traveller (the last days of the Little Rabbit)

By Desert Mouse

"Little Rabbit it pains me to say this. But there's nothing for you in this town but more suffering. Take his offer; give yourself some small chance to be happy." Brett begged. Ishara looked at him with a strange ache in her chest.

"He's always been so kind to me. If he thinks this is best for me then don't I owe it to him to at least try?" She considered.

"Sir I thank you for the offer. And I will accept but if I may ask. If you change your mind could you please bring me back here?" She asked.

"If that is truly what you want." Thomas agreed.

"Then if I may. I would like to join you." Ishara said at last.

"Excellent. But before we leave there are a couple of things to attend to. You can't travel like that." Thomas said.

"What do you mean?" Ishara asked.

"I'm happy for you Little Rabbit. But you two have much to discuss now. I'll leave you two alone." Brett interrupted.

"She will not leave before saying her farewells to you. I can assure you of that." Thomas said. Brett smiled at the two of them and went on his way; leaving them both alone so Thomas could prepare her for her new, better life.

"I'm glad you have accepted; however before you can travel there are some things we need to tend to." Thomas told Ishara.

"What?" Ishara asked nervously.

"First you will have to call me Thomas. Not Sir, not Mr. McAlpine, and certainly not the stranger as you seem to refer to me to the townspeople." Thomas insisted. Ishara's face went pale.

"You know?" she asked.

"Ishara I understand. I was a stranger the last few days. But if we are to travel together I can't be one to you anymore. Life on the road is hard; and while I can't always be your friend I will never be a stranger." Thomas said.

"You want to be friends? I thought..." Ishara asked.

"In time. I'm not going to rush you." Thomas promised. He begun to lead her into town and she followed without questioning it.

"I'm... I'm not sure if you should." She said reluctantly.

"Yes you're a dangerous little rabbit. The Hunter took your friends didn't he?" Thomas asked. Ishara nodded unwilling to expand.

"Brett and Lynn are your friends are they not?" He asked.

"They shouldn't be." Ishara said quietly.

"But they are. And they are safe. Your friendship alone isn't going to get anyone killed. Least of all me. In time I hope that you will realize that and we can walk together as friends." Thomas explained.

They walked in silence for several minutes until Ishara saw the temple of water. She gave the strangercThomas a questioning look.

"This is the second thing we need to do before I can take you to Windley. We need to know if you are fit for travel." Thomas explained. As they approached the temple Lynn came out of the door to intercept them.

"Just the woman I hoped to see. I require information about the state of this one's health." Thomas announced. Lynn looked at Ishara a moment but answered him without taking her eyes off the child.

"Mr. McAlpine you know better then to ask that." She stated.

"I understand your concerns but it's vital that I know the state of her health now. I'm taking her to Windley and need to prepare her for travel." Thomas explained.

"Windley?" Lynn asked finally looking at him.

"Yes. In Windley she can decide if she wants to continue on with me. Or if we get the Duke to help place her someplace safe. She wouldn't be the first little girl he has helped protect from the Red Reapers." Thomas explained.

"I see." Lynn said thinking. She turned back to Ishara and looked directly into her eyes.

"And are you ok with this?"

"Miss?" Ishara asked.

"Did you agree to go with him? Or is he forcing you into it?" She asked sincerely.

"Mr. Tennant thinks this is a good opportunity. I owe it to him to try." Ishara replied.

"If it doesn't work out she asked me to bring her back here. Though I do not agree this is a good place for her; I made her a promise." Thomas added.

"So you're going to be looking after her for a while?" Lynn asked.

"At least until she has made her choice. But it's my hope her final decision is to continue traveling with me. I will protect her for however long she is with me." Thomas replied.

"All right then I will give her a new examination. And report the results. However the only thing I will tell you about her old injuries is that they will need to be addressed in Windley." Lynn said.

"Her two most obvious issues fatigue and malnutrition will be addressed. She will not be leaving until tomorrow and not until she has a full stomach." Thomas let her know.

"And you got her to agree to that?" Lynn asked shocked.

"Well I did hide such details as the meal. I was looking for her to say yes you know." Thomas admitted.

"And what else did you hide?" Lynn asked. Thomas approached her and whispered something into her ear.

"I see. I rather like that idea." Lynn agreed.
"Ok you two come with me."

Lynn lead Ishara and Thomas inside but she made Thomas stand at the entrance while she took Ishara to the back where they could have some privacy.

"Please sit still." She said softly.

"What's Mr. McAlpine hiding?" Ishara asked.

"Don't worry. It's nothing bad. Everything that he plans for tonight is going to help you feel better." Lynn promised.
"Are you only going with him because Brett think's you should?"

"A little." Ishara admitted.
"But he's offering me something I've never had before."

"As long as this is your choice." Lynn said getting to work. It only took her a few minutes before she was done and ready to lead Ishara back to the front.

"All done?" Thomas asked. Lynn nodded but seemed reluctant to speak to him. Instead she looked at Ishara again.

"Are you sure this is ok? If you are really going with him; I'll tell him what I found. But if you may still change your mind, then I can't." She said seriously.

"It doesn't matter if he knows or not." Ishara admitted.

"You are going to have to work on that. I know the confidence is there. Stop trying to squish it." Thomas commented with annoyance. Lynn looked at him but didn't respond at first.

"Is she fit to travel?" Thomas asked after the silence had gone on long enough.

"You already guessed it. But for the record she's fatigued and malnourished. However, beyond that she has no current injuries that would prevent her from travelling." Lynn replied.

"Just her old ones then. Will they be a problem for the trip to Windley?" Thomas asked.

"In the short-term no. But they will need to be addressed if she is going to travel with you any extended length of time." Lynn reported.

"Are you sure you don't want to? I could wait a few days before we leave." Thomas offered.

"It's beyond my abilities. I don't even think I can see them all." Lynn explained.

"First stop when we get to Windley then." Thomas announced. Lynn closed the gap between them and stared up into his eyes.

"Take care of her. If I find out you hurt her, or abandoned her in some ditch." Lynn warned.

"Make no mistake Priestess. I am well aware what would happen if I lost the services of the Temple of Water. But I am removing her from this town in order to protect her. Not to allow harm to come to her." Thomas replied.

"Are you angry? Should I not go?" Ishara asked worried about Lynn's suggestion.

"You should go if it's what you want to do. Don't allow anyone else except you to decide what's best for you." Lynn replied softly.

"She merely worries for your safety just like Mr. Tennant has." Thomas explained.
"But we should get going. We still have much to prepare before you can travel."

"What's next?" Ishara asked.

"You will see shortly." Thomas replied. He looked back to Lynn.
"Rest assured she will be safe with me. And we will not be leaving Forest Lake until she is given the chance to say goodbye to you and Mr. tenant." He promised.

"I'll hold you to that. All of it." Lynn warned. She reluctantly watched the two of them leave her temple. It may not have been for the last time; but it was close.

"He's not?" Ishara asked herself. Her face lost colour as the two of them approached a building. She kept her mouth shut until they got closer to the Oak Stove and it became impossible they were going anywhere else. "Sir. We can't go in there." Ishara protested. "Well, you can. But I can't." "Ishara you can't start travelling until you have had a couple of proper meals to start with. And that starts tonight." Thomas informed her. "But he doesn't let me anywhere near this place." She begged. "You're with me tonight. He will make an exception." Thomas promised. "He will see." Ishara thought. But she kept her mouth shut. She knew his plan wouldn't go any farther then the front door. They would never make it inside together. Ishara took a deep breath as they entered the door of the Oak Stove. Mr Henderson stood at the entrance to greet guests with an odd smile. That is until he saw the small frame almost hiding behind Thomas. His smile dropped quickly and he turned to her directly. "How many times do I have to tell you? Get out!" Henderson said firmly. He would have yelled at her had Thomas not been nearby. "She will be dining with me this evening." Thomas interrupted. "Just because she sneaks in with you doesn't make you responsible for her sir." Henderson explained. "He won't get Mr. Henderson to budge. No one can." Ishara thought watching the two of them quietly. This was a good time for her to keep her mouth shut. "I assure you she did not sneak in. She requires a good meal; you do provide those do you not?" Thomas offered. Henderson's face twisted with anger; but to his credit he didn't let it show in his voice. "If you wish to stay you may take a seat. However that will have to remain outside." "This young lady is not a pet. I will not leave her outside while I dine without her." Thomas replied seriously. "If it was a dog I might let it in." Henderson smirked. Thomas raised his eyebrow and stepped forward. Forcing Mr. Henderson to step back. "Don't you ever insult her like that again. Let me make something perfectly clear. Your doors may remain open because you are the only restaurant in town. But it's the actions of me; and people like her that keep the Red Reapers from destroying everything you have. Now you are going to allow her to have a seat and serve her an enjoyable meal; or I will stop protecting you and everyone as disgusting as you in this town." Thomas said coldly. The death on his voice scared Ishara and she took several steps back. "You..." Henderson stuttered. "You know who I am. If I pull my efforts out of this area. It won't take long for the Red Reapers to figure it out." Thomas threatened. "They will go away if we give them that." Henderson tried pointing at Ishara. "This young lady is my partner now. She won't be in town for you to sacrifice." Thomas explained. "Now she's going to have a couple meals before we leave town. And if you attempt to sabotage her food you will regret it. Do I make myself clear?" he demanded. Henderson swallowed hard. "You can sit over there." He said pointing to his darkest corner. "Acceptable." Thomas replied. "Are you really taking i... her with you when you leave?" Henderson asked. "SHE will be helping me to protect you from the Red Reapers." Thomas replied. He took one step closer causing Henderson to scramble backwards. "Then she may have a seat with you. If she is now your partner I give my word her meal will be respected." He said fearfully. Thomas didn't reply. Instead he led Ishara to the table Henderson previously pointed to. "You didn't need to do this." Ishara said quietly. She looked nervously around the restaurant. "Why did Mr. Henderson change his mind so fast after he learned I was travelling with Mr. McAlpine? Even after the threats Henderson was angry with the idea of me being here; until Thomas announced I was leaving." She wondered. "True but I rather enjoyed taking him down a peg. A lot of people in this town have made me quite angry with attitudes like that. I would have almost relished an excuse to stop protecting them." Thomas smiled at her. Despite his new acceptance of her in his establishment. Henderson was in a hurry to get rid of them both. So it only took a couple of minutes before Rachel Arrived at the table and stared at them. "Is there a problem?" Thomas asked. Ishara looked up nervously as Rachel whom was ignoring Thomas was staring at her. "Are you really leaving?" Rachel said directly to Ishara. "If I hear the word trash out of your mouth." Thomas warned. "I was talking to her." Rachel glared at Thomas. "I'm going to be travelling with Mr. McAlpine." Ishara explained quietly. "Good, maybe when you come back you won't be trash anymore." Rachel said. "Are you done? I will not allow people to take their final pot shots at my new employee." Thomas growled at her. "No offence Mr. McAlpine. I'm glad she's leaving; and not in a coffin. But right now as she sits she's nothing. In your hands she might become something." Rachel replied. "Now what will you both have?" She changed the subject quickly. "She needs to get used to eating properly. So bring her the soup." Thomas spoke up. Ishara immediately shivered. "Is there something wrong?" He asked. "It's nothing. I'm sorry." Ishara insisted. "On second thought, maybe bring her a garden salad and half a sandwich. What meats do you have cooked for tonight?" "We have chicken, and a pig." Rachel replied. "Let's go with the chicken. I'll have the same except with a full sized sandwich." Thomas announced. Rachel left quickly to have their meals prepared. "This was a bad idea." Ishara decided to tell him. "When we get out on the road you will understand why this is important. And those two are just going to have to get used to the idea you aren't a street mouse anymore." Thomas explained. Ishara wasn't sure what to say so she remained quiet until the food arrived. At first she tried to pick at it; limit herself as she normally did. But Thomas was insistent she either eat her fill; or they would stay seated until she ate every last bite. Ishara didn't say much during the meal either; but she ate quickly at Thomas's threat and soon they were both done. "What's next?" she wondered as Thomas was paying for the meal. Richard tried to give them a discount to make amends for his attitude but Thomas refused it. "Come Little Rabbit. Our last stop tonight's at the inn." He said. "If you mean..." Ishara started. "I can meet you tomorrow morning." "Sleep is part of it yes. And you need to get a proper night of rest if you're going to be travelling. Besides you are going to have to get used to inns sooner or later. I spend days in each city or town looking for a mission before moving on." Thomas explained. "Mission?" Ishara asked as they walked. "You will see soon. In short though the local peacekeepers often need help with a case or two they don't have time for. But there isn't always one waiting when we arrive because most of what they will ask me to handle is urgent." Thomas explained. "Were you going to do that here? Did I get in the way of something more important?" Ishara asked. "No I came to resupply and see if anything had changed. I wanted to see if the Reapers have been causing any problems here in the last few years. But when I found you instead I had to extend my stay." Thomas said. "Oh." Ishara replied. They walked in silence until they reached the inn. Ishara was reluctant to go inside but was pushed forward by Thomas to the reception desk. "I would like to have a bath drawn for the young lady. She will be with me the remainder of my stay." he told the receptionist. She nodded and left to get things ready. "I can't..." Ishara protested. "That seems to be your favorite line tonight." Thomas commented amused. "Your clothes will need to be washed when we reach Windley. But as you only have one outfit; that will have to be addressed first. For now a warm bath with some real soap is the best way to get presentable. You don't want to make people think your nothing but my slave do you?" Thomas asked. "A what?" Ishara asked. "Oh boy. How to answer this one." Thomas commented. "You will see them for yourself when it's time to head out west. But the Red Reapers must have had a few in your village. Girls that have to obey or they get beaten?" Ishara thought of the half-naked serving girl with the dead look to her. And she shivered. "They kept some girls that weren't for the game." She told him. "Those would have been slaves. Do you want people to think I do that to you?" he asked seeing how she shivered at the memory. "No." Ishara admitted. "Good then you see why it's important that you are clean and well fed when you are with me. Slavery is illegal in several kingdoms and if your appearance makes people think I mistreat you we will both get in a lot of trouble." Thomas explained. A few minutes later the receptionist returned to announce her bath was ready. "You go in and I'll tend to your sleeping arrangement tonight." Thomas said. "Yes Mr. McAlpine." Ishara replied almost timidly. She followed the receptionist to the inn's bathing room and was directed inside alone. She stared at the large metal tub with a shiver. "It's like the one the Hunter had." She thought looking at it. Part of her wanted to run away. She almost expected Lex and another Hunter to walk in the door to force her in the tub. "No Mr. McAlpine wouldn't try to hurt me. This is not like when the Hunter rewarded me." She tried to tell herself. "I need to do this to work for him. It's not about what I deserve; but what Mr. McAlpine needs." She told herself. Ishara took a deep breath and removed her clothes. "It's been so long." She thought dipping her foot into the warm water. Having nothing but a river to bathe in for three years; the water was heavenly. Ishara climbed all the way in and let out a gasp as the warm water washed over her. She sat there for several minutes without moving. She was reluctant to wash herself because then she would have to get out. "So nice." She thought dipping her head under the water to wet it. "Does working for him mean I'll get one of these every month?" she wondered thinking about what Thomas said. "I shouldn't be thinking this but I hope so. But what's the cost? What did I agree to do tonight?" she asked herself. He had only given her vague details about walking and camps. She knew almost nothing about him, or what would be expected of her. "I know there will be a lot of walking. And he seemed to be interested in what Mr. Tennant taught me. So he must want me to set up campfires. Will he want me to cook too? What about setting up a tent or shelter?" Ishara considered. She didn't see him carrying anything that looked like a shelter when he came into town; but would she even know what they looked like? She closed her eyes and sat in the warm water. "There is more to it then that. I know there is. But what is it? I know! He must want me to carry his things too. Will I be able to do that? His pack looked kind of large. But he obviously expects more from me then starting fires and cooking so that has to be it." Ishara thought. "What if I can't do it?" she wondered opening her eyes. She wasn't very strong, she had never travelled before, and she didn't know how to do anything except play the game, and survive. "No, I can do it. Mr. Tennant wouldn't have suggested this if I couldn't. It's the same reason I can trust Mr. McAlpine won't try to hurt me. I trust Brett." She thought dipping below the water again. "Surviving, he was very interested in my ability to survive the game, and the last three years. That has to be part of what he expects. But how?" Ishara asked herself. The game was different; she didn't really have much of a choice when she played the game. The Hunter forced her to survive, even force feeding them all if they didn't eat when they were supposed to. That wasn't going to be part of this. "He did force me to eat, and he told me I would be expected to eat several meals a day from now on. But that's hardly the same thing, that doesn't count as surviving." She thought. "He carries a weapon and warned me it would be dangerous. But I don't think he expects me to fight." She considered. Then it hit her. "Hunting. He saw me fishing and commented about my trap. He must expect me to get the food too." Ishara thought staring at the wall. It felt like a lot might be expected of her; but this warm water made it all feel like it could be worth it. She struggled against that thought; but she couldn't help it. "I agreed to do this; I must do this. But no matter how much he makes me do. I can't let myself complain about it. Even if I am wrong about how often I can have this warm water." She decided. He never promised this; and she couldn't count on it. But she could at least enjoy it when it was hers. Ishara took her time soaking and washing. She didn't want to leave the water until it had almost become cold. So she didn't.
"So that's what you look like clean?" Thomas commented. Ishara blushed but then immediately gave him a dirty look. He laughed. "Despite all your objections though you certainly look like you enjoyed that. Hopefully you're now relaxed enough to get a good night's rest. We leave tomorrow and the first few days are going to be the hardest." Thomas said. "How do you mean sir?" Ishara asked. "You haven't travelled before. Your body is going to need to get used to it." He explained. He brought her to his room and let her inside. It wasn't a big room; and there was only one bed. "Ok since you need rest the most. You take the bed." Thomas announced. he walked over to a chair set up near the window and settled in. "I can't do that sir. This is your room." Ishara tried to protest. "There's that word again." Thomas sighed. "Ishara we are going to see your friends before we leave. Do you really think that Lynn will let me take you with me if you show up tired?" "I won't be." Ishara insisted. "I know, you're used to sleeping on the ground, or in the forest. That is what you want to say isn't it?" Thomas asked. "But it's true." Ishara replied. "But you will never get proper rest that way. And if you stand before Lynn in that state. She won't let you leave with me." Thomas said. He sat there looking at her and she realized that he wasn't going to give in; and maybe he was right. "I understand sir." Ishara said quietly. "Good." Thomas smiled back. He waited for Ishara to climb into the bed and under the covers before he closed his eyes. "I can't believe he won again. This is his room, he's the one that should be using the bed." Ishara thought looking at him. He really did seem like he was asleep but she wasn't so sure that was true. "It's so easy for him to manipulate me. But I don't know anything about him beyond that." She considered. She turned away from him because she wasn't even sure that he was really asleep. "He is stubborn, I'll give him that much. He wouldn't take no tonight and he wouldn't take no at the camp fire either. I've encountered him a few times over the past few days so what have I learned about him?" she asked herself. She recounted the last few days in her mind. "I don't have to trust him just because Mr. Tennant does. I've seen enough for myself to know he's strong, he's kind, and he's persistent. I don't know what travelling with him will be like. But I can be sure that it will be a challenge. Especially if he keeps trying to do things like this to me. I'll learn to resist." Ishara thought.
It had been a restless night. It always was when she had to sleep in a bed these days. But this was what Thomas wanted of her; it had been easy for him to guilt her into submitting to the bed while he slept on a chair in his own inn room. "Good morning. Good to see that you are awake Miss Ishara." Thomas said. Ishara climbed out of bed and looked at him. "Have you been waiting long Mr. McAlpine? I'm sorry to keep you." Ishara replied. "I see you had a rough night. It will get better." Thomas told her. "I'm sorry Mr. McAlpine. I don't mean to seem ungrateful." Ishara replied. "It's nothing you can control. Relax a little." Thomas said. He studied her a moment. "All this apologizing. It's not really you." "What do you mean?" Ishara asked. "I see you mean it when you say it. But it's not you. When the game ended you became lost. Let's see if we can't find the real you? The one who's fire I see behind those eyes." Thomas said. "I don't understand." Ishara admitted. "You will. But let's not rush it shall we?" Thomas replied. "If you wish sir. What is next?" Ishara asked. "Now we prepare to leave. After you have some breakfast of course." Thomas explained. "At the Oak Stove sir?" Ishara asked nervously. "Tempting Miss Ishara. But no. I'm afraid we will be eating at the temple this morning. The type of meal you require is not something that any restaurant is capable of providing." Thomas replied. "Please get yourself ready and meet me at the reception desk." "Yes sir." Ishara replied as he left her alone. She was already wearing her clothes so she moved to the mirror and looked at her image. "What does he mean by that?" She wondered. She smoothed out her hair and tried her best to straighten out her dress. She didn't want to keep him waiting, so in minutes she was out of the inn room and at the front desk where Thomas was giving the inn keeper some money. "Good luck out there. And stay safe, both of you." The inn keeper said as Ishara approached them. "You will see us both again. I assure you of that." Thomas smiled at her. Then he turned to Ishara. "Are you ready then?" he asked. "Yes sir." Ishara replied. "Relax, it's not going to be that bad." Thomas said. He led her back from the inn to the temple of water where both Brett Tennant and Lynn waited for them. "This is your last meal in this town as a street mouse. From this day forward you are a traveler. You need a good breakfast to send you off with. And the chance to say farewell to the people that care about you here." Thomas explained. "Little Rabbit! You already look so much better." Brett cheered. "Look priestess, she has colour." "Come in little one. I'll have everything ready soon." Lynn said with a soft smile. "You don't have to." Ishara tried to protest. "Actually she does. Not alone of course because I'll help her finish. But if you leave here without this; all three of you will regret it." Thomas explained. "He's right you know. You're moving on to a better life. Don't leave us without the chance to say goodbye." Lynn said. "Come in. let's get out of this wind." Brett suggested. The four of them moved inside; but Ishara was soon left alone at the table Lynn had pulled out of storage. While the three adults went to prepare breakfast. "They are right. It wouldn't be fair to leave without letting them see I'm safe." She thought looking around. "Is this the last time I'll be here?" she wondered. Thomas said they would come back eventually. But visiting would feel completely different. She looked at one of the beds confused. "I hated sleeping here. But knowing I'll probably never do it again. I feel so strange; almost bad." She thought shaking her head. "Even if you don't think you are hungry. Eat until you feel full." Thomas called out as the three adults brought in the food. They laid the plates on the table and took their seats. Mr. Tennant piled a bunch of food on a plate and put it in front of Ishara. "Eat up." He smiled. "Before you leave, I have a surprise for you Ishy." Lynn spoke up. "What is it?" Ishara asked dreading the answer. She trusted Lynn, she didn't trust surprises. "I can't give it to you yet because you don't have anywhere to put it while you travel. But when you have someplace to store things stop by. I saved that purple dress you used to wear." Lynn said with a smile. "My dress?" Ishara asked shocked. "It always seemed like that dress was important to you. I remember when you outgrew it and I tried to get you to accept your first donation." Lynn explained. "So I kept it for the day you had a home." "Thank you." Ishara said quietly. She didn't know what else to say. "I think I remember that dress. Little Rabbit was wearing it when I met her wasn't she? The colour of some forest berries?" Brett asked. "It's what she was wearing when she came into town." Lynn explained. "It was... my parents made it." Ishara said quietly. "Well when you have someplace for it?" Lynn smiled. "I own a home in Tumbled Tree. Next time we head in that direction we can stop by and pick it up." Thomas promised. "Look Little Rabbit. Before you begin your grand new adventure. I want you to know if you get tired of life on the road and want a real home. My door will always be open." Brett said. "Thank you Mr. Tennant." Ishara replied. "If I ever notice she's ready to accept your offer I'll bring her straight here." Thomas promised. "Why does leaving make you sad?" Ishara asked. "Because we are going to miss you little one." Lynn explained. "Don't get us wrong. We are very happy for you Little Rabbit. You are being given the chance to do more then hide in an alley. And for that we are grateful." Brett added. "Why does it matter? I've never been anyone important." Ishara questioned. "That has never been true to them. They care deeply about you Ishara. I hope that one day you will heal enough to see it." Thomas said. "Enough about that. We can't have our Little Rabbit leaving sad can we?" Brett spoke up. "Indeed. This is a time to be happy, and a time to eat. We have a lot of walking to do today." Thomas smiled.
"I don't know if I can do this." Ishara thought grimly. It was only midafternoon now and she wasn't sure she could go any farther. "We can slow down if you need to. I know it's difficult but you will get used to it." Thomas promised. "I'm fine." Ishara lied. Her feet hurt and it felt like her legs had been weighted down. "You're used to standing all day. But walking is a completely different type of strain." Thomas explained. He watched her for several minutes while they walked. "You will get used to it, but for now we will slow down." He decided. "You don't have to. I'm ok." Ishara protested. "It's not good to overdo it on your first day. We will slow down and for now make frequent stops to rest. Don't worry about it; just give it time." Thomas said. "But sir, you can't let me slow you down." Ishara said softly. "How did you become friends with Priestess Lynn?" Thomas changed the subject. "It was a few moon cycles after Mr. Tennant taught me to fish and make a fire." Ishara explained. "Oh? What happened?" Thomas asked. "It got cold suddenly and I couldn't find any rabbits to trap.' Ishara told him. "I remember that year actually. Winter came early and without much warning. I suppose it would have been worse for you. Not only did you live outside but you come from a place that would have been sheltered from the wind." Thomas commented. "She found me while I was freezing, and more then a little hungry. With the cold weather I had trouble finding food at first." Ishara replied. "Was that the first time you met her?" Thomas asked surprised. Ishara shook her head. "I met her a few times when I first arrived. But she scared me. Having a healer around made it feel like I was still playing the game. That's what the twisted man was." Ishara explained. "So then how did she earn your trust?" Thomas asked. "I got sick." Ishara replied red faced. "She found me when I was unable to run away." "And she nursed you back to health. By force." Thomas grinned. "She took me back to the temple. After I recovered she told me what the Water temple was there for and lent me some winter clothes." Ishara explained. "From what I know of her. I'm sure she was watching you for awhile." Thomas suggested. Ishara nodded again. "I didn't realize why at the time. But I had seen her a few times looking at me. She made me stay at the temple a couple days to recover. She never left my side while I was there; so we had lots of time to talk. " "And the Little Rabbit learned that not every healer is the twisted man?" Thomas asked. "She would be angry if he let me push myself too far again." Ishara realized. "It looks like you caught on to why we slowed down." Thomas smiled at her.
"We will lose the rest of the light soon." Thomas said stopping Ishara. He looked around carefully. "This looks like a good spot. We can set up camp over there." He announced pointing to an area a short distance from the road. "It's time?" Ishara asked. Thomas nodded. "I'll be helping you tonight. Showing you what needs to be done. But after tonight I will only help if you ask for it." "I understand." Ishara replied. "Don't be afraid to ask for help though. You aren't here to do everything on your own." Thomas warned. "Isn't that why you hired me? So you don't have to..." Ishara asked. "No I hired you to take some of the stress off traveling. That may mean what I show you tonight will be your responsibilities; but things have to get done before it gets dark. However you are not here to push yourself until you collapse. I'll step in when needed but as long as you are trying your best. It will never reflect badly on you. But if I let you put your health in danger; I'll have failed you instead." Thomas explained. "I understand sir. What do you need me to do?" Ishara asked. "The first thing you're responsible for when we set up camp is to look for firewood. It won't always be possible. But there is plenty around here. Do you know what to look for?" Thomas questioned. Ishara nodded her head. "Good. You can start on that; then find a barrier for the fire. There should be plenty of suitable rocks nearby. I'll find us some food and help you with the fire when I get back." Thomas replied. Ishara nodded and waited for him to walk away before she set out to find wood and rocks. Thomas got back to camp while Ishara was still gathering what they needed. He watched her for awhile before he was satisfied that she didn't need help with this part. After she gathered enough things. Thomas had her show him how she used to set up a fire back in Forest Lake; and start it. When it was roaring he offered her a few tips that she hadn't thought about before. Soon the two of them sat in front of the fire and he handed her four rabbits he caught. "The next part of your responsibility is the cooking. Once you decide what to do with the meat I find. I'll help you prepare it; then most nights you will be on your own for cooking." Thomas explained. "In Forest Lake id just roast it..." Ishara explained. "Then tonight we will do that. And later I'll show you some other things you can do with it." Thomas decided. Ishara nodded and the two of them set to skin and clean the rabbits. He showed her how to preserve the furs so they could be used, or traded later. Then as they ate he continued to explain what would be expected of her. "Good job. This is what you are to do most nights. But some nights I will ask you to collect the food." "Why?" Ishara questioned. "Practice mostly. Some of those nights I'll trade you chores, but you should be capable of doing everything if you need to. There may be nights where I'm unable to help." He explained." "Yes sir." Ishara replied. "Is this going to be enough? Shouldn't I be doing more? I spent all day walking; but what he hired me for seems so short compared to that. Can I really earn my keep with just this?" she thought a little worried. "What is there in the morning?" she asked. "Cook breakfast. It's the same rules as in the evening. If there is enough left over I'll show you how to preserve some of it for lunch. Then you dismantle the fire pit. During the day you will carry a pack like mine with your bedroll and the pots. Except for some minor things during the day's travels that's about all you need to do." "What do you normally do when you aren't hunting people like me?" Ishara questioned. Thomas laughed. "I help people. You may not see it in Windley because there are more pressing matters when we get there. But I promise soon you will see what all my travelling is for." He explained. But then his voice turned serious. "I need you to understand. My travels are dangerous. The types of people I often encounter will try to hurt us both. One of the reasons I choose you for this job is because of your incredible ability to hide. There is one more really important thing you MUST do." "What is it?" Ishara asked. "When I tell you to; directly or by a signal we will determine. You must hide; drop your pack and get out of sight." Thomas replied. "You want me to run away?" Ishara asked. "Yes." Thomas replied. Then he drew the sword at his side for her to see. "If you ever see one of these drawn you are to assume immediately I just ordered you to hide. If someone draws one on us they do mean to kill us. I'll handle it but you have to get to safety the moment you see naked steel." Thomas made her promise. "Yes sir." Ishara replied. "He sounds serious. But he promised he would protect me while we travelled. I have to trust that he can." She considered. "Good now get some rest. It's another long day tomorrow." Thomas smiled at her. He put away his sword and quietly watched until she fell asleep. He was sure this would work out fine.
A few days after Ishara's first night Thomas looked around carefully. "They are close." He thought. The signs were there. The trail he had been following for days was getting fresher. He momentarily looked over at his young companion. "She has improved a lot in a few days. She still needs to come out of that polite protective shell and show me the real her again. But it's understandable. She thinks if she offends me I'll just leave her somewhere. But how is she going to handle this test? She has shown remarkable courage; but in the face of this?" He wondered. "What does it mean when I say scatter rabbit?" Thomas quizzed her. "It means to hide." Ishara replied. "She should be ready." He thought leading them forward. They soon approached two men standing in the road. "Typical. Trying to shake up travellers like common thugs." Thomas thought. As they got closer he saw the terror in Ishara's eyes as she noticed the blood dyed arm bands the two men wore. To her credit she didn't run yet. "Prepare rabbit." Thomas said. Immediately Ishara started looking around. "I don't suppose you two would like to peacefully get out of the way?" he asked the two Red Reapers. "I think we would rather have your gold. And her." one of the Reapers laughed. He pointed to Ishara. "Scatter rabbit." Thomas said flatly. In a flash Ishara was gone as Thomas drew his sword. He quickly provided a distraction; starting his attack while she hid. "Want to play it like that do you?" The Red Reaper replied easily blocking Thomas attack. "Did they see where she went?" Thomas wondered. He toyed with the men awhile longer to evaluate it. "How can you have her if you can't find her?" Thomas asked. "She can't go far. Once we dispose of you; we will find her. and she will be fun to play with for awhile." The Reaper replied. "Doesn't seem like he saw where she went. Still might be something to work on though." Thomas thought. It was time to stop stalling however; so he quickly dispatched the two bandits. When both of them lay dead at his feet. Thomas took a moment to look around. "I don't see her. That's a good sign." Thomas thought trying to guess where she might have hidden. He picked out a couple of possibilities, and picked out the one that would have offered her the best chance to escape if he had fallen. "You may come out now Little Rabbit." Thomas announced. There was a long pause before Ishara revealed herself. "Cautious. That's good." He thought "You have nothing more to fear from these men." "Are they dead?" Ishara asked. He could hear her voice weaken but her body remained remarkably still. "They are very much so." Thomas assured her. "I'll show you what to do with the bodies out here. But this is not one of your responsibilities. You are never to assist with this." He warned. "Sir?" Ishara questioned. "This is my mess. I clean it up. Besides you are far too young to be handling the dead." Thomas explained. "But sir..." Ishara tried to speak up. She couldn't take her eyes off the red bands. "I know what you want to say but it's not the same thing Ishara. And you are far too young to have gone through what you did. But you aren't with them anymore. I will not have you moving the dead for me and that's not negotiable. You have more then enough duties." Thomas replied. "If you are desperate for something to do and don't want to just watch. Then you can go back and evaluate your other possible hiding places. After this is done I would like to speak to you about your choice; and why you choose that one of the options available." "I understand sir." Ishara replied quietly. "I'm sure you don't. Not yet anyway. You did fine. I just have some suggestions for you that's all." Thomas said shaking his head. "She really looks like she thinks she's in trouble. It may be that I'll have to smash that shall she's hiding in." he thought looking at her. "You did great Ishara. I'm extremely pleased at how fast you got out of the way when told to. You didn't question it; and you were cautious about coming out. You did very good work." Thomas smiled at her.
The two of them walked in silence after the encounter with the two Red Reapers. Ishara tried her best to hide her uncertainly from Thomas, but she didn't think he was fooled. "I shouldn't have come. I was safe in Forest Lake. But out here; only days after leaving they found me." Ishara thought biting her lip. "They are coming for me. But I had three years free from the game. That's more then I deserved after what I did." She decided. Still it was hard for her to completely accept what she knew was to come. "I... I don't want... to go." She thought closing her eyes for a moment while they walked. She refused to let herself cry. No matter how much her chest hurt; how much she wanted to run away. She would face this as bravely as she faced the Hunter. "You look unsettled. What troubles you?" Thomas said finally. "Nothing sir." Ishara lied. "Now be honest. I know you mean well but I do dislike dishonesty. And its especially important when you are terrified. I've watched it grow worse since the incident with the two Red Reapers. Those men can't harm you." Thomas said. "It's not them sir. But the other Hunters. If those two found me, others will soon." Ishara explained. Her voice wavered. "Those men didn't know who you were." Thomas pointed out. "They must have sir. They wanted me." Ishara replied. "Yes but not for the reason you think." Thomas said. "What do you mean?" Ishara asked. "You're a young woman. Close enough for most of the unscrupulous men I deal with." Thomas explained. "What Diane and Sandra used to suggest?" Ishara thought with a shiver. But was that any better then the game? "There is something you should know. Those two Red Reapers did not find us by accident. I sought them out on purpose." Thomas spoke up. "You looked for them?" Ishara asked surprised. "They all claimed that's what Mr. McAlpine did. But I didn't believe them. Who would go looking for the Hunters on purpose?" she thought staring at him. They both came to a stop in the middle of the road. "Yes I know a little of your past with them. So I needed to see what you would do if we encountered them." Thomas said. "A test?" Ishara asked. "Yes a test. To see if you would panic when faced with those that hurt you in the past. I am pleased with the results. You didn't panic, and you hid as soon as I told you to." "Will you do that often?" Ishara questioned. "A test? He wanted to see if I was worth having around." She realised. "No that's the only time. But do not mistake my words. We will encounter the Red Reapers again. And quite often it will be on purpose. But it will never be to test you." Thomas promised. Ishara nodded and they continued walking. But despite his assurances it was impossible for her to shake the feeling she was now walking on the path to getting Thomas killed. And being placed back in the game.
Ishara's jaw dropped as they got closer to the city of Windley and she realised how massive it really was. "First time you have been to a city isn't it?" Thomas asked. "Forest Lake was bigger then my village." Ishara tried to explain. "Stay close. It's easy to get lost in a place like this." Thomas warned. She stepped closer to him; feeling like a little girl. "I know you are tired but our first stop is the temple of water. Once we get you looked at we can book the inn to rest. We can start picking up supplies tomorrow." Thomas explained. Ishara was about to protest but decided to keep her mouth shut. She instead studied the streets carefully. It was unlike anything she had ever seen. "There would be so many places to hide here." She thought amazed. Thomas led her to the cities temple of water. A building much bigger then anything she has ever seen, or even imagined. When they arrived, there were people coming and going; and when they got inside there was already several people sitting in a waiting room for a healer. "The temple of water keeps busy in cities like this. Just like in Forest Lake the temple acts as both a hospital and a help center for people like you used to be." Thomas explained as they approached the counter. "What did you do this time Thomas?" a woman at the counter asked. "I assure you Emily I'm not injured." Thomas replied. "Then you found an orphan and she needs food and clothing?" Emily guessed. "Close, but that's not why I'm here either." "Who is your young friend then?" Emily asked. "This is Ishara. And she is why I am here. She may be joining me in my travels but she has some previous injuries that weren't healed properly." Thomas explained. "You want someone to look at them? Do you want them fixed today?" Emily asked. "Almost; the Priestess in Forest Lake said they were beyond her ability to heal. So, it sounds like it's too extensive for a single day. But I would like to know how bad it really is; and how long it will take to heal. We can start her treatment tomorrow after she has a chance to rest." Thomas explained. "Because it's you I'll take her to the back and look at her now. But you will have to remain out here." Emily said. "Thank you Emily." Thomas replied. "Go with this lady Little Rabbit. She's just like Lynn." He explained "Little Rabbit? That's a cute nickname. Come with me honey." Emily smiled. "I knew you would like that one." Thomas grinned. Emily took a very nervous Ishara deeper into the large temple of water. Ishara stayed close to the priestess; sure that if they got separated she would never find her way back to Thomas. They soon entered a room with a strange looking bed, and a smaller desk like she has seen in Lynn's office before. "Please disrobe and lay on the bed." Emily said softly. Ishara did what she was told and the priestess gently placed her hand on Ishara's forehead and closed her eyes. "Oh..." Emily gasped after several minutes. Ishara didn't say anything because she didn't know if it would interrupt the priestess or not. Emily soon finished her exam and looked Ishara in the eyes. "Honey what happened to you?" She asked. "It was the game miss." Ishara replied. "This doesn't look like a game. But you don't have to tell me... I'm sure what caused this is painful to remember." Emily looked at her sadly. "You may get dressed now." She announced. "Thank you miss." Ishara replied. "Are you ok with sharing the results with Thomas?" she asked. "Yes miss." Ishara replied pulling on her dress. "Then if you would follow me please." Emily said with a soft smile. Ishara was taken back to the front desk where Thomas was still waiting for them. "I'm so sorry..." Emily said looking at Thomas. "What's wrong?" he asked. "The damage is extensive Thomas. I'm so sorry... I don't think anyone in Windley can do this." Emily said in a soft voice. "What do you suggest then? How serious are these injuries? Will she encounter problems if its untreated?" "Not immediately no. But if she is travelling with you; can you keep her from getting hurt?" Emily asked. "I can promise I will do everything in my power to prevent her from getting hurt. But it will not always be possible." Thomas admitted. "Then you already know the answer. If she were to get hurt with these left untreated. It will interfere with the treatment of her new injuries." Emily replied. "I recommend you take her to Sutherland as soon as you can." "Are you sure that someone in Sutherland can fix her? If no one in Windley can." Thomas asked concerned. "Yes, some of the temples best healers are in Sutherland." Emily replied confidently. Thomas looked down at Ishara. "It looks like you get to see Sutherland now too." He smiled. "I'm so sorry Ishara. You are going to be put through hell." Emily said sadly. "Thank you so much Emily. It was good to see you again." Thomas said. He turned back to Ishara. "Let's get you some rest then." "Goodbye miss." Ishara said politely. "Good luck Little Rabbit. Whatever happened to you; I know you are in good hands." Emily promised. Ishara followed Thomas out of the temple of water and once more through the streets. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to request you withhold your final decision about travelling with me until after we are in Sutherland now." Thomas said. "Is that ok?" "Why is it so important?" Ishara asked. "I don't mind, if that's what you wish. But I don't feel sick, or hurt?" "You don't feel those old injuries now, but they were not healed properly. That leaves imperfections in your bones that will likely cause problems later. But just as importantly not every healer we can find is skilled enough to work with it. Even scars often have to be repaired so each healer has a clean slate to work with." Thomas tried to explain. The truth was he only vaguely understood the temples reasons; but he was never a healer himself. "Couldn't you wait and have it fixed only after you know I'm staying with you?" she asked. "It wouldn't be fair to him to spend all this time doing it, if he decides travelling with me won't work anyway." She thought. "No it needs to be done anyway. It would have been done three years ago if it wasn't too much for Lynn to handle." Thomas explained. "But it's getting late. We need to get to the inn. Tomorrow you will get to see the city." He promised. "What are my responsibilities when we are here?" you haven't told me yet." She said. "You don't have any. Your job is when we are on the road. In the cities you just have to relax and stay out of trouble." He smiled at her. "How am I supposed to earn my keep doing nothing?" Ishara wondered nervously. If Thomas noticed, he didn't say anything. At the Runaway Duchess Thomas brought her to the desk where a woman was standing with a warm smile. Ishara was new to this place; so no doubt the woman didn't realise Thomas was bringing trash into her place. She would lose the smile soon. "Mr. McAlpine welcome back. Your usual room's available if you wish." The lady said. She looked at Ishara with a slight frown. "Who is the young one? If I didn't know you better. I'd have to protest she's too young to bed." the lady said. "This young lady is Ishara. She is travelling with me for a time. My normal room will be fine but I do need a second one nearby for this Little Rabbit." Thomas replied ignoring the implication. "Sir! I can't let you do that." Ishara panicked. Thomas turned to her with a shake of his head. "I don't need a room sir, I can't let you do it." she added quickly. "Ishara I thought you understood we don't camp outside the city. There is more then enough of that when we are travelling." Thomas said. "He doesn't understand. No... he has to." Ishara thought. "I understand that I must sleep here tonight. But sir, I don't need my own room to do so. Sir I can sleep on the floor of yours. It's wrong for you to pay extra for me." she replied worried. "Little Rabbit I'm going to have to buy you many things before we leave Windley. And you may not always understand the reason right away." Thomas said kindly. "Please Mr. McAlpine don't." Ishara pleaded. Thomas studied her for a long while. This fear wasn't coming out of nowhere. "I'm sorry Little Rabbit. There is nothing I can do. It is simply not appropriate for a grown man to share a room with a twelve-year-old girl." He said finally. The receptionist watched the encounter with interest. "There must be quite a story behind her." She commented. "I think I may know what this is about." Thomas replied. Quietly Ishara gave in, with only a whispered. "I understand sir." But her thoughts were anything but quiet. "How could I let this happen? He doesn't understand." Thomas paid for the first night and directed Ishara to follow him. She did so slowly; shaking the entire way. When they stopped in front of two rooms he unlocked one of them and directed her inside. Following quickly encase she tried to run off. She looked like she was about to. "Ishara what is this about? I understand that you are uncomfortable sleeping inside for now. But this is different, you're terrified." Thomas asked. "I'm sorry sir. I can't help it." Ishara replied nervously. "If you have to... I understand." Thomas shook his head. "I'm not going to abandon you Ishara. This behaviour is troublesome but not in the way you think it is. I am concerned about you.' Thomas replied. "In Forest Lake you refused everything I tried to give you. Food, a fire, even some gold one townswoman wanted you to have. Is this fear tonight related?" Thomas asked. Ishara nodded. "In three years have you ever accepted something that was offered to you?" he asked. Ishara sheepishly looked at the floor and nodded. "But very rarely." Thomas guessed. "Yes sir." She replied quickly. "Why is that?" he asked seriously. Ishara continued to look at the floor. "It's the same reason as always isn't it? If someone helps you. Gives you some food, money, or a bed to sleep in. The Red Reapers will come and kill them. You are a dangerous Little Rabbit. Isn't that right?" Thomas asked. "It won't happen with you, I know. But..." Ishara replied. "But after so long of being afraid. That is all you know. You are too scared to start accepting things." He guessed. Ishara nodded again but she knew that wasn't the only reason she was afraid. "Ishara no one will get you while I'm here. But giving you things also scares you doesn't it? Ishara I knew about the extra costs when I made you that offer back in Forest Lake to travel with me. This is something I am willing; and fully expected to pay to have you here to help ease the tedium of my travels. It's not going to cause me to back out of our deal, or retract the offer. You aren't going anywhere young lady unless YOU decide it." Thomas explained. "How many people did I hear say words like those? I know he believes it. They all did. But he doesn't know what I did. He wouldn't be so accepting if he did." She thought with a sigh. "I will try." She promised. "That's all I can ask. It's been a long day; get some rest. And I'll see you in the morning. If you need anything I'm just across the hall." Thomas said. Ishara nodded and he left her alone with her thoughts.
Ishara woke up to the usual terrors. She placed her hand over her chest to try and slow her heart; but it didn't seem to be working tonight. "They are more intense tonight." She thought staring into the darkness. She swung her legs over the sides of the bed and sat there for several minutes. Her heart continued to race but in time it finally slowed down a bit. "I should go back to sleep. It's still dark out." She thought, or was it? A slight glow emanated through the window from outside somewhere. "I need to take a walk. Clear my head, get some of that fresh night, or is it morning? Air." Ishara considered. She quietly slipped out of bed and felt her way to the door. She left the room and found that a couple of candles were still lit in the hallway. "How long was I asleep for? Or do they have someone wake up to replace the lights?" she wondered staring at the dancing flame in the nearest light. "Maybe Thomas knows." She considered and made her way to the front door. The reception desk was empty but the front door was not locked from this side. She didn't even think about the possibility she wouldn't be able to get back inside as she slipped through the door. Ishara stood outside the inn's door and stared at the street in silence. From her bedroom window she had expected the glow of dawn; not this. The night sky was still pitch black yet she could see the street clearly. "There are lanterns hooked to the top of those posts. Theycthe street's lit up." She thought with a gasp. There had been nothing on those posts when they arrived; but who would bother lighting a street? "I'm not alone." She realised suddenly. She heard voices coming from somewhere, but she didn't see anyone. "People around at night? Is that why they light the streets? Because this town never sleeps?" she wondered. She quickly pulled herself from the warm glow of the lights and bravely stepped forward. "I'm trying to clear my head, not cloud it." She scolded herself. "I don't think I would last here. If the streets are lit at night. When would someone have a chance to find food? I can't let him leave me in this town. Even if he does find out what I did. I have to get back to Forest Lake." She realised. Ishara continued to walk and think about her options until she was pulled back into the real world by a scream. Without thinking about it; she broke into a run towards the noise. She arrived as a man was shoving a woman to the ground and running away. Confused Ishara approached the woman. "Are you ok?" she asked. The woman looked up at her and blinked. "I'm fine...he took my... why am I telling you this? You are too young to be here." The woman said confused. "Why are you wandering around alone at night?" "I'm sorry miss... I just heard something." Ishara replied. "Thank you but you should go home. Its far too late for a little girl to be out." The woman said. "Do you need help getting home?" "No thank you miss. Are you sure you're ok?" Ishara asked. "I will be when I get to the watch. Please go back home. It's not safe for little girls at night." The woman pleaded. Ishara nodded and turned back to where she thought the inn was. Nearly an hour later she still had not found it. "I'm lost." She realised with dread.
At daybreak Thomas knocked at Ishara's door. But no one answered. "Ishara are you up yet?" He called out through the door. He tried a few more times. "She must not hear me." He thought. He unlocked the door and opened it a crack to call out again. She still didn't reply so he opened it all the way. "She's gone." He thought alarmed. He left the inn in a hurry. "I have to find her. If she's in trouble... she may have run off by choice but I can't just leave her to the streets of a strange city. No if she wants to leave my side she has to do it properly. But if she's in trouble..." he thought almost running away from the inn door.
"Where is it?" Ishara thought looking around frantically. The day already broke free and she still didn't know where the inn was, or Thomas for that matter. "There must be something I recognise from yesterday." She thought carefully. She looked around until she saw the temple of water peeking out from behind some buildings. "If I can reach that I can hopefully follow the path we took back to the inn." She realized with a smile. She made it two blocks before she saw two armed man with bulky clothing. She had never seen armour before but there were metal outlines to their uniforms. One of them spotted her and took a couple steps to see if she was all right. She looked him in the eyes; realised he was coming for her and ran for it. "I won't let them have me. Not now." She thought frantically. The city watchmen misunderstood her escape and gave chase. Ishara did her best to escape the armed men; but unlike the forest game she was unfamiliar with this arena. She was however faster then them. Ultimately that didn't help her much when she ran right into a dead end. The armed men quickly blocked her in. "I can't be trapped. There must be a way out of this." She thought panicking. She couldn't find one so she was forced to turn and face her attackers. "What are they waiting for? They have me." She wondered. She backed into the wall but neither of them said anything. "Relax." One of them said finally. They weren't sure who this kid was, but they were worried she would hurt herself if they got any closer. It was a concern that only intensified as she shakenly reached into her dress pocket and pulled out a knife. "Whoa don't do anything foolish. Put that away." He insisted. "I can't let them have me." Ishara thought. She held the knife with its tip pointed up. She didn't point it at them; but even she didn't know if she intended to use it on them, or herself. "Put it down please and let's talk about this." The armed man suggested. Ishara looked down at her knife and stared at it unmoving for several minutes. The armed men held their positions, but so did she. "They could take me. What are they waiting for?" She wondered. She looked back at them and it hit her. "Why am I resisting my punishment? I'm just a doll." She realized. She turned the knife towards herself and stepped towards her captors. "Careful child, you don't have to hurt yourself." The armed men said giving her a kind smile. "I am yours." Ishara said quietly. She offered him the knife and he took it. "Please come with us. We will get this sorted out." The armed man promised. She was taken quietly to the nearest watch station.
Ishara was ordered to take a seat next to a desk in the corner. The armed man that took her knife sat in the desk beside her and watched her carefully. "Does he think I'll try to escape?" She wondered. Finally the man spoke. "Would you like to tell me what that was about?" The man asked. "What are they waiting for?" She asked herself. She looked around and picked out several doors that could hide their version of the table. "This would go easier if you told me." The man suggested, "Let's start with your name then." "I don't understand." Ishara admitted. "You don't know your name?" The man asked. But Ishara shook her head. "I know my name. But why do you want to know it? He never cared; can't we just get it over with?" Ishara asked. "Get what over with?" The man asked. "You already know. I'm not going to beg for it, that's not part of the game." Ishara replied raising her voice slightly. "Calm down." The man ordered. "Why? You already caught me. Just do it." Ishara demanded. "The hunter liked this. But he also didn't wait on my punishment. Is this the wrong way to play with him? Maybe he wants me to choose my punishment? He wants me to go into it knowing that I helped him make it happen." She wondered. "What are you expecting?" The man asked without losing his calm. "Then that is it. He does expect me to help him hurt me." She decided. "I gave you a chase but I was easy to catch. I did block myself in so probably a three." She insisted. "Three what?" The man asked. "Does your game use a different rating? Fine just get it over with. I promise I won't resist. You don't even have to tie me down." Ishara said getting frustrated. "Get what over with?" The man asked. "Look if you don't start cooperating I'll have to put you in a cell until you do. I'm trying to go easy on you because you seem to be lost. But you aren't making this easy." "If that's how your game is played then I'll beg. I'm tired of this." Ishara barked at him. "Please begin my beating." She pleaded. "Beating? What the fires rage are you talking about?" The man demanded. "I don't know what he wants." Ishara thought terrified. She couldn't play the game if there were no rules; and if she couldn't play she would vanish in the night like the others. She searched around frantically for something; anything that would tell her the rules. The man stared at her for several minutes; she was becoming consumed in terror so he had to do something. "Let's go back to the beginning then. What is your name?" The man asked. Ishara however refused to speak. "It's safer this way. If I don't say anything at all then I can't say the wrong thing. He will hurt me out of anger but that doesn't matter. I'm just a doll." She told herself. The man tried several more times; but he couldn't get the child to speak.
It was mid into lunch time when Thomas burst through the door to Windley's city watch. He glanced around and spotted Ishara in the corner sitting with a member of the guard. "Pickup or delivery?" The woman at the counter asked. She gave Thomas a kind smile. "Pickup this time. But not a contract." Thomas explained. He pointed to where Ishara was sitting. The receptionist followed his finger. "She's yours?" The receptionist asked confused. "Is there a problem?" He asked. "One moment please Mr. McAlpine." The receptionist replied. She got up and went to speak to the watchman sitting beside Ishara. "What is she doing here? Witnesses say she was being dragged around by two watchmen like a criminal." Thomas thought. The man sitting next to her certainly looked like he was watching a dangerous criminal. And at this distance Thomas couldn't see if she was shackled or not. She seemed to be holding her hands in her lap. After a few minutes of speaking to the receptionist the man approached Thomas. "Does that girl belong to you?" The man demanded. The anger in his voice was clear. "Why is she here?" Thomas asked. "I've been looking for her all morning." "Is she yours Mr...." the watchman repeated. "McAlpine and yes I am currently responsible for her." "Then you have a lot of questions to answer." The watchman replied. "I asked you why is she here. Do not evade my question again or I will remove her from your custody." Thomas threatened. "You will do no such thing. Now who is she?" the watchman asked. "That is not what I asked. Now you will release her immediately." Thomas replied. "That child has proven herself to be dangerous. She pulled a knife on two members of the watch and has been playing games since she arrived. She isn't going anywhere until we know who she is, and what she's done." The man replied. "Her name is Ishara and I've hired her to aid in my travels. Why did she pull a knife on you?" Thomas asked. "We do not know. We saw her wandering alone and approached her. She ran away and we went after her. Either she was in trouble; or she did something illegal. She trapped herself and pulled out a knife." The watchman replied. "What did she intend for it? I doubt a small girl with a survival knife was a threat for two armed Windley guards." Thomas asked. "Unknown. She may have intended to use it on herself." "That doesn't sound like the Little Rabbit. But they probably didn't know she wouldn't have used it." Thomas considered. "How did you get it from her? And get her here?" "She surrendered but now she refuses to cooperate. She refuses to even give us her name." the watchman said. "Why is she escalating this?" Thomas wondered, "Since she arrived she won't answer any questions. She won't tell us why she ran, or even say where she came from. Now she even refuses to speak at all. I cannot let her go under these circumstances." The watchman said. "I must speak with her." Thomas replied. "What is that girl doing? She's made the situation worse then it needs to be." He thought irritated. "Very well but don't try to leave with her." The watchman warned. Thomas ignored the man and approached where Ishara had been seated the whole time. To his relief she was not bound; just sitting obediently. 'Mr. McAlpine?" Ishara asked surprised. "I have been looking for you Little Rabbit. I hear that you have been causing some trouble." Thomas said. "I'm sorry sir." Ishara replied. "Would you like to tell me why you have been aggravating them?" Thomas asked. "I don't mean to sir. I just wish they would get on with it." She replied. "What are you expecting?" Thomas asked. "A three.' Ishara whispered. "A three? What is she after? Unless..." Thomas thought. "Is three a measure of pain?" He asked. "Yes sir. After the game I would be punished. This time I do not believe I was easy enough to deserve a one or two. But I did trap myself; and I gave up so I have not earned the leniency of a five." Ishara explained. "So the Hunter had a scaling system for his beatings. That's what she is expecting. She got caught and now she must receive that." Thomas thought. "I understand." He said. She looked up at him terrified. "It won't happen. I promise. I'm going to take you back to the inn shortly. Please remain seated and I will return." Thomas promised. He returned to the watchman and spoke firmly. "Her lack of cooperation is not intended. I will return with her to the inn and take care of it." He explained. "Not intended? You expect me to let you take off with her on that?" The watchman asked. "Do you know who I am?" Thomas asked. "No I do not." The man replied. "It's important that you understand what my expertise is to understand the explanation. My name is Thomas McAlpine and in addition to other activities I spend a great deal of time working to end the threat of the Red Reapers." Thomas said. "What does a little girl have to do with the Red Reapers? She does not wear the armband." The watchman replied irritated. "She was a captive of the Red Reapers. Frankly she expects you to beat her because that's what they did when they caught her. And they did it several times. Now I need to get her out of here to help her understand that you are not a Red Reaper. If I must I will go directly to your captain with my concerns about her treatment." Thomas explained coldly. "Let me confirm before you try anything." The man replied. He left Thomas alone for quite some time to speak with his superior. When he returned he gave Thomas a nod. "May I have her knife back? She will need it while she's in my employ." Thomas asked. "My Captain says that he trusts your judgement. And in the interest of the working relationship you have with this cities watch we should let you be on your way with a warning. You are to make her understand that pulling a knife on the watch is not taken lightly." The watchman said. "I give my word I will speak to her. I am hopeful this is an isolated incident. You merely spooked the little rabbit with your aggressive approach. And she associated you with the Red Reaper hunters." Thomas promised. The city watchman returned her knife to Thomas and the warrior went to the corner to collect his companion. "You are free to go Little Rabbit." He said handing the knife to her. "Are you sure sir?" Ishara asked. "Let's return to the inn. We will discuss everything later but you need to rest." Thomas said. He looked at her. "I wish I didn't have to do this. But I have too much to prepare." He thought. "If you wish sir. Are you sure they don't need to..." she asked. "Ishara they aren't bad people. This was a misunderstanding and it unfortunately escalated out of control." Thomas said. "But I'm going to have to ask you to remain in your room for the rest of the day." "I understand sir." Ishara replied. "No you don't. You aren't being punished. But I have several things I need to do today. For your safety while I tend to them please give me your word you won't leave your room until I come for you. I'm sorry I have to ask this but you just don't know this city very well yet and you need to remain safe." Thomas tried to explain. "I will remain in my room." Ishara promised. "Thank you. I want you to realise I'm not mad at you Ishara. You just got lost; it happens in a new place like this. I'm here to help you." Thomas smiled at her.
Ishara stood at the window of her inn room. They were on the second floor so she had a nice bird's eye view of the people below. And this must have been one of the busiest parts of Windley as there always seemed to be several people in view of her small window. "I promised." She had to remind herself. She briefly turned from the street full of people to the open sky. Then frustrated she turned from the window completely and paced around her room again. She had to stop herself from reaching for the door. "It would be so easy. Nothing keeps me from leaving." She thought. The door wasn't locked, and she had no armed guards keeping her inside like she did in storage for the game. All that kept her here was a promise. But she had never broken her word before and she couldn't start now; not with Thomas. No matter how much she felt she needed to get out of here. She stopped in the middle of the room and closed her eyes. Her heart had been slowly increasing in pace since her confinement started. It was unnoticeable at first; but now she knew it was happening. There was a frightening familiarity to this feeling and she was afraid to consider what it was. "I have to go. But I can't. No I can't give in to that. The hunter is not going to find me here. A place so far away from where they left me. A small room I'm not even allowed to leave. And one that Mr. McAlpine knows I'm here." She told herself. She willed herself to believe that; she had to believe it. Slowly Ishara opened her eyes and returned to the window. She watched as more people passed below unknowing of her existence. Despite the walls trapping her; there was almost a comfort to the idea. This was the perfect hiding spot. "I can see what goes on. But they don't know I'm here." She thought forcing a smile. But it wasn't enough to still her restless body. 'This was a mistake. I should never have let him make that offer. I've been nothing but trouble since I started travelling with him." She thought staring at the little people below. A woman wearing the same type of armour as the man that caught her this morning walked by. "He had to waste his time looking for me because I got lost, then allowed myself to get captured by one of them. Now he has to keep me locked in storage like the Hunter did; so I can't cause him any more trouble. This was a terrible idea." she thought closing her eyes again. She could still hear all the cheerful people outside. "He shouldn't have to come looking for me. I shouldn't be locked in this room." She thought opening her eyes quickly. She barely resisted a renewed urge to bolt for the door like the little rabbit Brett always accused her of being. "I know what I have to do." She realised looking back at the door. Eventually Mr. McAlpine would return and she would have to end this charade. "I'm going to have to release Mr. McAlpine from his promise. I'm going to have to let him abandon me. It's the only way to save him from the trouble I'll cause." She decided. But deep down there was a more selfish reason to release him. She couldn't allow herself to be caged day she knew they would find her. Mr. McAlpine could never protect her locked in an inn room.
"Miss Watts tells me you didn't eat the lunch they brought you." Thomas commented. "I wasn't hungry." Ishara admitted. "Now Ishara that's not how this works. If you don't eat then you can't stay healthy; and you won't be strong enough to make it to the next town." Thomas said shaking his head. "I know you aren't used to eating every day. But that's a habit we have to break you out of." He explained. "I'm sorry sir. If you would like..." Ishara started to say. "I'll hear none of that." Thomas interrupted her. "It's getting late and you need to be fed. Come with me." "Where?" Ishara asked. "To the Earths Harvest. Don't worry the owner's nothing like Henderson. We can eat in peace." Thomas promised. "Are you sure? I can just have some of our travel meat." Ishara suggested. "Those are good when there is nothing else. But you can't live off travel rations alone. Come, no pouting or I'll make you try everything they have on the menu tonight." Thomas threatened. "Yes sir." Ishara replied. Thomas brought her in the Earths Harvest and they took a seat. As he promised the owner had no idea who, or what she was. So he didn't even bat an eye when she entered. Thomas helped her to order something; trying to guess what she might enjoy while she tried to discourage him from ordering her anything. While they ate Ishara picked at her food and looked at him. "Mr. McAlpine? I know you promised but..." she started to say. But the look he was giving her caused her to stop. "Not this again. She really believes if she does this I'll walk away." Thomas thought. "My promise is not yours to release me from Ishara. But I assure you. If and only if your presence interferes with my work. You will be taken to safety before I move on." He explained. "But sir." Ishara tried. 'It's more then what happened this morning isn't it?" Thomas thought. "I understand Ishara. Right now you are just a scared little girl. You don't know what the future holds for you. But I also know this fear isn't you. That girl; the one that wanted to yell at me several times in Forest Lake is inside you." Thomas said. "Why did you leave the inn this morning?" he asked. "I thought a walk would help me clear my head. I'm sorry Mr. McAlpine." Ishara replied. "There is nothing to apologize for. But still I would like you to make me a promise." Thomas said. "Sir?" "Let me know ahead of time when you need to take a walk. For now we will be visiting a lot of places you aren't familiar with. If I know what you are doing I can help you." Thomas said. "Yes sir." Ishara replied. Thomas watched her carefully and saw something in her face as they spoke. "I wonder, could this be that simple? I'll need to draw it out. And I think I know how." Thomas thought with a smile. "Get plenty of sleep tonight Little Rabbit. Tomorrow I'm going to wake you up bright and early." He announced. "Oh? What for sir?" Ishara asked. "You will see. But we have a lot to do." Thomas said smiling at her. "I promise I won't leave my room tonight." Ishara replied seriously. It took all of his willpower not to laugh at how she said it. "I know you won't. Tomorrow I'll also show you around the area so you can clear your head later without getting lost." He offered. "I think... I would like that." Ishara replied. "Then it's settled." Thomas said. They finished eating while Thomas planned what they would do tomorrow. "I'll get to the bottom of this. But I have seen it before. Once I know for sure that's what this is; I know who she needs to talk to." He thought carefully.
"Time to wake up." Thomas called out. He waited only a few minutes before Ishara came stumbling out of her room. "This is only the beginning." Thomas thought. "Your first step for today is right down the hall. I've already arranged with Miss Watts to have a warm bath prepared for you this morning. Go get yourself cleaned up and we will start the day." He explained leading her to the inn's bathing room. She emerged some time later with a warm glow to her face. "Feeling better Little Rabbit?" Thomas asked. Ishara's face went red; but she nodded. "She really likes those baths." He thought smiling at her. "Today we are going to get you some supplies. Are you ready?" "Yes sir." Ishara replied confidently. "I'm not so sure about that. If her past actions are any indication she's going to fight me on this." Thomas thought. "Are you sure? I will be spending gold on you today and you won't be able to talk me out of any of it. Are you sure that you are ready for this?" He asked. "Yes sir. I understand there are a few things you require me to have. I am ready. I promise not to complain." Ishara replied. Thomas grinned at her. "We will see about that." He thought. The first few things on his list were simple enough. He picked her up a travel bag like his; only smaller. They restocked their travel food and got several other essentials. Then they picked up a small bedroll so she wouldn't have to sleep on the cold ground anymore. Then just before lunch they made the first challenging stop of the day. Ishara looked at him confused as they approached a shop called A Stitch in time. "Sir?" Ishara asked as they walked inside and found a store full of materials and fully stitched clothing. "Mr. McAlpine?" Ishara asked. "You need a second dress. As well as a few articles for the coming cold weather." Thomas explained. "I don't understand. What's wrong with my dress?" Ishara asked. "Ishara you are going to have to wash your clothes. When that happens your either going to have to walk around wet; and catch a cold. Or you will have to walk around naked. And not only catch a chill but suffer the embarrassment as well." Thomas told her sternly. "What about the temple? It doesn't have to be new." Ishara tried. "Leave the temple donations for those that are in need. You are no longer among them." Thomas replied. Before she could try again they drew the attention of the shop owner. "Mr. McAlpine what brings you here today? Need some repairs?" the woman at the counter exclaimed. "No not today. This young lady only has one outfit. I would like to change that before we head out." Thomas explained. "A new apprentice? Going to catch up to Darien finally are you?" the lady laughed. "No she's not an apprentice but she is going to help me on the road." He replied. "Look's like she found that dress at the Temple of water." The lady commented. Thomas saw Ishara's face go red. "Well yes but that's nothing for her to be ashamed of. Anyway I'm sure she's going to out grow this one soon. But that's something to deal with another day." He explained. "Poor dear. I'm going to guess that it's been awhile since she put on something brand new. Well let's fix that. Come with me sweetie." The lady said. "It's only been three years." Ishara said sheepishly. "And that's at least two years too long." The lady smiled. "Go on. Go with Samantha. I know nothing about girl's dresses so I won't be much help." Thomas said softly. He turned to Samantha. "She needs something modest; and appropriate for traveling. She will also need some things for winter; but to travel with. So preferably not a completely separate outfit." He explained. "So a dress suitable for summer months; and long days. But also something she can throw on some pants and a coat and be warm on cold days." Samantha suggested. "Sounds about right." Thomas replied. "I don't need." Ishara tried to protest. "If Thomas McAlpine says you do; then you do." Samantha said with a laugh. "Now Ishara you promised not to complain. Trust me this is as important as the travel bag." Thomas told her. Ishara tried to go to the first dress she saw and pointed at it. But Samantha laughed at her. "White is a terrible colour for traveling." She explained. They looked around for awhile longer before Ishara held out a soft coloured aqua marine dress. It was a simple design. "That colour looks gorgeous on you. With a few minor alterations, I even have one in your size." Samantha smiled. "It may be little long but if we put some temporary stitches in and fold the skirt inwards. You will have some room to grow. What do you think Mr. McAlpine?" she asked. "That colour certainly suits this Little Rabbit." Thomas said with a grin. "It's too expensive." Ishara protested. "You haven't even seen the price Ishara. It's fine. She will take it." Thomas decided. "Unless you have one that's really expensive. Just to punish her." He laughed. "Nothing suited for traveling." Samantha admitted. "But if you want to show her off at one of Windley's balls I have just the thing." She suggested. Ishara decided that since she wasn't going to be able to get out of this. She may as well satisfy her curiosity. She took a closer look at the stitching in the dress. "If you would like to take her to the back and fit her. I would like her to wear the new one out. That one is in desperate need of a real cleaning." Thomas explained. "For you I can do that at no extra charge. Come back tomorrow and it will be as good as new." Samantha smiled. They both looked at Ishara, "What's she looking for?" Samantha asked. "Ishara? Is there something wrong with it?" Thomas asked. "I'm sorry... I was just curious." Ishara replied. She showed them the stitches. "Ah yes. You said your parents made the one Lynn is holding for you. Did they teach you any of their trade?" Thomas asked. "They started to... before." Ishara replied weakly. "Would you like to learn?" Samantha asked. "That's a good idea. Ishara would you? I can find you trainers while we sit in cities waiting for a job." Thomas asked. "I would be happy to help." Samantha said pleasantly. "I don't know. I haven't thought about it since the game." Ishara replied unsteady. "Game?" Samantha asked. "I have an idea then. Samantha could you teach her what you are doing while you fit her new dress? Then she can take some time this week to decide." Thomas suggested. "I'd be happy to." Samantha replied. "Come Ishara, Mr. McAlpine doesn't need to watch you undress." "Yes Miss." Ishara replied sheepishly. The two of them vanished into the back room until well after lunch. Meanwhile Thomas selected a few winter articles for her. When she emerged later Thomas had to look twice. "Is that really the Little Rabbit? You didn't swap her Samantha did you?" he asked. "Sir?" Ishara asked. "You look great. What a difference a proper bath and a clean dress make." Thomas replied. "Come back tomorrow and I'll have the other one cleaned up." Samantha repeated. Ishara then tried on the winter articles before Thomas paid for everything and they walked out of the Stitch in time. "It's a bit late so let's grab some lunch before we continue." Thomas suggested. "I'm not hungry sir." Ishara replied. "Yes but you still need to eat." Thomas pointed out. "Yes sir." Ishara replied unsteady. "Most people would be thrilled with new clothes. But she's just been getting more unsteady." Thomas thought watching her carefully. Her plea that she didn't need to eat was more desperate then usual. "Come I know a great place." Thomas said. Ishara nodded and he led her through the city to the Grandma's Hearth. He had to order for her again because she was heavily resistant to being treated to lunch. So while they waited for their food to arrive he studied her some more. "She keeps looking down at her new dress. Its almost like something is wrong with it. Until a smile begins to creep up." Thomas thought watching it happen again. Then right on que the hint of a smile drops; and her face goes pale again. "Interesting. I think I know what's wrong." He thought. "Did you learn much about needlework from your parents?" he tried asking. "Only a little. I used to watch them and they would tell me what they were doing. But they said I was too young to practice any of it." Ishara admitted. Her voice waivered but that wasn't unexpected. "What did you hope to find in the stitching of your new dress?" Thomas asked. "It's stupid." Ishara replied. "It wasn't at the time." Thomas pointed out. "I was just... looking to see if my parents made it." Ishara admitted sheepishly. "I know..." She hesitated. "But you still hoped. I understand but Lynn has the one they did make." Thomas reminded her. Ishara nodded. "I know. Thank you, sir." "Would you like to continue their training?' Thomas asked. "I don't know." Ishara admitted. "It would be a way to honour their memory. In time you could make your own outfits in their style. But it's completely up to you." Thomas said, "When would there be time sir?" Ishara asked. "It would take a while to be honest. But when I usually enter a major city like this I can stay for up to three weeks sometimes before finding a mission. Or deciding to move on. Samantha tells me you already have an exceptional start." Thomas said. "If it wouldn't be troublesome then sir. I would like to learn my parent's skills." Ishara said after several minutes of hesitation. "I'm glad to hear that." Thomas replied with a smile. "Sir?" Ishara questioned. "I'm not a tailor Little Rabbit. This choice is something for you. Something that you want; and something that only you can do. I'm glad you still know how to want something for yourself." Thomas explained. Ishara gave him an uneasy smile as she continued to poke at her food. "Is there something wrong with your meal?" he questioned. "No sir, its fine." Ishara replied. "I'm just... not hungry." "Not completely a lie. But its only half the truth." Thomas thought watching her. She ate slowly; she didn't seem to make any faces when she swallowed to show that she hated the food. But each movement was sluggish like something weighed heavily on her. "I'm sure of it now." He decided. "Take your time. The day isn't over yet." He told her.
"May I come in with you?" Thomas asked. Ishara looked at him confused. "You paid for the room sir." She replied. "But I rented it for you. It's your private place. I would like to speak to you though and id rather we didn't do it in the hallway." Thomas explained. "If you wish sir." Ishara replied. She opened the door and let him go inside first. He took a seat on the chair and motioned for her to sit on the bed. "What do you want to tell me? Ishara asked. She gently hopped on the bed but her voice betrayed her nervousness. 'I've cost him too much money. He can't take me anymore." She considered. "First can you please stop calling me sir, or Mr. McAlpine? I am glad you are polite to people you are just meeting. But this submissive; little servant act isn't you." Thomas almost begged. "I don't understand. Isn't..." Ishara asked. But she stopped when he looked at her sadly. "What does he want if not this?" She wondered. "This isn't what survived the Red Reaper's games. And this act isn't what convinced me to make the job offer. Ishara I've seen the real you; and that's who I would like you to be." Thomas said. "But I've always..." Ishara replied. Thomas shook his head. "You had a real fire when I interrupted you in the river. You did a great job yelling at me; and telling me exactly what YOU wanted." Thomas explained. "Because I was naked and the water was freezing." Ishara shot back. "Besides it didn't even get you to leave." "No but that's because I'm stubborn. And I do apologise for that. I wasn't about to stare at you in that state of undress. So I failed to notice just how cold you really were." Thomas said. "But the point remains. And that wasn't the only time I saw the real you. When you were fishing I saw it too. Along with a lot of other points in those few days I was watching you." Thomas explained. "So you want me to be angry? Annoyed?" Ishara asked. "No but don't be afraid to tell me what's on your mind. Be yourself. I know people that are extra polite like you are trying to be. And that's what makes them happy. But I know for you it doesn't. You think it will help you survive. But you don't need to do it with me. I picked the real you. And if you don't want to call me Thomas then try using a nickname. Or you can call me old man." He smiled at her. Then to prove his point he added. "Little Rabbit." "I'll try. But it's always been easier for me to not draw attention to myself by being polite." Ishara explained. "You don't have to hide anymore Ishara. In fact you shouldn't hide any more. That part of your life is over." Thomas replied. "It's so easy for him to say that. But he doesn't know." Ishara thought sadly. But she choose to change the subject. "You really seem to like the name Mr. Tennant gave me don't you? She asked. "I think for the moment it suits you. But in time I think I ill find one that better captures that little fire goddess you hide inside you." Thomas announced. "Please don't..." Ishara begged. "Don't like that one?" Thomas raised his eyebrow. "I do see a little of the fire god in you." "Fire god?" Ishara asked. "You aren't familiar with the elementals?" Thomas asked. Ishara shook her head. "Only Cyllene." She explained. "I have not heard of that one. Your village was very isolated wasn't it." He asked. "Yes. Is Fire the counter to Miss Lynn's water temple? Like my villages Dark Beast?" She asked. "After all this time am I still a captive of the dark Beast?" She wondered. "He's not a counter no. just different aspects. Water is the Goddess of healing and emotion. She is kindness; while Fire is the god of passion, war, and survival. It's too long of a discussion for tonight. But each of the four elementals represent their own thing." Thomas explained. "I think I understand. But please don't call me goddess. I'm nothing... I'm just a do..." Ishara started. She was interrupted before she got to the last word. "You aren't a doll. You have never been a doll." Thomas said sharply. 'But I will respect your wishes and I won't call you fire goddess." "Thank you sir. Is that all you wanted to tell me?" Ishara asked. Thomas shook his head. "I wish it was Ishara. But I need to ask you something very serious." "What is it sir?" Ishara asked nervously. "Why have you felt so guilty today? It wasn't the new dress; or the hot meals. Was it?" Thomas asked. "I..." Ishara stuttered. "I should tell him." She thought. But she found that she couldn't speak. "Does it have to do with the Red Reapers and their game?" He asked. Ishara nodded. She wanted to tell him; he deserved to know. But if she admitted her crimes to him. She would truly have to face them. Ishara opened her mouth to apologise but nothing came out. All she could do was stare. "That's enough then. I can see that this topic terrifies you. So it can wait." Thomas said; after several minutes of silence he slowly stood up and gave her a kind smile. "Get some rest. You can tell me about it when you are ready. Maybe tomorrow will help?" Thomas suggested. There is someone that I'd like for you to meet." He told her. Ishara looked at him confused but she didn't say a word this time. "No spoiling the surprise." Thomas frowned. "I wish I could believe that" She thought plopping onto the bed.
"Where are we going?" Ishara asked quietly. "Ah you found your voice again. Excellent." Thomas smiled. "But you will have to wait and see. It's a surprise." "I don't like surprises." Ishara whispered bravely. "This isn't a bad surprise." Thomas promised. "But it may seem frightening at first. I'm going to introduce you to someone." "Is that why you insisted I have another bath?" Ishara asked. "Exactly. Artemis is an important man in this area. If I'm going to introduce him to my new friend it would be beneficial for her to look her best." Thomas smiled. "Someone important? Sir I don't think that's a good idea." Ishara protested. "Surely someone like that would know who I am or what I've done." She thought afraid. "No I have dealings with Artemis all the time. He will meet you sooner or later. What better time is there then when we have no pressing business." Thomas explained. Ishara nodded and didn't say anything else about it. That was until she started to notice something. The largest building in the city seemed to be looming closer. By mid-morning there could be no doubt as they passed the last block and it was the only place they could be going. "Sir what is that?" Ishara asked dreading the answer. "The biggest building in town; and he says we are going to meet someone important. That almost has to be his house; but a place that size could fit my entire village." She thought nervously. "I suppose you never have seen a castle before have you? Going directly from one small town to another." Thomas guessed. "A castle? Like in stories?" Ishara asked. "I never imagined they were real." She thought. "Yes just like stories. This castle is the seat of ruler ship for this city and several towns. Including Forest Lake. There are several groups of people in there with an interest in the Red Reapers. The Duke himself assigned these people and I often work with them.' Thomas explained. "So we are going to meet more watchmen?" Ishara asked. "Not watchmen. These are generals in the Duke's army. They have the specific task of dealing with the Red Reapers since most of their activity is here in this territory." Thomas told her. "Will they know what happened in my village? If these... generals are watching the Red Reapers then they must know... then they will know what I've done. Will they want me then?" Ishara wondered. She dreaded the answer so she kept quiet instead. They walked in silence then until they reached a large door with two men dressed similar to the city's watch standing in front of it. "I'm sorry sir but public audiences don't start until after lunch." One of the guards said. "Don't you know who that is?" The other guard, an older man barked at him. "Good morning Mr. McAlpine what can we do for you?" He asked Thomas. "I would like to speak with Artemis. As well as one of the maids about the Red Reapers." Thomas replied. "One of the maids? Just any maid?" The older guard asked. Thomas shook his head. "No I have a specific one in mind. But she's... special. So I'll have to go through Artemis anyway." Thomas replied. "Very well proceed to the audience chamber and wait. It may be a few while we find him." The older guard warned. "That's fine. But he is expecting me." Thomas replied. "That should make things easier. Proceed." The older guard said and opened the large door. He led Thomas and Ishara inside. "Is this whole building like this? It's like the wedding area in the community center." Ishara thought amazed. The decorations weren't really that extravagant; but that's not what she thought looking at the various paintings and statues along the way deeper into the castle. In truth it was more then a little intimidating for her. They walked through that hallway straight until they reached a set of doors being watched by two more men like the ones at the front gate. They let the two of them in without a word while the older man left to find Artemis. "It's huge." Ishara thought looking at the large room. You could have fit six of her store rooms in this one room. "Why is it so big?" She asked. "Duke Windley uses this area to meet with people. Sometimes large groups at a time." Thomas explained. He looked around but they were the only ones in the room. "Sorry but we will have to wait here awhile. The man we are meeting with is very busy." He explained. "That's ok." Ishara replied. "Intimidating isn't it? Being in such a large empty room?" Thomas asked. Ishara nodded. "A little yes. But I used to be scared of being outside too." She admitted. "That's understandable. You grew up in a forest. You probably weren't used to seeing the open sky. But the important part is that you adapted." Thomas smiled at her. After some time two men walked into the audience chamber. They looked at Thomas; then at Ishara and smiled. "Thomas who is this little lady?" One of them asked. "Artemis I would like you to meet Ishara. I found her in Forest lake." Thomas said. He looked at Ishara and noticed that she was almost trying to hide behind him. He smiled and stepped back to put her in the forefront. 'Ishara I would like you to meet Duke Artemis Windley; and his general Miles Ripley." "Duke? This guy is the leader of this city?" Ishara thought nervously. "Hello sir's." She said politely. "Good morning young lady.' Artemis said. He turned back to Thomas. "You found her in Forest Lake?" "She will be travelling with me." Thomas explained. "I see. What is your full name young lady?" Artemis asked. Ishara looked at him locked in place. "If I lie to him. He will know." She realised. "She hasn't actually told me her last name yet." Thomas admitted. "My name is Ishara R..." Ishara started but her voice locked up. "Ishara Rawluk what have you done to your dress?" She heard her mothers voice scolding her. "Is something wrong?" Thomas asked concerned. "I'm sorry sir... I can't." Ishara replied. "May I ask why?" Artemis asked. "I owe them at least that. Especially Mr. McAlpine." Ishara realized. "The last time I heard my name was the night before my village was attacked. And my mommy was angry at me." She tried to explain. "Attacked? I haven't heard about Forest Lake being attacked." Artemis asked confused. "I found her in Forest Lake sire. But that's not where she came from." Thomas explained. He looked to Ishara and asked. "May I?" She nodded so he continued. "She originally came from a nameless village hidden in the forest. It was attacked by the Red Reapers and as far as I know everyone was killed." "I'm sorry." Artemis said. "How did she survive?" "It was the Hunter sire. She was one of his playthings. But when it was time for her final game. Something happened. He brought her near Forest Lake for some reason and was killed before he could kill her." Thomas explained. "So it's true then? The rumours that the Hunter is dead? That's remarkable that she survived." Artemis said. "Well then young lady. I won't press you for your last name. How did you come to travel with Thomas?" He asked looking directly at Ishara. "He... found me. But then he wouldn't leave me alone." Ishara replied sheepishly. "You harassed her?" Artemis frowned. "In a matter of speaking. But it wasn't that simple. She was living on the streets and presented me with a mystery I simply had to solve. One of your former guards helped me realise she might be perfect to help me." Thomas explained. "She seems a little young to be travelling with you. Or do you plan to hang up your sword and just wander?" Artemis asked. "She seems young yes but she is a survivor. And I must add I've noticed that she can be quite cunning too." Thomas explained. Artemis nodded and turned back to Ishara. "So Miss Ishara why don't you tell me something about yourself. How do you like travelling with a man like Thomas?" he asked. "What does he want to know?" Ishara asked herself. "I can't really tell you anything important sir. I'm no one. My home didn't even have a name and now it's gone. Sir I'm just a..." She started. "Little Rabbit you don't have to convince yourself of that any more. You aren't a doll and you don't need to become one. Not now; not ever." Thomas interrupted. "A doll?" Artemis asked. "It's a coping mechanism sire. For three years she's had nothing. And she lived in fear of what the Red Reapers would do if she accepted anything." Thomas explained. "Are you still afraid of the Red Reapers?" Artemis asked her. "Yes sir. Mr. McAlpine can defend himself better then most that have tried to help me. But the game never truly ended. The Hunter's will find me; and Mr. McAlpine..." Ishara replied. "And that brings me to one of the reasons I wanted her to meet you. I have shown her what happens when the Red Reapers try to intimidate me. but her fears are too strong. I hoped you could help her to understand who I am and what it is I do." Thomas explained. "I'm not sure I'm the right person for it. But little lady you saw him dispatch a Red Reaper I'm assuming. Why do you still think they can harm you?" Artemis asked. "Sir it's a nice thought. But no one can be safe from the Hunters. Mr. McAlpine took out two of them but they have the numbers to slaughter my entire village. And I've seen how much people fear them in Forest Lake." Ishara said quietly. "So then how can one man keep you safe from them?" Artemis asked. "They will hurt Mr. McAlpine." Ishara replied. "It's true that the Red Reapers could overtake Thomas with pure numbers. But this is his job. He is smart enough not to fight them on their terms. And now that he has you with him; he's going to be even more careful aren't you Thomas." Artemis glared at Thomas. "Of course. But I was never just relying on you to explain it. I need her to speak with your maid." Thomas admitted. "My maid?" Artemis asked suspiciously. "Yes your newest one. The maid you shouldn't even have." Thomas smiled. "How do you know about her?" Artemis demanded. "It's my job to know. But I have no intention of straining your relationship with Sutherland. I'm sure she isn't being harmed here." Thomas replied. "Why do you want to see her?" Artemis asked protectively. "She was also a victim of the Red Reapers not long ago. Tell me Duke Windley. Is she still afraid of them? Does she expect them to storm the castle and kill all of you to retrieve her?" Thomas asked. "No. so you think her story can help your young friend?" Artemis guessed. "I'm sorry but you can't see her right now. She is attending lessons with Rei. I would rather she not be interrupted." Artemis replied. "You have been educating the girl? How noble." Thomas beamed. "How about later then? When she is supposed to be working perhaps? She is still a maid isn't she? You haven't adopted her yet?" "Oh waters mercy no. She was positively terrified when we assigned her to lessons with my daughter. She's latched onto working like some kind of security blanket. If I try to take that away from her now..." Artemis said. "She would fall apart. It sounds like you have already started toying with the idea of changing that." Thomas commented. "She has been getting along very well with Rei. I would rather keep her here as a friend for my daughter then risk the Sutherland alliance. But her health and safety has to come first; right now it's the best I can manage for the time. She is being properly educated with my daughter. The two of them have become good friends so she's only allowed to work for a few hours a day. I've gotten her to accept that. She spends the rest of her time playing, or learning with Rei." Artemis explained. "I'm thinking about assigning her as my daughter's personal maid." Thomas started laughing. "You sly dog. I didn't know you could be so devious." Ishara looked at him confused. "Why do they talk like she's a child? And what does Mr. McAlpine mean?" She thought. "The Duke here figures that if he assigns the maid to his daughter. Rei will be able to fool her into thinking she's working when they are really just goofing off and having fun." Thomas explained. "More or less. Rei doesn't like seeing her working." Artemis answered. "Why did you hire her then?" Ishara asked. "I didn't know what else to do with her. It was always meant as a temporary solution." Artemis admitted. "Could we return later then to speak to her? Miles here can make sure that I don't pull out an armband and try to drag her away." Thomas suggested. "Why don't you spend the night in the castle. When she is free; or rather on duty. I can assign her to tend to your supper order so you can speak to her." Artemis offered. "Stay here? He can't... Thomas can't let him." Ishara thought terrified. "That is an excellent idea." Thomas said. He turned to Ishara. "It's rare but sometimes the job requires staying in the castle for a number of days. The sooner you get used to that idea the better." He explained. "But sir. I must return to the inn." Ishara protested. "If I stay here....the Hunters." "Ishara." Thomas stared at her. "It would be rude to decline a Dukes invitation." He told her sternly. "Yes sir." Ishara replied quietly. 'There's no way to change his mind." She realized. "Then it's settled. Miles will assign your rooms and later tonight you will have a guest maid. But I am warning you Thomas. Don't intimidate her; don't upset her; and don't hurt her." Artemis said forcefully. "Of course not. But I am trying to teach Ishara something. May I request she's put in the pink rooms?" Thomas asked. "You wish to bunk with her?" Artemis frowned. "No I'll take the rooms across the hall. But allow me to put it this way. My new assistant constantly protests comfort. She fights me at every night we don't sleep in the grass." Thomas grinned. "So you want to punish her for it. Very well she will have the pink rooms." Artemis declared. "Punish me? is that what he's trying to do? What have I done wrong?" Ishara thought confused. "If you two are ready." Miles Ripley interrupted. "Yes of course. Let's go." Thomas replied. Miles Ripley led the two of them to the pink rooms and let them inside. "They can't be serious." Ishara thought looking at the pink rooms. There were three rooms connected to each other with two of them being bedrooms. The hunter could have stored all twelve of them and had room for more then twice that. Shivering she turned to Thomas after Miles had left them alone. "Sir shouldn't we return to the inn? We left our things there." She offered. "Oh so now you like the inn huh?" Thomas teased. "Our things will be safe there for now. But depending how this meeting goes I may go get them later tonight." "I could go get them." Ishara tried. "Then you won't come back. No I don't think that's necessary. But perhaps I should ask the Duke to allow you to stay here for a few extra days." Thomas threatened. "Please sir..." Ishara begged. "I won't I promise. But you have to come to accept this. Your days of sleeping in the dirt are over. You now have a sleeping bag for when we are on the road and we will always be staying at an inn for from a few days to a couple weeks at a time. And yes on a rare occasion we will be staying in castles. Some of them being far more grand then this one." Thomas explained. "You should see the grand palace in Avalon." "How rare?" Ishara asked. "Generally only once or twice a year. But if there is something big happening it can easily become much more then that." Thomas replied. "I don't know if I can handle that sir. The inn has been hard enough to get used to. But this... room is big enough for more then twenty of me." Ishara said softly. 'I understand it's a change Little Rabbit. But we won't be here long. If all goes well we will be back on the road tomorrow. But you should be prepared encase we have to spend another night here." Thomas explained with a kind smile. "I'll try sir..." Ishara replied. "That's all I can ask of you Little Rabbit." Thomas said.
"You wished to speak with me?" Duke Artemis Windley asked. Thomas found him back in the audience chamber shortly after lunch. Thomas had warned Miles that he still had business with the Duke. "Yes." Thomas replied. "Is this about your young friend's visit with Tima?" the Duke asked. "No but I am concerned about that as well. I really hope that Tima can help Ishara realise she's safe from the Red Reapers. But I am worried about dragging your young maid through those horrible memories." Thomas admitted. "Tima won't be alone. And we won't let her do anything she will find hurtful." Artemis assured him. "It may not be enough. But I have another idea that will hopefully help with the survivor's guilt I see." Thomas said. He paused for several minutes before he could continue. "Sire do you have any intelligence on the last known whereabouts of Darien MacGregor." He asked. "Last I've heard he was somewhere around Roddenberry I believe. Do you think Darien can help her?" Artemis asked. "Not Darien himself no. But one of his apprentices. Sire may I have use of your messenger birds? I would like to request Darien meet me in Sutherland." "Yes of course. Is that your next destination?" Artemis asked. "Ishara suffered many injuries at the hands of the Hunter. They have not been healed properly and my contacts in Windley's Temple of Water think only the healers in Sutherland can help her." Thomas explained. "That's quite the problem. If she isn't healed properly and gets hurt." Artemis guessed. "She could easily reach a point where no priestess will risk trying to heal her. That could lead to her death." Thomas nodded. "But if she's as bad as it sounds. It will take weeks for any healer to help her now. And it will be immensely painful." Artemis gathered. "I wish there was a better way. But it can't be helped." Thomas said with regret. "Well good luck then. She is going to need every bit of it." Artemis replied. "Thank you sire. I'll send that message and get back to the Little Rabbit. The large quarters we put her in here have her terrified." Thomas smiled. "Strange name you have for her." Artemis commented. "It was something she received in Forest Lake long before I found her. At times she's almost skittish like a little rabbit waiting for something to eat her." Thomas explained. "Fair enough. Even I have seen that aspect of her. But you must have found more then that to have her travel with you." Artemis pointed out. "She can also be a little fire goddess." Thomas grinned. "I would like to see that part of her." Artemis laughed. "I'll send Tima down to the pink rooms as soon as she can. But be careful; she's a lot more fragile then the girl you picked up." "I'll be careful." Thomas promised.
Ishara was startled when a knock came at the door. She was grateful that Thomas spent most of the day in the pink rooms with her. But the older man wasn't surprised by the knocks. "That must be her." He announced proudly. "This is your room. Why don't you let her in?" he suggested. "Yes sir." Ishara replied. She moved to the door and opened it to reveal two children nearly the same age as her. One of them was wearing a stunning dress while the other was in a little maid's uniform. "Would you like to come in?" Ishara offered nervously. "You're the one that wants to talk to my friend?" One of the girls asked. She eyed Ishara like she expected her to try and hurt the maid. "No Mr. McAlpine did." Ishara tried to protest. "Small Lady. I didn't expect you to be our chaperone tonight." Thomas laughed. "Ishara I would like you to meet the Small Lady Rei Windley. She is Duke Artemis's daughter. I'm guessing that she is here to make sure we don't terrorize her friend." Thomas offered. "I'm pleased to meet you Ishara." The well dressed girl said. "Thank you small lady." Ishara replied politely. "For her safety Miles insists we not use her real name. So this is my good friend Meido." Rei offered. The girl wearing a maid's uniform gave them a curtsey. "Why is she supposed to hide her name?" Ishara asked confused. "It has to do with hiding her from Sutherland. But we can discuss that later." Thomas asked after Rei started to give Ishara a shrug. "Good evening Miss Ishara." Meido said politely. Thomas started to laugh. "Little Rabbit you are about to meet your match." He grinned. "My apologies but I do not understand sir." Meido said confused. "Little Rabbit? That's cute." Rei giggled. "I mean no offense Miss Meido. But Ishara here likes to play polite. She wields it as a weapon to disarm those that might try to hurt her. With you however it's not a game. She is about to be turned on her head." Thomas laughed. "Can I call you Little Rabbit too?" Rei asked. "If you wish Small Lady." Ishara replied. "Not Small Lady. I'm Rei." Rei told her. "If you want to question my good friend this isn't the time for formal titles." She insisted. "I'm sorry Miss Rei." Ishara replied. "Now Ishara if you keep that up Rei is going to take her friend and go home." Thomas warned. "I was requested to come tend to your suppertime needs sir, and miss." Meido spoke up quietly. "In due time Miss Meido." Thomas promised. "Please sir that's inappropriate. It's just Ti... Meido." She replied. "Oh wind this is going to get interesting." Rei giggled. "Indeed." Thomas commented. "Ishara I'd like you to speak to Miss Meido." "About what sir?" Ishara asked. "Meido here has a story to tell. If you don't find it too painful to do so Miss Meido." Thomas replied. "Sir I'm not a storyteller." Meido insisted. "You can't mean for how.... I won't allow it." Rei protested. "I don't understand." Ishara said confused. "Ishara what Meido is doing right now is illegal in these parts. Children aren't allowed to work like this and Duke Windley can get in a lot of trouble for allowing it." Thomas explained. Meido looked down at the floor ashamed. "This one is sorry." She said meekly. 'Now look what you did." Rei glared at Thomas. "Then why is she a maid?" Ishara asked. "That my dear Little Rabbit is the question we are here for." Thomas smiled. He turned back to Meido briefly. "None of this is your fault. While I don't agree with Artemis's initial decision its clear to me that this is the best thing for both you and the Small Lady." He told her. "What's wrong with my father's decision?" Rei asked. "You don't even have to ask that Miss Windley. You clearly don't agree with it either. I see how you look at her while she's in that uniform." Thomas commented. "She almost looks sad when she looks at the maid. Like I saw in the others when they knew it was their final game." Ishara thought. "It's kind of a sad acceptance." She spoke quietly. Thomas looked at her shocked. "You are just full of surprises Little Rabbit. That's exactly right; how did you see that? Not many can read people's faces like that." Thomas asked her. "I've seen that look. Just before the others..." Ishara said. "They walked bravely into the abyss never to be seen again. Your village must have been made of remarkable people." Thomas said shaking his head sadly. "But that brings us back to the point. Ishara the reason that Artemis risks the wrath of Sutherland for Meido is that she is like you." "Like her?" Rei asked confused. "Yes Meido also lost her family to the Red Reapers." "You played the game?" Ishara asked looking at Meido. "No Little Rabbit. They wanted her for something else. One day I'll tell you about those red armbands. But the Duke brought her here because the Red Reapers still hunted her." Thomas explained. "The Hunters want you too?" Ishara asked quietly. Meido nodded. "Yes Miss. The men wanted me. So my daddy....he....he." Meido stuttered. "He died bravely trying to defend his little girl. But he held on long enough to get her to Windley where she could be safe. I suspect her mother died on the road long before she arrived here." Thomas finished for her. "Ishara I want you to see that you aren't alone. The Red Reapers have stolen the lives and happiness from many people. But most importantly I want you to look at Meido. What is missing?" he asked. Ishara looked at Meido unsure what she was looking for. But then she did see something missing. "The Hunters want her. But she doesn't look like the others." She thought. "Do you see it?" Thomas asked. "Shecisn't afraid." Ishara replied. "Meido why aren't you afraid the Red Reapers will come for you?" Thomas asked. "I don't understand sir. I'm safe here but those men do scare me." Meido said quietly. "If you came across them alone yes. But are you afraid they will come to this castle and get you? Are you scared that the Small Lady and Duke Windley will get hurt protecting you?" Thomas asked. "No sir." Meido replied. "Meido could you please tell us why that is?" Thomas asked. Meido looked at him. Then she looked at her small mistress. "I can't answer this for you. But if you don't want to answer it you don't have to." Rei said softly. "This girl... I..." Meido stumbled on her words. "Sir I'm not that important. They have no reason to come looking for me." she finally admitted. "And Little Rabbit. To the Red Reapers neither are you." Thomas said. "But sir." Ishara protested. "Miss those men don't care about girls like us. They want to hurt us in the moment they have us. But their interest is short lived. They have no interest in trying to find us now." Meido tried to explain. "Meido... They kept me for several months. The Hunter never lost interest in me." Ishara replied. "Ishara that was three years ago." Thomas pointed out. Meido briefly looked at him until he gave her a nod. "But Miss." Meido said turning back to Ishara. "Have they found you in those three years?" "Not yet but they didn't know where to look." "Miss Ishara I have heard Master Windley speaking with Mr. Ripley. There are a lot of those men." Meido said. "I know. That's why it's only a matter of time." Ishara replied. "Except Little Rabbit you said there were three of them in the forest that day. I found no more then two bodies. One of them had to have escaped." Thomas said. Ishara nodded. "It was Lex." She admitted. "Then they always knew exactly where to find you. Forest Lake was the only town you could make it to without starving to death." Thomas explained. "Then they are done with you. They won't come looking." Rei guessed. "Exactly Small Lady." Thomas said. "Little Rabbit the only one that wanted you was the Hunter himself. But he is dead now. The rest of them don't care about you." "Miss Ishara.... If I may be so bold." Meido asked timidly. "What is it Miss Meido?" Ishara replied. "It's not Miss... Miss." Meido protested. "If you both do that I'm going to get a headache." Thomas commented. Rei started to giggle. "Me too." Ishara glared at both of them. "That's my Little Rabbit. That look suits you so much better then trying to be her." Thomas explained pointing at Meido. "Hey! What's wrong with how my friend acts? She's just polite." Rei protested. "There's nothing wrong with it. As long as it's Meido. But that attitude does not suit my young friend." Thomas explained. "Would you two let her speak already?" Ishara demanded. "Sorry Miss." Meido squeaked. "I think she's becoming protective of my friend." Rei giggled. "Opps, sorry." She ducked behind Thomas. "Miss Ishara. If they haven't found you yet, they aren't looking. I'm sorry Miss; but we don't matter to them." Meido said quietly. "I can't believe I'm going to say this." Thomas added. "To them. You aren't even a doll. They all forgot about you the moment the Hunter took you out of your forest." Ishara looked at Meido. "They all believe what they are saying." She realized. "Your mistress is safe?" "Yes Miss Ishara. This one is not afraid they will come here, or hurt Mistress Rei" Meido explained. Ishara looked up at Thomas. "And you are safe?" she asked. "I will have plenty of further dealings regarding those people. But none of those encounters will be about what happened to you. They are not looking for you; but I AM hunting them." Thomas promised. "I... think I understand." Ishara said reluctantly. "And that Little Rabbit is a great place to start." Thomas said proudly. "Thank you Mi... Meido." Ishara said looking back to the maid. "I think it's an excellent time for supper then. Meido I insist that you join us." Thomas announced. "Rei would you like to join us as well? Or do you eat with your father?" "I don't think he would mind. I'll send for a maid." Rei suggested. "But sir. That's why I was asked here." Meido protested. "Not anymore. You provided a much more important service by speaking with us. So now you are going to sit down and eat with us." Thomas grinned. "That isn't appropriate sir." Meido tried. "You eat with me all the time." Rei pointed out. "That's..." Meido stuttered. "It's no different. Mr. McAlpine is our guest and he wishes to have you join us. So you need to sit down and enjoy yourself." Rei pretended to scold her. "Yes Small Lady." Meido replied. "I hope you aren't taking notes." Thomas whispered in Ishara's ear. She gave him a confused; but also slightly annoyed look.
It was getting late and that young maid from earlier already tried to force Ishara into a nightgown. A task Ishara was ashamed to admit was successful. Once more she lamented on how much she hated them; but was there really a choice? Meido had been so insistent Ishara almost feared the girl would be punished if she didn't put the night clothes on. But that had to be a stupid thought. The maid's Master was nothing like the Hunter or his men. She sat at a chair by the kitchen table. She couldn't even begin to process how this room even had a kitchen table in the first place. When a knock at the door surprised her. Ishara rushed to her feet and opened the door. Thomas was on the other side with what looked like her new travel bag. "Well it looks like you lost again. Did you have a run-in with a persistent maid?" Thomas asked. "Sir?" Ishara questioned. "Your nightgown. Your friends in Forest Lake filled me in on your feelings about them." Thomas explained. "They knew?" Ishara was surprised. "Of course they did. They are your friends." Thomas replied. "But Miss Lynn always..." Ishara started. "They hoped you would ease out of it honestly. It's not really comfortable wearing your clothes to bed. And with your limited ability to wash them. It was also a good way to get sick." Thomas explained. Then he smiled at her. "But you are wearing one now aren't you?" "It was Meido. She was..." Ishara shamefully admitted. "I've noticed that myself. She has a very interesting way of getting what she wants." Thomas commented. "But she acts so..." Ishara said. "Submissive? I don't think that's an act. But when she gets something into her head. She pursues it. A lot like you; but in a different way." Thomas said. "But are any of those ideas her own?" Ishara asked. "That I don't know. She may simply be that doll you are always looking for. With no thought beyond trying to please everyone. Or she could be trying desperately to repay the Windley's for their kindness." Thomas replied. "Anyway I went to the inn and collected your things." He announced. "Does that mean we can leave tomorrow?" Ishara asked. "Yes it's time to get back on the road. But I have some things to tell you." Thomas replied. "What things?" Ishara questioned. "It's not time for me to return to work just yet. There are still some things we need to do to get you ready for that. So here is what is going to happen now." Thomas told her. Ishara waited silently until he started. "I've noticed you have been having a lot of trouble adapting to this." Thomas said. "I'm sorry sir." Ishara replied. "Don't be truth there are very few people that can be happy in this type of life. But we need to find out if you are one of them or not." Thomas explained. "How do we do that?" Ishara asked. "Here is what is going to happen. You need to figure out what is right for you; but you can't rush it. I've asked someone to come to Sutherland. I would like you to meet them. I believe they can help you." "No this is wrong. I've caused him nothing but problems. And I don't deserve this." Ishara thought looking around. "In Sutherland we will have your old injuries looked at. That should give my friend plenty of time to find us." Thomas said. "Stop... Just stop please." Ishara begged. "What's wrong?" Thomas asked. "I have to tell you the truth. I don't deserve this. I don't deserve any of this." Ishara shouted. It was the only way she could get it out. "What don't you deserve?" Thomas asked. "Any of this. The kindness, the healing, the inns, the food. I don't deserve to be here." She blurted out. Her voice trembled. "Tima? How can I be here when..." She thought. Her eyes burned at the memory of what she's done. "Little Rabbit?" Thomas asked. His voice was full of concern; but that just burned her further. "It's my fault." Ishara started to cry. "I killed them all." Thomas knelt down and looked into her tear stained eyes. He spoke with nothing but kindness. "Who was it you hurt?" But he already knew the answer. "The others. I killed them... Tima, Diane, Catherine, I even wanted to see Sandra disappear. I was happy when she died." Ishara sobbed. There was a moment of confusion on Thomas's face at that first name; but it was gone before she could see it. "Ishara." He said softly. "How did you hurt them?" "I played the game. I sacrificed them all. I'm nothing but selfish. I should be with them." Ishara cried. "I shouldn't be allowed to travel with you." "Ishara. Do you want to travel with me?" Thomas asked. "I don't deserve to." Ishara replied. "Ishara that isn't what I asked." He pointed out. "I can't..." "Can't answer? Or can't travel?" Thomas asked. "How can I answer that? I should be dead... Like them. I betrayed them all." Ishara continued to cry. Thomas gently touched her face to wipe some of those tears away. "You did not kill them Ishara. The Red Reapers did; and only them. But I realize that you can't believe me yet." He spoke carefully. "Leave me sir. Let me die on the streets of this strange place." Ishara begged. Thomas shook his head. "No Ishara I'm not going to do that." He stood there in silence for several minutes. "Tomorrow we will start towards Sutherland, I'm afraid for now I can't give you a choice. You are going to receive proper healing and meet someone that I hope can put things into perspective." Thomas spoke finally. "Then what?" Ishara sniffled. "Then you are going to have to make a decision about what you can, or will do. But you are the only one that can do it. I'll try to help you in any way I can but after you have been healed I can't, and won't force you into anything." Thomas said. "You need to think carefully about this. Don't rush into a decision just because you feel you don't deserve it. However if in the end you decide that you really cant continue to travel with me. I will accept that." Ishara looked at him and was about to speak; but he cut her off. "If that's what you decide I'll make some suggestions where you can go, and what you can do. I'll even help you get set up. But I need you to understand this well. I will NOT abandon you to resume living on the streets. Nor will I allow you to put yourself in that kind of danger after I'm gone." "Yes sir." Ishara replied. She rubbed at her eyes trying desperately to stop the tears. Thomas wanted her to be a strong girl; she was trying to be that person again. "Don't worry. Just let it out. You are safe now, and warm. It's the perfect night to cry. I'll leave you alone now but I'll be right across the hall." Thomas promised. "Thank... you." Ishara barely whispered. Thomas though just smiled at her. "I know your upset. But could you please forgo the walk tonight? If you need anything promise to wake me up." "I will... sir." Ishara replied. She almost tripped over that last word as Thomas respectfully left her to her thoughts.
Ishara sat up and rubbed at her forehead. She really wanted to get back to sleep. Thomas promised they would be back on the road tomorrow. But it seemed that rest would elude her. Ishara's mind refused to shut down and let her go. "Now that he knows the truth what will he do?" Ishara wondered. She fumbled around for the lantern beside her bed and lit it. Somehow the sight of those soft pink walls were not a comfort to her. "What was he thinking when I told him? He promised me he wouldn't abandon me, but that was before he knew what I did. Can I expect him to keep that word now? Should I expect it?" She considered getting out of bed. she grabbed the lantern and walked into the main room of hercrooms. "At first he didn't seem like he noticed what I told him. Could he have not believed me? Or maybe he thinks I was lying? Then his mood may suddenly change tomorrow when he realises what a horrible person I really am. It won't matter that I tried to warn him will it." She thought. But she wasn't sure that was the case really. "I trust him." She said softly. "But that doesn't mean he will still want me to travel with him. There are ways he can get rid of me without breaking his word." She realised. "He could always hand me over to the Hunters?" She asked the empty room. "That would be a suitable punishment for lying to him wouldn't it?" She thought. Ishara closed her eyes; she could see the Hunters face sneering back at her. "No that would be stupid. McAlpine would never do that." She said out loud. "He hunts them. As terrible as the things I have done are. He wouldn't kill me over them." She thought. Ishara looked to the door. "Would a walk around the castle get me in more trouble? I promised Id skip the walk tonight. But if I got lost surely one of those guards would bring me back here?" she thought almost reaching for the handle. But at the last moment she pulled back and shook her head. "It's too risky. As much as a walk could help me clear my head. I'm on thin enough ice now as it is. I waited too long to tell him the truth. I waited until after he spent all that money on me." She thought. "No I've been selfish enough." She said out loud. Ishara sighed and started to poke around the room. It really was far too big for just her. "He wouldn't give me to the Hunters. But I killed them. He wouldn't be breaking his promise if he handed me to the constables in Sutherland to be locked away." Ishara thought with a shiver. "I could spend the rest of my life locked in a room far, far smaller then this. But I deserve it. I can't lie to myself. I deserve to be locked away for what I've done. So if that's what he decides to do... I'll go quietly." She whispered. "Maybe I owe it to the others to press him for that?" She considered. But then something else came to her. That maid she met was also being hunted by the Red Reapers. "Could he have no intention of locking me away?" She looked around the room with a different kind of curiosity. She has seen it in Forest Lake; but usually only when someone committed a minor crime after getting drunk. Never for something as bad as she did. "He could be planning to hand me over to someone like this Duke. And I'll be forced to spend the rest of my days working off my crimes." She considered. She wasn't sure what Meido had done. But maybe it was like Ishara herself? She lived by sacrificing others. "What would that be like? Being forced to clean a place like this? Meido doesn't seem to mind at all. But maybe she just learned to accept her punishment like I did with the Hunter?" Ishara whispered. "How often have I gone without complaint to that table? I even argued with the Hunter that I could take my punishment without needing to be tied down. So if I'm to end up like Meido. I'll suffer through that just the same." She decided. "But would any of that really make it right? Would any of them short of submitting to the Hunters themselves make up for what I've done?" She asked herself. "I'm not sure I have that option anymore. Whatever he will do with me I don't think he will let me go back to the Hunters. No matter what I have done." Ishara thought with a sigh. Ishara wandered into the second bedroom. This entire set of rooms made her uncomfortable. She still didn't understand why McAlpine asked for her to receive such a large room to begin with. "What if Mr. McAlpine is more like the hunter then I realised?" She wondered. "No that's impossible. He couldn't be counting on this being my punishment could he?" She asked out loud. "But he might. He could be counting on my discomfort." She thought returning to her real bedroom. "He has known everything about me since the moment we met. He may have known what I've done as well. Yet this entire time he's been insisting on forcing these things on me. The things that I know I don't deserve. The inn rooms since Forest Lake, the food, even a new dress. He knows how uncomfortable it makes me; he's said as much himself. Is he using that to punish me?" Ishara asked the empty room. But it refused to reply. "I hope not. This little discomfort could never atone for what I did. Tima deserves better. They all do." Ishara decided. She closed her eyes and tried desperately to push everything out of her mind. She wouldn't know until they got to Sutherland what will happen to her. It was pointless to focus on it so much now. What she needed was sleep so she wouldn't be useless to him tomorrow. With that Ishara went back to bed.
Ishara was supposed to be using this time to think about her options. She was supposed to be trying to decide what to do; or possibly what Thomas was going to do to her. But that wasn't what was happening. She hadn't been able to focus on any of that all day. Instead she was distracted by the things they walked past. Even though much of it they had seen on the way into Windley. "What if I had been born a farmer instead?" Ishara asked herself. She was looking at one of the nearby farms. "Would I still be home now? Do any of them have to worry about the Hunter's? I could even have been a boy instead. Able to defend my family if the Hunter did come." She thought sadly. It didn't seem to matter to her that all the men had been slaughtered that first morning. She was pulled out of her daydreams when Thomas announced. "It's getting dark Little Rabbit. We will set up camp here." "Yes... Mr. McAlpine." Ishara hesitated. She had been struggling with the question all day. "What do I call him? He knows what I did now. Calling him sir feels like a lie." She thought. "Have a seat over there." Thomas said pointing to an area where some logs had been set up by a fire pit. "This must be a common route." Ishara realised approaching the pre-set up camp. Then she noticed that Thomas was wandering off. She watched him walk a short distance and pick something up. "Is that a... no he can't do that." She thought nervously. She rushed over to him. "Mr. McAlpine. Isn't that my job?" She asked. Thomas looked at her and to her dread shook his head. "Not until you have made a decision. If you do decide to leave I don't want to part ways with you feeling angry with me because I used you." Thomas explained softly. "He has it backwards?" She asked herself. She had to be sure that it wasn't something else. "But... Sir.... McAlpine." She said nervously. "If I don't..." "Ishara I promise that's not the case. I do still want your help. That's not going to change so easily. Remember I've seen the real you; the Ishara you try so hard to reject." "Sir. I'm not trying to deceive you... I'm sorry." Ishara replied. "You aren't deceiving me Little Rabbit. But you are trying to deceive yourself." Thomas explained. "Sir... I want to." Ishara said finally. "All right since it seems to mean so much to you. I'll let you help tonight. But after tonight I'll only let you help again if I think you are up for it; and if you really do want it. Until we reach Sutherland you aren't my employee. You have no obligations to help me set up camp; you are just my travelling companion. A friend I've invited on a little trip." Thomas told her. His voice seemed final; but she didn't like the idea. "Mr. McAlpine. How can I be allowed to travel with you anywhere If I'm not being any help? That's why you asked me in the first place isn't it?" Ishara asked. "Ishara when I asked you I knew I needed to get you out of Forest Lake or you would never grow. But I'm sorry; I failed to see how deep the scars went." He explained. "Then you wouldn't have asked?" Ishara guessed. "I would have still tried to get you to come with me Ishara. That hasn't changed at all. You couldn't see it but that town was killing you. But I think I would have tried a different approach. It's too late for that now so in the meantime I don't want you to work yourself sick out of some false obligation. You need help Ishara; I'm going to see to it that you get that help." Thomas explained. "Why?" Ishara asked. "Why put so much effort into someone like me?" "Because I respect you Ishara. I respect who you are, and what you honestly could become if given the chance. Those Red Reapers took everything from you. They took things you probably don't even realise you had lost. Someone needs to help you get some of it back." "But you didn't even know me Mr. McAlpine. I was just something strange hiding in an alley. I didn't even admit to you what I've done until last night." Ishara pointed out. "Ishara I knew from the moment I saw you that you needed help. A town like that; Forest Lake can't support anyone living on the streets like that. You must realise that's why Brett taught you to fish, and trap small animals. Most towns that small would have found you a home. So I knew right away I was going to have to help you. the mystery of the Little Rabbit only helped me to figure out how. And it taught me the type of person you are. I saw the fire in your eyes multiple times trying to break free of the restraints put on it. You Ishara are a survivor; a cunning Little Rabbit that survived the Hunter's game long enough to live. No other girl has ever managed to do that. And I have seen you sacrifice everything to protect a town that hated you. It's a selfless act that speaks volumes about the type of child you are, and the woman you will become." Thomas explained. Ishara looked at the ground ashamed. She wished that was all true; but she couldn't even believe half of it. "Mr. McAlpine I believe that you are mistaken. But I trust that you will understand soon." She replied. Thomas sighed. "If you still want to help tonight. Better hop to it Little Rabbit before it gets too dark." He said instead. Ishara gave him a weak smile and set to work. It was strangely comfortable for her.
"Welcome to Port Aylesbury." Thomas announced. Ishara looked around at the brightly coloured town amazed. The place seemed as big as Windley; but even the Duke's city wasn't as bright as this. "Port?" Ishara asked. "You will see what I mean soon. But this is a port city. It's a place where boats dock and take passengers across the water." Thomas explained. "Will we be staying here?" Ishara asked looking around. They barely entered the city and already she has seen two inn's larger then the Forest Lake temple of water. "Not this time. We are just passing through. There's usually a ship to Sutherland that leaves mid afternoon." "We aren't walking?" Ishara asked. "No; it would take us weeks to get there by foot. We could do that if I hadn't asked someone to meet us in Sutherland." Thomas explained. "Is this place bigger then Windley? Or does it just seem more... festive?" Ishara asked herself as they walked through the large street. It seemed to go straight through the city as no buildings blocked her view of something strange in the distance. Ishara had never seen a port before so she wasn't sure what it was she saw. They walked through most of that street in silence until Ishara could make out the oddly shaped wooden structures and what looked like a large river from her position. "It's going to be a long trip. We better stop in here and eat something." Thomas announced as they were passing a restaurant. "Is there time?" Ishara asked, "Yes. It will only be a light lunch anyway. I would recommend a salad and some ginger biscuits because this is going to be your first time on a ship." Thomas explained leading her inside. "Why is that?" Ishara asked. "I don't want to make you any more nervous then I have to so I'm going to just let you see for yourself." Thomas replied. "That's supposed to make me not nervous?" Ishara thought confused. After lunch they continued down that same path until they reached the docks. Workers crawled all over the wooden platform taking crates into a couple of the strange looking structures she saw earlier. "Blessing of Cyllene. What is all this?" Ishara thought with wide eyes. Beyond those ships; almost sitting under them she saw a river without end. "This is a port. Ships here go all over. There is even a regular transport that goes to Avalon." Thomas smiled. He watched her stare at the docks in amazement. "Avalon?" Ishara asked. "A series of Islands in the north. There isn't any way to reach them except by ship. One day I'm going to have to take you there to meet the people." Thomas replied. "Oh." Ishara replied. "We are going to be taking one of those?" "Think of it as a... mobile inn." Thomas suggested with a smile. "An inn?" Ishara asked. "You will see. It's not exactly like an inn. But we should be able to board with plenty of time for you to explore." Thomas promised. They approached a building and went inside. Ishara wasn't sure what to make of the d?cor. There was an obvious theme to it; but she wasn't familiar with what. While Thomas approached the reception she looked at some type of wooden spiked wagon wheel. "Passage for two to Sutherland. Is there still room for a cabin?" Thomas asked the lady at the desk. "There is; leaving this afternoon." The lady replied. "Excellent. One cabin please." "We do have one with a double bunk. Would you like that one? Or do you intend to share a bed with the young lady?" the woman asked. "The double bunk please." "Your ship will arrive at pier 8. The ships purser will alert you when you may board. Here is your boarding passes with cabin assignment." The lady said. She handed Thomas two pieces of paper so Ishara resumed her place at his side. "Are you ready?" Thomas asked. Ishara nodded and they left the sales office and headed for the docks. It didn't feel very long before they entered a small room with two beds stacked on top of each other. "We are sharing this room?" Ishara thought with surprise. She looked at Thomas whom smiled at her. "I know. It's a little small. Ships don't have a lot of room to begin with." Thomas explained. "It's fine." Ishara replied with a quiet smile. "There's still some time before we depart. Would you like to look around?" Thomas asked. "I don't know if I should. This is such a strange thing." Ishara thought looking around. "Is it safe to? Will I be in the worker's way?" she asked. "Not if I go with you. come; you have never been on a ship before. Let's take a look." Thomas smiled. He held out his hand and they went exploring.
"I'm sorry." Ishara said meekly. She allowed herself to hang over the side. "This isn't your fault. Most people get sea sick." Thomas promised. "But you aren't." Ishara protested. "I'm also used to taking the boat. I travel a lot between Sutherland and Avalon." Thomas explained. "We will do this again?" Ishara asked. "Yes but you will get used to it." Thomas told her. "There's so much water. I can't even see a treecI've never." Ishara sulked before another wave of nausea hit. "Always by the forest." Thomas smiled. "Would it make you feel more at home if I told you that history claims there are tree's here? They are all below the water now." "History?" Ishara asked confused. "Ah; you have never been told the legends of the old world have you?" Thomas questioned. "No." Ishara replied sheepishly. "Well history tells us that long ago; in a time before kings. The world was ruled by a relic based magic. Much of the area surrounding this continent was said to be land covered in forests. But in the time of the first king and his seer. All that was erased." Thomas explained. "What happened to it?" Ishara asked. "No one really knows. It's mainly believed that the Elementals wiped it out. It's said among the many gods of old; the people had no respect for the elementals. It's said that fire ravaged the land; wind tore the old ways down; and water rose to wash it all away. Even Earth swallowed their last shelter of the old world leading to the rise of the king and the creation of Sutherland." Thomas told her. "Is it true?" Ishara asked. "It's hard to say. It could be. The Elementals don't usually gather to destroy. But there are trinkets and stories of the old world that still remain. But perhaps the old world merely destroyed itself." Thomas grinned. "Will the Elementals kill me like they did the old world?" Ishara asked. "Why would they?" Thomas replied. "I don't really know who they are." Ishara admitted. "It's Cyllene I go to for guidance." "Cyllene? It's interesting that your village had its own deity. Why don't you tell me about them?" Thomas asked. "Cyllene is the goddess of the Forest. She watched over us and protected us. She provided everything we needed. But we fell into the claws of the Dark beast." Ishara said sadly. "Who is the Dark Beast?" Thomas asked. "The darkness in the forest. The beast that awaits. When something bad happens the Dark Beast had its hand." Ishara replied. "Cyllene the protector, and provider. And the Dark beast the destroyer, and the teacher of what danger lurks in a forest. It sounds like your deity's shared many things with the Elementals." Thomas suggested. "But I don't believe in the Elementals. I don't really know them. So am I in danger?" Ishara asked again. Thomas shook his head. "No; the Elementals don't care if you believe in them or not; if you worship them, or provide tribute. But if people as a whole return to the old ways; then who knows. But they will not kill one little girl for growing up with a different belief." Thomas smiled at her. "Come; lets go back inside." He insisted. Ishara nodded and they returned to their cabin.
Thomas took Ishara back to the deck where they watched the distant city grow closer at an alarming rate. Ishara stared at the outline; it seemed like a giant wall surrounded all but the cities port. She watched it get closer and it was soon revealed that even the port was twice the size of Port Aylesbury. "This is a big town." Ishara shuddered. If she were to get lost here she would never find Thomas again. As the ship docked they were eased off in an orderly line. In that time Thomas did not speak to her. Instead he was keeping a very close eye on Ishara so they didn't get separated in the crowd. It was only after they disembarked and he could pull her off to the side that he said anything. "Stay close to me Little Rabbit." "Where are we going to go?" Ishara asked glancing at the nearby crowds. "How do you feel?" Thomas countered. "Fine." Ishara lied. "It's not polite to lie." Thomas pointed out. "I'll take you to the inn first so you can rest. You did really well for your first time on a boat." "But..." Ishara said. "You still look like you are going to throw up. I can also tell you haven't slept properly since we left Port Aylesbury and your face has not regained its colour. I could take you to the Temple looking like that. But they couldn't do anything to help you. And they won't start your treatments until you have recovered from the trip." Thomas interrupted. "Ok." Ishara replied. They slowly made their way to the inn. With Thomas stopping every so often to tell her something about the things she saw in the massive city. "Two rooms please." Thomas announced. The receptionist smiled at him. "Your back? Who is this young one?" She asked. "This is Ishara. She's considering travelling with me." Thomas explained. "Considering? Does that mean he does still want me to go with him?" Ishara wondered. "S... Mr. McAlpine. I really don't need my own room." She spoke up. "We have been over this." Thomas replied and looked at her. He stopped dead; realizing there was more to her protest. Instead he turned back to the receptionist. "We can catch up later." He promised and paid. She gave him two room numbers and Thomas led Ishara upstairs. "Let's talk inside." He suggested. Ishara nodded and followed him inside. "What's really bugging you? I know you understand why you have to have your own room." "Because I'm a girl and you're a grown man." Ishara repeated. "And that is extremely inappropriate. But I think you understand that; so what is this really about?" Thomas pointed out. "I understand that you must stay at inn's between traveling. But I don't fully understand why. And this is just too much. We have spent more time in these then on the road where you hired me to help." Ishara admitted indicating the room. "I do have a confession to make in regards to that. As long as you are travelling with me. I intend to spend a lot more time in the cities; and these inns, then usual. I normally do spend more time on the road then you will be seeing." Thomas said. "Then why?" Ishara asked. "Because of you. Ishara for the last three years you have lived on the streets; and you are only twelve. After the Temple of Water tends to you we will have to adjust. To put it simply Ishara you need an education." Thomas explained. "What do you mean? We won't travel?" Ishara asked. "Does he want me here? Am I in the way?" She asked herself. "No we will still travel and I will still do my job. But we will have to hang around the cities longer then usual. You need access to the libraries of the Wind Society to learn. Once you are properly prepared I may allow us to go back to normal and spend more time on the road. If that is what you wish." He explained. "It is. That is why you brought me along. Not to spend my nights in these." Ishara replied simply. "Yes but it's also still my choice. I did ask you to work for me; not the other way around. I could also choose to force you into a warm bed more often if I so wish." Thomas grinned. "Please don't." Ishara begged. "I will make no promises on that one either way. There is still a bit of time until your education has caught up." Thomas told her. "Why do I need it?" Ishara questioned. "Why indeed. You were nine when you ended up on the streets were you not? Did your parents teach you to read and write?" Thomas countered. "Yes of course." Ishara replied. "Then you must see the benefit. A young woman's options are limited if she can't read. And you my Little Rabbit have already shown how cunning you can be with limited education. With the right approach you could become a strategist to rival General Macgregor in his day." Thomas explained. "Who?" Ishara asked. "And that my dear Little Rabbit is why you need it. I think your lessons should start with General Macgregor after your visit to the Temple of Water." Thomas suggested. "That doesn't answer my question." Ishara pointed out. "No but it gives you something to look forward to." Thomas laughed.
"Is that it?" Ishara asked looking at the massive building in front of her. "Yes this is the main branch of the Temple of Water. But the city does have a few smaller ones scattered around." Thomas explained. "We could go to one of them." Ishara suggested. But Thomas shook his head. "What you need only a Priestess from this branch will be enough." Thomas told her. "No sense trying to delay." He commented. Ishara nodded and they walked into the grand Temple of Water. Inside there was three reception desks set up; but only one of them had a receptionist. Already several people sat in nearby chairs waiting. "This Temple serves most of the city." Thomas explained. "But there is a smaller entrance in the back if you want to be a little more discreet." He smiled. "Why didn't we use that entrance then?" Ishara asked honestly. "Because Little Rabbit. You don't need to hide anymore." Thomas smiled. They walked up to the reception desk. "May I help you?" the receptionist asked. "Yes this young lady has some old injuries that need to be addressed. She has been to a priestess in both Forest Lake and Windley. But this was far too much for either." Thomas explained. The receptionist looked at Ishara briefly. "What is your name?" she asked. "Ishara Miss." Ishara replied. "And you sir?" "Thomas McAlpine. I'm a friend of hers." Thomas replied. She turned back to Ishara again. "Do you wish for Mr. McAlpine to go with you? or would you rather be alone for this?" the receptionist asked. "He should come." Ishara decided. "The priestess should be available soon to look at her. Please follow Yasuna to the back." The receptionist said. Ishara looked back at the people waiting. "What about them?" she asked stalling. "Don't worry about them Little Rabbit. You aren't cutting in line. If I'm correct the person you are about to see is only going to assess your injuries." Thomas said. "That's right Ishara. Your going to see Kimberly. She specializes in seeing what's wrong and knowing who at this temple can help you best." The receptionist smiled at her. "Please follow me." Yasuna spoke softly. Ishara reluctantly followed her with Thomas in tow. They were taken to a room a lot like what was in Windley and took a seat. "You don't need to be so nervous. You've been through this part before with both Lynn and in Windley." Thomas spoke up. "I know but you all say there is something wrong with me. But no one can fix it." Ishara said. "There isn't anything wrong with you. this is just a precaution." Thomas promised. "Yes sir." Ishara replied quietly. They waited in silence until a woman wearing the blue robes of the temple of water walked in. "You must be Ishara. I'm Kimberly. can you tell me about your problem?" Kimberly smiled at her. "Ishara here was unfortunately in the care of some terrible people. Most of her injuries I believe are three years old. But they are extensive and both the priestess in Forest Lake, and the ones in Windley determined they are beyond their scope." Thomas explained. "I see, and who are you?" Kimberly asked. "Thomas McAlpine Priestess. I have employed the young lady for my travels." "I see..." Kimberly replied. She turned back to Ishara with a warm smile. "If you could please wrap your skirts around your legs and lay on the table." "You don't need me to undress?" Ishara asked. "That depends on the healer Little Rabbit. Lynn knows you well enough that she didn't need you to. But the Priestesses in Windley didn't." Thomas explained. "And this is my specialty. All I need is for loose clothing to be adjusted. Otherwise I would not have let your employer stay." Kimberly added. "Even if..." Ishara tried to ask. "Even if you are ok with it." Thomas answered quickly. Ishara climbed on the table and folded her skirts around her. "Just relax." Kimberly said in a soft voice. She placed her hand on Ishara's forehead and closed her eyes. "Oh dear. You poor girl." Kimberly said after several minutes of silence. She continued the exam until she was finished and glanced quickly at Thomas. "If I didn't know the name Thomas McAlpine I'd kick you out of here to ask her if you did this to her." She said concerned. "No I came across her only weeks ago. The aftermath of what happened to her left her alone on the streets of a small town. I couldn't leave her to that." Thomas explained. "I'm afraid it isn't good." Kimberly said turning back to Ishara. "The damage is extensive like Mr. McAlpine said. But we do have a Priestess in the temple that can help you. however, I'm afraid that treatments for this much damage could take as long as two weeks." "We can't do that. Mr. McAlpine needs to..." Ishara started. "Priestess could you please tell her what the risks are to leaving this unattended? I'm afraid she doesn't seem to believe me, and insists because she can't feel it. It must not be important." Thomas pleaded. "Ishara do you know how magic works?" Kimberly asked. Ishara shook her head. "She was raised in a fairly isolated place." Thomas explained. "Well magic requires you to be able to imagine what you want to do; and how it could happen. It's the same with healing magic. But not all healers can do the same things. If you break your arm for example most healers have to envision the break and see it mending. But if you have an older break near the new one that never healed properly some healers may not detect that. They may not be able to see it. And it changes what the spell does." Kimberly tried to explain. "Can't it heal normally?" Ishara asked. "It can; but what if your injury is more serious then a broken arm? When the healer can't accurately see what's there. It can get in the way of treatment." Kimberly told her. "Why haven't these healed properly then? I think magic was used." Ishara asked. "You think?" Kimberly asked. "I was never awake for the healing." Ishara admitted. "They beat you unconscious?" Thomas asked surprised. Ishara nodded. "Not always. A five didn't need to be healed at all." She tried to explain. "You poor thing." Kimberly gasped. "It looks to me like many of your injuries were only partly healed." "Like the warlock that did it didn't give a damn about it. He got the bones useable and decided that was good enough." Thomas grumbled. "Warlock?" Kimberly asked. "She was a prisoner of the Red Reapers. They don't get legitimate wizards. And even if they did get one they would force him to break his oath pretty quickly." Thomas explained. "You poor dear. To have already gone through hell; and now because of that you have to go through it again." Kimberly said softly. "What do you mean warlock?" Ishara questioned. "Everyone that learns magic from the schools of the Wind Society takes an oath on how that magic is to be used. That includes the ones that come to the temple of water to continue their studies. A warlock is someone that broke that oath." Kimberly explained. "There are also self taught magicians that don't attend the schools. But magicians never have the skills to heal anything more then a small cut without the teachings of the temple of water." Thomas added. "So the twisted man was a..." Ishara started. "A warlock yes. Are you ready to do this then?" Thomas finished for her. "Yes... I think so. But I don't want to be in the way. And your travels..." Ishara replied. "You aren't in the way. This is something that needs to be done. I allotted the time for it; no matter how long it takes back when I asked you to join me." Thomas smiled at her. "Stop worrying about it." "Please come upstairs with me then. I'll get Priestess Ariel for you while you change. She will be the one that helps you." Kimberly said pleasantly. "Yes miss." Ishara replied and started to follow the priestess out of the exam room.
Ishara looked down at the blue nightgown with a sigh. She turned to the door of the changing room but she didn't think she wanted to leave. "Not again." She thought shaking her head. How was it that she was always being made to wear one of these? She couldn't delay any longer. She had already been in here for longer then it should have taken to change. So with regret Ishara picked up the green dress Thomas bought her in Windley. Now neatly folded on the changing room table. And headed out to face her fate. "All changed?" Priestess Ariel asked with a smile. Ishara nodded and clutched her dress. "I'll just take that then and put it in a safe place." Ariel said softly. Ishara hesitated; glancing briefly at Thomas standing behind Ariel. "Can't I keep it with me?" She asked. "It was a... gift." "It was the first new dress she's had in over three years. She doesn't have much." Thomas explained. "I see. I'm sorry but it's temple policy not to allow outside clothes for people here on an extended visit. I'll put it in a safe place and I promise that you will get it back when your treatments are done." Ariel smiled at her. "Is this so I can't run off?" Ishara asked seriously. "Is that a concern honey?" Ariel asked. "It might be at that." Thomas admitted. "But you don't want to run out in the street wearing that now do you." "It would be better if you didn't. That nightgown isn't very good protection against the cold out there. And your treatments are going to stress your system enough." Ariel frowned. "Stress my system?" Ishara asked. "It's going to be very hard on you. even with our magic your body is going to be working overtime during the treatments. If you were to catch a cold at the same time it could become serious very easily." Ariel explained. "I really shouldn't be doing this." Ishara thought. Reluctantly she handed Ariel her dress. "Now if you would just follow me. We have a nice empty room with a forth floor view you can use." Ariel explained. She led them both up a large central staircase. It took them to the forth floor and Ishara could see it went up higher still. "Its like if you put several of Lynn's temples inside an inn." Ishara thought peeking into several of the open doors along the way. Each room had four; and sometimes six beds spread out into them. But like in Lynn's temple they all seemed to be empty. Ariel led them to the very end of the hallway. A corner room with four sets of beds and a window view out two sides of the building. "Why is it so empty up here?" Ishara questioned. "You mean all the empty beds?" Thomas asked. Ishara nodded. "The temple doesn't get many long term guests. People staying a couple weeks like you are very rare. But they need plenty of bed space for those times when they get a lot of injured people at the same time and can't get them all right away. And the temple provides a place for the cities homeless to sleep when there's no sick people; just like how Lynn always offered to let you sleep in her temple." Thomas explained. "So will I be sharing a room?" Ishara asked. "No of course not. Unless something serious happens you get this room all to yourself. We would never allow those in need to share a room with anyone that's sick. During treatments you will be vulnerable; your guests will be carefully screened." Ariel told her. "Vulnerable?" Ishara thought nervously. She looked around at the four empty beds. "What kind of serious?" She asked to get her mind off the frightening thought she would be exposed and vulnerable. "It usually takes a disaster to flood the temple of water and fill all its beds. A serious fire, floods, or a battle. You have nothing to worry about." Thomas promised. "Pick any bed you like. You can even have the window beds." Ariel spoke up. "I think the Priestess is in a hurry to get you set up Little Rabbit." Thomas laughed. Ishara walked over to one of the beds by the window and crawled in. Ariel went over to a cupboard and fetched some blankets for her. "Get comfortable. I'll start the first of your treatments after supper." Ariel told her. "How long may I stay?" Thomas asked. "She can have visitors until nightfall. But you won't be allowed in here during her treatments; or for a short time afterwards while she recovers." Ariel explained. "There you have it Little Rabbit. Your stuck with me for a bit." Thomas grinned. "That's ok." Ishara replied weakly. "I don't know if I could do this without him nearby. This new game is frightening. I don't know what is going to happen. Except they keep warning me it will hurt." She thought trying not to shiver. She was now stuck here for up to two weeks.
It hurt but she refused to cry out. The priestess looked at her with sympathy as she returned to Ishara's side. "Here, drink this." Ariel ordered handing her a glass of thick; clear liquid. "What is it?" Ishara asked struggling to sit up. Her leg screamed at her with a mild jolt; even inside the protective brace. "It should help with the pain.' Ariel promised. Ishara drank it; and almost coughed it right back out. "Easy honey. I know it tastes bad but you can't just guzzle it." Ariel commented. "Unfortunately it won't take effect for awhile." "May I ask you something?" Ishara questioned. Ariel smiled at her. "Of course." "Why does it hurt? It feels like..." Ishara asked. She wasn't sure if she should finish that. "Your leg was broken in several places." Ariel tried to explain. "I know that Miss. Both of them were. Miss Lynn told me that's what the sound I heard when I... was." Ishara replied. "We haven't started on all of them yet. I'm afraid even with the pain killer I gave you. If we try to do too much at once your heart might not take it." Ariel told her. "Priestess I'm afraid she doesn't really understand how magic works." Thomas suggested. "Oh I'm sorry honey." Ariel replied. "We had to re-break your bones in exactly the same places they were broken previously. I'm afraid we had to make the break even larger to cover the entire area." "You... broke my leg?" Ishara asked surprised. "We had to honey. It's the only way to make sure it gets healed properly." Ariel explained. "So your going to have to do what they did?" Ishara asked. "Yes and no Little Rabbit. They will give you pain killers to help; and they will only do a limited amount at a time. They will never beat you unconscious." Thomas replied. "I wish there was a better way. But this is for the best." Ariel frowned. "Priestess? You asked for me?" Someone asked coming into the room. Ishara looked over at the entrance and saw a familiar face. "Yes, Ishara I would like you to meet Priestess Yasuna. She's going to be taking care of you between sessions." Ariel smiled. "I've met her." Ishara replied sheepishly. "That should make this easier then." Ariel said. "Before I leave do you have any more questions?" "What do you mean take care of me between sessions? Can't I..." Ishara asked. Ariel shook her head. "You can't get out of bed tonight. You won't be able to stand on that leg until tomorrow. Yasuna is here to look after you. She can get you anything you need; and she can be here to talk to you after your friend McAlpine has to leave." Ariel tried to explain. "What happens tomorrow?" Ishara asked. "Your re-broken bones have to set. Tomorrow morning I'll come back to properly mend them. By evening it should be safe to stand. But we still have more work to do on your legs." Ariel replied. "Priestess, if I may ask one myself." Thomas spoke up. Ariel nodded. "How often do you intend to work on her?" "With the extent of her injuries two, maybe three times a day. In the morning I'll mend the previous nights work; but I'll also have to start something else to mend that evening." Ariel replied. "Why does it have to be left so long?" Ishara asked. "Some things like scars can be opened, and mended right away. But bones are a different matter. Things we cant see with our eyes are more tricky." Ariel explained. "Can I ask about this?" Ishara questioned. She pulled back her blanket to show the brace sticking out from under her nightgown. "The twisted man never used anything like it." "That's just to keep the bone from moving. It's important that you keep still between treatments. I'm sorry; I know its uncomfortable." Ariel said softly. "Is it just for my leg?" Ishara asked. But Ariel shook her head. "You will have to wear one for your arm when we do those. And there are some worse ones id rather you not worry about yet." Ariel told her. "Thank you Priestess." Ishara replied defeated. "Do you have any more questions?" Ariel asked. Ishara shook her head. "Then I'll leave you and Mr. McAlpine to talk." She replied. Ariel slowly got up; and after taking one last look to make sure that Ishara was ok she left the room. "I'll head out to the hallway. Just yell if you need anything." Yasuna added before leaving too. "How do you feel Little Rabbit?" Thomas asked. "My leg hurts. I guess I wasn't expecting it to be like this. It never hurt when Lynn healed my cuts." Ishara replied. "That's different Little Rabbit. She always healed new injuries. What they have to do is heal what the twisted man left unfinished; or let heal on its own." Thomas tried to explain." "It's ok sir. The pain isn't really that bad." Ishara gave him a weak smile. "I'm so very sorry Little Rabbit." Thomas sighed. "It's going to get so much worse." "I'm ready." Ishara promised. "I'm sure you are. But this will be the last time the Hunter will be able to hurt you. You are in for a very bad couple of weeks. But this only has to be done once." Thomas tried to smile at her. "Won't it happen if I get hurt again?" Ishara asked. "Little Rabbit. If something happens to you while we are travelling. I'll get you to a healer right away. They will never have to put you through this again to make sure its healed properly. This is all because the Red Reapers didn't care." Thomas shook his head. "I wasn't supposed to survive." Ishara pointed out. "Not to them no. but you did." Thomas smiled. "I should let you get some rest though. I'll be back first thing in the morning. Would you like me to send the Priestess in? or would you rather be alone?" he asked. "I think I would like to be alone." Ishara admitted. "Good night Little Rabbit." Thomas replied and left her alone. Ishara struggled to lay back down and stared at the ceiling. "Is this really going to be worth it?" Ishara wondered looking up. She closed her eyes and tried to will herself to sleep. But the pain in her leg made it nearly impossible. It would take her most of the night before she got some form of rest; even with the painkiller the priestess had given her.
Ishara watched Thomas leave her again. She was really starting to hate when he had to go; but the Temple of Water wouldn't let him stay all night. She looked around for Yasuna who had been hovering nearby all day; but the Priestess was nowhere to be found. "I wonder where the Priestess went." Ishara thought sitting upright. She looked downward at her arm which was now in a metal brace to keep it from moving around. They mostly worked on her right arm tonight; but it didn't feel that bad. They gave her more of the painkiller juice this time so the pain in her arm was limited to a consistent throb except when she moved it too much. Ishara sighed at the brace and turned to the window. She tried to see outside; wondering what kind of things might be happening on the streets below. But her bed was too far away from the window. All she could see was the black night sky. "Maybe when the Priestess returns I can ask her to move my bed closer." She considered. But she wasn't even sure where Yasuna had gone; so she closed her eyes to try and sleep now that she was alone. But that wouldn't come. Even as she closed her eyes her mind wouldn't stop turning. She wondered what Thomas might be doing, she wondered where Yasuna was, what her friends in Forest Lake could have done today. No matter how much she tried to shut her mind down it refused to turn off. "I have two weeks of this. Will I ever really sleep during any of it?" Ishara questioned. It didn't seem like it; and what was to come started to terrify her. "It's going to get a lot worse. That's what they keep telling me. last night it was just my leg, tonight its just my arm. Nothing as bad as what was done to me on that table. But it's going to get worse." Ishara thought with a shiver. If it was this hard to sleep now; what awaited her behind all those warnings. "I can't do it. I need to take a walk." Ishara decided. She had too much energy and she needed to burn some of it off. Besides a walk might help her clear her head. "Just around the temple. That should be ok, shouldn't it?" Ishara questioned. She carefully slipped out of bed without bumping her arm. Then she left her room to an equally empty hallway. It was almost as if the temple had been deserted. A silly idea she knew, and she let herself giggle quietly about it. Ishara walked through the hallway on her floor at first, peeking into whatever rooms happen to be open. But there was no one around. And soon her floor wasn't enough; so she headed downstairs. One floor at a time. On the second floor was when she first saw someone. A priestess in the same blue gown that Yasuna and Ariel wore. "She didn't see me." Ishara thought with a smile after the priestess ducked into a room in a hurry. That gave her an idea. A little game that she could play; something she hasn't even tried to do since she left Forest Lake. "Don't let them see me. How much of this temple can I explore without getting caught?" Ishara thought to herself. It could be fun; play the hunters game on her own terms. Could she still do it? So Ishara continued on her way, working downwards to the first floor without getting caught. But when she got to the bottom she realised there were too many people on this floor. If she tried to explore it she would certainly get caught. "How far up does the temple go? I'm on the forth floor but the stairs continued higher." Ishara thought with a yawn. Her plan was working and she was starting to get tired. But now she wanted to know; she wanted to see the rest of the temple. This place was nothing like the Temple of Water Lynn ran in Forest Lake. So she pushed onwards; heading up to the top floor of the temple. Fourth floor, fifth floor, sixth floor. Ishara reached the sixth floor panting but still the stairs went up. She pushed onward fueled by her curiosity; but what she found on the seventh floor wasn't a floor at all. It was simply a door that she couldn't open. She touched the door and it was cold. "Does this lead outside?" she wondered. She was out of breath and feeling weak. But she wanted to know what was on the other side of the door. She carefully knelt down on the steps and tried to peek under it. But no light came from the other side of that door; just a cold wind taunting her. "It has to. Why would there be a door leading outside up here?" Ishara wondered. Mostly satisfied she walked back down to the sixth floor and started exploring it. But moments after leaving the stairwell she had to stop and hold the wall to support herself. "Maybe I should go back. That was a lot of stairs." She considered. It may have been too many stairs and she struggled to catch her breath. "Are you all right miss?" A voice startled her. Ishara didn't even hear someone else in the hallway. "I'm fine." Ishara lied. The new Priestess; someone Ishara had never seen before approached her. "You don't look fine. Here let me help you get back to your room. Where are you supposed to be?" The Priestess asked. "Forth floor." Ishara said weakly. "Forth floor? What are you doing all the way up here? Never mind. Here take my hand." The priestess replied. Ishara did as she was told and the Priestess slowly helped her back downstairs. Ishara directed her back to her room and with help; climbed back in. "At least I should be able to sleep now." Ishara decided looking at the Priestess. "Thank you." "Who is looking after you?" the Priestess asked. "Priestess Yasuna. But you don't need to..." Ishara protested. "You just stay put." The Priestess shook her head. She left Ishara alone and she was almost ready to finally drift off to sleep. Her exploration had been a success. That is until Yasuna came into the room and placed a hand on her forehead. "Just relax." Yasuna ordered. "Miss?" Ishara asked. "I don't detect anything. Except you look very tired. Why were you walking around?" Yasuna asked. "I couldn't sleep." Ishara admitted. "So you ran off by yourself?" Yasuna asked. Ishara nodded. "I just wanted to clear my head. I was getting restless and thought a walk would help." Ishara explained. "Please don't do that anymore." Yasuna begged. "Why?" Ishara asked. "It's dangerous. Priestess Ariel only did your arm tonight. But if she had done something else. What you did could have made it worse. Please don't leave your room unattended." Yasuna replied. "I'm sorry Miss Yasuna. I didn't mean to..." Ishara said quietly. "It's ok; no harm done tonight. Your walk must have helped; you look exhausted. So go to sleep; I'll be right here if you need me.' Yasuna smiled at her. "I promise." Ishara tried to say. But it all caught up to her; and she drifted off before the words could finish leaving her lips.
"Calm down; I'm here." Thomas said worried. Ishara cringed with the pain; and tried to cry out but she was unable to speak. It had only been two nights since she explored the temple; but she wouldn't be doing that tonight. Ariel worked on her chest this evening; now she was strapped into a brace that held her nearly completely immobile. If the panic from not being able to move wasn't bad enough; she couldn't even call out for help. The priestess found scarring in her throat from all the screaming she did after the games; and choose to work on that now too. "Hey focus. Look at me." Thomas said. Ishara looked at him and gave him a weak smile. "It's ok." She tried to say. The words couldn't escape her lips. She didn't want him to be concerned; she didn't want him to see her in this much pain. He said that she was strong. What must he think of her now? Looking at her; staring at her as she squirmed and tried to scream. She was only spared because she couldn't scream now; she couldn't cry out. Slowly Ishara lifted her hand and held out four fingers. "Four?" Thomas asked. Ishara nodded but the jolt caused her re-broken ribs to move just slightly. "Is that a measure of pain like you told me in Windley?" Thomas asked. Ishara nodded again despite the pain. "You said one was the worst. What's the best?" Thomas asked. Ishara held up five fingers. "You don't need to stay." She couldn't look him in the eyes. He would see the truth if she did. Today was closer to a two then a four and she knew it; she could only hope to keep it from him so he didn't worry. "Stay with me Little Rabbit. I know it hurts; try not to think about it." Thomas told her. "Easy for you to say." She thought giving him a weak smile. "No, he's right. I've had worse. I won't let him see me weak. He wants the strong me that survived." "It feels hard now. But your friends will be so happy that you'll see them again healthy. Won't it be nice to visit Forest Lake and see them again?" Thomas asked. Ishara nodded; biting back the jolt of pain from the movement. "Easy there. Try not to move so much." Thomas frowned. "If you agree with me; show me your thumb. Small movements in your hand don't look like they hurt as much." He suggested. Ishara tried it; giving him a thumbs up. She didn't move her arm but Thomas got the message. "Much better. How did that feel?" Thomas asked. She tucked her thumb away; and pulled it back out. "Good. Remember when we met in Forest Lake? You hated me at the time didn't you?" Thomas asked. Ishara put her thumb away but hesitated. She wasn't sure how to answer this one. "Be honest. I scared you. I wouldn't leave you alone and you didn't know how to handle it." Thomas smiled at her. Reluctantly Ishara put up her thumb. "Why did you do it? Why care about someone like me at all?" Ishara tried to ask. "I bet I know what's going on inside that head Little Rabbit. But you already know the answer." Thomas said kindly. "You like to say that. But how can your answer really be true?" Ishara wondered. "How about the Duke and his young maid? Would you like to do something like Meido if you don't want to travel with me after this?" Thomas asked. Ishara tucked her thumb away and left it there. "I'd understand if you didn't want to come with me now. You never expected that I would put you though this. But doing what Meido does wouldn't be so bad. People love her, she gets to sleep inside every night, warm and comfortable." Thomas teased. "I don't deserve any of that." Ishara tried to remind him. "No, its not the kind of life for you is it Little Rabbit? You need something bigger. With the right training you could be brilliant. A powerful sorceress perhaps? Surviving the game must mean you have the imagination of one." Thomas suggested. "Imagination?" Ishara wondered. "Maybe a brilliant tactician then? Or perhaps you would like to be a simple farmer?" Thomas laughed. "I saw you staring at the farms outside Windley. It's a lot of hard work. But you love hard work don't you? You like earning everything you have; even rejecting things you did earn." Ishara wasn't sure how to reply to that. But it didn't matter. The pain felt like it was getting worse; but that had to be her imagination right? What was it the Priestess said about magic? If you imagine it; it will happen. "No I don't think you're a farmgirl either. I see you doing some great things after this." Thomas promised. He started to see that she was getting worse. Keeping her busy wouldn't be enough anymore. "It's ok Little Rabbit. I'm here. You know your doing great. Not many in your position could handle the pain so gracefully." Thomas smiled at her. To keep her from trying to reply he grabbed her hand and held it tightly. "I've had worse. I won't disappoint him." Ishara thought. He stayed with her for most of the night; until Yasuna came in. "I'm sorry sir; your going to have to leave. She needs to try and rest." Yasuna said. "I'm sorry Little Rabbit. But I'll be back tomorrow morning." Thomas promised. "Can you do anything for her?" He asked Yasuna. "I can help her sleep yes. And I'll be at her side all night." Yasuna replied. "Thank you Priestess." Thomas said before slowly walking out. But not without one last look at Ishara. "Poor thing." He said leaving. "It's ok. Just grip my hand." Yasuna said softly. Ishara screamed into herself as she did what she was told. She gripped Yasuna's hand as tightly as she could; and refused to let go. "That's good. Just like that." Yasuna smiled at her. "Sleep now. I'll be right here." She promised. The Priestess closed her eyes and within a couple minutes; Ishara started drifting to sleep.
"You have some guests Mr. McAlpine." Yasuna announced the following morning. It was just after Ishara's first session; so her throat and ribs were now healed. But the Priestess had worked on her left arm; and something in her chest that didn't require a brace that morning. "General Macgreggor?" Thomas asked. "Yes. They are waiting for you downstairs." Yasuna told him. "Actually could you send them up here? They are actually here to see her." Thomas replied. Yasuna frowned. "I don't think that's a good idea." She explained. "It's important that they speak to her. However it's going to put a lot on her; could we suspend her treatment for today?" "I'll speak to Priestess Ariel but I don't think it will be a problem. But I'm still not convinced it's a good idea for her to have so many visitors right now." Yasuna replied. "I understand your concerns, but this is very important. There are some wounds your temple can't heal though. But maybe one of them has the insight to help her move on." Thomas explained. "Then this is about her attitude?" Yasuna asked. Thomas nodded. "I know a few others that carry the burden she does. But I can't help her. I have never had that; but one of her guests downstairs does." Thomas explained. "All right I'll go get them and she can continue her treatments tomorrow. She will still be sore today though; and until morning when we can finish this mornings treatment. As long as your friends don't push her too hard. If she gets too stressed out she might relapse this mornings treatment." Yasuna warned. "Noted. I'll let her know what's going on." Thomas replied. He returned to the room and approached Ishara's bed. "Little Rabbit. Your going to have some visitors soon." "Visitors?" Ishara asked. "I asked them to come meet you. one of them is an old friend of mine and his two apprentices. They are travellers like me." Thomas replied. "Can I get dressed first?" Ishara asked. "I'm afraid not. Your sessions are on hold for today but you still have to be ready for them to resume tomorrow morning. That means the gown stays." Thomas said. "Oh." Ishara replied disappointed. "Should I really be accepting visitors wearing a nightgown?" she offered. "Nice try Little Rabbit. But you are far too young for him and if he catches anyone staring at something they shouldn't he will knock them back to the Black Castle." Thomas grinned. "Mr. McAlpine, Miss Ishara. Your visitors have arrived. We are going to allow this to proceed but I'll be remaining to watch. If my patient has problems in this visit I'm sending everyone home. Including you Mr. McAlpine." Yasuna warned. "Understood." Thomas replied. "Problems?" Ishara asked. "I'm afraid this might not be a very pleasant visit." Thomas explained. "In what way?" Ishara asked sitting up. "Little Rabbit. I'd like you to meet General Darien Macgreggor." Thomas said instead. A man a little older then Thomas walked in behind the priestess. Following him was a younger man a fair few years older then Ishara; and something she had never seen before. She stared at the strange cat creature and didn't speak. "That my Little Rabbit is a Jiyu'rei. She's from Avalon." Thomas explained. "Little Rabbit?" The feline asked. She had an enchantingly beautiful voice. "It's a nickname she picked up before I met her." Thomas explained. "She doesn't look like a Little Rabbit. More like a little candle flame." Darien suggested. "She acted a lot more skittish in Forest Lake. The one that gave it to her says she was ready to bolt when he met her." Thomas smiled. "Well good morning Little Rabbit. My name is Darien Macgreggor and these are my apprentices. Duncan Forester and Terisa Swordsong." The older man said. "Good morning sir." Ishara replied. The man turned to Thomas. "You wanted us to meet her. Was there a more specific reason?" He asked seriously. "Actually yes. To be more accurate though I wanted her to meet Duncan." Thomas replied. "Me?" the young man was caught off-guard. "So you and Miss Wilcox are just window dressing." Thomas grinned at his old friend. "What do you expect me to say to her?" Duncan demanded. Terisa smiled. "Calm down Duncan. I think I see what this is about. But don't try to rush it." She warned. "You do?" Ishara asked still staring at the cat creature. "It's not polite to stare like that." Thomas nudged at her. "I'm sorry. I've just never seen someone like you before." Ishara said sheepishly. "She grew up pretty isolated." Thomas offered. "Miss Swordsong's people are telepathic. She can feel the same things inside you as she does Duncan" he explained. "No I'm not half Jiyu'rei." Ishara whispered. Her eyes widened. "That's what he meant!" "Who?" Thomas asked. "Mr. Tennant. He said that when I first met him. He knew I was going to run away when he found me." Ishara replied. "And what exactly is this about?" Duncan repeated. "Ishara here was a captive of the Red Reapers. She is the only survivor of her village. Duncan you know what its like to be the only one to live. I need you to talk to her about it." Thomas replied. "Then she has the same problem as Duncan?" Darien asked. Thomas nodded. "But Duncan hasn't completely learned to deal with it yet. Are you sure he can help her?" Terisa asked. "He still carries it with him. But he doesn't let it control him anymore." Darien pointed out. "And Ishara may let it get in the way of what she wants. She lets what she thinks she deserves dictate her actions." Thomas explained. "What are you talking about? What do you expect me to do?" Duncan asked. "Guilt Duncan guilt." Terisa explained. "You and her both share the same guilt from being the survivor." "And you think I can help her to end hers?" Duncan asked. But Thomas shook his head. "End it no. Only time can ease that kind of pain. But you have a perspective I don't. You can tell her how you have learned to cope with it." He explained. "Thank you for coming. But it really isn't necessary. I know what I deserve." Ishara spoke up softly. "You know what you think you deserve. But you have to make a choice next week. You can't do that until you understand." Thomas replied. "Poor little thing. You really do believe it don't you. And you intend to make a choice you know is wrong because of it." Terisa smiled. "Stop reading her thoughts." Duncan barked annoyed. "I'm not." Terisa replied. "It's written all over her face Duncan." Darien pointed out. "If you could stand to look at her you would have seen it too." "Tell her what your nightmares are." Terisa suggested. "I don't want to." Duncan glared at her. "If you don't. I will. Duncan not everyone you help will be done at a swords edge. Sometimes it takes the courage to face a memory." Darien spoke up. Duncan was about to refuse again when he looked into the twelve year old's eyes. He saw in her the same reflection he saw in the mirror. "When I was ten." He started. "Only a year older then she was. Why does this happen to people so young?" Thomas shook his head. "They had her when she was nine? And she survived?" Darien asked. "She was part of the Hunters game." Thomas explained. "I've heard of those but no one survives. I want to hear this story later." Darien said. They shut up so Duncan could continue. "Compared to that it feels like nothing." Duncan commented. He was no longer able to meet Isharas eyes. "It's no less important to you." Terisa pointed out. "But it's not a contest. She needs your insight, someone that understands. Not someone that had it worse then her." "All right." Duncan replied. He took a deep breath and forced himself to look at her again. "When I was ten a fire started in my home while I was asleep. I had a pair of pet mice and somehow in trying to escape the fire they knocked their cage down waking me up. But I was the only one that did. My mother, my father, my little brother all died." Duncan explained. "And you were responsible?" Ishara asked. "I don't know. I really don't know." Duncan replied frustrated. "The cause of the fire was never found." Darien explained. "But he thinks its his fault. Just like you think its your fault what happened to the others." Terisa said softly. "Ok that one isn't on her face. Are you reading her thoughts?" Darien asked. Terisa shook her head. "Only her emotions. This topic has brought up feelings of loss, and guilt. She had a strong connection to those she lost. Likely other prisoners." Terisa explained. Duncan looked at her. "I don't know what I'm supposed to tell you. I'm sure you have heard all of it several times by now." He tried to explain. But he continued. "I don't think it will ever go away. That's why when they tell you not to let it control your life they really are telling the truth. At least mostly. But it can still motivate you." "Motivate me?" Ishara asked. "I don't know what you have been through, who you have lost, or what you have done. But you are here now. You can make the choice to give up and make everything meaningless. Or you can live; get stronger and find a way to make amends to those you owe." Duncan replied. "Make amends? I could never..." Ishara started. "Only you can decide that." Duncan interrupted. "But you can always make amends, Live Ishara, live. Don't let this guilt steal the life you worked so hard to keep. No one survives the Red Reapers game. You not only managed to do that but you watched the Hunter die." Thomas said. "That's probably enough for her to think about for today. Don't you think?" Terisa spoke up. "More then enough. But if you could stay to visit. I'm sure she needs a break from her treatments today." "We would be delighted. You two don't mind a short break from your training do you?" Darien asked his apprentices. "Of course not." Terisa smiled. "I can see this one will have many questions about me." She offered. "I guess not." Duncan replied thinking about it for a moment.
Ishara cringed as another shot of pain surged through her chest. She had been getting them since sometime after her visitors left. And they had been steadily getting worse since Thomas was forced to leave as well; but they would continue until her next appointment in the morning. "It's going to be a long night." She thought clenching her right fist tightly. Earlier she made the mistake of clenching her left fist; and it surged through her arm like a fire. But even now she refused to cry out. Instead she set her mind to other distractions. "Meaningless." She thought forcing herself to sit up. "That's what he said. If I give up. But what does it even mean to give up? I am not going to die. That hasn't been an option since the Hunter's game ended." Ishara spoke softly. "I should have died with the others. I know that. But he spoke of making amends. Can anyone truly make amends for such betrayal?" She wondered. She had to hold her thoughts through another surge. "Give up..." she whispered. "Tima; can I make it up to you?" She thought. "Please, no matter what..." The voice echoed in her head. "I promise." Ishara whispered. "Am I trying to give up? I made her a promise before she died. I can never give up." She told the empty room. Her bed had been moved closer to the window so she stared out of it where she could see the tops of the buildings below. She only wished she could see the streets too. This city was a place Tima would have never dreamed of. None of them did. "If you were still here Tima; what would you tell me to do?" She asked. "The truth is I know I can never make it up to you Tima. But what if he was right? What if I'm trying to throw your life away? You gave me your life, you all did." Ishara thought closing her eyes. She tried to imagine the others, tried to imagine what they would have wanted. "They would have wanted to live. But I took that away from them." She thought shaking her head. "It's no use." She spoke. She climbed out of bed even though Ariel told her not to tonight. It didn't matter, the pain was such a small price to pay for what she had done. Ishara walked over to the window for a better look. After several minutes of simply watching the people move about the streets nearby. As her eyes drifted she found herself looking at a dark ally. Even the fading light couldn't seem to reach it. "You wouldn't want that for me would you Tima? I owe it to you not to hide. In a way I think I have been trying to join you Tima. But you don't want that do you? You made me promise not to give up. But maybecmaybe if my guilt over what I did to you were to lead me back to an ally like that. Giving up is exactly what I'd be doing." Ishara considered. Another surge of pain hit her chest and her knees started shaking. But she couldn't go back to bed. she couldn't give into the pain. "They wouldn't want me to sleep down there. They wouldn't want me to starve. Not when there are other choices. No; I won't throw my life away. Wallowing in guilt is the wrong way. I can't atone for my actions but I still need to try." Ishara thought. "I need to take the opportunities that they will never have. I need to live for them. I need to take what they unwillingly offered to me and not focus on the guilt. And one day maybe ill find a way to make it up to them." She thought. Her strength wavered but she forced herself to remain standing. "I can do this. For all of you." Ishara whispered. She stood there looking out the window for awhile longer. Until her legs gave way and she collapsed.
"No; I refuse." Ishara thought struggling once more to get back on her feet. But her efforts proved useless as another surge of pain took her remaining strength. Instead she lay there for nearly forty minutes with several more failed attempts to stand up before Yasuna opened the door. "Do you need any... Ishara? Where?" Yasuna said. Then she saw Ishara on the floor by the window. She rushed over and gently put her hand on the girl's forehead. "This isn't good. I need help. Lay straight and don't try to get up." Yasuna ordered. She quickly ran from the room. Yasuna returned a few minutes later with another priestess. Together they lifted Ishara off the floor and put her back to bed. "What were you doing?" Yasuna asked trying to make the teenager more comfortable. Ishara tried to reply but she couldn't speak anymore. The pain in her chest had gotten worse since her collapse. "Ariel told you not to get out of bed." Yasuna told her disapprovingly. Ishara looked at her with a weak smile. "I'm going to have your friend summoned. Can I trust you to stay put this time?" Yasuna asked. Ishara nodded her head but it still took Yasuna a few minutes to decide that was good enough. "She doesn't really think I could go anywhere? She didn't even leave me alone." Ishara wondered as Yasuna left the room. She struggled to sit up. "Hey none of that." The priestess left behind said firmly. Ishara looked up at her determined. But her body was against her this time. "It's no use." She thought frustrated. She could do nothing but lay there under the accusing gaze of the priestess of water. "Calm down little one." The woman said. This renewed her determination to prove she wasn't too weak to sit up. But before she could put it to the test Thomas came charging into the room. "Little Rabbit are you ok?" Thomas asked. Ishara looked at him and nodded. "What happened to her?" he asked the priestess. "Yasuna found her out of bed by the window." The priestess explained. "What were you doing out of bed Little Rabbit?" Thomas asked. Ishara pointed to the window. "You what? You can't put your life at risk like that! The priestess didn't tell you to stay in bed because she thought it would be fun." Thomas said. Ishara simply nodded. "If you know that why did you do it?" Thomas asked. "Never mind you need to rest." Ishara shook her head and tried in vain to sit up again. Thomas stopped her by putting his hand on her forehead. "She's burning up priestess." He said. "We checked her out when we picked her up. Her stunt aggravated her condition but she's going to be ok. She's just not going to have a very good night; that's all." The priestess explained. "Why can't she talk?" he asked. "If you want the short answer she's just too weak right now. But it will pass by morning." The priestess promised. "That's if she rests like she's supposed to." "There you have it Little Rabbit. Time to rest; and no more stunts like that." Thomas said. Ishara shook her head in refusal. "I'm serious Ishara." He replied. "Don't worry Mr. McAlpine. She isn't going anywhere. Someone will be here with her at all times until her treatments are finished." The priestess replied. Ishara shook her head furiously and tried to scramble unsuccessfully out of bed. "Is that necessary? It seems a little excessive." Thomas asked for her. "I'm afraid so. It may not have been serious this time. But she has much worse treatments ahead of her. If she pulls a stunt like this again; she may not be so lucky next time." The priestess replied. "Understood." Thomas said. He turned to Ishara again. "It won't be so bad Little Rabbit. But I'm afraid it has to be this way." "You can't let them do that." Ishara thought trying to resist. It was hopeless though; and she knew what was going to happen. She lost.
Ishara smiled at her guard for today. Making the priestess feel uneasy for a moment. But this girl was just a kid; she couldn't cause that much trouble. "I'd never get away with this if it was Thomas watching me today." Ishara thought amused. She wasn't sure she could bring herself to do it to Ariel or Yasuna either. She tried this once already just two days ago. She tried to distract her guard by asking for some of that painkiller juice they give her. But it didn't work then; she barely got out the door before the Priestess returned and busted her. This time however she had another plan; she would take her time and this time, it would work. She knew she wouldn't have much time; but she would make it count. Ishara watched the priestess guarding her carefully. Waiting patiently for her opportunity. When the moment finally came, when the priestess was just distracted enough. She struck; throwing her blanket over the older woman's head. Quickly Ishara bolted from the room. Behind her she heard the priestess's complaints but she kept running. "This should be far enough." Ishara decided almost four rooms away. She had to get out of the hallway fast. She slipped inside and looked around quickly to make her decision. "She will check in here soon. But probably only once." Ishara thought. She slipped into the blanket cupboard; quickly moving a few things around so she could curl up and close the door. After a couple minutes she heard someone enter the room and move around franticly. "Where are you? Come out!" A voice demanded. But Ishara knew how not to make a sound. She waited patiently as if the priestess was just as deadly as the Hunter himself. Soon she heard the priestess leave with a slam of the door. But she remained in hiding for awhile longer. Only when she felt it was safe did she carefully emerge from her hiding spot. But the priestess was no Hunter. It wasn't a trap. So Ishara carefully closed the cupboard door and lay on one of the beds. "Alone at last." She thought with a smile. She closed her eyes and basked in the silence of the empty room. "I haven't lost my touch. I can still play the game; and this time my prize is freedom from my guard for a short precious time." She thought relaxing, it would be short lived; she knew that, and accepted it. "What will they do to me for this moment of peace? They aren't like the Hunter. I don't think they will hurt me for it. Will I end up with two guards now? Will they starve me? Tie me to the bed? Whatever they do though; it was worth it." She decided. Ishara got to lay there for almost an hour before the door opened at last. But it wasn't one of the priestess's. They didn't think to re-check the rooms. "Ishara!" Thomas started to say. But when he saw her laying there like she was supposed to be; only in the wrong room. he burst out laughing. "Would you like to explain this one?" He asked closing the door. Ishara turned to look at him; but she didn't even sit up. "Does it matter why? I know I'll be punished." Ishara asked honestly. "It does matter Little Rabbit. You obviously weren't trying to run away. You didn't even leave your floor; never mind the building. So what is this about?" "Are you angry about it?" Ishara asked. "Angry? No. I would be disappointed if you were trying to run away. Or id be concerned if you were trying to push yourself until you collapsed again. But you are doing neither of these things." Thomas replied. "You do have the temple running around frantically. They called me up here and even have a priestess combing the streets." "I don't understand. Why?" Ishara asked. "Because they know you lived on the streets before. Your too young for that; and in a severely weakened state because of your treatments. If that's what you had tried to do; you would probably be dead within a couple days." Thomas said flatly. "I'm sorry." Ishara replied. "I think it's the temple you owe that apology to." Thomas suggested. "Yes." Ishara replied. She sat up to face him properly. "Being watched like that. It made me uneasy. It felt like I was back..." "Back with the hunters?" Thomas asked. "We were never alone. There was always two of them at the door watching us. Making sure we didn't leave, making sure we didn't docanything." Ishara spoke quietly. "This isn't the same thing." Thomas said. "I know that. But it feels just like back then." Ishara replied. "I'll talk to them Little Rabbit. See if I can get them to ease off on the guard. But there is something I need in return." Thomas said. "What's that?" Ishara asked. "You only have a week of treatment left. I need your word that until it's finished you will obey all of the priestess's instructions. No running off, no getting out of bed if they tell you not to. Don't give them any reason to believe without that guard your going to hurt yourself." Thomas replied. "I promise." Ishara said seriously. "Good. Let's get you back to your proper room so the temple can relax." Thomas said and picked her up effortlessly. "Hey! I can walk." Ishara protested. "Not today Little Rabbit." Thomas replied.
"This is it." Ishara thought as she walked beside Thomas back to the inn. It was getting late but her treatments had finished that afternoon. The temple just released her and while they offered her the choice to stay the night. Ishara was in a hurry to leave. "He's going to want his answer either tonight or in the morning." She thought trying not to look at him. "I want to get this over with. But if it goes badly I could be denied one last night." She considered. "No. better he have his answer now then to lead him on for one more night." She decided. But Ishara didn't speak until they approached a room at the inn. "You rented a second room tonight? Didn't you?" Ishara asked. Thomas nodded. "They told me you were ready to be released. I figured that you wouldn't want to remain." He smiled at her. "Could you come in for a minute? I need to..." Ishara spoke nervously. "Sure Little Rabbit." Thomas replied. He followed Ishara into the room and closed the door. "What's on your mind?" He asked, "I... I've made a decision." She tried to explain. "You don't have to do this tonight if you don't want to." Thomas offered. "No you deserve to know." Ishara replied. "From the sounds of this. I should remind you that I won't abandon you. If that's your choice then we will find a safe place for you. But I hope that I am wrong. What is your decision?" Thomas asked. Ishara took a deep breath. "I know I've caused you a lot of problems. I got lost in Windley, I've cost you weeks of travelling time, I got sick on the boat. But if you would still have me. I would like to travel with you." She said frightened. "There's the Little Rabbit that Brett saw. You look like you are ready to bolt." Thomas commented. "Ishara you haven't caused me any trouble. I wanted to help you in Forest Lake, and nothing you have done has changed that. I still want to help you. But before I say anything else I need to know something." "What is it sir?" Ishara asked. "I need to be sure of your reasons. This won't work out if you just think you owe it to me to do this." Thomas replied. "It's not that. Travelling with you I've seen a lot of new things. I've already learnt so much. If you let me travel with you then I know I can learn more." Ishara spoke. But she shook her head. "That's only part of it. And you can't take me with you if you don't know all of it. That wouldn't be fair to you." she said softly. "I think I know the rest. But please go on." Thomas replied. "One day I will atone for my crimes. I swear to Tima, Diane, Catherine, and all of the others I betrayed. But I can't do that unless I learn some new skills. Simply surviving each day isn't going to be enough. If I can keep travelling with you I know I'll learn something that might just help me honour them." Ishara admitted. "There's more isn't there? I noticed a lack of light while you were trapped in the temple. But if that's your reason. If you want to learn new things and do more then just survive. If this is truly what you want. Then you are welcome to join me in my travels. For as long as it's the right path for you." Thomas replied. "Thank you Mr. McAlpine.' Ishara said. "He's right though. Travelling with him has given me something I haven't had since the original game ended. Working to atone for my actions, helping him on the road. It gives me a purpose. I don't want to lose that." She thought. "Then it's settled. We can get back on the road tomorrow afternoon. You better get some sleep now." Thomas announced. "Yes sir. Thank you for putting up with me." Ishara said seriously. "Little Rabbit. You haven't begun to cause even half the problems you are trying to take credit for. I don't regret what I did in Forest Lake. But I am serious. Get some sleep. I'm going to be waking you up early tomorrow if we are going to hit the road by afternoon." Thomas said leaving her alone. "Thank you Cylenne for this opportunity. I promise I wont waste it. I'll make it up to them, somehow." Ishara thought staring at the closed door.
Four months later the two were only two days from the town of River Myst. They could see their targets in the distance but the two men dragging their captives along didn't know they were being hunted. While they were still far enough not to be overheard Thomas turned to Ishara without slowing down. "These two aren't going to give the girls up quietly. Have you picked out a spot yet?" he asked. "Not yet. I think I see one but we have to get closer." Ishara replied. "Remember. When I say scatter rabbit you need to hide. I'll do the rest. Don't try to be a hero. Not even to get the girls to safety." Thomas reminded her. "I know. I can help them after you handle their kidnappers." Ishara said slightly frustrated. "I know you don't like being reminded every time. But this is serious. In most cases you could be killed if you slip up. But these men are slave runners. They won't kill you. they will just sell you to the market." Thomas said. He gave her a reassuring smile. "The market?" Ishara asked. "I told you a little about slaves before. These men are slave runners. They kidnap innocent girls to sell into that life for profit. They aren't your normal thugs." Thomas explained. "I can tell you more about it later, but be careful." "Yes sir." Ishara replied. Thomas looked at the concern in her face and gave her a reassuring smile. "I won't let that happen to you." He said. "I know sir." Ishara replied.
"Scatter Rabbit." Thomas whispered as he approached the two men. Ishara scrambled out of the way; being careful not to get in the slave runners line of sight. "Good evening sirs." Thomas announced himself. He glanced over at the two girls being dragged by the men. "Interesting couple. They must be new though, are you slave runners then?" He asked. "Ya they are new. Not ready for the market yet." One of the men replied. He looked at Thomas suspiciously while his friend put his hand on his swords hilt. "Easy. I mean you no harm. I'm merely interested in those two. Are you both registered slave runners? Or would I need to deal with you directly." Thomas asked. "We are registered. What are you after?" The slave runner demanded. "Just them. If you are registered does that mean they are bound for the market? How long does that normally take?" Thomas asked. "They are bound for Vernheart. But how long before they can be sold depends on them. Its very unlikely that you could buy them specifically." The slave runner responded after a long delay. "That's a shame. Would you be allowed to tell me where you captured them?" Thomas asked. "I'm not going to answer that." The slave runner insisted. "It doesn't matter. I think I can guess though. They look like merchants. A mother and daughter id wager." Thomas offered. "Not bad." The slave runner commented. "You wouldn't be willing to part with them would you? off the record?" Thomas asked. "I can't do that. These two aren't even trained." The slave runner informed him. "Again, that's a shame. Then I regret to inform you these two are high profile targets. Keeping them would very likely result in the removal of your permits." Thomas reported. "Ok explain yourself." The slave runner demanded. He reached for his sword. "This doesn't need to escalate. If you hand them over you can walk away. The merchant you took them from has already alerted Roddenberry." Thomas explained. "I don't know who you are. But it's time for you to go." The slave runner threatened. "I'm someone that was hired to retrieve them, I'll say it one last time. Give them up. They aren't worth it. If you try to bring them to the market you risk losing your permits and I will have to take them by force." Thomas said taking a defensive stance. The slave runner didn't reply. He drew his sword and moved in for the attack. Before his sword could make contact Thomas had his own drawn and blocked it. It was over fairly quickly. With the leader of the two slave runners now dead and his companion missing an arm. He looked at Thomas waiting for the stranger to make his move. "You only have two choices. Leave now or continue to fight and die." Thomas said bluntly. The man looked at his sword for a moment before dropping it and running away. "Rabbit return." Thomas called out loudly. "Are you two all right?" Thomas asked cutting the girls bonds. They only looked at him fearfully until he explained. "Your husband sent me. He's in Roddenberry at the watch." "He's alive?" the older woman asked. "Yes and waiting for you both. But I'm afraid your reunion will be delayed. I'm sorry but we must detour to River Myst to report this body." Thomas said. "Just leave him to rot. Its no worse then he deserves." The woman growled. "That may be but it still needs to be reported. It won't take long I promise. And we will be on our way in no time." Thomas gave her an uneasy smile. "If you must." The woman said reluctantly. "It won't be so bad. They know me so we will be out quickly. Then we can get you two something decent to eat and some real clothes. And be out before you know it." Thomas promised.
Twelve days later the four of them walked onto Roddenberrys dusty streets. The girls were in a hurry to get there so unlike with the slavers they did not slow Thomas down at all. "The watch will know where your husband is staying." Thomas explained as they headed towards the Roddenberry watch headquarters. He took them inside and into the back where he left them with the watch commander. "Thank you Mr. McAlpine." The woman said. "Be careful out there." Thomas replied and took Ishara back to the front desk of the watch. "Thomas McAlpine reporting back. The merchant's wife and daughter are now safely back in Roddenberry with the watch commander." Thomas announced. "Another one huh? Everything looks like it checks out. Here's what the contract was worth." The man behind the counter replied after studying the case notes. "That's fine." Thomas said. He didn't bother counting the money; that wasn't important. But he did accept it and took Ishara out of the headquarters. "Ishara this was the second mission you came with me for. You have now gotten a taste of what I do and the dangers involved. Do you still want to join me?" Thomas asked while they walked towards the inn. "Yes Mr. McAlpine." Ishara replied. "Why?" he asked seriously. "Because it's not all dangerous. I can't be any help on the mission itself. But I can still be of use between them. Or when we have people like those girls." Ishara replied. "And all the time we spend in the inn? It was only a week this time before the merchant came looking for help. But it can be longer." Thomas asked. "I know. And I would rather be on the road then sitting in an inn. But this is something beyond just trying to survive. You are trying to help people; maybe one day I can too." Ishara replied honestly. "There are many ways to help people. Travelling with me you will get to see a few of them. A lot of them you can even help with if you want to." Thomas promised. "What's next?" Ishara asked. She looked briefly at Thomas with a hopeful sparkle in her eyes. But she quickly shook it out. "I'm going to rent us some rooms for tonight. Then I'm going to go bank this gold. I would recommend that you remain at the inn and rest until I get back because I'm not sure yet what our next move is going to be." Thomas replied. "Will we wait for another job?" Ishara asked. "Its possible yes. But I'm not so sure. This may be enough for now. Perhaps in the morning we will head for Callaghan instead. But it may be getting too close to the coldest time of the year. I made a promise that needs to be honoured before it gets too cold to travel." Thomas considered. "Too cold?" Ishara asked. "The peak of winter is approaching. For about a month and a half it becomes too cold to travel usually. Not every winter of course but I'm not taking any risks with you travelling with me. I think we should head east tomorrow and see how things look near Windleys lands." Thomas suggested. He saw the look she was giving him and frowned. "Don't start that. You aren't in the way. I usually return home at that time anyway." He insisted. "I understand." Ishara replied reluctantly. "You will soon." Thomas smiled at her. "The last three years you must have had points in the winter you had to accept Lynn's offer to stay in the temple. Or you wouldn't be here now." He pointed out. Ishara didn't respond. She only gave him a guilty look; confirming his suspicion.
A little more then six weeks after they left Roddenberry. Thomas and Ishara returned to the town it all seemed to start for the two of them. Their first stop was the temple of water where they found Lynn inside tending to a little girl with a broken arm. "I'll be with you in a moment." Lynn called out without turning away from the child. Thomas smiled at Ishara and the two of them stood in silence until Lynn was finished with the girl. "Ok sweetie. You can go home now but try to go easy on that arm." The priestess said. "Thank you." the child smiled and ran off. Now Lynn turned to her new visitors and smiled widely. "Ishy! You are looking great." Lynn said cheerfully. "Hello Miss Lynn." Ishara smiled back at her. "Let me get a better look." Lynn said approaching her. "You have been eating well. That's great. And that looks like a new dress." "Yes Miss Lynn." Ishara replied. "Thomas bought it for me in Windley. I'm sorry but we no longer have the one you gave me." "We donated it to the temple of water in Sutherland when we bought her second new dress." Thomas explained. "You have more then one change of clothes now? I'm so happy for you." Lynn exclaimed giving Ishara a warm hug. "So what brings you back here? You aren't ditching her now are you?' She asked concerned. "No nothing like that. Its getting too cold soon to travel. I'm going to take her to my home in Tumbled tree to wait the season out." Thomas replied. "Then this is about..." Lynn guessed. "Yes Miss Lynn. You told us before we left that you held onto the dress my mommy and daddy made." Ishara said quietly. "She can store it in my home." Thomas added. "Yes of course. I'll go get it." Lynn replied. "There is no hurry. I'd like to meet with you and Brett for supper. It would do the Little Rabbit some good to meet with her friends while we are here." Thomas said. "That sounds great. How long will you be in town for?" Lynn asked. "Probably not longer then a couple days." Thomas replied. "How does tomorrow night sound?" Lynn asked. "Sounds good. We can meet in the Oak Stove." Thomas suggested. "I'll let Brett know then." Lynn replied. She turned back to Ishara. "It's really nice to see you."
"Mr. Tennant," Ishara gave him a warm smile. Brett and his wife approached the table where Thomas, Ishara, and Lynn were already waiting. "You are looking much healthier." Brett commented as they took a seat. "Mr. McAlp;ine has been taking good care of me." Ishara replied. "I can see that. How have you been Little Rabbit?" Brett asked. "I have been good. How have things been back here?" Ishara replied. "The same as always. It's quiet but peaceful." Brett said. "How have you liked travelling with Thomas?" "It's been challenging. But I have enjoyed it." Ishara replied. "Its there anything you don't like?" Brett asked. Thomas grinned at him. "She hates all the warm inn's we need to stay in." He smiled. "That sounds about right." Brett laughed. "I understand why they are necessary." Ishara admitted. "She does very well on the road however. No complaints, and she seems to enjoy working." Thomas added. He looked at Ishara with a grin. "Little Rabbit. Why don't you tell the priestess what happened in Sutherland?" "What happened in Sutherland?" Lynn asked concerned. "I stayed at the temple of water for two weeks. They fixed me." Ishara said. "Your old injuries?" Lynn asked. Ishara nodded. "Oh you poor thing. That couldn't have been pleasant." "No but she got her revenge on the priestess a few times." Thomas laughed. "I'm sorry." Ishara replied. "She ran away from them." Thomas explained. "Right into the next room. They had to get me to find her." Brett laughed. "Still the Little Rabbit. I don't think she ever tried to do that to Lynn. But around here she ran from people all the time." "Why would you do that?" Lynn asked confused. "I needed to be by myself for awhile. I didn't mean to cause them trouble." Ishara replied. "They had her under close observation at the time. She didn't like that much." Thomas explained. "You must have seen some interesting things by now." Brett commented. "I saw a Jiyu'rei." Ishara smiled. "I haven't had a chance to take her to Avalon yet. But my friend Darien brought his apprentice to meet her." Thomas explained. "Are you taking her to Avalon?" Brett asked. "Likely we will go there at some point." Thomas replied. "Is that a good idea?" Brett asked. "I don't see why not. The Jiyu'rei are a friendly people. They won't hurt her." Thomas replied. "They can be a little excitable. Especially in their homeland." Brett explained. "But they are always careful with human visitors." Thomas pointed out. "They try to be, but Sutherland huh? That's a very large city. Was that scary?" Brett asked. "Yes but it was still interesting to visit. I would like to go back. Just not alone." Ishara replied. "I'm more worried that he will take her to Vernheart." Lynn suggested. "Why?" Ishara asked. "The slave trade. Unfortunately I have no doubt my travels will take us to that area at some point as well. But I assure you that I will protect her. No one will get her to the market." Thomas promised. "Mr. McAlpine told me about it during his last mission. He saved two girls from it." Ishara replied. "You already exposed her to slavery?" Lynn glared at Thomas. "It wasn't so bad. But as much as I would rather keep her away from all of that. I'm afraid it wont always be possible." Thomas admitted. "She's safe with him. And just look at how she's doing. I've never seen the Little Rabbit so healthy." Brett tried to assure her. "It's ok Mr. Tennant. You are worried about her too. But I will keep her safe." Thomas promised. Brett smiled at Ishara. "When you have had enough my door is always open." He said. "Hopeful to the last Brett. You don't give up easily do you." Lynn laughed. "Nor should he. I'll take care of her until she is ready for you." Thomas said. "Thank you Mr. McAlpine. Let's order now and enjoy the night while she's here." Brett replied. The rest of them agreed and waved someone over to take their order.

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