"What did you find out?" Seeing the way Vergon's eyes lit up as his mouth opened, Mjinji added "About the monster."

He ignored the way his partner's face fell, the bright sunlight putting his aquiline features in sharp relief. He sighed and slid over the honeyed juice that sat on the wooden slab-table in front of him over to Vergon. "You can tell me about the other things you learned later. Right now we need to concentrate on getting the job done."

Vergon took the rough clay mug eagerly, his lips already smiling again. "I didn't learn very much. Most people didn't like talking about it. One said it was as big as the inn," here he nodded at the two story stone and wood building they sat in front of. "And another said it looks like a bear. Most people said it's magic. Though what kind of magic was very different. Some said acid, some said fire, and one said it can make itself invisible."

Mijinji nodded, toying with an identical mug though his was filled with the cider having already found the ale too bitter for his tastes. "I got about the same. Except I was told it looks like a lizard, can fly, can pin you where you stand with its stare or it knows what you're thinking."

Leaning his chair back while he hooked his feet under the table, Vergon frowned, ignoring the breeze that blew his hair over his face, making everything appear through a brown veil. "What are we going to do? Should I-"

His partner cut him off. "You're not going to go scout it. The last time you did that it was only a miracle you came back without having been stabbed. You attract bad luck in the worst way. What we really need is a mage but gods only know what kind we'll find in a town this small that's smack dab in the middle of a forest."

"So you want a mage?"

He shrugged. "Yeah but like I said, I doubt there'll be any kind of decent one out-"

The bang as Vergon dropped his front chair legs back onto the stone of the inn's outdoor patio made Mijinji wince. Then he jumped to his feet, but he was too late. Vergon was already off running in the opposite direction, either not hearing or ignoring Mijinji's shouts of "No! Get back here! Vergon!"

Realizing the futility of it, he dropped back down to his chair and banged his forehead against the table a few times to reinforce the point. A year of having Vergon as his partner meant he should know by now to watch what he said around him. He took some small comfort in the fact that he was unlikely to wake up with his bed filled with mages the way he'd found whetstones there the time he'd mentioned needing a new one.

He picked his head up and took another appraising look at the town he sat in. Like most forest towns he'd been in, the buildings were mostly made of wood and surrounded the town square. The square itself was impressive for a town this size, boasting cobblestones made of river rock and four enormous buildings that encircled it. One was the inn he sat in front of. The others were the community hall, the trading house, and a temple with enough plinths for a statue of every god. Something he always found more comforting than the massive single god temples that were found in the big cities. Sometimes it was better that others not know who your god or goddess was. Especially if your and their deities didn't see eye to eye.

Houses ringed the square, edging outwards in layers until you came to the high wooden walls that kept the forest's beasts out. The walls had two gates, standing opposite one another, the one facing uda barred tight against the monster. The ord gate was open though there was little traffic. Word was beginning to go out and the trade that would normally flow through this town had trickled down to a few wandering peddlers who were on foot.

He nodded, feeling better about the job. They'd been hired late enough that people would be grateful they'd killed the monster but not so late that they'd be desperate and would curse them if they failed. He still remembered what had happened to him and his old partner and that had only been a rabid boar.

Mijinji leaned against his chair, turning his face up to the sun and closing his eyes. It'd been a while since he had a chance to just sit and enjoy the weather. He figured he might as well take the opportunity while he could, revelling in the rare quiet.

Not more than a quarter of a bell later, the bounding footsteps of Vergon woke him from his doze. He sighed and straightened, opening his eyes to stare at his partner. Then he closed them again and sent up a brief prayer to the warrior goddess Maishi for strength before looking back at his partner. "Vergon," he said, pinching the bridge of his nose with two fingers. "Who is that?"

Standing in the middle of the sunny street that ended in front of their inn, his arms wrapped around a smaller, struggling figure in a cloak, Vergon grinned at him. "It's a mage. You said you wanted a mage so I found one."

He took a deep breath and counted to ten, only just barely keeping a glare from darkening his brown eyes to almost black. "Vergon," he said when he had himself under control. "You can't just drag people off with you."

Vergon frowned and Mijinji assumed his grip had loosened since the smaller figure was able to wrench itself away from him, jerking around so it faced him. "Zaubron's staff! What is wrong with you?"

Mijinji winced. The voice coming from the hood was distinctly female and he was surprised she hadn't slapped Vergon already. "I'm very sorry about this. He's an idiot. Can we buy you lunch to make it up to you?"

The hood turned in his direction, the sun overhead leaving what was under it in shadow so he could see nothing of her face. "He grabbed me as I was walking down the street, dragged me all the way here despite me yelling at him to let me go and you think lunch is going to fix that?"

He shrugged. "There's not much else we can besides apologize. Of course if you have a better idea I'd be glad to hear it."

Vergon chose that moment to drop his crossed arms onto her head, leaning his chin on them. "Don't be mad. We need your help to fight the monster. We can pay you."

She jerked out from under him, whirling to face him. Mijinji assumed she was glaring. It's what he'd be doing in her place. She seemed to hesitate, her weight shifting to her back foot. Finally she said "You can tell me more over lunch."