A White Rose

The sun's last beams gave the old city a warm glow, but that didn't make Ereptus feel any more comfortable. He'd left the city years ago to never return, but now he'd felt obligated to come back. An old friend had asked him to, and since Ereptus owed him his life, he couldn't ignore the summon when it had come.

Few people were still outside, so Ereptus could easily walk down the streets and alleys without being seen. He didn't want to bump into any of the people he'd had time to upset while he lived there. While he was walking down a back alley he heard some muffled shouts and the sounds of a subdued fight. Against better judgement he turned towards the noise and saw two men who were trying to hold down a young girl. The girl was skinny, but she fought well.

Normally Ereptus would just leave the scene. He'd made a habit of staying out of other people's business, but something about the girl's desperate, yet futile, resistance made him step closer. The girl caught sight of him then, in between kicking one of the men in the groin, and grabbing the other's hair making him scream. Ereptus froze.

The girl must be young, absolutely not a day over fifteen, but probably younger still. What caught him most by surprise though were her eyes. They were a pale green, so pale that they seemed more yellow than green. He'd never seen such eyes before in his life and they completely captivated him.

Then the moment of stillness was over; both men had recovered from their current states and were trying to push down the girl again. Ereptus then did something he'd never done before. He stepped in to help the girl. With a few swift movements he had the two men unconscious on the ground. One didn't spend a whole life living on the streets without acquiring some useful tricks.

The girl was getting up, she brushed some dust off her patched hoses. Ereptus gave her a quick look over. She seemed to be all right, the clothes were all still on, so he'd stepped in before the men could do any real harm. She wasn't as skinny as he'd first thought, even if she was very slender. Her clothes had certainly seen better days. She wore a pair of torn leather boots, a pair of patched hoses and a too large tunic that she'd tied closed at the waist with a dirty rope. Had it not been for her face and long hair, she'd have looked like a young boy. Her skin was fair without even a hint towards a tan, he could see the fairness of the skin even through the dirt that covered most of it.

Her hair was long and tangled in a dark walnut brown colour. Her face was still young, but already beautiful, too beautiful to be a regular street urchin. No girl of any age with those looks would have made it this long. She had arched eyebrows, a small, straight nose and soft lips. He could see her ears vaguely under her hair, their form telling him that she was an elf. Her eyes were still the most peculiar about her though, he'd really never seen anyone with eyes that were almost yellow before.

The girl glared at him. Even though he was used to surveying people in a quick glance, she must have noticed that he was looking at her. Her peculiar eyes had made him look longer than usual.

'Who are you?' the girl finally asked.

'I'm Ereptus. I might ask you the same question.'

'It doesn't matter who I am.' the girl said and started to turn away from him to leave. 'Thank you for saving me, not that I couldn't have handled it myself, but I must be on my way.'

She started walking down the alley, stepping over the bodies of the two men who were still lying unconscious on the ground, but Ereptus caught her by the arm and forced her to stop.

'Now, hold there, kid. You don't just walk out on me.' He glared down at her. 'I want a name first. I didn't just go through the trouble of saving you just to get dismissed.'

The girl glared right back up at him. 'I was doing fine!' she proclaimed. 'I can very well take care of myself.'

Ereptus didn't comment on that, but gave her a look that told her he didn't agree. 'Maybe I should just wake those two men up and let them try again?' he said.

The girl glanced down at the two men and shuddered slightly. 'I'd prefer if you didn't.' she admitted, and then looked back up at him. She seemed somewhat uncomfortable, and Ereptus realised she was worried that he'd want something for saving her. Which shouldn't have surprised him. That had always been the case on the streets.

'Why did you save me then?' then girl suddenly asked warily.

'Damned if I know.' Ereptus muttered to himself.

That moment he heard running steps in the alley behind him and he quickly pulled his dagger and turned around to face whoever was coming. But he didn't let go of the girl's arm.

'Rain? Are you all right?' a man was panting.

'I will be when this brute lets go of me.' the girl said with a glare at Ereptus, she seemed to have regained her courage. Ereptus let her go.

He looked at the man who'd just arrived. It was his old friend. A suspicion started to form in the back of Ereptus' mind, but he sure hoped he was wrong.

'Gaylen?' Ereptus said and his friend started and looked at him, then he smiled when he recognised Ereptus.

'I'll be damned! Ereptus, old mate. I hardly recognised you! Last time I saw you, you were still a gangly brat.' Gaylen grinned as he said this, walked up to Ereptus and slapped him on the back. 'It's good to see you, old friend.'

Ereptus couldn't say the same. He was still feeling uncomfortable being back in the city where he'd spent most of his life. It hadn't been a very good life. Gaylen had grown a lot older during the last few years. He had a lot of grey in his dark hair, and his eyes looked tired.

'So.. You've taken in a new brat?' Ereptus nodded towards the elf girl.

Gaylen looked somewhat uncomfortable. 'Um.. Yes. That's what I wanted to talk to you about.'

'I was afraid you were going to say that.' Ereptus sighed. 'Let's go to your house and talk there.'

The older man nodded, took the girl by her hand and started walking down the alley towards his home, which Ereptus knew to lie a block or two away. Ereptus fell in behind them, keeping a little distance. He could see that Gaylen was hissing at the girl, most likely scolding her for being out alone this close to nightfall. The city wasn't safe for anyone after the dark settled. It was barely safe during the day.

Gaylen had once helped Ereptus. He'd taken him in when he'd been badly injured in a fight and nursed him back to health. Ereptus had stayed with him for a while, helping the old man by stealing him extra food and money. After a while Ereptus had left the city though, he'd gained too many enemies. It seemed that now Gaylen had a new charge in the dirty little girl that was walking next to him, flinching when he said something she didn't like.

Once they'd reached Gaylen's house they gathered around a small wooden table. Gaylen put out some water and bread for them to eat.

Ereptus was still casting glances at the girl now and then. For some reason he couldn't stop. The girl had been told to clean up, which had been needed since her face had been all but covered in grime and dirt, and her face was now clean. She reminded him of a white rose standing alone in a withered garden. The city wasn't for someone like her. She'd tied her long hair back and Ereptus finally saw her ears clearly, which confirmed his suspicion that she was an elf, or at least a half elf. Her eyes had the correct shape for it.

'I found her on the streets some years back.' Gaylen said when he noticed Ereptus' interest in the girl. 'She'd just been abandoned by her father. He'd travelled to our city with her, and then didn't bother to take her back home.'

The girl seemed to find the subject uncomfortable. She grabbed a loaf of bread and a cup of water and disappeared.

'Why did you take her in?' Ereptus asked.

'Look at her.' the older man said. 'She doesn't belong on the streets. I don't know where she's from, but she's not your regular street urchin.'

Ereptus nodded. He'd thought the same thing himself.

'She knows magic.' The last admission from Gaylen surprised him. Although he shouldn't have been surprised. Elves usually excelled over humans in the arts of magic. But most of them needed a lot of training, and often they had to be grown up before they could master it.

'Mind you, she doesn't know half as much as she once will.' Gaylen said, seemingly reading Ereptus' thoughts.

Ereptus looked at his old friend. 'That favour you want from me', he said. 'It's regarding her, isn't it?'

The older man nodded. 'I want you to bring her to the lands where you are now. There are no wizards here, and I want her to learn to use her magic, or it might destroy her. You said the Guilds in your new lands are good. I want her to practice with the Guild of Magic to learn to control her powers.'

'You want me to bring her to Imagica?' Ereptus asked.

'Yes. If that's the name of the lands, then that's where I want you to take her.'

Ereptus started to protest, but Gaylen cut in before he got a word out. 'Once you're there you don't need to ever see her again. Just make sure she's close by a Magic Guild, and she can find it, then you can leave her. I ask you this favour, and then your debt to me is paid.'

With a sigh Ereptus nodded. He couldn't refuse his friend's request. He stood up.

'Have her pack and be ready in the morning. I want to leave at dawn.'

Gaylen nodded and Ereptus left the small house. He was going to stay at a nearby inn for the night.

The next morning Ereptus met Gaylen and the girl outside Gaylen's house. The girl was arguing with Gaylen, she didn't want to be sent away. She was ranting and raving and all Ereptus could do was to stand by and watch. He was amazed that Gaylen could hold his temper with the girl. Ereptus would have put her over his knees and given her a good spanking a long time ago.

'Gaylen, I don't want to go to this Imagica place!' the girl whined. 'I like it here. With you.'

'You'll be better off in Imagica.' Gaylen said. 'This city is no good for a girl like you. You've already gotten into a lot of trouble. It's a miracle you haven't been killed or sold as a slave by now.'

'I can take care of myself!' the girl said confidently. 'You know I can. How else would I have made it this long?'

'You've been lucky.' Gaylen said, and cut her off when she was about to say something again. 'There is no discussion, Rain. You're going to Imagica, and you're going to learn to control your magic.'

The girl glared at Ereptus, as if he was the reason she had to leave. She leaned closer to Gaylen to whisper something, but years of training had made Ereptus hearing pretty good, and he could still hear her. 'I don't trust him, Gaylen. He worries me.'

Gaylen chuckled and stroked the girl's hair. 'He's all right. He's no happier than you are about the arrangement.'

The girl snorted at that.

A short while later the girl took fare well of Gaylen, and Ereptus lifted her up on the horse he'd stolen at the inn that morning. He'd figured a horse would make the trip go faster, and the quicker he reached Imagica, the sooner he could get rid of the girl.

Ereptus took a quick fare well of Gaylen, then sat up in front of the girl and set the horse in motion. They rode in silence for most of the day, Ereptus because he didn't know what to talk about with a young girl, the girl because she was still simmering after having had to leave against her will. Also, which Ereptus noticed since she had barely touched him to hold on to the horse, she'd only held on to a piece of his tunic, she was still distrustful of him. She might trust Gaylen, but she wouldn't trust Ereptus simply because Gaylen did.

Towards the end of the day the girl finally spoke. 'How long will it take us to reach this place?'

'Maybe a week, maybe longer.' Ereptus said.

After that they were quiet again. When the sun started to set they stopped right inside the edge of a small forest to set camp for the night.

'This should be one of the few nights we need to sleep outside.' Ereptus told the girl. 'For the rest of the journey we should pass through enough towns and villages to find an inn to sleep at.'

The girl nodded, but said nothing. They ate in silence, and Ereptus noticed that the girl kept putting small pieces of bread inside her tunic.

'What are you doing?' he finally asked her irritably.

The girl looked up at him. 'I'm feeding Peeves.'

'Peeves?' Ereptus frowned.

The girl stuck her hand inside her tunic and pulled out a blue-grey little beast.

'A lizard?' Ereptus laughed silently. 'You have a pet lizard?'

'It's a dragon, thank you very much!' the girl snapped, her hand patting the little dragon softly. It was very small, only a little bigger than her hand, and it had wound its tail around one of her fingers.

Ereptus got closer to look at the little beast, and he could see that it was indeed a small, baby dragon rather than a lizard.

'That's a peculiar pet.' he said.

'I'm a peculiar girl.' The girl said and put the little dragon back inside her tunic. Then she turned her back at him, lay down and went to sleep.

Ereptus looked at her for a moment, then lay down to get some sleep himself. They had a long ride in front of them.

Rain gazed at the man who was readying the horse. She didn't trust him. Not that she particularly trusted anyone, but this man made her nervous. His eyes were dark, almost black, and she hadn't been able to see any feelings displayed in them. He was a handsome man, she couldn't deny that. He was tall and slim, without being skinny. A day's growth darkened his square jaw. Dark hair fell to his shoulders, curling slightly at the collar of his tunic.

Dressed all in black he didn't look like someone you could trust though. He was cleaner than most men she'd encountered in the city, but who ever said cleanliness meant you were a good man? Her father had been clean, and he'd been as mean as they come. She shuddered slightly at the memory of her father. It was a time of her life she'd just as soon forget.

Ereptus had finished with the horse and had sat up, he was motioning to her to join him. She walked over to the horse, and Ereptus took her arm and pulled her up behind him, as if she weighed no more than a toddler. They soon took off, and Rain had to grab hold of Ereptus' tunic to not fall off the horse. Peeves were complaining a little bit inside her tunic until he settled himself in a spot where he wasn't squeezed between her and Ereptus.

She'd told herself she wasn't going to speak to Ereptus, but she soon grew bored. The day before she'd still been seething with anger about being forced out of the city where she thought she'd made an acceptable life for herself. Although she liked Gaylen, she was angry about the highhanded way he'd decided that she should be taken away without consulting her first.

'Ereptus?' she asked after a while.


'What is this place like?'

'This place,' Ereptus said. 'Is called Imagica.'

'Fine. What is Imagica like?'

'It's a land like any other.' Ereptus said.

He seemed to notice Rain's concern about the new land she was going to, and he started telling her more about it. After a while he turned his head slightly to look at her over his shoulder.

'It's a good place, kid. The Guildmasters are well respected and wise, they can teach you to control your magic. I will take you to one of the more peaceful towns, and you won't have to be on your guard the whole time, as you have until now.'

Rain glared at his back, he'd turned his head to look at the road again. 'Despite what you think, I am fully capable of taking care of myself.'

'You're a child.' was all she got for reply.

'You were once a child living on the streets.' Rain snapped. 'And you're still alive.'

She could feel that he was growing exasperated. 'I was a boy,' he explained. 'You're a girl, and a beautiful one at that. While a boy might be left alone, save a few kicks now and then, a girl is in greater danger at all times.'

Rain wasn't sure whether to feel offended by his belief that she couldn't defend herself, or thank him for the unintended compliment. 'I've done all right for several years.' she finally said. 'Granted, men have tried to catch me, but I'm quick on my feet.'

'Sooner or later you would meet someone quicker.' Ereptus said.

She sighed. There was no use arguing with him, he wouldn't ever believe a girl could take care of herself.

The horse slowed down, and Rain leaned over to look at the road ahead, but Ereptus' back was too wide for her to be able to see anything.

'Why are you slowing down?' she asked.

'There's a carriage standing on the road.' Ereptus told her. 'I think one of the wheels has been damaged.'

They got closer to the carriage. A man, who was most likely the driver was trying to get the damaged wheel off, but it was a futile thing without help. A beautiful lady was standing next to the carriage. Ereptus quickly offered to help the man, who thankfully agreed. With some help it was a quick job to replace the broken wheel with a spare one.

'I must be allowed to thank you.' The lady said when they were done, her gaze raking over Ereptus in a way that made Rain feel sick to her stomach. 'Please, ride with me in my carriage to the next town, and allow your horse some rest.'

'I would be most pleased to do so.' Ereptus said with a bow.

While he was tying their horse to the back of the carriage, the lady gave Rain a disdainful look and stepped into the carriage. Rain realised that she must look terrible to a fine lady, dressed in her patched hoses and dirty tunic as she was. She's never been bothered about her appearance, but compared to the lady, she looked like something a cat had dragged in.

'Come on, kid.' Ereptus said, holding up the carriage door for her. 'Let's join the lady.' The grin Ereptus gave her when he said that made her uncomfortable.

Inside the carriage Rain ended up spending most of the time in a corner petting Peeves inside her tunic, fascinated with the game Ereptus and the lady seemed to play. Both of them seemed to have forgotten that Rain was there at all. It was as if they were dancing, but with words instead of feet. Used as she was to see Ereptus mainly surly or with no expression at all, Rain found it unsettling to see him smile and be as charming as any gentleman, if not more.

He had the lady blushing over and over again, her gaze never leaving him for a second. Sometimes the things he told the lady almost made Rain want to laugh, they were so ridiculous. He gave her compliments on her eyes, her skin, her hair, and any other thing he could possibly think of.

Towards the end of the day they finally reached a small town and it was time them to part from the lady and her carriage. Ereptus took a long farewell of the lady, whispering something in her ear, then bowing low and slowly kissing her hand. Then he took their horse and went with Rain down the street.

Once they were out of sight from the carriage he spit something out in his hand and took a look at it. Curious, Rain looked at it. It was a golden ring filled with pale, blue gemstones.

'This should give us some food and a roof over our heads for a few nights.' Ereptus said.

Rain couldn't help it but burst out laughing. It seemed to surprise Ereptus, who was staring at her.

'What is so funny?' he asked.

'All that gooey talk with the lady was just to get to her ring?' Rain grinned.

Ereptus shrugged, but couldn't hide his grin from her. 'It's an easy way to keep a lady's concentration elsewhere.'

'You have guts.' Rain smiled. 'I've stolen a few things myself, but I would never dare to steal something right off their finger!'

'It's not so hard.' Ereptus said. 'Although I suppose it would be harder for you to get away with kissing a lady's hand.'

Rain laughed again. Ereptus looked at her, but she couldn't determine what he was thinking. It almost seemed as if he wasn't sure how to react towards her new attitude.

They quickly found a less than honest man in a shabby store where Ereptus quickly sold off the ring for a nice, round sum. After that they went to an inn and got a room for the night. As the stores were still open Ereptus took Rain with him to a clothing store.

'I think you should have some decent clothes before we reach Imagica.' he told her with a pointed look towards her clothes. To his obvious surprise she didn't protest. She'd realised it herself. If she was going to start a new life, she couldn't walk around looking like she did.

They were lucky and found a store that had clothes that were already made. Ereptus bought her a simple skirt, a pair of sandals and a tunic with a belt to tie it at the waist. Rain went back to the inn after this, while Ereptus stayed in town to look at a few more things.

After riding for two full days she felt dirtier than ever and asked the innkeeper for a bath. She was told there was a small bath house behind the inn, so she quickly made use of it. When Ereptus returned to their room she was sitting on her bed, dressed in her new clothes, brushing her long, wet hair. Ereptus closed the door without taking his eyes off her. He came and sat down on his own bed, which was next to hers, almost sitting down on Peeves, who had been slumbering there in his absence.

Ereptus frowned, picked up the little dragon and put him next to Rain on her bed, then sat down again on his own. 'How old are you, kid?' he asked, looking at her.

Rain looked up at him. 'I'm not entirely certain. I think somewhere around fifteen.'

Ereptus gave her a quick nod, removed his tunic and boots and went to bed. Rain finished brushing her hair, blew out the light and went to bed as well.

They rode out of town early the next morning. The sun had only just started to show its face, and Rain was so tired that she couldn't be bothered to keep her distance from Ereptus, but shamelessly used his back as a pillow, and almost fell asleep leaning against it. For once they rode in companionable silence, and Rain felt more at ease than she had during her whole life. She wasn't sure when it had happened, but for some reason she trusted Ereptus.

'Tell me about your life.' she suddenly blurted out.

'What?' Ereptus seemed surprised.

'Tell me about your life.' she repeated. 'Why did you become a thief?'

Ereptus seemed uncomfortable with the subject. 'It was the only way to survive.'

That surprised Rain. 'Why?' she asked.

'Like you I once lived on the streets.' he told her. 'Well, I still do in a way. Only now I steal enough to rent a room for the night most of the times.'

'And to buy fancy clothes.' Rain said. 'I never would have guessed from the way you dress that you don't have a home.'

'That's the point.' Ereptus said. 'Dressed like I am, I can easily get into the nicer inns and talk to the wealthy people. That's the way to make easy money. I don't steal enough to save up, just to live a comfortable life.'

'That sounds nice.' Rain sighed.

'You're not going to end up like me!' Ereptus snapped, which made Rain almost jump right off the horse. Peeves peeked out of her tunic, hissing and growling at Ereptus.

'Why not?' Rain asked, calming Peeves by patting him tenderly. 'It seems an easy way of living.'

'You can make a life for yourself when you learn to use your magic correctly.' Ereptus said. 'Gaylen is making sure that you get to study magic, I don't want you to waste his effort by living on the streets and stealing what you need.'

'I don't have any money.' Rain said. 'How else am I supposed to pay for my studies and a place to live?'

'Get an honest job.'

'Who would hire a lonely girl?'

Ereptus thought of this for a moment. 'Some would. Just don't give up.'

Rain nodded, but inside she knew that she would have to steal to get food. Like she always had, except for the few years she'd lived with Gaylen. She had still stolen a little now and then to help Gaylen out, but it hadn't been a matter of stealing or dying of hunger.

They spent the next couple of days getting to know each other better, and in Rain's opinion, they were becoming good friends. Ereptus told her more about his life as a young boy on the streets, and she told him what she remembered of her first years when she'd been living with an abusive, unloving father. Rain quickly started to admire Ereptus, he was a charming rogue who stole only what he needed to live a comfortable life, and the way he stole it was almost like an art form.

One evening she watched, with fascination, as Ereptus started a companionable conversation with an innkeeper and in the meanwhile stealing the man's pouch, to later pay their room with the same money. It was hard for Rain to keep a straight face when Ereptus even gave the innkeeper a tip.

When they were only a couple of days away from the lands of Imagica, Rain finally gained the courage to tell Ereptus something that she'd been thinking about.

'Ereptus?' she said hesitantly.


'I've been thinking, and I don't want to study magic, I want to stay with you.'

Ereptus stopped the horse and turned around to face her. 'Are you out of your mind?' he said brusquely. 'You can't stay with me. My life isn't a life for a young girl like you.'

'I think it's just fine.' Rain said stubbornly. 'It beats being alone.' She started to pout. 'I thought you liked spending time with me just as much as I like to be with you.'

Ereptus ran a hand through his dark hair. 'Granted, I do enjoy being with you.' He shook his head. 'But you still can't stay with me. It would be sacrilege. To me, you're like a white rose that's somehow been able to grow despite the darkness around you. If you would stay with me, all that would be for nothing. My life isn't the life for a young girl. You should go learn your magic, and make something of your life.'

'But..' Rain started, but Ereptus cut her off.

'No arguing.' He turned back and got the horse moving again. Rain kept silent, wiping away an errant tear.

Neither of them spoke for a long time, and she could feel the tension in Ereptus, he hadn't been happy about her request. The sun was at its highest when they heard hoof beats behind them. Ereptus took a quick look, and started cursing under his breath.

'I was hoping they hadn't seen me.'

'Who?' Rain asked, turning her head to see who was following them. It was three men on horses. They were all dressed in black, and they didn't look like they were very nice people.

Ereptus set a higher pace, hoping to reach a small forest before the men caught up with them, but there was no such luck. The men passed them and stopped them from going further.

'So we meet again, Ereptus.' One of the men grinned.

'Unfortunately.' Ereptus said with a nod.

'Get off your horse!'

They did as they were told, and the three men did the same.

'I want my money back, Ereptus.' The man who'd first spoken said. 'Where is it?'

'I told you, I didn't take it.' Ereptus sighed. 'I don't know who did, but it sure wasn't me.'

'Why should I believe you?' the man snarled.

'Because it's the truth?' Ereptus said dryly.

'Hold him!' the man growled at the other two, who quickly took hold of Ereptus' arms, while the man pulled up his sleeves. 'Maybe I can beat it out of you.' he said.

Rain stared at the men, she was thinking frantically what to do. When the man raised his arm for the first punch, she closed her eyes, but still flinched at the sound of bone hitting bone and Ereptus' grunt. Afraid that the men might beat Ereptus to death, and then start on her, she started to concentrate on one of the few spells she knew.

The fireball she conjured flew right at the men, missed Ereptus' head with less than an inch, and hit a rock behind him. Rain stared with horror at the rock that was black of soot from her fireball.

'Is that your magic?' Ereptus snapped. 'It's no wonder Gaylen wants you to study magic, he probably fears for his life!'

Rain flinched at the angry glare he gave her. But even if the fireball had completely missed its target, and almost hit Ereptus in the process, it had stunned the men enough so that they had let go of Ereptus. He quickly took advantage of this, and quickly fell one of the men. While he was fighting the other, the one who seemed to be the leader grabbed hold of Rain and pressed a dagger to her side.

Ereptus didn't see what was happening until the second man was down. His face paled when he saw Rain in the arms of the man. The dagger was pressed so hard against her ribs that it had already gone through her tunic and she was bleeding slightly. She was trying not to cry, but the pain made tears spring in her eyes.

'Let her go, Tylen.' Ereptus pleaded. 'It's me you want.'

'I think I've changed my mind.' The man grinned and hardened his grip about Rain's waist, making her gasp. 'I think I will keep this pretty little thing as payment for the money you stole from me.'

Rain closed her eyes, trying to collect her thoughts. She could feel the dagger cutting further into her side as Ereptus took a step closer.

'Stay away!' the man hissed. 'Or the girl dies!'

While the man was concentrating on Ereptus, Rain concentrated hard, and let out a large burst of energy, which pushed the man away from her. Out of strength she fell to the ground the same moment Ereptus jumped the man. Too tired to turn her head, she could hear the two men fighting behind her. Then it was silent. Rain wanted to see who had won, fearing the worst, but her body wouldn't obey her.

Then she was suddenly lifted up, and she was looking into Ereptus' face. He had some bruises, and he was likely to have a black eye in the morning, but he was alive. Relieved she rested her head on his shoulder, too tired to speak. He lifted her up on the horse, and sat up behind her, keeping her across his legs, which allowed her to cuddle up and rest against him like a baby.

'We need to get your wound cleaned and bound.' Ereptus mumbled in her ear. Peeves finally dared to come out of Rain's tunic where he'd been hiding, climbing up to sit on Ereptus' shoulder.

They rode into the nearby forest, and Ereptus soon found a little stream where he stopped. He quickly cleaned the blood from her tunic and skin, then tore a strip from his own tunic and bound it around her to stop the bleeding.

'The wound isn't too deep,' he remarked. 'Did you loose a lot of blood? Is that why you're so weak?'

Rain shook her head. 'Maybe a little, but it's because of my magic I'm weak. It drains my energy.'

Ereptus nodded. He lifted her once again, and let her sit in front of him on the horse, enabling her to lie against him. Rain closed her eyes and rested, she could feel Peeves moving in under her tunic again, nestling himself against her ribs. Soon they were both asleep. Rain didn't wake up again until the sun was almost setting. Most of her energy was regained by then, but the wound in her side was still aching slightly. They were riding inside a small town.

'Where are we?' she asked Ereptus.

'In a small town close to Imagica. We should reach the lands tomorrow.'

Rain nodded.

They took a room at a small inn. Rain was brushing her hair when Ereptus sat down and looked at her.

'Rain. Seeing you use that magic, I really think you should study it to learn more.'

'I'm usually better.' She argued. 'I was very upset, so my aim was a bit off.'

Ereptus shook his head. 'That's not what I mean. Your magic is powerful, with training you can learn to use it better, and even become more powerful. It would be a waste for you to go with me. Imagine the things you can learn.'

'But I want to be with you.' Rain protested.

Ereptus sighed. 'Look kid..'

'I'm not a child!' Rain snapped at him.

'You are to me!' he snapped back at her. 'And I will continue to see you as a child, or..' he went silent and shook his head as if to clear it.

'Look, Rain..' he started again. 'You can't stay with me. Just look at what happened today. If you stay with me, you could get hurt again, or even killed.'

'I'm not that vulnerable. I can take care of myself.'

'You're still only a ki..' Ereptus stopped himself before he said the word. 'You're still only a girl, and men are stronger than you, no matter what you think. If you learn your magic, you might be able to protect yourself better, but right now, your concentration isn't good enough.'

Rain couldn't argue with that. Had her concentration been better she might not have almost beheaded Ereptus with a fireball.

'I would be too worried that someone would hurt you to get back at me.' Ereptus said to conclude his argument.

'Let's not talk about it.' Rain mumbled and crawled down in bed next to Peeves who was already asleep on her pillow. Ereptus looked like he was going to say something more, then seemingly changed his mind and went to bed.

They reached Imagica early the next day. Ereptus took Rain to a city called Nivrim, where he showed her around and introduced her to the magic Guildmaster. He also showed her the more important shops and places. In the evening they took a room at an inn and by the time they were inside Rain was yawning, exhausted after looking at everything in the town.

'I think I might like it here.' She smiled at Ereptus.

'Good. The Guildmaster seemed to like you, I'm sure he can teach you a lot.'

Rain nodded, hardly able to keep her eyes open. She was lying in bed, already thinking about all the wonderful things she would get to see tomorrow with Ereptus.

'Can we go to see the large lake outside the city you were talking about tomorrow?' she asked.

'Mmm..' Ereptus answered absently. He sat down on the bed next to her and stroked her cheek. She smiled sleepily up at him. It looked as if he wanted to say something, but he didn't and she soon fell asleep.

Rain awoke the next morning to find the room empty, except for her and Peeves. All of Ereptus' belongings were gone. Next to her on the pillow lay a single, white rose and a leather pouch filled with money. Rain carefully picked up the rose, and she knew that Ereptus had left her. He thought she was as fragile as the rose, and that she couldn't live a life like his.

Pressing the rose to her chest, she started crying. Except Gaylen, Ereptus had been the first person she ever trusted, and a very good friend. The thought of being abandoned in a new country scared her. She flinched and looked down at her hands. She was bleeding from where a thorn from the rose had stung her.

Wiping her tears away she stood up, resolute now. She was going to study magic, and she was going to be all right. She was no fragile little girl, but knew how to take care of herself. A rose may be beautiful, but a rose has thorns.