The inn was crowded at this time of day. Every seat at the counter was taken, and people stood against the walls as they drank and chattered. Barmaids scurried here and there among the customers, taking away empty tankards or bringing out new. The din that is created when many people get together to lay down cares and talk bubbled out through the inn's windows and open door. And yet, despite the crowded conditions of the place, three seats at a table near the middle of the room were untouched and unoccupied. The fourth was taken by a youth of slightly less than twenty years and, judging by the way people glanced at him from time to time, he was the reason that no one had claimed the other seats.

The explanation behind this situation was not immediately apparent. Though his silky black hair did throw some of his face into shadow, it could clearly be seen that there was nothing bizarre about it- it was even of the class that should have attracted people rather than repulsed them. It was a beautiful face more than a handsome one, though there was no hint of the effeminate about it: every feature was just simply, subtly perfect. Two slightly pointed ears protruded from his wavy hair; his eyes seemed to be shrouded in shadow deeper than what the existing light conditions dictated. His nondescript clothes, neither loose nor tight on his somewhat slender frame, were dark in color. He sat with a half-empty tankard in front of him and watched the crowd in the inn with shaded eyes. His face was expressionless, and he seemed to ignore the fact that people were avoiding him.

After a while, however, he did take notice of one man, seated across the room from him, who kept his eyes consistently on the youth. This man had ordered no drink, nor conversed with any of the people at the inn. Now, as the man realized that the youth he watched had, in turn, noticed him, he hopped down from his chair at the counter (which was promptly claimed by someone else), shoved his way through the common room crowd, and slid into one of the vacant seats across from the youth.

This latter's eyebrows arched in question when the other man made no move to speak. At the same time, he noticed that around them, the room had suddenly gone quiet and all eyes were on them. He mentally shrugged it away and waited to see if the man had something to say.

Apparently, he did. 'What is your name?' His voice was deep and matter-of-fact, with purpose behind every word.

'Vei,' the youth replied evenly, making his voice come out as calmly as possible. He, being what he was, should have nothing to fear from this man or anyone else, but he still felt unaccountably uncomfortable at the moment. 'And you?'

'Mordrin.' The whole time he spoke, his piercing blue eyes remained fixed on Vei's face; he did not look like he'd even noticed they were the current center of attention. 'You reminded me of someone else I'd met once. So there's something I'd like you to have.'

Vei watched, bemused, as Mordrin reached inside his loose shirt and brought out a pendant on a chain around his neck. He pulled it off and held it up by the chain for Vei to see. It was about half an inch wide, made of reddish-hued gold; as it turned slowly on the chain Vei could see that one side was made to resemble a stylized open eye while on the other, the eye was closed.

He looked up at Mordrin. 'It's for you,' Mordrin said. 'Take it.'

'What is it?' Vei was loath to take anything offered in such a manner without an explanation first.

'Just a talisman. I want you to have it.'

Vei hesitated a moment, then reached out to take it. But, to his surprise, his hand passed straight through both chain and talisman. His face reddened with a mixture of surprise and anger as Mordrin stood up abruptly, slipping the chain back over his head as he did. 'Fai,' he announced decisively, not to Vei but to the surrounding crowd. Vei heard a collective gasp from them, and he rolled his eyes as they drew back from him a step. He hadn't even done anything yet! Blood- he hadn't even decided if he was going to do something. And then, to be tricked like that…

His eyes within their shadows narrowed as Mordrin addressed him again. 'Now, I'm not telling you to do or not do anything, Vei. But listen well. This charm will protect me from your powers- your eyes will not bind me and your fire will not burn me. If we should face each other as foes, we shall do so as equals. Do you understand me?'

Vei nodded; he understood all too well. He had heard of such amulets before- they were very rare, which was a good thing for the fai of the world, as they could nullify both their mesmerizing gaze as well as the icy black flames they could create to burn to ashes those who angered them. Nor could fai touch the things, to protect them from theft by those who hated them. Vei sighed. Had he been in a larger town, this would never have even come up; they were more tolerant of fai in bigger places, if only due to numbers. But this was a small village and so they felt vulnerable- and thus had hired this man, Mordrin, and his talisman to protect them from the fai. And Mordrin, since he had managed to come into possession of the potent charm, was probably good with a sword.

Vei sighed again and, leaving his drink untouched, walked out of the inn under Mordrin's steely gaze. There was no use in staying, with such a thing around. But he would remember the occasion, and do something about it one day. He did not take such insults and humiliation lightly.