There was only a tiniest of squeaks as the door opened, but Alesha was already on her feet, sword raised. In two easy leaps she was behind the door...

"Sheesh, slow down, will ya? You might hurt someone."

Alesha lowered the weapon and looked into Deru's perpetually smiling face. "Sorry" she said. "I'm a little jumpy, what with the assassin, Valdis and everything..." She put the weapon away and took a few steps back.

"Can I come in?" Deru seemed a little distracted, like there was something on her mind. "These rooms are cold, but I don't like the... fireplaces."

Alesha nodded, and motioned her to the armchair. Deru was a dryad, and naturally cautious around naked flame. She, on the other hand, was very comfortable with elven-made fireplaces and a nice fire was going on in her room.

"Sit down and don't worry, I know how to deal with those things."

"Thanks. It's kind of chilly around here, what with half of the tavern being demolished and all" the dryad said, trying to smile, but it was hard to be flippant about your friend's hometown being hit by a flaming meteorite.

"I should have asked for a double room for you, but I didn't think you'd be so freaked out by the fireplaces" Alesha poked at the flaming logs. "I'll do it next time. Now, would you prefer to share a room with me, Sartan or Finala?"

"Uh... Tough choice, actually" laughed Deru. "Both you and Finala might just murder me in my sleep, and Sartan... there's no telling what he might do."

"Well, I can tell you what he would like to do" said Alesha, leaping on this deliciously juicy subject. She had no idea whether it was technically possible for Sartan the half-giant to have sex with Deru the dryad, but by the looks of it, Sartan was definitely willing to find out. "First, he would..."

"Hey, I still think I'd be better off with him than with either of you two" Deru interrupted. "The Aman'lu Muredrous Psychopaths' Association."

"Hm. I guess we're both quite bloodthirsty, Finala and me" Alesha smiled. "But I wouldn't murder you in such a dishonourable way. Not sure about her, though."

Deru was silent for some time, just staring at her. When she spoke at last, it was in a soft tone, very unlike her cheerful self. "Why do you hate her so?"

Alesha froze for a moment, her mouth open. Then she rallied. "Don't be ridiculous. I don't hate Finala."

"Sure you do. You loathe her, but you are always careful not to insult her, and to commend her abilities" Alesha made a move as if to protest, but Deru waved her to silence. "You keep an eye on her in battle so that she doesn't get hurt" she insisted. "You always heal her first, you even give her better gear! I would have thought you're in love with her, accept that you completely hate her guts, and it shows. Wanna tell me what's going on?"

"Mind your own business, will you? Finala is a pain in the ass, but she's useful. And of course I keep an eye on her, squishy weakling that she is! The rest is my private concern."

"Aha, so there is something in it!" said Deru triumphantly. "I knew it! And, just so you'd know, I am minding my own business. If I'm to follow you into battle and help you save the world, I gotta be sure of your judgement and all. So spill."

"There's nothing wrong with my judgement" sighed Alesha, taking some food from the table in search of a distraction. "I'm not insane. I don't like Finala, but not because I hear some voice in my head telling me to strangle her. Satisfied?"

"No. You said yourself, there is some private concern here" Deru insisted. "I'm going to drag that out of you sooner or later, you know that."

Alesha grabbed a knife and cut a piece of bread, as much in an effort to escape Deru's gaze as to make a sandwich. But she knew she had no chance. Impulsive and young though the dryad was, she was, well... a dryad. They lived long, they were bound to nature on an emotional as well as physical level. They were damn living trees, for Istaura's sake. Not much chance they'd get bored and give up.

"Look, this really is private, you know?" the tried one more time. "Us redbloods have a strong sense of privacy that we're very protective of."

"Uh-huh. Sure, I'm a walking bush, what could I know about that?" there was an unusual edge to Deru's voice now.

"Look, I can see it bugs you. Don't you want to talk about it?"

Alesha gave up. She cut off a big chunk of roasted meat and stuffed it inelegantly between two lumps of bread. Then she poured a solid mug of ale and took a swig.

"All right. But I warn you, it's a long and boring sob-story. You want something?"

"Just a jug of water, thanks" Deru made herself comfortable and waited for a while, watching Alesha sit on the table and bite into the sandwich. She clearly needed some strength to carry on.

"So, you might remember how I got to Eirulan, right? I was a mercenary, one of the few Valdis didn't slaughter while he was 'paying' us. Well..."