The man in black was dreaming.
From the way his limbs twitched, it was either a very pleasant dream or a very unpleasant one. Jesz was squatting and watching him closely. To her he seemed very much like a cat - either chasing a dream-mouse or being chased by a dream-dog (or, in some cases, a giant dream-mouse). She picked up a stick and poked him a few times in the side, eliciting a grunt and some nonsensical mumbling.
"Hey… wake up!" she said and poked him in the face with the stick. The man didn't stir. She then noticed the bump on his forehead from where she hit him and a wicked grin spread over her face. "Wakey wakey!" she said as she poked the bump.
"Ouch! Stop that!" The man sat up, pushing the stick away from him. He was sitting outside on the dirt while three strange people looked at him expectantly. "Uh… hi?"
Jesz smirked and stood up, taking a few steps away from the man as he stumbled to his feet. She was wearing a red silk shirt with long sleeves and an intricate black leather vest. A pair of knives with hilts as red as her hair could be seen at her sides, strapped into her belt.
Beside her stood Mel, tall and statuesque. She was sporting the same brown and green blouse with tight black pants as before, her brunette hair in a neatly braided ponytail which reached the small of her back. Around her torso was a strap that carried a quiver at her side; a long recurved bow was held in one hand. Her other hand was held up and wore a leather glove to support a beautiful, young hawk. Its underside was off-white with dark banding towards the legs, while the rest of the hawk was a mixture of a ruddy brown and black with white tips. Tied to one of its legs was a thin strip of green cloth that flowed in the wind. It tilted its head severely to the side as it examined the man.
On the other side of Jesz, Eaups was sitting on the tree stump, looking a little dazed and confused. On his belt was a small mace, the traditional weapon of priests. He seemed content for the moment to gather his thoughts together.
"Who are you?" Mel asked pointedly. She took a stride forward, holding the hawk closer to the man. He stepped back.
"What? Oh… I told you, I don't remember!" he replied. "Who a-"
The hawk spread its wings and tightened its grip on Mel's hand, the leather creaking under its powerful talons. "Aryx does not like it when people lie," Mel said, holding the bird closer. "And he knows when you are lying." Aryx let out a piercing cry and flapped his wings at the man, the tips brushing against his face. The man couldn't help but look at the size of those dark talons.
"Really.. I don't remember," he said again, swallowing hard. His back was against the hut. After a few moments, Aryx folding his wings against himself and settled back on his perch, looking around with quick, darting movements.
Mel nodded, stepping back from him. "He is telling the truth," she said as she shifted her weight to one side, pondering what to do with him.
Jesz grinned as wide as a cheshire cat. "Oh? Then that means, we can name him!" She was practically jumping for joy at the prospect. "I say we call him Fred!"
"I say we call him Man," Mel the ever-practical said in sync with Jesz. Both girls raised their eyebrows and looked at each other.
"Let's not argue. We'll just call him… Manfred for now, ok?" Eaups said, getting off the stump slowly. He still felt a bit like a puppet.
"Manfred?! Look here, I don't know who you people are or what you want with me, but I need to get going…" Manfred said, holding up his arms in protest.
"Oh really? Going where?" Mel asked. "Yeah, I thought as much. Look, you need to rest. You just had an arrow sticking out of your side." She motioned to the patch on his bare torso.
Eaups smiled, looking a little more confident with his motions. "And besides, we've been told to help you."
"Help me what?" Manfred asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Um… I think he said to achieve your fate…" Eaups said quietly.
"Well, I feel fine right now," Manfred said, flexing one of his arms, "and I don't need a bunch of strangers telling me what I'm supposed to be doing. …You are strangers, right?" Manfred was not entirely certain of anything at this point.
Jesz frowned an angry frown and walked right up to Manfred, a very slight limp apparent from the night before. He was a few inches taller than she was, but that didn't stop her from pushing her nose right into his face. "We just saved your life, buddy. The least you can do is be grateful! And you were watching me changing in there," she pointed to her hut, "so that's gonna cost you. All in all, I'd say you owe me... us... a thousand gold pieces."
"A THOUSAND?" Manfred replied. "Where'd you get that number? I can't pay that!"
Jesz just grinned at him as she leaned back. "You'll just have to help us catch this bounty, then. The witch paying us said he's worth at least five thousand. We can take your share out of it. Of course you'll only earn half the share, as you're new, so you'll still need to earn 500 more."
Manfred screwed his face up, pointing at each of the strangers in turn and counting silently, though his lips still moved. "That… doesn't add up. There's only 4 of us."
Jesz matter-of-factly said, "No, there's 5. There's you… Mel… Eaups… me… and Aryx. The hawk." Before Manfred could complain, she walked up to him and put her hand on his shoulder, leading him into the hut. "Don't worry. I know you're a thief. You might need some retraining, but it'll all come back to, especially with Jesz, Pilferer Extraordinaire, showing you the ropes! Pretty soon you'll be able to make 500 gold pieces in a night!" She grinned at him.
"I.. I am? I will?"
Jesz nodded and led him to his shirt and tools. "Of course! You just get dressed and we'll find this bounty together, as a team. We could use a strong, handsome guy like you," she said with a wink, having apparently completely forgiven him of his peeping. "Now hurry up!"