All things considered Melody was much happier about her current situation then she had been a week before.  Devon had a keycrest, Aura was staying with them, they were far from Iselia and its undead armies, and they were drawing ever closer to Izoold – the port that would take them back to the western continent.  Of course, once they arrived in Palmacosta it was quite likely Devon would try to send her packing once more.  But Melody refused to let that thought cloud her joy.  She would deal with that problem if it arose.

            And, really, there was no guarantee that it would.

            So she wasn’t going to let it bother her.  And, if by chance it began to there were always the constant battles against monsters to keep her distracted - and distraction from dark thoughts could only be a good thing.  At least, that’s what she told herself the fourteenth time they were attacked at the base of the Ossa Trail.

            Not that she would ever complain – but Melody was beginning to wonder if they would ever make it more than twenty feet up the side of the stupid mountain.

            It wasn’t as though the monsters were much trouble really.  At least, that was to say that Melody never felt they were in any physical danger.  Devon and Aura were more than capable of killing a few bugs and hawks.  And after dealing with zombies Melody was even feeling rather confident.  But it was such a time consuming hassle.  At this rate it would take them a week to cover the distance she and Devon had once covered in a little more than a day.  She momentarily pondered the apparent increase in monster population on the mountain, but was interrupted by yet another of said monsters.

            There was only one this time, but somehow that wasn’t at all comforting.  Of course, one could hardly feel relieved when the monster attacking one was a gigantic bear.  Melody remembered running across a similar monster the first time she had passed through the Ossa Trail.  But that monster had been lumbering and slow.  This one was not.  This monster was quite clearly enraged, and just as clearly determined not to let the travelers pass.  To make matters worse, Melody was beginning to feel the effects of the nearly continuous strain of battle the last few hours, and even Devon was looking a little worn around the edges.  Only Aura seemed unaffected, and, though she had complete confidence in the elf’s ability, Melody was not feeling particularly confident at the moment.

            That may have had something to do with the fact that the bear had just knocked Devon half way across the clearing… or it may have been the result of watching Aura backpedal for the last ten minutes.  Whatever the reason, Melody was beginning to get the distinct feeling that they were going to have to run.  Not that the bear looked in a mood to let them escape.

            “Circle around behind it!” Aura had to shout to be heard over the beast’s roars.  It seemed incongruous with her personality.  Aura was a being of grace and stealth by nature.

            Devon cocked his head and stared at Aura for several seconds, which was both comical and frightening as he stopped dodging the deadly claws to do so. “And how would you suggest I do that exactly?” he shouted back.

            Aura didn’t respond with anything except a look.  It was the closest to exasperated either of her companions had ever seen her produce.  If Melody hadn’t been so busy hiding she might have said something, but her mind was obviously otherwise occupied.

            “We have to do something!” Melody yelled, tension filling her tone.  She had not come all this way to die because some stupid bear was having a bad day!  Not when they were so close to Izoold and the ship home.

            “I’m open to suggestions.” Despite the dire situation Melody had the feeling Devon was laughing behind those words.  It didn’t seem at all fair, because she couldn’t see anything even vaguely amusing about this situation.  Of course, Devon had been much more lighthearted since obtaining his keycrest, and Melody supposed a soldier had to have a somewhat laid back attitude about such things.

            But that didn’t mean that anyone actually had a suggestion.  And so it was a great relief when they heard a voice from higher up on the mountain call out to them.

            “Need an assist?”

            It was a vaguely familiar voice, but Melody could not seem to place it, and, from the quizzical look that Devon shot in her direction she assumed he had a similar reaction.  Aura, however, seemed completely unaffected by the new arrival.  Melody assumed the elf was grateful as surrounding the beast had been her intention from the start and this fortunate happenstance effectively accomplished her goal. 

            As the stranger had the higher ground he, for the voice had definitely been male, had a distinct advantage over the bear and it was no surprise when the bear suddenly roared in pain and attempted to swing around to swipe at the attacker at its backside.  Seizing the opportunity, Aura and Devon quickly ran forward, weapons ready.  The creature, now attacked from all sides made several sounds of pure painful frustration before abruptly ceasing to make any noise at all as a sword tip pierced through its heart and it collapsed on the ground in a puddle of blood.  Even after so many weeks of fighting Melody still had to fight the urge to lose her breakfast at the sight, but her nausea was soon forgotten as the fallen bear revealed the traveler who had come to their rescue.  Casually he withdrew his blade from the monster’s chest and swiped it against the tall grass.  He then cleanly sheathed the weapon in the strange sheath on his back all the while wearing what Melody could only describe as a charming grin.

            It was the adventurer from Triet – Seth.

            Her eyes swept over his tall form, realizing that even after the many battles he must have faced traversing the mountain not a single wrinkle was visible in his dark blue adventurer’s garb, and not a single strand of his auburn hair was out of place.  For a moment Melody felt a wave of jealousy sweep over her. She was absolutely certain she must look like she had crawled through underbrush.  She certainly felt like it.  It just wasn’t fair that he looked so… so good!

            “I knew if I waited long enough you’d miss me and come looking for me.” Seth turned the full force of his grin on Aura, but it was wasted.  Aura merely acknowledged him with a nod as she smoothly sheathed both of her knives and began to examine the corpse of the felled bear.

            Devon was more grateful, though not by much.  He was always thankful for help in a battle, but he had yet to figure Seth out.  He was still bothered by Seth’s incongruous behavior in Triet, it made it difficult for Devon to categorize him. Still, after Devon had sheathed his own sword he offered Seth a thanks and a welcome before moving to check on Melody.  Seth took this all in with remarkable affability; he didn’t even crowd Aura, he just stood back and watched them gain their bearings, his arms loosely crossed and his eyes twinkling as though he knew a joke he wasn’t telling.

“Where are you heading?”

It was a rather dense question, or so Melody thought, after all even she knew that only one thing lay past the Ossa Trail – Izoold.

“Izoold.” Devon replied easily, he grasped Melody’s arm to help her to her feet.  Casting a glance in Seth’s direction she tried to surreptitiously brush the dirt from her backside.  Devon noticed and hid a half smile.

Seth shook his head in what would have been a passable impression of dismay had not the twinkle in his eyes given him away, “Sorry friends, but if you’re going to Izoold to catch a boat you’re out of luck.  I just came from there, and even crazy Max isn’t willing to set sail anymore.”

Devon cocked his head as he examined the other man, “You seem rather pleased for a man who obviously just missed his ship.” It was reasonable conclusion to make, after all, there was only one reason to go to Izoold.

Seth grinned, “Yes, well, I happen to know another way to reach the eastern continent.  It’s a little long and not exactly easy.  I wasn’t much looking forward to it, but now that I’ll have company...” he trailed off expansively.

This stopped everyone in the party short.

“Company?” Devon inquired lightly, darting a glance to Aura without moving his head.

Seth let his arms hang freely at his sides as he stepped forward.  Melody couldn’t help but notice that the movement, though ostensibly directed toward Devon, brought the man several feet closer to Aura who was still working at the corpse.

“I mean you of course.” Seth’s smile could have melted an iceberg, “after all, I know you need to get to Palmacosta, and there’s only one other way.  There’s no reason we shouldn’t travel together.”

Devon shot another glance at Aura, trying to gage her reaction, but the elf was unfazed.  Seth may as well have been on the other continent already for all the attention she was paying him.  Though Melody was certain Seth wanted her to be ruffled he didn’t appear disappointed.

“I’m not certain…” Devon began, but didn’t really know where to go.  After all, Seth was a capable fighter; he would definitely be an asset. Devon’s only reason to refuse was out of consideration for Aura, but Aura wasn’t giving him a sign one way or the other, which might be considered a sign in and of itself.  Melody was watching in confusion.

“Come on.” Seth laughed.  “What are you going to do, wait here a day and hope I’m far enough ahead by then that you won’t see me again?”

Devon recognized the truth of this comment, even if Seth had masked it as a joke.  They were going the same direction, it would be pointless to try to ignore the man.

“I suppose-”

This time he was interrupted by Aura who rose swiftly, and brushed between the two men.  “Come on then.  We may as well begin.” She cast a glance over her shoulder at Devon.  “There’s no getting rid of him once he’s made up his mind, and he’s a passable fighter when he’s in the mood.”

Seth grinned, though Melody wasn’t certain the elf had meant it as a compliment.  He clapped Devon on the shoulder.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve had such pleasant traveling companions.” He noted.

Devon nodded politely, “So – what is this other way you know of?  I thought Izoold was the only port on the continent.”

“Have you ever heard of the land bridge?”




            “Can we trust him?” Melody had been walking a little closer to Devon ever since Seth had invited himself to join them.  Devon shrugged, reaching a hand out to steady her over some particularly rough terrain.

“I don’t see why not.  If Aura had thought he would be a problem she wouldn’t have agreed to let him come.”

“About that…” Melody trailed off and when Devon looked over in question he saw her cheeks stained with a light blush.  She was probably recalling their conversation in Triet about traveling companions.

“I wouldn’t worry about it.” He assured her, “he’s been pretty subdued.  He was probably just playing to the crowd in Triet.” 

It was true.  Seth was hovering near Aura, but not noticeably. He was being so subtle Devon only recognized the signs because he knew to look for them.  Evidently the man had more restraint than Devon had given him credit for.  Devon caught sight of him now, several yards ahead with Aura.  He had made several attempts to draw the elf into conversation, but had finally fallen into what seemed to be for him a comfortable silence.  Devon was certain Aura found the silence comfortable as well – it was certainly easier than listening to the adventurer talk.  But at least he’d made no outright attempts to woo her or flirt with her as of yet.  Devon wondered if it had something to do with Melody.  Seth had yet to ask about her.  But Devon had seen the curiosity in his eyes when he’d first seen her.  He figured the questions were bound to come eventually.

Trouble was he really didn’t have any answers.

He didn’t really know what Melody was to him.  She was more than a friend, less than a lover.  He cared for her, but he had no romantic interest in her.  She wasn’t actually his sister, and he didn’t feel that way about her anyway.  She was just… Melody.  She had become a part of him.  He didn’t want to say goodbye, but he knew he would have to.  A part of him was glad that they were taking the long way to Palmacosta because it meant he had longer with her.  He couldn’t allow her to stay with him once they reached the western continent.  After all, he was about to set out on a dangerous journey.  He was going to save his friends, his comrades, from the human ranch.  He couldn’t ask her, wouldn’t let her put herself in that kind of danger.  She was so fragile.

He was proud of her though.  She’d shown unexpected strength on this journey.

“So!” Devon had heard Seth coming, though only just before he appeared beside them, but Melody was startled.  Seth laughed and leaned a little too close to her.  “Don’t worry little girl.  I won’t bite.” He winked.  For some reason that bothered Devon.  His irritation must have shown because the other man stepped back to a reasonable distance, his hands raised slightly before him in a defensive gesture.

“Don’t worry.” He repeated, but this time he was addressing Devon.  “I don’t hit on kids.”

Melody, who was still seething over the fact that he had called her a “little girl”, turned suddenly on the red head.   

“I’ll have you know that I’m nineteen.” She snapped at him.

He drew back in shock, “No! You can’t be a day over fifteen at the most.” He insisted.

“I’m nineteen!!!” she shouted. 

Seth had stopped walking, it was difficult to move with her planted in the path right in front of him.  He was staring down at her, a little taken aback.  Who knew the quiet little girl could be so aggressive?

Melody stared up at him, hands on her hips.  And then she shook her head and turned about on an exasperated breath.  “Whatever.  What do I care what a guy like you thinks.” She muttered.  

Seth eyed her speculatively, casting a quick glance at Devon.  Something seemed to work itself out in his head and he smiled knowingly.  Then, just before she got out of earshot he murmured, “bet you care what he thinks.”

            Melody colored, but she kept walking.  All she could do was pray that Devon hadn’t heard.



            Seth was rather pleased with himself.  Not only had he managed to worm his way into Aura’s traveling party, but he had also had the amusement of shaking things up a bit for the small group.  The girl, she was cute in a small town, childish sort of way.  And she was so naive that he was positive he’d get at least a few good chuckles out of having her around.  He might have to curb his humor a bit though.  He didn’t want to upset Aura – or Devon.  He already knew the girl cared deeply for him and he had a sneaking suspicion the feeling was mutual.  If he did anything to embarrass Melody, Devon might well kick him out altogether.

            Aura wouldn’t though.  He had a feeling she didn’t consider him worth the effort.  Of course, he was hoping that the real reason was that she might actually enjoy having him around, just a bit.

            Seth had met Aura when he was only nineteen, but he had fallen instantly in love.  She hadn’t known it of course.  For one thing, at nineteen he had been brash, but not nearly confident enough to risk the ridicule of an elf.  Seth had always admired elves, or rather the idea of elves.  Aura was the first one he had actually met, but he had been raised on stories of elves. 

           When he had been sixteen his father had died in a storm.  It hadn’t bothered him as much as one might have expected.  His father was a sailor who was hardly ever around anyway.  He had barely known the man.  A few months later his mother had remarried and he had taken off.  His step father wasn’t a bad man, and he knew his mother would be taken care of.  It wasn’t that he didn’t like them, he was just tired of his life.  So Seth had set out to live out the stories he loved.  He had taught himself swordsmanship and he earned enough money adventuring to take care of himself.  He didn’t consider himself a mercenary.  He was rather picky about what jobs he took on.  In his early days he had cared about the money, mainly because he had to.  But now he had a large enough hoard that he didn’t have to accept assignments that he didn’t find interesting.  And Seth almost never found anything interesting unless it involved a woman.  According to his mother Seth had sprung from the womb calling the name of the girl next door.

            She hadn’t meant it literally of course, but it was obvious by the time he was three that Seth was a ladies’ man.

            There was nothing Seth enjoyed more than a beautiful woman.  Except, perhaps, a beautiful woman who was flustered.

            That was probably why he spent so much time trying to get at Aura.  She was the most breathtaking creature he had ever seen.  He couldn’t imagine how a blush would improve her features, but he was certain the result would be well worth the trouble.

            It was too bad she was so calm.

            She wasn’t really stoic.  Her eyes often sparkled in that tell tale way.  She found much of life as amusing as he did.  He had even heard her laugh on a very few occasions.  Her laugh was beautiful.  The problem was that she had no illusions about herself or the world around her.  That meant that it was nearly impossible to create a situation in which she felt embarrassed.  It was probably to be expected, as she was, at the very least, several centuries old.  Seth had never asked her how old she was.  It really didn’t matter to him.  She was older than he, more experienced than he, and positively gorgeous.  That was all he cared about.  It wasn’t as though the age difference should matter to her.  Compared to her everyone was young.

            But even though he had spent the better part of eight years chasing her, he really knew very little about her.  She tolerated him, but she had never let him get too close.  He thought she might even find him amusing. But she didn’t trust him.  Oh, she didn’t think he would betray her.  She knew he was a man of his word, however flippantly it seemed to be given.  She probably would trust him with her life if the situation ever arose.  But she didn’t trust him.  She wouldn’t let him know her, get close to her.  She would never have called him a friend.  Here was an opportunity to learn about her in a way he hadn’t been able to before.

            If nothing else he would be able to see much more of her.  That was enough for him.

            Seth felt the weight of a gaze on his back and turned slightly to find Devon watching him with mild interest.  There was a knowing look in his eyes.  Seth had the uncomfortable feeling that Devon might have him all figured out already.  He didn’t like that.  He liked to think of himself as an enigma.  He saw Devon’s gaze flicker between himself and Aura.  In that look there was some confusion.  That was understandable.  Seth was a little confused about the elf himself. 

Still, he didn’t want Devon getting ideas.

He nodded at Devon, catching his gaze, and Devon arched a brow.  Seth could guess what he was thinking.

And then he decided that it didn’t matter.  Whatever any one else thought of him or his relationships with women was their problem, not his.  Devon could form any ideas he wanted.  Seth was who he was.  And he was going to figure out what he wanted if it was the last thing he did.