Dirdre reclined on the tree branch against the massive trunk, as much at ease as if she were sitting at a table in the tavern instead of almost a hundred feet in the air. Her slender fingers danced over the holes of a decorated flute in a pattern that would bring forth a melody had she desired to play. Instead she scanned the surrounding forest, the silver of the flute and the movement of her hands the only sign that the elf, in her brown and green dyed armor and hair, was more then an oddly shaped piece of bark.

"You should put that away," a male voice hissed behind her in harsh common, so unlike the elvish she had grown up hearing. Absently she nodded, but continued to finger the song. The man behind her sighed and sat down beside her. "It wouldnít take a very intelligent orc to figure out that flashing silver in a tree top isnít normal." Apparently he had taken his own advice; the human rubbed his naked wrist, where he normally wore a set of copper and leather bracers.

"That implies orcs are intelligent. Besides, I donít need to worry with you around, Taylor. Theyíd hear you long before they see me." Despite her words, the elf put down the flute and shot a look at her companion. Although they were dressed alike, the two made a study in contrasts. Taylor was a brawny human with normally blonde hair and blue eyes, and a personality that matched; he was famous in the tavern as a wrestler and champion drinker. Dirdre was a copper-skinned elf as slight and short as stories depicted elven-kind, with long, dark brown-near black hair and green eyes, with a disposition to match. Around any human over the age of ten, she was that sullen and near-silent companion of Taylor. To the children, of whatever race, she was the flute player, the entertainer, playmate and the one grown-up willing to stop and listen to almost any woe or wild tale. While Taylor carried a long sword and bow, Dirdre was armed to the teeth with daggers.

Her hand drifted unconsciously to one sheathed at her waist; the golden hilt was carved with patterns of buildings, hourglasses, and hands folded in prayer, the entire thing ending in a sunburst. According to Taylor, who had given her the magnificent weapon just a few days ago, it was a traditional sign of long lasting friendship to his people. To her, it was an even more important sign, of old wounds, perhaps finally healing over. She had always had a bit more then normal elven dislike of humans, which had blown into complete distrust when her village had been wiped out earlier in the Orc War due to human troops, sent to protect her home, hadnít made it in time. If it was due to weather or causalities, she could force herself to understand, but delaying, for whatever reasons and excuses they had put forth, was unacceptable.

Dirdre had accepted a post as scout here, a human town at the edge of nowhere, under extreme protest and direct orders. Now, she was glad to have come. Taylor had been drafted to be her partner and was just as thrilled to be here as she was. Somehow, though, the two had managed to get past their mutual dislike and distrust and somehow become tentative friends. The elf had high hopes that the solemn ceremony in which Taylor had presented her with the dagger was a fresh start.

The human hissed, startling her from her musings. He pointed to the south. A slow moving, ragged line of dirty helmets, black, greasy hair, and shaved green skin was making its way in their direction. The orcs had arrived. He patted her leg and pointed to the village in a clear indication of what to do that needed no words. She was to go warn the village while he did whatever he could to slow or stop the advance. Dirdre nodded and slipped around the trunk to the sylvan pathways that would take her back faster then tramping through the woods ever could.

She had been gone for only a few minutes when she realized with a surge of panic that her flute was still at the tree. Torn with indecision, she stood on a branch and cast looks between Taylorís post and the village. On one hand, she was responsible for the lives of the villagers. On the other, the flute was the last thing she had of her family; which had been passed down for untold generations, that her parents had spent so many happy times teaching her to play, and then how they and her brothers had gotten into impromptu concerts. That decided her. With the pathways in the trees, she could get back in time to warn them. It shouldnít take more then five minutes to get the flute and back.

She raced through the trees, darting around trunks and under low-hanging branches, moving mostly by feel and instinct then any pre-formed plan. It took a shorter time then planned to return. She breathed heavily, preparing a sheepish explanation for Taylor, then she froze as her fingers closed around the flute. Her human partner wasnít there.

Dirdre went into hunter mode, going totally alert and silent. There were voices below, speaking in the guttural, harsh tones of orcish. The elf peered cautiously downwards, fingers tightening around a dagger as she stuffed the flute into its pouch. If Taylor was in trouble....

The sight that met her eyes made her blood run cold, then blazing hot with pure primal rage. Taylor leaned against a tree trunk opposite her, talking to two orcs at the head of the crowd of at least a score of the monsters.

"Smell elfs," one of the lead orcs, dressed in a set of fine chain mail obviously meant for a bigger human, growled.

"I told you," Taylor growled back, "thatís my partner. Sheís gone now."

"Betrayal!" the other leader croaked. This one was wearing a bear skin and elaborate headdress, as well as a medallion of some sort it clutched close.

Taylor gave it a look as if he were a puppy it just kicked for no reason. "Never! She thinks youíll make a frontal attack, but I can get you in the back way. With her warning them, it will be unprotected."

Oh, yes. Betrayal indeed, Dirdre mentally snarled. Once again, a human she called friend had turned on her. But this time, it would be a different village, different children left homeless... alone. Her hand clenched around a dagger hilt, turning knuckles white and digging imprints into her palm. The pain finally drew her attention from the scene below and she gave it a bitter smile. It really was nice of Taylor to give her a dagger. It was only right that she return it....

She resisted the impulse to simply draw and throw the blade. Rage had its place and time, and she knew very well that battle was not it. She would get at most three shots. For a moment, the elf longed for the bow her former friend had by his side, then shoved it away. Regrets could wait.

Time seemed to slow, gain a strange clarity Dirdre rarely felt. She watched dispassionately as the discussion continued, waiting for the right moment. The orc with the headdress turned slightly, sniffing the air. She reached back and hurled the unadorned dagger, watching its flight that came to a sudden, bloody stop in the orcís throat. Even before then, the second dagger - Taylorís gift - was in the air.

Time snapped back to normal, and the elf cursed. Taylor saw the orcís death and stepped backward with a strange expression on his face. The knife had already been released, so instead of taking him cleanly, the dagger tumbled to a stop in the humanís stomach. He fell to his knees with a pained cry.

The orcs, witnessing the death of one of their leaders and the approaching death of their human ally, decide for a rather panicked tactical retreat. Dirdre waited until the small clearing below was clear of orcs then scrambled down the tree like a squirrel. She cautiously approached Taylor, wincing slightly. She had gotten him with a gut wound. Incredibly painful, and equally deadly. She drew another dagger, intending to finish the job. She would leave no one, be they orc, illithid, or traitor, in this condition. He saw her coming and shook his head. "No," he whispered/croaked. "Warn-" He coughed up blood. She hesitated again. Warn the village of the attack that they could very well die from... or finish him off?

The look in the humanís eyes made up her mind for her. He was dying and knew it. He had the dagger and could finish it himself. The elf turned and clambered upwards for the highway in the trees.


Later

Dirdre lay on the rough bed and stared up at the ceiling. The battle had indeed been a massacre, but of orcs, not humans. She had made it back in time to deliver the warning.

A knock on her door drew her attention back from musings from the past. "Yeah?" she levered herself up on an elbow to see Simon, one of Taylorís drinking buddies.

"Uh, Dirdre. We looked for his body, but we didnít find anything. Looks like the orcs took it." The elf nodded. It was no more then sheíd expected. Simon coughed and shifted slightly, then held out the distinctive copper and leather bracers Taylor was almost never without. "He knew something was going to happen. He wanted you to have these." He tossed the bracers onto the bed and fled out the door.

Dirdre reached over and grabbed the arm guards, studying them for awhile. Then she nodded to herself and put them on. A human had once again betrayed her. But he had paid for his crimes. She would wear his - gift - as remembrance. Humans were not to be trusted.

Strange.... Taylor had been about twice her size, yet the bracers fit as if they had been made for her....



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