How everything started...

Disclaimer: I do not own the Noble Dead Saga and only write fanfictions because I really like the books by Barb and J.C. Hendee.

Magiere slowly let go of the being's wrist, eyes still fixed on that strangely-looking figure, which stared at her in return with a puzzled facial expression. She herself with her ghostly pale skin and black hair with crimson streaks didn't present a common sight but she had never met a person like the one standing in front of her this very moment. One could not say that the young man looked inhuman but his appearance was definitely queer.

As far as Magiere could see under the scarf the man had wrapped around his head his hair was white-blond and seemed to glow in the darkness of the starless night. In contrast to his hair the man's skin was of a dark, golden brown. But the strangest thing about his face were his eyes: they had the color of amber, were slanted and slightly larger than the ones of a human. Above them, feathery, thin eyebrows the color of his hair glowed in the dark.

"Where are you going?" the stranger asked, eyeballing her. "This way," he pointed toward Magiere's destination, "leads straight to the next small village. There is nothing of importance there."

Magiere frowned. "I am out on business."

The man remained silent for a moment.

"You don't really look like a merchant. What kind of business?"

"You are asking me questions after you tried to steal from me? What are you doing here?"

Magiere considered attack as the best form of defense but for some reason she was tempted to tell this young man about her kind of 'business'.

He seemed to be surprised by her counter question and shrugged. "I came here by chance. I don't actually…work."

The young woman peered at the man once more and suddenly a promising idea came to her mind. Superstitious peasants would be even easier to persuade of the need of a hunter of the undead if she were able to show a 'real' vampire.

His dark skin color was inappropriate since these creatures ought to have deathly pale skin, but she would surely find a solution to this problem.

Apart from that, the man's weird looks were just perfect for her plan.

The strange man seemed to have noticed her interested glance yet didn't say anything.

Magiere turned her head in the direction in which the nearest village lay and stared into the dark forest for a second. Then she appealed to the unknown person.

"Maybe I should stay in town for tonight. I am not in a hurry. What do you think about a drink in a tavern? I could make you a good offer."

The young man appeared to ponder awhile, squinting his eyes.

"What kind of offer?"

"You mentioned that you have no work." She let her eyes wander from his shabby, soft leather boots up to his faded trousers and a loose shirt that had been mended too many times.

"If you want to earn some money in addition to your theft", she gave him a disparaging look, "I'll have an idea how to."

The slender man relaxed apparently and a mischievous smile spread on his thin-lipped mouth.

"Sounds good. I know a cozy, small inn not far from here. That's where I stay."

Magiere nodded.

"Alright. I still need a housing for tonight anyway. I am only on my journey through and didn't have the intention to stay in town this night. Do you know by accident if there is still a room available at this inn? That would be convenient."

He shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know but that's easy to find out. Let's go."

Having spoken these words, the stranger turned around immediately and took a few steps toward the town. As he heard no footsteps behind him, he stopped and turned to her.

"Are you coming?"

Magiere who had stared at his back lost in thought startled, nodded and followed him swiftly.

They walked slowly through the town's black streets and the unknown man ought to be right after all. Only a few minutes later they arrived at the 'Rolling Thaler'.

Its wood panelling looked old and faded and all the same sturdy. Magiere could barely make out the sign which was only attached on one hinge showing a large, golden thaler above the broad, low entrance door.

Her new acquaintance stepped past her, opened the door and passed the threshold. Magiere followed him hesitantly.

The intense smell of beer and pipes' smoke and loud music coming out of the doorway startled Magiere for a second. She quickly found the music's source: in the center of the room was a group of men each of them playing a musical instrument. There was a bandoneon, flutes, a lute and some more Magiere didn't know. In front of the men lay a felt hat upside down. At this very moment, the group finished their song. The inn's guests clapped their hands halfheartedly and only few coins were thrown into the hat though the inn was crowded with people.

The musicians grumpily packed their few properties and shoved their way past Magiere and her companion out of the inn. Their disappearance left a narrow gap from the doorway to the wooden bar on the opposite side of the room. Hastily Magiere and the young man made their way through this alley to the bar, behind which a tall, portly woman stood. Magiere assumed that she was the owner of the 'Rolling Thaler'. Clearing her throat, she called her attention to her.

"How can I help you?" the tall woman asked friendly over the noise while cleaning a jar.

Magiere was a bit surprised of the kindhearted reaction of the innkeeper. She smiled slightly, displaying a facial expression she almost never showed.

"I need a room; it's urgent. Do you have one available?" she asked.

The woman put the clean jar on the counter and brushed a brown wisp of hair out of her round face before she answered.

"I am sorry, but every room we offer is already taken. Especially at this time, there are several drunken patrons, who rather want to spend their night here than at home with their upset wives. Well, and some of them have to as well."

She looked at Magiere through brown eyes, showing honest regret.

"I understand. Thank you anyhow," Magiere returned and sighed barely audible. She would have to look for another inn. The whole day she had been walking and wasn't hellbent on scanning half the town for a place to sleep.

Suddenly, someone bumped into her and the dull sound of something hard falling to the floor followed only seconds later. Magiere staggered under the weight of the baggage on her back but didn't fall. Glancing crossly to the right to see who bumped into her, she saw her companion grabbing hold of the counter. The blond man seemed to have been hustled by someone himself; he struggled to keep balance. Peering past him, Magiere noticed a unusually small, haggard man with a huge, round nose. He stood bent over a huge chest as if he just had put it down or was in the process of picking it up. The old man looked frightened to Magieres companion and herself. He approached hectically almost tripping over his belongings.

2Oh no, I am so terribly sorry! Did you hurt yourselves? That wasn't my intention. I have … couldn't hold the chest any longer … to heavy and … and I really urgently have to go and … can I make up for it somehow?" the old man stammered.

Magiere's weird-looking acquaintance looked at her. "Are you alright?"

Magiere simply nodded and addressed herself to the small, shocked man.

"Nothing bad happened. No need to be upset."

"Exactly," the young man agreed and looked into the man's small hazy eyes.

"Where do you have to go?" he asked, while he picked up the chest effortlessly with his slender hands.

"Oh, thank you very much. Don't bother with my … ," he began, but the blond man waved aside and the old man fell silent. Then he weaved past the two of them to the bar and put some coins on it.

"That's the rest of the money I owed you," he told the innkeeper. "Oh, and," he pulled out a key, "the key to my room of course. I'll leave with the coach now. Goodbye.'" He left toward the entrance door.

Magiere immediately leaned over the counter to the portly woman, who waved the old man goodbye.

"Could I have his room now? Would that be possible?"

"Why certainly!" the innkeeper answered with a smile. "I'll show it to you straight away."

Out of the corner of her eye, Magiere saw how her companion carried the chest after the old man, who vanished through the doorway of the inn.

The stout woman swiftly made her way through the crowded room to the bedrooms of the inn in the rearward part of the building and Magiere followed her without hesitation. They turned into a narrow corridor which had four doors to each side. The innkeeper stopped in front of the second door on the right side, pulled the old looking, rusted key the old man gave her out of her apron, unlocked the door and entered the room. With a movement of her hand, she called on Magiere to follow her.

The tiny room's furniture was modest but looked solid. A narrow bed with a straw mattress and a thin blanket in it to Magiere's left and a low table with a small dresser next to it to the right were the only things in it. On the far side of the room was a window with its shutters closed. Satisfied, Magiere put her baggage on the bed. When she looked back to the door, the friendly innkeeper was already gone. Magiere paid no attention to the dresser; it wasn't necessary to make herself at home as she would only stay here for one night. While she was still lost in thought, someone knocked at her door.

"Come in," Magiere said in a loud voice and caught herself grabbing for her falchion on her belt.

The innkeeper appeared in the door frame.

"I have to tidy up the room before you finally can move in. I'm sure you think so, too."

Magiere's body unclenched and she nodded. "Thank you."

She walked past the stout woman and headed to the taproom. Arriving there, she looked round, searching for the weird-looking man from a little while ago, but she couldn't see him anywhere. Magiere assumed that he wasn't back yet and would come to her later so she hurried up with taking a seat on the table in the right hand corner next to the entrance door which was just left by a group of clearly drunken middle-aged men.

"Would you like to order something? A beer maybe?" Magiere heard a thin voice ask next to her. She looked up to the young waitress.

"I'm waiting for someone. I'll order later, thanks," she responded.

The blond miss smiled at her politely and then vanished in the crowd.

The atmosphere in the inn was pleasant in a way though the room was crowded and therefore it was loud. Thoughtfully, Magiere settled back on the corner seat and looked round the room once more watching the inn's other guests. She remained in this position for a while until she got nervous. The young man still wasn't among the guests. If he didn't came, her whole promising plan would be messed up. This thought made her uneasy and she fidgeted on her seat, unable to sit still. In order to have a better view of the entrance door, she craned her neck. Eventually, she saw a white-blond head of hair, halfway hidden beneath a dark-green scarf, entering the taproom. Magiere got up, but she didn't know how draw the man's attention to her and helplessly stood for a moment without moving. The young man turned his head, most likely looking for her, but didn't seem to see her.

"Hey!" Magiere started screaming and several people turned to her, puzzled. But for she didn't know her companion's name she fell silent, dissatisfied. Of course she couldn't just call him 'thief'. Probably the patrons would let imprison him on the spot since he looked suspicious to them anyway. Unusual, strange appearance was reason enough for those superstitious peasants to denounce him as a criminal or a madman. This thought made her angry her because she learned this reaction the hard way more than once in her life. But she couldn't allow rage to cloud her mind. She had to make this man come to her somehow. Magiere cleared her throat briefly and fiercely.

"You with the white-blond hair and the scarf! Hey! Over here!" she called in a loud, firm voice and waved to him with both arms. She was aware that her behavior was quite embarrassing but it was worth the gold she could earn with her prospective new partner's help. Moreover she wouldn't be in town tomorrow and was used to people badmouthing her.

The head of the blond man turned in her direction and finally he seemed to have noticed her. With lots of 'sorry', 'excuse me' and 'may I...?' calls he made his way through the crowd until he eventually stood in front of her.

"There you are! I was beginning to think you've had already left the inn," the young man blurted out. He let himself drop onto the other part of the corner seat and scratched the back of his head.

"And I thought you wouldn't came back at all," Magiere countered.

"Nonsense," The man shook his head.

Suddenly, an unusually big, wolf-like dog appeared next to him and wagged its tail. Its eyes were crystalline and light-blue, its fur silvery gray. All in all, he looked just as abnormal as the man sitting next to him.

"Chap!" Magiere's companion called out furiously. "Where have you been? I told you to come back to me soon!"

The dog called Chap whined and lay his head down on his master's lap. With innocent eyes he looked up to the young man, who then patted him with a sigh.

"Well, you are just a dog ..."

Chap growled quietly but his head remained where it was.

"Is he your dog?" Magiere asked in astonishment.

"Yes, he's mine. His name's Chap," he replied.

"Chap," Magiere repeated and nodded barely observable. Then she got an idea.

"What's your name? I didn't know how to call you earlier."

"I'm Leesil," he answered and lifted one hand with a grin to shake hands with her. Magiere took it hesitantly. His handshake was pretty strong for that he was in fact a tall but slender man.

"An extraordinary name," Magiere remarked cautiously and Leesil merely shrugged his shoulders.

"My name is Magiere."

"Come again?" Leesil asked and bent a little closer toward her.

"Magiere," Magiere said again, frowning.

"Mash … May … Magiere," he repeated diffidently. Magiere nodded in confirmation.

"Not a run of the mill name either," Leesil meant and casually leaned back.

"That's right."

She lifted one brow. Leesil came across as a bit arrogant. However, he could have all possible character traits he wanted as long as he played along in her plan.

Magiere signaled the lanky waitress she talked to earlier that night to come over to them. Leesil rummaged around in his pouch in a hurry for some money.

"What do you like?" the young woman asked.

"One beer for me," Leesil said, his eyes locked on his halfway empty pocket.

Magiere fetched her own money. In the last village she had worked in she had earned quite a lot. She looked at the blond man.

"Forget about the beer. Two goblets of wine, please," Magiere corrected. She asked Leesil, "Do you drink wine?"

The eyes of her counterpart began to sparkle with joy. "Yes," he confirmed. "That's very kind of you. D'areeling wine, please," he added for the waitress.

"I'll be back in a minute," the waitress answered and scurried to the bar.

Magiere leaned toward Leesil.

"What do you do now to keep your head above the water?" she asked bluntly.2

"Isn't that obvious? I ..." He continued to speak in a very hushed voice. "... steal. To make ends meet, you know. It's an emergency solution."

"And you are, as I already said, really good at what you're doing. How's that?" Magiere asked interested.

"Well, I've got lots of experience. And … yeah. Just lots of experience," Leesil said curtly.

It was obvious that he didn't want to explain anything but that was alright for Magiere. As long as he was as cunning and swift how he seemed to be everything was perfectly fine.

"How long do you already do it?" Magiere wanted to know.

"Well … good question. For several years for sure. What about you? What do you do?" Leesil looked at her intently.

"That's a pretty long story. And a complicated one as well."

"I don't mind. The long stories are the ones worth telling. And we have plenty of time. So?"

Magiere took a look around to make sure nobody was paying attention to them. Then she continued in a hushed voice.

"Have you ever heard of the hunter of the undead?"

"Sure. Who in this region hasn't?" Leesil nodded.

"I am the hunter. If you heard of me, then you most likely would know what I do exactly, wouldn't you?"

"Roughly. If one can buy into the rumors."

"Let me hear them." Magiere folded her arms full of expectation.

He sounded a bit distrustful and again, his amber eyes narrowed barely noticeably.

"You ought to liberate the afflicted villages from vampires using magical powders and whatnot."

"Actually, that's kind of how it really works. In a nutshell, of course," Magiere affirmed.

"Then why do you need help? My help? What shall be my part in this whole story?" He gave her a questioning look.

"Sir, Madam, your wine."

With a dull noise, the waitress put both the goblets with wine on the table in front of them.

"Thank you." Leesil gazed up to her. He looked a bit lost when he looked at Magiere afterwards. Magiere turned her gaze as well to the waitress with the braids.

"I'll pay later. I think we'll stay for quite some time."

"Of course," the young woman answered with an unsure smile and left to another table.

Magiere turned her gaze back to Leesil.

"The thing is ..." She called on him to come even closer in order to catch her words better. She began to whisper.

"... I am not a hunter. But these superstitious peasants believe in everything I tell them because of my appearance and the gear I composed on my own. I don't believe in something like ... undead creatures. But they do and I take advantage of it," she whispered unabashedly. "Do you understand what I am getting at?"

She could literally see Leesil's thoughts work behind his tan forehead while he was staring at her with his mouth half open.

"You are a fraud?" he said in a breathy voice.

"Yes," she hissed, "so what? Your way of earning money is not honorable either."

"I didn't mean to sound reproachful. I am only ... surprised. Yes, that's the right word. How do you manage to keep your way to work a secret? Someone could have a suspicion."

"Of course I have to be cautious. But fear makes people believe in everything and clutch at straws."

"I understand," Leesil said quietly to himself and it sounded admiring. "Why do you tell me all these things?" he asked, frowning.

"Truth be told, I have no idea. You seem to be trustful."

All of a sudden, Leesil threw his head back and started to laugh at the top of his voice. Magiere flinched hard at the unexpected loud noise which sounded almost like barking. Some guests turned to them partly confused, partly outraged about the noisiness but her companion didn't seem to notice and cried tears. He bent forward and hid his head between his arms while the rest of his body trembled of laughter. When he finally regained his breath, he took a big gulp of wine.

"What's so funny?" Magiere barked angrily.

"Oh, nothing," Leesil replied with a big grin and smirked. "But people referred to me as almost everything still nobody ever referred to me as trustful. That's new to me."

Magiere stared at Leesil in disbelief, then emptied her goblet of wine with few gulps. Leesil looked at her in awe again and nodded in an approving way still quietly giggling to himself.

"I'm happy you enjoy yourself. I was serious," Magiere put straight.

Leesil still grinned slightly.

"I understand. If you think so. I'll take it as an compliment, then."

"You may do so. Back to topic: One earns a good amount of money with the things I do," Magiere tried to pique his interest. She still got only her plan in mind.

"What are you up to?" he asked cautiously.

"Your unusual appearance … I've never seen someone like you and the peasants in the distant villages surely have not either. With some modifications one could take you for an undead for sure. On top of that, you seem to be cunning and swift. Showing these superstitious fools a fight against a true 'vampire' of flesh and blood," she pointed at him, "would convince them even easier and the gain most likely would be higher."

Realization showed on the face of the young man.

"Not a bad idea. How much would be in it for me?"

"Let's say two fifths of the earnings if I shall take over the negotiations with the peasants. You merely would have to simulate a battle against me, that'd be all. What do you think?"

Leesil pondered on the offer for a moment, again furrowing his brow.

"Why not?" he finally said, grinning. "That sounds exciting."

"So you join my business?" Magiere asked matter-of-factly, watching him anxiously.

"I'm up for it … Magiere."

"Shake on it?" She put forth her hand over the table.

Leesil took it and shook it for the second time that evening, this time exaggeratedly happy. His grip, however, was still firm and determined.

"It's a deal. I am very pleased." Leesil reached out for his goblet of wine while Magiere ordered one more for each of them. For a moment, he looked at her in bewilderment before an angelic smile spread on his face.

"You know that I can't pay for it, don't you?"

"I know," she merely replied.

Leesil kept on smiling friendly.

"You are very generous."

"As an exception, to seal our contract. Normally, I'm not like that, so you better don't get used to it."

Her new fellow merely nodded. When two more goblets of wine were served, Magiere took one of them and raised it to Leesil, who took the other goblet in his right hand. With a somewhat dull noise the goblets came together.

"On our deal," Magiere said in a firm voice, looking into Leesil's almond-shaped eyes. He repeated her words and they drank on their contract.

Leesil sighed contentedly and while they discussed the further proceedings in a hushed voice, Magiere again ordered wine for both of them. Leesil thought it was a good idea to cover up his dark complexion with flour. That way he would appear even more convincing in his role as an undead. However, they would talk about most of the details in the course of the following day. This time Magiere ordered a bowl of water and some dried meat for Chap, who pitched into the food, thankfully as it seemed.

"I wanted to ask you something," began Magiere in an insecure voice. "Your unusual looks … your eyes and your hair … are you … a human being?"

Magiere looked at him in anticipation. She hoped that he wouldn't take offense, still she was terribly curious.

"I already anticipated that question. I'm just surprised that you ask me it only now," he said in a neutral voice. "I am half of elven heritage. My mother was an elf."

Leesil hesitated. "Do you know about the elves?"

Well, I never met any elf but I overheard that the elves ought to live in the northern part of this continent and usually avoid humans. That's why I never thought that there are half-elves."

"My mother was, as it seems, an exception. I never met any other half-elf. I am probably the only one, a curiosity if you want. Most people aren't very thrilled about half-breeds like me." He grinned broadly.

Magiere stared at him, then blinked.

"I hate people that judge their fellow men as bad only because they are different," she said coldly.

Leesil blinked likewise and looked surprised. Hesitantly, Magiere smiled slightly.

"I think you are alright. As long as we pursuit the same aims, we should get along well with each other."

Leesil returned Magiere's guarded smile with a bright one and threw a glance at the waitress hurrying past him through the taproom.

"May I?"

Magiere approved his question and he ordered one more time. Both of them already had quite a bit of wine but tonight she wasn't up to anything anymore and she didn't mind possible after-effects of the alcohol. When the order came, she emptied her goblet in nearly one gulp again. Leesil's large eyes widened.

"Do you drink always this much?" he asked and a soft slur was noticeable in his voice.

"No, never," she answered and her voice as well sounded a bit incomprehensible. "But today I make an exception."

"To celebrate the occasion?" Leesil asked smirking and lifted his goblet to hers.

"Sort of," she responded and they clinked goblets.

Leesil put down his one on the table and bent down with a bit of trouble to pet the dozing Chap.

After several more orders, Magiere looked around the taproom which wasn't as crowded anymore. It was already late but there were a lot of guests in the inn nevertheless. Most of them were sitting far away and the men sitting directly next to them were so drunk that their heads lay on the table.

In that instant a tall, dark-haired woman seething with rage swept into the inn and grabbed the arm of a man, screeching into his face in a language Magiere didn't understand. The man, one eye half opened, whispered something that sounded like, "But sweetie pie …". Still his wife interrupted him roughly and dragged him out of the inn.

Magiere looked to Leesil, who had watched the scene attentively and now shook his head chuckling and then drank his wine. She gazed at his profile for a moment when he wiped the wine dripping from his chin off with his shirt-sleeve.

"Say, what is the difference between you and a 'normal' human?" Magiere wanted to know.

Leesil straightened up and started to enumerate.

"Well, for example my sight is better than the one of a human and I am swifter, I dare to say. And of course there are, as you've already noticed," he grinned mischievously, "my eyes, my hair and my skin. Oh, and my ears."

"What is it about your ears?" Magiere's glassy eyes became clearer as she gazed at him curiously.

"They are … different," Leesil said and rubbed his angular, beardless chin.

"May … ," Magiere slid a bit closer, "… may I see them?"

Leesil blinked, then shrugged his shoulders.

"Why not?"

He giggled again and Magiere raised one eyebrow. This man didn't seem to get the grin out of his face. He glanced shortly to the snoring guests sitting at the table next to them, then clumsily began to untie the scarf around his head. When he took it off, his silky, light hair fell down past his shoulders. His hair was longer than she had thought it would be; his ears were covered by it.

With an erratic movement, Leesil pushed a few strands of hair behind them and they finally showed. Leesil's ears were of oblong shape, almost pointed at the tips and definitely different than common ears. Magiere carefully moved closer to have a better look at them.

"Exceptional," she simply said.

"Yes, and treacherous if you try to keep your ancestry a secret." He took a gulp of his wine.

"Well, you can't really cover your eyes."

Magiere saw how the room slowly became emptier.

"You're totally right with this one."

First, Leesil's gaze shifted to where Magiere looked, then he looked outside the window. The moon already stood low on the night sky. Leesil turned back around and Magiere noticed that the kindhearted innkeeper was about to close the inn, guiding several drunkards kindly but determinately outside.

"I think we should go to our rooms and get some sleep. It's already late."

Her new fellow agreed.

"And tomorrow, we head to the nearest village," Magiere declared.

The half-elf rubbed his hands in anticipation.

"My first working day. I'm looking forward to it."

Magiere had to smile. A dedicated partner surely wasn't wrong. She got up from her seat, went, a bit wavering, up to the innkeeper and paid their piles of orders of the night. Afterwards, her bag was considerably lighter.

Magiere headed towards the corridor which lead to the rooms. Leesil staggered after her. He had had more goblets of wine than her.

"Come, Chap," he called his dog with a glance over his shoulder. Chap followed his master willingly.

On their way, Magiere and Leesil wished the innkeeper a good night and arriving in the middle of the corridor, Magiere halted. Leesil didn't seem to had seen her doing so and collided with her. She stumbled ahead, but didn't fall.

"Have a care," she hissed at him.

"Sorry," Leesil murmured, in order not to wake up guests which might already be asleep. He supported himself with one hand on the wall. Chap stood next to him, watching.

"It seems that you had had a few goblets too much," Magiere muttered.

But the half-elf only waved aside, chuckling.

"I say."

Magiere didn't answer. She took the few steps to the second door to her right and looked back to Leesil.

"I'll be sleeping here. Which room is yours?" she wanted to know.

Leesil shuffled past her to the forth door on the left side of the small corridor, still wavering.

"This one. How shall we handle it? The first one of us who's awake knocks on the door of the other one?" Leesil slurred a bit to loud for Magiere's ears.

"Hush, you fool! You'll wake everyone up," she whispered sharply. "But yes, that's how we'll do it. We should hit the road pretty early."

The half-blood either was not offended by the insult or ignored it.

"Fine," he simply answered in a hushed voice.

"Well, then. Good night," Magiere answered. The alcohol made her feel tired.

"Good night."

Leesil nodded to her and disappeared in his room.

His silver-gray hound was left behind in the corridor in front of his master's chamber. He growled, in indignation, as it seems to Magiere. The door was opened and Magiere thought she heard a voice say something like, "Sorry, boy". Chap swiftly went into the room.

Magiere entered her own chamber and softly closed the door behind her. She leaned at it in the darkness for a second. Then slowly, her full lips formed a smile that showed cold anticipation.

The coming day would change everything. She was sure about that.

The first rays of sunlight shone through the half-closed shutters in Magiere's room at the 'Rolling Thaler'. Their light made its way to the dresser and to the worn-out table in one of the room's corners. Eventually, they reached the face of the young woman who lay on her back on the bed, the blanket pulled up to her chin.

The woman slowly opened her brown eyes at the tingling sensation on her skin. A bit puzzled, she lifted her head and quickly let it sink back on the pillow as a throbbing pain hit it.

Where exactly was she and what had happened the previous night? She held her head, turning on the straw mattress until she lay on her stomach. Closing her eyes, she secretly swore to herself to never drink alcohol again. For a second, she didn't move. Then she forced herself to slowly sit up.

While she knelt on the bed braiding her hair, she tried to recall the previous evening's events.

From now on, she wasn't traveling on her own anymore. A man of strange heritage, an half-elf to be exact, was going to work with her. If anyone had told her so a day earlier, she wouldn't have believed it and would have called this person a fool.

She had never heard of beings like half-elves before, let alone known that they existed so close by. To be exact, he was the only one of this race she and he himself knew of but still: everything seemed so surreal.

On top of that, there also was his uncommonly large, silver-gray dog with the long snout. From this point of view, she would even have two new partners from now on. She, who preferred to be alone and had never thought or wished to have companions with her.

Indeed, she couldn't remember her new half-human companion's name right now but she surely would be able to earn at least three times as much as she used to in the villages with his help. His unusual looks were just perfectly suitable for playing an undead.

Magiere asked herself if her new partner was already awake. Most likely not, for he would have knocked on her door. She would have heard this noise for sure as her hearing necessarily had been sharpened over the years of traveling with the hard circumstances it implied. Necessarily for not getting caught in sleep by angry and desperate peasants who wanted to retrieve their payed fee for example.

It had not been a good idea to tie the hair back. The pressure her braid put on her head made her head ache only worse. But it was handier like that and above that a sort of ritual Magiere repeated absent-mindedly every morning.

Slowly, she rose from the bed and trotted to her pack, crouching in front of it. Magiere changed quickly from the over-sized shirt she used as a night gown to the clothes she wore the day before and stored the first. After donning her leather boots, she picked up her falchion, which leaned on the dresser, and with one smooth movement strapped it to her hip, letting it hang there in plain sight.

If her new partners – this word still sounded weird to Magiere –did not come to her, she would have to go to wake them up.

She lifted her pack over her shoulder, looked about the room once more in case she had forgotten something and then left the room, closing the door softly behind her.

Most likely, most of the patrons were still fast asleep in their warm beds and Magiere didn't care to wake them. Her steps were barely audible as she crossed the corridor and then stopped in front of the fourth and last door on the left side. She lingered and listened for any sound from inside her partner's room but though they looked old and worn, the inn's walls seemed to be solid and thick, letting no noise pass through them. Hesitantly, she softly knocked with the knuckle of her index finger on the oak door. No reaction came. Nobody opened.

Magiere frowned. Was her partner still sleeping? She knocked again, this time using her fist and therefore a lot louder than before.

A second later, the door to her left opened a crack and a woman with her hair standing in every possible direction peeked through the gap. She crossly stared at Magiere.

"What's this about? I want to sleep! Keep quiet now, for god's sake!" she hissed angrily, but in a muted voice. Casting one last disparaging glance in the young woman's direction, she vanished as quickly from the doorway a she had appeared.

Magiere stared at the door for a moment longer and then merely shrugged. There were more important things to be done than being upset about a mad patron. Meanwhile, not a sound had come out of the room beyond the door in front of her.

Slowly, but surely Magiere got more and more irritated with her new partner. She had stated very clearly that she wanted to leave the village early in the morning. In spite of the woman's complaint, she pounded loudly against the door behind which that lazy half-elf seemed to be still fast asleep.

"Silence!" a deep voice shouted from out of a room behind Magiere.

The young woman didn't even flinch at the loud sound. Instead, she felt anger about her new companion rise. This just could not be true. It was his first day as her partner in her business and he did not care to get up. Spending day and night outside, everyday, no matter which weather, truly was not fun and nobody knew this better than her. If he was not getting up, she would have to literally rip him from beneath his blanket.

Determined, she gripped the door handle and pushed it down. The door was not locked and therefore swung open. Magiere entered with one large step.

The room was pitch-black and Magiere squinted to make out its interior. She was about to take a step in the direction in which she assumed the bed was as she heard a low, threatening rumble come from the corner to her right. Startled, she stopped and gazed in the direction the sound came from, her eyes widening. Magiere made out the silhouette of a canine in the darkness. And she remembered. The dog would join her journey from now on as well as the half-elf. He seemed to sense a threat in Magiere and want to protect his master.

Magiere's eyes wandered to a spot on the left side of the rear wall from which she thought she saw a tiny bit of sunlight come from. Slowly and carefully, she stepped to the window, backing against the left wall and keeping the largest distance to the bed in the middle of the room, to not provoke the hound. She couldn't be certain because of the darkness but she suspected that the animal watched her through its crystalline blue eyes, eyeing every single one of her steps.

Magiere's gaze dropped again to where she guessed her new partner lay and uncertainty turned to anger. She would make him get up. She jerked both shutters open and shining light from outside pained her dark eyes. And not only hers. She retreated one step and let her eyes adjust to the new lighting. She made out the bed and heard the man who had slept in there until seconds ago even before she saw him.

With an indignant groan, her partner quickly pulled the pillow over his head, shielding himself from the light and Magiere's furious look. The dog seemingly had understood that Magiere didn't want to do anything bad to his master – well, not anything bad from her point of view at least – and watched the scene from his corner with his head cocked, ears pricked up.

The half-elf lay on his stomach and did not move. Magiere became even more irritated. Now she had even come to wake him and he still did not think it necessary to get up?

"Hey!" she shouted angrily, pulling the blanket away from him.

The half-elf groaned again, but this time it sounded rather annoyed than desperate. Still, he did not move. Magiere stared at his still form in disbelief. She couldn't see his face with him shielding it from the sun with the pillow. However, she could see his back with its flawless tan skin, his legs in sandy-colored pants and his feet the same golden hue of brown as his back and the rest of him.

Magiere approached without hesitating. She jerked the pillow from his desperate grip with one hand while she gripped his right shoulder with the other, shaking him with force.

"Get up! The sun has already risen. We got to go!" she ushered him loudly.

The half-elf whimpered dramatically and far to exaggerated in Magiere's opinion as soft rays of sunlight dipped his face into light.

She thought to hear upset voices from somewhere in the inn, but she didn't care. Her eyes were locked on the half-blood in front of her when she dropped the pillow on the ground to cross her arms. Tapping the floor with her left boot's tip impatiently, she stood beside the bed and looked down on her partner. Now she was able to see his head, or rather the back of it. This time, his silky, white-blond hair was not covered partially by a scarf. He likely had took it off for sleeping.

The half-elf muttered something to himself under his breath and rolled on his side with his back facing her.

"Limil! Get up right now! We don't have all time in the world!" Magiere cried furiously.

Suddenly, the strange man turned to her and propped up on his elbows. He sat halfway up and watched her through wide, blood-shot eyes, seeming to be puzzled and wide awake now.

"What did you call me?" he asked in disbelief while he sat up completely, rubbing one of his amber eyes.

"Limil. That's your name, isn't it?" Magiere returned crossly.

His already large eyes widened even more.

"My name is Leesil. Lee-sil and nothing different," he corrected.

"Leesil it is then. Come on now!"

Magiere was visibly annoyed, but the confusion about her partner's name due to the mass of wine she had had the previous night embarrassed her still. Leesil didn't seem to notice. He yawned and stretched his arms before he started collected his things. Suddenly, he raised his head in bewilderment only to hold it the same moment.

"Valhachkasej'â. Why this early?" he muttered.

Magiere was puzzled by this strange word but to proud to ask Leesil about its meaning.

"I told you we would have to leave the inn early. Who can drink can also walk," she snapped.

The half-elf started donning the shirt he wore the night before and the worn leather boots. Gripping his light pack, he looked her straight into the eyes and Magiere was surprised. He was grinning again, his sly, mischievous smile. Full with anticipation, he rubbed his narrow palms together as he had done the night before when they had sealed their partnership with wine.

"It begins," he said happily.

"It indeed does and it could have begun much earlier if you got up," Magiere rumbled.

"Yes, yes. Main thing is, our journey starts right now," he answered and stepped past her, still grinning. Suddenly, he halted and looked dismayed.

"Dead deities!"

"What is it?" Magiere asked, startled.

"I almost forgot to put on my scarf," Leesil said quite loudly and searched through his pack.

"Shut up!" a man's voice cried not far from them.

Leesil raised one white-blond eyebrow and kept on searching.

Magiere watched him in disbelief for a moment before her face twisted in an angry grimace.

"Indeed that would have been horrible," she said sarcastically.

"Yes it indeed would have been!" he retorted sharply and pointed at his ears and his hair while he pulled out his head wrap.

Of course, his heritage must not been showed this openly. Magiere simply nodded and waited until he had wrapped the scarf around his head.

"Chap, come on. Time to find some adventures, old boy!" the half-elf called out looking back. Magiere recalled now that the dog's name was Chap. Chap hurried past them down the corridor to the taproom of the inn. Magiere followed slowly with Leesil on her heels.

Entering the taproom, the inn's owner greeted them friendly.

"Good morning," she smiled while she polished the bar and put away empty glasses. "You're up pretty early."

Again, Magiere caught herself smiling involuntarily, surprised by the inn keeper's friendliness as she ad been the previous day.

"Yes," she answered. "We intended to travel by first daylight."

She hesitated briefly, took a few worthy coins out of her pouch and handed them over to the stout woman.

"My fee for the night."

The woman took the coins, smiling gratefully.

"You … both of you," she smiled, nodding to Leesil, "have been pleasant guests. I would be pleased if you returned some day when in land."

Magiere nodded, well knowing that she would not come in this part of the country soon. Not as long as there was work elsewhere. She was about to turn to leave as she noticed that her new companion had to pay for his room as well. When she looked at him, he was already digging through the pouch on his belt for coin, murmuring words whose meaning she didn't catch. Eventually, he gave up pulling out every single tiny coin on its own and poured the entire pouch's content on the bar. It was a feeble sight. A small number of copper pennies and other coins of low value hit the wood with a dumb noise.

Magiere closed her eyes for an instant. Either he hadn't earned a lot of money until now which was unlikely due to his talent for stealing or he was spending all his money quickly.

Leesil picked up almost all his coins, counting, until he had enough to pay the price. He then gave them to the inn's owner. His partner snorted. This wasn't an expensive inn, quite the opposite.

The inn keeper still thanked the half-elf open-heartedly. Magiere and Leesil said good-bye to the woman and emerged through the low entrance door of the 'Rolling Thaler'. Chap scurried after them.

Leesil hefted his pack higher with a smile and strolled a few steps toward the crossing with Chap following him. Magiere raised one dark eye-brow but slowly went up to them. Reaching the crossing, Leesil stopped short and glanced back at his partner with a questioning look.

"Which way do we go?"

"This way," she answered, pointing south. She still eyed Leesil suspiciously. The half-blood took the direction Magiere had told him.

They walked beside each other without saying a word for quite some time while Chap strolled after them. The dog sniffed at brush and grass on his way and repeatedly got out of sight for a few moments just to emerge from the bushes seconds later. Leesil kept an eye on him but didn't slow down.

They entered the next village at early evening. Their feet hurt badly since they had not rested a lot on their way to reach their destination before dusk.

It took not long until they found out that they had reached a little town rather than a village.

Magiere fastened her pace, her eyes wandering over the houses.

One of them caught her eye immediately: it was a lot larger and broader than the other buildings and Magiere could make out two people flanking its entryway. The trio stepped a bit closer and one of the figures lifted its head. Though Magiere couldn't make out the person's face halfway wrapped in a scarf she felt its gaze locked upon her. The man whispered something to the other person and the two of them vanished in the nearby alley.

"Strange people," Leesil said, watching them disappear.

"Hm," Magiere merely murmured.

"Come on, let's find an inn. I can barely walk any longer," the half-elf announced and pulled Magiere with him on her shirt's sleeve.

They spotted another large building not far from the first one. Upon approaching it they read its sign above the door: 'Howling Hound'.

"That's not a very appealing name for an inn," Magiere commented.

"Who cares about the name? Let's get inside," her partner sighed.

Leesil swiftly opened the heavy door, but just as they wanted to enter a haggard man with a wild beard stopped them. He stared closely at them with his watery blue eyes, his gaze shifting back and forth between Leesil and Magiere.

"Good evening," Leesil said politely. "May we enter now?"

The man grunted.

"Tonight, only opened for couples. Married couples." He let his eyes rest on Magiere's hand. "You two apparently aren't and so you're not allowed to enter."

"Oh." Leesil turned to Magiere and tried to give her a sign by raising his eyebrows. Magiere frowned and shook her head in puzzlement.

"Let's leave, you heard what he's said," she hissed to Leesil.

"Not even in a hundred years," the tall man whispered in reply. "What nonsense, married couple or not, we stay here."

"Leesil - ," Magiere began, but the half-blood interrupted her.

"I'm not walking through half the city only to find another inn," he rumbled firmly under his breath. Less than a second later, Magiere saw him turn back to face the thin man, his facial expression changing smoothly from an annoyed look to a bright smile.

"We are indeed married," Leesil said, still smiling while he turned briefly to Magiere, who looked horrified and puzzled at the same time.

"Play along," he coughed and faced the man again.

"Ah, yes?" the guard asked with a suspicious look on his face.

"Well, certainly!" Leesil exclaimed and wrapped his right arm around Magiere's waist to pull her close to him where he held her. Magiere forced herself to smile but it didn't look really convincing.

The man didn't seem to believe them.

"Can you prove your marriage? I don't see any rings," he added with another angry glance on their fingers.

"Well, come on," Leesil said indignantly and pressed a kiss on his companion's cheek, much to Magiere's surprise. She swallowed down her anger and pinched in Leesil's side, whose face twisted only for the small part of a second before he smiled again as if nothing had happened.

"You certainly have an eye for couples," Leesil tried to flatter the man, "and recognize a happy one when you see one, don't you?"

The man seemed to be a little bit embarrassed, his face turning red.

"Certainly."

"By the way, we await a baby," Leesil added, being the joy itself.

"Oh, congratulations," the guard said.

"Don't overdo it!" Magiere hissed between clenched teeth, her mouth still forming a forced smile.

"Very well then, you look like a happy couple to me – and say you're married," the man finally gave in after a short moment of eyeing them once more. "Names?"

Before Magiere could even open her mouth, Leesil had already answered as if it'll be the most ordinary thing in the world.

"Pergart and Irva Eshrel."

"Welcome Mr and Mrs Eshrel," said the man and waved them into the inn's taproom.

The false couple smiled gratefully and quickly hurried past the guard. At a safe distance behind a beam next to the bar, Magiere let out her anger.

"How dare you?," she hissed madly. "To kiss me and to claim we are a couple!"

"What's wrong? What matters is that we are inside this damn inn now and finally get some rest."

Having said this, Leesil dropped on a stool standing close by.

"What a start," Magiere rumbled.

Leesil merely shrugged and ordered two beer after a while. When the order came and he wanted to shove one goblet to Magiere, she angrily pushed it back. Leesil caught it in a smooth movement and looked at her.

"Still mad at me?"

Magiere only silently stared on the wooden bar's surface.

Leesil ordered one spiced tea with a regretful look on his face, slowly shoving it toward Magiere while he looked up at her with an angel-like face. She gazed into his large amber eyes for a long time before she finally took the tea and her face relaxed.

"Alright?" the half-elf asked cautiously.

Magiere shrugged and drank her tea. Leesil watched her profile for a while and eventually, a little smile showed on the young woman's face.

"Pergart and Irva Eshrel, huh?" She looked at him in amusement.

Leesil laughed and Magiere chuckled while she shook her head.

"These were the first names that came to my mind."

He lifted his goblet to Magiere's and with a nod, they clanged them together.