Just wanted to make a random announcement that has absolutely nothing to do with the story: I just got older! I mean... more than I do naturally every day, I had a birthday. Okay, so that was a bad way of phrasing it. Anyway, that's totally pointless, so now the story will continue as planned.

Sorry it took me so long, but I've been really busy getting back into school. I'll try to get faster, I promise.

People often complain about inns like the one we found ourselves in front of, saying they were dirty and the beds were hard, damp, or had various insect colonies in them. Honestly, I was so exhausted and terrified from our adventure with the invisible thing that I didn't notice. Several bug bites that I found later might attest to the truthfulness of the rumors, but I hadn't seen a thing.

By the light of day, however, the incident seemed much less terrifying than it had that night. Looking at it reasonably, it made perfect sense that the thing had come after me. I was cursed, after all, while Melin was blessed and Zek was a magician. It was perfectly logical that I would be the immediate target of any danger we encountered on our travels, I would just have to be more prepared. Prepared, but not frightened. There was a reason that it had come after me, a reason it had found us in the first place, and whatever my attacker was, it was not specifically attacking me.

Zek seemed less certain, however.

"Names?" the bored-looking innkeeper asked after we requested rooms.

I started to answer, but Zek beat me to it.

"Telarb," he said. "And this is my wife Pesina and our son, Kren." I barely kept myself from glaring at him.

"How many rooms?"

Again, Zek answered for us all. "One. And does your inn have any magical or none-magical protections, charms, or wards?"

The innkeeper seemed slightly more interested after that. "No, but some of our guests bring their own lucky charms. Weapons aren't allowed, but there are some magical shields and the like. They have to be declared upon registering, and no one currently staying with us has anything like that, except one old man with a rabbit's foot." This all came out in a rush, and the next words were spoken with barely concealed excitement. "Do you expect an attack?"

"Of course not," I replied smoothly. "My husband is just being cautious." I didn't think my voice betrayed any disgust (or amusement) at calling Zek my husband, but he glared at me anyway.

"I would like to declare a magical shield, only around our own rooms," he told the innkeeper and turned up the stairs without waiting for an answer.

"Umm... sir? Your rooms are that way."

"Are the wards soundproof?" I demanded the instant Zek was finished.

"It's called a shield, and yes, it is," he replied calmly.

"Good. Melin, go away, I need to talk to Zek."

The boy squawked his disapproval at this order while my friend exclaimed something about caution and past experiences. Not being the most helpful person to have in this situation, I instantly started snapping at both of them to shut up while simply adding to the chaos. We would have been able to go on like that forever, but we eventually ran out of breath and decided it simply wasn't helping to yell at one another without any purpose.

There was a pause, and Zek was the first to get back to talking.

"We were attacked, Aida," he said seriously. "We need to take precautions. There may be someone looking for us, or looking for you, and whoever they are, they won't be gotten rid of that easily. You know we can't fight them, not on our own, so we need to hide until we get to the capital. If nobody knows who we are, or knows where we are, nobody will be able to hurt us."

"You're overreacting!" I snapped. "I'm cursed, that's why that thing came after me, not because I was a target for any sort of evil plot." I twisted my face into an exaggeratedly cruel expression as I said this and Melin giggled, only to stop quickly as Zek glared at us both.

"So you think that someone with enough power to summon up an invisible creature that is still strong enough to overpower a grown woman, with enough wards to stop even my strongest spells, would just send it out to attack random people?"

"I thought they were called shields."

He glowered at me. "They're called shields when you put them on yourself, an object you're touching, or a room you're in, and wards when they're on something you have no connection to. Okay?"

"I still think you're paranoid."

"Past experience with you has taught me to always assume the worst."

I glared at him, not entirely sure whether I should take that as an insult or not but prepared to, as Zek put it, assume the worst. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Melin slid off the bed he was sitting on. "Maybe you were right. I'll leave, see if I can find us some food..." he trailed off into muttering as we ignored him.

"You're cursed, Aida, and you're reckless, which makes it hard for anyone who cares about you to protect you."

"I don't need protection, and I'm not reckless!" Zek only snorted. "It's true!" Still no response. "You know, we had to go through four years of intensive survival training in order to be chosen for this expedition. We have to be able to fight, and to survive without supplies in any sort of conditions. And so far, I think I've been doing alright!"

"Did they happen to teach you basic balance?" I flushed, knowing he meant the mirror, and didn't answer. He sighed at my silence and smiled ruefully. "Sorry. You're right, you obviously can function as part of a team of seven under normal circumstances. But alone, and cursed? One of them, maybe, but not both, nobody could. This curse... it complicates things, and I don't want you to get hurt. If you don't accept a little protection now and then, you will. You're in over your head, Aida, we all are."