The party discovers the aging Etu’Sauri Lucas is a member of Sir Robert’s crew. When confronted, he tells the party that Erik got away from him in the mountain cave, killing young Billy in the process, and he subsequently came to Penshin to help his old friend Robert. He confirmed the party’s suspicions that he had not been sent by the Kisharans and had hunted Erik for his own reasons.
True to his word, Pedro is found waiting some leagues south of Penshin on the coast with the much-needed supplies. The six week journey around the horn and up the coast to Werstergarde goes without incident, during the time, Lucas takes Moriel under his wing and begins to train her as an Etu’Sauri, and Gronk has a conversation with Sir Robert which results in him making even more haste. In Westergarde, sir Robert and Lucas depart and Vladimir uses his connections in the city to secure a job for Isabella as a lady in waiting for the Duchess. The party secures a carriage and authorization to swap their team out at the mail stations and spend the remainder of the winter travelling the Imperial road to Hillcrest.
Arriving, they find that the refugees from Riverton had arrived safely in the fall, as well as the half-giant Chumley. Itchy had died of his wounds from the explosion, and Shara Tev had taken over his position as Company quartermaster. There have been increased goblin raids from the East through the winter, and there had been some starvation amongst the army. The party, along with Corky, reports in to Mengst, who congratulates them on their mission and tells them to report to Stein in the morning to pick up the hunt for Sergei Volkov and his unit. That night, Poppy and Vladimir are approached by Warder Thomas and given the post of Warder, and Gronk receives a more impressive suit of armor than he bargained for when he originally placed his order with Itchy.
Behind them, the orange glow was no longer visible. It was dark, now, as Gronk’s friend had ordered all lights doused, to prevent anyone from seeing them. Moriel was sitting on the deck, Banagher in her lap, watching the people around her when someone caught her attention.
A man was standing by the railing, his back against her. As he removed his cloak, revealing the sword he carried, one she was certain she recognised. Then he placed a hat on his head, and she was certain. She grabbed her bow, getting to her feet as she nocked an arrow.
“Moriel?” It was one of the humans, the fancy one. She ignored him. Thoughts raced through her head. She was not going to shoot him in the back. Not that she really thought she would be able to kill him; he knew she was there, he had to be expecting something. No matter, she was not going to shoot him in the back. But she was not going to call out his name either. If nothing else, it would warn the others, give them a chance to do something. And right now, she did not want their bumbling about, right now she wanted to be in control of the situation. So she would not speak his name.
Instead she let the arrow fly, watching it thud into the deck behind him. That was a claim, of sorts. Probably too subtle for the others, still.
He turned, still rolling his cigarette. Either he had been expecting something like that and had known she would not try to hit him, or he was doing a very good job pretending. Considering what he was, it might very well be the first.
The others had noticed now, of course. They joined her, chattering like magpies. She ignored them, keeping an arrow nocked, but not trained on him. Yet.
That was all she needed. One word. And at the same time, she was not, quite, asking whether Erik was alive or not. They had several weeks of travel ahead of them. More than time enough to get answers. But she had to say _something_, and ‘why’ was a good a question as any.
She kept almost all her focus on Lucas, not daring to look away. She had, after all, issued a challenge of sorts. Looking away now would be a mistake. Instead, she listened to him tell them how he and Erik had talked for a while, Billy had been killed, and then Erik had left.
Billy. She remembered him, the young boy who had been with Lucas when they last had met. She suspected, and Lucas’ words confirmed, that the boy had done something rash, probably tried to attack Erik. Who had left afterwards. There was a lot Lucas did not say, obviously. Such as why he had changed his mind. But that could wait.
She lowered her bow, unstringing it. Then Lucas looked at Banagher, pointing at him. Saying something about being annoyed with the priest for ruining his coffee. It sounded almost like a challenge.
Moriel was not sure why she reacted as she did; Banagher had proven that he was fully capable of taking care of himself. But he still seemed confused and dazzled after sinking the enemy fleet, and he was the only one, apart from Poppy, that she actually liked. So she started stringin her bow again.
“Are you going to do something about it?” Not really a challenge. Mild enough to be a question, though he might not see it that way. But he just grumbled something about not picking fights with everyone.
One of the humans said something about Lucas helping the Kisharans. Where had he gotten _that_ from? It had been fairly obvious that his dispute with Erik had been … no, not personal. Or rather, personal in a different way. They had seemed more like old friends, and Lucas had said something about being sent. Or was that Erik? In any way, the two clearly knew each other well, and that might be why they, whoever ‘they’ were, had sent Lucas in the first place.
There were so many questions she wanted to ask. About Erik, about Lucas, and about other things. It could wait, though. Perhaps she would get the opportunity. Perhaps not. But now was not the time. She watched him walk away, she thought, to smoke in peace. She remained with the others. Lucas obviously wanted to be alone, and she needed to think.
Not that there was much time for that. They soon spotted the signal fire they were expecting. Some of the others seemed to be half expecting a trap, but the human whose cousin they were meeting was certain that it was not. Though she did think caution would be wise, she was fairly certain the human was right. If he _had_ betrayed them, someone would have been waiting at the harbour, or they would have been expected when they saved the girl. If this cousin had been working for the enemy, they would not have been allowed to leave the city with the gnome.
Everything seemed in order. As they loaded the supplies into the rowboat, Moriel had an idea. She searched through what they had brought, and found what she was looking for; a small bag of coffee. She took some of it, since noone answered when she asked if anyone minded.
When they were done, it was obvious that the man was going back to Penshin. She hesitated for a moment, then decided that he probably needed the gold she had in her pack more than she did. She dumped several hands of gold coins into a bag and handed it over. Hearing how grateful he was, how this was enough to ensure he and his family were safe, she regretted not having given him more, but if she added more now, she would just seem whimsical. Besides, he had the horses, the wagon and a good bit of gold, and seemed sincere enough in his thanks, so most likely he would be fine.
Back on the ship, she walked over to Lucas. When he had walked away from them before, she had had no reason to approach him again, but now she had. She gave him the small bag of coffee, trying to find something clever to say. Since she could not, she said nothing instead.
It was a peace offering of sorts. She could not apologise, since she would have done the same again. He looked surprised and pleased, though. Moriel stood there for a moment longer, then decided she still did not have anything to say. Just as she was about to leave, he spoke.
“Erik spoke well of you. Said you were a bit flighty, but that was probably youth.”
She felt her face heat, and quickly turned to look out across the sea, unsure how to react. Part of her was pleased; how could she _not_ be? She did not know what to think of the part about her age, but since it was, after all, true, she could not exactly argue about it. As for ‘flighty’, well, she supposed that too was true, if she had understood the term correctly. Better than ‘stupid’, all things considered. Still.
“You were going to kill him. Or try, at least. What changed your mind?” It was probably too early for that question, but she could not resist it. And it was a fairly natural and innocent question to ask. There were plenty of other questions she wanted to ask him, but they would have to wait.
“Nothing changed my mind. I’m too old, and he’s too fast.” Now _that_ answer she did not believe. There might be some truth to it, but that was not, by far, all. But if he did not want to talk about it, she would not press the issue. After all, he did not have any reason to trust _her_.
She left him there, on the deck, for now, not knowing what else to say. Not that she did not have questions; there were so many things she wanted to know. About him and Erik, the relationship between the two, what had really happened in the mountain, but most of all, she had questions about the Etu’sari. They were just legends to her, or had been, until she had met Erik. And now she had met two. Not that she really _knew_ them, but still.
And she was not at all prepared when he, a few days later, offered to teach her. And though she did ask for some time to think about it, she never really considered turning down his offer. How could she? The Etu’sari were legends.
Most of the journey to Westergarde she spent training with Lucas, though she sometimes got the feeling she spent more time forgetting previous training than learning new things. But she thought she started to get the hang of it, started to understand how to move.
All too soon, she thought, they reached their destination. She bid Lucas farewell, and they headed south-east, towards Hillcrest. At least this time, she did not have to hide inside the wagon.
They reached Hillcrest without any incidents; not that she had really expected anything here in the north, but still, she was glad when she saw Hillcrest before her.
On their way into town, they ran into the half-giant they had met in the south. It seemed he had somehow made it through the mountains on his own, but then, he was a half-giant, so she was not all together surprised.
She watched as the others chatted with the the half-giant for a while, but when she heard them telling him of their experiences in the south, she sighed and headed further into the town, to search for Mengst. While she was certain the half-giant was a friend, she suspected that Mengst would prefer them to make their report to him first, before telling anyone else what had happened.
They found Mengst at Everwatch. Moriel let the others do most of the talking; they were better at it than she was, though she suspected it would have been best if one of them had spoken, rather than all of them at once. Less confusing that way.
When he dismissed them, she could hardly keep the grin off her face. They had been told to report to Stein in the morning, and their new mission would be to go hunting for the traitor. Not that it mattered. She felt the Calling of the forest as keenly as ever, but it did not matter anymore. Because tomorrow, she was going home.
Adept little fingers crisscross long strands of dog hair, making perfect little braids and tying the ends off with pink ribbon looped into neat bows. The large dog listens to the Halfling prattle on about nonsense, letting the lesser of the two annoyances absorb her. The dog has been trained to hunt, maim, and kill. Only the fiercest survive. The dog is one of the few survivors. Now this…
I have a puppy! The biggest bestest puppy ever and Iâ€™m going to take extra special care of her!
I have followers! I am a godly icon! It was only a matter of time.
I have new armorâ€¦a bit dullâ€¦they wonâ€™t let me paint it pinkâ€¦but at least itâ€™s well made.
I have my adder.
I have my hand dart guns.
I have poisons, paralyzing, and sleeping potions.
I have daggers.
I have a hittâ€™en stick.
I have my most mysterious of black hatsâ€¦although since the followers have come along it doesnâ€™t seem all that mysterious anymore. Iâ€™ll change it a bit. (Poppy ties a piece of pink ribbon around the hat with a bow) Thatâ€™ll do for now, until I find a pink silk Poppy. Only a pink silk poppy will do.
I have my blanketâ€¦.same blanketâ€¦.only had to replace it once so far.
I have gold and my special friendâ€¦all I need are shops!
I have my Moriel.
Tomorrow, I shall go out and greet my followers. I will hire Banagher to write a book. Not just any book, but THE book. It will be a guide. A guide to better living and righteousness and will live on forever, making the world a better place!
Ickyâ€¦I have so much to do and you can do it along with me! I will not only be a legendâ€¦but a god. I will be invited to sit next to Aluviel on the day of reckoning!
The dog whimpers, surprising itself, since it hadnâ€™t whimpered since it was a pup. The Halfling didnâ€™t seem to notice.
Finally, the last braid completed, the Halfling settles down beside the dog, using the dogs foot as a pillow, and talks herself to sleep.
In one swift, smooth motion the dog reclaims its foot and settles down in the farthest corner, away from the Halfling, and lays awake the night, too disturbed to sleep.