Thalia's head smacked against the desk as she fell asleep. She jerked back into a sitting position, looking around blearily. She looked down at her paper, realizing why she had allowed herself to drift off to begin with. She had three books fully plotted. This was a new record. A 36 hour writing spree normally put together about 2 novels, so this was worthy of some celebration.

Careful not to let her wooden leg slip on the slick stone stairs as she carries the wine bottle back up into the kitchen, she thought with distain about what she would be doing for the next few days.

For now, she set the wine bottle onto the table at the foot of her normal bed, got out her flute, and attempted to play the song she'd been working on. It didn't work. She knew that putting effort into something at this point was only going to make her more burnt out than she already was, so she dropped the flute back into the basket beside the bed and laid down. Reading? Listening to music? Pondering? She ended up pondering, on the subject of music. Ironic. It was like, she thought, there were music genres that hadn't been discovered yet. There was stuffy music played on big instruments at formal events, wild, free music that was played at dances, and soft, pleasant music that was played at church with very little variation from those three broad genres. There were others, of course, but having spent her whole life on a backwater world, she wasn't too musically familiar. Her sleepy mind now drifted to the concept of far away places. Of course they existed, all the maps showed that they did, but if you'd never been there, how could you actually know?

The changeling was asleep before she realized it, and by then she was too far into the lovely wild world of dreams to do anything about it.

Hours later, a large black cat cuddled up under the blanket Thalia had pulled over herself.

𓆏

It was absolutely freezing in the morning, which was unseasonable, but this planet had a very unusual weather system anyway. Thalia found herself glad once again that the body she always wore had a lot of extra fat.

She sat up, realizing she'd left her makeup on.

𓆏

Two hours later saw a much more groomed Thalia, now wearing an entirely different body type and skin color, with hair pulled up in a bun and hands in the pockets of a greatcoat, climbing the stairs of a great wooden tower on the moon Simol. The tower stretched up to a point in the sky, with a small wooden balcony and a doorway. If one walked through the doorway, they found themself on a huge floating station, another satellite of the planet. It was used as a bazaar or a flea market by the residents of both planets, or, it had been, until hostilities had grown between the two. It made for some good stories, naturally.

On the other side of the station was a similar doorway leading to the other moon. The doorways utilized the portals that naturally occured in this part of the galaxy. It was an engineering marvel when it had been built decades earlier, and had united the people of the duel moons.

Today all the tents were taken down or broken, the shop windows boarded up. The only part of town that hadn't become a slum was the Overlook, and it was fast moving in that direction. The muses' handiwork had made the year of hostilities turn a thriving, beautiful place into... Well, this. Thalia remained on edge until she reached the door to the other moon. Springsted. Home of the tixtog, the mech angels. They were beautiful creatures, like mechanical insects, and all brilliant. In fact, if she wasn't confidant that that little wood elf could figure out how to heal them, she would definitely feel sorry about what she had to do to them.

On this side, there was an elevator instead of stairs. Everything was built of various metals, ceramics, and glasses instead of the stone and wood of Simol. The city around her as she stepped out of the elevator glistened like a chandelier. It was night here, but one could barely tell. The city never slept. She had heard people on the other moon talk about their town as a sleepless city, but that didn't hold a candle to this place. They barely recognised the passage of night and day here, but that wasn't all their fault. The moon had a dense cloud of stardust and unidentifiable blue gas surrounding it, meaning the sun's light didn't easily make it in, forcing the planet's inhabitance to make their own sleep was used to living in a place that never woke up. Her home world had always been sleepy and quiet, even before the Blue Withering had began.

She sighed, drawing on a deep breath. The air smelled like copper. The path before her, and all the way to where the first buildings were, wound through the edge of a park of sorts. The trees were also made of metal, of course, but they were as intricate as real trees. A leaf dropped above her, floating to the ground. Maybe they were real trees. She could breath here, after all.

Before there was time to think too hard about it, she took off down the path.

In the city, her only real task of the day was to deliver two items to her hired hand, a goonie for hire known as Balder. She walked the main streets, taking in the gorgeous evening, aware of the odd stares she was getting. In fact, that was part of her plan as well, and why she now looked like a wiry, paleskined elf instead of her usual tan human.

She ducked off the main street full of windowshoppers for an ally... That still looked lovely and polished. What was with these people? Anywhere else in the system an alley would look like just that! An alley! But the alleys on this moon were like little rooms, with roofs over them and benches every ten feet. She absentmindedly thought of the last alley she'd been in, a couple years ago. She'd found Caraba there, filthy, drunk out of his mind, sitting behind a dumpster. She wondered how he was doing now. How being an innkeeper at a reputable establishment like the Raven was treating him. Come to think of it, there was someone sitting on the sidewalk, a stone's throw away. A tiefling. Playing a harmonica. She was dressed in a tank top and knee length pants, with the same dorky hat on that Wolfy loved to sport.

She stopped to listen to the music for a minute before continuing down the alley, looking for a door or a window.

"Olympus would be this way," a deep, steady voice spoke from behind her. She whirled around to find a section of the brick wall had swung outward to form a doorway. The hand that pushed it open was unlike anything she'd ever seen, though she immediately recognised it. Perfectly shaped, segmented silver fingers ending in razor claws rested elegantly against the door, connecting to a metalic arm of the same flawless nature. The creature it belonged to could easily rival Thalia's ideal form at 9 feet or so, but he was wide as well, huge square shoulders hidden under a desaturated, venom green suit. (Which was missing it's jacket and had it's sleeves rolled up to the elbow. Was he trying to look seductive? Why?). His face was deepset, eyebrows looming far out over the two golden lights that could probably be considered eyes. His entire body was silver with venom green tattoos crisscrossing his exposed forearms and face, converging on the two curled horns adorning his bald head.

"Come on in, dear, we've been expecting you." Balder said.

Thalia bowed and stepped into the dark room. There was just enough light to see the upholstered chairs set around in an orderly fashion. Balder gestured to one of them, taking the other. Thalia sat down, crossing her legs.

"I've brought two items for you that I'd like you to... Deposit."

"I'm aware of the nature of the first, what would the second one be?"

Thalia opened her coat, taking a small purple lockbox.

"The gentleman," she began,"needs to be hidden someplace one would find captives of war. A prison, a fort, or something, I don't know, nor do I really care, as long as I know where I can find him again."

She held up the purple box, "this lovely box needs to find its way to an important facility... A main aquifer, a power plant, something of the like."

Balder snorted. "You trying to poison us, Lunophile?"

"Yes and no. Yes it will be immediately detrimental, and no it should cause no long-term harm, as long as I've played my cards correctly."

"And what makes you think, dear, that I would do something to hurt this lot of morons when I'm a moron among the lot?"

"Don't play games. I know you and yours don't get your necessities on world. Just do it and you'll get the second half of the paycheck."

Balder smiled, leaning against the back of his chair.

"Oh Thalia, you have to know this isn't what we arranged."

"You'll take out anyone for the right price, don't tell me stirring up animosity's against your moral code."

"Well I didn't say that. But for something so... Interesting a cause as yours, a pay raise is in order."

Thalia sat up.

"No. You have an agreed upon price for your delivery work. You'll get no more than that."

Balder snapped, and three figures entered the room. Three more of the metalic tixtog warriors appeared from the shadows two standing behind Balder and one beside Thalia.

Balder chuckled. "Really now. How fascinating."

Thalia sighed a deep, tired sigh and stood up slowly, only to lunge lightning quick at the first goon. The other three, Balder included, jumped to the aid of the first. If Balder had hired three more men, it would have been somewhere near a fair fight.

Within minutes, Thalia had dispatched all of them to the floor. She now stood before Balder, who, even kneeling, was still almost as tall as her. The carapace-like silver had broken on part of his face, revealing the robotic insides around his right eye.

"Now tell me again about how you're going to charge me extra."

𓆏

Thalia grumbled as she stepped onto the water. It had been a very long 24 hours and she was in a singularly stormy mood. (Not to mention bleeding from two places, courtesy of Balder's goons.) Truthfully, the day had been successfully, but dirty work well done didn't exactly bring about satisfaction.

It was raining slightly, which was rare on Simol, but pleasant nonetheless. She stopped on the surface of the lake, looking up. Rain was a healer to her species, but only when they were on their natural form. With a sigh she shifted from a tall, plump human woman to a short, wiry dragon creature, regaining her missing leg in the process. It was a nice touch to the character design, but impractical to carry over to her normal form. Ironic that the creatures that could turn into just about anything were so disturbing in their natural form.

Cal had never been ugly, even in her normal form. Cal had always been beautiful.

But Thalia was musing now. The rain splashed gently over her, closing the wounds on her arm and back. After a couple minutes, she sighed happily, and continued across the pond.

The waterfall was cold as ice, so she hurried through it and into her cave, laughing. But as she climbed the railroad tie stairs, (they were built for someone a lot bigger than she) her skin prickled. There was someone in the glen. She stepped carefully into the glen, listening. Laughter, but only quietly. There seemed to be chilled undertone to it all.

She snapped her fingers. Of course! It was the squatters. And of course, she now had to act out the next phase of her plan.

She hurriedly shifted into a gnome. The short, well shaped humanoid creatures were probably her second favorite being, so it came pretty naturally. The only issue was that her clothes were now far, far too big for her. The toga that had fit her human form perfectly and her shape shifter form decently was a hundred times too big for her gnome form. She chanted a quick verse, shrinking the toga to the perfect size.

𓆏

It hadn't been in the plan to let the Boney Boys in on their adventure, but Monty had swiftly undermined that. She had lead them across the water and to the cabin, to the surprise and delight of the companions. Niamh hugged all 6 of them and pulled them to the house to introduce them to the others.

"And I believe we already met," Skipper said, ruffling Lars' hair.

Lars swatted his boney hand away defensively.

In the end, the Boney Boys had managed to lighten up the mood significantly, which was good. It was a blessing to be able to ignore the huge can of worms thst now dominated the scene for an evening. Niamh and Umbra cooked a grand supper with food that the Boys had just *happened* to bring along, Lars, after much prompting, produced a pan pipe, and the bunch in general made merry.

Niamh was sitting on the porch, about to fall asleep when she sat bolt upright. There was someone else there. Standing on the railings was a small, gray and brown gnome.

"Ah..." Niamh began, but the gnome cut her off.

"I see you've found my house," she said, glancing around, "lucky you."

"Oh dear, we didna think anyone lived here. We'll be leaving."

"Oh no, you'd best stay! The Simolians are still after you, of course! And if you left, how could I give you your tarken?"

Niamh's eyes lit up.

"You're a... Fay!"

The gnome giggled.

Niamh stood up and pushed the door open.

"T-thank you! For letting us stay and for... Well, offering tarken! Miss...?"

"Aww the pleasure's all mine doll, and the name's...Morgan."

The gathering inside stopped at the sight of the newcomer.

Thalia (Morgan) stopped short. She expected the four she had seen a couple mornings ago, but not the 6 skeletal men, whom she had encountered before as adversaries. The Boney Boys. Who weren't supposed to be here at all.

"Who're you?" One of them said on a familiar voice.

"Morgan. The owner of the house, and the one to offer tarken to our brave adventurer friends." She said, glancing coldly at the skeleton and then warmly at the surrounding crowd.

"Excuse me, ma'am?" Lars began, "what is tarken?"

"Well a reward for a quest, of course! When brave souls like yourselves go on quests, you oft get no compensation or thanks. So myself and a handful of others built a mantel to offer little magical rewards to questers."

"W-well thank you, so much, but... How come?"

Morgan laughed.

"Because it's fun, that's how come!"

Lars smiled. The gnome's laughs were contagious, and for a person that small, she filled the whole room with an aura of happiness.

Gomez, however, wasn't quite convinced of her nature. If this was her house, why was the jacket hanging by the door big enough for a troll? And her eyes. He had seen them before. He whispered to Jones beside him, who whispered back,

"It's the dame from South Street. Blond hair, green eyes, toga. That gnome has the same eyes, if nothing else."

Gomez stroked an imaginary beard.

"Think it's the same dame?"

"Perchance. What would her angle be?"

"Dunno, but we best not jump to conclusions. Do you concure?"

"Concuringly."

A few minutes later, the Boys declared they'd best go home so to stop clogging the accomodations. Morgan waved them off sweetly, but shut the door hard behind them.

"NOW then bebes, it's time for magic. Sit! Sit in the living room!"

The five gathered around in the nook that served as a living room. Morgan clambered onto the table.

"Youngest first!" She pointed dramatically to Lars

"What do you desire? What small favor could I grant thee?"

Lars froze up, pulling a blanket from behind him over his head.

Morgan giggled.

"Would an invisibility cloak be appreciated lad?"

The blanket nodded. Morgan smiled obligingly and clapped her hands together, golden light flashing through the room. After the light had gone and they could see again, Morgan held a large mahogany colored cloak, which she flung at the blanket.

"Next!" She pointed at Pet. Pet frowned, thinking. The stories Niamh had told her about Tarkengranters was that, unlike genies, questers might encounter a great number through their lives. They generally weren't as powerful, but were more forgiving and followed the letter and spirit of the request. So basically, it was something you didn't have to take too long to consider... Like she was doing right now, she realized as they stared expectantly at her.

"Could I get a second to think of it?"

"Sure, lass. Now, you, good sir! What do you desire?"

"That's pretty easy," Umbra said, rubbing the back of his neck, "I'd like to no longer need glasses."

Niamh looked surprised, but Umbra shrugged, smiling, "well they are rather inconvenient."

"A wise choice, sir." She said, clapping again. Umbra squeaked, blinked, took off his glasses, and laughed.

"Amazing."

Morgan flashed a smug look and turned to Niamh.

"Mother? Your request? Your novel heart's desire?"

Niamh chuckled and said, "how about a ribbon that will hold my hair however I tell it to?"

Morgan stood bolt upright upon the table. "Ooh, creative! Done!"

And a foot long ribbon fell from midair. It was the same color as Niamh's hair, starting vivid orange and fading into deep blue. She caught it, marveling at if, before tying it into her hair. It wound in and out, making a flicking sound like the crack of a whip. In seconds, her hair was in a perfectly tidy bun. She pulled on the edge and the hair tumbled freely about her shoulders again, the ribbon fluttering elegantly to the floor.

"Good show, good show! Now, young lady, have you decided upon your tarken yet?"

Pet leaned forward in her chair, stroking her chin.

"How about this; can I request that this isn't the only adventure we go on?"

Taken aback, Morgan opened her mouth but then closed it again. She considered for a second, resting her chin on her fist.

"Nobody's ever wanted something like that before, but... Well I don't see why not. Indeed. You shall go on more adventures yet, my friends."