First Foray into the Brinestump Caverns

Having completed their investigation of the two wrecks, and battled the guardians of the second, Walthus leads them up the distributaries of the Soggy River deeper into the marsh until they come up to within a few dozen yards from a fifty foot high cliff that rises along the marsh’s southern border, its face a thick tangle of jutting rocks and bright green vines and nettles. A curtain of these thick nettle vines partially conceals a cave opening at the base of the cliff. Walthus, a bit unnerved by the skeletal warriors at the last wreck, does not seem all that eager to explore the cave. He offers to stay behind and watch over the boats and their packs and gear.

Jethrik says, “I don’t recommend using the alchemists fire to clear the nettles!”

Remembering painful nettle stings from his childhood, Toshio gets one of the skeletons’ swords and cuts the nasty plants away from the cave entrance. Keng joins him using his axe and they easily clear away the nettles to reveal a 10 foot wide and 7 foot high entrance.

Jharad smiles at the pile of nettles, “Those make excellent arrow shafts.” He carefully sets aside a large amount of Keng and Toshio’s trimmings to put away in his pack later.

Jethrik takes out his club and holds it aloft. A soft glow emanates from the top.

“Very nice” says Toshio. “Can you do that for our weapons, too? I cannot wield this mace while holding a torch.”

“Sorry, no” Jethrik shrugs.

Watching Jethrik produce light on the tip of his club Jharad suggests, “We should have a second source of light as well. Who has a second source of light?”

Toshio offers his sunrod to Zeyala.

“Don’t trouble yourself,” says Zeyala. “I have one of my own.” As she lights the sunrod she mutters, “Gods only know why I bother to carry these things.”

“I guess because you knew you’d be exploring caves.” Jethrik offers brightly.

Zeyala forgoes reminding Jethrik that while the range of her vision is severely limited she can see just as well in the dark as in the light.

As they begin making their way into the cave, Jharad makes invisible arcane marks on the walls every so often to help them find their way back.

Ten feet back another narrower tunnel opens up on their right, heading off to the southwest. The main cave continues to the south for another ten feet before it veers to the east.

“Let’s go this way,” Toshio suggests, pointing to the south.

Keng goes where Toshio points thinking to himself, “Go here, go there… better be some frackin’ treasure in this cave, the boats were worthless.”

The ceiling gets even lower, forcing Keng, Jharad, and even Toshio to have to stoop down at times. Moisture drips down from the ceiling constantly to make slippery pools and rivulets on the floor. About 50 feet from the entrance the main cave bends again to the west and the entire floor at that point is covered brackish waters that must have collected from the rains of the last few days that have not yet had a chance to seep into the rock. It is difficult to tell how deep the waters are or how far they extend without entering them and looking around the bend in the cavern.

“Well, no sense in drowning – at least not yet. Let’s try the drier way, and we’ll come back to test the waters later.”

Jharad begins drawing a quick map of the area on the inside of his cloak. Using only his finger, elements of the cave appear and mark the garment with a ghostly white glow. “Good idea,” he comments.

Backtracking to the side cavern they find that they can only travel down it in single file. About 25 feet down it opens up into a larger cavern roughly 15 feet across and 30 feet wide. Because Zeyala and Jethrik are brining up the rear, their lights don’t do much to illumine the cavern, but Keng, who is in the lead, can see perfectly well, and what he sees is an enormous hairy, red-backed spider feeding on the carcass of a giant gecko in a corner of the cave. The spider is not at all happy to be interrupted, it drops the gecko and spring at Keng biting into his left leg. Jharad considers firing an arrow at the beast, but does not want to hit Toshio. He waits for Keng and Toshio to maneuver around the spider so room opens up to engage it. The spider springs back and Keng with his axe and Toshio with his sword both try to hit it, but to no avail as it skitters away from their blows. Keng, Toshio, and Jharad all begin maneuvering around it to catch it between them.  Zeyala casts guidance on Jharad as he passes by her.  Jharad enhances his blade then steps up and quickly stabs the spider twice with it, the second delivering an arcane mark of a large X. The spider rushes in and bites Keng on the arm, but its poison doesn’t seem to be effecting the mighty half-orc. Before the spider can leap away again, Keng buries his axe in its head, right between its bulbous eyes. The giant spider drops, curls up, and rolls onto its back, quite dead.

“Keng, please let me examine the bites from that spider,” says Zeyala. “Blessing from the divine,” she prays as she transfers a ball of glowing warm energy from her hand to Keng’s wounds.

“Thank you Zeyala,” groans Keng.  Shaking his head to clear his thoughts as he feels strength seep back into him and the wounds miraculously close. ”I hate spiders,” he growls.

Jharad wipes spider goo from his blade with a summoned rag. “I figured you would just saunter up and step on it, Keng,” he says. Smiling he summons another rag and hands it to Keng for his axe.

Keng gladly accepts the rag and chuckles at Jharad’s joke, although it comes out as a low rumble much like a growl.

Turning to Zeyala, Jhrad says, “Timely guidance again Zeyala. Um… thanks.” This last work comes awkwardly, as though from a small child learning to speak. In retrospect, this may be the first time any of the group has heard Jharad use the word at all.

“You are most welcome, Jharad” says Zeyala.  “Though I am simply the channel for the divine.”

Jethrik begins scanning the cave for magic but finds none.

Toshio says, “Keng should be up front. We need his darkvision there.”

“I agree. Lets us your healing, Zey, before we use our potions,” adds Jharad.

There is no treasure or anything else of interest in the spider’s cave aside from the giant gecko carcass. Beyond that is another tunnel that splits into two – one going southwest and the other going southeast.

“Left, Keng, if you please.”

The passage going off to their left in the southeast direction seems to empty into the main tunnel of the cave network but on the far side of the section completely blocked by the pools of water. In this section the tunnel slopes down at a slight angle to the east but only a third of it is full of standing water.  The floor is slippery but they are able to move along without any problems though they do have to step with care. After 40 or 50 feet the tunnel opens up into a cavern about 35’ at its widest and 70’ long. The whole southern rim of the cavern and particular the southeast part of it lies underwater, and that part seems to curve around to the north. Passages also lead out from the north and far western ends. Scattered throughout the cavern, Keng can see four inert skeletons sprawled upon the floor. They are all wearing the same kind of armor as the skeleton that attacked them at the wreck of the Kaijitsu Blossom.

Jharad whispers to Toshio. “We should assume these things will rise. I suggest we get ourselves in a good position to receive them, then Jethrik and I can wake them up with arrows: you and Keng in front, Jethrik and I in the middle slightly behind, Zey behind us. What do you think?”

“Good plan.” Jethrik whispers. “I’ll take the one on the left. You get the one on the right.”

“Good idea, but let’s smash all of them before they can rise, rather than letting them start after us,” Toshio says. “I don’t like skeletons. They don’t rest as they should. Take up positions to smash these on my signal. We can each smash one, with Zeyala standing back.”

Meanwhile, Keng, not stopping to listen to the others, walks over to the nearest of the skeletons and with his great axe smashes it to bits. He turns back to Toshio and says, “Just to be sure.” Right at that moment the three other skeletons in the cave begin to rise up, and even from the waters of the flooded parts of the cavern two more skeletons arise. Unlike the other skeletal samurai, these ones are unarmed and reach out with grasping bony fingers to claw at those who have intruded upon their uneasy rest.

One of them immediately rips into Keng with both claws. The other four skeletons converge on the rest of the team, and within moments Toshio and Jharad are lying on the cavern floor bleeding to death. Only Jethrik’s quickness and the fact that he is a smaller target spares him from any bloody wounds, while Zeyala’s position at the rear gives her a moment’s respite.

“By Pharasma’s divine light, return to slumber!” shouts Zeyala. As the flare of Zeyala’s radiant light touches them all of the skeletons in the cavern collapse and rise no more.

There is no time to be relieved however, for Zeyala sees that Jharad and Toshio are dying at her feet, and Keng’s bloody wounds make it evident that even he is in no shape for another fight should any more skeletons come lurching out of the darkness.

Zeyala stands next to where Toshio and Jharad are laying and calls Keng over. “Power of the divine, heal and awaken my friends.”

Jharad sits up, feeling like Keng sat on him. Focusing on the half-orc he says calmly, “It never hurts to spend a little time preparing before rushing into battle. Next time lets do some of that. What do you think?”

“Yeah. Maybe.  But it worked out!” Keng replies. “Where’s the treasures?”

Toshio groans as he sits up. “Of all the stupid… How do you live long enough to breed?” Immediately Toshio regrets his words. He can feel that the poison of his anger and the abusive words erupting from it has a created a cloud of evil, blocking the divine light that he normally feels shining from within.

Taking stock of the situation, Toshio looks around and sees the now destroyed skeletons. “How did that happen? And next time let’s do that sooner, whatever it was, eh? Zeyala, thank you for healing us. I admit, I feared the worst as I lost consciousness. How much healing power have you got left for today?”

“And here I thought you brought me along for my fighting prowess,” she says with a wink.  ”My powers are still fairly strong. I can cast heal spell on a single person three more times, but my ability to heal the group is waning. Perhaps two more times.”

“That’s all for today,” Toshio says after assessing. “Let’s go back to Proudstump’s home and recuperate. In that place of safety Zeyala can expend the rest of her healing on us if she’ll be so good, and we can rest. Tomorrow we can continue the exploration of these caverns. For now, I’ll be glad to get back into the sunlight.” He starts to lead them back to the boats.

Jharad scans for magic in the cave before they leave, as does Jethrik. There is no magic to be found however.

Toshio is quiet on the way back to the boats, ruminating on his sudden loss of grace.

“So we return in the morning?” queries Keng. “I want to finish what we started here!”

Toshio pauses for a moment. He realizes that Keng doesn’t seem to have a full grasp of the situation. “Keng, we will go back to the cave tomorrow, when Zeyala will have her full healing abilities restored – just in case. We won’t leave the job unfinished.”

Changing the subject, Toshio looks Keng in the eye and says, “And speaking of not leaving things unfinished…” He pauses, considering his words, and then bows at the waist, saying, “Please accept my apologies. What I said in the cave was thoughtless. In my anger I let my words cause more injury. I am sorry, Keng.”

“Sorry for what?” asks Keng.

Jharad, who had so far remained silent since leaving the caves, says, “For implying that half-orcs are too impulsive and asking how you live long enough to propagate your own species.” He smiles widely at Keng.

“I don’t believe you need to trouble yourself with our discussion, master elf,” responds Toshio coldly.

Jharad laughs at Toshio’s reaction.

Toshio tries to ignore the rude elf’s intrusion, and instead gives Keng his full attention, as befits the situation. Turning back to Keng he adds, with proper contrition, “But the wizard is correct. That is why I am apologizing.”

“I thought the remark humorous as befitting fellow warriors,” Keng responds. “You worry too much.”

Toshio looks puzzled for a moment, and then hides it. “Ah, well. Yes. Perhaps I do.” He stands, wondering internally what to do next, then hastily adds, “Anyway, I’m glad you were not offended” before turning to something – anything – else that’s going on in the room.

Just then a raucous burst of flatulence is heard from Jharad.

Jharad looks over at Jethrik, who is busily looking innocent, and says calmly, “Do you really want to start that game gnome?”

“Hey wizard,” yells Keng! “I learned me some magic” Keng then waves his fingers and says, “Expeluranus,” while he lets out a huge burbling fart!

Once the group gets back to Proudstump’s shack, Zeyala uses the last of her day’s allotment of channeling. After channeling her healing energy, Zeyala says, “I think that should take care of everyone. Anyone still wounded?”

When everyone has been treated, she continues, “I respect the dead, but I don’t like them waking up and trying to claw my face off.”

Toshio says to her, “Excellent. I was hoping we wouldn’t be too much delayed. Thank you for your help, Zeyala.”

“If there’s nothing else for this evening, I need to pray and get rested for tomorrow,” says Zeyala.

Toshio responds, “Yes. Please do so. There is no time like the present, eh?”

Before heading up to the Proudfoot’s guestroom, Zeyala approaches Keng and with complete sincerity, she says quietly to him, “Keng, your strength and determination are valuable assets, but perhaps we can come up with a more effective strategy when tackling our next foe. It was only because I was in Pharasma’s favor that she gave me the power to cast off those skeletons. She is fickle when it comes to healing and death, and I know not if she will grant me similar blessings if we come across more undead. Tonight I must pray for her guidance.”

Jharad spends some time the day before finding a suitable prodding stick (makeshift staff) to take with them the next time they visit the caves. He spends the rest of the day working on thistle arrows.

Portents

Toshio lets the others go in front as they head back to the caravan. He walks with Lisette, giving the others a good, safe distance but listening to the conversations to gauge the mood of the group.

On the way back to the caravan Jharad continues to look at the two silver arrows. Walking next to Shalelu he says, “Well I am unable to see a difference between these two. Yours affected them and mine clearly did not. Can you see a difference?”

Shalelu shakes her head. “Sorry, but I can’t tell the difference either. However, I am sure that Sandru probably has some way in which to test the two. Perhaps it is time to apply such a test.”

After a short pause Jharad changes the discussion from silver arrows and says, “I am pleased to see you again Shalelu, it has been some time since I left you and Sandpoint. From what I hear you have been quite busy these last few years.”

“Oh yes, there was quite a lot of activity in and around Sandpoint that you missed. The Thistletop goblin raids, the Skinsaw Murders, the Hook Mountain Massacre, a stone giant invasion, that last even included a red dragon. Since all that, I’ve been spending time at Fort Rannick with my human stepfather, Jakardros, who is a ranger in the Order of the Black Arrows. I had just returned to Sandpoint to be a guest of honor at their Goblin Day celebration, their annual celebration of the defeat of the Thistletop goblins. It was just a few days after the Swallowtail Festival, which was held on the day you left. I found out that Ameiko had left with Sandru’s caravan to conduct some business up north and that you and Keng had gone with her. Imagine my surprise to hear that the two of you had both come to Sandpoint and then embarked together as caravan guards with Ameiko and Sandru! So I followed you up here. Actually, I am also on a mission but I will talk more about that back at camp.”

After talking with Shalelu, Jharad produces four apples and offers one each to Shalelu, Keng, and Zeyala. Crunching into his own apple he comments, “Too bad these will not sait hunger, but they sure taste good. So Keng, we should have a calm discussion with Toshio once we get back. I believe without some sort of understanding you may eat him. And that would not do well for your stomach.” He says this last with a jester’s smile.

Keng replies, “What’s to discuss? And he would taste bad, too sweet for my taste.”

As they finally come back to within hailing distance of the camp Jethrik calls out to them, “What were you guys arguing about for so long?”

“Who’s arguing?” replies Shalelu with a smile.

Toshio is smiling as they return, his generally cheerful personality reasserting itself.  He does however, let someone else be the leader and start the talking – he didn’t choose to be the leader (besides, Ameiko leads the expedition and Sandru manages the caravan) – and anyway, he’s tired of the accusations that go with the position of “leader” that he didn’t choose.

Ameiko and Sandru come up and the former is visibly relieved to see they are all okay, though the latter frowns and says to Lisette, “So you’ve returned. And your parents?”

“Killed,” she says simply and looks away from him. She hugs Jharad’s conjured furs more tightly around her and stands close to Toshio’s side.

“There’s not much to tell,” says Zeyala. “But then again, there’s only so much I was able to see… so to speak. We were fortunate to have Shalelu and Eilif with us, for their part.”

Koya bustles up to Toshio and Lisette with the latter’s clothes. “Here girl, come with me. It’s too cold and damp to be running around like that.” As she leads the girl back to her wagon she gives Sandru a sharp look and says, “Please be nice, Sandru dear, I foresee that this girl will be no threat to us.”

Sandru shakes his head at this but makes no protest as Koya and Lisette disappear into the wagon. He turns to Toshio and asks quietly, “Well, paladin, is it true that there is no evil in that girl? At least for now?”

“It’s true” Toshio responds simply.

Jethrik chuckles, “By the gods Sandru, didn’t you see the girl send the wolves away? Didn’t you see her try to protect Toshio? If you can’t read that girl’s actions, then I want a chance at playing a few hands of cards with you one night.”

Sandru cracks a smile at the jest. “You make a good point, Jethrik.”

Jharad says nonchalantly, “Lisette’s parents tried to kill her so we killed them. Eilif’s poor judgment led him to try and kill Lisette so Toshio put himself in between them. Eilif, again with his abysmal skills of perception, called us all servants of chaos and evil and left in a huff. Oh and Shalelu fired an arrow into Toshio’s shoulder, it was a pretty nice shot really.” With that he tosses his remaining bit of apple and core into his mouth, crunches and then swallows it with a wide smile.

“A bit unorthodox to say the least, but it ended well,” adds Zeyala. ”Except that Lisette lost her family. Evil though they may have been, I feel for the girl. Which reminds me, I need to speak with Koya,” finishes Zeyala as she heads towards Koya’s wagon.

Keng grunts, “‘Course it all started with her being invited to join us…,” he looks pointedly at Toshio. He then looks at Jharad, “Where do you keep all these apples and why do I never feel sated after eating them? Are you tricking us again elf?!”

Jethrik turns to Keng, “Elves can never sate anyone.”

Keng squints at Jethrik trying to understand him and fails.

Jharad laughs, then with a sidelong glance at Shalelu says, “As with all things my young jester, relativity lies with your short quip. It is true that most humans find elven lovers fickle and flighty as it often takes an elven pairing to fully appreciate what we are capable of. To possess the state of being sated or not really only lies in the comparison of one’s past experience and social upbringing. In short, non-elves very seldom are capable of understanding the quality of social interactions between my kind.”

“The way you guys natter on, it’s a good thing you live so long,” Jethrik retorts.

Keng tries to keep up and follow the banter, but he feels he is missing something and doesn’t’ want to look slow and stupid, so he grunts a laugh and bares his teeth trying to smile, unfortunately it comes out as a snarl and feral expression of his fangs.

Toshio feels a bit better when he sees that Keng doesn’t reserve his annoyance just for him, but spreads it to everyone without provocation.

Jethrik goes on to say, “I think you all are being a bit dismissive of Lisette’s parents and how she must feel. Regardless of whether we were attacked or no, they are her parents. You humans only have two people who raise you, from what I understand, so she must feel quite bereft right now.”

Jethrik walks over to Shalelu, out of earshot of Ameiko and Sandru, and says to her, “Ameiko looked pretty worried when you guys all bolted off.”

Shalelu seems puzzled by this. “She had nothing to fear. Eilif alone could probably have destroyed all the werewolves with but a word, and whatever may be wrong with Jharad’s arrows and aim,” she winks at Jharad, “there is nothing wrong with mine. Hmm, we had better find out what the problem is there.”

Toshio, standing a little closer to the elf huntress, winces at Shalelu’s comment. “Nothing wrong with yours but where you aimed them, you mean,” he mutters.

“Wow,” Jethrik seems genuinely impressed by Shalelu’s casual appraisal. “Lucky for us you were winging on by… but maybe we should give Ameiko a little space and time to get over the fright. And what were you doing coming this way anyway, other than coming to save a foolish little gnome?”

“Oh, yes, I had better tell you all about the request I received in Galduria from Jeminda Anikee, a Magnamarian bookkeeper. She is looking for back taxes from the village of Ravenmoor, and now is also looking for her ne’er do-well brother-in-law. We had better go talk to Sandru about this.”

Jharad, overhearing Shalelu’s comments to Jethrik, floats his silver arrow over to Sandru saying, “I think these silvered arrows we purchased are anything but. They failed to pierce the skin of the werewolves. Any idea why?”

Sandru plucks the arrow out of the air and scrutinizes it with a sigh. He shakes his head, saying, “I don’t know, Jharad. I can usually spot these things, and I did use the magnet and weight test. What we really need is an acid test, and I don’t have any right now.”

Paying little attention to Sandru and the arrow now, Jharad dismisses the conversation, saying, “I will have some acid for you in the morning to test these.”

Sandru nods curtly, aware that he is being blown off, but used to this kind of behavior from the flighty and pompous elves.

Toshio says to Sandru, “I bet Lisette’s parents knew something about those arrows we bought, and Lisette may have something to say about that.” He is hopeful that Lisette will be helpful, thus garnering more points in her favor to continue with the caravan – but he doesn’t bring this up just yet.

Keng is irritated with all the talking and no one paying attention to defense or recovering the horses. He yells, “By all that is holy, who is watching out for defense and trying to recover the horses? I do not like being stuck here or attacked again!”

“For once I agree with Keng,” responds Toshio. “Until the horses are back and the caravan secured we should put these lesser things aside.”

Sandru smiles at Keng’s directness. “Ah, yes. Nothing to fear my bold friend! I told the teamsters to ride for at least half an hour. If they were not being chased or stalked by the wolves, I told them to get to higher ground and watch for a signal from us to let them know if it is safe to return. We will have to wait for awhile as they will still be heading north with due speed and not resting and watching for the signal. When the time comes I’ll send a couple of fire arrows into the arrow to recall them. That is assuming they have not run into any other problem, but if they have there is not much we can do for them anyway. As for security, yes, we should remain alert. Perhaps you, Jharad, and Shalelu would be so good as to keep a look out from atop the wagons?”

Jethrik and Shalelu approach Sandru at this point, the former saying to the latter, “We’re headed to Ravenmoor, but if are angling to hitch a ride you’ll have to submit to the same lycanthrope test that all pretty hitchhikers are required to take.”

Shalelu arches one eyebrow and asks, “Really? And what test would that be?”

“Weeeellll… Lisette skinny-dipped with us. I have no idea what that has to do with testing for lycanthropy, but fair is fair.”

Shalelu laughs and looks down at the gnome. “I see you like to indulge life’s little pleasures.”

Sandru looks over at them and asks, “Did I hear Jethrik say that you are heading to Ravenmoor?”

“Indeed,” says Shalelu. “Let me explain. As I was telling Jharad earlier, I had just returned to Sandpoint from Fort Rannick, where I was visiting with my human stepfather Jakardros. I was to be a guest of honor at their Goblin Day celebration as I was involved in the defeat of the Thistletop goblin some years ago. This would have been just a few days after you left on the day of the Swallowtail Festival. I was intrigued to hear that you two,” she indicates Ameiko and Sandru, “had gone traveling together again, and further intrigued to hear that you two,” she indicates Keng and Jharad, “had gone along with you. I knew I had to follow and see if I could catch up with you. I got to Galduria after you left. It was then that I ran into an old acquaintance, Jeminda Anikee. She’s a bookkeeper for Magnimar, which holds jurisdiction in these lands. She was in Galduria looking for her brother-in-law and she has enlisted my aid in finding him. Let me tell you what she told me.

“A few weeks ago, she discovered that the small village of Ravenmoor hadn’t paid taxes to Magnimar in several years. The village’s yearly tax owed had never been large, so she was not surprised that the mistake had gone unnoticed for so long. In fact, Jeminda’s research led her to believe that the village had not been lax with its payments maliciously, but rather as a result of Magnimar simply forgetting to send a tax collector up to the remote village because of a repeated clerical error over the past 15 years. But while a year’s worth of taxes might not be so much, over the course of several years of missed payments and penalties, the amount due had climbed to 500 gold pieces.

“Jeminda didn’t want to go to her superiors with this news before she had the 500 gp accounted for, afraid she’d be blamed for allowing the missed payments to go on for so long in the first place. Instead, she contacted a tax collector she felt she could trust – her brother-in-law Elias Kyle. She received a short letter from him from Galduria a week after he set out to collect the 500 gp from Ravenmoor, but in the two weeks since that missive, she’s heard nothing. She came to Galduria herself to try to pick up his trail but for all intents and purposes Elias seems to have vanished, and now she feels responsible not only for a missing 500 gp but for a missing employee of the free city of Magnimar, an employee who is her sister’s husband in fact. She was about to travel to Ravenmoor herself when she came across me. I told her not to worry, that I would ride up there myself and see if I could find Elias and the missing taxes. She even promised me 200 gp as a fee and awaits me in Galduria.

“I rode quickly to Wolf’s Ear, once more barely missing you. That is when the storm came in. I sought out Eilif’s help at that point. He soon discovered that you were trapped by the flood and being stalked by wolves. He had long heard rumors of werewolves leading wolf packs beyond the town limits and so he transformed he and myself into hawks so that we could fly to the rescue. The rest you know. Now, however, I don’t have my horse, and we will not be welcome back in Wolf’s Ear anytime soon, and certainly not with that girl. So I am hoping, Sandru, that I can continue with you on to Ravenmoor.”

“You are very welcome to travel with us Shalelu. How could we refuse the protector of Sandpoint? Really, of all these lands, right?”

Sandru frowns and turns to Toshio. “We do have one traveler with us that I think we had better talk more about. I think you and I had better talk with Ameiko and Koya.” Sandru turns back to Shalelu, Jharad, Keng, and Jethrik, “The rest of you all have excellent night vision. Could I ask you to please keep watch while we settle this other matter?”

“Of course,” responds Jharad to Sandru. Reaching into his own quiver he pulls out half of his standard arrows (10) and the wrapped bundle of (5) thistle arrows he made for Shalelu some time ago. Handing them all to the female elf with a familiar smile he says, “Here take these arrows so you will not have to waste those of silver should we have any more unwelcome visitors. Also here are some arrows I made for you from Brinestump thistles.”

Shalelu smiles and accepts the bundles of arrows with both hands. “Thank you, Jharalion,” for she remembers his true name from the last time they met, a few mere decades ago. “That was very thoughtful of you.” She puts the new arrows away carefully in her quiver.

Keng nods hearing Sandru suggest he stand guard. He strides off into the dark and takes an overwatch position. He looks into the dark feeling a strong hollowness in his stomach. He is agitated and finds himself toying with something in his belt pouch. He takes it out and looks at it. It is the small leather survival pouch he had made for Shalelu several weeks back. He breathes out heavily, a chuffing sound. He realizes he is lonely and in the dark all by himself, forgotten by the rest and that Shalelu, his mentor, has said nothing to him that would acknowledge their relationship. He starts to burn inside. “Frack her,” he mutters,” putting the pouch back in his kit, “and all elfs… what do they care about an half orc, too ugly for humans and too pretty for orcs.” He stares out into the wilds and wishes for battle to sooth his rage.

Jharad watches Keng trudge off into the darkness. “Shalelu, take overwatch on one of the wagons if you would. Jethrik would you do the same on top of another wagon. I am going to go join Keng.” He then heads over to join his large friend. Sitting down beside the half-orc he says nothing but watches out into the darkness, enjoying some peace.

Keng looks over at the elf and stares at him for a long time. Then he turns back to stare into the night. “You trying to trick me?” he asks.

Laughing quietly Jharad replies, “No my friend, I am not trying to trick you. Only enjoying some peace after a long day.”

Keng grunts, and for a moment it hurts even worse. He doesn’t know what to think, feeling adrift in the world can he trust anything, even himself? But the elf’s kindness finds a crack in his rage and it fades away into the surrounding darkness. In its place is a feeling Keng has not known before. It feels very much like loyalty and a need to guard the elf. He glances again at the elf and says, “I like the dark.”

“Koya, may I come in?” asks Zeyala. “I was hoping we could revisit the reading you did before we left the village.”

“Certainly my dear,” Koya calls out from within. She opens the door and beckons Zeyala inside. Lisette is busy dressing herself in her own clothes. Jharad’s conjured furs have already vanished.

“Reading?” asks Lisette.

Koya nods, “The night we stayed in Wolf’s Ear I did a Harrow reading. This was before all the trouble you had in the tavern. It seemed to indicate a possible fight. From what I heard after, it sounds like that would have been between some of our company and your ex-betrothed and his friends. I thought that the cards were indicating that Jethrik would perhaps prevent the fight with a witty word or jest, but from what I heard it was Toshio who kept a brawl from breaking out with his own witticism about not angering the owner of the only tavern in town. Anyway, the cards indicated Shalelu’s return, and she has. Though when I think back on it, that card also indicated meeting with a survivor, and that could also mean you. It also indicated a “marriage” in the future.” Lisette starts when she hears this. Koya grins and goes on, “Not necessarily a literal marriage, but a meeting between opposites that could lead to joy or ruin. The cards also warned of an encounter with a group of evildoers. That may have been your parents, or it could mean some group we have yet to meet. I suspect that card, the Crows, may come up again and again on this journey, but I suspect that it indicates something more specific having to do with the very purpose of our journey. I am sorry this all sounds so vague. That is how the Harrow are, and I am not myself a Harrower.”

“So then it’s possible that Lisette and the fight with her pack… er…. parents was foretold,” says Zeyala. “Is another reading warranted or might one so soon create confusion in what you’ve previously read?”

“I could do another one, since much has changed since then and it has been many days.” Koya begins shuffling her cards.

Sandru leads Toshio over to Koya’s wagon. He says, “I don’t think I need to even explain why I would be upset to discover that a werewolf has been traveling with us and that you knew about it and didn’t say anything. You say she is not evil, or no longer evil. I will admit that I can’t in good conscience just send her into the wilds, though gods know it’s probably where she belongs, and I can’t send her back to Wolf’s Ear. So I guess we have to take her with us at least as far as Roderic’s Cove. But then what? What do you propose for her, Toshio?” He asks this standing beside Koya’s wagon.

“I do understand. And I’m sorry to have put you in such an uncomfortable position.” Toshio doesn’t mention that he didn’t know Lisette was a werewolf when this started because Sandru has already heard that. “My hope is to settle her in a town with some work for her, and more importantly, find good people willing to befriend her and help her continue on the path she’s started on. I’m nervous about that last part because I don’t know anyone in Roderic’s Cove. Also because it will be difficult to find anyone willing to help a known werewolf no matter her aura.”

“You sure don’t know Roderic’s Cove if you think it would be a safe place for a young woman, or a place where she will run into anything but people constantly on the lookout to take advantage and exploit anyone who comes through their gates. Roderic’s Cove is little more than a satellite of Riddleport, and Riddleport is the biggest pirate haven north of the Arch of Aroden. No, I fear we will have to take her with us a bit farther than that. Hopefully she’ll prove of help and not prove a hazard.”

Toshio hides his pleasure at the possibility that Lisette will be traveling further with them. That would certainly be best for her. Instead he just nods to Sandru’s knowledge and wisdom. “I appreciate your advice about what to do with Lisette. I certainly don’t know Roderic’s Cove, or many other places for that matter. And I’ll make sure Lisette keeps herself useful. I’d bet good money that she’ll be eager to do that and earn some trust, and it will help her soul grow, too. Thank you, Sandru.”

Sandru continues, “Speaking of which, you were wounded by those things. Twice. You may be infected with the curse now. It is now Lamashan the fourth, the full moon is on the twelfth. It might take us that long just to get to Ravenmoor due to the road being washed away. We can’t go back to Wolf’s Ear because it would be just as far, in fact a bit farther, and we are no longer welcome there. So what do you propose we do about you?”

Toshio’s face becomes grimmer. “I have no idea what to do about myself. I don’t know if the curse can be detected until the full moon. Certainly I’ll need to be confined or even bound, just in case. Koya may know something helpful, and Lisette may have some useful information. If I am cursed and our travels don’t bring us across a way to remove the…” Toshio pauses as he really thinks about the worst-case scenario his words are leading to. “Well, if I’m cursed and we can’t fix it, I’ll take care of it some other way.” Still new to the idea of committing seppuku, he doesn’t want to give voice to it just yet and hopes for a better solution.

Sandru nods. “Well then, let us go and speak with Lisette, Koya, and Zeyala.” He nocks on the wagon and Koya opens it and invites Sandru and Toshio inside where Lisette and Zeyala are sitting by Koya’s silk covered table looking down at Harrow cards.

Lisette looks up and says in an even tone to Toshio, “Koya says that we are to be married.” She points to a Harrow card showing a smoky woman and a fiery man, the former of whom is holding a squalling baby.

“That is not what I said, and it is not what that card necessarily means,” scolds Koya.

“I could have told you that,” laughs Zeyala. ”Oh…no… I meant about the card Lisette was talking about, not about your future status Toshio.”

“Koya’s right” Toshio says with a smile. “I’m fairly certain marriage isn’t in my future – but thank you. I take your comment as a compliment.”

Once the door is closed, Sandru says to Lisette, “I have agreed, provisionally, to allow you to travel with us until such time as we can find a new home for you. Our current itinerary is that we are traveling to Roderic’s Cove and then to Brinewall Castle, which Ameiko has commissioned us to explore.”

Lisette’s eyes go wide. “Brinewall Castle! You can’t be serious! That place is cursed! Even if were not, what about the Nolanders? There are hordes of those savage men! They would tear this caravan apart.”

Sandru smiles, “I have faced accursed ruins before. I am confident in the skills of Ameiko and my compatriots. As for the Nolanders, there are no “hordes”, though there are certainly small bands of bandits, the refuse of Varisia and the Lands of the Linnorn Kings. Those pitiful bands are no match for a well-armed caravan such as this. However, if you wish to leave us at Roderic’s Cove, I might be able to find some of my business associates and see if they can find a place for you.”

Though still looking a bit apprehensive, Lisette says, “No, that is alright. I wish to stay with you for as long as you’ll let me.”

“Well then,” says Sandru, “you may travel with us and then back again to Galduria, Sandpoint, or Magnimar. That is on the condition that you do not cause us any trouble, well further trouble, and that you make yourself as useful as you have so far.”

“I will, and gladly,” replies Lisette.

“Now for the other matter.” Sandru gestures at Toshio. “His wounds were healed by the two of you,” he nods to Koya and Zeyala. “However, it is my understanding that those bitten by werewolves are afflicted with their curse. Is this true.”

Again, Lisette’s eyes widen, and she sucks in air in air through her teeth. She hunches over and covers her face with her hands. “It is true. For my sake, Sir Toshio, is now afflicted.”

Koya interrupts to say, “Well that is not entirely certain. There are some few who have not fallen under the curse, but perhaps their wounds were light, or they had sufficient blessings from the gods, or perhaps they threw off the curse the way some throw off a fever.”

“Let us hope, for Toshio’s sake, that his body was able to fight off the curse,” says Zeyala. “Ridding one of the curse of lycanthropy is beyond my skills.”

“It is beyond my skills as well,” says Koya. “Though I have heard that taking a dose of belladonna or wolf’s bane might cure the afflicted, assuming it doesn’t just kill them.”

Lisette looks up with hope in her eyes, “The belladonna would have to be taken soon, within the hour; but wolf’s bane might cure an afflicted person at any time after they have contracted the curse. That is what I have heard. It is a little late in the season, but as a wolf I might be able to find some in the wooded hills near here!”

“Please do so, and with haste,” says Toshio. “I have no skill at naming plants. Can anyone else join the search for wolf’s bane or belladonna? I’d prefer to stop this curse before it takes root or someone gets hurt.”

As they are speaking, Koya takes up the Harrow and lays them face down.

Lisette says, “There are none here who can go as swiftly as I can, or who know the area as well as I.”

Sandru says, “Shalelu has the woodcraft for it, but she would not be able to go far enough. Still, I can ask her to help.”

Koya interrupts, “Before you go, Lisette, these cards may hold portents you may need to know. Shall I reveal them now in the company of all present?”

Lisette stares at the cards and gulps. She looks at Toshio, then Sandru, and nods. “I trust what is now in my heart. Tell me what the cards say and then I shall fly in search of the herbs we need.”

Koya flips over the cards and looks them over. She starts with the first card on the top left, goes down the left hand column, then down the middle column, and then the right most column. “Here in the past it is obvious, the good influence of the Paladin, Toshio. Here the Inquisitor, most certainly Eilif the Watcher, who has barred you from returning home. Below, the Snakebite, the poisonous influence of those you have forever left. At present you are under the good influence of the Foreign Trader, Sandru. However, there are many things you must learn and your life is disordered, for you now are the Juggler of your own fate. Beware slipping into your old ways, for that is what the Courtesan warns you of. In the future you will be a Wanderer. The Publican shows that you can become truly accepted by some new family or group of companions. Ah, but you must beware the Carnival, illusions and false dreams.”

Toshio doesn’t put much faith in the card reading, but keeps quiet out of respect for Koya.

Lisette smiles faintly. “I’m sorry Koya, but that tells me little that I didn’t already know, but I appreciate your effort.”

Koya shrugs. “As I said, I am no Harrower.”

Lisette gets up and heads to the door. Sandru accompanies her out to tell the others of her mission and to see if Shalelu can help in the search for belladonna or wolf’s bane.

Before Toshio can follow them, Koya holds him back. “Please wait. If you would allow me, I can do a reading for you as well. Of course,” she looks towards the door from which Lisette has just departed, “it may tell you nothing more than you already know.”

Toshio nearly declines, but then shrugs and says, “Why not. It could prove interesting.”

Koya scoops up the cards and reshuffles them into the deck. She lays out a new pattern and once more, starting with the card on the upper left, proceeds to reveal what the Harrow tells her. “The column here on the left indicates your past. The Trumpet is a ‘true match’, that means it is in its proper place. Here it shows you at your best, a brave combatant who does not hesitate to charge in and fight for the right. You also strive to see the best in people, to see the Hidden Truth, though I suspect this card may also mean that you can be secretive or at least one who holds many confidences and this makes it difficult for the people around you. Now the Rabbit Prince represents the chaos of battle and it appears that fortune often turns against you when battle is joined. Now let us look to the next column for the present. Interesting, the Snakebite is misaligned, a card of evil in a good position. Here it may indicate a new friendship and the Marriage below it reinforces the idea. But beware the Liar for love can be treacherous and unrequited love can lead to bitterness and treachery. Of course this is all about Lisette.” Koya cackles a bit. “I am sorry, Toshio, but it appears that Lisette is right. This is not anything you didn’t know. Still I will tell you, she loves you as a friend and even savior. She idolizes you and wants you to claim her as your own. If you don’t, she may turn against you and all of us. You must be very careful. Now let us see what the future holds. Ah, the Sickness. This card is also misaligned. In this position it actually indicates good health or healing; but note that it is in the future so that indicates there is some illness here and now. Below it is the Eclipse, and I think this may mean that for a time your connection to Iomedae may be eclipsed until that healing takes place. Now then, here again is the Carnival. It lies in both your future and Lisette’s. I am having the strong sense here that this card may be pointing to a literal event, though usually it indicates delusion or the vagaries of arcane power. I do not wish to test it, but I suspect the Carnival lies in all our futures. We must beware of it.” Koya slumps a bit. “Sorry my dears, but I am very tired now. I think I had better rest.”

“Of course. I’ll let you rest. Thank you for the reading.” As he leaves, Toshio wonders how much weight he should give the reading. Probably not much.

Sandru and Lisette step outside the wagon. Sandru beckons to Shalelu and the elf huntress hastens to his side. He speaks to her quietly and she nods. Together, Shalelu and Lisette head upslope into the nearby trees. Sandru walks over to where Keng and Jharad are sitting and beckons Jehtrik to come over as well. He tells them that it is possible that Toshio may have contracted the curse of lycanthropy, that when the full moon rises in a few nights he may well transform into a wild beast whose bloodlust will not distinguish friend from foe. “Lisette and Shalelu are going off to see if they can find some late blooming wolf’s bane or even belladonna. The belladonna will severely weaken him but it may cure him if found soon enough. The wolf’s bane is a last resort, though it may kill him rather than cure him. Neither is a guarantee and it is a long shot to even find any such herbs this late in the season and so far from the mountains. Still, they will try. In the meantime we must keep watch and in a little while I’ll send the signal to recall our teamsters and horses.”

Keng smirks and with a feral grin says, “We could always put him down now.”

Sandru grimaces, but otherwise ignores Keng’s comment.

Jharad jests, “And miss the fun of watching our paladin change into a canine fur-ball? Depression hits you hard, apparently, to not want to witness such an event.”

“Hmm, a good point.”

He then shoots a quick wink to Lisette in an attempt to alleviate any fears she may have regarding his joke.

It is clear from the expression on her face that she does not appreciate either Keng or Jharad’s cruel jests in regard to her handsome, attentive, and self-sacrificing savior.

Jethrik sucks up to Lisette. “Hey, guys, cut it out. It’s not very funny right now.”

Within an hour Shalelu and Lisette return. By the grace of the gods, Shalelu and Lisette were able to find late blooming belladonna berries in the shade of a copse of trees less than a mile from banks of the river. Shalelu holds forth a cluster of the shiny black berries and says, “Let us administer them quickly, before it is too late.”

Toshio finds the berries to actually be somewhat sweet. Before ten minutes pass his eyes begin to dilate and his visions blurs. Toshio reels against the side of Koya’s wagon and even as he covers his eyes to block out the now too bright light of the fires he sees that the fire ring has transformed into a blazing white wheel. This is what he imagined Iomedae’s servitor Jingh must look like according to the descriptions of the elder priests. In tones far more resonant than human speech he hears, “You have done well, Sir Toshio. The blessing of Iomedae is upon you, but remain vigilant. The path you and your companions travel is much longer than you imagine. Protect Ameiko and follow it to the end to the everlasting glory of Iomedae. In this sign… Conquer!” The white light then blazes up into the sky and Toshio sees it resolve into the “sword of valor” of Iomedae, a downturned sword with an upraised cross-hilt emblazoned with golden fire. The image fades along with the dizziness. Toshio finds his vision restored, and suffers no other effects from the belladonna except for a slight headache that fades within the hour.

Koya fusses over Toshio until he feels better. She ushers him into her wagon and allows him to lie down on her bed while she makes tea to help him overcome the lingering effects of the belladonna. As Toshio is resting she comes out and speaks quietly to Sandru who nods and then calls for the others to join him.

“Koya has pointed out to me that there are things that need to be said and done before I recall the teamsters. What I need to say though makes me feel like a hypocrite, but I see no way around it for now. We must keep what we know about Lisette to ourselves. If the teamsters find out, they will abandon us on the road. Bevelek and Vankor might stay, as they’ve been with me for a long time and trust me. The other two, and I wouldn’t blame them, would certainly leave if they knew of your true nature,” he nods to Lisette. “I know we are all upset with Toshio for keeping her nature secret from the rest of us until now, but I think that we must also show some discretion here if we want to make it to Roderic’s Cove.

“Yeah, it’s a bit hypocritical, but I’m okay with that,” Jethrik chuckles.

Sandru continues, “Also, we must bury the bodies of Lisette’s parents and the wolves we killed. We must do this quickly before scavengers come around and the teamsters return. I am thinking the strongest of us, Keng, Jharad, and myself, can dig the graves, while the rest of you keep watch. Zeyala, perhaps you can say a few words and commend the dead to the judgment of Pharasma?”

As they are burying Lisette’s parents, Toshio actually recovers swiftly enough to come out and join them. In the torchlight, it can be seen that both werewolves bear tattoos all over their bodies of Varisian design. One design in particular catches everyone’s notice, a rune that marks both werewolves over their hearts. Koya sucks in her breath when she sees it and makes eye contact with Toshio, making it clear that she wishes to speak with him. Lisette notices this and hangs her head, avoiding eye contact with anyone, though she does move closer to Toshio. She herself does not bear the mark or any other tattoos.

Keng sets himself to quietly digging the graves and offers no comments. He like tattoos but doesn’t catch the significance and just thinks it looks good.

He asks Jharad, “What is that tat?”

Digging alongside Keng, Jharad forwards the question, “Yes, Koya what does it signify?”

Koya grimaces. “I have my suspicions…. I’ve heard legends… that… well…” she glances over at Lisette.

Lisette looks up at last and looks Jharad in the eye, “I will tell you what they are. They are the mark of Jezelda, Mistress of the Hungry Moon, the demon lord of werewolves who my people believe was the first werewolf, the mother of us all and the one who originated the curse before descending into the Abyssal realm known as the Moonbog. Not all werewolves revere her, but those that do are the most fanatical. My Ma and Pa made regular sacrifices of travelers to her. I refused to take her mark, and it is one of the reasons why I left home to work at the Dead Wolf Tavern. Even then I could not fully escape them. It was intended that I wed Vioric and after our wedding I would inflict the curse upon him. Our children, however, would be werewolves by birth. In this I would carry on our line, and that was enough for Ma and Pa, even if I refused to make the sacrifices or take the mark. They hoped that in time I would submit to the cult of Jezelda.”

Jethrik gives a low whistle… “Yeah, an it’s a good thing that stick-up-his-butt cleric isn’t here to listen to all that, or he’d wipe out your whole home town.”

“Actually home was a shack in the woods outside of the town of Wolf’s Ear, but you’re right. It is fortunate for me that Eilif did not see these marks,” replies Lisette.

To Jethrik, Toshio says, “Give Eilif some leeway. He was trying to do what’s right, and it must have been very hard for him to leave a werewolf alive regardless of our story. I, for one, appreciate his restraint.”

Jharad chuckles slightly and smiles warmly to Lisette, “You, dear girl, have certainly had a hard life. It would have been far easier for you to have succumbed to their wishes and picked up the mantle of your family than to have found the path you are on now. I believe our paladin, however wrong we find his actions at times, has made the right assessment with regards to your nature. Do not treat that trust lightly, nor the opportunity it affords you. I believe there will always be a part of you wishing you had taken the easier path. And when it speaks to you loudly with evil intent, you need only remember the good Toshio sees in you to help return it to the dark corners of your soul where it should be kept.”

Toshio is grateful for Jharad’s words. They may give him some credit yet.

Jharad turns to Keng and says brightly, “Now a mug full of ale and back to digging for us my friend!”

“Indeed! Anymore talk of werewolves and I will forget my promise to and grab my axe. Let us depart.”

Returning to digging Jharad says to Keng about Toshio’s comment, “Eilif was only doing what came easy to him: judging others from the viewpoint of his own narrow belief system. In that he is no better than Lisette’s parents.”

“All I know is we ain’t done with this yet,” Keng replies.

When the graves are finished and the bodies interred, Zeyala bows her head. With out stretched arms she recites, “May these souls find their way to the Boneyard and the judgement of Pharasma, Lady of Graves. If they are worthy, then they will pass on to dark wooded forests to join in the eternal hunt.

“If there was good or honor in them, Lady Pharasma already knows and their path has been determined. Lisette, rest easy and know that the Lady of Graves is fair and just.

“We give thanks to you Lady Pharasma for safeguarding us on the field of battle. We all take solace in knowing that we have not taken lives needlessly and that your hand was there guiding this outcome.”

Zeyala ends with a hymn for the fallen.

As they walk back to the camp, Lisette approaches Zeyala to say, “Thank you milady. You have been very kind to me, and now you have spoken the best that could be said for my Ma and Pa.” Not sure what else to say, she hastens away back to Toshio’s side.

Back at camp, Sandru strings his shortbow and looses two fire arrows into the night sky. “Hopefully the teamsters and our horses are safe and watching for the signal. They should return within the hour if all is well.” Fortunately the teamsters do return within the hour, all safe and accounted for.

The Watcher and the Hunter

A moment later, two hawks alight on Koya’s wagon and at once transform into a withered old man and an elf huntress. The old man is garbed in the clothes of a hunter. On one finger is an iron ring forged with the head of a ram. A bronze headband decorated with a pattern of small green gemstone encircles his head Around his neck hangs a platinum bow with arrow nocked. In his right hand he holds a silver tipped spear, and across his back hangs a longbow of exquisite make and a matching quiver. A third hawk lands upon his outstretched left hand.

The elf huntress has keen blue eyes and long blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. She is equipped with studded leather armor, a composite longbow, and a shortsword all of masterwork quality and most likely enchanted as well. Around her neck hangs a humble wooden carving of a butterfly painted blue and bearing the sun, moon, and stars, the holy symbol of Desna. All present recognize her as Shalelu Andosana, the guardian of Sandpoint and one of the premiere rangers of Varisia.

“Hail and well met,” Shalelu says. “Father Eilif and I were afraid we would not reach you in time, but it seems you have driven off the werewolves all on your own.”

“Protect the horses!” Jethrik screams in a panic as he runs off toward the north.

Keng howls at the departing wolves, “You better run!” He turns to Jharad to complain, “We almost had them!” He then see who has landed by him and turns a deeper shade of green. “Shalelu!” He drops to a knee with his right fist on his heart.

“My thanks to both of you” Toshio says to Zeyala and Koya. “Jethrik is right. We need to make sure we still have horses. Is there any way of recalling them?”

Sandru says, “I had told them to return if they saw two fire arrows, but if they are running from the wolves they either won’t see the signal or they won’t be able to turn around. Maybe Eilif or Shalelu can help us.”

Shalelu smiles down at Keng. “Please arise. It is good to see you here and in such illustrious company.” She winks at Jharad over Keng’s head. “But your gnome is right, we must go after the horses.”

“I think I can help with that,” says the old man brusquely.

Shalelu gestures to the old man and says, “Allow me to introduce my old friend, Eiliff, now known as the Watcher. He is the resident priest of Erastil in Wolf’s Ear. I’ll tell you more about how we came to be here together after we take care of the werewolves and their pack.”

Eilif begins calling upon Erastil, the god of the hunt, to send them mounts upon which they can give chase to the wolves and werewolves. Within moments the sound of hooves is heard and five white horses trot into the encampment between Koya’s wagon and the fire ring.

“Quickly, mount up those of you who can ride, though these steeds will carry you better than any mortal mount, no matter how well trained.”

“I’m willing to ride along with someone, as long as I don’t slow down the party,” says Zeyala.

Keng nods a bow and says, “Aye m’lady.”  He jumps down and mounts a horse, leans over, grabs Zeyala and hoists her behind him saying, “Come Zeyala, I will be your eyes, you can ride with me.”

“Thank you, Keng,” says Zeyala.

Jharad smiles back at Shalelu and mounts one of the horses, ready to ride.

As Toshio mounts one of the fine steeds he say to the Watcher and Shalelu “I ask that you spare the young werewolf. She has had a true change of heart.” There is no time for more, so he rides with the rest.

Eilif looks very doubtful but says nothing for the moment. Shalelu raises her eyebrow upon hearing this.

As they ride off, Koya reaches out and touches Shalelu’s horse as it thunders by. She confers a blessing upon it that causes it to pull well ahead of the others. Shalelu finds that though the Horses of Erastil have no saddles or reins, they are well attuned to the needs of the riders and do not need to be guided. She readies her longbow and draws a silver arrow from his quiver.

As they ride off, leaving the gnome behind, coughing from the dust left in their wake, he overhears Ameiko ruefully saying, “That Toshio! He’s trying to save all the people of Golarion – one beautiful young girl at a time. He’s going to get himself killed.” Jethrik looks over to the fire ring and sees Sandru approach Ameiko and put a hand on her shoulder. They exchange a look filled with some shared sorrow and then part once more.

Under the light of the half-moon and stars, it can be seen that the teamsters and their horses are 500’ ahead of the riders. Lisette is only 100’ behind them and gaining. Lisette, as a wolf is swift and lean and well able to pick her way through the debris. The other two werewolves and their wolf pack are midway between the teamsters and the Horses of Erastil and their riders.

“Erastil, veil the moon and take away the blasphemous power of our foes!” cries Eilif. Suddenly, the area around the west bank of the river between the teamsters and Eilif becomes as dark as though the moon were indeed clouded over. The area is now too dark for any but Jharad and Shalelu to see into, but the others hear howls of anguish that turns into very human wails of indignation and despair accompanied by a confused barking and yelping of wolves. Jharad and Shalelu, able to see dimly by the light of the stars alone, see that all three werewolves have been forced to change back into their human forms. The wolves have been thrown into confusion and stopped to mill around their now human leaders. Shalelu leads the way into the darkness towards them. Though he can’t see much else, Toshio notes that the Horses of Erastil still stand out, as though illuminated by a heavenly light not of this world.

Jharad concentrates and wills yet another piece of memory from his weapon using the last of his arcane energy. With the gained ability to more accurately fire shots at great distances he looses an arrow at the “Pa” werewolf who has now been forced back into human form. The arrow lands far short, however. The scraggly hirsute man curses and scrambles away, trying to find cover amidst the debris left by the flood.

Shalelu looses two arrows at the “Ma” werewolf, both of which lodge in her upper back. After a final wail of pain and rage, she falls lifeless into the muddy scree.

Lisette, stumbling further on, stops and looks back. She screams for her parents and then runs back towards them, bruising and scratching herself terribly in her naked and vulnerable human form.

Toshio rides to engage Pa, ready with Whispering Shrike. As he closes the distance he wonders how Lisette will react to the killing of Ma (and perhaps Pa soon).

Pa finally succeeds in shifting back to his wolf form through sheer force of will despite the lack of moonlight. He rallies the other wolves and they begin to slink towards Lisette, teeth bared and growling in rage.

Eilif calls out, “Erastil, shine the light of day upon us so that we may uncover the enemy.” Immediately the silver tip of his spear begins to radiate a light that makes the area around them as bright as day. The light does not yet reach the wolves, but soon will as the horses carry them towards Pa and his pack.

Jharad fires off another of the silver arrows with doubt that it will do anything different this time to Pa. He is pretty certain that Shalelu will kill him off easily enough anyway. This time his arrow strikes true, but again it falls out without seeming to bother Pa at all.

Shalelu’s silver arrow also hits, but this one strikes Pa dead. Shalelu looks over at Jharad and asks, “You were using silver weren’t you?” Then she draws another arrow from her quiver and nocks it, but does not fire.

Jharad responds to Shalelu, “Yes but you did not obtain yours from a shifty source like I. It looks like I need to be more scrupulous next time.”

Lisette wails when she sees her father struck down. She succeeds in willing the transformation just as he did and then barks at the wolf pack. They stop menacing her and as a pack run off into a copse of trees away from the riverbank.

Even as the riders led by Shalelu draw near, Lisette approaches first her father, who has reverted back to human form, and then her mother who was already in human form when Shalelu killed her. She sniffs at them howling mournfully and glares defiantly at the elf huntress with crimson eyes aglow with grief and rage.

Shalelu pulls back the arrow, but does not yet let it fly. Eilif reins in his horse at Shalelu’s side and says, “Well, what are you waiting for? Kill the beast.”

Shalelu looks over at Toshio and says, “Toshio says we should spare her. I would like to know why before I do something I cannot take back.”

Eilif scoffs and says to Toshio, “You see what she is and what she came from. These are not natural beasts. They have never been anything but a blight and a curse. They are evil to the core and bringers of chaos and ruin. Don’t let a pretty face or sentiment stay your hand. I will not let it stay mine.”

In response to Eilif’s scoff Jharad says, “Apparently power is not wisdom Eilief. Toshio believes her to have turned away from evil and I trust his view with this more than I do yours regardless of his sometimes questionable reasoning. Please stay your hand and let him approach the girl fist.”

Keng snarls, “Kill her or I will. The paladin has lost his mind and has become a danger to us all.”

“Wait!” shouts Zeyala. ”Spare Lisette, at least for now,” she pleads. “It was something Koya said during her reading. She thought a card was about you, Shalelu, but I think it was foretelling Lisette’s presence and perhaps this encounter with her parents. I believe our fate may be linked to hers and I think we should take her back to Koya. Surely you can hold until then.”

Toshio finds himself annoyed that everyone thinks he’s such a sucker for a pretty face – even when they don’t know him. But this is not the time for that, so he keeps silent about it. Aloud, he says, “This one, her name is Lisette, is not evil. I know this through Iomedae’s power. When we met she was tainted by evil, but no longer. She’s worked out of that and now Lisette seeks a better life than those you’ve just slain would have given her. She’s made great progress on that path. She can go further on it, if we help her surround herself with good, caring people.”

As he edges his horse past Shalelu and Eilif to get closer to Lisette, Toshio senses the presence of evil impulses on the verge of flickering into life once more like hidden embers beneath the ashes of a fire that appeared to be dead. Left alone they would have extinguished on their own, but the traumatic events of the evening have uncovered them so that they threaten to flare up once more. He realizes that he must find a way to extinguish them for good. Lisette’s attention is now upon him, but with apprehension and not the defiance directed at Eilif and Shalelu.

“Stand aside,” says Eilif to Toshio waving his spear as though to dismiss a recalcitrant schoolboy. “Even the orc savage denounces you. And I am hardly going to stay my hand because some Varisian fortune-teller, a priestess of a goddess of chaos and whimsy, may have seen some portent in the bottom of her teacup! I think not! Stand aside I say!”

Shalelu nudges her horse a few steps so that she can keep Lisette in a clear line of fire, with no danger of hitting Toshio. She does not loose her arrow, however, and her eyes are now on Toshio awaiting his response.

Toshio rides to position himself between Eilif and Lisette. “She’s done nothing wrong – none of us have seen her do anything worth condemning her for! She’s been abused and seen her parents killed. She’s had a hard, hard life and wants something better. As protectors of Good, we need to help her with her goal, not kill her!”

Toshio addresses this to everyone, but focuses mostly on Eilif. As he tries to keep Shalelu and Keng in sight, he feels quite outnumbered and fears for the outcome. He knows it is unlikely he can do this himself. “Iomedae, help them see, please! Help Lisette to a good life,” he prays aloud.

“Please, Keng,” says Zeyala. “You trust Shalelu. And Shalelu, I hope you put faith in Koya. I beg you stay your hand for now.”

Keng snorts, and then shrugs his shoulders. ”It ain’t for me to decide her fate. I am just a caravan guard. It’s up to Sandru. If pretty boy wants an evening toy to play with on the journey then her actions are on his head.”

Finally Shalelu speaks, “For my part I have pledged to fight evil and defend the people of this land – all the people of this land. That includes the Varisians and Shoanti savages who were here long before the Chelaxians. Also, you should know that we elves also revere Desna, the goddess of chaos and whimsy.” She then releases her arrow at Toshio, deliberately hitting him in the meaty part of his upper left shoulder.

Toshio is shocked! But he manages to hold in his cry of surprise. Face set grimly, he glares at Shalelu.

Lisette yelps in surprise and seems about to leap past Toshio to get at Shalelu.

Eiliff is speechless. He backs his horse away from Shalelu and seems about to cast another spell, but is not sure what or at who.

Zeyala shouts in outrage at Shalelu, “Yet you willingly attack a man who is truly good!? Your pledge is meaningless. If you intend to strike down Lisette, be done with it. I will not hinder you further. Toshio, how badly are you injured?” she asks.

Keng catches Jharad’s eye and raises his eyebrow in question.

Jharad barks a startled laugh and jumps down off of his horse, placing himself between Shalelu and Lisette. Holding up a hand to Lisette, motioning for her not to attack he says, “You see, look at her intentions. She is not bolting at Shalelu’s sudden attack on our paladin, or taking advantage of the confusion to flee. She is preparing to defend him. This is not from misplaced love or affection but true friendship. Lisette’s first reaction is to protect a friend at the cost of her own life. Is that a common act of an evil being?”

“Lisette,” Toshio calls over his shoulder, while still trying to keep the assailants in view, “Remember that there are those of us who care for you and want to help you. Now run! I’ll try to hold them off!” As he says this he charges Shalelu’s horse. It is his intent to disable the horse so she cannot pursue Lisette. Eilif will have to wait.

Before he reaches Shalelu, the horse disappears out from under her, dropping her in a heap. Toshio’s horse disappears as well, and he ends up falling and rolling towards the elf huntress. The others are also dropped, except for Jharad who had already dismounted, as all the horses vanish, though Eilif dismounted his own steed beforehand as it was he who dismissed the Horses of Erastil with a gesture.

Lisette, who was about to charge alongside Toshio despite his admonition, stumbles in mid-stride. Succumbing once more to the lack of moonlight she transforms once more into a naked tavern wench. Mercilessly exposed by the glare of Eilif’s spell of daylight shining from the point of his spear, she crouches down and covers herself with her hands. She gasps out, “I will not leave you, Sir Toshio.”

Eilif looks over the assembled group and with disgust dripping from his voice says, “You asked me, Shalelu, to come out here and rescue your friends. I will admit I have failed in my duty to ensure the extinction of the werewolves of Wolf’s Ear. How could I not come out and fulfill that duty? But we are not in Wolf’s Ear. And now I see that your friends wish to preserve the evil among them, and you yourself shoot one of the comrades you came out here to save.” Eilif turns to Toshio and points his spear at him, “You are naïve young paladin. This girl is a wild creature, who will revert to her instinctive ways and will turn on you as soon as you disappoint her or try to thwart her. Go your way, and do not return to Wolf’s Ear until you have purged yourselves of chaos and evil! Now I will leave you, all of you, to your folly!” Eilif calls once more upon Erastil, transforms into a hawk and flies away to the south, leaving them in the deep darkness of a moonless night.

Shalelu gazes at Eilif as he flies away. Then she looks down and mutters, “Damn, he took my quiver with him. Now all I have are his silver arrows.”

Still standing in front of Shalelu, Jharad invokes with the command word ‘Comrir’ and a rough blanket of warm fur appears and wraps itself around Lisette’s nakedness. Smiling warmly to those around him he says, “Well, I sure am glad he left. I never did like showoffs.”

Keng picks himself up and snarls, “Good thing he left before I could kick the snot out of him for calling me a savage. Who does he think he is anyways? And what a double speaker! He turns into a animal too! I fracking hate wizards.”

Laughing Jharad replies, “He is no wizard. That one serves Erastil of the hunt; a cleric tied in service to his deity much like our poor paladin here is.” With that he offers a hand to help Toshio stand up.

Toshio accepts the help, but once up he again moves to keep himself between Shalelu and Lisette, all too aware of Shalelu’s skill and suspecting she’s got more silver arrows.

“Keng, guide me to Toshio so I can tend to his wound,” says Zeyala.

Keng gently takes her arm at the elbow and says, “This way Zeyala,” as he walks towards Toshio, “but why you bother with his pansy-ass is beyond my ken.”

Toshio, understandably upset at the whole episode (with an arrow in his shoulder and battered by the fall when the horse disappeared), carefully cuts off his response to Keng before it can leave his mouth. Aside from an annoyed looked toward him (which is becoming the norm), none would know anything even might have been said.

“I bother because it’s my duty,” says Zeyala. She leans into Keng and giggles as she faintly whispers to him, “I’ll agree that he can be a bit of stick… sometimes I just wish he’d pull that wakizashi out of his ass.” She giggles quietly and Keng chuckles as well.

Zeyala places one hand on Toshio’s wound and with the other, takes hold of the arrow. She chants words of healing as she extracts the arrow.

His wound healed, Toshio asks everybody, but especially directs the question to Shalelu, “Now what? I think you all know where I stand in this matter.”

Shalelu bows to her knee with her right hand on her heart to Toshio in the manner of the Chelish people. “You have nothing more to fear from me, and in truth never did. I am willing to give this girl the benefit of the doubt if you are. I may have my differences with paladins of Chelish gods, but I respect that they are generally good judges of character. I pray that you may accept my sincere apology for striking you. I wished to test your resolve to protect the girl.” Shalelu looks up at Toshio with a serious and searching look.

Jharad quips, “He accepts your apology but it will cost you this arrow.” Smiling he stands back to compare it with his own, and to give them space to talk.

Toshio carefully sheaths Whispering Shrike. “I certainly did have something to fear as that arrow sped to my shoulder” Toshio counters. Still upset, he really doesn’t know what to do about being deliberately shot, apology or no. “I’d say we should have a chat about your methods of testing anyone’s resolve, but I’m at a loss for words just now so I’ll just accept your apology,” he says (not entirely convincingly). Without making anything more of it, he walks off to check on Lisette.

Toshio is relieved to find that the fires of evil within Lisette have been extinguished at last. “Lisette, I’m sorry about your parents. It can’t be an easy thing to see one’s parents killed, no matter what family is involved.”

In a dull tone she replies, “At the last they were in fact going to kill me. I do not know what to feel now.”

Toshio says to her, “It’s going to be Sandru’s decision, but I think he’ll let you stay with us at least to the next town. Once there,” he says reassuringly, “I’m confident we can make arrangements that will meet with your approval.”

“I am not so confident. Will you tell them what I am? Would you inflict me unknowingly upon another town? I would prefer to follow your caravan to wherever it may lead, but as you say, Sandru must decide.”

Keng says, “Zeyala, may I help you back to the caravan? It will be a bit of a walk.”

“It would be my honor,” says Zeyala, clutching Keng’s arm and pulling herself close.

Wolf Pack

It seems only moments after sunset that the wolves are spotted by Jharad from atop Koya’s wagon. They slink between the pines and rocks. Jharad calls out that there are a dozen of them coming towards them in two packs, one to the northeast and one to the southwest. The leaders of the two packs are significantly larger than the others and their eyes glow red with rage and bloodlust.

Sandru adjusts his buckler and draws his wickedly sharp scimitar. He positions himself at the opening of the ring of fire, ready and with a grin on his face. “Like old times eh?” He says to Ameiko.

Ameiko grins back at Sandru. “To think I gave up this kind of excitement for the quiet life of an innkeeper.” With her well kept leather armor adjusted, helmet on, hair in a ponytail and mithral rapier drawn Ameiko presents a fierce presence. She begins to sing a an Ulfen song, “Cold is the Blade” by the minstrels known as Jag Panzer:

On the battlefield we fight with all our might

Valor and honor is our right

The bloody battlefield where men and sons have tried

To stand for what is good and what is right

Lisette takes her place beside Sandru. “I will fight too, at least against the wolf pack. But I must do it my way. Do not be alarmed.” She kicks off her sandals and begins shedding her clothes.

Koya looks askance at Lisette, not happy that the girl intends to transform herself into a creature of darkness right next to Sandru. She reaches out and beseeches Desna to protect Sandru from evil.

Keng nocks a silver arrow and begins tracking the large werewolf coming from the northwest.

Jharad casts shield on himself.

Toshio strings his shortbow and nocks an arrow.

Jethrik does likewise.

Zeyala, standing next to Toshio, casts guidance on him.

The teamsters, seeing that the wolves are indeed coming down from the east take off north along the banks of the river.

Sandru, meanwhile, can’t help but sneak a glance at the lissome and beautiful woman crouching naked at his side, but he backs away quickly as Lisette’s skin starts to ripple and sprout grayish fur and as her bones pop and reconfigure themselves. Her teeth sharpen into fangs and her mouth elongates into a snout while her forehead pushes back. In moments she has completed the transformation into a she-wolf with burning red eyes and bristling fur. She growls in anticipation of the fight to come.

Koya adjusts her own leather armor and draws one of her well-crafted starknives. She calls upon Desna again to cause their foes to overlook her, so that she may provide support and healing for the others without being attacked.

Keng looses a silver arrow at the werewolf coming at them from the norththeast but only hits a rock.

Ameiko continues to sing.

Only the steel will win the day

Cold sword of the brave (Cold is the blade)

Pure hearts bring us to truth

Is it the heart of the brave or the cold of the blade

Jharad pours arcane energy into his bow and says to Keng, “Focus on my group,” and then fires a normal arrow at one of the wolves in cover coming from the southeast. It yelps in pain as the arrow strikes its side, but continues to advance on them.

Keng growls in frustration and turns his attention to Jharad’s group. He and Jharad both loose silver arrows at the werewolf leading the southeast group but both arrows glance off its thick fur and hide.

The werewolves and their wolf pack close in on the encampment, pouring around and under Koya’s wagon and heading right for the gap on the eastern side of the fire ring.

Sandru and Ameiko exchange nervous glances but prepare to hold their ground against the charge. Ameiko keeps up her song.

The hand of death has choked me many times

I’ve denied the reaper of this prize

The chill of death freezes me at night

I entrust the mighty steel held high

Toshio nicks one of the wolves with his arrow.

Jethrik looses his arrow, an arrow that had in fact been taken from Chief Gutwad of the Licktoad goblins and was determined to be enchanted as a bane against animals. The animal bane arrow lodges itself in the chest of one of the wolves, which expires on the spot.

Zeyala lowers her spear and prepares to take on any wolves that may jump the fire or get past the line of her friends blocking the open side of the fire circle.

Lisette leaps at “Ma” werewolf and the two begin circling and snapping at each other. They tear into each other with their teeth, though no blood seems to be drawn, at least in the beginning. First Lisette gets a grip on the mother’s neck with her fangs, then the mother throws her off and gets Lisette’s neck between her teeth.

“Pa” meanwhile leaps upon Toshio, bearing him to the ground and ripping into his throat. Toshio is not even able to scream as his blood spills out into the jaws of the beast.

Behind the front line of battle, Jethrik casts hideous laughter on the werewolf tearing out Toshio’s throat, but the beast just snarls and shakes off the spell.

Keng nocks a silver arrow and aims at the back of the werewolf savaging Toshio. Unfortunately the string breaks as he pulls it back. A portion of the string slices into his cheek, causing Keng to stumble and lose his balance. The arrow falls over the side of the wagon, though the bow lands at Keng’s side.

Ameiko almost falters in her singing, but manages to maintain the song.

 I’ve stood upon the moors, looked over many lands

That were conquered by the brave and their might

Searching for the answer, the riddle of the steel

What will win the day and take the fight

Even as she sings, Ameiko lunges at the werewolf atop Toshio, hoping to at least get it away from him. Her mithral rapier pierces the beast’s side and it howls in rage and turns its attention to her.

Jharad concentrates for a moment using arcane energy to bond with his bow. Focusing solely on his shot, he looses another silver arrow at the werewolf before it can leap at Ameiko. The arrow strikes home, but to Jharad’s consternation it doesn’t even seem to notice it. In moments the arrow falls to the ground, as though pushed out from within. It would seem as though the werewolf is either impervious to even silver arrows, or something may not be right with the arrows, but there is not time to think about it at present.

Momentarily free of the weight of the werewolf, Toshio lays hands on himself in order to direct the healing power of Iomedae to his throat, trying to stay alive long enough to be of some use besides drawing all the harm away from the others. It was the right choice to help Lisette, he thinks, despite the speed of events, but I wish making good choices didn’t hurt so much! After the divine healing energies close his wound enough to stop the bleeding and allow him to breathe again, Toshio wastes no time in drawing Whispering Shrike and plunging it into the chest of the werewolf before it can leap at Ameiko. “For victory, for the heart!” he calls out to Iomedae as he smites the beast. The blow is not a mortal one, but it clearly injures the werewolf, which howls in agony and jerks back away from the blade with a new hint of fear in its coal red eyes.

Zeyala and Koya both reache out to Toshio to confer additional healing power upon him. Toshio’s wound evaporates and he now feels more than able to get up and continue the fight.

The wolves at present seem unwilling to attempt to leap over the fires, nor able to get around the bitter fights between Lisette and Toshio against Lisette’s parents that are together blocking the entrance into the ring of fire.

Lisette attempts to break her mother’s grip but fails. The mother, however, releases her and begins barking and growling at her daughter, gesturing with her head to where the father is being struck by Ameiko and Toshio. Lisette whines seeing that either her father or Toshio will soon die, unable to choose between them she turns tail, hurtles past Sandru and Koya, leaps over the ring of fire, and heads off to the north howling her misery. The mother turns and advances upon Toshio.

The father decides that this not a fight he wishes to continue, and seeing that his daughter has run off, also turns tail and runs. He circles the north side of the fire ring and races off after Lisette, leaving his mate and the other wolves behind.

Jethrik calls upon his arcane powers once more to cause embers from the fires to fling themselves into the mother wolf’s face. “Use the fire!” he cries.

The mother shakes her head but does not seem to have been blinded. She is, however, now aware of what a vulnerable position she is in, and also realizes that it is not a good idea to underestimate gnomes.

Keng stand back up and throws his bow at the mother while cursing. He draws his axe and prepares to jump down on her.

Ameiko moves in on the mother, lunging again with her rapier. She pricks it, but fails to draw blood.

Jharad concentrates for a moment using arcane energy to bond with his bow again. Gaining the ability to fire faster he looses two arrows at the wolf he wounded previously. The first hits the ground by its paws, but the second hits it in the head and it falls dead.

Toshio attempts to get to his feet but the mother wolf tears into his right leg and pulls him off his feet again. He swings at her with Whispering Shrike but she lets go and backs off in time.

Once more, Zeyala and Koya reach out and send healing energy into Toshio, restoring him to full health.

In the meantime, the natural wolves all run off after their fleeing alpha, Lisette’s father. Seeing this, the mother too breaks off from the fight and runs after them.

Flood Waters

Rova 28th, Wealday

Unfortunately, the weather does not hold. It is fine during most of the day as they travel along the east bank of the Lampblack River up the Cinder Road. The dark and tangled Churlwood broods along the west bank, but on their side there are only a few copses of fir and oak trees. As they look to camp for the evening, however, dark clouds sweep in from the forest and a fine rain comes down making everything damp and unpleasant. It is not too long before sheets of rain pour down on them and a full on thunderstorm commences. Alarmed, Sandru leads the caravan off on a side trek to an encampment on a hill overlooking the road. It is well that he does so, for within a matter of hours they can hear (though it is too dark to hear) the Lampblack overflowing its banks and the sound of trees coming down from either the winds or the rushing waters.

Rova 29th, Oathday

The storm lasts throughout the night, and when dawn comes they find that they are stranded upon a virtual island amid a flooded landscape. The rain continues, though not as hard as before and the sounds of thunder now roll in from the Malgorian Mountains to the east.

“This is bad,” observes Sandru.

“You don’t say,” comments Ameiko, standing next to him and looking down upon the swollen river that has engulfed the Cinder Road.

“Nothing to be done but wait here, and hope that our stores don’t run out before the waters recede. Even then, the road has been washed away, and it will be slow going. It might take a fortnight just to get to Roderic’s Cove.”

Keng climbs to the top of the lead wagon, gathers his travelers cloak around him and sits taking over watch. He is not interested in idle chat. He loses himself in his thoughts as he watches the river flow past their island refuge.

“Two weeks of trudging through the mud? How pleasant,” quips Zeyala.

Jethrik tries to entertain himself as best he can. To avoid annoying the heck out of other people, he experiments with his cooking.

“‘Bad’ he says. Our caravan master has a penchant for understatement,” mutters Toshio. “A fortnight? Well, the situation is not without benefits.”

With perhaps a fortnight, Toshio is more concerned about Lisette’s possible lycanthropy. Later that morning he broaches the subject with her, careful to stay away from the others’ hearing. While sitting together in one of the supply wagons he asks, “Lisette, Sandru says we may be a fortnight before we reach Roderick’s Cove. I need to ask you, is there any chance at all that a full moon may affect you?”

Lisette has come to trust Toshio, though she also tries to sit uncomfortably close to him, and gazes into his eyes with perhaps more adoration than he might wish as he tells her about the mercy of Iomedae and the path of virtue. Upon being asked this question, however, she looks away and her oft’ straying hands return to her lap, clenched together. “Milord, here are family secrets that once betrayed mean the death of the betrayer – and not a pretty death either. With what I am about to tell you I am putting my life in your hands. Please understand this.” She swallows, stares into the curtains of rain beyond which lie the forest before continuing. Gathering her courage once more, she looks to Toshio and says, “There are families still living in the Churlwood near Wolf’s Ear who continue to breed true as weres. I am from one of those families. I am, as your friends feared, a werewolf. But I can control it. It is not a curse with our kind. We are not forced to make the change. The full moon may rise, but I can keep myself from changing. I would not hurt any of you for my life. You are giving me my freedom.” She backs away, very anxious and agitated, “You’re not going to send me away now are you? Or kill me?” She looks to the hilt of Toshio’s katana.

“I’m not going to kill you for trusting me. But at least one of the others suspects what you’ve just told me. To allay their concerns, would you agree to being confined to a wagon during the full moon? It would help the others feel safer, especially because you would control yourself and not change. And I wouldn’t let anyone attack you while inside.”

Lisette’s face darkens. For a moment it looks as though she were going to bolt, but then she deflates. She looks down at the ground and mumbles, “I guess not.” She looks up again at Toshio and anxiously asks, “But do we even need to tell them? I think it would be better if only you know about my family and I.”

“For now I agree. Let their suspicions be only suspicions. I won’t lie about it if asked directly, but I won’t bring it up, either.”

“Thank you Sir Toshio.” Appearing much relieved, she embraces Toshio and attempts to kiss him.

Toshio turns his head to take the kiss on his cheek. “I’m no lord, or even a knight. I’m just trying to help.” Keeping from being entangled, he adds “Let’s get back before the others start making inappropriate jokes at our expense.”

As Lisette walks away, Toshio senses that the evil aura around her is in fact breaking apart and fading. He is greatly relieved to see this change.

“Lisette,” calls Zeyala. ”Come help me tear strips of cloth into bandages. It’ll help pass the time and we can better get to know one another.”

“I’d be happy to help,” says Lisette.

Jharad passes the time playing magical chess with Keng and trying to keep people dry and warm with prestidigitation.

That night, as Lisette is agreeable, Jethrik teaches her a bit more about campfire cooking, and under the circumstances he especially shows her how to make a little go a long way. She proves to be quite intuitive and soon picks up on all that the gnome has to teach her, and in fact becomes quite passionate about it.

Rova 30th, Fireday

Lamashan 1st Starday

Lamashan 2nd Sunday

It isn’t until Sunday that the rains finally let up. For four days Sandru’s caravan is trapped upon the hill, and even though Sandru instituted food rationing on the first day, they go through their four-day allowance of provisions fairly quickly. Some berries, roots, and grass are foraged, and Zeyala and Koya are able to miraculously provide fresh water. Dry wood for their campfire also becomes an issue, though here Jharad is able to use a minor cantrip (spark) to help things along. Furthermore, there is grumbling among the teamsters, esp. concerning Lisette being an extra mouth to feed. They keep this to themselves, but muttering is overheard and it is clear they are not happy. Sandru, for his part, makes sure that the rations are shared equally. He is clearly frustrated that what was to be a mere four day run up to Roderic’s Cove has instead become a perilous journey that might take weeks, even if they do not starve first.

Lisette, perhaps to the surprise of some, takes things in stride. She confesses to Toshio that she and her family faced many lean times out in the Churlwood. Such privations are to be assumed, and so one must take what one can get when one can get it. She is surprised, however, at how equitably Sandru has parceled out the provisions. Her father would have made sure that the greater portion went to himself, while the rest of the family would have either had to be content with scraps or forage for themselves. She continues her work with Zeyala and Jethrik learning the healing and cooking arts, though in the former it is clear she will probably never excel but in the latter it might only be a matter of time before she surpasses Jethrik’s skills. Keng remains taciturn and moody, frequently watching Lisette and idly fingering his silver tipped arrows.

That night the sky is finally clear and a half-moon shines down upon the muddy flood waters surrounding the hill. To the south, the howling of starving wolves can be heard. Lisette tenses up when she hears this, and then hides herself away in one of the supply wagons.

Sandru watches Lisette go and says to the others, “Is she afraid of wolves generally, or afraid of those wolves in particular?”

“Does it matter, Sandru?” asks Zeyala.  ”My answer is, ‘Yes’ to both.”

“In any case, I worry about them,” continues Sandru. “The waters should recede in a day or two as long as the skies become clear. Still, we’ll have a hard time going back or forward as the road has been washed away and all along the riverbank there will be muck and debris. I fear that wolf pack may come down on us to get at our horses, or of course any of us. Also, we still have no food. Though I loathe to do it, I think we will have to try to get to the village of Ravenmoor. It’s about halfway to Roderic’s Cove and hopefully they’re upriver enough that they haven’t been flooded out. We can restock our provisions there, perhaps even pick up some of their local vintages, which are actually quite good. Strange folk and the village is a bit off track, so its usually bypassed, but in this case we don’t have much choice. We should reach there by the time the Hunter’s Moon is full in the sky.”

First chance Keng gets he pulls Jharad aside and says, “Elf!  You remember how pretty boy’s good heartedness led him to hesitate when we were attacked by the vampire and we all almost got killed? I will not make that mistake again. The first sign that that little whore starts to turn she will be dead.” Keng surreptitiously shows Jharad the silver arrows given to him a few days before by Sandru.

Jharad chuckles and pulls several silver arrows out of his own quiver. “My thoughts exactly. I suggest though that we be sure of her intentions before we attack. But do stay vigilant my friend.”

Lamashan 3rd Moonday

On Moonday the waters do begin to recede under a clear blue sky. The wolves are seen at times, ghosting through stands of pine on the far side of the muddy waters. Lisette remains inside the wagons, apparently afraid to be seen by them. Though the wolves howl intermittently throughout the night, they do not attempt to slog through the water and muck separating them from the hillside upon which Sandru’s caravan is stranded.

Lamashan 4th Toilday

On Toilday, the Lampblack is once more peacefully flowing within its usual course, and by noon the roadway, or what is left of it, is dry enough to attempt to continue on, though it is covered in fallen trees, dead branches, rocks, and other debris. Towards the late afternoon, members of the wolf pack can be seen trailing them. They keep their distance and whenever they can they hide among the trees, rocks, and underbrush. It is difficult to count them, but it appears there may be up to a dozen of them. The only other animal life they see is a hawk that flies overheard, circles around them several times, and then flies back towards the direction of Wolf’s Ear.

Keng mutters to Jharad, “Those wolves are still ghosting us. I think they want one of their own back.”

Jethrik giggles, “Maybe she’s in heat.”

Keng snorts at the excellent jest.

At one point, Lisette seeks out Toshio as they are walking along to speak with him privately. “Sir Toshio, I fear that I should leave you all. You have all been very kind to me. More than I deserve. But I don’t want any harm to come to any of you.” She looks back towards the direction where the wolves were last seen. “It is my family. They are coming for me. Ma and Pa tolerated me leaving the homestead to take work in town, but they will not allow me to truly escape them. They need me here to breed true so that our pack will continue on. If I go back to them now I can claim I told none of you anything. You are too large and well armed a group. They will not want to risk the lives of their wolves for nothing. They will most likely leave you be if I go with them. If I don’t, they will attack once night falls.”

“I don’t think leaving would be good for you. I’m not worried about the caravan. I’m worried about you. If you go back, what will you go back to? The same life you were desperate to leave. Will there ever be a chance like this again? You know now that there is a better, kinder way of life. The concern you just expressed for the people of the caravan confirms it. You are already making a better life than what you left, and you can make it better still.”  He gestures toward the sounds of the wolves. “You know that your path to a better life is not with them. Don’t let the chance that they’ll attack sway you from making the right choice.”

Lisette nods. It is clear that she is still concerned. “If it comes to it, I’ll help you fight them off, but I will not harm Ma or Pa. Not even for you. I hate them, with all my heart, but… I just couldn’t do that. I’d prefer that none of you hurt them either, though I don’t think any of you has the means to. Only silver can truly hurt our kind.”

“I hope it doesn’t come to that. We don’t want to hurt them. We want them to let you choose your own life, and to leave us to ours.”

She nods. “I will stay then.”

Toshio later approaches Sandru. “How many silver arrows do we have? Or other silver weapons? It’s possible those are werewolves, or at least some of them, and they may attack tonight. Just in case, we should be ready.”

Keng, standing nearby, gives Jharad and Jethrik an ‘I told you so…’ smirk.

“Of course we should remain vigilant,” suggests Zeyala. “But just because this area had been plagued by lycanthropes, doesn’t mean that all the locals are cursed. If anything, I’m sure folks around here are particularly sensitive to prowling wolf packs.

Zeyala leans in close to Toshio and whispers, “Still…Toshio, surely if Lisette has any dark aura, you would notice it, right?  And share it with the rest of us?” adds Zeyala.

Lisette, sensing that the others are probably talking about her, comes up and stands by Toshio.

Casually placing himself in the between Lisette and the others before speaking, Toshio replies, “I’m happy to say that Lisette does not have any dark aura. That said, I am certain that at least some of the wolves we’ve been seeing actually are werewolves. We are a large and well-armed party. With luck they won’t attack, but we should be ready just the same. Silvered weapons, or perhaps magical ones are the order of the day. Does anyone have any knowledge of werewolves that might help?”

Jethrik, perplexed, says, “They can’t be werewolves! They only come out at the full moon!”

“That had occurred to me, too,” says Toshio. “It’s tough to defend against something you don’t understand.” Looking around at each of those present, he continues, “So if anyone really knows anything about werewolves, please speak up now.”

Jharad looks at the paladin, perplexed at what he believes to be a blatant lie about Lisette’s aura. Addressing the girl standing just past Toshio he says, “Lisette, I am sorry but protecting this caravan will be our primary concern. Can you give us your word that you will not interfere with that, even if it means the death of your family?”

“I think fancy pants is hiding something from us and I ain’t liken it,” growls Keng fingering his axe.

Lisette glares at the elf. “You were listening to us weren’t you? You and your big fairy ears! Yes, they are my family! We are born to the change, and we can indeed change any time we like, not just under the full moon. Sir Toshio did not know this, and in fact he did not know that I was a were at all until last Oathday. I confessed it to him in secrecy and he has kept his word to me and I have kept my word to him that I would not harm any of you. Those out there are my Ma and Pa, as I told Toshio, but I would not see them killed. Still, if they attack, I will not defend them or fight for them.”

As this is being said, Sandru is glaring at Toshio, “You son of a bitch!” he mutters. His hand clenches the hilt of his scimitar, though he does not draw it. “You have brought a werewolf into our company and didn’t tell us?! You endangered the live of this caravan?! How could you!?”

Ameiko walks up and lays a hand on Sandru to calm him, “I have known Toshio all my life. He was trying to do what was honorable. Lisette says she confessed to him in confidence so he felt honor bound to keep that confidence. Still,” she looks sternly at Toshio, “I would like to know what was going on in your head. Were you so swayed by a pretty face that you overlooked the peril such a secret might put the rest of us in? Are you so sure of this girl’s sincerity and devotion to you that you truly believed she posed, poses, no danger to us? Please tell me that I did not misjudge you back in Sandpoint when I accepted your service as my bodyguard and bestowed upon you the Whispering Shrike? What say you?”

Lisette tries to interject, “But he did not know…” but Ameiko cuts her off with the kind of look that humbled many a drunken bravo back at the Rusty Dragon. When Lisette steps back and lowers her head, Ameiko returns her gaze to Toshio, awaiting his response.

Jharad smiles and leans back against the wagon, very interested in how this chaotic moment will play out. He produces an apple from thin air and lets out a loud ‘crunch’ with his first bite.

Keng roars, “Enough!” He hefts his great axe and approaches Lisette and – eyes beginning to glow red – yells, “Her head leaves this caravan on her own accord or by mine.  Your choice shifter.” And to Toshio, “You sad excuse for a paladin, lying to us?  By Gorum it will be the last time you do so unscathed.  Last time you got your balls in a knot over a woman, we almost got killed; so unless you get your head on straight you will meet my axe as well. It would save you from thinking. What the Nine Hells is it with you and women monsters?”

“One hopes that cooler heads prevail,” interrupts Zeyala. ”However, Toshio, I share Sandru and Keng’s sentiments. We signed on as part of a caravan crew, not your personal crusade. We cannot save every lost soul we come upon. We are a company, a team,” continues Zeyala. “Ameiko said you were honor bound to keep Lisette’s confidence, but are you not honor bound to us as well?”

Lisette steps away from Toshio and now her eyes are glowing red as well. Her hands are clenched at her sides and the skin on her arms and face are practically writhing. It is clear she is trying to exert some kind of control over herself. “I have offered to leave already. I would not have any harm come to Toshio or those of you who were kind to me.” Here she looks to Jethrik and Zeyala who had been teaching her cooking and healing. “I will flee and hopefully they will follow and leave you be.” She looks to Ameiko and says, “Sir Toshio never lied to any of you, though he kept my secret as I asked. Nor did he know until now that I could change before the full moon. He did not knowingly endanger any of you.”

Jethrik moves to Lisette and takes her by the elbow, “No one has come to harm. Not yet anyway. Everyone’s upset, I admit but let’s see if there isn’t some way around this. From what you’ve said about your dad, I don’t think going back home is a great idea for you either. Maybe we can help and maybe we can’t… give us a few minutes at least.”

“Lisette has summed it up well” Toshio says, addressing Ameiko. “As a servant of Good through Iomedae, I saw that Lisette needed help to have a better life, and maybe could help others in return. I had to support her in that. It wasn’t about her pretty face. She’s made huge strides toward a good life, and I’m fearful for her and others if she goes back now.” Pausing for a breath. He continues. “I still serve as your body guard, while you’ll have me. And I want to help you recover your family legacy, but there are also some demands on me, from time to time, that I must not refuse.”

Koya approaches with a set of marked sticks in her hand. “If it would help, I can perform an augury. It will take but a minute. We can ask whether the results of keeping her with us will lead to weal or woe. Or,” she looks at Keng, “we can ask if driving her away will lead to weal or woe. Will you stay your hand, Keng, long enough to see what the spirits may tell us?”

“Aye,” Keng grumbles, the red dying in his eyes, “let the gods decide. If she is woe for us then too bad for her let her take her chances with the wilds.” He turns to Toshio pointing his finger at him, “You, pretty boy, are on notice. This is twice now you have frakked us over. Next time you cross us for your childish ideas of good without first consulting us, you and I will trade blows, and you better hope your goddess is paying attention.” He goes and stands next to Jharad and mutters, “What a bunch of bull dung.”

Toshio says, “Keng, you and I can talk later. We have more important things to work through right now. Like what Lisette will do and how we’ll defend against werewolves.”

Jharad, still calmly leaning against the wagon, grins at his friend. “Apple?” he asks and produces another of the delicious ripe fruit.

Keng is hungry and would like to chew on something so he takes it. ”Thanks elf.”

Jethrik looks up at Lisette, “I’m not sure how much faith I put in auguries. Still, Koya is a good wise woman, she will speak truthfully.”

Ameiko sighs and shakes her head. “An augury would be good. There is much that I do not understand here. I am not entirely unsympathetic to your plight, Lisette. I saw how you were being treated back in Wolf’s Ear, but at the same time Toshio warned us to be wary of you back when we were swimming together. Then he asks us to take you along with us. That was surprising enough! Now we find out that you are a werewolf, and not simply someone under a curse but if I understand you right someone born to it; and yet Toshio now says that we can trust you. Why, Toshio, is she now worthy of trust?”

Lisette says sullenly, “I will stay for the augury, but perhaps I am nothing but a thing of evil. You have been very sweet to me, Sir Toshio; but I am a monster. Can I bring any of you anything but suffering? I think that I can outrun the pack, as I am very swift. Surely they’ll come after me first?” She doesn’t sound so certain of that however.

Sandru mutters, “Yes, an augury. Let’s get started Koya. The sun is setting and we are losing time. I believe we can only ask one question, right? Shall we ask whether it would be for good or ill if she leaves, or should we ask whether it will be for good or ill for her to stay?

Zeyala opens her mouth as if to speak, but instead closes her eyes and gives her head a slight shake no.

She opens her eyes and faces Koya, saying, “Yes, please commence with the augury.”

Koya nods and begins the casting. She takes out a small table from her wagon on which she sets a censer for the burning of incense. Once the incense is burning she says a short prayer to Desna and asks whether it will be good or ill for Lisette to leave and try to draw off the pack that is hunting them. The question asked, she begins casting the marked sticks upon the ground and evaluating them. She looks up, and says to Sandru, “It would not be good for her to leave us, at least not immediately. The augury will only tell us of the immediate future, what lies in wait beyond the next half hour,” she shrugs, “only Desna knows. Perhaps not even she, in this age of failed prophecy.”

Sandru looks at Lisette and says, “You should stay then. It does not sound like your leaving will help things at all. Still, you have not answered Jharad’s question. Will you promise not to interfere if we must fight the pack, even if they are… your kin?”

“I will not help to kill my Ma and Pa, but I will not interfere, and I will help you fight off the wolf pack they have brought with them.”

Ameiko asks, “Then there are only two werewolves out there, your mother and father? What about those trappers?”

“It is only my Ma and Pa and their wolves. The trappers are not weres. This is a family matter.”

Sandru turns to Toshio, “Back in Wolf’s Ear I did not believe Lisette could really be a werewolf, or I would not have allowed her to travel with us. I even joked with you about it. That was because I trusted that the followers of Erastil had dealt with them and that there were no more. And yet, here they are. Now in Wolf’s Ear you said that she did have a dark aura, a taint of evil,” he glances over at Lisette and mutters, “No offence, but we need to be clear about these things.”

She grimaces but says, “None taken.”

Turning back to Toshio, Sandru continues, “Now you say that she has no dark aura, but we now know that she is in fact a werewolf. How can this be? It is my understanding that paladins, as servants of the good and lawful gods are given the power to know when they are in the presence of evil, but could you be mistaken or fooled?”

Toshio answers, “I hadn’t expected Lisette to joins us while we were swimming. Like you, I didn’t think there were still werewolves in Wolf’s Ear, but I overheard Keng say something about someone being a ‘were.’ I though he was speaking of Lisette, so when she joined the swimming, I checked her aura. Yes, paladins of Iomedae can detect evil in others. When I did so, I found she had such an aura, but not a strong evil — as if it hadn’t really taken hold of her yet. I wasn’t sure how to deal with her evil. Then the trappers came and made trouble. When I saw that, it seemed to me that Lisette’s aura may be because they were making things miserable for her, and I could help with that. Indeed, I had to help. She needed to get out of a bad situation, and we had some travel time in which I could speak with her, helping her make good decisions for her life. We were well on our way, and stranded on our temporary island, before I learned she is a werewolf. By then we were in confidence with each other, and she had already made great progress in improving her life. When she told me she is a werewolf, I immediately checked her aura – how could I not? – and found to my pleasant surprise that she no longer had the taint of evil upon her. How that can be with her a werewolf, I can’t say. I’m just glad of it. And regarding the ability to detect evil, I am absolutely confident in its reliability. There was no mistake or deception.”

Jharad produces yet a third apple and tosses it to Lisette with a small smile. Turning to Keng he says, “She will not be an issue, we should focus now on our defense for tonight.”

Keng looks at the elf, shrugs his shoulders and nods. He says, “We should place our best archers atop the wagons with the silver arrows.”

“That is my thought as well, and they should shoot the weres as primary targets. The wolf pack can be brought down by the others with normal weapons.”

“Very well,” says Sandru to Toshio. “I think we should talk more later, but for now let’s talk about defending our camp.” He looks over at Keng and Jharad. “Yes, I think you two should get atop Koya’s wagon. That’s will give the highest and most stable place from which to fire upon the wolves.”

Keng nods and vaults up to the top of the lead wagon in two easy bounds. He then nocks a silver arrow and squints into the distance looking to sight his first werewolf. He is already thinking what a nice trophy the teeth will make to his Shoanti beads.

Ameiko draws her rapier. “As I told Keng back in Wolf’s Ear, this blade is forged of mithral, ‘true silver’, and should suffice against the werewolves.”

“Good. Now the wolves will most likely come from up there,” Sandru points to the lightly wooded slopes eastward. “However, they can circle around us fairly easily and come at us from any side. And of course the wolves can come at us from under the wagons as well. I’ve not had to defend against a determined wolf pack led by werewolves before, any ideas from anyone?”

Jharad laughs at Keng’s enthusiasm then says to them all, “Now is the time for us to ‘lay our cards out’ I believe. Anticipating an attack such as this I have set myself up with spells that will improve my mobility for this fight. I intend on providing ranged support, favoring silver arrows for the were’s. I can also lay out a 10 foot square area of grease which will hamper movement.” Looking at the other spell-casters he continues, “What are you all prepared to bring to the table?”

Jethrik pipes up “Grease? Good choice, I learned it a long time ago! I can have a spell that will force a target to fall into a helpless laughing attack for a short period of time… enough to get a couple free attacks in though. That should work for the weres, if I can pick them out from the normal wolves. Finally, I may be able to help heal a bit if needed. And of course, I can use my performance to help others. Otherwise, I will target the normal wolves with arrows. I think I will stay on the ground and move around the perimeter. Someone has to try to watch for a flanking move. I’m not your best warrior, but I’ve got quick eyes and might be able to pull a trick or two if I am in the right place. I have in the past!”

“When the pack is closing in, I will bless the party from the center of the wagons,” says Zeyala. “After that, I will try to keep myself safe in the northern wagon and provide healing where it is needed.”

Sandru nods in agreement and then begins giving orders to the teamsters to all the horses out of the encampment. He tells them to saddle up and lead the horses away, either to the north or south but preferably north, once they know for sure from what direction the wolf pack will be coming from. While that is being done, Sandru and the others spread a fire barrier in a semi-circle around them within the circle of wagons in the hope that it will keep the wolves from attacking them on all sides. The circle of fire opens up on the west so that Keng and Jharad can easily retreat to it if they need to.

Lisette

As Keng leaves the tavern he sees Jharad heading for the bridge. In the dim light of the stars it would be next to impossible to make out the elf, but Keng’s orcish heritage enables him to see for a short distance even in the pitch black of night. He also sees four shaggy young trappers in buckskins round the corner of the tavern. They are chatting and laughing and not really paying attention to Keng. In fact the leader shoves his way past Keng as he enters the tavern growling, “Don’t block the door ya moron.” The others snicker as they brush past Keng.

Keng snarls at the backs of the four trappers and starts to turn towards them, but he stops before he acts, thinking there would be no sport in clipping their ears. He is far more interested in what has the elf curious and he thinks the colored fish might be interesting. He shrugs his great plate armor with a slight shoulder roll and heads off towards Jharad who is standing on the bridge looking out over Lake Ember.

Keng walks up and stands next to Jharad and grunts, “See any fish?”

Eyes still staring out over the lake Jharad replies, “Nothing yet, quiet night. There must be a lull of calm sweeping over this town tonight. Why else would those trappers still be standing?”

“Where would be the sport in that? They are mere boys. Might be fun to set the gnome on them though,” he says with a gleam in his eye.

As they are talking they do begin to see faint glimmers of light out on the lake. Then the glimmers get brighter. They are like a cloud of fireflies beneath the waves. As they watch, the lights begin to form strange configurations that almost look like Thassilonian runes.

“By Gorum’s Balls! Jharad, do you see that?” Keng is almost giddy like a young boy as he  dances from one end of the bridge to the other and pointing towards the configurations in the waters.

After only a few minutes, however, the tantalizing characters dissolve back into an amorphous collection of lights that fade away leaving only the dark and silent waves of Lake Ember.

Keng the seems to recall where he is and grunts, “Well that was…” but he is truly speechless. He then punches Jharad in the shoulder, too hard of course.

Jharad smiles at Keng’s reaction and tries to ignore his now sore shoulder. Laughing he says, “Your secret is safe with me my friend. And you are correct, that is truly an amazing sight.”

Keng looks into the darkening and mutters, “Iron Hells elf, is this caravan duty going to be this boring the whole way? What do we do now?”

“It is going to be boring… until it is not. My guess is that when it is not we will be very busy indeed. In the mean time keep your axe honed and eyes sharp. It is when we relax that the boredom is most likely to end.”

Keng nods and then studiously looks out into the gloom of the moonless night, scanning around them for potential threats. “Aye,” he replies, “good advice, one can never be sure.”

Back inside the tavern, the four trappers take their seats at the remaining open table. The leader takes his seat with his back against the wall and looks over at Lisette who is still listening to Jethrik but making eyes at Toshio as well, who is studiously ignoring her or trying to.

“Hey Lisette,” calls the leader. “Leave those foreigners be! Come over here and give us a kiss!”

Lisette rolls her eyes. “Cool it Vioric. I’m at work. A round of ales as usual?”

Toshio looks the locals over and hopes they don’t start any trouble.

At the caravan encampment in the empty lot, Sandru checks over the cargo, supplies, and strongbox. Everything seems in order so for the next four hours until midnight they settle in around the fire to make sure that no unscrupulous locals, bandits, goblins, or other creatures from the woods attempt to do any thieving. At any one time there is always at least one person making a circuit of the camp with a torch in hand while the others wait, weapons ready, by the fire.

Inside her wagon, Koya sets up a small table and begins shuffling her Harrow deck. “You know,” she whispers to Zeyala, “Between you and me I wish I had the true power of a Harrower. I can ‘read’ the cards, of course, but the true power of harnessing destiny is beyond me. Still, they are a fascination to me and they help shorten the road when the trip is long. Also, more often than not the stories told by the cards relate something relevant.”

“Still,” says Zeyala, “to be able to read the cards is a true talent. Mine is the path of healer, though I am fascinated by those who have the ability of foresight.”

Zeyala glances about in the dimming light. “Day or night matters not. My limited vision senses nothing in the darkness and it seems quiet now. Koya, perhaps there is time to do a reading,” suggests Zeyala.

“Yes, I think it may be. I was just thinking of the reading I did, or rather that came to me, back at the Rusty Dragon in Sandpoint. There were cards for each of us, and yet one of them, the Survivor who I felt must be Shalelu, is not yet among us. I wonder why not. I wonder where she could be. Remember that the survivor is one who has lost many of those close to her but is reborn by discovering someone or something thought lost. Perhaps you do not know about this, but Shalelu’s mother died in the elven village of Crying Leaf in the Mierani Forest when a dragon attacked it. She had a human stepfather named Jakardros at the time. He killed the dragon but was so saddened by his wife’s murder that he left the village forever. A few years ago, just before the stone giants raided Sandpoint, Shalelu found out that in the decades since she had last seen him Jakardros had joined the Order of the Black Arrows, rangers who had been charged by the city of Magnimar to garrison Fort Rannick. Fort Rannick was established to protect the town of Turtleback Ferry from the ogres of Hook Mountain. Unfortunately the ogres had taken the fort and massacred the rangers so Shalelu was asked by the Lord-Mayor of Magnimar to lead an expedition to discover what happened to them. Shalelu found that Jakardros had survived the attack, though she had to rescue him from ogrekin. Together they took back the fort, and both of them later helped defend Sandpoint from the stone giants. I suppose that her reconciliation with Jakardros is the rebirth that the card indicates. She has, in a sense, had her family restored to her. She has probably been spending time at Fort Rannick that is due east of here. Maybe we will be meeting her soon if she is coming from that way.” Koya begins laying down the Harrow cards in a spread.

“This column of three on the left indicates what has gone before. See, here the Publican is on top, but now I don’t think it indicates me but rather all of us. Comradeship and fellowship have been established and that is at work in the present. Below that is the Big Sky, which here I believe indicates throwing off old ruts and taking up the freedom of the open road. Desna would approve I think. Below that is the Tangled Briar. Hmm… That came up before and I believe it is something we must face in the future. It indicated some awful tragedy in the past and here it is setting things in motion. I suspect that when we meet it again we will know what that event was. Now, let’s see what is going on now, the middle column will tell us. Here at the top is the Joke. Apparently Jethrik’s good humor is very important at this particular moment for I believe it is the next card down that shows who he has encountered, the Mountain Man. Below that, is the Beating which shows what will happen if he fails or does not rise to the occasion.” Koya looks to the direction of the tavern with concern, and then looks back to the cards. “Let’s see what lies ahead in our immediate future. Ah, here at the top is the Survivor. I think Shalelu may appear very soon. Below that is the Marriage. That’s curious. It’s a meeting or merger between people or forces that could be ruinous or advantageous, but this position indicates it could go either way. Below that are the Crows, a gang of evildoers. That card came up back in Sandpoint, the first of six of which the Tangled Briar was the fourth. I think we may meet up with this gang very soon. We must be careful.”

“With Toshio, we generally take very great care,” says Zeyala. ”But with your insight, we will now be prepared and can at least predict where and when the danger will meet us. Thank you for sharing, Koya. I am always fascinated by your wisdom.”

 In the Dead Wolf Tavern, Jethrik says to Toshio who is sitting next to him, “Where did the odd-fellow twins go? Should we ensure they are safe and well?”

“I’m sure they’re alright. Besides, it’s just outside to door and around the back to the caravan. If anything happens out there they’ll call and we can be there in the blink of an eye.” In a lower voice he adds, “Besides, I suspect our help may be needed here first.”

Jethrik raises his eyebrow and mumbles, “I’m not comfortable stepping between that loudmouth and what he thinks is his. If we make a fool of him, he may take it out on her when we leave. Are you ready to take this girl away if need be?”

Speaking quietly in response, Toshio says, “But he’s just that – a loudmouth. And some things need doing even if we don’t like them. If he makes trouble for her while I’m here, I’ll stop it. I can’t help what happens where I’m not or when I’ve left. Only now.” He looks around the room before continuing. “Did you hear Koya? It might not be so bad for her to come with us. We could find a place for her in the caravan, and I know people who can help back in the city. But all that may be unnecessary. Let’s wait and see.”

Jethrik replies, “And some things do not need doing. And one thing we often do in the present is create a mess for others to clean up in the future.” After a brief pause the gnome continues, “Am I really arguing restraint with a paladin? Fall to Lance! Don’t even glance at the lady in the tower.” Jethrik refers to the legend of the Lady of Shallot who died of heartbreak for Lancelot after seeing him once and knowing she could never have him.

While Toshio and Jethrik are speaking about this, Lisette has gone over to the trapper’s table with a handful of mugs and a pitcher of ale. As she sets these down, Vioric reaches out and grabs her around the waist. He pulls her down into a tight embrace and kisses her hard on the lips as his friends laugh and clap. As he does this he glares over Lisette’s shoulder at Toshio and Jethrik as if to say, ‘See she is mine!’ Lisette squirms against him and finally breaks his hold and pushes him back, almost causing him to fall over in his chair.

“I told you I’m at work Vioric!” she hisses venomously.

“Hey you, enough of that!” shouts Kronug. “Keep your hands to yourself Vioric. Maul your betrothed somewhere else. This isn’t a bawdy house but a respectable tavern.”

Vioric waves his hand dismissively at Kronug. “I’m just giving my girl a little kiss in greeting. Don’t be such a prude.”

“I’m not yours yet,” growls Lisette as she clenches her hands into fists at her sides in anger, “and maybe I never will be unless you give me some respect.”

Vioric’s friends raise their eyebrow and whistle at this. Realizing he’s been challenged, Vioric rises from his seat and snarls, “I’ll give you something all right. I saw you making eyes at this outlander and acting the tavern wench. Then you don’t even want to give me, your betrothed, a little kiss? Maybe I need to teach you a little respect?”

Vioric and Lisette commence staring each other down, and is clear that they are both on the verge of saying or doing something regretful. Kronug is clearly concerned and comes around from behind the bar but two of Vioric’s cronies get up from their seats and bar his way to keep him from interfering. As Kronug and the two trappers are confronting each other right behind her, Ameiko quickly gets up and backs off. She has seen these kinds of scenes too many times back at the Rusty Dragon and doesn’t want to be sitting right in the middle of a brawl. The three teamsters also get up from their seats, ready to jump in to protect Ameiko or perhaps to defend Lisette or even Kronug. Jethrik hops off his chair and moves to Ameiko’s side in case things get out of hand.

Speaking to the trappers blocking Kronug, Toshio says, “It’s never a good idea to get on the bad side of the only tavern owner in town. It doesn’t look like your friend needs any help with Lisette, and I’m sure they’ll work it out peacefully.”

Kronug grins, “He’s got a good point there.” The two trappers duck their heads and back off muttering apologies. Kronug walks past them and grabs Lisette by the arm even as she cast her eyes down, unable to hold Vioric’s stare. Kronug pulls her away saying, “Get upstairs girl. We’ll send supper up to you. And you, Vioric, I’ve had enough of your foolishness. When you’re properly married you can run your home the way you like, but this is my business and my home and if you want to eat and drink here you’ll follow my rules. Do you understand?”

Vioric looks away and mutters, “Sorry Kronug. Won’t happen again.” He sits back down and his three friends also take their seats.

“Very good then. Enjoy your ale.” Kronug returns to the bar. Lisette heads upstairs. Aula, who had remained by the hearth stirring the stew, visibly relaxes.

Toshio raises his mug to the trappers, pleased that they made a good choice. He finishes his ale and stays just a bit longer.

Jethrik raises his mug to Toshio. “Well done sir knight.” He toasts discretely.

Seeing that things really have settled down, Toshio heads to the lake for a swim; hoping to see the glowing fish or whatever they are.

Jethrik walks alongside and once outside and out of earshot of the trappers says to Toshio, “We should discuss offering the girl a ride out of here, but this way she doesn’t have to be smuggled out.”

Outside it is very dark due to the new moon. There is only the very dim light of the stars but that is enough for Jethrik, who is able to guide Toshio down to the lake. No glowing lights appear there at the moment. On the way down, Jethrik sees that Jharad and Keng are on the bridge over the river looking out onto the lake.

Jharad, with his elvish vision, had indeed noticed Toshio and Jethrik leaving (peacefully) from the tavern and walking down the trail along the east bank of the river towards the pier. Perhaps Toshio is going for that night swim after all. Pointing in the direction of the tavern Jharad comments to Keng, “Looks like our paladin and comedian are heading to the pier for a swim. I am going to join them, care to brave the nighttime waters of a werewolf infested forest?”

“I’ll watch your stuff, I care not for frolicking in the water,” replies Keng.

Jethrik puts a finger up to his lips and motions and though he knows that Jharad at least has seen them, he begins casting a spell under his breath and with his left hand hidden under his cloak makes the esoteric signs and passes until dancing lights appear in the depths of the lake under the bridge. He makes the lights swirl around and change color in the depths. Before they pass the bridge, Jethrik’s display under the bridge begins. It is easy enough to see, however, that the dancing lights are not the same as the charigs. As they pass the bridge the display ends as the lights pop out into the air making a loud farting noise and leaving behind a foul odor as they fade. Toshio tries not to laugh.

Keng elbows Jharad and snorts, “Pretty boy sure draws an interesting crowd, eh?” Then his face wrinkles up and he sneezes. ”Iron Hell! The smell!”

Jharad grins at the comedic display and odor without answering Keng. When the newcomers are close enough to hear, Jharad continues to face the lake and says, “Ah Jethrik, I thought I smelled your foul stench a moment ago. You really should try something greater than childish pranks some time, or is that all you are capable of?”

“Pffft,” Jethrik shrugs. “Who wants to move mountains? I would never be able to decide where they should be!” He finishes with a bright smile.

Toshio chuckles at Jethrik’s response as they continue to the dock. “Where to put a mountain? Where indeed? But if you could move mountains every caravaner you met would be fighting to hire you.”

Keng follows them out to the dock but has no wish to go swimming. He is too keyed up about the werewolf stories and thoughts of a sneak attack. He studies the surroundings constantly scanning for threats.

Jharad casts a spell to create a soft torch effect over the water and then strips down to swim. Jharad and Toshio both remove their armor and clothing and dive into the now lit waters.

As they are enjoying the warm waters of Ember Lake, a thin lithe figure walks out of the shadows. It is Lisette, who appears to be delighted to have found them. “Well, this certainly looks more fun than bustling ale to group of backwoods louts.” She smiles at Keng as she walks up to him on the pier. “I think I’ll join you all.” Very quickly she shrugs off her blouse and dress. She dives into the water to surface right in front of Toshio. She giggles and comments on how lovely Jethrik’s lighting up of the lake is.

Keng stands still, paralyzed and struck dumb by the sight of the lovely girl. His first impulse is to jump into the lake, armor and all following her. Lisette seems to be attracted to Toshio, but really she seems to appreciate attention from anyone who will give it to her. He’s seen this type before among the orcs, half-orcs, and Shoanti outcastes in Urglin. Back home there are plenty of wenches who parley their beauty (a relative term in Urglin) to get a leg up in the world, though the lucky few end up as the trophy wives of some warlord or other. Keng comes back to life and stops himself before he jumps in the lake with his armor on. He shakes his head and his dreadlocks make subtle clicking sound.

Jharad smiles, clearly happy that Lisette has joined them. “I was already enjoying the evening swim, now you have made it a purely delicious,” he says to her, swimming closer so that the paladin is no longer compromised by his singular proximity to the naked girl. “How sweet of you to join us.”

Toshio appreciated the view as she dove in. It’s just as well that the water obscures her, but he carefully avoids temptation and keeps some distance anyway. “The lake is lovely” he comments. “Do you think we have much chance of seeing the glowing fish?”

Jethrik splashes water at Toshio “You would think a glowing fish a wonder after what we have just witnessed?! By the gods, were I taken to the hells at this moment, no power could steal the joy this night has brought!” Turning to Lisette he takes up a reverent tone “Lady, command me! For I wish no honor greater than to be at your service.”

“Yes, command him! Command him to go far from here.” Splashing Jethrik back playfully Toshio says, “Don’t paint me as unappreciative, oh jester of exaggeration.”

With an exaggerated swoon Jethrik says, “And that is the one command I could not follow! To cherish such beauty and be parted from it would be death!” And with that he sinks under the surface as though sinking to his death.

Lisette laughs. “You are all so funny. Not like the sour pusses around here.”

Jharad smirks, shaking his head slightly at the gnome’s boyish antics. “Mudaris” he invokes then gathers some clean mountain water into both hands cupped together. Blowing lightly on them, he changes the liquid into a nice honey mead he remembers from an elven pub when he was at university in Kyonin. He drinks half the liquid first then puts his hands up to Lisette’s lips and gently lets the sweet liquid enter her mouth. As he withdraws he lets a single finger linger lightly and brush the side of the maiden’s left cheek.

Keng watches Jharad flirting with the girl in jealous interest. He goes back to scanning the surroundings wondering when he is going to see a werewolf. The stories were so interesting.

“Mmm, that’s nice,” says Lisette, though whether she means Jharad’s mead or his touch is unclear. “Well, you two,” her glance takes in Jharad and Jethrik, “don’t seem to be afraid of me like some people.” She smirks and looks over at Toshio who has already swum some yards away, though still near the tip of the pier. “Well, if my wish is your command good gnome, then maybe you and your friends could convince the caravan master, Sandru, to allow me to come with you. I’m a fairly good cook, and I have plenty of other talents that might make your travels more comfortable.”

That last comment causes Toshio to think that maybe taking her along isn’t such a good idea. Almost without thinking, he tries to sense any evil within Lisette. In Toshio’s experience, the evil of commoners, fortunately a small portion, is very ephemeral, usually nothing more than pettiness and egoism that does not even radiate as an aura but only a slight flickering. Lisette, however, actually gives off a faint aura of evil, possibly meaning that she is either some form of very weak undead, a very weak outsider (demon or devil), a junior cleric or other kind of initiate of an evil god, or a mortal (human or otherwise) of some considerable skills and determination, or perhaps someone under the influence of some powerful curse. Of course it is possible that she is even a werewolf, despite the proud claims of the town of Wolf’s Ear that they were rooted out long ago.

Jethrik responds to Lisette’s request to come with them. “As it so happens, my wooden colleague,” he nods at Toshio, “and I were seeking out my conspiracy of friends to get their input on just that topic. So now that I have been honest, please I pray, tell us why others fear such a delightful creature.”

“Well, most people aren’t afraid of me. It’s not like I bite, well, not unless someone asks me to.” Lisette winks at Jethrik. “I usually have to beat guys off with a stick, but I guess your friend is shy.” She pouts in Toshio’s direction, and then turns her attention back to Jethrik. Were you really talking about taking me with you? That would be so wonderful! I want to see the world, not spend the rest of my days in some backwoods dump like this.”

Toshio is liking her less and less. Even if it is a tiny excuse for a burg, there’s no need to badmouth it even if she doesn’t like it.

Jharad grins at the girl then whispers so that only Jethrik and Lisette can hear, “Lets not tell Keng she is a were.”

Lisette laughs. “You all really are silly. There are no more werewolves or any other type of shape-shifters in Wolf’s Ear. The followers of Old Deadeye killed or drove them out long ago.” She shrugs. “Besides, it’s a new moon.” She swims up closer to Toshio. “You really have nothing to fear from me.”

Toshio swims casually toward the dock, putting himself between it and Lisette. “Jharad, there may be more here than meets the eye.” The others look to Toshio and realize that the last time there was “more to meet the eye” concerning a girl – the girl in question was a blood-sucking fiend.

Suddenly they all hear the sound of a throat being cleared. It is Ameiko, politely letting everyone know of her approach as she walks onto the pier. She stands next to Keng and looks down at Toshio, Lisette, Jethrik, and Jharad skinny dipping in the illuminated waters. “Why is it that you guys always seem to find yourselves in the company of scantily clad young girls in questionable circumstances?”

“Because the odds favor it?” Jethrik quips. “Although this circumstance is even more frustrating than most. She tantalized us with a little mystery and now she is dancing around the answer. It really is most unfair!” The gnome pouts. “I’m not sure I like our little playmate anymore. And here I was going to argue her side with you and Sandru and she won’t be nice to me.”

“Us who? We are just catching a nice swim with Toshio and his new girlfriend,” Jharad replies with a deep grin to Jethrik.

“Ah…” Toshio says lamely, then remains quiet. He tries to swim somewhere out of sight from Ameiko, but stops when he realizes how silly he’s being. “Um, hi Ameiko. Care for a dip?” He cringes inwardly following his weak answer and really tries to keep quiet this time.

“Care to join us?” Jharad asks Ameiko.

“Yes, I would,” says Ameiko. She quickly starts throwing off her clothes in full view of the others without a hint of self-consciousness.

Keng finds all this frivolity shameful given they could be attacked at anytime and he continues to maintain his vigil on the pier.

“Oh!” says Lisette. She’s not Toshio’s girlfriend is she?” She asks Jharad and Jethrik. Her eyes narrow at the woman she now perceives to be her rival.

“Ha!” Jethrik snorts trying to hide a bit of real annoyance “He wouldn’t know how to love a woman like her.”

Ameiko pauses in her strip down and arches her eyebrow at Jethrik, as if to say, ‘That was a rather bold statement to make.’

“What do you know? Promiscuity isn’t the same thing as love,” quips Toshio.

Jethrik laughs.

Jharad continues to tread water, smiling and enjoying watching Ameiko undress, clearly no longer interested in the tavern girl. “I am happy you decided to join us, the water is quite nice.”

Ameiko dives in. “You’re right. Quite warm.”

Keng grumbles to himself, thinking, “Whats wrong with these people!  Am I the only one on watch?”

Lisette turns to Jethrik, “What did you mean when you said I was being mysterious? There’s nothing mysterious about me. That’s my problem. My life was meant for more than this. Please ask Sandru to take me with you.”

Toshio swims close to Ameiko, keeping himself between her and Lisette. Taking a lesson from Jharad, he moves in suggestively close to Ameiko – from their angle perhaps it seems he’s kissing her? Let them ooh, aw and think what they will. He’s now more concerned for Ameiko’s safety – and whispers so only she can hear, “Lisette is evil. It is not safe here.”

Ameiko whispers back, “She may be evil, but I don’t think we’re in danger from such a tramp. Unless you get too close and get crotch crickets of course.”

Toshio laughs aloud and gives himself some room to swim. Speaking so the others can hear he says, “Ha! Well, I’m glad you think so.” He still keeps himself between Lisette and Ameiko.

Jharad glances over at Lisette. Knowing humans, he is curious what her reaction will be. As he assumed, she is not pleased to see that Toshio already appears to be involved with someone else. In fact, she seems infuriated by them, as though she could hear what they were whispering about.

Lisette angrily hauls herself out of the water and back onto the pier. She grabs at her clothing, muttering, “I can tell when I’m not wanted. You don’t have to whisper lies about me.” Before she can stalk off, however, four new figures emerge from the darkness into the light cast by the gnome-lit waters. It is Vioric and his three friends. They step out onto the pier and Vioric grabs Lisette roughly by the arm. “What are you doing? Finished with your orgy and now running off? You think I’m going to let you get away with this?”

Lisette angrily shakes off his arm and goes back to putting on her things. Fiercely she hisses, “The question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me.”

Viorc slaps Lisette, almost hard enough to knock her down, “You little hussy, I’ll have you put in the stocks and scourged for all to see.”

Ameiko, who had already climbed back onto the pier and thrown her tunic back on, immediately moves to get between Lisette and Vioric, “Good sir, please calm yourself!”

“Uh oh” mutters Toshio. He starts heading to get his things. He wonders if enough abuse will trigger Lisette to show her colors.

Jethrik moves to shallow water and uses mage hand to retrieve his material component pouch. ”I’m getting very tired of this bully showing up.”

Quickly realizing how Keng will undoubtedly react to this, Jharad swims for shore.

With a horrific screech of rage, Lisette reaches around Ameiko and scratches Vioric’s face with her nails.

Keng seeing anyone bullied like this throws back his head and screams, charging into the midst of the four thugs while swinging his axe by the blade side – using the handle like a club to drive them back.

“Lisette, Keng, no!” shouts Ameiko, but too late. The fight has begun in earnest.

Vioric pushes Lisette off the pier and into the water, clothes and all. His friends work together and do the same to Keng, who lands in the water with a great splash. Fortunately for Keng, the water is only chest deep or his armor would sink him to the bottom.

Ameiko backs away from the four angry trappers, her hand reaching down to the pier for the hilt of her sword.

Toshio, Jethrik, and Jharad, meanwhile, make it to the pier and scramble up it behind Ameiko as fast as they can.

Lisette surfaces with a sputter and then begins swimming away from the pier towards the river. As she swims into the deeper and darker waters away from the light cast by Jethrik she shouts back, “Frack you, Vioric! Consider our betrothal off. I belong to myself alone! I’ll do as I wish, and you just see what happens to anyone who tries to get in my way!”

Vioric shouts back to Lisette, “You whore! You’d best get out of town or I’ll have you run out!” He turns and stomps back down the pier to the shore. His cronies follow him with a wary glance back at Ameiko, the waterlogged half-orc, and the others who are still grabbing their gear.

Keng, spluttering, hauls himself out of the water and stands next to Jharad panting heavily and leaving a large pool of water at his feet. One can clearly see he is angry and all he needs is a small excuse or leave and he would slip into a rage and attempt to pound the snot out of the four bullies.

Reaching for his gear Jharad says, “I believe there is something odd about that girl,” motioning towards her wake. “I would bet that all is not precisely what it seems. Toshio, what would you like us to do about your girlfriend and her apparently betrothed?”

Toshio is ready to take on the trappers, naked if need be, but since things have stopped without injury he pulls on his trousers. “Shut up, Jharad!” Toshio retorts. The situation is too tense for him to abide Jharad’s quip. “Swim after her. Ask if she’ll come back. I’d like to ask her something myself. It may be good to take her with us after all.

With the hint of a smile Jharad responds, “Quips aside, I think she is more likely to listen to you than me. I will travel with you however. I suggest we don our equipment and find a boat.”

“I kind of think it might be better to let the lady calm down a bit.” Jethrik interjects “Besides do we really want her on the caravan at the next full moon?”

“Keng, stay with Ameiko please, and see her back to the inn.” Toshio looks around, hoping to spot a readily available boat they can borrow. “Alright Jharad. Let’s go catch up with Lisette.”

As Toshio looks around, Jharad points at the boat they can ‘borrow’ and gestures for Toshio to enter first.

Jethrik pulls on his gear quickly. “You boys do your thing. I’m going to watch Vioric the Dorik at a discreet distance.”

Keng looks to Jharad for confirmation.

At Keng’s look, Jharad realizes for the first time that he and the half-orc have become good friends and comrades in arms. Smiling at his friend, he nods in agreement. Keng nods back to Jharad and watches them climb into the boat. Kicking off sharply from the dock, Jharad rows the paladin and himself after Lisette.

Keng turns to Ameiko and with a slight bow, gestures with his arm towards the inn. “After you, lady.”

As they walk back to town, Ameiko says, “Y’know Keng, I feel bad for that girl. I also left home when I was young. Well, actually, I ran away a couple of times – when I was 13 and later when I was 16. The first time I went to Magnimar and by the grace of Shelyn I survived without being raped, kidnapped, or sold into slavery. I lived on my wits and learned quite a few useful skills there.” She grins. “But I had to go back – family problems. I ran off again to become an adventurer. Once again, I was fortunate to get out of that alive, not everyone did…” After a pause she says, “Anyway, I cashed out and bought the tavern and settled down. Still, it’s nice to be on the road again. So I understand why Lisette needs to get away from here. Probably she would be better off going with us, rather than running away on her own. Also, she’d probably head to Roderic’s Cove or Riddleport. Rough places for a young girl. Toshio, thinks she’s evil though. She may be at that, but perhaps she just needs some good influences and guidance. Then again, I guess its possible she could be a werewolf or something.” Ameiko stops in her tracks and turns to look back at the lake. “I hope Toshio and Jharad are careful. Oh! Vioric and his friends may be werewolves too!” She turns around to look towards the village. “I hope Jethrik is careful! Wait a minute. We’re out here alone without any silver weapons. I think we’d better be careful too, dark of the moon or no. Let’s hurry back to the caravan Keng. Sandru still has some of the silver arrows he bought back in Galduria.”

Keng turns a deeper shade of green and mutters a silent prayer to Gorum for protection… “Aye we need proper equipment lady, let us make haste!” As they make their way back the caravan Keng says, “My mother was kidnapped into slavery.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. My mother died while I was in Magnimar. She fell from the cliffs near our home.” After a moment she touches the hilt of her sword and says, “Now that I think about it, my rapier was forged of mithral or ‘true silver.’ Maybe that will work if we have to defend ourselves against any weres. Still, I’ll feel better when we are all together again.”

Keng mutter, “I am not… pleased… splitting up. Bad tactics given the threat.”

Following four humans without a single torch or lantern among them on a moonless night is child’s play for a stealthy gnome like Jethrik who can see almost as easily in starlight as a human in twilight. Vioric and his cronies head back up the path but before reaching the village they head off a side trail. From their conversation it seems like they are going to turn in for the night, so it is likely that their homes lie somewhere along the path ahead. Vioric, naturally, is fuming about Lisette and what a bitch she is and how he was a fool to get betrothed to a tavern wench. His friends commiserate with him, and remind him that her family is an odd one anyway. They live too deep in the Churlwood and it wouldn’t surprise them if she had were-blood in her. One of them says, “You’re better off without her. How about Yoric’s daughter? She’s pretty enough, and a sight more stable. You know she won’t run off to Riddleport if she gets tired of you.” His curiosity satisfied, Jethrik slips away and heads back to town.

Back at the lake, Jharad and Toshio easily overtake Lisette. “What do you two want?” she growls at them as she continues to swim east along the shoreline and towards the mouth of the river.

Toshio responds, “I would like to sit and talk with you. I think it may be good if you came with the caravan. But we should talk first.”

Lisette stops in the water, treading with her mouth agape. Then her whole face lights up, though Toshio cannot really see more than a shadow among the dark waters. “Really?!” she squeals. “Oh thank the gods! You are my savior. Thank you, thank you! We can ‘talk’ as much as you want. There’s a nice little spot by the mouth of the river. Follow me.” She starts swimming again.

Once they are all on the shore Lisette asks, “So what did you want to talk to me about?”

“I didn’t mean to pry, but it’s clear you’re having a hard time in this village. My friends and I are inclined to help if we can. That would mean coming with us in the caravan, at least for a while. But before we agree on that, you should know more about us – and we need to know more about you.”

“Well, I know Sandru, Jethrik, and Koya already. They’ve come through before. I’m assuming you are new guards, right? Now what do you want to know about me? There isn’t much to know.”

“I’m body guard to Ameiko, the lady who was swimming with us. And yes, I’m also a caravan guard. I wanted to find out about your background. Who you are – more than your name. What have you been through in your life? How did you end up in this village?”

She shrugs. My family has lived here since it was founded. My ma and pa live up in those hills.” She points westward to the forested hills of the Churlwood. I guess it was my grandparents who came from Magnimar, or perhaps even Korvosa. They’ve been trapping or clearing ground and planting crops ever since. I didn’t want that for myself, so I came down out of the hills to Wolf’s Ear and took a job at the tavern. I got betrothed to Vioric a few months ago, but he’s a crude and violent man. I just want something better for myself, and I know I won’t find it here. Here I’m a nobody, a bedwarmer for travelers, or at best the house slave and broodmare for some hairy smelly trapper.”

“That seems simple enough, and many another has wanted to ‘escape’ their home village” Toshio says with sympathy. “You have a spunk that makes me think you can do better for yourself if you get half a chance.” He smiles a bit as he says this, thinking that if she betters herself, she can’t help but benefit those around her.

“For my part, I am a devotee of Iomedae, and my concern is this; through Iomedae’s power, I have seen that there is the taint of some evil on you. I would like to understand how that came to be before offering to allow you to join the caravan. And if you were to travel with the caravan at all, it would need to be with the understanding that you and I will work together to remove that taint.” Toshio is very curious to see how she reacts to his statements.

“Evil! Well, if looking after myself because no one else will is evil, then I suppose I am.” She nods toward the hills. “My ma and pa always taught me that you’re either the predator or the prey. I refuse to be anyone’s prey. You want to teach me to be a lady?” She shrugs. “That’s fine with me, but I won’t be anyone’s victim ever again.”

“No doubt your parents meant to protect you.”

Lisette scoffs. “My parents couldn’t get rid of me fast enough. If I hadn’t run off they would have sold me off to the trappers for a few jugs of rotgut. You sound like you come from Magnimar or some other big city. Out here young girls are traded like cattle or chickens soon as they’re old enough to have babies. You know what they say, ‘old enough to bleed, old enough to butcher.’”

A bit taken aback by such crudity and callousness, Toshio responds, “Look, none of us would ask you to be a victim again. But being a predator means you make someone else the prey, putting them into bad situations. There are ways to live that don’t make people suffer.”

“Well, that sounds nice. Show me this way to live. As long as I can do as I wish, I have no need to bother or hurt anyone else.”

Trying to get to the source of the girl’s bitterness, Toshio asks, “Who made you be a victim? What happened?”

For a moment, Lisette seems at a loss as to how to respond to this. She shrugs and looks away. “Look, I don’t want to talk about the past. It’s over and done with, especially if I can leave here. People are little better than animals sometimes. They take what they want if they can.” She laughs harshly. “Let’s just say I don’t have to worry about anyone looking for a virgin to sacrifice.”

Toshio looks her in the eye while he pauses a moment, clearly evaluating what she’s said and deciding what to say next. “Okay, how about this? If you come with the caravan, you share the work as you’re able. More importantly, for as long as you’re with the caravan, you and I spend part of each day talking about living in ways that won’t hurt others. If you ever decide you are willing to talk about your past, I’d like to hear it.

“Meanwhile, nobody in the caravan will abuse you. More than that, everyone in the caravan defends everyone else in the caravan. We look out for each other in a way you’ll like. We can talk with Sandru about what jobs you’ll have, and if he doesn’t want to pay your wages I will. I doubt he’ll object, but he needs to approve it before you can join the caravan. How does that sound to you?”

She nods, “Fair enough. Thank you. You won’t be sorry.” She smiles and then embraces him, but in a grateful and not lascivious way.

“Good, then let’s get Jharad here to row us back.”

Jharad, who had been sitting quietly listening to the conversation, says, “Sure thing, hop in Lisette and we will get you back to the tavern.” When she is in the boat he waves his hand slowly from her head to feet, drying her and adding some warmth in the process.

“Thank you,” she says in response to Jharad’s thoughtfulness.

Toshio says to Jharad, “We’ll probably find Sandru at the encampment. I’d like to ask him as soon as possible if he will agree to our plan.”

Keng and Ameiko return to the caravan where Keng proceeds to ask Sandru for some silver tipped arrows. Sandru is happy to part with some of the arrows (there is a quiver left after selling the rest at the general store) but is wondering why they think they are needed. Also, Jethrik is not there. He is either still following the trappers or he went back to the tavern.

Keng responds emphatically, “There are werewolves running around this town, were it not for a new moon we would be overrun by now. We need to prepare defenses and send out help to Jethrik who is tailing a few now. And pretty boy-pantywaist unwisely set off after another with Jharad.”

Ameiko eyebrows rise. “Uh, Keng, we don’t actually know that any of those people are werewolves. They certainly act like they were raised by wolves, and Toshio told me that he feels that Lisette is certainly evil-hearted, but we have seen nothing to indicate that any of them are werewolves or anything else supernatural.”

Sandru nods. “We’ve seen Lisette on previous trips, and never had any trouble from her or anyone else here. They’re a bit weird but no weres have been sighted in more than a generation. The followers of Erastil make sure of that.” He gestures in the direction of Erastil’s shrine.

“Better safe than sorry,” grunts Keng, “we need to prepare and find Jethrik.”

“That is a good idea,” says, Sandru. “Take Zeyala, Bevelek and Henrik with you.” Sandru calls out to them. Zeyala is in Koya’s wagon speaking to her mentor, while the two teamsters are lounging by the fire playing dice.

Keng walks over to Koya’s wagon and apprises Zeyala of the situation repeating his concern that we are now split into three groups. He asks Ameiko, “Can you help us find Jethrik?”

“Wait. What?” starts, Zeyala. “Werewolves? I thought they had been killed or driven from the village.”

“Exactly,” says Keng. “They have spread that lie as a cloak. We must make all speed. Our party is in grave danger.”

Fortunately, Ameiko, Keng, and Zeyala run into Jethrik, who is just coming from the tavern to the encampment. He seems a little nervous as he has a feather in his hand and is ready for action.

“By Gorums Hairy Iron Balls!  Jethrik!  Are you okay?” asks Keng.

“Just fine, just fine… I was just a little concerned walking around a strange town on my own. I followed Vioric back to his home. I don’t expect any particular trouble from him. He sounded upset and humiliated, but the only thing he is plotting is which girl help him wipe the egg off his face.”

It is not too much longer before Toshio, Jharad, and Lisette return to town. They head right over to the encampment so that Toshio can speak with Sandru about Lisette.

“Sandru, have you got a moment? I’d like to speak to you alone, if so.”

“Sure,” replies Sandru. “Let’s step into my office.” With a grin he leads Toshio into his wagon.

Once inside the wagon, Toshio says, ”Is there room in the caravan for one more? Lisette would like to travel with us, and I think it will be good if she does.” He goes on to relay his concerns for her if she stays, his concerns about her taint (of evil), and why he thinks it will be good if she comes along. “She says she can work and make herself useful. If it’s a matter of her wages, I’ll pay them. This may really help her better her life.”

“Whoa! Bring Lisette with us?!” Sandru can’t help but smirk at this. “Let me see if I have this right. You, a paladin of Iomedae, are saying that we should bring this village girl with us, effectively helping her to ‘run off and join the circus’ as it were. In addition, this village girl is actually a tavern wench of very loose morals who you have just stated is tainted with evil and who Keng, at least, believes will turn into a ravenous beast on the nights of the full moon. But you think it would be a good idea to bring her along. Do I have that right?”

“In a nutshell, yes…although I didn’t know that Keng suspects her of being a shapeshifter.” Toshio rubs his chin in thought. He continues, almost to himself, as if this only added a minor consideration, “Hmmm… We’ll have to talk to her about that, and take steps during the full moon – just in case.” Looking up at Sandru again, he says “But yes, that’s about the size of it. What do you think?”

Sandru sighs. “I think it’s a bad idea, but I do have a soft spot for strays myself. Anyway, its only four days up to Roderic’s Cove if the good weather holds. Plenty of time to get there before the next full moon. Once we are there, I think I have some contacts who might be able to find her a respectable job. You are responsible for her though. If she transforms before then and eats one or more of us, it will come out of your share. So go ahead and tell her to pack her things and be ready to leave in the morning.”

“Thank you, Sandru. I’ll go talk to her.” As he leaves he mumbles to himself “Hmmm… four days…” thinking about how big (or small) his window of influence with Lisette may be.

Jethrik is nearby the wagon smoking his pipe and pretending not to eavesdrop. However, he has a coughing fit at the mention of loose morals.

Jharad, who is standing next to Jethrik (and presumably Lisette) and not trying to hide the fact that he is eavesdropping, smirks widely at this comment and looks directly at Lisette. “And yet you wouldn’t play with me in the water after I clearly flirted with you?” he comments in a low voice to her.

Lisette, who has been at least pretending not to overhear what is being said inside the wagon, responds to Jharad’s gibe, “Well, there will be plenty of time for flirting if Sandru agrees to take me along gentle elf. But I must confess I have heard how fickle elven lovers can be.” She arches her brow at him.

Keng mutters (loud enough to be overheard) to Jharad, “That damn paladin is going to get us all killed!”

Jethrik looks over at Lissette during the conversation with a hard look of distrust.

“What exactly happened out at the lake?” asks Zeyala. ”Not about flirting in the water, but Keng, can you enlighten me and Koya? Anyone?”

“Nothing.” whines a clearly disappointed Jethrik “Oh, she talks a good game, but all that happened is her boyfriend showed up and they got into a big spat. Why is it that skinnydipping always holds such promise and never fails to disappoint?”

“I will be happy to tell you,” Lisette responds to Zeyala. “I joined your friends for a swim and asked if I could join your caravan. I have decided I no longer wish to waste my years in this one tavern town. Some unkind speculations were made about my character, and I was starting to think better of my request but then Vioric showed up and slapped me around on the pier. She and he,” she indicates Ameiko and Keng, “came to my defense, for which I thank them.” She bows. “I called off the betrothal with Vioric then and there and swam off. Your friend Toshio, and this good elf rowed after me in a boat and convinced me that I should come with you after all.”

Wolf’s Ear

Rova 27th, Toilday, dark of moon

 The next day, just before they set out, Sandru gathers Ameiko, Toshio, Keng, Jharad, and the two new teamsters together as none of them have travelled with him before. “I just want to tell you all a little bit about Wolf’s Ear. It’s a very small town, maybe not much more than a couple of hundred people live there. Though it’s not in the Churlwood itself, the forest presses pretty close. Now I suspect most of you have heard the tales of how it used to be a haven for weres, men and women that can turn into beasts, especially werewolves. About 60 years ago, Magnimar sent a troop of clerics and rangers, devotees of Erastil, or Old Deadeye, the god of farmers, hunters, and tradesmen to route the creatures. It is said that after several bloody confrontations the werewolves and other were-beasts were either exterminated or driven away. In fact, one of the survivors of the pogrom against the were-beasts still presides over the shrine of Erastil to this day. His name is Eilif the Watcher. He is a stern old man who watches over Wolf’s Ear like a hawk. Actually that may be literal as his hawk, Sharpy, is often seen flying over the town and its surroundings and who knows but that he sees what it sees. Please do not cross him. Anyway, there isn’t much more to the town than its one tavern, one stable, one general store, and that shrine of Erastil. It’s a pretty quiet place and due to the efforts of Eilif there’s been no sign of werewolves or anything else like that in all the time I’ve been traveling this route. They’re either truly gone or they known better than to show themselves. Still, the town does trade upon its reputation. They still sell silver arrows and daggers to travelers, amulets of Erastil for protection from were-beasts, and also wolf pelts, wolf-eared cloaks, werewolf dolls, werewolf masks and claws, and even tunics with wolf emblems or the symbol of Erastil embroidered upon them. It’s a little strange but it does bring in the pilgrims of Erastil and the curious from all over Varisia. They’re very proud of their history and its certain they’re making a profit off it. So that’s what you can expect in Wolf’s Ear. Now let’s get going. Werewolves or not, there are natural wolves and other predators on the outskirts of the town, so I would like to get there before dark.”

Keng looks at Jharad and shrugs.

Jethrik puts a hand under his chin to help with lifting his head, does his best to straighten up, open at least one eye and with a raspy voice croaks, “Let’s go.”

The journey to Wolf’s Ear is uneventful. It is another cool autumn day with a crisp breeze blowing in off of Ember Lake, but otherwise clear and sunny. They leave Galduria by the north gate and travel along the Cinder Road by the shores of the lake. Sandru informs them that the Cinder Road actually originates in the small town of Wartle far to the south at the edge of the Mushfens and has its terminus in Riddleport, though as he said back in Sandpoint they will not be going there but leaving the route at Roderic’s Cove. For several miles they pass farmlands and isolated homesteads but this soon turns into the wooded foothills of the goblin infested Fogscar Mountains that loom darkly to the west. Just before noon they come to the top of a rise and see the cottages of Wolf’s Ear nestled at the bottom of a forested dell on the eastern side of a stone bridge spanning the Lampblack River just before it empties out into Lake Ember. The dense and impenetrable thickets of the Churlwood cover the rolling hills to the north through which the river winds. Just past the bridge is what passes for the town square, though only three large buildings are facing it: a shrine to Erastil that looks more like a hunting lodge, a tavern of rough stone and timber with an attached stable and corral, and the general store.

An empty lot just behind the Dead Wolf Tavern is where Sandru stops the wagons. The horses are fed and let loose in the corral by a halfling servant named Evan. The barkeep is a burly man with a bushy black beard, moustache and a unibrow named Kronug who greets Sandru gruffly saying, “Making your Riddleport run a little late this year eh?” Sandru tells him that he’s taking an old friend, Ameiko, up to visit family there and leaves it at that. Kronug doesn’t seem inclined to inquire further. Either he knows better than to be nosy or, more likely, doesn’t really care. The tavern itself is a simple one: nothing more than a taproom, a large hearth for cooking stew and bread, and a storage room. Kronug, his wife, the halfling servant, and a barmaid named Lisette all sleep upstairs, so there are no private rooms for guests, just room on the floor by the hearth for 5 coppers if anyone needs a place to sleep for the night. A space away from the hearth only costs a single copper. For 5 more coppers extra blankets can be fetched. Ale, wine, and whiskey are also available. “I’ve got nothing fancy here,” Kronug states. “If you want girly drinks, go back to Galduria.” He also tells them that the venison stew will be 5 coppers a bowl, and that later in the evening there will be haggis for two silvers. Black bread is on the house for paying customers. Kronug’s wife is graying and built like a brick outhouse. She nods and attempts a smile once or twice for the guests, but otherwise fusses about the tavern cleaning, mending, cooking, and grumbling at Evan or the barmaid Lisette. Lisette is a thin though nimble young girl with dirty blond hair and crystalline blue eyes. She seems happy to have guests to look after, and seem particularly intrigued by Jharad and Keng, as elves and half-orcs are not all that common a sight in small towns such as Wolf’s Ear. Gnomes are also uncommon, but Sandru and his caravan have passed through Wolf’s Ear many times before and so Jethrik is already well known to Lisette, though she does ask him if he has any new jokes or stories from abroad.

“A place by the hearth sounds nice actually,” says Ameiko. More quietly she says to Sandru and Toshio who are standing by her, “Also, I’d prefer not to sleep outdoors here.”

Sandru chuckles. “Truly, I have never had any trouble here. They play it up for pilgrims and travelers sure, but this is really just a quiet little town with a strange past. Still, it probably will be warmer in here with some solid walls to keep out the wind and fog from the lake.”

Toshio looks the tavern over. It seems secure enough with its walls of stone on the first floor, oaken doors, and heavy shutters. He notes also that on one wall there is a mounted wolf head, on another is a well-crafted longbow and a quiver of arrows, and finally over the hearth hangs a carven wooden placard depicting an tall humanoid with the head of an elk leading a pack of wild dogs through a forest under a full moon. The elk headed hunter, who is most certainly meant to be the Ulfen deity of the hunt Erastil, is firing a silvery arrow at a large wolf.

“Sandru, is it safe to swim in the lake?” Toshio asks. “I’m thinking of taking a walk and may end up with a swim if there are no beasties to worry about.”

“Sure its safe and warm too. Hot springs feed the lake and they keep it pretty warm year round. That’s why it steams at night. In fact, I might join you for a swim. You should see it up close at night though. There are schools of little salamander like things called charigs that glow in depths. They swim about at night in large schools and some sages say the patterns they make are expressions of great secrets.” He chuckles. “Probably things man was not meant to know. But anyway, the charigs are harmless and it’s a treat to see them.”

The description of the nighttime swim sounds really tempting to Jethrik! He eagerly takes up the idea, begging Amekio to come and play for everyone. “And I will recite something appropriate while you take breaks!” He breathlessly offers.

Ameiko laughs. “Wait a minute, you want me to be stuck playing my samisen while you all get to swim. Oh no, I will be swimming too.”

Toshio heads down the lake for an afternoon swim. He finds that the water is indeed warm, and plans  to swim again the evening in hopes of seeing the charigs.

That evening finds them all sitting around a couple of tables in the tavern. Sandru, Ameiko, and the four Varisian teamsters take one table, while Jharad, Keng, Jethrik, Toshio, Zeyala, and Koya take another. Lisette hurries over to take their orders, but seems to linger especially around Jharad, Keng, and Jethrik’s end of the table.

Zeyala walks over to Kronug and squints at him. “I’ll take a spot near the hearth,” she says.  ”I’d also like a bowl of stew, no haggis, thank you, and a horn of wine.”

After her food arrives, Zeyala and Koya chat a bit with Kronug’s wife, Aula. Aula is happy enough to exchange pleasantries but is too busy to talk for long.

“If anyone is in need of a healer, I’m more than happy to provide my services, for no fee,” Zeyala says before Aula bustles away.

“Why thank you dearie,” says Aula. “As always you are most kind and we certainly have appreciated your help and Koya’s on your past visits. Thank Old Deadeye but no one is hurt or in need of healing at the moment.”

Toshio smiles at Zeyala and comments, “Sometimes, when nothing is trying to kill us, I forget how much each of you can do. It’s very kind of you to offer that, friend.”

“Healing was the path chosen for me,” says Zeyala. ”It took some time, but I’ve come to accept that it is a gift. One that must be shared.”

Koya nods approvingly. “A fine sentiment, a fine sentiment.”

In an effort to satisfy Lisette’s inquiries, Jethrik orates an epic “lay” of his night of partying with the student wizards back in Galduria. As the evening is early and no locals have come into the tavern yet, she is able to linger at Jethrik’s table for a while and listens with great delight.

“How wonderful,” she sighs. “I’ve never been to Galduria. I hope to see it someday. In fact, there are many places I’d like to see. Magnimar! Or even Riddleport! I don’t want to be a tavern wench my whole life.” She lowers her voice and whispers to Jethrik, “Or the wife of simple farmer or one of these dumb trappers either for that matter, but don’t tell anyone I said that.”

Koya does overhear this and she leans over and says, “I pray that you do. My mother, Madame Niksa Mvashti, Desna bless and guide her, once traveled in caravans that went as far north as the Lands of the Linnorn Kings and even down south to Qadira.” She shakes her head sadly and looks down at her blue swallowtail pendant. “I’ve been a life long worshipper of Desna but I’ve never made a really long trek. I’ve never left the Varisian lowlands. Oh girl, pray to Desna the goddess of dreams and travelers that you’ll get your chance while you are still young, pretty, and full of life.”

Sandru and Bevelek finish their meals and drinks and get up. Sandru says to Koya and Zeyala, “Finish up. The sun is setting and we need to maintain our watches even in towns. I don’t want anyone, or anything, plundering our cargo in the dark.” Zeyala and Koya quickly finish up and head back to the empty lot where their caravan is encamped. It is a dark moonless night, though Sandru and the teamsters have set out torches by the wagons and a small fire in the center of the ring, or rather box, formed by the wagons.

“Aula, the meal was as satisfying as I remembered,” says Zeyala.  ”Koya, let me finish this off with my pipe, and then I’ll be ready to help with the watch.”

After Sandru and the rest of the first watch leave, Jharad remains in the tavern to flirt with the young wench, utilizing her interest in him to his advantage. As the gnome continues to make a play of his own however, Jharad looses interest and takes his ale and piece of black bread outside to look around. He decides to walk over to the bridge to get a good view of the lake, hoping to see these glowing salamanders.

Toshio, thinking about the evenings accommodations, reflects that the fireside sounds nice, but not really that much more comfortable than camping by the wagons, so he saves his copper. He’s heard of haggis, and thus opts for the stew, looking forward to soaking the black bread in it and washing it down with a mug or two of ale (not quite trusting the wine to be worthwhile and not wanting something as strong as the whiskey).

A young man still, Toshio takes note of the serving girl, too, but doesn’t flirt as the others do. Where is that going to go? Most likely they just want to get into her skirt, and Toshio knows that kind of casual behavior would not be acceptable to Iomedae. He finds himself hoping it’s the actions he chooses to take (or not to take) that matter, rather than his thoughts, because his thoughts are not so chivalrous at the moment.

This line of thinking brings him back to Ameiko – seldom far from his mind in any case. He briefly glances over at the other table where she is eating and talking quietly with the Varisian teamsters. She’s a topic he both loves and hates to contemplate. Given his commitment to the ideals of his order, he’s not sure a romantic relationship with anyone will be okay, no matter how committed. After all, in the Acts of Iomedae, it is explained that as a mortal paladin, Iomedae was too committed to leading the Knights of Ozem in their crusade against the lich king known as the Whispering Tyrant to marry or allow anyone to court her. The paladins of Iomedae likewise refrain from marriage until it is time for them to retire (should they live so long). They are not forbidden to marry, but marriage and especially having children are certainly discouraged, for how can one go on crusade and raise a family? And of course the forces of evil would be more than happy to use loved ones against a paladin. So it is viewed as exemplary and wise to follow Iomedae’s example. So where does that leave him? Celibate and frustrated, but in a good position to be a superb servant and friend? Not sure he wants to give up on his romantic dreams, he lets go of the topic for now and turns his attention back to the conversations taking place around him.

After eating Keng finds himself bored. So far the life of a caravan guard has been quite dull and he finds Jharad’s act a bit worn this afternoon. Seeing Jharad get up and leave he follows him outside, some might say, like a trained guard dog would his master…