The fire crackled in the hearth and Marek clutched an overspilling tankard of ale merrily in one hand, the other slung in a drunken embrace around Dagen's shoulders. All around them the tavern sang with life, as dwarves, humans and elves alike milled and mixed in drunken merriment and roaring laughter.

Thane sat across the worn wooden table from her, beard stiff with drink and eyes glazed with contentment and warmth as he gazed unabashedly at the beautiful priestess sitting demurely across from him. Teela's slender fingers grasped a silver chalice of wine, and her fiery hair glinted and danced with a golden light that shone from cherry lips and highlighted her high cheekbones and proud brow. Next to Teela sat her sister, lovely as a summer song and just as sweet, watching with a knowing smile as Teela met Thane's heated gaze with the caress of his name across her lips. Under the table she slipped her hand into Teela's, and Teela met her gaze with a look of sadness and resignation.

Together they left the merry table for the quieter entrance way, Teela staring up at Caeryn with eyes swirling with things unsaid. Caeryn gave her a firm smile, hand clasped around the talisman of their goddess as she said, "I won't stop until I reach the monastery. The paladin will send the silver."

Teela reached out and grasped her hand. "I'm afraid for you. Why must you travel alone?"

Caeryn smiled softly, squeezing Teela's hand in a reassuring grip.

"My path is sure. I have no fear. And the goddess says you are to stay here for the time being. I must take the stone to the paladin. Farewell, my sister." She gave her a soft smile that warmed the brown of her eyes and highlighted the small dimples around her curved lips.

"Now go", she said with a voice that held laughter and sadness together as one. "Be with your friends." They reached for each other at the same time, pulling each other into a warm embrace. They had only just found each other again. Who knew when they would next see each other? When at last Caeryn gently pushed Teela from her arms her eyes were swimming with tears and her voice was unsteady, but sure.

"Make your choices with a clear heart, and trust in the goddess. Always." With one last smile, and the slip of hands falling apart, she turned and walked into the dark.

aAaAa

Placing her cloak and staff against the tavern's entrance wall, Teela turned to survey the scene before her. Their rumble-tumble group laughed and talked amongst the hustle and bustle, and faintly over the sound of laughter and drunken cheer, she could hear Thane's gruff voice talking to an enchanted Marek. She smiled to herself before she walked back to their table.

"Maybe I'll build a farm, settle down.." Dagen just shook his head and took a long draw of his ale, smiling warmly at Teela as she sat down once more, this time carefully situated next to Thane. He grinned through his mouthful of ale and slid a gentle arm around her shoulders. She felt the warmth across her shoulder blades and the weight on her right shoulder not unwelcome, and observed Thane next to her with a gentle smile.

Marek's face seemed to sober when she saw their gentle embrace, but then her face cleared like the sun rising from behind the clouds, and she raised her copper cup high.

"To adventure." Marek stated.

"To a life of dignity", Thane added, the fire and ale adding a flush to his ruddy cheeks.

"To riches and gold", Dagen added. "Here's to you Marek, and that nice bit of magic in the ogre cave." They drank deeply and merrily, already well into their cups. Marek's face once more sobered as she stared at the cup in her hand.

"Gojun will be upset", she half muttered, jumping slightly when Dagen leaned in, alcohol biting at the back of his breath.

"Sorry, who's Gojun?" he asked, taking another long pull of his fast emptying cup.

"A friend", Marek replied softly, knowing that it was not sufficient, but not wanting to dampen the mood, nor her eyes at her past misfortunes, instead sipping at her cup to keep the words from dripping off her tongue.

Across from her she saw Teela's face change, morph into horror and terror as her cup dropped from her hand to land on the floor with a clang that resounded in her head long after Teela muttered, "something is not right!" and fled from the room in a whirlwind, as the others struggled to gather shambling limbs and twisted cloaks to chase her out into the night.

Teela ran for the door, hearing her sister's gentle voice resound in her head again and again.

"Trust in the goddess. Trust. Trust. Trust."

Her wail of grief echoed long into the dark, dark skies.

aAaAa

From the back corner of the dimly lit tavern a figure dressed like darkness watched with glinting eyes as the group ran for the door. They gathered their cloak tight and ran one cursory hand down their calf to check their favourite knife was still tucked firmly into their boot. They left the tavern like shadow, and no one saw them leave, as none had seen them enter.