Sometimes the most unfortunate of a race can turn their life around to greatness if just given the chance

Sometimes the most unfortunate of a race can turn their life around to greatness if just given the chance. It takes one with a kind heart, however, to look past the ruggedness and find a gem. Though even jewels have flaws and unless you be a perfectionist, you can find the beauty in something that's still rough about the edges.

What better way to forget one's woes than to have a nice long evening sitting at the bar of a tavern? Just sitting does some good and while at it a good drink wouldn't hurt any. That was precisely what Lumbar had in mind as he sat there on the barstool, a mug of ale in hand. His lute leaned up against the bartop, his hands occupied with holding his drink and his mind with his most recent streak of bad luck.

It hadn't all happened at once but it might as well have, so that he could at least feel that it wasn't a whole year that had gone to waste. His dream of starting a barding college had been shattered. Some necromancer had gotten the notion that it would be beneficial or perhaps just plain amusing to run a horde of orcs through the newly built town.

If that hadn't been the worst of it he'd lost the remaining half to his partner Rose in a game of cards. Cheat, he was sure of it, and promised himself that would be the last time he played a game of cards against a mage. Lumbar was fed up with trying for nothing. He was through with trying for greatness, through with relationships, and through with his drink.

"Barkeep!" He called and was almost instantaniously answered by the sound of ale sloshing down into his mug once again.

Lumbar stared at the drink and began having second thoughts of having yet another drink. Ale was, however, the drink of courage and he was feeling rather brave. Yet he wanted to keep his head about him. So standing he paid for the drinks, even the latest which was left untouched as he left. Picking up his lute he departed the tavern, unaware and uncaring of whatever patrons might find their way out in his shadow or in after his passing.

The fading light of the evening caught soft tints of gold in his light brown hair that had been so carefully tied back. Though now a few locks had strayed from their binding and fluttered back at the sides of his face like a pair of insect antennaes. He was dressed in black leather pants and a matching coat, a two handed sword strapped over his back and two scimitars dangled behind him. Many pouches were tied in their places with a varying array of contents.

Not that he was in need of anything that might be kept in those pouches and pockets. Not at this moment at least as he carried his lute and walked casually down teh street in search of something to occupy his time. Unaware of the small figure that shadowed his every movement.

A shabby example of a human youth she was small even for her meger 9 years of age. She was naturally slender though that was emphasized by her lack of daily nourishment. Baby fat still clung to some of her, giving her cheeks a slight pudginess and fingers stoutness that wouldn't otherwise be displayed.

She was dressed in a pair of worn breeches that would have been much to long for her if they hadn't been ripped just above the ankles of her barefooted legs. No shirt covered her upper torso though a vest loosely laced over her chest kept her appearance at least decent. She was armed with a single dagger, visibly tucked into the rope tied about her waist that served as a belt. An actually belt was drapped like a sash across her front that was in reality a makeshift strap for the burlap pack she had.

Her hair gave no shine for it was a snarled mess of stringy curls caked with the same mud that adorned the rest of her body. Her form had been untouched by soap for years, bathing only in the rain showers She had no care for hygene, and her in so, even as nothing seemed to happen. Locks having long since gone untamed by the likes of scissors or blade. Her attention had first been caught by this bard's many pouches, though now it was his light baritone voice that gave her further reason to follow. She was a child after all and stories were hard to resist, especially a good adventure.

Lumbar did not know about his uninvited audience, and if he did he made no acknowledgement, as he continued walking. Presently he was strumming a few cords and singing a simple tune of a typical knight off to slay some creature. He was merely giving himself a bit to do as he walked, unaware of the child that followed.

Eyes of dull color but keen sight focused on her target, a single pouch that was within easy reach. She wove through the crowd with ease, barely grazing the hair arms of those she passed. Experience was on her side, as she could sprint through a marketplace at noon with only the wind of her passing to give away her presence. She was closing in on her goal, nimble fingers reaching up as she came close enough. Listening only half to the story as with barely a tug she untied the pouch and it dropped without a sound into her awaiting palms.

Lumbar was near the climax of his rather short story and still unaware it would seem. His music taking on a more organized fashion as he got more in depth. Little did he know the rising beat of the music was indeed alluring, at least to this young pick pocket. Such a fascinating man of not only wonderous words but powers! As she'd opened the pouch she'd found it to be enchanted, for there was almost twice as much silver within than the pouch appeared to be capable of holding. Delighted with this discovering she took up her stalking once more, finding Lumbar in her sights once more she followed out of intrigue and hope for even more profit.

The story had nearly reached its end, its development unimportant, except that it kept the 9-year-old girl enthralled enough to go for another pouch. At the moment her hands lifted once more to take hold of the strings holding yet another pouch the music stopped dead, as did the man's stride.

"You know you have good technique but you should know never hit the same target twice and you in a town with a theives guild. They'll kill you if they catch working without a membership," He spoke not even over his shoulder, though it was obvious he addressed the girl. Whom stood poised behind him, hand frozen in midair and eyes widened in startlement.

With purposely slow, measured steps he turned to face the girl. Her green edged brown eyes rose to meet his as her lips parted in astonishment. She stood on her tip toes, easily balancing there as they're gaze remained locked in silence. For a brief moment she looked frightened, muscles tensed in the obvious preperation to bolt. Though her expression faded away to something more snide, confident as she lowered herself back to flat barefeet.

"Dey'd have ta find me first donch'ya think?" Her arms folded firmly over her small chest, one hand dangling close to the hilt of her dagger. A grin crossed Lumbar's face, it was charming though somewhat bemused as he chuckled at her nerve.

"Well that is true but the thing is they would find you eventually and the theives guild in this town would give you a choice. Work for them , leave town or die. Most likely it would be die. Your pretty good though."

Her once wide eyes narrowed suspiciously as a slight sneer touched her expression. She seemed insulted by his laughter or at least not pleased as her childishly pouty lips pursed. She was a pint sized theif with an attitude that was much taller, anyone could see that.

"An' how you know? Maybe I already gots mem'ership," She raised an eyebrow, mimicing what she had often seen others do when questioning. Though these attempts to look even mildly intimidating might come off as amusing to those who might decide to watch.

"Because you just broke the basic rules of theiving. Never hit a target twice," He extended a hand casually towards her as he spoke. Watching her muscles gradually tense further and remaining that way.

Then the bag of silver she'd once been holding appeared within his grasp. The silence between them lingered, perhaps due to the girl's amazement though it was partially Lumbar's own that kept him from speaking for a few moments. He wondered why she had no yet bolted or taken a stab at him with her dagger that was now within her hand. Anyone else would have but he wouldn't question nor complain about his luck in that aspect.

"Say, are you hungry? I'll buy you something to eat. We can talk about how you can repay me for not catching you and turing you over to your parents."

She seemed skeptical of his offer of charity but didn't hesitat to respond with spitful tone, "My father's bin in jail fer years an' my mother was hanged jus' af'er him was put in fer tryin' to break hi' out."

Her reasons for being so snide and uncaring when speaking of her parents was perhaps due to the fact that their lack of presence left her alone on the streets. What point was there to care about them, or even pity the tragic pathes they had taken. However, Lumbar was made all the more curious about her reasons upon catching the brief glimmering in soft brown eyes. Something that suggested there may be more to the story, or even a totally different one entirely. He hadn't much time to ponder the possibilities as she spoke once more.

"I am hungry," She said simply, her voice almost fading away to the point that he couldn't hear her. She was after all accepting his offer, though wariness was still obvious. Those who lived in poverty were often looking for catches in what opportunities presented themselves.

"Oh," was his only response to the issue of her parents before he handed her the pouch once more, "Take it. You need it more than I, in fact..."

A simple tug of the leather strips that tied the pouches to his side and another was released, he tossed it lightly to her. "Take this too. There is 2,000 gold within that I'm sure you could live for months off of or you can come with me. I used to train bards and I could teach you."

She made no attempt to hide her surprise, especially upon looking into the pouch she found that he was speaking the truth more or less. More gold than she had ever seen in her life. The figures made no sense to her, how much was 2,000 she wondered... but it certainlly appeared to be a lot. Skeptisism remained as she heard his offer. Charity of the small sort, a meal for example, seemed like hardly anything to be wary of but this was an offer of a complete change in life style. He seemed well off though, his job obviously bringing him money but generosity wasn't anything she could take lightly. There had to be a catch, she was sure, and that question was obvious as her gaze lifted from the pouch to his eyes with their slightly narrowed appearance.

"How'd I know ye ain't gonna tern me in fer stealin' from ye?"

"You don't you only have my word on that but as hard as it may to believe I started out just like you. Until a woman made me the same offer I am making you. This won't be a free ride. You will have to work hard. You will have to learn to read and how to fight with swords. Learn the basics of spell casting and music, poetry, and dance. It will be a hard road and there is no guarantee that you will succeed but if you make it I assure you it will be worth it."

Something was lit within those eyes, as he mentioned swords and magic. Music was fine as well but dancing and poetry seemed to bring no reaction out of her. A waste of time when life is strictly survival. The idea proposed sounded better than being a theif all her life and safer as well maybe. Hard work didn't daunt her, sprinting through crowded streets was her idea of work she was actually curious to see what he meant.

"Sounds like some'in' a lot bedur than what I got goin'," She responded, her stance more casually as her weight shifted over to one foot alone. Her dagger was rather limp in hand, though she could easy tighten her grip once more.

"We are also going to have to work on you grammar," Lumbar commented with a soft chuckle and raised eyebrow before offering a hand. "My name is Lumbar. Master Bard and would-be founder of the town of Mile Stone."

She frowned at the mention of her grammar, knowing it was far from perfect but what were complete sentences worth to a common pick pocket. She took his hand, or more placed her considerbally smaller one in his after tucking her dagger back in its place.

"Caroline. But I'll tell ye las' man who call me dat almos' had 'imself run through," With pride she pulled her hand from his to pat her dagger and smirk. A once again almost humorous attempt to appear intimidating. It was yet another taste of her street smart, tom boy attitude.

"Call me Carlie."

"Fair enough, Carlie. Let's get you some food in your stomach and a warm bed under you to sleep on." He slung his lute over one shoulder by means of the strap. It was nice to have a student again and he was sure he could make a fine bard out of her. She had the natural talents of a rouge but it was her interest in his story that had caught his attention

"Where to, teach," She said with a slight smirk as she tossed both pouches of coins to his feet, adjusting the make shift pack that rested against her back. Her hand rose, in casual imitation of what she'd seen others do, and ran through the mess of hair. At least down to the first major snag before small fingers slipped from it and her hand fell back to her side. Hygene was obviously not one of her every day worries.

He picked up the pouches and tossed the silver back to her, "This is you monthly allowance."

His gaze fell over rather grubby form of the child before him, sizing her up. She was a bit slight and she could use a very thorough cleaning but she had potential to grow into a fair woman. Appearance was a major asset of a bard and he had his work cut out for him.

Giving a slight nod to her hesitant, and warily appreciative tip of the chin, he turned and continued down the street. She was obviously not fully trusting of him, as she walked at a slight distance but kept up easily. It was more than obvious that the streets were her home and had been for years. How long, Lumbar couldn't be sure but he knew that he could work it to his advantage. The youth of the streets often took upon a life style that worked upon instinct and reflex which was honed over the years. They would prove to be excellent defensive skills though she was more than likely illiterate. The attitude was another thing he'd have to work past. But Lumbar had missed having an apprentice and a good challenge would do him good. Take his mind off what had recently come to pass.

It wasn't long before he led her to a respectable inn, a good ways from the tavern he'd been at but then again he had stopped to speak with the girl about half way between the two places. He led her to one of the tables within the common room, pulling out a chair before seating himself.

"What do you want to eat Carlie?" He watched as she hopped up into the chair, settling herself before her gaze lifted to him.

"I bin eatin' scraps an' small loafs a bread fer most a my life... as 'ong as I knows what i' is and i' donna smell bad I'm fine."

He took note once more of her lack of cleanliness. He was sure if a brush had seen her hair and soap her hands in the past year it was a miracle. Though he would teach her better habits and manners as well. Motioning for a barmaid, who came rather slowly but he wasn't one to comment on service, ordered for himself and Carlie. Two tankards of cold water, large helpings of spiced stew, vegetables, and pie for dessert.

The girl sat in silence, her gaze didn't wander with the curiosity of most her age, but watched intently the bard converse breifly with the barmaid. As though her memory were to record every motion and word that passed between them. Finally the barmaid departed, having had to be told twice what was to be brought and Carlie and Lumbar were left alone at the table.

"I think we will stay in town tonight. Friends of mine are watching my wagon for me. Tomorrow we head north, I have a small manor there."

"Ye travel by wagon? I'da though' a man on 'is own would be ridin' just some ol' 'orse. " She asked, glancing up once more as the barmaid returned.

Slow order, quick delivery, the workings of an inn never ceased to amaze Lumbar. He watched as Carlie gave the barmaid little time to take her hand away after setting down the bowl of stew before she was eating. There was the question now as to whether any parenting had ever found its way to the girl. She had no sense of manners, respect, or hygene.

He just watched a while as she ate and finished the stew, slower than she'd began, but rather hurried none the less. He'd taken a bite or two, not having yet answered, just watching her as she in turn watched him. He was still a stranger to her, one to be regarded cautiously, but he had the idea that she was also curious about him. As much as he was her, perhaps.

"Well, have to have something to haul my spoils from adventuring in. It's a nice wagon," He smiled, recalling his own experiences with his mentor. He felt a slight pang as he missed her still. "I have slain dragons, fought cloud Giants, been to the depths of the Underworld and walked the fiery lands of Hades. It has made me wealthy."

He spoke rather casually of his journeys, watching for reaction as he began eating once more. The girl was drinking now and actually eating the vegetables. He was mildly surprised that she didn't avoid them, perhaps it was her hunger. One is willing to eat almost anything after being starved. But her ravenous appetite seemed to have abated a bit as he spoke. Her attention drawn by this mention of dragons and giants. He'd known her for but a short time and knew little about her except that she was a child and obviously curious about the unknown. Some might have been frightened though he had a feeling she held a sense invinsibility, that was obviously false but not threatening.

"Really?" Came her short response as she moved on to the pie, her speed of eating didn't seem to slow at all. Though she savored the meal by take smaller bites at the quick pace.

"Well at first I didn't do it because I wanted to. My companions were a bit crazy. At first I was always afraid for my life then I got more experienced and found that I wasn't bad at adventuring," He watched as a light smirk came to play over her features. She found it amusing that he admited to fear. Catching the barmaid as she passed again he ordered another portion of stew for himself.

"You want some more?"

Carlie nodded and pushed the bowl towards him before raising her voice in question. "Where are yer companions now?"

"Well let me think..." He paused as more stew was brought and set before them. "Gort the Dwarf is persuing Rose I believe. She was a powerful mage and couln't really stand Gort but that doesn't stop him from trying. Rose also won my share of the City of Milestone in a card game. Tapis became a lich and he and his estate have disappeared from the world. Kale is a general now. He was a battle mage once... We saved the whole realm on a number of occasions. My wife Felicia and my son died in child birth."

The silence afterward wasn't awkward though the girl's expression had shifted to something more like seriousness as she ate the second helpling of stew. She barely even recalled what she'd told him of her own parents. She didn't want him to know and wouldn't let him know so there was no point. She just seemed to ignore the rather sorrowful glimmer in his eyes and ate.

"Feel better?" He asked as she finished her food. Recieving a slight nod in response he moved to the bar and paid for the meal as well as a room with a bath.

He'd other reasons for choosing her as a student, besides her potential. He was rather lonely, finding that traveling alone wasn't as suitably easy as he'd thought. Glancing back he saw she had followed him to the bar and proceeded to almost shadow him all the way upstairs into the room. It was a rather barren room, with two beds, a night table between them and a single wardrobe. A door off to the far left led to its private bath.

Walking over to the door he pushed it open, looking at the tub that had already been filled with warm water. He smiled lightly and looked back to find her wandering about the room a bit. It wasn't hard to believe that the place, though simple, was more elaborate than any place she'd ever stayed at.

"Okay Let's get some of that dirt off you," He said, proceeding to turn around and face the mildly startled girl.

She didn't respond at first, though when she did her voice held disbelief, "Ya mean ye wan' me ta take a bath?"

"Well you need to learn to keep yourself clean. You need to take care of your appearance. A good appearance is a great asset to a bard."

He was answered by an immediate expression of distaste. The only thing that had probably kept the girl remotely clean had been getting caught in the occasional rainstorm. The last true bath she'd had, if Lumbar ever had the pleasure of finding out, was when some jerk passing by had gotten irritated with her walking on the edge of the road and proceeded to throw her in the brook. A rather barbaric method of teaching a child to swim, but it didn't seem likely that this man was going to throw her into a river.

If being a bard meant taking an occasional bath than perhaps she could put up with it. Pulling the belt of her pack over her head and letting it slide down into her hand, she stepped forward. Peeking into the bathroom she frowned lightly.

"So's ye jus' want me ta jump in an' pour water over my 'ead is dat it?"

Lumbar retrieved some washing cloths and soap, handing them to her as he took her pack. She narrowed her eyes at him briefly, keeping a firm grip on the belt-strap before letting him take it.

"Well your going to have to get out of those filthy clothes first. I'll wash them for you. Tomorrow we will go looking for you some new clothes," He said, setting it onto the foot of one of the beds.

"New clothes?" She muttered lightly, one hand already grasping the almost knot that tied the laces of her vest, "all right..."

Lumbar turned, "I will leave you alone. I think you can take it from here."

He shut the door as he left, having glanced back to see the girl's fingers were quite nimble. Working the mud clodded knot out with ease before tugging at the crosses of the thin leather to loosen the vest. She set aside her dagger, that being one item she dare not part with, before untying the rope about her waist. After a minute the door was cracked open and she dropped the heap of rags just outside it.

"If yer gonna wash 'em ya bedur do i' quick unless ya got some'in' fer me ta wear when I ge' out." The door shut once more and it wasn't more than a few moments before there was the soft splash of water as she got in.

A few minutes later Lumbar entered, a brush in hand and a night gown drapped over one arm. He set aside the nightgown before sitting next to the tub.

"Never under estimate the powere of a good shrinking spell. This should fit you," He smiled lightly, looking over at the young girl submerged in already murky water.

"Thank you..." She muttered in a soft tone of reluctance. He was no different than any other person on the street and why she should start being polite to anyone was beyond her comprehension. But he was being kind so she tried a little courtesy in return.

"You're welcome," He replied, watching as she ran a rag over one arm seeming to try and purposely ignore him. She'd have to pay attention to him sooner or later so he might as well get her to focus now. Taking the brush he grabbed one of her feet suddenly and began scrubbing its sole. "Hmm, there is a little girl under all this and a pretty one at that."

There was a yelp and a sudden splash as she slipped and fell beneath the bath water as he took her foot. Resurfacing she glared at him, though said nothing more. The watery mud that had streaked her face was gone now as she reached for a dry rag to wipe the water from her face. The true color of her hair was showing through, a rather pale blond which was surprising as one would have expected it to be brown. Though perhaps there had been more mud intertwined with the strands than first thought, some still streaked the mass a chocolate brown.

"Your a blonde!" Lumbar exclaimed, chuckling softly as he received yet another narrowed look from the girl. "So is getting clean so bad?"

He continued as the laughter subsided and the girl returned the washing herself with his assistance.

"Guess not," was her response though her glance was less than appreciative. A brief mischevious glint touched the soft brown hue. Lumbar noticed it as he took note of the soft green that highlighted the color, a nice natural touch, was his thought before he wondered what the smirk that now covered her face was for.

He soon found out as she shook her head, much like a dog, and sprayed him with water. He made a soft sound of surprise, putting up his hands reflexively to ward off the water. However, it did little good as the girl knew, sitting smuggly in the water.

"Well I guess your clean enough. You can dry off and I'll get you some hot tea and cookies," He chuckled and stood, watching her before leaving the room once more.

"Okay," She said with slight enthusiasm, any sort of sweet being nothing more than a fantasy before the bard had invited her to stay with him. She waited impatiently for him to leave the room before practically jumping out of the tub.

There was no thud, despite the fact she nearly slipped in the puddle of water that formed beneath her feet. Grabbing a towl she proceeded to dry off and change into the nightgown he'd left.

Lumbar had gone downstairs to get the cookies and tea, just returning as she stepped from the bathroom. One hand pulling the wet hair from beneath the collar of the nightgown while the other firmly held her bare blade dagger.

"Well aren't you a pretty lil' girl," He said playfully. There was no response except a soft rose flush touching the girl's lightly tanned cheeks and a deep frown. She had pride and wasn't about to give up the street tough image she'd shown earlier. That was fine with him, hopefully she'd warm up a little while not loose the spark that made her so intriguing.

He sat down on one of the beds, setting down the tea and cookies. Looking up he saw her hop onto the other bed and sit, the dagger placed within reach on one of the pillows.

"So what do you know about magic?" He asked as he poured a cup of honey tea and set it on the nightstand close to her. Then handed her the plate of cookies.

"Only dat it burns...makes 'ings look like dey aren't," She responded as she took the plate, balancing it carefully on her lap. Taking a sip of tea an immediate scowl touched her features, it was bit to big and the tea was hot. Burning her tongue slightly though she was quick to let the expression fade. Turning slightly she showed the back side of her bare left arm. "Mostly burns."

Lumbar didn't have to look closely to see the streak of pale pink flesh, scar tissue, roughed about the edges and a bit broad. It was no more than three quarters of an inch in length but couldn't be mistake for anything but the reminants of a burn.

He nodded, sipping his tea before continuing, "Yes you are correct on both accounts but it can do so much more. It can heal too. How old would you say I am?"

Carlie took a cookie, looking him over carefully. She could be making obvious calculations in her head, though Lumbar doubted it. She seemed smart enough to survive on the streets but was sure she had little education.

"Not much..." Was her short response before the finished the cookie she'd been eating and took another more careful sip of tea.

"I'm 48 years old," He said, frowning slightly, not sure that the numbers made much sense to her. "My hair should be greying and I should be getting fat. A friend laced some of my tea with an elixir of youth."

The girl's lips pursed lightly and he could see the unswallowed tea puff her cheeks slightly. Her gaze, inadvertently, shifted down to the tea cup in hand and Lumbar couldn't help but smile.

"Don't worry. I didn't lace your tea with it. That would be an evil thing to do. It will be quite a while but I am going to teach you to use magic. Through magic you will be able to throw balls of fire, make lightning strike on command, create phantoms to amaze you audience and fly," He smiled as he watched her amazement show. As well as her skepticism, it wasn't easily conceived that anyone can learn magic. "But that is only part of your training. You will have to be taught much more."

He thoughtfully ate one of the cookies, waiting patiently for her response. She sat quietly, having swallowed her tea and was taking another sip as she contemplated this.

"Yer really gonna teach me magic?" She finally said, lifting her gaze to him as he began a third cookie. She had a fifth in hand, small tongue running over the once dry but still chapped lips to get at all the crumbs before she began on that one.

"It is part of the training. I am also going to teach you the sword, some theiving secrets and a whole lot of other things your going to think are not important until later in life."

"Why do ya wanna teach me though?" She still wasn't convinced. Taking another bite of the cookie she chewed it for a moment before responded. "No'in' but a theif. How'd ya know I'd be able ta learn at all?"

"Because your young and picking pockets better then most people twice you age. You smart resourseful and you have a certain likabilty. I had less when I started out."

He watched as she continued to nibble the cookie. Unaware of how many of his words passed without her understanding. The message seemed to get across however as she finally nodded.

"a'right. when da we start?"

"We already have. You took a bath and you put up less of a fight then I expected," He grinned, despite the snort he got in response.

"Ya buy me dinner, thou't maybe a lil' payback was due," She said with a shrug, as if it was of little concern before sipping the last of her tea.

"Like I said, someone paid me the same kindness when was starting out. I used to train bards until my college was torn to the ground by orcs," A light frown touched his features as he thought of event once more.

The girl raised an eyebrow slightly "orcs, eh? Sounds awful."

She was half done with another cookie before she broke the silence that had fallen for a few moments. "Didna ya say you was founder a some town too?"

"Yes I helped found the town of Milestone. It was where I built my Barding college. Then Rose my partner won my share in a card game. Oh well, let her put up with all the troubles that go with it. Still I miss teaching."

"Oh," Was her only response as she finished the last of the cookie. Lumbar nodded, watching her thoughtful expression as she stared at the floor.

"Well I think we should go to bed. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow," He took the plate of cookies from her lap and set it on the nightstand. She placed her empty tea cup next to it before proceeding to tuck her dagger under the pillow it was on.

Pulling back the covers she laid down, Lumbar standing next to the bed now tucked them over her. He paused for a moment, looking at her before bent and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. Her nose wrinkled back in mild disgust as she narrowed her eyes at him. She appeared about ready to retort but her lips pursed and not even a soft good night escaped them.

Unphased Lumbar just smiled and blew out the lamp, "Good night, Carlie."

Dusk had long since passed into night and the soft glow of the moon cast down upon the inn and the rings of fire light that were cast down on the street. Someone was undoubtedly stirring within the inn but it was neither Carlie nor Lumbar. However, someone did move in their room.

The window, was raised noiselessly to admit three men and a woman. They were dressed in black, appearing to be shadows in the moonlight as they entered. Silver emblems of an open eye were embroided over their hearts.

The woman moved silently to Carlie's bed, looking over the occupant shook her head and moved next to Lumbar's. Not a single one of the quartet heard the girl's soft moan, nor saw her shiver slightly as the chill from the open window reached her. All of them were taking their positons, surrounding the man's bed.

She whimpered, as a breeze came in, pulling the blankets closer as she opened dark eyes. Blurred vision could barely make out the figures that stood about Lumbar's bed, but the glint of raised daggers was unmistakeable. Her eyes opened wide and she resisted the urge to gasp in fright. Her hand slipped beneath the pillow she lay upon to take hold of her dagger. With ease she rose to her haunches, weight spread evenly so not to make the bed creak beneath her.

With reflexive quickness she leapt at the closest man, shouting in midair. "Lumbar!"

Her legs wrapped tightly about the man's waist, her arms over his neck as the blade of her dagger found pressure against his neck. His closest companion lunged to take her off him and silence her cries with his blade. But Lumbar had already been alerted, those assassins not occupied by the girl lunged for him. They were fast but so was he, and there was a hiss of metal as one of the two stiffened. Falling with a thud to the floor, if everyone hadn't been so occupied they would have noticed he lacked his head.

"Aiye!" Came her horrified scream as she suddenly released the man, dropping swiftly she allowed the dagger intended for her to impale the man she'd been holding instead. Standing she tried to stab at the man who'd tried to take her out, hoping to get him in the chest but being as short as she was she caught him in the stomach instead.

His scream was as blood curdling as his already fallen comrade's, he doubled over in pain, grabbing for the girl's wrist. Carlie let go and almost stumble back away from him, leaving her dagger where it was. Lumber had impaled the remaining male as the woman glanced about, finding her party to have dwindled down to only herself focused her almost burning glare upon Carlie.

"You'll die for this," With just a finger to the symbol over her heart and she was gone.

Carlie stared in wide eyed horror as the woman disappeared, panting she backed into the edge of her own bed.

"Lumbar," she said softly, searching the room silently before she saw him. Leaning against his sword he glanced at the four fallen bodies as they too disappeared.

"Thank the gods for stone skin spells," He said and looked over at her, setting aside his blade hurried over. "Are you okay, Carlie?"

She sunk down to the floor, away from his hands that urgently checked her arms and face. There was nothing but indentations where the first man had dug his nails into her arm and blood over the hand that had held her dagger, none of which was hers.


He didn't have to see her to know she was trembling, her voice wavered with her startlement and fear. Lumbar sighed and sat down beside her, shaking his head.

"It's okay, I should have told you about those guys. The Black Wizard Assassins that bunch has been after me for years."

"Assassins?" She said with surprise, and even slight horror as she tried to catch her breath. Lumbar nodded, despite the fact she wasn't looking at him.

"They're a group I keep running across and they keep trying to kill me. I doubt they ever will though. Not with idiots like those guys," He explained, looking over at her he carefully embraced her.

If it weren't for the shock that had yet to fade away Carlie might have pulled away from his hug. She was still shaking a bit but seemed to have calmed considerably.

"Do they come often?"

"Not as much as they used to. It used to be that I got attacked four maybe five times a week by those jokers. Now it's more like several times a year," He smiled lightly and stood, "I guess I will have to waste a teleport spell to get us out of town."

"Teleport spell?" She looked up at him quietly, the quaver gone from her voice. "Is dat what tha' woman used to disappear outta here?"

"Very good. That was exactly what she used. Get dressed there may be more of them. And they may be using more then daggers."

The girl stiffened slightly and proceeded to hurriedly get dressed, not caring about decency it was really too dark for Lumbar to see her much anyway, "Will de woman come back?"

She was trying to hide her fear, nervous about what else more might be carrying other than daggers. Though more so as to whether the woman would return and forefill the promise she'd just made.

"Most likely, congradulations, you've made your first enemy," He said, dressing as well, he pulled out a lavendar stone.

Carlie sloppily tied the laces of her vest, realizing for once how grimy it really was. She looked at Lumbar than at her blood covered dagger on the foor. Pausing she pondering leaving it but then quickly snatched it up before hurrying to Lumbar's side.

"Stay close now," He instructed before scooping her up into his arms as his grip on the stone tightened.

She had no time to protest as the world faded away.