couple of gnomes were within. One appeared to be the innkeeper, and the other stood behind a large counter with strange runes dabbed on a sign above the top. Both gnomes had long dark hair and leather armour, and both were watching the group with much interest.

"You are the shopkeeper?" asked Jaheira, approaching his corner of the room. He looked at her curiously and nodded. "We wish to trade with you."

Camaris and his friends were urged forward to look through the goods on offer, and also shown the small selection of items Maiyn and her companions had picked up in their travels that were now stored in their bag of holding. Between both sources, there was enough to sufficiently set the men up to venture out into the depths to find their way home, and the cost owed to the gnomish storekeep was smaller than Maiyn had expected. The former slaves thanked them profusely for their kindness and turned to face them when they had finished equipping themselves.

"We wish to offer our assistance to fell the beast you now go to face before we part ways," said Camaris determinedly. He shook his head when Maiyn looked to protest. "Please, allow it -- it is the least we could do for the kindness you've shown, and there is strength in numbers."

Maiyn smiled to him and nodded. "We'd be grateful for your help," she said sincerely. "Let us go and perform the deed!"

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The creature rose from the rent in the cavern with a speed that surprised everyone in the room. Minsc was the first to recover from the shock, charging towards the beast with Lilarcor raised high, roaring in righteous fury.

The balor seemed unworried by the potential threat. Instead, it allowed its gaze to casually drift over the assembled group, instantly causing several of Camaris' men to freeze in fear as they met its eyes. Maiyn's companions were prepared for such, and they all carefully avoided falling into the trap -- Jaheira following close behind Minsc with her club drawn while Kivan and Sime peppered the beast with arrows. Xan was further back still, his eyes closed as he murmured the words to his spell rapidly, a blue hue engulfing the allies and causing their bravery to increase tenfold. Maiyn quickly offered a simple prayer to Fenmarel, and a hue surrounded those affected by the Balor's gaze, freeing them from their paralysis, and allowing them to move around freely with the combination of the enchanter's cantrip.

The beast flapped its leathery black wings lazily and spun around as it swiped at Minsc with its sharp, yellowed claws. Muscles bulged in its arms and legs, its red body glistening in the faint light provided by Xan's magical torch. Its eyes glowed with an eerie orange light as its maw opened while it roared, the sound echoing around the enclosed space repeatedly until it faded.

Jaheira took several solid strikes as she darted around, her ironskins absorbing the damage and leaving her unscathed but unbalanced. She swung her weapon into the unprotected sides as often as she could, allowing the spikes on the end to tear into the tough skin and cause damage, while Minsc slashed Lilarcor across any part of the beast he could reach. Camaris and his men were doing likewise, slowly adding to its injuries while the arrows flying in occasionally managed to penetrate its hide, causing it to cry out in anger.

Maiyn's chant prayer lifted the spirits of the fighters, and they moved around with added grace and ease, the confidence of the group building up and up. Xan's next spell flew through the air, hitting the demon solidly, and the green glow that lingered in the air suggested to those who were familiar with his repertoire that his attempt to lower the magical resistance of the creature had been successful. Minsc's next hit was a devastating blow, Larry slicing through the torso of the balor with sickening ease, glowing slightly as contact was made. Each of the enchanted weapons behaved the same to the weakened monster as they hit, and only a few minutes later it lay dead before them. Maiyn cautiously wandered over to its body, looking to Jaheira for confirmation of its death before she lowered her guard. The druid nodded solemnly.

"We should leave here and invoke the effects of the scroll," she advised. The ranger agreed, and one by one the adventurers left the cavern until only Maiyn and Xan were left behind. The enchanter took the scroll and unfurled it, looking over to her expectantly. She raised an eyebrow.

"Aren't you going to leave?" he asked.

"Aren't you?" she replied.

He frowned slightly. "I need to stay within to ensure the correct area is affected by the spell," he explained. "But it would be safer for you to stay outside."

She shook her head. "Not a chance. If you have to stay in here, then I'm staying beside you."

"I'd really rather-"

"No, Xan!" she exclaimed, a grin playfully crossing her face. "It's sweet of you to be so concerned, but I'm staying here with you while you read it."

He sighed heavily. "You're determined, aren't you?"

"Just as determined as I was in Cloakwood," she noted, reminding him of the time she accompanied Yeslick to the plug in the mines; the only two companions who stayed behind to ensure the mine flooded properly. Xan groaned at the memory.

"Then at least stand behind me," he implored. "And if the roof begins to fall down around you, run for the exit."

She nodded and stood where he placed her, listening as he read the words on the scroll. Slowly a rumbling noise began to echo around them and the ground began to grumble away, falling into the depths of the tear in the earth, taking the body of the fallen beast with it. Xan and Maiyn retreated quickly towards the door, watching as the ceiling of the far side of the chamber collapsed in after it until nothing was left but a pile of rubble and rocks. The thunderous noise ceased and a stillness returned to the air as the two elves exchanged a look. Maiyn quickly glanced towards the exit -- none of their companions were visible, having all moved well around the corner to be safely away from the effects of the spell, and a mischievous smile spread across her face. Xan looked worried by it.

"This is not the time," he said hastily as their eyes met. "We... we need to talk, first."

Maiyn's face fell slightly, but she nodded and held out her hand to him. He hesitated before he took it, squeezing her hand gently as they moved away from the rockfall to join their companions.

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Camaris and his men left soon after they reported back to Goldander, and the group wished them well on their journey. Left alone, the deep gnome settled down into a seat beside them and smiled.

"We had worried for your safety as though one of our own were in danger," he said gently, settling himself down to get comfortable. A small table had been pulled up before them, and an assortment of preserved foods had been dished up for their enjoyment. They were strongly flavoured, but the group hadn't eaten since they left the illithid city, and they soon adapted to the taste. "We heard the rumblings of your battle, and were glad to see you all emerge alive. With the tunnel collapsed, the creature will not be disturbed again. I know it is dead, but who knows what could happen with such things."

"It is better to be safe than sorry," agreed Jaheira.

Goldander nodded sagely to her. "And now onto the information you seek. You will need this." He leaned over and picked up a package from the side of is seat, unwrapping it to reveal a finely crafted silver mace and a jewel that glowed with an immense light. "The weapon is our show of gratitude," he explained, handing it to Maiyn. The ranger inspected the weapon with a fair degree of awe -- it was beautifully made, and appeared to be sturdy. Xan quickly murmured a spell over it and nodded to her -- it held a fairly powerful enchantment within it.

"It was called 'Skullcrusher'," the gnome leader continued. "It has been in our possession for many years, but I think it would serve a better purpose in the hands of those who strive to do good in the lands."

"Thank you," said Maiyn quietly. "It's a magnificent weapon."

Goldander smiled. "This is a light gem," he continued, holding out the jewel for her. "You will need it to pass through the Stairway of Shadow. Beyond it is the creature I spoke of before, who may be able to help you. Her name is Adalon, though 'My Lady' will suffice just as well. Show respect and you will have it in return."

"Is she a svirfneblin like you?" asked Sime.

The gnome chuckled deeply. "Goodness, no!" he exclaimed. "She is a creature of great beauty, as you will hopefully see. She does keep very particular company though, more so than others of her kind. I'm sure she will see to your concerns if you approach politely, but you must keep the gem with you to get to her lair. Only it can break the darkness that acts as a guard -- dark enough to keep even the drow away."

Maiyn nodded solemnly and stored the gem safely into her pocket. "Where is this stairway?" she asked.

"Some of my men shall show you," the svirfneblin replied. "But first, rest you should, and eat as well. You will need strength if you are intending still to enter the city of the darklings, and you can sleep here in safety, for our people will be on guard to watch over the settlement as a whole."

"That would be most welcome," smiled Maiyn gratefully. "We will take up your kind offer, and we thank you for it."

"Not at all," beamed Goldander as he stood up. "We are at your service in any way we can be, and the hostel shall be yours until you are ready to leave. You will be welcome to return at any time, also, though if you are in danger and pursued, we will be unable to offer much in the way of assistance. We cannot risk war with any of our neighbours, because we are weaker than they, and we could not hope to survive an outright attack."

"We will make sure we bring no danger to your town if we return," Maiyn promised him. "We could never willingly endanger anyone who has shown us assistance and aid."

"I did not think you could," the gnome chuckled. "But come -- I will introduce you to the others, and then leave you to rest."

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It didn't take long for the party to settle into the large room and decide which bed each of them wanted. They took the chance to enjoy their free time, wandering off to look around the settlement and meet the few svirfneblin that were around, living in their own small cavern homes. Goldander had sent a few of his men to fetch back the families of those who had stayed behind, now that the threat in their town had been seen to, and spirits amongst the gnomes were high and hopeful. The strangers were welcomed wherever they went.

Maiyn found herself sitting at the end of the wooden platform that ran along the wall of the chasm. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't see down into the darkness and had no idea how deep the rent actually was. In a way it terrified her, but in another it was fascinating. It was also quiet and peaceful, and she was taking a great deal of pleasure in solitude. Her mind idly went over the things she knew she should be thinking about, but she was unable to focus much on anything to any depth. Jaheira's words regarding her situation with Xan played over and over in her mind, and she while she tried to cling onto the hope that Coran was truly alive and waiting for her somewhere, she was loathe to give up what she'd found she could have with Xan.

The enchanter provided her with a sense of stability -- she found his doom and gloom amusing, his loyalty admirable... but he didn't have the fire that brightened up her days, or the charm and life that made her discover she was spending most of her waking moments with a smile on her face. He was dependable, however, and there was no doubting he'd do anything for her. And she liked him.

But she loved Coran.

She picked up a pebble by her side and idly tossed it over into the chasm. Her keen hearing only just managed to pick up a faint echo as it eventually landed somewhere and she sighed miserably to herself. Why had Coran appeared in her latest dreams if he wasn't alive? Her dreams were anything but random -- various parts of her were embodying themselves into people she knew within them, trying to use her ties and emotions as a way to manipulate her into complying with their wishes. The taint delighted in using Irenicus and her soul relied on using Imoen -- what part of her had called Coran to her dreams. And who were the people with him? Were they random? Were they his actual companions?

She frowned slightly. But how could she see them like that? It didn't make sense. But then... her dreams weren't exactly famous for making sense... She grabbed another pebble and threw it over the edge, this time with a little more force. The echo was a tiny bit louder this time.

"You're troubled," came a voice. She sighed inwardly, but then realised it was Kivan and all annoyance disappeared. She smiled up to him and shrugged as he sat down beside her. "Do you wish to talk?"

"Not particularly," she replied ruefully. "I just have a lot on my mind, and most of it I don't really understand."

The male elf nodded understandingly. "It must be difficult," he said quietly. "I can't imagine what it must feel like to be as you are, but we will retrieve your soul for you and Imoen."

Maiyn nodded determinedly. "We will," she agreed, then looked over to him. "You didn't tell me you'd started to worship Sehanine."

Kivan smiled; a proper, full smile that crossed his face full and even managed to spread into his eyes. She'd never seen so much joy in his face before. "Deheriana appeared to me one night, when I chose to sleep rather than reverie," he said softly. "She caressed my face as we looked at each other, and she was as beautiful as she'd always been. I was crying."

Maiyn nodded silently.

"She told me it was time to move on, that another would accept my service and worship. She reminded me that I could not live for vengeance when there were so many other important things happening -- that I hadn't joined her when she died because one of us was required to take a mortal part in this tale -- in your destiny. For some reason, the role fell to me, but she guides me from my dreams, and I know she watches us when she can."

"I am sure she does," smiled Maiyn. "And I am glad she managed to take you from the path of Shevarash. He served you when you needed Him, but it was time for you, for your own sake, to move on."

Kivan nodded. "And now it is my duty to aid you in your struggle," he said solemnly. "I will be here for you for as long as the Gods permit it, and I will strive to do everything I can to help you stay on the path of what is right and good."

"Thank you," replied Maiyn softly. "It means a lot to hear that."

"You know, of course, that our path seems set to take us through the heartland of the drow?"

She nodded.

"And you know they have an affinity with a creature you are not overly fond of?"

Maiyn shuddered. "I was hoping no one would remind me of that," she admitted, "though I know I can't just keep ignoring the fact."

"You can't step inside Ust Natha as you are," he said firmly. "I want to help you overcome your fear enough to survive within the boundaries of a drow city, should that become a very real necessity."

Maiyn gulped. "I don't know how you intend to do that..."

Kivan smiled and slowly pulled something from his pocket. Maiyn took one look at it and began to try and scramble to her feet, but he reached out and firmly held her where she was.

"Do not run from it," he said sternly. "It is nothing but a figurine, and it can't harm you as it is."

Her eyes were fixed to it in horror, wide and flashing with the golden tint. Kivan wasn't sure if she could hear his words or not, but he continued regardless.

"I want you to hold it -- perhaps not immediately, but soon. We don't have long here, in this village, but we will not have a place of safety beyond here, and we must act now if we are to try to solve this problem. After you have mastered holding the figurine, we will call forth one of its arachnids to stand by us. The drow pets shall not be hostile unless they perceive us as a threat to their city or Lolth -- there is a good chance many will be allowed to roam around the city freely, both large and small, and if we are disguised or otherwise concealed from them, they will not attack. If you can come to cope with that, then it will be enough."

Maiyn nodded slowly, her eyes still fixed to the gleaming black object.

"Time is of the essence," he finished urgently. "We must begin this now."

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Jaheira found Xan sitting at one of the tables in the inn and quietly asked to join him. He looked up from his spellbook and offered a polite smile as he waved to a seat, and the druid sat down, placing her tea before her. A few minutes passed in silence before Xan spoke.

"You wish me to ask why you have chosen to sit with me, don't you?"

Jaheira smiled wryly. "Am I that obvious?"

Xan chuckled. "You are rather traditional in your methods, shall we say. So I will oblige: what can I do for you?"

"Perhaps I just wished to have company," retorted the druid with mock indignation.

"If you did, you would have sought out Maiyn or Kivan," noted Xan. "Or perhaps even Minsc."

Jaheira studied him, her face suddenly serious. "Do you think I value you less than them?"

The enchanter shook his head. "Not at all. I merely think that they provide a better level of discussion and a more satisfying degree of company than me."

She snorted. "Must you put yourself down so? You offer a lot to the group, and certain members cannot seem to get enough of your companionship."

Xan felt himself colour slightly, and he purposefully looked down to his spellbook, avoiding her keen gaze. "I am... fond of my friends," he said eventually, his silence lingering after his words in his reluctance to elaborate further.

"She is fond of you too, I am sure," nodded Jaheira. "But we both know it is not as simple as that."

Xan stiffened and closed his book firmly. "I think-" he began, rising from his chair. Jaheira placed a hand gently on his arm, causing him to pause.

"Please, sit back down," she said gently. "I am not looking to offend nor argue. I am worried -- for both of you."

The enchanter returned to his seat and sighed heavily. "What is the point?" he asked glumly. "We are all doomed."

"So you keep reminding us," noted Jaheira with a trace of amusement. "But if you think we are so doomed, why do you place yourself in a situation where you are wrestling with your emotions on a daily basis?"

Xan shrugged dismally.

"You must have some hope, otherwise you would not bother with the effort," continued Jaheira gently. Her hand remained on his arm as he spoke, and he shifted slightly uncomfortably. She ignored his moving. "You are both my friends, though I will admit I am closer to Maiyn than you. That has not been deliberate, however -- Khalid... Khalid and I... we promised to look after both she and Imoen if anything happened to him. Although most of our attention has followed the two girls, our compassion and caring for our other companions has never been lessened."

The elf nodded slowly. "I... I appreciate your kind words," he said quietly, though he seemed to struggle. "I wanted to... I wanted to say how sorry I was to hear about Khalid. At the time I felt that my words would ring hollow and sound false, but I was truly devastated to hear about him and Dynaheir."

"I know," said Jaheira hoarsely. Xan could see her eyes shining in the light and he removed her hand from his arm, taking it gently in his own. She smiled at him.

"He was a good man," continued the enchanter. "The finest are always taken far, far too soon."

Jaheira let out a sob, and Xan moved around the table, placing his arm awkwardly around the half-elf's shoulder. She didn't resist, and a few minutes passed until she had composed herself enough to gently disentangle herself and thank him. He merely shook his head.

"Just when I think I have come to terms with my grief, I discover I truly have not," she remarked dryly, wiping at her eyes with her sleeve. "But that was not why I wanted to talk to you."

"You wished to discuss Maiyn."

She nodded. "I did... but not in the way you would assume. I fear that you, or she, or both, may end up being hurt. I fear that the past she thinks is so deeply buried, is still roaming free in the lands, trying to catch up with its present."

"It was my biggest fear at one point," admitted the enchanter. Jaheira threw him a strange look.

"But it is no more?"

Xan shook his head. "Since she... when she became the Slayer, the thoughts of Coran returning and whisking her away from me became less sour." He smiled bitterly. "I do not know what to say to her, how to act to her. I am trying to support her while keeping my distance, but I know I can't do that forever. I saw the hurt in her eyes earlier when I told her we needed to talk before... before I could relax with her like I used to; but I don't know what to say to her. I am so worried that she will change into it again, and possibly lose control to it, that my worries about Coran's well being seem a distant memory."

Jaheira nodded. "It must be hard."

He sighed. "Life is hollow, we know this. I will continue to be here for her as best as I can, and if in the end I'm tossed aside for her to return to her former lover, then... there is little I can do. I will die; my soul will be claimed by my moonblade, no matter what happens -- so my time with Maiyn will come to a miserable end either way."

Jaheira frowned slightly. "It may not," she said softly. "She does care about you deeply -- that is for certain. But she needs to ensure things in her past are completely final before she moves on. To do what she is doing right now is not fair on anyone, though I cannot blame her for her actions."

"You can't?" Xan raised an eyebrow.

Jaheira shook her head. "No, I cannot," she smiled. "When it is a matter of the heart, there is sometimes no arguing. Some things are just out with our full control."

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Minsc had finished exploring the quaint gnome settlement and was wandering back down one of the tunnels when he discovered Sime sitting alone on one of the crates, staring at something on the opposite wall. Minsc frowned slightly and moved closer, allowing Boo to scurry down his hand as he drew near.

"Boo says he will provide much small and cuddly comfort if you require it," he said strongly, causing the rogue to jump. A look of relief quickly replaced the panicked expression she'd taken and she smiled up to the berserker, holding out her hands. Boo scurried over, squeaking happily as she brought the hamster to her lap and stroked him absent-mindedly. Minsc sat down beside her.

"Boo wonders what is wrong, little Sime," continued the Rashemeni with a tone of concern. "You look sad."

"I'm fine," she replied with a sigh. "But thank you."

"Minsc is not stupid," he said sternly. "Minsc can tell when someone is upset, and little Sime is upset about something. Telling Minsc and Boo may help."

Sime smiled weakly. "I was just thinking about Yoshimo," she said quietly. Minsc nodded understandingly.

"Minsc did not understand why he acted as he did, but Boo explained it to him. Boo said that he was under the influence of something very powerful that meant he had no choice but to do what he did, even though it was very bad. Boo is not sure he really wanted to hurt anyone, except maybe little Maiyn -- but especially not you, because Boo says he looked at you differently to everyone else."

Sime raised an eyebrow. "Differently?" she asked quietly.

Minsc nodded solemnly. "Boo says that Yoshimo seemed to always appear cautious when he regarded our friends, as if he was quite wary of something. But Boo also says that when Yoshimo looked at little Sime, his caution seemed to disappear and it was almost as if Yoshimo was happy."

A silence fell upon them as Sime's trembling hand continued to stroke Boo's soft fur. Minsc said nothing, but when he finally looked down to the young rogue he noticed the tears streaming down her cheeks as she cried silently. Wordlessly he put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her into a bearhug, holding her safely and rocking gently to soothe away her pain and loss. During it all, Boo remained close to her, nuzzling her hands with his nose.