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This has to be one of the strangest sights I’ve ever seen, Tobin Brushgather thinks as he stares at the fancy dressed, dark skinned elf currently knelt on the road with an ear pressed to the ground.
Near the woods that divide this dirt poor town from the next one, the elf lies unmoving. The only sign of life is the slow raise and fall of their bluish travelling cloak, but Tobin isn’t really paying attention to that; his eyes are too busy running up and down the silver hems adorning the elf’s clothes, and the leather satchel bag resting right next to them.
Gingerly, noiselessly, he tip toes closer to the sleeping form. He would love taking that cloak with him, but trying to pry it off its owner could result in them waking up—not even Tobin and his deft fingers are that good—and he doesn’t like his chances against somebody that almost doubles him in size.
He opens and closes his hands in preparation—although by now it’s more out of habit than anything else; a silent ritual for good luck. Then he starts to work on the leather straps. Hm, a little bit sturdier than he’d thought. Maybe it’s new? Or made out of some creature with a strange name, native of the caves of some country he hasn’t heard of—
Deep brown eyes are staring at him. Tobin jumps back; adrenaline building up, and a hand going to his hidden dagger in anticipation for the fight. He decides against unsheathing it though, when the elf’s only reaction is to blink in confusion.
For what feels like a whole minute both of them stare at each other in complete silence, then the elf speaks.
“You’re here,” their words have a musical tilt to them. “I musta fell asleep.” They stand up and brush the dirt off their clothes, then give him a small bow. “Jorildyn Bibella.”
“Jo-ril-dyn Bi-be-lla,” they repeat. “And you are guide, yes? What’s your name?”
Guide, uh? Sure, he can roll with that. “Tobin Brushgather,” he says sketching a bow. “You need to go through the woods, right?”
The elf’s eyes shine with glee. “Yes please, Mr. Brushgather.” Tobin tries not to wince at the way his name’s been butchered.
“Tobin’s fine,” he says. “Just to be sure; you’re a man, right?”
The elf nods. “How interesting,” he says. “People in this place asks for gender clarification?”
“Nah, I just can never tell with you elves,” Tobin simply says.
The elf blinks again and then laughs, probably thinking Tobin is joking. He isn’t.
This Jorildyn is lithe, with high cheekbones, and brown hair kept in a hundred tiny braids. Not too different from every other elf he’s ever come across—aside from his caramel skin, that is. Tobin has never seen one like that.
“So,” he says, making his way into the forest—once there it’ll be easier to wiggle his fingers into that bag and lose the elf through the trees. “Jorildyn. Quite a mouthful, isn’t it?”
“Mouthful?” The elf asks, falling into step with him.
“Do you mind if I call you Jordi?”
Jorildyn frowns. “My people thinks shortening names demeans person. I has it easy; three syllables. Elders, longer names; one I met, eleven syllables. By the time I finish calling for them, whole reason to do so forgotten.”
It figures elves would come up with something like that… “Since I’m not an elf,” Tobin says with a half-smile, “what do you say we forget formalities for a moment?”
His companion thinks about it. “Yes, that’s fine. I can call you Bin.”
“No. No, you can’t.” Tobin glances at the elf’s waist; no dagger, no sword. “Not a lot of reasons to go to a town like Ashenfield,” he mutters loud enough for Jordi to hear.
“I need to find someone and they says he’s there,” Jordi says. “A man of magic.”
“You a mage?”
“Me?” Jordi laughs. “No no no. Magic is not my, uh, thing?”
Tobin nods; that certainly makes his job a lot easier.
After half an hour of friendly chit-chat, and knowing Ashenfield is just around the corner, Tobin decides to go for it. “Jordi,” he starts, “you ever seen a Brownie’s Tear ? It’s a beautiful flower that only grows in these woods.”
The elf looks at him with utmost curiosity.
Tobin motions for him to follow. “This strange flower is found in caves and other dark places, and it shines with this iridescent… dust,” Is he overdoing it? He glances back at Jordi; the elf is looking more than eager to see the made-up flower.
Coming to a stop just outside a small cavern, Tobin points ahead, “Riiight there. Can you see it?”
Jordi walks in, narrowing his eyes. “Where?”
“There,” Tobin repeats, his hands already working on the leather straps. Now that he knows the feel of them, he can do this faster. The satchel bag is finally open, and so he slides his hand—and half his arm—in.
Jordi keeps moving slowly, further into the cave, while Tobin copies his steps with perfect synchronicity. His fingers graze something hard and smooth—rocks?—but no coin pouches, and he gives up after trying for another moment. Feeling annoyed and a little betrayed—why would someone that looks this loaded, have no money on them?—he starts to pull his arm out of the bag. However, at the last moment a weird urge to peek at whatever Jordi is carrying takes a hold of him. After all this trouble, he might as well go ahead and do it.
His hand picks one of the rocks and he carefully slips it out.
At first he isn’t quite sure of what he’s staring at; then the realization hits him hard. A skull, he’s holding a skull. But not any kind of skull: this is a small one that looks a lot like his own.
A halfling’s skull.
“Tobin?” Jordi is watching him, and then his gaze goes to what he’s holding. “Oh…”
Tobin throws it aside, and unsheathes his dagger in a swift motion. “Get away from me!”
“I can explain!” the elf says, showing him the palm of his hands. Both of them stare at each other in silence. “Maybe I can’t,” Jordi finally admits. “But I’m no murderer.”
Tobin narrows his eyes at him, “That’s exactly what a murderer would say. Hand over the cloak!”
Jordi undoes the clasps and takes a step in his direction before Tobin swings his dagger at him. “Get away!”
“Just throw it over here, you maniac!”
Once he’s got the blue cloak, he walks backwards out of the cavern; his eyes never leaving the elf in front of him. With a quick spin, Tobin dashes into the trees without looking back once.
And he thought the common elves were insane…