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Thaeron was effectively unconscious, lying naked on his back with his hands tied to the post behind his head with a smile on his face in the candle light. Ryel sat straddling him, looking down on him with a smile of her own, still enjoying the feeling. Oh, he was good, all right, for a human. He was well practiced and in good shape physically, and quite possibly his manhood was enhanced by an herbal formula: Ryel knew a variety of those and could whip a decent one up herself with ingredients available in any market in Baharna (or any dell in eastern Mirkwood in the summer). She shifted left and right, back and forth, up and down, not quite ready to relinquish her hold on him. She bent forward and kissed his nose, then, on a whim, gave the thief a thorough smooch. No reaction. She sat back up, smirking.

Ryel sat in the saddle for one more very pleasant minute. She stretched her arms high above her head and yawned, then let her hands glide down over her breasts to her legs. Oh, he was good all right. But she was better. She had sucked away all his energies and left him in a smiling coma. She would not have been able to do that to Elladan or Elrohir or that cute younger son of King Thranduil. She would not have been able to do that to Glosvar—oh, no, he would have gone all night and looked smashing at breakfast the next morning. Jerk.

Somehow, sitting there so comfortably upon her throne, Ryel found herself thinking about how far she had diverged from her old path. What would Glosvar think if he could see her now? Ryel almost laughed out loud. How had she come to be what she was? What was she anyway? What was this job she was on? She frowned. Whatever it was, it was time to be about it.

Ryel rose up, found she had to rise a little further than she’d thought: oh, those herbal supplements, they really did work. She rose up off of her lover, swung her right leg off him and slid off to stand by the bed. She danced over to the pants he had left in the bathroom. A quick search revealed the bronze-ish thingy among the folds of one of the loose pant legs. In a pocket near it, she found a nice addition: a ruby the size of a large grape. Ryel danced back into the bedroom and slipped them both into her bag.

“That’s how I did it, honey,” she said to Thaeron, who smiled on in sleep.

Ryel dressed quickly, pulled on her boots, got her backpack on, then looked back at Thaeron, dozing in the light of a guttering candle. She thought about giving him a good night kiss, but she decided that it would be gilding the lily, and besides, he might wake up.

Then she was out the door and down the hall and down the stairs and into the lobby of the Royal Baharna Hotel. She traipsed over to the desk, where a dreamy looking young female human native of Dream World looked up. “Um, leaving?” asked the young woman.

“It was a great stay, actually,” said Ryel with a sweet smile, tossing her key to the girl from twenty feet away. “I have an early meeting.”

The chant had gone six rounds, and was well into its seventh. Arkmar, not the dwarfiest of dwarves, was beginning to have his patience sorely tested. He was not sorry that he had answered the call, any more than he was, really, surprised that the elf maiden had needed to bail him out. But at this point he was sure he would never again forget why he had stopped going to the Shrine in the beardless teen years of his mid forties.

The surviving priests had no doubt survived because they were just so darn hard core.

But Arkmar had heroically brought back what the ghasts had taken. Naturally he was needed to properly restore the dignity of the shrine, and naturally they needed to honor him by allowing him to take part in the vigil. So he pushed his complaints down and pretended it was an honor.

When it was finally over, he got up to take five and noticed a dark figure at the back of the shrine, barely visible in the light of the lamps of sacred oil. With one quick backward glance at the priests, who were stretching and chatting softly, Arkmar approached the figure.

“Elf,” he whispered. “You have some nerve. That’s a compliment.”

“Thank you. You have nerve too.” Arkmar walked past Ryel and she followed him across the antechamber and out the door into the street. The first trickles of light were dripping into Baharna. “You got your stuff?”

“Ah,” said Arkmar. He went back inside and came right back out with his leather knapsack. “In a hurry?”

“Oh yeah,” said Ryel. “I’ll show you why when we’re on the road out of town.”