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Rain, rain, rain. Elsinore brushed damp black hair out of her eyes and peered out of the mouth of the cave in which she and her traveling companion had taken shelter. It hasn't let up a bit since this morning. She grimaced as she wrung out the corner of her cloak, sending a splatter of water to the floor. She and Kerion had been awoken by the first drops, drops which had quickly turned to a downpour, and despite their best efforts they had still been soaked before they managed to get to shelter.

Elsinore heard a cracking noise from behind her and turned to see Kerion snapping branches in half for kindling. The young man's face showed no expression, but Elsinore could tell that he was lost in thought. Probably worrying about his father. When he stayed behind to make sure that we could escape... well, it was a valiant gesture, but I doubt he could have survived it. I just don't think that Kerion would like to hear that.

Kerion knelt down next to the branches, striking a flint against the blade of his dagger to produce sparks. He sighed in annoyance as, again and again, the kindling failed to catch. "It probably would have worked better if the branches hadn't been damp to begin with," he said.

"Do you want help?" said Elsinore. Kerion shrugged.

"Be my guest."

Elsinore walked over to her pack, lying discarded against the wall, and rummaged through it, coming up with a tome carefully wrapped in oiled cloth. Opening it, she approached the kindling, and with a gesture set it aflame. There was a whoosh and a flash of light as the splintered sticks burned up entirely in an instant, then darkness again. "Oh," said Elsinore, halfway between embarrassment and apology.

"I'll... ah, I'll get some more wood," said Kerion. "Something more substantial this time, don't worry. While I'm gone, you should get changed out of those wet things. Wouldn't want you to catch a cold." He walked past her, ducking slightly where the ceiling lowered, and vanished out into the rain.

As soon as he was gone, Elsinore set down her tome and took his advice. Though her cloak had taken the brunt of the storm, her shirt and trousers were soaked through nonetheless, and from the sloshing when she moved around, her boots were carrying enough water to fill a small pond. Of course, considering how soaked my pack is, there may not be much in there that's fit to be worn either...

Going through her things, she found a tunic that was more or less dry and changed into that, laying out her other sodden garments by where they would light the fire. Then, barefoot and careful to watch her step lest there were any sharp rocks, she headed over to the mouth of the cave to watch for Kerion's return.

Within a few minutes, he emerged out of the rain, looking half-drowned, a pile of wood in his arms. Kerion ducked into the cave with a sigh of relief. "There. That should do nicely." He turned away from her, and though the cave was still dark Elsinore thought that she saw him blush. "I'll get it set up for you, shall I?"

Elsinore watched Kerion hurry further into the cave, amused. My tunic isn't that short. True, the hem did fall somewhat short of her knees, but plenty of women wore similar outfits. She'd once seen an Ilian pegasus knight whose skirt barely qualified as such, back in the capital, and those women didn't even ride sidesaddle!

"It's ready," said Kerion a few moments later, stepping back from the small "tent" he'd made of the logs. "Just needs a spark." He headed toward the mouth of the cave, as if nervous that Elsinore would blow him up if he stayed too close.

"I'll see if I can give it a bit less this time," said Elsinore, picking up her tome again. This time, when she gestured, the flame was somewhat smaller. The damp logs fizzled for a moment, but caught nonetheless and were soon comfortably ablaze.

Kerion returned to the fire, now bare-chested with his wrung-out shirt slung over his shoulders. "Well, this should be enough to keep us comfortable for a while."

Elsinore nodded, kneeling down opposite him and propping herself up on one arm. "I'll get the next load of firewood, once this runs out."

There were a few moments of silence, then Kerion frowned. "Come to think of it, this fire might not have been a good idea."

"Why's that?"

"Well, if there's anyone about, the light is sure to give away our position," said Kerion. "Under most circumstances we could pass for ordinary travelers, but this is Thria, and that tome of yours is sure to attract unwanted attention."

"If we need to get supplies in town, I'll just leave it behind and come back for it later," said Elsinore. "And you shouldn't worry too much about someone discovering us. After all, who would be out in the open on a day like this?"
Every second that passed was an unwelcome declaration of the foolishness of his recent decision to scale the Taliver Mountains by himself in the middle of a torrential downpour, but Trich was well aware that his decision-making process hadn't been too wise lately at all. Every drop of rain smacked against his face like a rock, continuing on to drip down his cheek in icy rivulets until they had completely soaked through his cloak and rendered it completely useless as far as warmth was concerned. His usual optimism was starting to dwindle; the need to find shelter was beginning to take priority over his current quest.

Besides, in this pelting deluge he could stumble right past the entire rebel camp and not even see them. Wouldn't that be horrible, to have made it all this way from Etruria, somehow by the grace of Elimine getting through the border because of his family ties, spending days going from town to town in search of any scrap of information he could find about Janys's whereabouts, finally happening upon evidence that she might be travelling with a group of Lycian dissidents hiding in the mountains, only to come within shouting distance of her and yet miss her entirely in the most unfortunate way - due to the weather! At least the chance that she might actually still be alive was enough to keep hope alive and burning in his spirit. Even so, it would surely help fan the flame if he could find a cave or someplace to escape from the freezing rain...

Suddenly, Trich was jostled from his thoughts as he found himself tumbling to the dirt, his foot having caught on a jagged, unseen rock in the path. His efforts to shield his body from the impact were no good, his rib and forehead smacking dully into the craggy mountain walkway. A little twinge shot through Trich's stomach as he brought his hand to his temple and was met with the warm sensation of blood on his fingertips. Dammit! That's hurts! Curse this godforsaken mountain, this godforsaken country! Once I find Janys and get her safely over the border, I'm never coming back to this place!

Further inspection showed that aside from a small gash on the right side of his forehead and some throbbing pain and likely bruising in his side there were no notable injuries. Thank Elimine. What a shame it would be to bleed out here on the side of the road. Might make an interesting story for whoever found me, though. Trich shook his head disapprovingly as he realized he hadn't brought any bandages or first aid supplies with him at all - he would have to be a little less impetuous in the future.

He lay there for a few seconds more to catch his breath before slowly rising to his feet. As he stood, his eye was suddenly drawn to a dim flickering light in the distance. Could that be... a fire? No way... Maybe it's the rebel camp? His spirits immediately lifted - albeit only a little - Trich immediately put all thoughts of his misfortune behind him and began ascending in the direction of the glimmering light. It was a good ways up the trail, and the incline was only growing steeper, but that didn't stop Trich from sprinting towards it as best he could. It was only as he closed the distance to within a couple hundred feet that the thought occurred to him that whoever had lit that fire might not be so friendly as he hoped, and he slowed his pace while he tried to gauge the situation.

The best Trich could tell, the the light was coming from within a small opening in the rocky mountainside, probably a tight, enclosed space with room for two or three people to take refuge, though maybe it was more open inside than it appeared from his vantage point. Probably not large enough to house an entire rebel unit, though, so perhaps he had come upon a group of unlucky travelers in a predicament similar to his own. Try as he might, he could not make out any figures inside the cave, nor outside. Nobody keeping watch? A little foolish, perhaps - yet who would be expecting company in a storm like this? He stood there pondering what to do for a couple of minutes before the pounding of the rain upon his head and cloak forced him to start making his approach to the cave entrance. Cautiously, he drew near to the opening and peered in. As he got closer, he began to hear what sounded like voices emanating from within the cave. Hmm, I can't hear what they're saying. Maybe if I lean in a little closer...

It was then that his foot - clumsy feet, these were - managed to catch on another loose rock in the mountainside, causing it to break off and cascade down the path with an unfortunately loud series of clacks. Shit! They have to have heard that! Can this day get any bloody worse? Trich rapidly whirled around, pinning his body against the rock wall just outside the opening, trying to think of a plan in case one of the occupants came outside in a manner that was less than friendly. It was a little too hasty of a situation to draw his bow, especially with the rain. Maybe... I hit them with a rock? A little crude, but it'll do. Besides, with this rain, maybe they won't even see me. With that thought, Trich stooped and searched the ground with his hand until his fingers closed around a moderately-sized rock that he could use as a last resort and stood back up, readying himself for whatever would happen next.
Kerion bolted upright when he heard the clatter of rocks outside, reaching for his sword. "There's definitely someone out there. Get further back... I don't want you spotted."

"That's wonderfully chivalrous of you," said Elsinore in a sardonic tone. "But there's not a lot of places to hide in this place. I'll watch your back." She noticed with some distraction that he still hadn't put on his shirt. Not a bad thing to watch, really--no, damn it, no distractions. She shook her head, picking up her tome.

Kerion advanced toward the exit of the cave, keeping his hand on his sword but not drawing it out yet. "Is someone there? Show yourself! What's your business here?"
It was as Trich feared - he'd been heard, all right. He hesitated for a moment, trying to decide the best course of action. He could simply not respond and hope not to be discovered, but that didn't seem too likely; whoever had issued that demand from inside the cave certainly sounded like they weren't messing around, and Trich really didn't feel like he was up to the task of a scuffle out here in the rain. So it would be option two. He exhaled, realizing he had been holding his breath, and spoke up, "Ah, yes, hold on - no business here! I mean, just passing by, you know... um, delivery?" Oh Lord, that won't do. Pull it together, Trich!

"Hold on, let me try again - my name is Trich D'Alvers, and I was just traversing this mountain crossing when I got caught in this damned storm. I saw your fire, and, ah, I was just hoping for the chance to take shelter in this cave, if that's all right. If not, well, I guess I'll just be on my way, and good day to you, sir!"
Yes, of course, be on your way, thought Elsinore, making sure she kept her tome concealed under her cloak. The last thing we need is somebody who might turn us in to the authorities. She opened her mouth to speak, but Kerion spoke first.

"There's no need for that," said the young man, releasing the hilt of his sword. "There's room enough for you, and I'd hate to throw you out in the rain." He looked back at Elsinore. "That is, if you're all right with it as well..."

Now he asks for my permission... Elsinore attempted a reassuring smile through gritted teeth. "Of course. Do sit down."

"So, why were you headed across the mountains?" said Kerion, sitting down but keeping his sword close on hand. "Were you headed into Thria?"
Trich relaxed at the young man's invitation, releasing his grip on the rock in his hands and letting it hit the ground with a thud. "Thank you kindly for the offer. Much, much obliged." He smiled weakly as he stepped down from his position and entered the cave. As he had surmised, space was pretty tight in here, but not too terribly claustrophobic.

A cursory glance showed that there was one other person in the cave besides the man he'd spoken with; a young, raven-haired girl with vibrant green eyes - eyes that were currently giving him a cold stare that betrayed the forced nature of the smile on her lips. It's all right, ravenhair, I wouldn't trust me either in my current state.

He turned his attention back to the blond shirtless boy who had asked him about his travels. Choosing his words carefully, he tried to give a plausible reason for his presence here in the mountains. "As for my travels, yes, I was heading for Thria. Well, Laus, by way of Thria. I'm trying to get back to my wife. You see, I'm a merchant by trade - I don't suppose you've ever heard of D'Alvers silk, have you? My family has made quite a name for themselves throughout Lycia in the textile business. I was over the border in Etruria trying to expand the business before all this madness started up and the borders closed. My wife, meanwhile, was back in Laus. You wouldn't believe how hard it has been to get back over the border, even with Lycian citizenship - seems they require a little extra proof these days."

Pausing for a moment, Trich tried to read the face of the man sitting across from him. Was he believing this story? It was hard to tell; he was showing no emotion. It's nearly the truth, anyways. And it's not likely these two are loyal to Lycia - there's no reason I can think of for a couple of Lycians to be wandering way up here in the mountains. Better safe than sorry, though.

"Anyways, I had to take a bit of a roundabout way to get back in. So, the mountain pass it was. Probably wasn't a great idea coming out this way all by myself though. A person could get lost up here, particularly in this weather."

"Oh, by the way, I don't think I caught your name?"
"D'Alvers silk, eh? I think my father and I might have guarded a trade convoy with D'Alvers silk once upon a time..." Kerion started. "Oh, sorry, my name! I'm Kerion, from Caldonia. I'm a mercenary by trade. And this is--"

"I can introduce myself," said Elsinore tartly, cutting him off. "Elsinore. Up until recently I was a student in Etruria."

"So, you've had trouble on the road?" said Kerion, spreading out his shirt in front of the fire alongside Elsinore's wet things. Elsinore noticed that he took care to place it over her underclothing... something that amused her even through her irritation. "The roads aren't too good up here; I can believe that you'd get lost."

Elsinore's eyes narrowed. Her hands, resting on her thighs as she knelt, were curled into fists as she glared at the man. "And I can certainly believe you about the border being difficult to cross. You damned Lycians have made a mess out of my country, no mistaking it. They had my friends killed... I had to--!"

"Elsinore--" began Kerion, holding up a hand. Elsinore stopped short, realizing she had said too much. Her hand went to her tome, hidden beneath her cloak, wondering if she had gone too far. There was a long moment of silence.
Trich did his best not to visibly react to Elsinore's outburst. In truth, he wasn't totally sure how to respond - on the one hand, he was relieved to find that the duo's allegiance did not lie with Lycia, but on the other hand, he did not want to appear insensitive to Elsinore's revelation that her friends had been killed by Lycian troops. He wasn't the best at reading people, but her animosity was impossible to miss. For a long stretch of time, nobody spoke. Finally, looking the dark-haired girl in the eyes, Trich broke the silence.

"Well. My lady Elsinore, please believe me when I tell you that I am very sorry for the loss of your friends. And I can assure you that I am in no way loyal to the people responsible for their deaths. Quite the opposite really..."

He shuddered slightly, still chilled from the rain-soaked cloak he was wearing, before continuing. "You see, I wasn't completely honest with you just now. But like you, my wife is from Etruria. She was studying there as well - magic, that is. So, yes, I think I understand a little bit what you must be going through. I... haven't seen her since the occupation."

Here he averted his eyes, lowering them to the floor. He wondered if it was wise to share this much, but it seemed preferable to the awkward silence that came before. "I'm not really going to Laus. At least not yet. I'm here in the mountains tracking down a possible lead to her whereabouts. I apologize for the deception, but I didn't know if I could trust you. Actually, I guess I still don't. But if you're Etrurian, than you're more of a friend to me than most of Lycia."

Not sure what else to say, Trich once again raised his eyes to meet the gaze of the others. Elsinore was still eyeing him with distrust, her hand clutching at her cloak; he looked to Kerion, hoping to find him more sympathetic. When neither of them spoke, he cleared his throat and started again, trying to force a smile, "Anyways, I am most grateful, once again, for your hospitality - for letting me share this, your humble abode. I hope we can at least regard each other amiably. Seeing as we have no reason to be enemies, let us at least be benevolent acquaintances."
Elsinore seemed to deflate at last, letting out a long breath. "Well. I suppose I can live with that." She let the cloak fall aside, intentionally showing the tome she had been concealing. "At the very least, I think we can agree to let you stay with us safely."

"Let's not ruin this moment by threatening the man," said Kerion, his tone light. He nodded to Trich, smiling slightly. "I'm sorry about your wife, for what it counts."

"As am I," said Elsinore after a moment. "And I'm sorry for the way that I treated you... I should know that not all Lycians are my enemies." I suppose that I may have been a bit quick to judge him...

There was another moment of silence, punctuated by the fire crackling. "If you don't mind me asking," said Kerion after a moment, "what clue about your wife's disappearance would lead you to here? Do you think that she might be in Thria?"
Trich let a smile play at the corner of his lips as the tension dissipated from the room. "Apologies accepted, offenses already forgotten. And again, thank you for sharing this charming little nook with me. My pleasure, to be sure." He scooted a little closer to the fire and began warming his hands by its ember glow, letting his eyes wander around the room. So the girl is a mage indeed, he mused, his gaze landing upon the tome she had been hiding under her cloak. Seems my guess was right. I'd recognize a fire tome anywhere. Just like the one Janys used to use...

No, it wouldn't do to reminisce. He shook his head and blinked rapidly, snapped back into the moment by Kerion's question. "In Thria? Janys? No, I don't think so. The clue, you ask? Well, it's a bit of a long shot. But then, that's about all I have to go on at the moment. You might actually find this interesting, now that I think about it. Word in the surrounding villages is that there is something of a rebel militia making camp in these mountains. And from the information I've managed to gather, someone matching Janys' description might be among their ranks. I don't know how in heaven she would have escaped her captors, but to think that somehow maybe she did, and now she's here in these mountains, fighting alongside a resistance movement? Well, that's certainly something that interests me, however slim the chances."

He stopped there to rummage in his pack, looking for something. Aha! Here it is! Nothing like a nice loaf of bread and a tin of herring! Pulling them from his bag, he held them out before his companions. "A little gift from the sea, anyone?"
Elsinore shook her head. "No, thank you. I've already eaten."

"I'll take you up on that, though," said Kerion with a grin. "These days it seems like I'm always hungry."

"Going back to the subject at hand, a rebel militia?" Elsinore leaned forward. "That seems a little far-fetched..." Given how hard it was for me to escape, the thought that more than a handful of others would be able to get away is ridiculous.

"You're assuming that it would only be escaped Etrurians," said Kerion. "If that what he was saying, I would agree with you... but bear in mind, our new acquaintance is a Lycian himself. If he's looking for the militia with sympathetic intent, don't you think that there might be other Lycians who disagree with their emperor?"

"In Thria, I doubt it," muttered Elsinore. "They should put up signs. Welcome to Thria, Witch Hunt Capital of the World! I'm sure that the Emperor's lackeys would come in droves."

"Come on now, don't be like that," said Kerion. "So, you think that this militia is somewhere in the area, huh? I suppose that explains why you were wandering through the mountains in this kind of weather... and why you'd investigate where we were." He scratched the back of his neck sheepishly, smiling. "I hope you weren't too disappointed with finding us here instead!"
Trich shrugged at Elsinore's refusal of his peace offering, layering the herring out on the bread and taking a large bite. "Well, more for me and Kerion, then!"

At Kerion's question, he hurriedly swallowed the food in his mouth to spit out an answer, "Bear in mind that it's only a rumor. That's all I'm running with at this time. But I'll take any lead that offers even the slightest chance at finding Janys."

"I don't necessarily know much about the militia itself; could be Etrurians, could be disenchanted Lycians. From the sounds of it, maybe it's a mix. More than a few refugees got out of Etruria before the invasion, you know, one way or another, though I wouldn't imagine they'd flee into Lycia. My guess is, any Etrurians in the group would be escaped captives, like my wife." Hopefully, anyways...

He grinned at Kerion's last statement. "Not to worry, it was more of a relief finding you two here than a disappointment - I'm not too eager to run into Lycian forces in these mountains, even though they probably wouldn't give me too much trouble, being Lycian myself."

Taking another bite, Trich gazed thoughtfully at the fire for a few moments, enjoying the mesmerizing dancing of the flames. It was certainly a lot more cheery in here than it was out there in the rain. And it wasn't bad to have a little friendly company - or, somewhat friendly, in Elsinore's case. But then, she did have good reason to be a little bitter after what she'd surely been through in these past few days.

"Anyways," he continued, "My hope is to make contact with this Militia, if indeed there even is one here, and - Elimine willing - find out if my wife is with them. But maybe you two might benefit from such a rendezvous as well? What do you say, maybe we should travel together, at least for the time being?"
Rather than responding immediately, Kerion looked toward Elsinore. "Well, what do you think?"

Elsinore bit her lip. "I... I think we should go with him. I agree; I think that meeting with the militia would benefit both of us, especially if it means that we can strike back against the Lycians." She made eye contact with Trich at last, softening her expression with a smile. "Thank you."

Kerion turned back to Trich, a look of relief on his face. "Well, there you have it. You've got the support of both of us for as long as you're looking for the militia."
Whatever tension was left in Trich's shoulders was released upon Kerion's pledge of support. "I'm glad to hear it," he said, letting a genuine smile appear on his face for the first time since meeting his new companions. "Again, I feel I ought to restate that I don't know for certain that the militia is even here. But I hope against hope, and that's what keeps me going."

He gazed absentmindedly in the direction of the cave entrance. What time was it, anyways? He'd left for the mountains late in the morning, an hour or so from the last village, and he had to have been trudging up the pass for at least a few hours, meaning it couldn't be too far from dinner time, if he was calculating rightly. But it seemed like much later in the evening due to the weather and the weariness in his bones.

"I'd like to get to know a little more about each of you in time, but if you don't mind me, I'm a little worn out from the day's travels, and I do need to see to this bump on my head. I think I will excuse myself for now. Well met, both of you - I feel quite fortunate to have crossed paths with you here tonight. Perhaps it is a sign of Elimine's favor." He bowed his head at the two travelers and retired to a little nook in the corner of the cave - though the space was so tight in here that it wasn't necessarily that far away from the others. But that was allright, privacy was a luxury Trich could do without.

He dug into his pack and retrieved a thick blanket and a thin, tightly-rolled mat that would provide a trace amount of comfort upon the hard, stone cave floor. Unrolling it, he partially reclined upon it, his back resting on a somewhat smooth segment of rock that sloped out from the wall. He took a few minutes to check his bandages, finding that the bleeding had mostly stopped on his side but was still continuing to flow intermittently from his head. [i]What a stupid gaff, that was! Clumsy me, always tossing myself about like that![i] He poured a little water from his canteen onto a rag and did his best to dab at the wounds before wrapping the bandages back up. He'd be a little sore in the morning, but not too worse for the wear.

Having settled in as comfortably as he could, Trich closed his eyes and let his thoughts drift to his hopes for tomorrow. He was feeling a lot more optimistic now than he had before, mostly due to his chance encounter with Kerion and Elsinore. What a curious turn of events, running into a pair of Etrurian refugees. Maybe it was as he said, a sign from Elimine. He wasn't really one to pray much, but he offered up a quick thanks to the saint and a plea for his wife's protection. After a few more moments spent reminiscing over the day's events, he withdrew a little journal from his pack and began to write, letting the process of recording his inner thoughts bring a calming peace to his spirit.
As Trich withdrew, Kerion picked up his shirt from where it lay next to the fire, prodding it to test how damp it was. "It seems to have dried out nicely."

"If you like, I can try to dry it out all the way," said Elsinore. "Shouldn't take more than a few moments."

"Ah... no thank you," said Kerion, coughing slightly.

"Really? I was going to finish drying out my own, anyway," said Elsinore, reaching for the shirt she had been wearing. Kerion grabbed her hand before she could pick it up. She raised an eyebrow at him, questioning. "Is there any particular reason you grabbed my hand?"

"Oh... er, sorry," said Kerion, quickly withdrawing. "It's just that... well, no offense, but after what happened when you tried to light the fire, I'm not sure that you should be trying that out on clothing. It's much better to have something damp that you can wear than, you know, a pile of cinders." He scratched the back of his neck. "You know what I'm saying?"

Elsinore smirked, speaking in a voice dripping with false sweetness. "Ah, the fearless mercenary reveals his true colors as a fashion critic! You couldn't bear to see my clothes damaged in any way, could you? It would break your heart to see a single thread out of place, admit it!"

"W-well, I would prefer if you wore something a bit more substantial than that tunic," mumbled Kerion, looking away. Elsinore got to her feet, crossing her arms irritably.

"Elimine's breath, lighten up, will you? I'm trying to make a joke."

"A joke. Right." Kerion looked up at her and attempted a weak smile. "Um, ha? Ha?"

"Save it, mercenary boy," said Elsinore, drawing her cloak around her grandly. "I am going to sleep. You may follow suit, or keep watch if that is what you prefer. Good night!" With a sniff of disdain, she found a spot on the floor as far away from Trich as possible and, wrapping herself in her cloak, leaned back against the wall. As she closed her eyes, she considered the situation. So, we've got a guest. But what sort of guest will he be?


The drip-drip-drip of water at the cave-mouth was what woke Elsinore the next morning. She cracked an eye open, glaring at the light filtering in through the entrance. The rain had finally stopped. The young mage got to her feet and tiptoed over to the ashes of the fire, stepping carefully over Kerion's prone form as she did. Picking up her clothes, dry at last, she carefully folded them and replaced them in her pack. Then she headed for the entrance of the cave. Although it looked damp outside, it would likely be fine walking weather if they chose to continue traveling.

Elsinore raised her voice without looking to see if either of the two men had woken up. "Hey, you two, do you plan on leaving this cave any time in the next decade?"