Lilly sat at a tiny table perched at one end of the bar's counter. She was wearing a simple, brown dress that hung to her knees and a human-sized, silver ring was around her waist. Her curly brown hair hung loose and her green eyes sparkled in the candlelight.

Faelchiril, the bartender of the Knight of the Post, gave her a nod as she passed to check on one of the tavern's usual Friday-night patrons.

Lilly looked at the other Pixie woman and shook her head; Veronica Remmie was passed out in a bowl of cheap booze, yet again.

She gestured Faelchiril close, pointed at the alcoholic Pixie and asked, “Why do you let her do that? It's disgraceful.”

The attractive, blond-haired Elven woman responded, “It's not my place to judge. Besides, she'd get just as drunk at home, but there, she might drown.”

Lilly sighed and turned away from the drunken Pixie. She didn't like ignoring the problem, but she'd already done her best to help Veronica. They'd been friends, once upon a time, but that seemed like years long-since passed, even though it was just six months.

She looked up at Faelchiril, “Veronica's still taking Brendan's death really hard, huh?”

The Elf shrugged as she polished the section of counter next to Lilly, “You know how it is; her brother took care of her. Got her out of that little Empire you all come from, so she wouldn't be surrounded by people that knew her past.”

“If the Strawberry Empress knew, she'd hold her up as an example of why Pixies shouldn't leave the forest, while simultaneously ignoring why the two of them left in the first place. The Empress is too pig-headed about that sort of thing.”

“I'll make sure she doesn't hear you said that.” Faelchiril smiled, “Hrm. Didn't you just come back?”

Lilly grinned mischievously, “Yep. The Strawberry Empire is getting more suffocating all the time. I can barely even stand to visit my own family anymore.”

“So, I take it you're ready for some new work?”

“Not quite yet. I need a new group first; that's actually why I wanted to talk to you. Issvarti said you might have an apprentice looking for a group.”

Faelchiril nodded, “Well, I've got one that might fit that description. She's not exactly what you might expect of typical League members, though.”


“She's a priestess in the Children of the Shadow.”

“Children of the what?”


“What's her name?”

“I don't know.”

Lilly balked, “You're sponsoring someone without knowing their name?”

Faelchiril shrugged, “I think you should meet her. The circumstances are unusual and she can explain better.”

“Where could I find her?”

The Elf pointed across the room to one of the darker booths in the tavern. It was a common spot for Shadowed Eye thieves to hang out. Two of a tough-looking sort were sitting at the table talking with someone covered from head to toe in a mixture of baggy robes, mail armor and to top it off, a mahogany mask.

Faelchiril added, “She's the one wearing the mask.”

Lilly nodded in gratitude and stretched her wings. She gave them an experimental flutter and then gracefully floated up and over the crowded room. She curled her wings and faded from sight, eventually setting down on a bit of decorative trim above and behind the masked woman.

The fellow on the left had a scar on his left cheek and looked middle-aged. The one on the right was much younger.

The scarred one muttered, “I guess I can see your point.”

The young one asked, “And lots of us already come to your meetings?”

The masked woman hissed, barely audible over the tavern's constant murmur, “Yes. We understand the importance of privacy.”

The scarred fellow asked, “What's the catch? There's always some kind of fine print.”

“We accept all sorts, but there is a line we do not cross. We cannot abide violent indiscretions.”

The young fellow nodded, “So I can 'barrow' things all I want and you'll never say a word, but the moment I cut someone, I'm in trouble.”

“In essence. It's a little more complicated than that, but your analogy is succinct.” the woman's quiet whisper was beginning to bother Lilly.

The scarred man stood up and announced, “We'll think about it. You might see us at the next meeting.”

The masked woman nodded and whispered, “May you always find balance.”

The two men got up to leave and Lilly hesitated. She wasn't sure what to think of this strange woman.

As she was thinking, the masked figure hissed, “I know you're there.”

Lilly dropped into the air from her perch and fluttered down to the table, not bothering to remain invisible.

She asked, “How did you know?”

“Your wings. They sound like a dragon-fly. It's quite rare to find them inside a tavern. Then there's the fact that this place caters to Pixies.”

Lilly nodded, “Faelchiril says you're looking for a group.”

“This is true.”

Now that Lilly was at the right angle, she could see that the woman's mask was quite intricate. It had a somber, but beautiful face carved into it. Blue irises were visible through the eye slits.

Lilly nodded, “So am I. My last group…well, let's just say they've retired.”

“What's your name, little one?” the masked woman held out a gloved pinkie, the common way humans shake hands with a Pixie.

Lilly shook the finger with both hands, “Lilliam Branche. My friends call me Lilly.”

“You may call me Daughter of Shadow.”

“Don't you have a name?”

“Yes, but I cannot reveal it. My vows preclude it.”

“Care to explain that?”

The masked woman nodded, “I'm a priestess in the Children of the Shadow. Our purpose is to serve as a stand-in for our God, so we obscure our identities as much as we can.

“If we used our names, you would immediately think of us instead of our God.”

Lilly mulled it though her head, “I guess that makes sense.”

“I suppose you'd like to know what I can contribute to an adventuring party, right?”

“Good a place as any to start…”

“I suppose my primary jobs would be healing and spell-casting. However, I'm decently familiar with stealthy matters and hand-to-hand fighting.”

“How familiar?”

“Enough to get by. I've also gained two special abilities from my adherence to my vows: I can see in full-color regardless of how dark it is and I can repel things that go bump in the night as other priests might repel demons and undead.”


“What do you bring to the party?”

Lilly grinned, “All sorts of surprises.”

“Such as?”

Lilly flew off the table, found a good hand-hold underneath and proceeded to easily lift it into the air. She flew up to eye-level with the masked woman and muttered, “Nobody expects me to be able to do this kind of thing.”

Quite a number of people in the tavern were eying the flying table cautiously. Lilly put it down and then fluttered back to the top of it.

She gestured at the ring she was wearing around her waist and grinned, “It's a Ring of Giant Strength. It lets me pull off a lot of pranks that I wouldn't be able to without it. My size makes me pretty hard to hit, but I can really dish out the punishment when I need to.

Lilly flexed her wings and vanished again. Still invisible, she started to produce an eerie, yellow glow, much like a Will-o-the-Wisp. She explained, “I can turn invisible any time I want and produce this glow. They're both natural Pixie talents.”

“I can see how you'd be pretty useful to have around.”

“So, has anyone else looked into having you in their group?” Lilly asked.

“Yes, but each has gotten to know me just a little and then decided against it.”

Lilly re-appeared and nodded, “I can understand that. Most people just call me a big bug and then ignore me. So, I'll give you a fair shake if you give me one. Does that sound fair?”

Daughter of Shadow held out her pinkie and asked, “Shake on it?”

Lilly vigorously shook the proffered digit, “Now we just need to find a few more people.”

The masked woman chuckled quietly, “I know someone that might work.”

Burton Rusello was entertaining a crowd of adventurers. It wasn't exactly what he'd signed up for, but it paid the bills. That was the important thing. If the League of Adventurers told him to entertain folks, that was just as well. At least he didn't have to fight monsters, but part of him wanted to, anyway. That's what adventurers did, at least as far as he was concerned. And he was supposed to be an adventurer.

Burton always felt a strong desire to fit in. However, he was always afraid people would find out what he really was. Unfortunately, this seemed to make fitting in harder than it should have been.

Burton was currently perched on top of a statue, holding himself aloft by one hand. The crowd was a good one and they were enjoying his acrobatic feats.

He shifted his weight foreword, so he could make an impressive landing at the base of the statue, when a tiny, winged woman appeared right in front of his face and yelled, “Boo!”

He lost his balance and landed hard on the cobblestones. He groaned in pain and heard the Pixie giggling. After a moment or two of saying things like “ow” he noticed his spectators were gone.

He got back to his feet and suddenly noticed a vaguely feminine figure, covered from head to toe, looming over him.

Lilly landed on Daughter of Shadow's shoulder and became visible.

The masked woman whispered, “Hello, Burton. Sorry about that. Lilly's a Pixie; you know how they can't resist a joke.”

Burton brushed some dirt off his white shirt and black trousers. He grabbed his hat and put it back on his head.

He grimaced, “Well, I guess it's all-right, so long as I'm earning my pay. It's been a long time since I played the part of a clown, but if that's what you want me to do, I'll give it a go.”

She shook her head, “No, Burton. We'd like you to join our adventuring party.”

He blinked several times and assumed his ears were lying to him, “I can do some juggling if you like or I could do a little sword-work. I think my sword is around here somewhere.”

He started looking for it.

Daughter of shadow shook her head and tried again, “We need more people for our group. We'd like you to join us.”

Burton still didn't believe his ears; after all, he'd been thrown out of six different groups. No one wanted him in their group, so he continued, “I could act out a scene if you like, or mime something.”

Lilly sighed and fluttered off her perch. She flew right up to Burton's face and hovered there.

“We want you to join our group.”

Burton looked at the ground, “Nobody wants me to join their group. This is just another joke, right?”

Lilly grabbed the hat off his head, smacked him in the face with it and yelled, “We want you to join our group!”

Burton shrugged and sat down, “No you don't. I'm just an entertainer. I've never been good at the adventuring stuff.”

Daughter of Shadow knelt down next to him, put a hand on his shoulder and whispered, “Fine. So, you're an entertainer. I think it would be entertaining to have you in our group.”

“You're actually serious?”

Lilly put his hat back on his head and then straightened it out. She landed on one of the cobblestones in front of him and asked, “What will it take to convince you?”

Burton rubbed his stubbly chin, “I want it in writing.”

Odnom pushed his hood back and scratched his bald head; a dragon's head was tattooed on his pale scalp in black, with it's neck following his own, disappearing under his cloak. His ears were pointed, like an Elf, but he also had a case of five-o'clock shadow, clearly marking him as a Half-Elf.

He stretched his neck a bit and undid the cloak's clasp, dropping it to the ground. Next, he took off his shirt to enjoy the sensation of morning sun warming him up.

Without his shirt, it became obvious the tattoo didn't stop at his neck: it flowed over his back and it's fore-legs stretched out on top of his arms, with the claws resting on his fingers. The wings were folded back. He stretched each of his limbs in turn.

Then he stepped on to the side of an archway in the old, broken-down wall and calmly walked up it until he reached the top, where he sat on the underside of it, quietly enjoying the sun on his back. He closed his eyes and relaxed.

He heard a soft buzzing sound somewhere above his head. It reminded him of a dragon fly.

A small, feminine voice whispered, “Hey, he's cute.”

He smiled.

Another female voice whispered, “Yes, but he isn't anywhere near your size.”

Someone male laughed, “Oddie? Cute? That doesn't make sense at all.”

Odnom frowned.

The first voice shouted, “Shut up! I think he's cute.”

Odnom decided to let gravity do what it normally did and fell off the archway, twisting in the air to land on his feet. He opened his eyes and faced the strangers.

There was a woman covered from head to toe and Burton, the local joke of an adventurer. He wasn't surprised to not see the Pixie anywhere.

He bowed and introduced himself, “Odnom Orazzib, at your service.”

The woman bowed in turn and spoke very softly, “Call me Daughter of Shadow. We're forming an adventuring party. We heard that you've been looking to join one.”

“Who do you have so far?” he asked.

She gestured to each in turn, “Burton, myself and Lilly.”

The Pixie appeared on the woman's head, holding on to the mask to steady herself. She waved.

“Ah. The Fool, an unknown and a very small woman that thinks I'm cute.” his tone of voice was just a little condescending

Burton gave him a sour look. Lilly disappeared.

The masked woman shook her head, “I guess I'll take that as a 'no.'”

Odnom shrugged, “Aside from the idea of working with The Fool, I'm intrigued.”

Burton gave him an acid stare, “Hey, it's not like I give a spit about you either, Oddie.”

Daughter of Shadow turned to Burton and asked, “What's your problem? You're the one that suggested-”

He waved his hands in the air, “Don't tell him that.”

The corner of Odnom's mouth twisted into the precursor of a smile , “I'll tell you what: why don't we head off to the docks and we can discuss details along the way. I'm meeting a friend there in half an hour.”

She nodded as he gathered his things, putting his shirt and cloak back on. Before setting out, he offered his arm, which she graciously took. Burton grumbled.

Lilly landed on Odnom's shoulder and asked, “What's with the dragon tattoo?”

He briefly glanced at the top of his hand and muttered, “Oh. I saved a dragon's life once.”

Lilly raised an eyebrow, “So you got someone to painfully draw one on your whole body?”

He shrugged, “It's a bit more complex than that.”

“Care to tell me about it?”

“Not really.”

She grinned, “How mysterious.”

He chuckled, “It's quite a long story. Maybe I'll tell you someday.”

“So, aside from walking on walls, what can you do?”

“I'm lucky.” his face bore a mischievous grin.

“Care to explain that?”

“Not really, but I'll elaborate a little: useful things tend to happen spontaneously around me.”

“Again, very mysterious.”

He smiled, “It's a gift. So, what can you do?”

“I'm stronger than I look.”

Turning to Daughter of Shadow he asked, “And you?”

“Healing, spell-casting, a little bit of reconnaissance and I'm good at fighting with my hands.”

They walked in silence for a while as Odnom thought it over. Eventually, he spoke, “I'm inclined to say yes, but I'd like to have a word in private with Burton first. Is that all-right?”

Daughter of Shadow released his arm and Lilly took to the air and landed on her head, “Sure. We'll just go on ahead.”

The two men stopped. Burton looked quite uncomfortable as Odnom gave him a penetrating glare that burrowed into his soul, grabbed his worst sins and waved them in front of his face.

As soon as he was sure the ladies were out of ear-shot, Odnom rushed Burton and pinned him to a tree by the neck! Odnom was smaller than Burton, but this didn't seem to make much difference as he lifted him off the ground!

Burton couldn't breathe and struggling against the iron grip was useless.

Odnom spoke with menace, “If you ever hang me out to dry again, I will kill you. You can be absolutely certain of that fact.”

He put the other man down.

Burton coughed, “I'm sorry.”

“I still can't believe that you sided with that mob.”

“I got caught up in the moment.” Burton looked absolutely wretched.

“They had torches and pitchforks!”

“They seemed like nice folks to me.”

Odnom shook his head, rubbed his forehead and added, “Until they found out I'm a warlock.”

“Sorry about that. I was just having such a great time chatting with the guys in the tavern and they were just curious about their new hero. I really didn't see the harm.”

Odnom sighed, “That's why I keep it a secret. I don't like getting lynched just because I inherited my mother's talent for the craft.”


“If you want to fit in so badly, try fitting in with your adventuring party, okay?”

Burton nodded.

Odnom patted him on the shoulder and suggested, “Let's get going. Since they aren't 'ladies in waiting,' we shouldn't keep the ladies waiting, eh?”

With that, they hurried to catch up.

For a blind man, Teka didn't behave much like one. He traveled alone, completely unaided. He refused help at every turn. The sailors were quite insistent, but Teka was used it it. He didn't need coddling. Only the disabled needed coddling.

Teka wasn't disabled, at least not anymore. He wore a silk blindfold out of respect for the Order of the Unseeing Eye. He wasn't one of their priests, but they'd wanted him for one quite badly. He'd politely refused the offer, but accepted the training.

He was dressed in simple, black clothes that wouldn't snag easily. Every article of clothing he owned was black, since he couldn't match colors anymore and black works with anything.

His blond hair was pulled back in a short pony-tail.

Three sets of feet approached him; two men and a woman, by the sound of it.

The first had a familiar gait; it was definitely Odnom.

The second was quite ordinary sounding, or at least deceptively so. It was as though the owner of the feet was trying far too hard to sound normal.

The woman was a mystery. She had a light step, but sounded like she was wearing well-padded chain mail, perhaps the type favored by thieves. Layered over that sound was the rustle of something loose and ill-fitting.

He focused on the group and discovered the sound of four different people breathing. The last was in small, quick breaths. Probably a Brownie or Pixie. The small one was probably perched on the head or shoulders of the woman, based on how close together they were.

“Good morning, Odnom. Who are your three companions?” he asked as he set his bags down and leaned against a light post.

Lilly was invisible, but her jaw dropped. Burton's eyes went wide. Odnom grinned.

Daughter of Shadow whispered, “I'm but a humble servant of the Shadow.”

“Ah,” Teka nodded, “I've met your kind before. Decent folk to have around. I've nothing but respect, m'lady.”

Burton shrugged, “I suppose I'm the jester of this group. My name's Burton.”

Lilly finally got control of her mouth, turned visible and added, “I'm Lilly.”

She was still perched on Daughter of Shadow's head.

Odnom added, “This is the adventuring party I've joined.”

Teka nodded, “Then you have another member; I'll serve with Odnom or not at all. I'm Teka, the Dead Eye.”

Burton coughed, “The Dead Eye? The man that killed a hundred in one battle, by himself, all with eye shots?”

Teka frowned and shook his head, “I hate that rumor. The number goes up with each telling. It was only a dozen and I had two buddies to keep them busy. Though the eye part is true.”

Burton paused for a few seconds and then said, “Wow! I'm standing next to the Dead Eye!”

“So, what's the name of this group?”

Lilly piped up, “I dunno. I only set out to put together a group just yesterday. Haven't given it much thought yet.”

“Ah, so you're the leader?”

“Me? Um. I don't think we have one yet, but if the rumors are true, you've got plenty of experience.”

Teka held up a hand and shook his head, “No. I've led too many troops into battle. I won't do it again.”

Burton smiled, “How about Oddie?”

Odnom shrugged, “I'm too lazy.”

The masked woman whispered, “I'm not loud enough.”

Lilly looked quite distressed, “Oh, come on. I'm too small. Nobody will listen to me.”

Odnom gave her a mischievous grin.

Burton shrugged, but gave her a reassuring glance.

Daughter of Shadow encouraged, “You're certainly charismatic enough.”

Lilly pouted a little, vanished and spoke quietly, “I don't like this.”

Teka offered, “I can teach you, if you'll let me.”

She sighed with just a little irritation, “Fine, but on one condition: Teka is second-in-command.”

“As you wish, ma'am.” Teka nodded, “However, I'm still left with the same question. What is the name of this group?”

Burton began, “How about 'Lilly and the…'”

Odom nodded, “It's a good start, since this all started with Lilly.”

Lilly added, “Outriders would sound good in there.”

Teka shrugged, “But we don't have any horses.”

Daughter of Shadow rubbed the chin of her mask, “Well, since none of us are exactly typical adventurers…and most of us barely even seem to fit in the league…how about 'Outsiders?'”

Lilly mouthed softly, “Lilly and the Outsiders. It's got a nice ring.”

Teka asked, “Any objections?”

Odnom suggested, “We could at least use it until we find a better name.”

This was met with a chorus of nodding.

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