Chapter 2

Lina and Lazlore caught up to Delly as she stalked through the main doors of the Guild. "Hey, Delly!" Lina called. "Wait up!"

Delly spun around, her eyes glittering with indignation and rage. "What is it?!" she snapped.

Lina, exhausted and shaken from what happened earlier, only stopped running, and Lazlore skidded to a halt behind her, arms pinwheeling so that he wouldn't crash into the smaller girl. He was therefore the first to recover and looked the furious elf girl in the eyes over his spectacles. Straightening his disheveled robes, he said softly and seriously: "Master Rune wants us to clean up the library, and we had better do it, no questions asked."

"But he's with that-that..." Delly sputtered as she struggled to find the appropriate words, "murderous, back-stabbing namagomi!" Her anger's hold over her was apparent as her balled-up fists, each hanging at her sides, were visibly shaking.

Lazlore sighed. "Look...we're in enough hot water as it is...Let's just get to work and hope that he'll forget about what we did with whatever news that dark elf has to tell him."

Lina finally regained her breath. "Laz is right. This is guild business..."

"I don't think so," Lazlore interrupted, his expression worried and grim. "I saw Master Rune's face as we left..." he looked seriously at the two girls whom he rarely asserted any authority whatsoever. "My dad used to wear that look whenever someone came along, and I never did find out how he would know, but that person would have bad news to bring him. Whoever this Shadowdancer Duskstar is...she's bad news."

Delly hopped up and down in frustration. "All the more reason that we have to get rid of her!"

"No, what we are going to do is go into the library...and clean up the mess," Lina told her firmly. "This isn't any of our business, Delly. It's Rune's."

Lazlore removed his glasses to rub at his face with the back of his sleeve. "Well then, let's get about our own business and clean up the library." Putting them back on his nose and shoving them in place with his middle finger, Laz and Lina each grabbed Delly by a wrist and hauled her bodily to the blackened doors of the library.

The sun still had yet to sink beneath the horizon by the time they managed to put back all the books where they belonged and gather up the ones whose covers were so badly scorched that their titles could no longer be read.

Lina groaned. "Rune's going to kill us..." she stared morosely at the pile of some seven tomes sitting on the table.

"Maybe not..." Lazlore paged through one. "The only things that got burnt off these were the covers...and the title pages. We could bring them to him and ask him what they used to be. I think they could rebind the books and simply print out new title pages and indexes...right?"

Delly came out of one of the little corridors between the giant bookshelves. "Here's two more..." she carefully laid the blackened volumes on the table along with the others. "At least none of the books were actually destroyed, thank the gods..."

"No thanks to you, Delly! If it hadn't been for you and that stupid fire elemental...and then summoning a water elemental...What were you thinking?!"

"Are you claiming it's my fault now, Inverse????" Delly burst out.

"Don't tell me you're deaf even with those ears of yours, Delly!" Lina poked at the rounded tips of her own ears.

"Why you snotty little brat...!"

Lazlore dropped his face into his hands. They were starting again. Dad taught me I should never yell at girls but... "Will you two just give it a REST already?!" he burst out, looming over the two smaller girls. "At the rate you keep going we'll have to rebuild the whole guild form the ground up!"

The two girls stared with wide open eyes, surprised by the uncharacteristic show of temper from the only boy in the small class. "Let's get these books up to Master Rune's study. I'm tired, I'm dirty, my head is really hurting, and I want a bath, before dinner. We've gotten into enough trouble for one day already!" The yellow-robed mage in training made a small stack of some books and gave Lina and Delly the rest.

"...Yeah...dinner..." Lina whispered. "I'm hungry...I wonder if there's anything to eat just yet..."

Subdued for the moment, Delly looked out the window. The sun was only beginning to set. "I don't think so...they wouldn't have started cooking in the kitchens yet. It's too early."


"But I'm hungry now," Lina whined. Where her stomach was concerned, the world could go hang as long as she was first fed. Despite that, the trio trudged up the hall with the ruined books.

"Maybe we can wheedle a snack from Cook Merry..." Lazlore mumbled as he tried to shoulder open Rune's study door. Delly reached out with her free hand and turned the knob. "Thanks..." they bumbled in and set the books wearily down on a side table near the door.

"Hey...what's that smell?" Lina sniffed at the air.

Delly looked at her disdainfully. "Don't tell me you're smelling things now, Inverse..."

"No..." Lazlore sniffed eagerly. " smells like..."

"Would you children like a snack?"

Lina gulped. That voice...! Immediately, she forgot all about the yummy smells that they had been scenting just then.

The Terrible Trio turned as one to face Rune's desk. Firmly ensconced in his chair, was the drow woman they had met in the forest before. Leaning on one arm of the chair, her legs carelessly draping over the other, Shadowdancer had clearly made herself at home. Her hat, shoulderguards, and cloak were neatly piled on top of a traveling duffle and a long blackwood chest, against which leaned a long gold and silver priest's staff. The dark elf wore only her robe and the sparse armor. She held a scroll in one hand and a mug in the other, a pleasant smile curving her lips.

"YOU!" Delly cried, pointing an accusing finger at the dark elf. "How dare you sit in Master Rune's chair! You'll pay for your insolence!" She reached into her cloak and out came another one of her endless supply of wants.

"Oh my, what a cute wand." Shadowdancer sat up in the chair. "May I see it?" Without waiting for an answer, she gestured, the billowing sleeves of her robe masking the movement of her hands. The wand pulled itself out of Delly's hand and darted to the elf's dark cousin. She caught it in the returning sweep of the gesture and turned it over admiringly. Delly looked horrified.

"She...she didn't say a single spell word..." Lazlore whispered in shock. "Just how powerful are dark elves in magic, Lina?"

"I don't know..." she croaked back, suddenly very afraid. They watched Shadowdancer frown.

"Did you know that your wand is damaged and needs to be repaired?" she looked up at Delly. "Well, allow me to fix it for you..." Again, not waiting for an answer, the strange drow moved her arms again.

Lina noticed then that she had not seen the dark elf's hands. The robe's sleeves seemed to conceal them with her movements, and that struck the young sorceress as odd. Another thought came to her. If she really wanted to kill us, she'd have done it in the forest and made it look like an accident with magic. It goes against everything I know of dark elves, but...

"There! All done!" the wand sailed up into the air as Shadowdancer tossed it at Delly. The young elf caught it in alarm. "The gem's spell matrix was cracked. It would have exploded in your face had you used it, child," the drow told her. She unwound herself form Rune's chair and moved over to the sink at the far wall. "You children can wash your hands and faces here. I warmed up some water for you." She moved over to another small table. "I made some mint tea and baked some butter cookies. I'm sorry I couldn't make up something easier...but would you like some?"

"Mint tea?!" Lazlore exclaimed.

"Butter cookies?!" Lina echoed.

"Of course we would love some!" the two human children chirped in unison. Both Lazlore and Lina scampered eagerly for the sink and found warm, soapy washcloths and clean, hot water in the basin. Faces and hands soon washed of grime and spotless, they found large mugs filled with sweat golden-green tea and a large dish of pale buttery yellow cookies waiting for them on the low table near the couch where Rune sometimes received his guests. With a cheer Lazlore and Lina climbed onto Rune's couch and reached for their mugs.

"Stop!" Delly shrieked, just as her classmates were about to sip the tea. "Have your greedy stomachs made you forget so easily that she's a dark elf? That drink could very well be poisoned!"

"Well, its not advisable for pregnant women to drink too much mint tea, but I don't think either of you girls are in any danger of that," Shadowdancer said mildly, walking up to Delly and wiping her face clean with swift scrubbing movements. Similarly, she wiped Delly's hands clean and before the elf girl could snatch them out of the drow's grasp, Shadow placed a mug of tea in her hands. "Now let's calm down and relax. I would like to get to know the students that the Blue Mage has taken under his wing," she herded Delly onto the couch and sat opposite them, pouring herself a fresh mug of tea form the large brass pot and nibbling on a cookie herself.

Lazlore and Lina already had cookie crumbs all over their cheeks. "Man, these cookies are so good!" Lina said around a mouthful. She immediately began to choke.

Shadowdancer handed her the mug of tea and gently made her sip. "Is that better?" When Lina nodded, she laughed. "Eat slowly...there are plenty more where that came from."

Lazlore put down his mug with an expression bordering on ecstasy. "Aaaah...I love mint tea...but this is the best I've ever tasted!"

"I'm glad you like it," Shadowdancer smiled and happily poured him some more. "I mix the tea myself. It's made of different types of mints, including catmint."

"You make it yourself?!" Lazlore's eyes went wide. "I've been trying to and I can't get the mint to dry me how, please???"

"It's quite easy. Of course I'll show you...Lazlore, wasn't it?"

"Yup! Lazlore Ragandi. I'm going to be one of the best artificers the world has ever seen!" he told her, poking himself in the chest with his thumb and puffing with pride. It was obvious Lazlore had forgotten that the woman in front of him was a dark elf.

Lina groaned. "Oh boy, here we go again..."

"Spare us the long-winded history of your illustrious ancestor, Lazlore," Delly said, momentarily forgetting about the tea she had been staring distrustfully at.

"Hey, I wasn't..."

"You were. Do it when we're not around, okay? We've heard it a thousand times."

"I'm certain you will be a great artificer with hard work and research, Lazlore." Shadowdancer smiled reassuringly at the drooping young mage while wiping up some tea that Lazlore had spilled on the table with a cloth she had drawn out of her sleeve.

Lina followed the glint of the bluish-black metal that formed the drow's gauntlet with her eyes. The glove was fingerless, revealing the dark elf's slender fingers, which were long and elegantly boned for such small hands. It took her a moment to realize what struck her so very wrong from the moment that she looked at the chocolate-skinned dark elf, and she almost dropped her mug with that realization.

"What's wrong with your hands?" Lina blurted out without thinking.

A soft hush filled the room as all eyes fell upon the dark elf's hands. Delly's eyes widened in shock while Lazlore silently gaped.

"Oh, this," Shadowdancer smiled. Their innocent child-like curiosity seemed to amuse her. She held her hands up to the light for all to see. It appeared like the hand of any other elf, slender and lithe. The bright light of the overhead lamp glistened against her skin, creating a dark silhouette of the limb, minus one digit. "This was a condition I acquired long before I ever came across your sensei."

The flame haired child leaned in closer. "Really? How did you do that?"

"Lina," Lazlore spoke up as his voice slowly returned, "you really shouldn't ask something like that. My dad always said it was rude to ask such a personal question unless you knew that person really well."

"It is?" she frowned. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

"Lazlore's father is correct, but in this case it does not bother me. It is only natural for children to be so curious. I take no offense. But I think I shall save the explanation for another time. I would not wish to bore you with tales of my past."

"Oh, but you wouldn't," Lazlore stressed. "You see, we can hardly ever get Rune to tell us anything about his past. We only know what we do about him from whispered rumors in the guild. We've heard that he's really old, and that he was alive during the Kouma -- oof!" A carefully placed elbow by a certain young elf wedged itself into his ribcage.

"Be quiet, Laz!" Delly hissed behind clenched teeth.

"He wouldn't tell you anything, hm?" the dark elf mused. Another mischievous smile had made its way across her face. "I don't suppose he ever mentioned his time spent on the islands off the coast of Dils?"

All three students suddenly huddled in closer, their eager ears listening intently to devour any scrap of information Shadowdancer might share with them about their mysterious mentor.

"It appears he did not," her smile broadened. "I'm sure he wouldn't disapprove too much if I told you about our fishing trip."

"You two went fishing together?"

She nodded. "Yes, it was on the Island of Mipross. We first arrived there several decades after it stopped drifting away from the main continent..."

A high-pitched whine grated out from the iron hinges as they swung in time with the door as it opened. Four sets of eyes, two human and two elven, moved as one to watch the newest arrival to their party walk in.

It was a young man, perhaps in his late teens, who entered the room. His feet carried him about three steps before he realized something was amiss. The room was quiet and peaceful. No arguing, no random acts of destruction; only blissful silence. Well, not quite blissful, not if one took into account the less than soothing sound of children snickering coming from the other side of the room.

Strangely enough, everyone did seem to be enjoying themselves. Even Delly, who openly displayed the ancient grudge match carried on by the light and dark elves, carried the hint of a smile on her face and was doing a miserable job of trying to hide it.

When the snickering finally managed to die down a hush silence fell over the room as puzzled red eyes blinked beneath a curtain of long blue hair. "Alright," he finally spoke, turning to Shadowdancer. "What evil dark secrets have you been sharing with the children?"

"Oh, nothing too serious," the faintest of smiles tugged at the corners of the dark elf's mouth. "I was simply sharing several fond memories of our past exploits."

"Oh really?" the blue haired mage asked with a wary tone. "Anything in particular I should be aware of?"

More snickering from the children filled the air. That did very little to offer him any relief. "Why do I not like the sound of that?"

"Master Rune," Lazlore giggled, nearly spilling his tea on himself, "you never told us you had been to Mipross Island."

A sour look masked over his usually calm, boyish features. "Mipross Island...?" the words slurred out of his mouth just as his eyes came to fix upon the dark elf. "You just had to tell them about Mipross, didn't you?"

Shadowdancer's grin only widened. "It was not my fault you failed to bring along your hiking boots that day. I didn't expect that dire bear to show up either."

Rune sighed, trying to cover up the smirk that was slowly forming. It was an amusing memory. Guild business had dragged him to the island where by coincidence he had met the dark elf who was also scouting the area. Unfortunately, the bear had made the ill-fated decision of also showing up at that moment.

"Oh yes. I remember that scene all too well," he spoke with a crooked grin. "As I recall, the exact words behind your reasoning of fleeing from the bear were, 'I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.'"

The smile that play upon her lips was as charming as a red rose sparkling with the fresh morning dew in the sunlight-much like that day long ago on the island. "Did you expect any less of a reply from a dark elf?"

Knowing better than to trade more words with her, Rune shook his head in defeat. "I was still relatively young then."

"You still look young now, the same as you did then-a teenage boy."

His right eyebrow twitched in irritation. "I'm going to let that pass, Shadow."

The smile remained plastered on her lips.

Once he managed to regain his demeanor he turned to his three students. "Did you get the library cleaned up?"

"Yup," Lina answered with a triumphant grin. "We even brought you the books that got damaged."

"I see." Approaching the table, he picked up one of the tomes, turning it over in his hand to examine the extent of the damage. Pieces of burnt leather from the cover flaked off under his grasp.

Lazlore set aside his cup of tea and stood up. "You see, only the covers and the title pages were destroyed. We think the rest of the books can be saved though. New covers won't cost that much, will they?"

"No, they wouldn't," the mage looked up. "And I suppose the damage could have been far worse. Why don't you three get cleaned up. I think Merry is going to have dinner ready within the next hour."

"Okay," Lina nodded and jumped down from the couch with Laz following behind her. They both promptly exited the room, but not before grabbing another butter cookie in each hand.

Delly lingered for another moment as if unsure of what to do next.

"Is there something you would like to say, Delly?"

The elf maiden shot a final glance at her evil counterpart before answering. "No, thank you, Master Rune." Then with the flick of her hand, Delly batted aside a golden tress, seemingly to dismiss the dark elf's presence. She moved to follow the others. Upon reaching the door, however, after making sure Rune's back was turned to her, she pulled down her lower eyelid and stuck out her tongue at Shadowdancer in a final show of disgust before disappearing from the room.

"Cute child," Shadowdancer commented. "I think she seems quite taken with me."

"If I were in a better mood I might be laughing."

"Oh? And what has you in such a foul mood?" the dark elf asked mildly.

"You." Rune let the smile drop. "Shadow, why are you here? Please, do tell. The last time I heard, you were supposed to be dead."

A small pair of hands anxiously shifted through the contents of an ancient wooden trunk. Clothes, books, shoes, even a stray set of old wands were sent flying through the air as the young elven sorceress tossed anything that wasn't what she wanted over her shoulder.

"Delly, what are we doing here?" a slightly annoyed Lina grumbled as she removed a pair of green leggings that had come to rest on her shoulder. The elf had dragged them up here to her room for some as of yet unexplained reason. She sighed. It probably involved some type of plotting against the dark elf.

"Ah-ha!" Delly laughed triumphantly. In her hands she held the object of interest. "I found it!" To the others she presented an oval shaped mirror set in a silver frame. Gold trim lacing flowed over the ridges, forming an S-curve that spiraled over the setting. By the light of the table lamp the well-polished metal reflected a blinding bright sheen that caused the other two students to squint.

"What are you doing with one of those?" Lina asked in a disinterested tone. She knew what the item was. The runes engraved into the framework had told her that. If she was going to do what Lina thought she was Rune might not be too pleased when he found out about it.

Adjusting the spectacles on his nose, the oldest of the trio stepped up to get a better look. "You have a scrying mirror? Neat. Where did you get that?"

"From my mother," the elf replied at she set the magical item down on a nearby table. "She left it with me incase I ever felt the need to contact home. It was an heirloom of hers before she gave it to me." A grin appeared, stretching from one corner of her mouth to the other. It wasn't hard to figure out what she planned to do with it. "Fortunately, I know a variation of the spell this is enchanted with that can be used to view other people." She began a soft chant. The reflection in the mirror wavered. A mist clouded over the picture, swallowing it up swirling cloud of silver. After a moment they pulled back to reveal the scene of her room from above. "Good. It still works."

Lazlore's eyes were glued to the mirror. Lost in his fascination of artifacts, the other two watched the boy as he waved his arm about to test the enchanted item. He smiled in delight when his image did the same. "Neat." He began attempting other ways to test the mirror. When he started making faces Lina decided it was time to put his silly charade to an end.

She beaned him over the head with her fist. "Stop acting silly!"

"OW! You didn't have to hit me!"

"Whatever." Ignoring any more complaints from the boy, she turned back to the elf. "Are you sure this is such a good idea? What if you get caught? I don't think Rune would appreciate being spied upon."

"I will not be caught! Besides, I'm not worried about Rune. It's the dark elf I don't trust."

"Try explaining that when you do get caught."

"Shut up!" She repeated the incantation once again. Another cloud of mist blanketed the mirror, obscuring the picture before drawing back to reveal a new scene unfolding within their sensei's study. Rune was still apparently conversing with the strange dark elf that had abruptly made her presence known only a few hours earlier.

"You're gonna get caught..." the flame haired sorceress's words hummed in her ear.

"Shut up!"

Lazlore, knowing better than to become involved with a skirmish between the two because usually his interference led to both girls channeling their anger back on him, stayed silent as he patiently observed the mirror.

The blue haired mage paced across the room, marching east to west and vice versa. His hands, both of which were clasped behind his back, tightly gripped at the shaft of his cane. The jeweled eyes of the twin dragon heads emitted an eerie red glow as if to reflect what his current mood was, and as if that wasn't an adequate display of his emotions, his face was also set in a deep scowl.

Meanwhile, the dark elf was sitting on the corner of the couch with an elbow propped up on the padded armrest. In her hand she was nursing a fresh cup of tea. Wisps of steam rose from the dark liquid in lazy spirals as she idly stirred it with a silver teaspoon.

"Are they saying anything?" Laz leaned in closer to get a better view. "I don't hear -- "

"Shhhh!!!!" both girls hissed as one.

"Sorry..." he replied with a small voice.

Whether Laz was aware of it or not the girls could sense that tension hung in the air like a thick veil as neither party attempted to so much as communicate with the other. Moments drifted on in silence with only the occasional ting of the spoon as it briefly made contact with the sides of the teacup.

With a grim smile, Shadowdancer looked up from her cup and broke the silence. "Back in the forest with your students, you said you were made aware of my upcoming arrival. How did that come about?"

"I lied," the mage replied with a hiss. He stopped and turned to her, moving in a single swift motion. "I never had a clue you were coming. How was I supposed to? I only said that because it was the first thing that came to mind, and it was the easiest way to keep Delly from shooting off any of her wands at you."

"Oh," the simple reply sounded empty and hallow, as if she expected something more of an answer.

Rune's frown only deepened. "Where do you get off simply appearing out of nowhere like that?" he scolded. "You disappeared in the middle of a battle over five hundred years ago, leaving no word of how you are doing, and then suddenly pop up here one day unexpectedly. Do you realize how long Milgazia and I searched through that labyrinth for you?"

"An explanation would be in order, wouldn't it?"

"It would be nice," the mage grated out.

The stirring stopped as she contemplated an appropriate way to explain everything. "Well..." it started out as a tired sigh, "I didn't know where you were...and I was badly I hid for a long time...and well...I didn't know where Milgazia had gotten to and when I found out you'd settled in Zefiria, I'd had too many Mazoku to deal with..." She returned to twiddling with the teaspoon some more.

Rune scowled furiously at her, his fists curling even tighter around his cane. "I thought you were dead. I almost had a heart attack when I saw you standing there with the children, you know that?"

"I am sorry." Shadowdancer put down the cup and stood. "But I really should have died when the ruin collapsed on top of me, but..." she held out her hands and shrugged helplessly.

"A miracle you survived." Rune replied tartly. "You could have let me know you still lived if you knew where I was."

Shadowdancer shook her head, her long fox's tail of hair swaying with the motion. "I could not endanger you, the only friends I had in the world." She stepped up to him and touched his cheek with her fingertips, the gesture filled with fondness and affection. "I only wished to protect those I cared for the most...My friends."

Rune stared down at her for a long time before he reached up and clasped her hand, engulfing it in his own. When he spoke, most of his anger had faded, but a small trace of irritation still lined his voice. " You stubborn, thick-headed, ogre-skulled drow..." he grumbled.

Lina and Lazlore giggled, then clamped their hands over their mouths as Delly leveled an acidic glare their way. The two human children still snickered as they went on watching.

Rune set aside his cane so it was leaning against his hip, and then dropped his other hand on top of the much smaller dark elf's head and proceeded to mess her already unruly mop of hair some more. "Why wouldn't you let us protect you too? Friends look out for each other, and it's a two way thing." Shadowdancer giggled as he rubbed his knuckles on her skull, and Rune laughed in bemusement. "But I suppose trying to argue my point is useless now. There are only two theories about arguing with women and neither one works. At least you are safe now. I presume that's why you finally came to visit."

Shadowdancer stopped laughing. "If only that were true." She sighed and pulled her hand out of his. "I fear that the circumstances of our meeting aren't quite so pleasant."

"See? I told you she had bad news to tell him..." Lazlore hissed to Lina.

"Laz, be quiet. I want to hear what they're saying," Delly snapped back.

Rune groaned. "Just like the old days...trouble follows us around like it's tied on," the mage closed his eyes and mused. "Well, that's true for some of us more than others. Anyway, what is it now? Mazoku insurgency in the kingdom of Dils again?"

"If only it were that easy," Shadowdancer replied. She pointed to the chest sitting in the corner. "The answer is there."

Rune turned to look at the chest. "That's your magical chest, isn't it? Where you keep all your things? Darkness, I honestly think you keep a whole household in your little box of horrors."

"Well," Shadowdancer laughed, "that's rather true, is a chest of holding and easy portability..." she strode to the blackwood chest and knelt. "All my worldly possessions are in here. But there is something here I desire with all my heart to be rid of."

"Now you have me curious, Shadow," Rune said, picking up his cane and moving to stand behind her as he peered over her shoulder. "You of all of us were the packrat...and I've never known you to throw anything away or want to get rid of things. What do you want to show me?"

"Something I discovered in my travels..." Shadowdancer laid her hands on the chest, whispering. The edges of the chest suddenly flared, covered with blue-silver sigils, revealing the powerful dweomers that protected the contents of the chest from theft.

Lazlore 'oohed' and crowded closer at the mention of a magic chest, all but climbing on Delly's back to see, and finally squeezed in next to her. "A spatial-being, paradimensional chest! I wonder how she transports it...does it shrink into a toy-sized thing or does it follow her around and stuff? Man, what I wouldn't give to look at the magical -- "

"Will you hush, you artifact-obsessed nutcase?" Delly complained, leveling another glare at Lazlore. "I want to see what this thing is! It can't be any good for Rune-sensei!"

Lina scowled at Delly's high-handed attitude, but she admitted that she too wanted to see what that thing was.

Before unlatching the old blackwood chest the dark elf paused. Her ear twitched irritably as if it were trying to shake off an unpleasant itch. Eyes narrowing, a dark air fell over her face. "We're being watched."

Her face may have remained impassive, but inwardly Delly cringed. A wave of dread chilled her to the bone like a dunk in the icy waters to the north.

Lazlore looked at Delly anxiously. "What are you going to do?" he whispered, cerulean eyes wide.

"Shut up!" came the reply, quick and simple. She dared not speak much more for fear she would lose her composure. For a moment she was tempted to break the spell but willed herself to remain impassive. She refused to show any weakness in front of the others.

"And so we are." The mage glanced up with his eyes, seemingly to glare at Delly through her own mirror. "Something will have to be done about that." Taking cane in hand he uttered a soft chant, bring the amber orbs in each mouth to life againB. With the flick of his hand he planted the cane into the floor where it stood upright of its own accord.

The moment his cane hit the floor the picture captured in the mirror collapsed back into the mists until only her reflection stared back at her. Delly tried making an attempt at recalling the image, but received nothing for her efforts.

The magic of the mirror hadn't been deadened. Of that, she was sure. It was still possible to call up the mists, but no matter how hard she tried she couldn't bring up a picture. Frowning, she beat her fists against the table, nearly jarring the enchanted item. "I think Master Rune put up some type of magical shield, and it's blocking my mirror."

"That's what you get," the flame haired sorceress cooed in her ear, "for scrying on Rune. You should have known better. Come on, Laz. Dinner should be ready pretty soon."

"Hey!" the elf protested as they proceeded to move toward the door. "You're just going to leave like that? Don't you want to know-"

Lina shot her a tired glare. "Of course I do! But now Rune knows he is being watched. If we keep this up he will just get mad. Then we'll really be in trouble. If you stop now he might not say much of it."


"Just let it go, Delly," Lazlore sighed, "at least for tonight." When her shoulders sagged in defeat, he reached over and lifted her chin, forcing the downtrodden elf to look him in the eye. He slipped her a wink. "Don't take it the wrong way. We're tired. That's all. You're not the only one curious about Shadowdancer. I wanna see that chest she has, and I'm sure Lina is anxious to know what is going on between her and Master Rune."

Delly's faced seemed to brighten somewhat. "Are you suggesting we try something else?"

He nodded. "Yea, but now that they're on to us any chance we had of glimpsing what they are up to is gone for today. We should wait till tomorrow. Then we can maybe sneak in and steal a peek at their stuff."

She tossed him a skeptical glance. "And how are we supposed to sneak in with all those wards Master Rune has set? He'll be sure to have them ready and waiting for anybody now."

"We have Lina, here." His hand swung around to clap said sorceress on the back, punctuating his statement. "She knows how to get in."

Fwam!!!... cracks spiraled out in all directions from where the young artificer's face had imprinted itself in the tiles of the stone floor work. "You idiot! You're not supposed to tell anyone that!" Lina flamed.

There was no reply from Lazlore, though a large round lump appeared on the back of his head with a soft little poik sound.

Delly's eyes narrowed at her. "How would you know how to get through the wards?"

"I might as well tell you since blabbermouth, here, already started," she sighed. "Rune has been teaching me longer than the two of you. You know those notes he is always writing? He keeps those locked in his cupboard, I know where the key is. Sometimes he would leave me in his room alone. When he was gone I would sneak into the cupboard and looked at his notes."

"You've read his notes?!"

"...Not exactly so don't get any ideas. Almost all of his notes are spelled to keep any unwanted eyes from reading them. I only found one I could read, and on that one it listed all the wards he had set in the room to keep intruders out and how to disable them." She shrugged. "I guess he forgot to enspell that one."

Something tickled at the back of the elf's mind. If Lina had known this all along then the girl could have told her at any time, and yet, she hadn't. That fact gnawed at her insides, fueling the fires that already burned within. She hated people keeping secrets from her. "Why did you not mention this before?!" she snarled.

"I didn't think about it," Lina grinned, and then with a sinister glint in her eye added, "...and besides, it was fun to watch you squirm when you got caught."

Flames lit up in the eyes of the infuriated elf. Not for one second was she going to believe Lina had merely 'forgotten' such an important fact. Lina had wanted her to fail! "Why you little -- "

Before Delly could finish her reply the first bell rang, signaling the call to dinner. In the blink of an eye, both she and the swirly-eyed Lazlore were trailing through the air as Lina grabbed each of them by the wrist and made a mad dash for the dining hall.

The repeated chants of "FOOD!!!" echoed throughout the halls, serving as a warning to all. The cleaning lady out in the hall moved to the side of the corridor and hugged the wall since she did not wish to be trampled. Three distinct blurs zoomed by, nearly toppling a vase resting on a table. With the fluid grace learned through the many years of working at the guild, she reached over with the handle of her broom and steadied the vase. She smiled, watching as the children disappeared down the hallway.

Life was never allowed to become boring here.

Growl... a fierce roar unnerving enough to make a lion green with envy rattled the air as Lina's stomach groaned in protest. It wanted to be fed. The butter cookies provided by Shadowdancer had posed as an excellent appetizer. Now that the hunger god had been roused, it demanded more sacrifices, which normally would have given cause for her to leave the dinner plate spotless but not tonight.

Dinner was served the same as always; in the dining room under the fluorescent candlelight of the chandeliers while the kitchen crew amply brought each course of the meal atop a silver serving platter and laid each one out over the white table spread.

That was how the full mage ate. The apprentices' meals were served with a little less elegance and in a room separate from the main dining hall. Only one course was prepared for each of their meals. For today, it was the ever so unpopular creamed mutton, a steak that was so tough it gave on the sense of chewing a rubber ball. One could chew and chew and chew and never get anywhere with the meal. It was on par with trying to eat bubblegum, only this dish was considered to be a bit more revolting by the student body. Certainly, it had less flavor than bubblegum did, and you couldn't blow bubbles with it either.

Lina leaned back in her chair, reaching out with both arms in a cat-like stretch. Any normal student would have detested days like these, but being the apprentice of one of the better liked mages did have its advantages. The Terrible Trio had a small habit of popping into the kitchen from time-to-time to grab any snacks the kitchen crew might have handy.

Cook Merry, a rather jolly (as her name implied) and rotund woman of short stature with long dark brown hair with the faintest tinge of gray was beginning to touch the tips of her temples, was well known for making sure the members of the guild did not go hungry. She always kept a tray of snacks on hand at all times to tide hungry stomachs over until the next meal so whenever the Trio, or anyone else for that matter, stopped by they could always be sure there was something to nibble on.

Around her, however, the Terrible Trio was a special case. Despite the majority of the guild's opinion of them, Merry found their presence to be quite beneficial. In return for occasionally bringing in firewood for the stoves (a chore the girls were always generous enough to allow Lazlore to perform), helping to stoke the ovens with a few Flare Arrows every so often, and testing out new recipes, she would always have something extra special whipped up for them. Today, she had done just that.

Lina eyed her plate, wondering about this latest concoction. The item on the menu was questionable, at least. Merry had called it a pie of sorts, not like the ones they had for desert. This was different. It didn't smell like any pie she had seen before. Taking fork in hand, she carefully prodded at the side to break away some of the crust. A gooey mixture of meat, carrots, and potatoes came oozing out from the open wound followed by a delicious blend of smells that permeated into the surrounding air, providing a wonderful treat for her nose. Her mouth started to water

But before she could further disembowel the pie, Lazlore's head suddenly popped up over her shoulder. The artificer's face was a bit messy after having hurriedly devoured his own meal. Several pieces of crust were glued to his face, held in place by the rich sauce of the filling, but how he looked at the moment was of little concern to him as he eagerly eyed Lina's plate. "Hey, you gonna eat that?" he muttered, spitting out a few crumbs as he did so.

"Ew! Get away!" she cried, snatching away her plate with one hand and pummeling the poor boy with the other. "That's disgusting, Laz!"

"Ow!" his hands moved to protect his head. "You were just -- OW! -- staring at it! It didn't look -- OW! -- like you were going to eat it! OW! I'm sorry! OW! Stop that!"

"Would you please restrain yourselves, CHILDREN!" Delly glowered from her end of the table. There was nothing pleasant about the sound of her voice as her disgust for their behavior clearly shown through. "We're at dinner, NOT out in the fields participating in some childish game!"

"Well, he's spitting germs all over my food!"

"Am not!"

"Are too! You're going to get cooties all over my pie!" Lina held the plate as far away from Lazlore as she could.

"Cooties!" Lazlore looked affronted. "I'll have you know I'm perfectly cootie-free!"

"Wipe your face! You look like a pig!" Lina threw her napkin into his face.

"Hey, thanks." Lazlore proceeded to scrub all over his lower face.

Tired of being ignored, Delly slammed her hand down on the table. "Stop with this nonsense! I will not tolerate having to put up with such behavior! If you insist on continuing to act like children then I'm going to bed!"

"Don't let us stop you."

With a growl the elf rose, pushing her empty plate towards the middle of the table. "Fine then! You immature brats can stay here and make fools of yourselves. Goodnight!"

Lazlore watched her go. "She's going to bed awful early."

Lina yawned while covering her mouth. "I think she has the right idea though."

"Are you going to eat that?" Lazlore asked once again eyeing her plate.

Her eyes narrowed at the blond haired boy. With a single sweeping gesture of her hand she grabbed the pie off her plate and shoved it into her mouth, swallowing it whole. To her delight it carried a pleasant taste. The mixed flavors of the meat, vegetables, and herbs settled comfortably in her stomach. The hunger god was appeased. She would have to let Merry know of her opinion.

"Goodnight, Laz." Another yawn and she stood to leave. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Aw...okay." He waved, disappointedly. He had hoped to be able to talk to Lina a bit more. "Bye bye!"

Lina waved and left the kitchens, snagging her bookbag en route from a hook on the wall near the door. She'd known Lazlore long enough to know when he wanted to talk, and from the way his face fell, he had really wanted to. But when you're tired you never think as clearly as you would and should, Lina thought, so she decided it was time to follow one of her mother's maxims: Sleep on it.

Wrapping a ray wing spell around herself, Lina rose into the sky and streaked off toward the village and home.

Chapter 3   |   Fanfiction