Hey, guys... I just wanted to apologize for my nearly two year absence from this story! When I saw the date, I about died... How could I forget this for two freaking years! I'm a bad, bad writer D:

And to top it off, I meant to write this note in yesterday before updating, so you would all know how contrite I am, but then I went and forgot to do that too. Seriously, my lameness knows no bounds. The past two years have been extremely busy, though I know that's no excuse to ignore a story. I just hope everyone enjoys my humble chapter offering, and stick with me through this all. I've missed writing, so hopefully that will be plenty of incentive to get off my butt and not put you through another 2 year wait. I love you all, and I will see you soon!


"Ouch! Dammit!"

Cassara halted, hopping about on one foot as she pulled her boot from the other. She glared at the offending article, sighing heavily when she spied the hole worn through the sole. Giving it a rough shake, a small, sharp pebble dropped to the road before her, bouncing a few inches before stopping, mocking her with it's inconspicuous innocence. She sighed again as she wiggled her foot back into the soft leather, and limping, made her way forward at a slower pace.

It wasn't as though Zin were waiting up for her any longer; she saw no point in rushing on his account.

Since they had woken that morning, once again at the horrendous time of sunrise, he had been cool at best, keeping his distance from her with an apparently casual indifference. They had spoken no words to each other, the intensity of her emotions rattling around in her skull like dice in a cup. She was nervous, then more than ever, that he was going to tell her to go home, or leave her behind without a second thought. She had tried several times to talk to him, but in the true fashion of a proper grudge, he had simply picked up his pace, and left her eating dust.

Several times in the past few hours she had had to resort to using her Blink spell to keep up with him. He would glance her way each time she did, then continue to walk as though nothing had changed, that she hadn't miraculously appeared right next to him, only to fall behind when his long legs hurried their stride in an effort to keep distance between them. After a while, her mana growing strained, Cassara had simply given up, satisfied when she would occasionally spy him through the overhanging branches of local flora that she hadn't been completely abandoned. He was neither trying to lose her or encourage her to remain with him, so she chose the latter, and decided that she would just continue to follow the path to Booty Bay. It wasn't as though he could completely give up on her – she still had Lilla's diary, tucked away in her pack. There was no way he'd give that up.

Even so, he didn't have to be so damned unpleasant. She could understand the desire to not speak to her, but to so callously ignore her well being? Not that a pebble in her shoe was particularly life threatening, but that wasn't the point. She was so far behind him now that one of the jungle cats, or those giant, frightening gorillas could come clambering upon her, and rip her limb from limb before he even bothered to turn around to see what was keeping her.

Thinking about it all sent her into a mix of depression and fury. Sure, she had been underhanded, but she had had good reason for it. All she had wanted was to not be left behind. When Zin had told her he intended to leave, back in Shattrath, she had panicked, and not knowing why, had chained herself to him the only way she knew how. It was his own fault for providing the leverage; could he really fault her for using that to her advantage? Was the silent treatment really that necessary?

"Ouch!" she stumbled to a stop once again, angrily yanking the boot from her foot, shaking out another pebble. The sight of it was the breaking point, and her rage spiked to a white hot degree, "That is it!"

Calling up the remainders of her magic, she Blinked forward several yards, and by some miracle, caught sight of him, still a way ahead of her, but visible. Not bothering to replace her boot, she limped along the dusty path, moving as fast as her sore foot would allow. In the back of her mind, she noted that he was no longer walking, standing still and alert at the edge of the path, but this curiosity was by no means as important as the tongue lashing (and possible magical flaying) he was about to receive.

Finally she reached him, her fists clenched and her temples throbbing, "Okay, now listen here, you dim-witted, stubborn piece of-"

Her eyes grew to the size of saucers, a bloody rage clouding her vision when Zin's arm snapped out, almost too quickly for her to gauge, his hand clapping over her still open mouth. She could taste the sweat from the trek there, the underlying flavor of his skin, feel the callouses scraping against her lips. And still he did not look at her, did not speak, did not acknowledge her. She growled, and viciously clawed the hand away, to step around him, to force him to look her in the eyes.

"I said, you will listen, do you-"

Her voice was cut off again, this time the world moving in a sense of slow motion. Zin's eyes had grown wide, and in the back of her senses she could hear a strange click and whirring noise, somewhere behind her. Then he lunged at her, his arms circling her waist in a grip so tight she feared he would break her ribs. Then they were sailing through the air, and just as they hit the rough, gravel path behind them, the world around them lit up like Hellfire.

Cassara was sure she screamed as the explosion rocked around them. She could feel the heat from lit gunpowder, the tremble of the ground beneath her, smell the nauseating tang of sulfur. Then bits and pieces of shredded plant matter, and deep, rich Earth began to rain down on them, dropping from their hang time to litter their bodies in the aftermath. All around, the animals of the jungle yowled and screamed, moving away as quickly as their legs could carry them.

Cassara gasped for air, her face buried against Zin's shoulder, her body nearly crushed by the entirety of his weight on her. He was holding her so close, so tightly, one arm around her back, the other gripping the back of her head to press her face into his body. Even his legs were wrapped around hers, a primitive attempt at protecting her from the explosion. The reality of her situation, how close she must have come to death struck her then, and she clung all the more to him, terrified sobs escaping as she struggled to breathe.

"Shh, leetle Mage; it be ova' now." he crooned, oddly calm and soothing as she shook from head to toe. His hand moved from gripping her head to petting her hair, rocking her ever so slightly in an effort to ease her fear.

Eventually her crying calmed, and she was able to breathe normally again. Zin eased away from her, sitting them both up as he examined her quickly for any injuries. The ends of her hair were singed, and she managed to have some cuts and scrapes from the harsh landing, but she was none the worse for wear. He, on the other hand, was much more badly damaged.

After she insisted, he turned his back to her so she could assess his injuries. The entirety of his vest was blackened, still smoking, tiny holes glowing red from discharged bits of burning gunpowder. She carefully tamped them out, frowning and whimpering at the pain he must have been in. All the exposed skin was dark and angry looking, blistering from the heat of the explosion. His braid, once carefully kept and knotted was haggard and crisp. He would probably have to cut it to remove the scorching.

"You are hurt so badly!" she cried, her hand covering her mouth to stifle the frightened sounds coming from it. He turned to face her again, a frown covering his face, though she could see the pain in his eyes from the movement.

"I be healin' soon. Ya don' hafta worry none."

"But it's my fault! If I hadn't come at you, if I hadn't forced my way around-"

His eyes narrowed, a snarl lifting his upper lift over one tusk. The growl rumbled in his chest, and halted her words, "Ya damn right dis is your fault. I be in dis state cuz a you. Dis whole 'ting, dis whole mess be your doin'. If ya weren't so damn hot headed, so damn stupid-"

And just like that, her temper flared again, her mana spiked, and a wave of heat could be seen rolling off of her, "If you ever call me stupid again, I swear to all the Gods, that I will melt your bones while still within your body."

Zin glared at her, his brow pinching together, all of his fine, sharp teeth bared, "You jus' be tryin' it, girly. See how far ya gets when mah daggers be in yer guts."

As he watched her, he could very well see the anger rising, the force and push of her magic simmering just beneath her skin. It made her entire body animate, the ends of her hair curling, the green of her eyes so bright they were turning a lighter color, like wind churned sea foam. He had never seen a Mage lose their temper before – sure, he had seen plenty go into a battle rage, but that was different. On the field, one would lose themselves in the glory of bloodshed, the ecstatic high of taking the life of another. But now, with her sitting so close, and her temper close to the breaking point, for the first time in his life, Zin felt a trickle of fear toward a Human. She was small, so small he could crush her skull with a single hand, but at that moment, he was sure if given that extra nudge, she would explode him into tiny bits, as assuredly as the trap would have done minutes earlier.

The first lesson he had learned, scrapping with the other whelps, cousins and friends and eventually his Trainers, was to never let his fear show. You could be terrified down to your very soul, but the moment your enemy knew it, was the moment of your end. Something deep within him cried out against the thought that this woman, this slip of a girl was his enemy – memories of heated kisses, and how soft her skin was beneath those robes moved unbidden into his mind, made that same voice ache. Still, despite all she had done, all the wrongs she would most assuredly do him, he still felt a desire for her so fierce it made his lungs seize.

He growled loudly, and hurriedly stood.

"If ya 'tink ya can keep from blowin' us both up, den git' on yer feet an' follow me."

She was still angry, perhaps a tad more so after that slight dig, but she stood regardless, brushing the dust and debris from her robes. She did not speak, nor did she react past a stiffening in her shoulders when he took hold of her hand, and led her toward the semi-large crater next to the road.

Her posture softened after a few minutes, their pace slow and measured as they picked their way through the dense brush and foliage. Her anger had cooled enough that she began paying attention to their surroundings, to the careful strides that Zin was taking. Occasionally, he would pause, as though indecisive, before pulling her in this direction or that, their course erratic and chaotic. Eventually, she grew tired of the silence, her curiosity getting the better of her.

"Why is it that we are moving about like sand crabs?"

He paused and crouched low, dragging her down to her knees with him. He stretched his free hand forward, brushing aside a wide, fuzzy looking leaf.

"Ya see dat, der? Dat be anotha' one."

She squinted, and just barely caught a glimpse of a fine wire line. It was pulled taut, tied around the base of the plant, it's other end buried beneath a cleverly layered pile of brush and twigs about four feet to the right. She felt a shiver race down her spine and across her limbs; she never would have noticed it if Zin had not pointed it out to her.

Her next question popped into her mind and out her mouth before she even realized it had formed, "How many of these have we bypassed already?"

The sideways glance he shot her was answer enough: You really don't want to know. Without preamble, he drew her to her feet once again, carefully sidestepping the deadly trap, and further into the woods. She wanted to halt then, fear and irrationality clouding her mind. Why would he be bringing them through this deadly gauntlet, instead of back to the road, where their biggest worry was a prowling jungle cat, or a Pirate a little too lost for their own good?

She was going to voice these questions, until her eyes locked onto the telltale signs of his injuries once more. The burns were lessening, visibly lightening. Tracks of blood and grime trailed down his arms and exposed back, the leather vest obviously beyond repair. The injuries did not seem to pain him much anymore, his steps and gait more fluid and less strained. She visibly winced for him, though, as the bits of torn and scorched leather caught on raised flesh, stuck to drying blood. She wished there was something she could do for him, something he would allow her to do. The fact that she had not known about the trap, that it was, in essence, not really her fault didn't matter to her anymore. She could be no more angry at him for his reaction than she could be angry at a hawk, snatching a sparrow from the sky to feed it's offspring. It had happened, she was careless, and he had a right to be furious.

And there he was, leading her through a maze of death, being certain her feet followed his path, guiding her around her destruction.

She sighed, softly, and gave his hand a gentle squeeze, which he answered with his own in return. She trusted him to keep them both alive, but her questions remained tumbling inside her head all the same. Her nerves kept her talking, though she knew it would distract him, could potentially draw his attention away from the important signs he needed to see in order to keep them safe.

"So, um... if you can see these things, why aren't you just disarming them?"

He slowed a little, side stepping another near-invisible wire, "Cuz dey be here for a reason."

Huh. Logical, she supposed. "And what reason is that?"

"Ta keep folks like us outta da way."

Again, logical. Though, she had to ask "Who is keeping us out?"

Her answer was long in coming, and for that she could excuse him and herself, for as Zin parted a thick wall of bushes, she found herself in the center of that hellish storm.

Standing in the middle of a pretty glade was the largest tree she had ever seen in her life; even those in the Hinterlands couldn't compare. It's girth had to be at least 30 feet around, it's trunk reaching far into the canopy above them. The branches she could see had to be at least five times as wide as she was. Dripping down from them to the forest floor like lazy serpents were thick, swaying vines. Halfway up the trunk was covered with this moss and mushrooms, insects lazily dancing on the air around it. Beautiful wild flowers sprouted throughout it's raised roots, butterflies and bees pollinating in a delighted daze. She could literally smell the flowers' fragrance from where she stood. Small shafts of light peeked through the thick leaves above, casting the entire glade in a glittering green twilight.

"It's incredible." she said, her voice soft and awed.

Zin snorted, and she thought she saw him rolling his eyes, "If ya say so, mon." he abruptly dropped her hand then, and strode into the glade. Cassara gasped, meaning to go after him, but fear kept her rooted to her spot.

"Wait! The traps-"

"Dey not here, girly. He wouldn't wanna hurt his tree."

That made sense, though she still walked slowly toward the giant, gnarled roots ahead.

"So, um.. what are we doing here?"

"We be doin' nothin'. You be stayin' put. I gots business ta see to." he then tilted his head up toward the tree tops, wedged his thumb and forefinger between his lips and let loose a shrieking whistle. Cassara gasped again, taking a step back and covering her ears, though it hardly muted the sound. When the sound faded, and Cassara removed her hands, she could hear the startled, echoing cries of the birds above them, the frantic rustling of wings as they escaped the horrible sound.

She was about to reprimand him for startling her, for not giving her fair warning, but her voice was once more silenced when a rope ladder, constructed of braided vine and what looked like drift wood suddenly dropped down from the thick branches and leaves above, clacking against the tree trunk and dangling down.

She blinked, her curiosity peaking, almost enough that she didn't at first notice Zin climbing the ladder.

"Wait! Where are you going? You can't leave me here!"

He halted, six steps up, to look down over his shoulder, "I be back in da next two hours, Magey. Jus' sit still and don' draw no attention to yaself. Ya be fine."

She spluttered, but Zin was ignoring her now, climbing like a monkey up the ladder, and soon disappeared into the lowest branches.


Zin hadn't expected a warm welcome, and wasn't surprised to find his cousin didn't disappoint him in this. The climb up the ladder was grueling as usual, several hundred feet straight up, struggling to maintain his balance on a rickety thing that had been put together out of necessity. Zin often wondered if Rigi had constructed the ladder as one more means to keep people out of his tree-top home; as though the traps surrounding the glade weren't deterrent enough.

He knew that he wouldn't be able to keep his cousin's out though, no matter how hard he tried. They all knew that if he or Atal were determined enough, they would simply scale the tree. All three were stubborn fools, he knew, and Zin supposed that Rigi had simply given up trying.

To say he was a welcome visitor, however, would be a complete lie. The first level was devoid of Rigi's presence, save for a few broken clay jars, and some discarded linens. They were torn, a few splatters of browned, dry blood on the corners, and Zin was once again reminded why he kept his visits to his wayward cousin to a minimum. He got into heaps of trouble up here in this tree, messing with magics that he wanted no part of – especially if they involved blood. He turned a blind eye to it, and made his way across the platform to a second ladder, this one blessedly solid and only about ten feet high.

The second level was much larger, wrapping around the trunk of the tree like a sun deck. There were no rails, giving the foliage free reign to drip across the worn wood like draperies. The leaves rustled in the balmy breeze, carrying the scents of jungle life and ocean water. Here, sitting about center of the deck was a single chair fashioned from wood and vines, thick banana leaves stretched tight across the seat and back. Next to it was a table of similar fashion, an old, worn pipe and tobacco pouch sitting on the surface, waiting for use. A few feet away was a pile of stones, carefully arranged around a short metal drum where coals glowed and remnants of firewood smoldered. It's smoke lazily climbed through the chimney, curling before being carried away by the breeze. Next to it was a second contained fire pit, a heavy cast iron cauldron hanging above it, water gurgling at a boil.

Zin cast his eyes around, taking in the small details, cataloging the things that remained the same, and those that had changed. For the latter there was not much – new clay jars to hold food and water, new trinkets dangling from the vines and branches above him. Rigi had told him they were wards, to keep prying eyes out, and he once again made certain he did not come too close to them, or touch them in any way. Who knew what could happen if he did? Strange magic...

Across the deck was another ladder, one that Zin knew led to Rigi's work space, and from there, another that would lead to the small deck where he slept. Zin had been in both places only once before, and neither held memories that were too dear. He frowned, easing toward the center of the platform and tilted his head up to look at the bottom of the third deck.

"Rigi! I know ya up der!"

There was a grunting noise, a sound of affirmation, and the sound of clay and glass knocking into each other.

"Ya can't just ignore me! I need ya help!"

He stepped back to avoid the linen wrapped bundle that was suddenly tossed over the edge of the third deck, landing neatly near his feet. He crouched down and unwrapped it, finding a half eaten hunk of bread and some drying cheese. He sighed, and took the bundle up, moving to the inner edge of the platform, sitting to rest his back against the trunk of the tree. It was easy to see what Rigi was telling him – sit tight, shut up, I'll get to you when I feel like it.

He chewed on the bread, thoughtful as he stared out across the vast canopy ahead of him. The food was sitting well in his belly, and he couldn't deny the exhaustion that was threatening to take hold of him. Between his worry of getting caught by either faction, remaining constantly alert for dangers both self aware and not, and the whole mess with Cassara, he conceded that he hadn't had any proper rest for weeks. Finally being a place where he did not have to worry about any of it brought it all to the surface, and his eye lids dropped closed before he could even give it a second thought.

He was halfway to sleep, somewhere in that gray area of awareness when not-so-subtle movements around him pulled him back to consciousness. He cracked his eyes open to find his vision absorbed by a heavily muscled, blue-skinned shoulder and arm. Beads rattled as Rigi shifted position, his other arm jerking quickly, the sheen of a well kept dagger catching the filtered light around them. Zin remained still, watching as his cousin remained crouched over him, examining the tuft of hair he had cut from his already mangled braid.

"Dare I ask what ya be needin' dat for, mon?"

Rigi grunted, leaning back on his heels, holding the hank of hair up to the light, sliding his dagger back into the sheath strapped to his exposed thigh. He regarded the strands with a critical eye, before turning that sharp gaze on the other Troll.

"Ya not takin' care a yo'self." his voice was soft, raspy, a sound that he refused to explain despite the annoying insistence of Atal over the past two years. The Troll's voice had obviously taken some form of abuse, never correctly healing, making it sound like a wicked whisper in the dark. The sound had given Zin a crawling feeling across his skin many times, though he tried his best to hide it.

He crossed his arms over his chest, doing his best to appear indignant, "Like ya care, mon. If ya need reagents, ya get ya ass outta dis tree and join da real world fo' once."

Rigi snorted, rolling his eyes, and stood in a fluid motion, stalking toward his chair, "Not like ya need it anyways, Zin'tupu," he sat down, the leaves and bindings of the seat creaking beneath his weight, "Ya gonna be cuttin' dat mess before long. Bitchin' won't do ya no good."

Zin glared at his cousin's back, watching as the older Troll took up a bit of string, tying the ends of his stolen hair together so none of the strands would escape in the breeze. He then filled his pipe, drawing on the gnawed end, releasing tendrils of sweet smelling smoke. Like all things Rigi did, even those most simple affected Zin in a frightening way. He tried to ignore the odd, sometimes frightening shapes that seemed to appear in the exhaled tobacco, instead focusing on the task and situation at hand. That wispy eyes seemed to follow him through the cloud was of no immediate concern.

He made his way over to the chair, sitting down on the hard floor of the deck to stare out across the canopy, waiting for the silence to turn to something less strained. He knew he should have kept quiet, allowed his cousin to break the tension, but he could not help himself.

"I wish ya wouldn't call me dat."

He felt the elder's eyes shift to him, could hear the wood of the mouth piece being chewed between sharp teeth, could feel the surprise and morbid amusement rolling off of him, "Dat be yo name. Dat be what ya are. What else would I call ya?"

He snorted, leaning back on his hands, stretching his legs out, "Ya haven't followed da Old Ways since ya took up ya place here. Seems wrong ta use dat against me, dontcha tink, Rigi'tumeacha?"

Rigi drew on his pipe again, making a thoughtful sort of noise. He allowed the smoke to escape from the corner of his mouth, the tobacco crackling once before answering, "Still makes it true, Zin. I be da Tumeacha, as Atal be da Kutaka. Just as you be da Tupu. Ya can't escape what ya be, even if ya don' believe innit."

Zin glared at him, his lip curling in a snarl, "Dat be da biggest load a shit I evah heard outta you. I ain't da Tupu. I gots plenty in mah life ta keep me happy."

Rigi closed his eyes, leaning against the back of his chair, his face tilted up to the branches. The sunlight dappled across his skin, making his lids flutter against the light, "Ya be happy mon, but it don' last forevah. Ya still young, we all be young, but even ya gotta know dis one truth. It ain' about being happy: it about bein' fulfilled, and ya don't got dat yet. Until ya do, ya be da Tupu, ya be Empty."

Zin wanted to deny it, to call his cousin crazy, screwed in the mind, but he knew it would prove futile. They had had this discussion several times before, and it always ended up the same way – he would lose his temper, fists might just fly, and he would ultimately end up leaving. It was probable that that was exactly what Rigi was trying to accomplish, holding onto his isolation with an iron fist, but Zin knew this was too important to hand over to ridiculous pride. His namesake was something distant; Lilla and Cassara and... he himself were immediate.

Instead of giving in to temper, he chuckled, relaxing back on his hands again, "Well, mon, can't deny dat ole' Atal definitely be wanting."

Rigi laughed softly in return, and the moment eased away into comfortable silence. Zin allowed himself to enjoy the quiet, interrupted only by the soft crackling of sweet tobacco as it burned in the pipe's bowl. And just as he had planned before, he waited for Rigi to take the next step.

He tapped out his pipe, setting it aside, "So whatchoo want, mon? Daylight be fadin', an' I gots work ta do."

"Well, it be a long story..."

The first hour of Zin's visit passed in what felt like a blur, he reliving the entire ordeal as though seperate from his own body. Everything he had done, everything he had said and seen seemed to be coming from someone else entirely, and he didn't even bother to hide the occurrence of his unusual attraction to Cassara, something he was sure he'd be deeply embarrassed about later. But for the time being he didn't care, only wanted this entire ordeal over with, so he could move on with his life and forget the strain of it all.

Once he had finished, he was certain that Rigi would do no more than shove him off the deck, leaving him to the mercy of branches and the forest floor, hundreds of feet below. Instead, the older Troll only stared at him, an unreadable expression on his face.

"Dat explains how ya got here; still don't tell me nothin' about whatchoo want."

For the first time, Zin realized he actually didn't know what he wanted, what he had hoped to gain from this visit. He thought that, perhaps, in his strange, circular wisdom, Rigi might have an answer for him, a solution to the problem he couldn't even put a name on.

"I dun... I dunno what to do..." his own voice sounded foreign in his ears, the the weight of the past month crashed down around him. He felt helpless and needy for things he had no name for, grasping at intangible forms, slipping right through his fingers. He held his hands out, palms up, his fingers spread wide, "Rigi, tell me what ta do, mon. Tell me how ta fix dis."

"I can't, mon, not until ya know what it is you be lookin' for."

But wasn't that the problem? He was looking for something without knowing what it was, having no names, no leads, no ideas. All he had was a book, a pretty human, and a ghost to chase.

"I.." his voice faltered, and he swallowed, hard, "I jus' wanna know what ta do."

His cousin stared down at him, those dark red eyes piercing, calculating. Zin could see the gears turning in his head, watched a muscle in his cheek tic as he thought. Slowly he stood, holding out a hand to help his cousin stand, his muscles tense, like he was ready to pounce, "I need ya ta agree wit sometin', mon. Ya gotta do whatevah it is I tell ya fo' dis ta work, or else I lose ya somewhere I can't get ya back."

Zin was confused, wanted to ask what his cousin meant, but he sensed the danger there, and the possibility that if he asked too many questions, Rigi would change his mind about helping him. He wasn't sure what that help would turn out to be, but at that point, he was desperate. He did not even struggle as Rigi led him toward the ladder that would lead up to the third platform.

The first thing that assailed him was the smells – sulfur, rotting meat, spent candle wax, death... They assaulted him like a Legion, making his eyes water and his stomach clench. He coughed into his fist, not bothering to disguise his disgust, though it didn't seem to matter. Rigi moved through his space like a phantom, his feet making no noise across the rickety floor boards, his narrow hips and legs expertly sidestepping the various tables, jars, animal corpses that littered around them. Flies buzzed like angry clouds around the mangled, torn bodies. The wood and table tops were permanently stained, scorched black, deep ruts on the tops from previous knifing. More of those hideous wards dangled above them, small bones and fragments of body pieces strung together, clacking against one another like perverted wind chimes. The very air around Zin felt oppressive, and he could swear there seemed to be spectral hands on him, pushing him back, pushing him out of Rigi's sacred space.

The older Troll glanced over his shoulder, muttering soft, scratchy words beneath his breath, and the feeling lifted from Zin's body. Immediately he felt as light as air, though a sense of foreboding still ate at him; as though whatever sentries Rigi had employed were allowing him this concession, but they were watching very, very carefully.

"Lay on da table, mon."

Zin's skin began to crawl at the very thought, his eyes taking in the details of previous sacrifices made there. Layers of blood sat dried, tufts of fur stuck between the wooden planks. Still, he did what he was told, still too afraid to lose this chance to argue, despite his discomfort. He lay flat on his back, his legs dangling over the edge of the table as he stared at the platform above him, at those frightening wards.

Rigi turned to him, a worn mortar and pestle in his hand. He was grinding components, the sound unusually grating to Zin's ears. The elder's eyes swept over him, a frown tipping down the corners of his mouth, "Ya be hurt, Zin?"

"Ya didn't notice before?"

"Didn't much care before, mon. Ya in any state for dis?"

"I dunno. What we be doin'?"

Rigi ran the mortar in a clockwise motion, muttering in that odd voice under his breath again before answering, "We be openin' ya up, openin' yer eyes so ya can see."

Zin swallowed audibly, watching as the Troll added strands of hair from the previously cut hank to the mixture in his bowl. He caught the site of something red, staining the edges, "So I can see what?"

Rigi's eyes met his own once again, this time harder than he had ever seen them before, "Everytin'."

Words were not necessary, and Zin found he had none regardless. He did not know the purpose behind this strange ritual, or what Rigi hoped he would gain from it. All he knew was the bitter taste of dark magic, and an odd lightheaded feeling overcoming him. Those dark whispers, Rigi's voice scratching in his ears seemed to wash over him like a tsunami, beautiful and terrible in it's violence. The potion inside the pestle was spread across his exposed chest and belly, smeared across his skin with Rigi's fingertips. The marks burned, a searing straight down to his spine, though he could not seem to scent the burning flesh. His back arched from the table, his feet kicking wildly as his body contorted, and in the back of his mind, he swore it wasn't his voice that was screaming so shrilly.

A darkness claimed him, tangible, fluid. He felt as though he were wading through muddy water, thick and suffocating. He gasped, near to the edge of panic, swinging his arms about wildly in an attempt to break the surface for blessedly fresh air. But there was a weight all around him, keeping him down, forcing him to take deep, painful gulps of that dark water, filling his lungs with murk and decay. Sounds came to him through the darkness, shrieking voices, howling in agony, building to a crescendo that made his ears screech in response. Warmth flooded from them, and he distantly realized that blood was steadily running from the inner shells. His hands lifted, smearing it all across his cheeks and neck as he desperately tried to wipe it away; as his fingers drew across his upper lip, he realized blood was also seeping from his nose, dripping down his cheeks from his eyes. He began to realize, slowly, trying so desperately to deny it, that he was trapped there, and that he was going to die. When the realization came to him, tears joined the rivers of blood falling down his face.

Zin sobbed, the sound silenced and swallowed by the darkness around him, and he curled into a ball of vain protection, wishing so desperately that he had more time, another chance to do it right. He closed his eyes, and let his death claim him.

The end did not come, and he was aware of the sensation of wrongness, of denial. Another warmth surrounded him, touching his skin like spring sunshine, though he dared not open his eyes. The warmth enveloped him, and he shuddered out a heavy sob, desperate relief draining him down to the very soul when he recognized the darkness around him lifting, slowly, slowly lifting.

When he chanced to peek behind cracked eyelids, he found he was no longer floating in a river of death. All around him was golden grass, tall enough to distort his vision from his laying position. He slowly eased himself up on his arms, peering over the grass, blinking in amazement at the world around him.

The field he lay in seemed to go on for eternity, a sea of golden wheat and pearly blue columbine. Above him, the sky was a wash of colors, ranging from the darkest purple to the lightest of greens, twinkling stars of silver winking down, giving the world around him pure, ethereal light. Fireflies danced around him, landing on the upturned flower faces, their colors a beautiful strobe of rainbow shades. He watched them tumble through the still, warm air, floating close to him only to trip away and move on to more interesting fare. In the distance he spied a flash, and though there were no clouds that he could see, a storm was brewing to the south; he could see the lightning strike the earth, feel the tremble in the ground, see the sheets of rain as they poured down in torrents. No call of thunder followed, at least none that he could hear.

The strangeness of the place disturbed him far less than it should, the call of the peace around him a siren's song of joy and temptation. One of those beautiful fireflies tumbled across his vision, and lightly landed on his first toe; the sight gave him a slow, eased smile.

Lightning struck again in the distance, brighter than the others before, drawing his attention away. There was an urge inside him, a small, tinny voice that asked him to stand, to move forward. He battled against that voice, arguing that here, amidst the flowers and warmth and unnatural starlight was preferable to anything else this strange world had to offer. Here he was comfortable, here he felt no draw to do anything but lay back and enjoy. There were no worries, there was no pain; even the pull of slowly closing flesh, slowly healing burns did not bother him.

As if in answer, one of the deeper lacerations across his shoulder jumped in response, and he felt his mind clear a little. He blinked, shaking his head against the foggy, clouding affects. The firefly jumped into the air, landing gracefully against his foot once again. It drew his eyes, brought his attention around to it until all else seemed to fade from his peripheral, the only thing he could see the gentle strobe of colors the little insect emitted.

It's translucent wings flickered, bringing it up and into the still air once again, this time flying slow, lazy circles around his head. Zin watched it dance around him, floating higher and higher, and he found himself standing to see closer, to move closer. He hardly realized he was walking forward, the brush of flowers and tall grass against his hands and legs a secondary sensation. All he knew was that beautiful array of light, the low frequency hum it caused in his belly.

The rain began to fall around him, or he stepped across and through the wall of it, he couldn't be sure anymore. One moment he was warm and content, the next he was simply wet, soaked to the bones, but no less comfortable. The water felt like a cleansing, a purification, and he breathed the scent deeply in. The firefly was gone now, replaced by sheets of heavy, pleasant scented rain, and he moved through it like a phantom, towards that odd pull that seemed to come creeping back into his mind without his permission. It was undeniable now, but no more urgent then it had been before. He ambled along, following the twitch of his ears, the soft mud of the earth around his feet. In his wake, the foot prints he left were filled with cool, liquid gold, glowing softly and leaving marks of his presence behind.

He didn't know how long it was he moved through the rain; there was only a sense of entering, then the sudden stop as he reached the edge of a small crater in the earth. He didn't care to take note of it's size, it's diameter. His eyes were only for the figures in the center, two shadowy figures, feminine in shape, standing back to back. There were no discernible features to either of them, but he had a sense of full breasts on both, gentle curves, long hair, though he could see none of it. Their arms were crossed over their chests, delicate hands gripping their own shoulders as thought to create a protective shield, or tie themselves in. The rain water was filling the small basin of earth, creating a pool that reached to their hips, and was steadily rising.

He shouldn't have moved, he knew, but he did, his toes curling feebly along the slick muddy wall as he made his way down into the crater, leaving gold filled divots behind him. The water splashed and displaced soundlessly around him as his feet hit bottom, the ripples and waves moving eerily slow while he stepped forward. He circled the women, staring at them, entranced by the inky shadow of them. He could see, he could feel the differences between the two, though there was nothing he could put a name or words to to confirm his senses.

The lightning flashed above him, and suddenly he could see it, a glint of metal far below the water. Curious, he crouched down, his hand fishing about beneath the surface. His fingers met with a pleasantly warm object, his sense of touching confirming what his muddy vision had first encountered. There was a chain there, heavy but delicate in it's links, wrapped securely around their ankles.

It was a curious thought, this strange monolith, in this ever strange place. His fingers curled around the links of chain, giving it an experimental tug, confirming that the hold was strong. He turned his face up to look at the woman he knelt before, and he found his heart suddenly in his throat.

Her face had turned down, still invisible and dark, but he knew she was looking at him. One of those hands, delicate, elegant and small, began to reach for him, and he jerked away, suddenly afraid, terrified to be so close, wary of being touched by her. He fell to his bottom, the water sloshing lazily, swallowing him up to his shoulders. The level had risen without his notice, and now the prospect of drowning here froze him somewhere inside his chest.

That spectral hand moved further out, stretched to the limit of her reach, and his belly shuddered as he could feel the frown pinching her face, the distress in her countenance. Her mouth opened, a small spot of deeper darkness in her face, and the most terrible sound echoed through the otherwise still air.

It was like all the screams one could hear in a lifetime: children being slaughtered, women being beaten and forced, men cut short on the battlefield, beasts of the wild screaming their agony as they were torn asunder. It wailed and screeched, cutting into his mind as sure as any dagger or slice of elemental magic. He howled in answer, hands going up to his sensitive ears as the water lapped at his cheekbones.

The water shifted, range of motion pushed past capacity, the shadowed figure of the woman somehow inching forward, her hand reaching toward him without mercy. He could feel the desperation in her movements; it painted the air as surely as an artist's brush, thick and foul, the smog of a thousand cities descending on them all. He could see through the rain, the churning water, the moment her foot moved forward.

The ground around them erupted skyward, a silent explosion of rock and rubble, mountains forming around and between them, great fissures bursting from the muck to suck all the air and life down inside of them. Zin opened his mouth to scream, gallons of water racing down his throat and into his stomach, his lungs. The blinding flash of lightning was the last thing he saw, sending the advancing shadow figures into tangible relief. She was crying, her face twisted in desperate anguish, and as the glow of light faded in the corners of his eyes, all sounds muting as his ears filled with water, one single, simple word filled his consciousness.

Please.


His eyes blinked open, the world around him a mass of fuzzy color and poor depth. There was movement near his head, by his left arm, but he could not make out what was causing it. Sounds were returning, and he recognized them as words, spoken harshly, growled and hissed.

"... are a fool!"

"Ya watch yer tongue, girly! I be doin' what I need ta be doin!"

"You could have killed him, you simple minded idiot! You are meddling in things that can be irreversible!"

Zin blinked again, the world around him beginning to come into focus. Above him, he saw his cousin's hand, gripping the wrist of another much too tightly to be comfortable. He winced inwardly at the thought of the bruising that would surely follow such a hold.

"...Rigi? What be happenin', mon?" he asked, his voice hardly recognizable to even his own ears.

And suddenly, there were eyes staring down into his own, slanted and bright, glowing and beautiful. Her face was angelic looking, her cheekbones high, her skin smooth and a lovely shade of greyish blue. A single lock of snow white hair fell over the pointed tip of one ear, brushing against her cheek and chin. The concern etched into her features had to be, he thought, the most beautiful thing of all.

"How do you feel now, kallike? Are you hurt?"

Zin blinked again, hardly believing what he was seeing. He suddenly had an idea of what his cousin meant when he said that he had been... busy.

The Draenei tutted and fretted over him, her smooth hands brushing over his brow, checking his temperature, testing the range of motion in his neck and shoulders. He slanted his eyes toward his cousin, shocked to find the other Troll standing in the corner, his arms crossed, and looking the picture of a chastised child. He took careful note of the fire in his cousin's eyes, burning just a bit brighter with every touch the Draenei gave to him.

"Ya see, girly? I know what I be doin'."

The Draenei woman, her eyes once kind, gentle, and filled with concern turned sharply to his cousin, an angry fire burning hotter than Zin had ever seen. He knew, immediately, that she was not to be trifled with. Rigi, however, had not seemed to understand that yet.

He always had been the unconventional one.

"You, koletis, were nearly his death. And there is no guarantee that he found his answers within the void you released!"

Zin had a faint recollection of darkness, a suction of the deepest parts of nothingness. He rubbed at his eyes, flashes of memory colliding within his skull. Blood, tears, water and lightning. The Draenei continued to scold his cousin, Rigi snapping back like a wild animal with disease, their noise becoming a strange static in his ears.

The memory hit him like a bullet between the eyes, and Zin shot upright, the force nearing flinging him off the table.

"What is it, kallike? What is the matter?"

She was back at his side, an elegant hand gripping his, the other resting lightly across his thigh. At her touch, all Hell broke loose.

Rigi roared, much like the animal Zin had mentally compared him to only moments before. He watched, feeling as though he should be horrified by the display, but unable to muster up the emotion as his cousin gripped the back of the Draenei's neck, his fingers digging into the skin so deeply his nails broke the skin. His other arm encircled her waist and he lifted, swinging her to the side and letting her go. She did not go far, as there was not enough space on the platform for her to go more than the five feet from where she stood, to where her shoulder and side slammed into the uneven shelves. The old wood fell, bottles and jars and specimens dropping around her, the glass and clay shattering against the floor. Her legs curled up, guarding her tender belly from the shards, her hands covering the crown of her head to protect it from the falling planks.

Zin had no real time to register it all, as Rigi was reaching for him next. His handling was no less violent, his ruined braid easily wrapped around his cousin's fist. He was drug from the table, and with no preamble, Rigi tossed him over the edge, down to the main platform. Zin's back hit solid wood; he coughed, the air knocked completely out of him. It took a few moments before the ringing in his head subsided enough that he could hear, his battle instincts firing, demanding he pay attention, to preserve himself should Rigi come down to burn the rest of his temper in his flesh.

But Rigi did not come to him. Instead, Zin's ears picked up the sound of feminine shrieks, curses screamed in that strange, Draenei language and Rigi's answering roars. He could hear more glass and clay breaking, wood splintering, feet and hooves slamming and stomping against the platform above him so hard that dust began to filter down above him.

Zin coughed again, rolling to his side as he forced his limbs to move, despite the pain, despite the residual ache in his head from whatever ritual Rigi had performed. He could sense those sentries, those spectral bodies reaching for him, answering the call of their Master to remove, to expel the trespasser from his home. The feel of their icy hands, gripping claws chased at his heels all the way across the platform, and down the two ladders to freedom.

By the time he broke through the canopy, Zin could hardly hold onto the wrungs of the old ladder. His limbs were shaking with exertion and adrenaline; his fingers ached, broken nails split and bleeding. He took a deep breath, his eyes closing against the dappled light surrounding him.


Cassara screeched, falling from the great, gnarled root she had perched upon as Zin's body landed with a heavy thump mere feet to her left. She crawled around the tree's base, unsure of what had gotten the drop on her, and not at all surprised to find the prone body of the Troll. Her first, immediate fear was that he was dead, but that was quickly dismissed as he coughed deeply, spending plumes of bark dust and leaves into the air above his face. The sound expelled her worry, replacing it with agitation.

"So, your visit went well, I presume?"

Zin groaned, and flung a handful of leaves at her.

He should have known that leaving her alone for an extended period of time would give her enough cause to begin with the snippy remarks once more. He really did not have the strength at the moment.

Instead of rising to the bait, he rolled himself to his side, struggling into a sitting position. The fall had been a long one, and the grass was not nearly as soft as it had looked. He twisted his head, sighing happily when he felt the tell tale pop in his neck, loosening the tension in the muscles there enough that he could think clearly. He leaned against the trunk of Rigi's tree, digging blindly through the pack Cassara had left there a mere few hours before. From it he pulled the last of their dried meat, and he bit into it without preamble. After what he had just gone through, it tasted like the Heavens had descended.

"Well? Are you going to tell me what happened, or aren't you?"

Zin cracked one eye open to see the Human kneeling next to him, her little hands balled into fists, fitting snugly against the curves of her hips. Far too exhausted for an argument, he reached out, yanking her down across his lap.

As he thought, she squealed angrily, struggling against his grip and hands as he worked to right her, to sit her comfortably. Eventually he maneuvered her in such a way that allowed one hand to press against the small of her back, the other to the crown of her skull. There, he pressed her cheek against his own, satisfaction coursing through him when he felt her shiver.

"Ya don' wanna know what jus' happened ta me, Magey. I don' wantcha ta deal wit' da nightmares."

Her body grew still, and Zin knew that this explanation was enough for her. She sagged against him, her arms going around his shoulders, her face finding a spot more comfortable to rest against his shoulder. He held her there, taking comfort in her proximity as he finished the last of their food, listening to the animals creep out of their hidey holes, scenting the air for a hint of twilight.

He must have dozed for a time, because the next thing he knew, the jungle around them had gone black, the air strangely warmer, thick and damp.

The Mage was still nestled against him, her breathing slow and even. Her little hands were curled into the remainders of his vest, gripping loosely. His heart eased the tightness it had grown so accustom to when being near to her, and he allowed his fingers to weave through her loosened hair. The strands looked nearly black in the shallow moonlight, slipping over his calloused skin like water. She mumbled in her sleep, burying her nose deeper against his collar, warm puffs of breath tickling him.

Something primal and protective stirred inside of him; this creature, so small compared to him, compared to the entirety of the world was turned into him, digging herself deeper beneath his skin than he was strictly comfortable with on the best of days. He still had not gotten past her deceit, not completely, and he found his inside stung with something vile when he thought of it. This, he knew, was the true proof of how close he allowed her, how far he had let her in. Memories of what happened inside the void of what he could only assume was his own soul, the rain, the silent thunder, the rushing waves as he drowned, escalated inside his head, making him grip Cassara a little tighter to him, desperate for an anchor to reality.

He wasn't kidding when he feared knowledge of what happened to him up in the trees would give her nightmares. He feared his waking memories enough, the feeling of dread accompanying them enough to steer her away from it all. He knew he would need to examine all he had seen, but now was not the time.. he was not ready yet.

He pressed his mouth to Cassara's hair, inhaling the sweet scent of rain with it. The smell soothed him, and he again reflected on the amazing circumstances he found himself in.

The Mage stirred against him, lifting her face to look up at him in half asleep confusion. He could see in her eyes that she was not fully aware of where she was; she was completely open then, completely vulnerable, and he could not help the ache of longing that pushed him toward her.

He kissed her with all the gentleness he could muster, could imagine. Her beautiful lashes brushed against her cheeks as her lids closed, and her hands fisted just a little tighter in his vest. When her breath hitched, a needing whimper escaping from her mouth to his, that longing surged, and he found himself hovering above her before he registered they had moved at all.

She was panting now, her eyes no longer halfway vacant. Her hands had moved to his face, stroking along his cheeks, pushing his now scraggly hair away from it so she could see him. Each breath pushed her breasts tighter against her top, arching her back into his chest. They watched each other for so long, he could feel the moment ticking away like a Goblin detonator.

So many reasons to stop, so many reasons to deny this ever happening came trickling in. This was wrong, she was Human, she was Alliance, she was his enemy, and Gods above, being with her should not feel so good...

His eyes widened, shock and lust warring within him as her own eyes closed once more, a moan rippling through her as her back arched wantonly. He had moved unconsciously, his hips rolling between her legs. The pressure on his cock was near unbearable, and he joined her in her sound of abandon, claws digging into the ground beneath them, surrounding them in the scent of fresh earth and wooden decay.

Her hands were scrambling then, pushing apart the tattered edges of his vest, exposing his healed chest and belly to her. Blunt nails scratched across his skin, plucked at his nipples, pulled fine hairs. Her urgency was infectious, and while he sealed his mouth over hers, he pushed the skirts of her robes up, dragging the material across her feverish skin, fingers groping the softly curved flesh of her backside as one leg hooked across his arm. He ground the stiffness of his erection against her barely covered sex again, his body trembling as she cried out for him, her head arching back, exposing the the sweet curve of her throat. He was helpless against the urge, one hand tangling into her hair, his mouth gnawing and tongue lapping against it. Her skin tasted of salt and sugary things, and before he could stop himself, his teeth sank deep into the muscle of her shoulder.

Had he expected it, Zin would have thought to pull back, to enjoy the expressions crossing her flushed face. But he could not claim to know that Cassara's body would bow, seized tight by muscle and shock as her pelvis twitched and jerk, rubbing her sex over and over his concealed cock, forcing her orgasm to linger as she rode his body. The tang of her blood mingled with the sweetest cries from her, flooding his mouth and ears in ecstasy, and his eyes rolled as the lids closed, and he pressed himself all the tighter against her.

When he finally drew away, released the hold of his bite, Cassara trembled still. Her hips had no ceased their movement across him, but her thrusts were slowly, her breathing heavy, her muscles beginning to grow limp. He frowned, not yet ready to give this moment away. He snarled, sitting up against his heels, one hand swiftly delving beneath the scrappy swatch that served as her undergarments, a heavy shudder coursing through him as he encountered her wetness. She cried out, her hips giving a few, startled jerks as his thick digits played with her sensitive flesh, and he sensed her drawing away, timid in the face of the hyper-awareness of her sex. Zin was having none of it.

One finger slipped inside, pushed hard to the knuckle, and as she cried out, trying to pull away, he held her in place. He thrust the digit without kindness or gentleness, demanding pleasure from her that Cassara was not fully convinced she could handle. Everything tingled and burned, her nipples stiff and aching beneath the coarseness of her robes, the center of pleasure between her legs a searing point of almost pain. Her eye lids fluttered, deliriousness threatening as Zin took his due.

Growling low, watching the tremors of her body, hand never stilling, he watched the acceptance of her fate wash over her. Soon her little hips began their insistent rocking once more, beginning to demand release. He hastily freed himself from the tightness of his leather, sighing as the pressure lessened, and his cock pressed against the inside of her thigh. She shuddered and gasped, mewling as she felt the prodding of his hardness, her lower body squirming closer, edging toward what she wanted.

He stroked himself, staring down at the movement of his hand beneath her underclothes. The wetness was greater, sliding between his fingers, seeping into her panties. He pulled his hand away, enough to spread it around her swollen lips, grinning ferally as she cried out in disappointment. His smile never left as he raised his finger to his mouth, waiting until she managed to open her eyes before he sucked the digit between his lips, tasting her wetness for himself. Her eyes rolled like a mad animal, and she rocked left and right on her back, her own hands sliding down to cup and touch herself. The surge of desire left him feeling dizzy, and his hand pumped over his shaft that much faster as the other reached back out, snatching the corner of her panties and ripping them thoughtlessly away.

He exhaled heavily as her sex was finally exposed. It was red and wanton, visible even in the moonlight. Her slender fingers were pumping between those swollen lips, and as he watched, she went from using just her middle finger to two, then to three; the other hand circling and pressing against the swollen nub above it all. He had never seen a woman so lost to her own passion, and though his cock burned to take his pleasure from her, the realization gave him pause.

Things were still far too confusing, this he knew. He wanted her, Gods above he ached for it, but... There were things one just didn't do. Not only for the sake of Loyalty and Honor, but just because it was common fucking sense.

She wanted him, just as desperately. He could see, taste, smell it. Her little body craved him as sure as the moon hung pregnant in the sky. All this beauty on display was because of him, for him, but he knew if he were to take it, it would be a mistake. Women were needy, demanding creatures, and Cassara had both those traits in plenty. But she was also kind, giving, lacking prejudice and hate simply for what he was. She would want to keep him, he knew, could feel it in ever movement of that tight little body of hers, and he...

What he wanted did not matter. He could not give himself to her, as she wanted, as she would deserve. He would not sink himself into that moist heat and offer what he could never deliver. She would accept him no other way, and he would not insult her by offering anything less.

But he was not a wholly unselfish creature, and his cock had a compromise of its own.

He loomed over her again, catching her attention with his eyes as well as his hands, pulling hers from the deep thrusts inside, drawing them up to rest next to her pretty face. Her eyes glittered with unspent passion as she watched him, and Zin would not leave her waiting long. He positioned himself against her swollen lips, rubbing the broad head against her opening. She whimpered, tilting her hips in an effort to guide him in.

It was difficult for him to restrain, to keep from thrusting into her as she wanted. Her sex was so hot, so wet it coated him easily, promising slick, electric pleasure. Her moans grew more insistent, the thrust of her hips moving quicker. He pressed his cock against her in turn, sliding the head up and down over her slit, stopping to circle around her clit before dipping back down. The frantic rhythm was maddening, and sweat began dripping down his temples as he fought with his desire and his good sense.

"Zin! Ah, Gods... please!" her words finally came out, demanding and begging, petulant and remorseful all at once, nails scratching and digging against his shoulders in an attempt to draw him down to her. He resisted, but not by much. He could see the pain in her face, how much her desire hurt her, and knew it was echoed in his own features. He could not claim her, he knew, but he could give her the next best thing.

He sat back again, spreading her lips with his thumbs. She mewled again, squirming and desperate against his lap. Carefully, he positioned his cock against her entrance, feeling the way the muscles just beyond his reach clenched for it, trying to pull it inside of her. He exhaled, begging for control, and barely began the pressure of penetration.

He watched, rapt at attention, watching the way his sheer size affected her, millimeters at a time. She arched and writhed, cried out as her body was stretched to accommodate him. Her trembling increased, her breath short and gasping, and Zin could not help himself.

She shattered around him, coming around the head of his cock, her muscles clenching and begging for more. Zin squeezed his eyes tightly shut, the ache in his balls intensifying as he felt his own climax climbing. It was too much, she was too much, and he barely managed to pull himself away in time as the cum surged from his dick. Ropes hit her still clenching sex, bathing her in him. The feel of the heat and wet stirred something in her, and one final cry shattered the night sounds around them as she rubbed herself against him, spreading his release across her skin.

He collapsed atop her, panting and unable to resist the urge to allow his muscles to become liquid. She quaked beneath him, shaking hands reaching up to pet back his hair, across his shoulders and tickle down his spine. Their sweat mingled with the scent of their passion, and it was such an easy thing to draw her against him as he rolled to his side, to adjust her robes to cover her lower body, and pant gratefully against her hair. He knew he should worry about what had happened, about what would happen come sunrise, but the little thrusts of her hips against him, after shocks of pleasure kept him from broaching the subject now.

There would be time to fight and squabble and bruise each others feelings later. For now, his body was relaxed, and for the first time in hours he felt free of his worries. The little Mage, trembling against him as her body came down for it's ecstatic high did nothing but secure the feeling that what he had just done, and what he had stopped himself from doing, was the right choice.

And if tomorrow proved otherwise? Well, he would deal with that when he came to it.