The Razor's Edge

A Sin Against Truesilver

Bartholemew slipped quietly back to his room as everyone onboard the boat returned from the galley. He slumped to his knees next to his bed and lit his head rest in the palm of his hand.

“Forgive me, Lord, for I have sinned. I have compromised your commands once more, and it has come back to take me down yet again. Have mercy on your servant. You have said ‘A gift from the Lord is pure, and the Lord adds no trouble to it.’ I had assumed that being aboard this ship was a gift. But through all of the trouble that has been added to me today, I fear that I have made the wrong decision. I fear that I have stepped out of your plan and into my own, thus I am no longer under your protection and guidance. Forgive me, Lord.”

His heartfelt prayer, although mumbled at first began to grow louder as his pleas intensified. “I have done a terrible thing. I compromised your commands because I thought I could control the Wrathstone. I stole it from your holy guardian because I thought I could do a better job at protecting it, as I know you’ve commanded me to do. I broke your law so that I could follow your command…” a small chuckle escaped through the emotions lodged in his chest. “… how hypocritical is that? You would never command me to do such a twisted thing, yet I did it. And what has this action gained me? Nothing but trouble. Since that action, our team has been divided and scattered. We haven’t had focus of vision or unity. Instead, we’ve each gone our own separate way. I’ve been attacked by my young friend. We’ve been accused of theft. I’ve insulted the ranger, and caused William to attempt to kill Brandon. Had it not been for your divine intervention in bringing about the stolen chalice, he might have succeeded, too. All because I compromised and let my plan for how to obey override what I know to be true.”

He grabbed the prayer book he received from the priests in Tempton, holding it close to his chest. “It is also written, ‘If I confess my sins to other followers, I will be forgiven of all unrighteousness.’ I know what I must do, but to do so will probably mean the end of me. It may even put other people’s lives at risk. And despite their flaws, they have done so much to help me. I don’t want to hurt them, too.” Slowly standing, he walked to his pack that lay on the floor and slipped the prayer book inside. Seeing a few scraps of paper in his pouch, he retrieved them and lay them on the floor. Lowering himself on his knees, he knelt over them and began to weep over what he was about to do. Not because he feared for his own life… what he had brought on himself was just. It was expected. But he wept for the torment that he had brought upon all of them for his actions.

He pulled a charcoal stick from it’s protective housing, the one he used for writing in his prayer journals. As a tear fell to the paper below, he began to write:

“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I have taken the wrathstone and hidden it far away, where the orcs will not find it. I believe that the Orcs will attack this ship, based on a dream that the Lord has given me. I could not let this artifact fall into their hands. I know I have done wrong and I must confess my sins to you to be clean and free from the curse that I have brought upon myself and my team. I, alone, have done this thing. Please have mercy upon my companions, and do not hold them responsible for my actions. Do what you must to us, but please take into account my intentions. I have not done this in rebellion of your authority, but in obedience to the Lord, as backward as that may seem. While my actions have been wrong, my intentions were honorable. I submit myself to your hand, and your authority, even unto death. — Signed, Bartholemew.”

Bartholemew looked down at his work, and he knew. This would be the end of something. The end of his journey. The end of his friendship. The end of blessings, where he would live with this curse the rest of his life. Or even the end of his life. But whatever it was, he knew what he had to do, and placed his life and his future in the Lord’s hands, praying that the Lord would have mercy upon him and soften the preist’s heart by morning.

As he crawled into bed, he tucked the letter safely into his pouch, where he would deliver it at first light.

View
From The Diaries of Brandon Darkfell

If the past 24 hours are any sign, I swear I am more confounded by denizens of this plane than I was when I first came here a century ago.

My companions and I successfully boarded the ship for the five day trip to the human city Veluna, complete with the wrathstone securely aboard for transport. Given his, uh, indiscretions of the recent past, young Daeson decided to adopt a new face and sneak on board. To also help cover for him, I adopted his name in conversation with other passengers. Better some would-be law and order type had to deal with me than with the misguided rogue.

Once on board, I also took to the top of the ship to watch or potential attacks and also to permit my traveling companions the chance to chat with others on the boat.

Although I took the edge off with copious amounts of wine, I was alarmed that the rogue did not present himself to me – in one form or another – in all the time I was away from the crowds atop the ship: alarmed because I could nto be sure he had made it. Also, slightly perturbed, as I thought we had made a good and understanding team the past few days.

It also occurred to me that in chatting with Daeson, I had suggested it might be a good idea for us to have the wrathstone in our hands; as opposed to it being guarded by church guards or ship’s crew. This worried me…

I summoned a minor spirit and sent it to search for the wrathstone and report to me where it was being held. I discovered it was hidden in the captain’s safe with no real live guard on it. Shortly thereafter I encountered William below decks, who told me that Daeson was trying to retrieve the wrathstone from the church emissaries, who, of course, weren’t carrying it! Finally catching up with Daeson, I informed him of their error and he and I went off to liberate the gem for safe keeping.

Up until that point, everything seemed fine. Our somewhat disjointed little group at least seemed to come together when things needed to be done.

We barely managed to secure the gem and to slip out without notice. I asked Daeson to give me the gem and that’s when things got precarious.

If we were going to personally secure the wrathstone, it meant, logically, that one of us would have to bear or it, or otherwise be the person physically closest to it. That would make one or all of us targets for foes who might be seeking it. It was a dangerous position to be in, given we are in unfamiliar territory. Furthermore, should the church emissaries note that the gem was missing, they might not react well to our plan. I could already see Bartholomew handing back the stone, apologizing and (not wrongly) placing the blame for the plan on me or on the rogue.

Here I made a decision. The safety of the wrathstone would be most secure if only one person total knew where it was. No one could be forced or tricked into revealing its location; and only one person would be target for any potential attempt at seizing it. That person should have been me. Oh, it’s not that my companions aren’t capable of defending themselves. Rather it is that I can get out of tight situations easier than can they. It’s more too. It seemed a burden that they should not have to bear. I admit what followed was in part my fault because I have been curious about the wrathstone and – because of their own prejudice – they seem to mistake my magician’s curiosity about the item as something perilous. But the stone, while clearly magic, holds no real allure to me – just a trinket some deity is linked to.

My plan was to try to find a place to hide the gem onboard where no one would find it until we needed to deliver it; or otherwise to secretly keep it on my person at all times.

When my “allies” and I finally got all together again, I told them I had hidden the wrathstone and that they didn’t need to worry about it until we arrived at our destination. I had no idea they would react the way they did!

My would-be friends reacted as if I had committed a crime! All of their unwarranted suspicion and prejudice erupted in a wave of hostility and threats! Did they not see that, once again, I was heroically putting myself in harm’s way to advance our mutual cause and to protect them? Had I not fought alongside them, fell their foes and drawn swords with them against even foes we never should have been able to defeat separately?

I was simultaneously deeply offended and angry. I was fighting the forces of darkness before my companions’ grand sires had been born!

Admittedly I was somewhat stunned and since they had no interest in what I had to say, I simply refused. Bartholomew went off to ponder reporting to the church emissaries what had happened. The others would not stop harassing me. I had not deceived them in any way. I did what I thought best and, well, they had never given me cause to think that any one of them knew any better. Two of them an hour earlier were planning to break into the wrong place to try to acquire the wrathstone an hour ago; and the other one is now taking his marching orders from some book! Ah, if only Xander were still with us so there would at least be one other logical, albeit moody, member of this ramshackle team.

Needless to say I could get away from my assailants easily enough. At that point, I tried to find a way off the ship. I figured if I could make it to land, I would travel discreetly and meet them in Veluna with the wrathstone. That way, whatever happened to the boat, the gem would be safe; and if there were some tracking the stone’s progress – the danger would come to me and me alone. Sadly there was no way off the ship without bringing attention to myself.

At that point, I admit I was rather in my cups and feeling more and more like my old elven friend was the lucky one, being turned to stone. Even Daeson joined in the harangue. Bart went off to confess OUR sins to the emissaries. Daeson went after hi to talk him out of it. Meanwhile the mysterious magic toymaker – whom none of us have known long – became even more forceful in his demands that I prostate myself. Pshaw.

My patience was at an end. I admit I considered tossing the stone overboard. Instead, I slipped away from William and tucked the wrathstone in his gear in his room onboard. It was part prank, of course, but I did think he would eventually appreciate it.

Things kept getting messy, though! Daeson attacked Bartholomew to keep him from revealing our plan. Then, upon his discovery of the wrathstone in his quarters, the toymaker came roaring below decks. He was angry when I thought he would have been thankful! These young races do still confuse me at times. He began to disrobe of sorts and I do think he intended to throw himself onto my sword! I can’t imagine what he hoped to accomplish with that.

Around then, yet more chaos broke out when the church emissaries and ship crew drove everyone onboard below decks into one area with some tale about a missing chalice or goblet or something. I knew nothing of this, nor did it appear that my companions did either. Still, though, they were likely to search everyone and at that moment, William had the stone on his person.

Thinking quickly, Daeson swiped the gem and fled the room with it.

Honestly I don’t know what all else happened next. But I do know this. The wrathstone is now either in the possession of the thief or it is hidden and only the thief knows where. The thief. Had my traveling companions not interfered with my plan, it would be safely secreted away. Or else it would be on my person and I can’t easily have my person physically searched should I choose otherwise. My, it seems my plan would have been best after all.

I doubt the irony will occur to my fellows. Sad, that. I am afraid our little fellowship might be at the breaking point given the luck of trust and confidence. I, for one, would pause for thought before I extended myself — beyond a courtesy – to protect any of them, again.

Meanwhile there are the matters of a missing cup, a missing or hidden gem, a religious sort who is also now supposedly threatened – and four more days to reach our destination. This will be the longest journey I have had in my nearly one and a half centuries!

View
The Nature Of Scorpions
D&D; The Razor's Edge

It is important to know yourself, to know just exactly who and what you are.

You can only be true to yourself. And when you try to be someone or something else you run the risk of losing yourself and injuring not only yourself, but also those who trusted you to be who you said you were.

This presents a bit of a problem for me.

Since I don’t really know the answer to either of those questions.

And sitting here in these stolen monk’s robes in the Abbot’s quarters, wearing a stolen face (the more handsome of the two monks), on this paddleboat while guards search the decks looking for Calliper (me), believing me to be a thief, which I am, because they believe I stole some valuable cup, which I didn’t, reminds me of this story.

It reminds me of this story a lot.

You see, one day, not so long ago, a scorpion looked around at the desert where he lived and decided that he wanted a change. So he set out on a journey across the sand. He climbed over dunes and under rocks and kept going until he reached a river. The river was wide and swift, and the scorpion stopped to reconsider the situation. He couldn’t see any way across to the green forests and hills on the other side. So he ran upriver and then checked downriver, all the while thinking that he might have to turn back. Suddenly, he saw a young frog sitting in the rushes by the bank of the stream on the other side of the river. He decided to ask the frog for help getting across the stream. “Hello Frog!” called the scorpion across the water, “Would you be so kind as to give me a ride on your back across the river?”

“Well now, Scorpion! How do I know that if I try to help you, you won’t try to kill me?” asked the frog hesitantly. As a pollywog he has seen another young frog stung and eaten by a devious scorpion. It was a hard lesson to forget.

“Because,” the scorpion replied, “If I try to kill you, then I would die too, for you see I cannot swim!”

Now this seemed to make sense to the frog, who was a bit too trusting for his own good. But he wasn’t a complete idiot, so he asked. “What about when I get close to the bank? You could still try to kill me and get back to the shore!”

“This is true,” agreed the scorpion, “But then I wouldn’t be able to get to the other side of the river!”

“Alright then, how do I know you won’t just wait till we get to the other side and then kill me?” said the frog.

“Ah,” crooned the scorpion, who could bluff his way through any situation, “Because you see, once you’ve taken me to the other side of this river, I will be so grateful for your help, that it would hardly be fair to reward you with death, now would it?!”

So the frog agreed to take the scorpion across the river. He swam over to the bank and settled himself near the mud to pick up his passenger. The scorpion crawled onto the frog’s back, his sharp claws prickling into the frog’s soft hide, and the frog slid into the river. The muddy water swirled around them, but the young frog stayed near the surface so the scorpion would not drown. He kicked strongly through the first half of the stream, his flippers paddling wildly against the current. Halfway across the river, the frog suddenly felt a sharp sting in his back and, out of the corner of his eye, saw the scorpion remove his stinger from the frog’s back. A deadening numbness began to creep into his limbs. “You fool!” croaked the frog, “Now we shall both die! Why did you do that?”

The scorpion shrugged, and did a little jig on the drowning frog’s back. “I could not help myself. It is my nature.” Then they both sank into the muddy waters of the swiftly flowing river and drowned.

So here I am, hiding in the Abbot’s quarters as the boat continues upstream on this swiftly flowing river. Am I the stung or the stinger? I guess it doesn’t matter. They both drowned.

Bartholomew had this vision that a band of orcs would attack this boat and steal the Wrathstone. We all decided to gain passage on the boat to make sure the Wrathstone got to the safety of the City of Veluna. It is a magical place where murder is impossible. I am told that you just cannot kill once you are in there. What would the scorpion do if he ever got there? Would it change his nature?

I didn’t come on board with them. Bartholomew was making much noise about taking me back to the town where I borrowed the horses from those rich adventurers so that we could finish our quest after some thief stole our horses. Somehow, in his mind, I was wrong for doing that. He said they would put me in jail for a while until I learned my lesson, but he is too naive. I have watched men dangle at the end of the rope if they were stupid and got caught for stealing horses. Rulers and lawmen want revenge. They have no desire to teach anyone a lesson.

Of course once we got to Tempton, Abbot Franken said that we owed him for the horses that were stolen from us and deducted that from the reward he had promised to give us for helping the church. Of course no one sees THAT as stealing. Not when an abbot does it.

So I sold the horses to recoup what we should have gotten all along. We almost broke even, because I couldn’t really get a good price, but I had time limits so sometimes you have to take what you can get.

I got a job as “Calliper” the waiter on the Lilysis, this big paddle boat. It looks like some strange gnome dreamed it up. It is a very clever design and honestly there aren’t fifty men below deck getting whipped to make them row, so I guess it’s all good. This girl named Malika interviewed me and gave me the job. The way she looked at me made me real happy I had decided to put on a human face for this job. I thought she liked ginger boys. I think her name means “I like bad” which makes me think she has got something to hide.

My job as a waiter was working out okay. I was able to really listen in to a LOT of conversations and learned what some of the folks were up to. There is a thief on board the Lilysis (besides me, I mean) but I don’t know who it is for sure yet. I have my suspicions, but . . .

I found out where the abbot was staying. He had these two monks in a room and they never came out, but Brandon told me later that it was just a red herring, to throw people off, and that the real Wrathstone was hidden in the Captain’s safe. I wonder sometimes why they call a deception a “red herring”. Are those particular deceptive fish? There must be some story about a red herring I have never heard yet. I have to remember to ask Bartholomew, or maybe Brandon. He might know.

We got the Wrathstone, because it just seemed to me that I had to, as much as possible, change what Bartholomew saw in his vision. Túriel told me that the secret to changing a prophecy is to change lots of little things that eventually all add up to a big change.

That’s how she did it. And she had the gift.

You have to stay close and listen to people who have the gift.

But even though it seemed like the right thing to do it was the wrong thing to do I guess. Like a stupid trusting frog I let Brandon carry the stone, and then he decided that he was going to hide it somewhere and not tell us where he put it.

He is a creature of death.

He swallows the souls of the dying. He likes this stone too much. We finally got it back from him, finally, well sort of. He left it on the new guy’s bunk on the ship. I think he thought they were going to search the ship and might find it on him. He’s not really a team player, you know. But then when you see all your companions as your next potential meal I guess being a team player is sort of like playing with your food. He was much more interested in getting laid by Malíka than talking it out. So I told Malíka all he wanted was to get in her pants. Brandon got pissed and asked what I was doing so I admitted I was just being a cock-blocker, which is what Stefán used to call me as a little kid when I went into town with him.

I didn’t know what it meant then.

I get it now. Boy do I get it.

So then we get the Wrathstone back. But wait, Batholomew tells us that Silvertongue has told him that Abbot Franken is the key to peace and must be protected. Túriel told me about some terrible dark times. She said that I was supposed to be on the “other” side, but now I would serve the side of light. I wonder. Can a scorpion actually stay saddled on a frog all the way to the far side of the river?

So I told Abbot Franken I would pretend to be him so he could stay safe in his room. I thought it was a good idea. It was a way of making some of those “little changes” I was telling you about. But then it all fell apart. But then Brandon had horns for Malika, and he got all “my precious” with the Wrathstone, and then Bartholomew decided to tell the Abbot that we had taken the stone and who knows what all, like telling secrets ever does anyone any good. I had to stop him from making a terrible mistake. It would end trust when trust is most needed.

Why do I have to get into a fight with my friends to make a point? Why is it paladins confuse honor with just being naive. People expect me to be stupid. But in my own way I am smart. I understand things. I understand how things work. I understand that a long time ago someone made up all these rules and when people follow them it works better for groups of people, especially the ones with power and money. But then people forget that someone made up those rules. It is easy to make up rules. Truth has its place. But then so does deception. So do secrets.

So then the new guy is about to attack Brandon and I really didn’t want to see him lose his soul. The new guy that is. Brandon wouldn’t fight him, he would just kill him—any way he could. But the new guy didn’t seethat. I could tell he thought it was going to be a fair fight. Why don’t people see how dangerous Brandon is? He really is. I am staying real close to him. The wagon folk have this saying, “Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.” It’s really true.

So there, in the middle of what is about to be this big fight, Captain Harvel comes in and announces that Chancellor Malakoy’s precious cup was stolen. I looked at Barthlomew and we both had the same thought, except I think HE was also wondering if I took the cup. But what we were BOTH thinking was that he was holding the Wrathstone and that they were going to find it on him when they searched us which is just what they were about to do. I was right by the door and so I ran, I grabbed the bag off him and ran. I knew it meant they would think I did it, but you know they were all going to think that anyway. It’s my nature. I made it all the way to the back of the boat and jumped in between the paddles to the center axel where I hid the stone. It was real hard trying to tie it to the axel. We kept turning and turning. But if you look at the axel, and not at the world spinning around you, it’s easier. And no one will think to look for it there. I sure hope that’s true, because I can’t keep it on me now like I wanted to.

So now I am here in the Abbot’s room, and I put on the face of one of his monks, and his robes. Maybe no one noticed whether or not there were two of three of them. Maybe. I’ll wait here until he comes back. I think I’ll tell him how I stole the Wrathstone (just me), to keep it safe, and I will also tell him that I did not steal the Chancellor’s precious goblet. People will expect me to steal something. It’s my nature, they will think, but stealing isn’t my nature—deception is. I knew that Brandon swallows souls and I still gave him the Wrathstone. (I am such a frog sometimes!) Of course he stung me. It’s his nature. Batholomew decided to confess his sins to Abbot Frankin. He thinks honor and truth are the answers to every problem. Even when telling the truth is the wrong thing to do. He can’t help it. It’s his nature. It’s the nature of the new guy to keep his secrets. I should be more like him. I used to be.

This is just like a game of poker. This is a lousy hand but I have to figure out the best way to play it. The abbot needs to keep his confidence in Bartholomew, I mean he IS the paladin. He is supposed to be the hero. The abbot may want to see the Wrathstone as proof, and I may have to give it to him, but I’m not sure what I will. Giving it to him might be proof I’m telling the truth, but then I will have changed none of those little things that need to be changed to change prophecy. On the other hand NOT telling him might be the card I need to play to save my life. And then there are others I need to protect. No one on this boat knows I am a friend of the adventuring group, so the crew believing Calliper to be the thief protects them. And then, on the other hand, maybe it would be easier to protect both the abbot and the Wrathstone if Abbot Frankin keeps it on his person. So I may need to lose this hand to win the game. Sometimes you have to do that.

The problem now is that no one trusts anybody. No one trusts me, and I’m not sure I even trust myself. I had to even ask myself if I stole that stupid goblet. I never did look in that gem bag, so I guess I should. Just to make sure. Now the captain mistrusts everyone on the boat, the passengers more than his crew. The abbot only sees us as pawns in some game he is playing. If Batholomew is right, he may be out last best hope for peace, but the man isn’t my favorite person by a long shot! I have to think he is destined to become something more than what he is now.

Bartholomew almost drew his sword on me last night, but he still trusted me enough to let me grab that bag off of him when I ran. So maybe he sees that I am just trying to help him? Honorable shouldn’t be stupid. I think maybe Silvertongue put me here to help him out with that. Somehow we all have to find a way to trust each other and work together if we are going to survive this journey up river.

Trust.

I mean, it worked out well for the frog didn’t it?

View
All About The Horses
A Lesson In Loyalty

Daeson’s Journal

It is practically impossible to make a good horse thief when you are travelling with a paladin. That should be listed up there in some rule book for novice rogues. It really should. We found the Wrathstone that the old priest sent us looking for in the wererat warren. I even managed to free it from its stone prison without the key. I am getting better at picking locks—at least old ones that secure ancient evil artifacts. I am not sure what it does, but Bartholomew—he’s the paladin I mentioned—says it makes him sick even to have it near him, so he asked me to carryi it and keep it safe until we can get back to Tempton to hand it over to the priests. Which we did. But I’m not there yet.

It was a bitter battle. There was that glow-eyed Teifling in the cage, the dark elf, and the were-rats. I still had two sections of cave fisher tongue stuck to my neck. That filiment won’t come off without ripping skin off with it. We rested, and Bartholomew woke up and told us about some dream he had about a big boat with a paddle wheel that got attacked by orcish pyrates or something. He hadn’t ever told me about one of his dreams before, so I guess this one was more significant. He is a paladin. Maybe it was a vision from Silverhead, the god he worships. There are so many. It gets hard to keep them all straight.

Grandmother used to talk about visions and dreams. The wagon people believe in visions too. I’ve never had one, well not one that I knew was a vision, but it doesn’t surprise me that a paladin would have them.

Did I mention Bartholomew is a Tiefling? I have heard about them before. My people call them cambion, the child of a demon and a human. I have been travelling with him for a while now. Ever since I left the caravan actually. He is pretty strong and pretty brave. He is very honest. I doubt he ever told a lie, ever in his life. He is kind of like that old king with the wooden teeth that way.

We also found a metal boc unerneath a secret stone in the floor. There was a scroll that Brandon wasn’t able to read, a potion, and 28 gold pieces. We also found a skeleton in the cave in and the key (that’s right, after I manage to get the treausry unlocked we find the key on a dead skeleton). Brandon, he is the elf I told you about before, the one who can make dark magic. He swallows the souls of the dying, but he says he isn’t evil. He did try to save me, so even if he is evil I owe him one, right? I mean anyone who risks his life ot save you from a cave fisher can’t be all bad.

Brandon was able to use the skull from that skelton to look through its eyes and see its final moments. He did this ritual. Sometimes in his rituals his head spins and his tongue lolls out like that time I saw that dead guy hanging at the crossroads, but not this time. He said he saw these statues of lizard men spin and a passage opened up, but we couldn’t figure out how to make it work and Brandon said the magic had gotten too old and weak.

Titus Priscus then summoned Bartholomew using one of the stones. I think I wrote about them. The stones let you communicate with someone far away who has another stone. Titus is one of those Dragonmen, but one of the very prissy ones. I met him once, but he was such a snob, he couldn’t be bothered. He isn’t too good to ask for our help though when the orcs kidnap his sister, which is why he was summoning Bartholomew.

We fought some rabid rats. and found an invisible ledge that let us back across the pit. The cave fisher wasn’t there this time. I hate cave fishers. We got back to the old building where we spent then ight befoe we came into the warren and someone had stolen our horses. I hate horse thieves! And it is 6 days to Tempton! Longer if we were walking, and without horses we were walking.

I was able to sneak four horses out of the stable by the Inn so we could make goodtime back to Tempton. I mean Bartholomew had said how important it was we get down to help out Titus Prissiness in the elven kingdom. We needed to move fast. William said we needed to get the Wrathstone back to Father Franken quickly too. Normally I don’t steal horses, I mean I know what it is like to have a horse stolen, been there, done that. But these are wicked times and sometimes you have to take short cuts to catch a break. But Batholowmew figured out it was me who stole the horses and instead of joining us at the rendevous point he stayed there at the Inn and spilled all my beans to the constable. William tried to reason with him, but he send a message that I needed to bring the horses back and turn myself in or he would hunt me down. Like there is a choice?

Brandon and I left a couple of horses behind for them just in case he recovered his senses and we went on riding to Tempton. Brandon sent s stormcrow back with a message for Bartholomew to hurry up and catch up with us. We camped out by the river and they did catch up with us, but then I found out that the guys who owned the horses I borrowed were out looking for me too. With friends like Bartholomew who needs a city guard?

We caught up to them by the river and Bart told me that he planned on taking me back to “face justice” as if justice was something that was his decision. I wish the world was the way he thinks it is. You have to make your own justice. No one will give you anything. The laws are created by the rich to protect the rich and powerful. When we need more wolf’s heads to redistribute wealth to those who need it!

We made it to a small town where the orcs had set fires to a couple of farm houses. Bart and William healed up farmer Mojave and Apothecary Kaylen before they came to the Inn. I forgot to mention they passed us that night by the river. They came real close but didn’t see us. I wonder what they are doing here. Orc’s don’t usually travel this far north I hear. I got some Old Tobagan at the Inn and was finally able to get the Cave Fisher tongues off my neck.

Someone locked me out of my room and I had to climb a rope up the outside to get back in to sleep. The next morning they were all still very tired and it took me forever to get them woke up to hit the road. We made good time and did get to Tempton by sunset.

We gave the Wrathstone, this ancient evil artifact that the church had long sought after, and Abbot Franken basically said, thank you so much, and you owe us for those horses you borrowed so we will deduct that from your reward money. I realized how this was going to go, because he was a real a-whole like that before when Ash died. That fat frack doesn’t value what people do for him or what it cost to get him what he wants. Someday I will teach him a lesson about that. He needs a good lesson in loyalty.

I realized what was happening and went back down to the stable and took the horses to sell. I could tell that the fat abbot was just going to steal those horses and keep them to replace the missing horses and then bill us for them too. I couldn’t let him get away with that. That just ain’t right. I didn’t get a good price for them, but it was better than nothing. Brandon wants me to steal the stone back, and maybe I can. If I get a chance I will.

I heard them talking in the hallway saying that they were going to go with Franken upriver to the City of Veluna. I have heard about that place. It is protected by magic. They are all going to take the riverboat. So now I am back to wondering about Bartholomew’s dream.

I am a leaf on the wind.

View
Somewhere, not too far away...

“Yes, Overlord. How many I serve you?”

“Stand up, you groveling scum! My patience wears thin with your kind!”

“Yes, m’Lord. Your eminence. His nastin…”

SILENCE! Do you hear that screaming? That is the sound of failure, and I do NOT tolerate failure. Your predecessor failed me and lost that which he was bringing me. For that, he forfeits his life. Slowly.”

“I will not fail you! My life is yours! My duty is only to serve you! Shall I go south to the mountains and take back the Bell?”

“No, you and your pitiful orc band can not be trusted with such a task. It will be YOUR task to head north of Asnath and retrieve the Wrathstone. You will bring it straight back to me. You do not want to fail me.”

“No, no failure, no. We will return with your Wrathstone, m’Lord. Yes, we will retrieve it.”

“Yes, you will. Before you leave, bring me a few thick pieces of skin from Gol’Nak before his flayed corpse gives up its last breath.

I’m hungry."

View
The Changeling

CHANGELING
“Hide the boy. I’ll come for him by night.”

Túriel shivered and pulled her dark cloak tighter around her frame as she stared into the darkness. It was a clear, bitter night, with a chill east wind that whipped cruelly at her ragged clothing. The moon had begun to dip, brightening the stars above her. The air was still tainted with the scent of burning. The wagons that had once been their home, the entire caravan, would continue to smolder for days until there was little left but ashes, and memories.
Far in the distance, a night jay called, its cry echoing through the moon silvered trees. Túriel crossed herself—fearing the omen and knowing in her heart that her sister Shándra would not come.

Túriel waited all the same.

The river that flowed by the mill roared in the darkness; crisp water flowing swiftly over the small weir, a strong current to turn the heavy mill stones. Túriel was comforted by the sound. After a lifetime among the Vistani, Túriel and Joren had abandoned the life of the wagon people and now made the mill their home. Túriel recognized the omens. After all she had the sight. Not like her sister, Shándra, but enough to provide her with glimpses—and hope. The mill and the river would provide for them in the long winter ahead but so many things had already gone wrong, crops gone fallow, unseasonable rain. She had not foreseen those problems. Her husband had already sold much of his inheritance just to restore the mill. There was little left. They were one unlucky harvest away from starving.

Shándra had to come soon.

So Túriel stayed, long after her husband had closed the mill door and put out the tallow candle, long after Shándra’s small son had given in to sleep. Now only the orange glow of the hearth illuminated their cottage. The night wore on and she watched the moonlight dance on the water as the crescent descended below the trees, listening all the while for the approach of horse hooves. But Shándra never came.

Túriel fed the old sow as the first rays of dawn lit the sky. Her bones ached this morning from the long hours standing in the cold night waiting for Shándra to come. The sow grunted and snorted as she ate, gorging on the roots Joren had collected in the meadow the day before. She would farrow soon and that would pay the taxes on the mill. If they were lucky, there would be enough piglets in the litter to eat as well as sell. It had been too long since she’d had any meat that wasn’t fish or rabbit.

Túriel heard a door close, distracting her from her reverie, and looked across the garden separating the sty from the cottage to see her husband as he left the cottage and made his way to the mill to begin his labor. There were sacks of grain stacked against the wall to grind for neighbors who had fared better during harvest. She followed him to the mill, and stood in the doorway watching as Joren set the mill stones turning, beginning the long hard toil that filled his every day. At night she would rub oil, mint and herbs into his skin to sooth his aching muscles. Túriel loved Joren.

Through all their toils and strife she loved him still. She had vowed never to regret her decision to take a ghadja as her husband, though she knew that since he was not Vistani born he would never be accepted by her people. Still she loved him, and she was touched by the fact that he had such faith in her, even though he would never understand her ways. She looked back at the road and worried again about her sister. She wished Shándra had listened, and had left the caravan when she had left. Her father had forged such a dreadful pact with the Djan Mizhak, and she knew that the horned ones were not to be trusted. Túriel had seen what lay in store for her sister. Shándra had still been among the Vistani during the attack of the horned demon-spawn that other people in the realm called Tieflings.

“Tia?”

She turned at the sound of a child’s voice and jolted with surprise as she bumped into a small figure. Nicolai was standing behind her, his emerald eyes solemn, staring up at Túriel with a quiet stillness at odds with his tender years. How long had he been there? She hadn’t heard the boy approach.

Súri stood behind him, a stuffed doll tucked on her hip. She rubbed her eyes with one hand and toddled toward her mother. Túriel looked at the turning millstones and put her hand on her nephew’s shoulder. “Keep Suri outside, Nicolai.” She told him. The mill was no place for an infant.

Nicolai nodded and took his cousin’s small hand and led the baby out. Suri’s steps were wobbly, but she didn’t fall.

They watched the children leave.

“Shándra didn’t come . . .” Joren voiced at last. It wasn’t a question.

“No.” Túriel’s voice was soft, resigned.

“Is she dead?" Her husband looked off into the distance. He could not bear looking into his wife’s eyes as he asked a question already suspecting the answer. He knew that she could read his thoughts in his eyes.

Túriel understood that Joren wasn’t asking her what she knew. He was asking her what she had seen. And there was nothing she could say.

“Shándra would not abandon Nicolai.” Joren added, and the significance of those words fell like stone between them.

They were both silent, grieving a loss that had yet to be confirmed. And mixed in with the loss was growing worry at what to do with Nicolai. Túriel knew that Nicolai figured prominently in all that had happened. The Djan Mizhak wanted her sister’s son—the child they had bargained for. Shándra had come to Túriel, her sister, looking for hope amid the dark shadows she had herself foreseen. And when their father refused the surrender little Nic to them, and broken the dreadful pact, the Vistani clan had paid the price.

But surely the Tiefling leader would not still be searching for Nicolai. Not now that they had taken their revenge.

Joren met her eyes. “I will tell Nic.”

Túriel knew the sadness that shrouded the boy, the look in his eyes beyond his few years. “He knows.”

Nicolai watched Súri shaking a leaf in her chubby hand. The baby had a big four-toothed grin as she made fluttering noises in the air. Her hair had grown since Nicolai had seen her last. Her hair was the black of raven’s wings, like Túriel, her mother’s hair, and like his own mother’s hair. He remembered everything about her, could fashion an image of her in his mind with perfect clarity. It was a gift he had—the remembrance of faces. Nicolai had hair the color of ginger, like his father, Taliesin. Or so he had been told. Nic reached out and stroked Súri’s raven locks. He liked the feel and the deep color or raven wings, so very different from his own auburn hair. He smiled and after a moment the sunlight shifted and his own auburn locks shifted, grew darker, to rivaled those of his cousin.

Nicolai looked back at the mill. He knew Túriel and Joren were sad. He was sad too. First sad for Daeson, his friend, who was beneath the flowers, and also for his mother. The demons had stolen her blood, and taken her life with them. His mother had been frightened too. He could feel it as she’d handed him into Túriel ’s arms and rode off into the night.

Shándra was dead.

Nicolai knew that somehow. It was like a big black cloak that enveloped him in folds of heavy cloth, dragging him down. He was alone now. He was no-one’s son. It would be better if he were in the ground.

Túriel watched Nic play with her daughter through the doorway of the mill. Joren came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her, drew her back against him. Joren knew how fond she was of Nic. Túriel had nursed her nephew as an infant, alongside her own son, when Shándra grew ill and could no longer produce milk. Her bond with Nicolai was almost as strong as it was with Súri and to her it was clear what they should do. She believed with all her heart that it was what he sister had always intended.

But despite the ache in her heart, Túriel knew that she and Joren couldn’t keep another child.
Especially so soon after they had put their own son, Daeson, into the ground. The thought of her son was too painful. Her eyes welled, and she choked back her tears. Instinctively she looked out into the meadow where he was buried. The white flowers still grew where she had planted them. The mound of earth covering his grave was yet freshly turned, had not yet settled. She had sewn him into a shroud she has fashioned of sackcloth. She had spent the days following his death rendering his face so carefully, trying to capture with accuracy every detail in pigments on a flat white stone before time eroded her memory. Then spent days creating a second image, this one on canvas, for she knew the rain and weather would begin their work on the painting she had poured so much of herself into, eroding the pigments in wind and weathering, stripping away the clarity of her memories along with his painted emerald eyes and raven black hair. The painted stone served as a marker for a boy whose life had barely begun.

“We should send him off with Stefán.” Joren spoke quietly, distracting Túriel from her thoughts of her dead son. “He can take the boy to Tarandra. She will know better than we how to hide him from them.”

“He’s just a boy, Joren.” Turiel said quietly. She watched Nicolai, and remembered how he had played with her own son. The two boys were of an age, born under the same moon. Her hand instinctively rose to her breasts as she remembered feeding them—twin sons of different mothers. Had she not promised Shándra that she would raise him and care for him as her own, as a brother to her own son? Out in the meadow the boys had played like twins. Now only a grave ringed with white flowers bore testament to those joys.

Her husband shook his head sadly. “We have little enough already.”

“He has nothing.” She said, “No one.”

“He has his name and his life.”

“Does he?” She asked, “Who will feed him?”

“Who will feed us?” Joren touched her shoulder. “We should take him ourselves to the horned ones before they come looking for him here!” It was the smart thing to do, he thought. Not the right thing, but the smart thing.

“Shándra didn’t fight the Mizhak so her son could be given over to them!” If she thought he was serious, she would have been furious at the suggestion.

“Even his being here could endanger us,” Joren said, then looked beyond his wife at their daughter who was playing with Nicolai. “He was promised to them even before he was born. His being here could endanger Súri. If the horned ones come for him. . . ” Joren left the thought unfinished, as if speaking the words might give them power. He turned Túriel to face their daughter. “Besides we have nothing to offer him.”

“Love.” Túriel pleaded. “We can offer him love. Shándra believed that.” Túriel looked back at Tamás, realizing with a terrible dread that Shándra had left Nic with them, knowing she wouldn’t live to collect him. “And she knew he would be safe here. She wouldn’t have brought him here, if she didn’t.”

*

Túriel looked up from her gardening as she heard footsteps approach. She recognized the traveler. His arrival was expected. She suddenly realized that she had been planting for many hours now. It was time to separate the young seedlings and properly space them into long rows. The work was not difficult, and it allowed her to lose herself in the repetition. The morning had past, the sun was already high in the sky. She looked back at the long rows she had planted with a sense of surprise and satisfaction. Súri was over by the mill with her father watching him carry and stack sacks of flour into a cart. Nicolai was sitting by his cousin’s grave in the meadow, studying the stone portrait of his friend and playmate, now resting cold beneath the earth. Túriel could remember a time before Súri was born when the two boys had been the best of friends before she had left the Vistani.

Túriel turned back to face a young man, his thick dark hair woven into a long dark braid, making his way towards the mill through the soft, wet soil beside the weir. His features betrayed his Vistani heritage.

“Stefán.” She greeted and embraced him. It was Stefán who had introduced her to his Gadja friend, Joren. Every time she saw Stephán she had to smile at the recollection of that first meeting. It did not matter if Stephán thought the smile was for him. In a way it was. After she left, Stefán had remained with the wagon people and Túriel had feared for his safety. So many of the Vistani had died in the fires or fallen during the attack of the Djan Mizhak.

Stefán nodded in return. His eyes were dark and shadowed. “Have you been up to the caravan?”
Túriel felt a cold chill. She could not bring herself to visit the caravan again since she had left her people, let alone now to revisit its smoldering remains.

“I went to lay offerings for the dead.” Stefan said slowly and Túriel could see that he was holding back tears. “I found Shándra there.” He paused, tears continued to well.

Túriel bowed her head. “Aye.” It was no more than she already knew and yet her heart ached anew at the confirmation. She did not falter or feel a need for tears. She had already seen this moment in time—not the death of her sister, but Stephán bringing her this news.

“She’d been murdered.” His voice deepened with anger, and he slowly slipped a Tiefling arrow from his own quiver, handing it to Túriel . "The arrow was . . . "

Stefan stopped mid-word and stiffened, looking beyond Túriel. His jaw dropped and his expression shifted between confusion and fear.

The seer turned, knowing what she would see. Stefan had helped her lower her own son into the earth. Had remained with her, singing the old songs as she planted flowers on Daeson’s grave. But she had seen this moment in time. Though she had not fully understood it, until now. She braced herself and turned.

Nicolai?

Not Nic, but her dead son Daeson stood before her, looking up at her with eyes and expression she knew by heart. And now she understood her perplexing, impossible visions. He was like his father, a wandering minstrel, a bard who frequently travelled the Voll River, but who had explored many of the lands of the Eastern Flaness. All she knew of him was that he claimed to have been born in a northern settlement of Dundoo. The gift he inherited from his father was why the Tiefling’s wanted him.

Túriel had been haunted by visions of her son resurrection since his death. And now she understood the nature of her visions, and with that understanding reality reshaped itself before her, revealing to her yet another thread of her future. Understand the thread and understand the tapestry. But now she knew it was not his return from death, but rather the fact that he continued to be.

“It’s me, Nicolai.” The boy took Stefán’s hand. Don’t you know me Stefán?” The boy asked, and Vistani reached down tentatively and ran his fingers through the boys raven locks, as iridescent as beetle’s wings.

The boy looked up at Stephán and Túriel wearing the face of her dead son, with emerald eyes and hair of the blackest black. He smiled, oblivious to the impact of his appearance on the adults who stared down at him, “I want to go home.”

The statement took Stephán by surprise.

“The caravan’s gone, lad. There’s nothing there but ashes.” Stefan told him. “You had best forget it.”

Nic frowned. “Nothing’s forgotten.” He said softly, looking up at Stefan. “They took her soul. Do you know how to get it back?”

The adults looked at each other, uneasily.

“No, Nic.” Túriel said eventually. “Go find Joren now, help him with Suri.”

Nic’s eyes flickered to Stefan then back at Túriel . “Am I going to stay with you?” he asked, “or will Stefan take me with him?”

Túriel felt Stefán’s eyes boring though her. “Find Joren, Nicolai. We will talk of this later.”
The boy waited for a long moment, looking up at Túriel, and then he slowly walked off. She knew more than she could tell him. But she had to let the moment unfold. These things cannot be rushed.

Stefán watched Nicolai disappear into the mill. “Nicolai?” He stuttered, “How?” He motioned with one hand, trying to gesture the unexpected change he had just witnessed in the boy. “He looks like Daeson now.” He stammered, “Exactly.”

Then he turned to Túriel, “Did you do this?”

Túriel smiled, “No. He did.” She added, “He is like Taliesin."

“Then he will be safe.” Stefan paused, “The demons are not searching for Daeson.”

Túriel looked down. She smiled. She understood the signs. All of the moments in time that had led to this moment. After an uncomfortable silence she asked, “Stefan, will you stay here, with us?” She asked, avoiding Stefan’s statement.

“Enstadt.” The young Vistani shook his head. “It will be safer if I go there.”

She listened in silence, never uttering a word of protest. She wished that he would stay with them. He was all she had left of her family. Then, in the silence of the moment, Túriel heard her husband’s calling. “Suri! Suri!”

His voice was filled with fear.

Instantly terror struck Túriel’s heart and she broke into a run. They both raced out of the mill and towards Joren.

Joren was frantic. “She’s gone!” She cried. “Suri is gone! I-I was stacking sacks of flour, and when I looked…” His eyes scanned the land, “Suri! Suri!”

Túriel stopped beside his husband, but little Daeson continued on, running unerringly toward the water. He didn’t falter in his step. The Joren saw him. His eyes widened as he saw his son, only recently put into the ground, run past them.

Daeson ran directly to the weirs edge. At the bank, he didn’t stop, but plunged in. The icy water gushed over him and the pull of the current forced him downwards. His knees bumped against something solid and he reached down. He felt cloth and found his cousin’s small arm and kicked against the strong currents, struggling upwards. His head broke the surface and he gasped. Then he lifted Suri up into her father’s outstretched arms. Stephán leaned in and grasped him, pulled him up out of the water onto the grassy bank.

Joren was sobbing Suri’s name and Daeson watched, shivering as Túriel shook her daughter, pleading for her to wake. Suri finally coughed and vomited up a gush of water. Then she began to cry. Túriel and Joren enclosed their daughter, and each other, in their arms, rocking and crying. Daeson watched and continued to shiver. Then Joren turned to stare at him, and Túriel grasped her husband’s forearm and explained, “It is Nicolai. He has his father’s gift.” And Joren broke from the huddle and grabbed the boy, “Thank you, son!” He sobbed and drew the shivering boy into the warmth of their arms. “Bless you!” And Túriel wondered just whom he embraced. No, she knew. She let the moment unfold.

*

That night Túriel settled the young hero into the pile of sheepskin and cloth beside her daughter. The boy had been unusually quiet all evening. Of course they had been deciding what to do. Stefan was willing to take the boy with him. But when Joren looked into the boy’s eyes, he touched a joy that he thought he would never again experience. Daeson knew that his future was being discussed. His silence unnerved her even more than his endless questions.

“It will be a cold night, Nic.” She told him as she tucked another sheepskin around him. “Call me Daeson,” he said, and it was the last time he had to remind her. Suri sniffled beside Daeson and the boy shuffled over and curled about her. “I’ll keep Suri warm, Tia.” She brushed his hair back and kissed them both goodnight.

In the other room, Joren and Stefan were talking in hushed tones. Túriel sat down next to her husband and looked at him for a long moment then leaned against him, resting her head on his chest. “I’ll not send him away, Joren.” She said at last, bringing an evening long discussion to an end.

“We have so little already.” But there was no fervor in his voice. He knew his heart wasn’t cold enough to send the boy away, not now.

“I’ll not send him away.” She repeated. “His life is as fragile as a leaf floating on the wind. Will you leave him to furious winds of this wanton storm?” And Joren slowly shook his head in agreement.

“And Stefan,” she looked across at the young man, he caught her gaze and leaned forward, smiling. “You will be staying as well.” She watched as he prepared himself to argue, then added, “There is no future for you in Enstadt. Your destiny is here, with us, not with the elves!” His face shifted, and he leaned back to consider her words, which she knew she had delivered with perfect accuracy to penetrate his arguments.

*

Daeson sat up in his bed, unable to sleep. The shadowy darkness frightened him. It always had. He knew there were monsters in the world. Real ones. And some of them would come for him. They had already come for his mother and his grandfather. Still his mother taught him to be brave. She even took him walking in the forest long after the moon was gone, treading the deer paths into places as feared as Dark Hollow. But what had really frightened him was when he grandfather told him that he was a monster too! And that he belonged with the other monsters.
Túriel woke as the pre-dawn skies turned violet, and sat up to look not at the boy her sister had left with her, but at her son, reborn. A gift. A second chance.

Daeson lay with Suri, lit by the watery rays of first sunlight that flittered through the cracks in the wood. Túriel lay back down and was just about to fall into sleep again when she heard Súri cry out. She sat up again to go to her, but heard faint shushing noises and saw Daeson gently rocking the baby. Joren pulled Túriel sleepily back down into their bed. She could feel the smile on his lips when he brushed them against her cheek. Then he raised himself up on one arm to look across the room at the children. His daughter was safe.

And so was his son.

View
Departure

Interesting running into their missing party member shortly after Bartholomew and Xander left Tyneman’s Festival. It almost seems that some unknown hand writes an unseen script, sometimes making my job easier… and slightly more annoying. If I believed in the gods, I might perceive that they have a twisted sense of humor.

After learning about the location of Craigstad me and my new partner would be off to find him. We soon acquired a skiff from a gentlemen named Jonkler to head downstream to the stronghold of Rastor. Luckily, he also threw in a fishing net which definitely came in use on the long trek to our destination.

I can’t finish tonight, someone else feel free to pick up

View
Justice!
Daeson's Journal

I am a terrible thief. I should be a good thief, but I’m not. They tell me that my mother was as skilled as anyone in purloining a coin, or even snatching a jewel from one of the temple idols. If the gods are watching they must be idle. Or maybe she was just that good to escape even their omniscient gaze.

When I was real small, I remember once when we went in to visit a jeweler. She had given me very clear instructions about what to do, and we had practiced over and over to make sure I would get it right. She always said there was no room for error in our what we do. That is true of our acrobatics as well as theft. If someone sees through the misdirection, the trick won’t work.

Anyways we go into the jeweler’s room and she is dressed up in suck finery that I thought she looked like a real baroness or maybe even a queen. They brought out the jewels for us to see and while they are looking at them she pinches my leg which was my cue to start squaling, which I did, and so she asks them for some water, but I kick the guy in the leg and while he is messing with me he snatches up a couple of the best gems and has them ready for me to swallow when they give me the water. Diamonds go practically invisible in a glass or water. Did you know that? Even big ones.

Well there were all kinds of accusations but there were no jewels to be found on either one of us and we walked out just like she knew we would, but then we also knew better than to go back there again!

I think maybe is she had lived maybe I would be a good thief. But it seems like the gods want we to walk some other path. Sometimes I really think so. Except them I remember what I am and I know that I can wander whatever road I want to, I will end up here again so I better find a way to get good at this.

We made it into town, and Bartholomew and I went to the Temple of Pelor to talk to Brother Darmouth. Shagrach stayed outside of town and said he would wait for us for two days before he would head on back to find his people. We didn’t make it back in time to meet up with him, so I guess that is where he went.

It was amazing to get so close to a goblin. I know that I could render him real well if I needed to. If I had some paper I would sketch him, but I don’t have my old sketching pad anymore. I used to make some money drawing people, except no one wants to be drawn the way they really are, which I what I like to do. It’s important to notice those details that make one person look so very different from another person if you want to get them right. And it is not just their appearance, it is also the way their expressions shift across their faces and the way they hold their bodies. To get the drawing right you have to do all of that and it has to be _exactly _right. But people want to look better than they do, which basically means that women want to be more beautiful and men more muscular and masculine than they really are. So if you want to make a living sketching people, you have to keep that in mine and make them look younger and more beautiful if, and I emphasize this, _if _you want to get _paid _for your trouble.

Now that I have learned that lesson I think I can make a better living sketching portraits of people. Maybe, someday if I can ever afford a wagon I can start mixing pigments and paints and paint some folks on canvas, but it is very expensive and it takes a lot of time to mix pigments and get them right. If I had a wagon I could also store all my acrobatics equipment so I could put on some really excellent performances. It is a way to make a few coins. If I had a partner to work the crowd while I was performing we could make even more. It is hard to steal anything while I am travelling with Bartholomew because he is always suspecting me of taking things even when I’m not. I’m not sure how to explain a whole horse and wagon. So right now I just have to think about it, cause I doubt I will ever have that much money all at the same time.

This morning started out good.

Shagrach and I went fishing and I speared a few fish, a couple of very nice ones, he got one most excellent dogfish with whiskers that were longer than the palm of your hand. The sines of those suckers are very sharp and poisonous. You have to be very careful when you catch them or pick them up, cause those fish know just how to flip to spear you with their spiny fin.p.
I started to roast them over the fire on some sharpened spits but Shagrach reminded me that we had that magic pot we got from the hobgoblins—oh yeah, that reminds me, never, ever confuse goblin and hobgoblin when you are talking to a goblin. Goblins get all red in the face over someone calling hobgoblins goblins, like three letters make such a difference. Anyways we got this pot, and it almost cleans itself. The fish soup I made tasted better than it ever had, and I am only a mediocre cook, but with a pot like that I might be able to make some money cooking if I can figure out how to work it out.

Xander, the elf, even said something nice about how the food tasted. I was really surprised. He is the most unsociable elf I ever met. Ok I just had to erase all that stuff I just wrote about Xander, so I know the page is sort of scritchy here cause this eraser is just about a nubbin now. He is just swell. We are great friends. I have much I can learn from him. Ok. There.

Xander and Bartholomew killed a bear. They wasted a lot of the meat somewhere in the woods, but I wasn’t sure exactly where to go to find the carcass, so now it’s food for wolves. I did salt down the skin and make some jerky from the shoulder meat they brought back. I wish they had brough back more fat. You can fry anything in bear fat.

Bartholomew took out that glowing stone he carries and was talking to it. Somehow the stone lets him talk to other poeple far away who carry other similar stones. I would really like a set of stones like that, but you would need the whole set, and I think you really could’t steal them because I bet the wizard who made them could use them to find you. He was walking about the Praetorian Crest, and I remember hearing baout it before. They think it was stolen a long time ago and Bartholomew and I decided we need to find it to stop whatever is going on below the river where the three champions are buried. The lich is there, and I think it has something to do with the three champions. One of them is a dead dragonman, there is a word for them, but I can’t think of it just now. Bartholomew hates them because they drove his poeple away from their homeland and took it over. It’s hard to blame him. You can never trust a dragon. Really you can’t.

Of course, I have always heard such terrible things about the Tieflings, though that is not the world my people had for them. They consorted with demons, in fact they are sort of demon spawn, or cambion,themselves. So it’s hard to believe they are very nice people. All my life they warned me that the Tieflings are looking for me, and that I have to diguise myself and be sure to stay away from them. I think grandfather should never have made that deal with them. I don’t care what the reason. Nothing good comes from making deals with demons.

But Mister Bartholomew is different. And I don’t think they would look for me if I am traveling with one of their own. I think the best way to hide is to hide in plain site. No one looks for you there. Mister Bartholomew seems nice, and even Brother Darmouth did some magic and said that he knew that Mister Barthomew’s heart was pure. I’m just glad he wasn’t looking at me. I’m sure my heart could use a good cleaning. Which reminds me that I need to find some silverpolish.

I tried to make some money in the town. The thing that worked was becoming a priest of Pelor. Everyone in the market wanted to donate food, so I guess the priests of Pelor must have reputations for having a big appetite. I blessed a whole bunch of people at the fair, and who knows, everyone says a Vistani blessing is real. I just know that farmers want to hear that their crops will grow and that they will have great harvests. Old sinsters want to hear that handsome young men will soon come courting. It’s not hard to tell a fortune if you just use your head and ask the right questions before you start talking.

But then I slipped up on this one knave. I think his name was “Mandy”. What were his parent’s thinking, huh? Good enough for him, no wonder he is such a jerk. I caught the chord wrong when I went to slice and he came unglued and started chasing me. Then it seemed like there was nothing under the sun that was going to go right for me. I caught my heal on the edge of thw wagon when I tried to jump over it to get away. So I fell. There were guards standing in all the wrong places and, well, finally he caught up with my by good friend’s tent. Oh yeah. You hear it right. I managed to pull the section of tent awning down over him, but then his brother in law Bill comes out and grapples me. I managed to get free, but those two guys must have practiced running with the hounds cause I could not get away from them. The fact I kept tripping didn’t help. You cannot run in the sandals. You just can’t. Especially sandals stolen from a priest. Bill slugged me a couple of times and busted my nose after Mandy tackled me down to the ground, and then a guard named Jack showed up, who was Mandy’s brother in law. Yeah. That’s right. His brother in law!

So the guard threatens to kill me, or just cut me up, but he never even thinks about taking me to the guardhouse, so you know he is exactly the kind of city guardsman you always hear about. Finally he decides to take everything I own, my sword, my dagger, my coin purse and divide it up with his good buddies who are all having a laugh at my expense. They went on and on about what a bad thief I am, and of course, the worst part is that they’re right. I am a terrible thief. Ican be a great entertainer, but that requires money and equipment I don’t have, so it ain’t happening. He even ripped off my shirt, so now all the clothes I own in the world is a pair of pants. I do have some armor, so I can wear that. I also have a priests robe, so I can wear that, only not when Bartholomew is around. So now I have even less money than I did before.

The acolyte at the entrance to the Temple of Pelor wouldn’t let me in, and then Xander wanted to charge me 100% interest on any coin to get myself healed, so I told him to go copulate with an orc. I hear elves think that is about the worst insult you can say. I found the healer, who didn’t charge me anything, but I would never go to him again. Never. I had to become an acolyte to get back into the temple. I could have found a stable, but with my luck some horse would have stepped on me, so I figured the temple was safer.

I thought a lot about killing Jack and Mandy and Bill. A lot. I guess maybe I am the only one who sees that killing a man is just another form of stealing. It’s a funny thing killin’ a man, you take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have. They took my stuff but they didn’t cut me up, or kill me, or even put me in prison. So I guess I should return the favor. It’s just very hard not to think about revenge. Uncle said I always have had a temper, but its probably all because of that bad deal my grandfather struck, and then all the stuff that happened later.

Things could be worse though. Brother Darmouth bought me a used shortsword to replace the one the guard took. And Xander bought me a used crossbow (and I will _never _figure that one out). I am a bad thief, but I am an even worse fighter. I need to find a new troup of acrobats and do what I am good at. I can’t even win a fight with a dandy and his brother in law. Not sure how well I will fair against orcs! That’s where we are going. There are orcs in the Kron Hills that have the bell they stole from the Temple of Pelor. We think it has more magic than Brother Darmouth knows and that it probably figures into all the stuff that is happening here. So now we are off to fight orcs. So like I said, I’m not thinking my odds are too great for surviving this, but I got balls like turkey eggs and I’m not scared of nothing.

Well, not usually.

View
How to Trap a Tiefling
Written by Jerry and Duane

Bartholemew held his sword at his side, watching the floor of the riverbed carefully. The autumn air was crisp and cool, and scented with the fallen leaves, but the scent of drying mud, the scattered bodies of small fish, drying in the sun, and the ribbon of silt where the river once ran through the forest kept giving him uneasy feelings. There was definitely something sinister behind this unnatural event.

A sudden crack in the tree line to his right caused him to start. He raised his sword and scanned the line. A small cloaked figure darted into the trees. Goblin? No, this one didn’t move like a goblin. He was a slight bit taller than Shorty, and a bit more filled out. He was dressed more like the wagon people that were camped only a short distance away. The Tiefling had seen them setting up camp when they had first arrived. Perhaps one of their boys was out exploring the woods.

“Wait.” Bartholemew took up chase. Prowling through these woods alone, this little one could be in great danger. He had already encountered two hobgoblins in the woods, there were bound to be more.

“Wait! Stop! This area is dangerous, little one.”

As the Tiefling paladin dashed into the wood, he jumped over a fallen log and ducked a few branches before being able to stand upright and scan for movement. The little one had vanished. Bartholemew scanned the dead leaves for evidence of being recently disturbed, but he was no skilled tracker.

“Little one! Come back here.” he shouted into the forest. Several birds stirred, but nothing else seemed to have noticed his outcry.

The paladin started at a half-jog forward, deciding in himself that if he did not see the boy within the next minute, he would resume his investigation of the riverbed. There was too much at stake to waste time.

Another sharp crack sound, and the Tiefling spun to his left. There was the boy again. He looked human at a distance. For a good half second, they stared at each other before he dashed into the wood again.

Bartholemew waited. Why, he wondered. Why let himself be seen again? He had already evaded me. If he wanted to get away, why divulge his position?

Moving cautiously forward, he scanned the trees, looking for traces of movement. Keeping his sword gripped tightly at his side.

“I see you.” A voice said from his right. Bartholemew turned, but didn’t raise his sword. The young man sat on a rock, holding the end of a thin rope. He fidgeted with the rope. He was anxious but not panicked. This young man had the same swarthy complexion and dark hair that characterized the wagon people. Only his pointed ears betrayed his mixed parentage.

“You must be careful, little one.” The Tiefling said very calmly as he approached, “I’ve killed two hobgoblins today, and there are sure to be more in the area.”

“There are worse things than goblins in the woods.” He answered, ignoring the Tiefling’s warning. His eyes locked on Bartholemew’s face, and there was an edge to his voice.

Bartholemew reached up and touched the edges of his hood. Until that moment, he had forgotten that his face had been unguarded. The man had seen his true form. “I am Bartholemew.” The Tiefling introduced himself, already aware that he was being scrutinized. “Where are you from?”

“I travel with the Rom.” The young man answered. The Romani was what the wagon people called themselves. To everyone else they were gypsies. As a seeker of truth, Bartholomew was a good listener. The boy didn’t say he was Rom, but rather that he travelled with them. There was a distinction.

Bartholemew sheathed his sword and took a step forward. “Then let me escort you back.”

“You are an odd sort, to be requesting to escort me.” The young man fidgeted. “How do I know you would not try to eat me on the journey?” But he didn’t sound afraid. In fact he sounded almost excited at the prospect.

This young man had seen his face. And for the second time in a day, someone that had seen his horns had not run away or assumed the worst in him. He had a sudden rush of hope. Perhaps there could be peace for the Tiefling nation once again. Bartholemew took a step forward and knelt to be eye level with the little half-elf. “Because if I wanted to harm you, wouldn’t I have done so already? Why would I follow you, alone to this place just to hold a conversation with you.” He extended his hand, a friendly gesture, “Now, come. Let’s leave this wood. It is not safe for you here right now.”

The young man stood and held the end of his rope tightly. “You are correct—we shall go back to the camp.”

The half-elf yanked the end of his rope and Bartholemew felt his right leg being violently yanked backward as the distinctive sound of a bag of stones scraping down the side of a tree. His sword flung out of his sheathe and glanged against a nearby tree as he turned rapidly upside down. He screamed in pain as his head thumped against a stone and world spun around him in an upside-down blur of green and brown.

“And that is how you catch a demon!” The half elf laughed. He actually jumped up and down with glee. The Tiefling extended one arm and caught hold of a sapling to stop the spinning. His eyes focused on the youth he had so underestimated.

“Rom satarma!” He exclaimed in a language Bartholomew didn’t understand. “Wait ‘til they see you!” the youth continued, “The gadja will pay good money to see a real live demon!”

“Get me down from here!” Bartholemew spewed. Blood rushed to his head, making his ears ring and his face flush from the extra blood and from anger.

The boy anxiously drew a short sword from his scabbard, pointing it at the Tiefling while working upon a leather satchel to remove several darts with his other hand. “Don’t say another word,” he warned. “I know about you demons and your sorcerous ways! You’ll try to put a hex on me.” He was nimble but inexperienced. And the way he was holding that sword informed the Tiefling that his aptitude at setting traps far exceeded his skill with a sword.

“I am not a demon. I’m a Tiefling!” Bartholemew finally shouted down, resolving that just being angry would not change his situation. “And I have—had—no intention of harming you!” He reached back and felt for the dagger he kept in his belt. While he was not proficient with such a small blade, he always wanted to be prepared… although he never expected to have to use it for cutting himself out of a tree.

“A Tiefling?” The boy shook his head, “Fairy tales! They are merely legend.”

“Do I look like a legend to you?!”

“No.” The boy knelt down bringing himself to eye level with his captive. “You look like a demon. You are a demon. And I will capture you and put you in a cage. You will bring me great profit.”

“Cut me down, and I will show you what I am made of.”

Instead the boy nimbly maneuvered himself behind the paladin as Bartholomew reached for him. A sharp pain flashed in his neck. He could feel a drip of blood running up his neck, into his hair.

“I swear that if I get my hands you, little one, you will regret this.”

“It’s too late.” The little man shouted, fear in his voice.

“Why? What did you do?”

“I poisoned you. It won’t kill you, but will put you to sleep.” The boy smile was triumphant, like a young hunter over his first kill. “By the time you wake up, you will be on display.” He prattled on, waiting for the poisoned dart to take effect, “Much better than the bear! The bear is tame. Really. He doesn’t need to be in a cage anyway. Besides. . .”

The boy’s eyes suddenly grew wide in surprise and shock as he stumbled forward. About the time Bartholomew noticed the arrow in the boy’s side, he felt the bite of another arrow in his own thigh. The paladin swung back and forth, feeling along the back of his belt until his hands fumbled onto the smooth silver of the dagger. In one quick move, he swung upward slicing the rope that bound his leg. He crashed to the ground, landing hard on his neck and shoulder, looked up in time to see a small group of hobgoblins rushing forward.

“Go,” Bartholemew shoved the ignorant boy in the opposite direction, “Get out of here! Goblins!”

But the gypsy boy just stood there. He looked up from the arrow in his side and stared transfixed at the approaching hobgoblins.

“Go!” Bartholemew gave him another shove, and the boy stumbled forward, assessed the situation and then ran. Before he could turn his attention back to the approaching goblins he felt another arrow bite deeply into his shoulder. He winced and silently cursed himself for allowing the boy to have distracted him so completely from the real danger in these woods. Now he could see them clearly, bows drawn, and knew if he didn’t close the distance between them they would continue to pepper him with arrows until he dropped.

The hobgoblin leader snarled, the hatred in his violent black eyes seeming to intensify as Bartholemew charged towards him. The leader dropped his bow and drew a jagged blade that looked as brutal as it was twisted. The leader stood his ground while the other two circled around Bartholemew seeking advantage. The paladin received a few minor cuts, but moved too fast and was too accomplished a swordsman for these goblins accustomed to distance hunting to get in a good slice. He, in turn, delivered several cuts of his own, a few more than minor, and took down one of his opponents, another was sorely wounded.

But the hobgoblin leader was uninjured. No matter how good Bartholomew was, the odds were against him now. He was feeling light-headed, almost drunk, and had to shift his weight to keep from falling as the realization hit him: The gypsy boy’s poison! Not now! But the paladin continued his fight, blade flashing as the world spun around him. If he was going to die at the hands of this disgusting creature, he would do it trying to take as many of them with him as he could—if only he could keep his balance!

If only!

As the poison took hold of Bartholemew he lunged forward in a last desperate effort, swinging wildly at the leader, trying to choose which one of the shifting images actually was the leader. And missed. The Tiefling lost his balance and actually fell into the wounded hobgoblin taking him down with him as he collapsed.

The leader stood over him, laughed malevolently, his dark eyes gleaming, ready to finish the paladin off, when he unexpectedly paused—a stunned look on its face. Instead of stabbing Bartholemew the hobgoblin dropped his wicked blade and fell forward onto him, a short sword protruding from it’s back. Bartholemew used that moment of surprise to finish off the wounded goblin, who had his own rough weapon raised preparing to thrust it into the paladin’s side. He felt the weight of the goblin leader roll off and the gypsy boy knelt down next to him. He noticed that the boy was bleeding, and still had a goblin arrow sticking into his side.

“Forgive me,” the boy said. But the paladin was already unconscious.

  • * * * *

By the time Bartholomew awoke, it was already dark. There was a small campfire popping and sputtering just a few feet away. Three branches had been fashioned into a small tripod and a metal pot was hanging over the flames. As his eyes focused he made out the form of the gypsy youth sitting just on the other side of the campfire staring at him.

“You’re awake.” The young man said. His voice was quiet. He got up slowly, wincing as he stood.

Bartholemew looked around and saw that they were sitting inside the ruins of a collapsed cottage. The roof had disintegrated and the upper portions of the walls had collapsed long ago. The boy had used the tumbled stones to fashion a fire ring. The walls offered some protection, at least the flames could not be easily seen in the darkness, but the paladin knew that the smell of smoke would draw any goblins passing nearby to their location.

“This is as far as I could drag you,” the gypsy said. “You weigh as much as a horse.”

The Tiefling assessed himself. At least some of his armor had been removed and stacked next to him. Some of his wounds had been bandaged—badly—but the arrows in his thigh and shoulder had not yet been dealt with. Glancing over at the gypsy, he saw that the arrow in the boy’s side had been removed and his ribs were bandaged.

“I went back to camp,” the young man began, “I would have brought someone to heal you, but. . . “ his voice faded.

“They would put me in a bear cage.” The paladin finished his sentence for him.

The half-elf’s eyes brightened for a moment, and he drew a flask out of his pack, handing it to the paladin. “Here,” he said, “I took this from Tarandra’s wagon. There will be hell to pay when she find’s it’s missing.”

The paladin took the flask and looked at it.

“It’s not a trick,” the gypsy assured him. “Really, it is a healing potion. I know you have no reason to trust me, but—” The boy paused, then began again. “I don’t know how to deal with those arrows, but at least that potion should help.” He shook his head, “I don’t know anyone around here who would be willing to help you.”

“You are not a demon?” The boy broke the silence. It was a question, but it sounded more like a statement, a realization that had come at a price.

“It is as I said. I’m a Tiefling.”

“What I did was wrong.” The gypsy youth said. “It almost got us both killed.” He paused, “Forgive me?”

It seemed sincere.

“That will take time, little one. But for saving my life, I cannot be angry with you. You have restored honor in my sight.” Bartholemew set the flask down next to his side. “Do you have a name?”

“Daeson.”

“Well, Daeson,” the paladin said as he looked at the arrows still buried in his flesh, “I’m going to need your help.” He drew himself up and the arrow on his shoulder scraped against a stone sending sharp cutting pain slicing through him. He grimaced.

This is really going to hurt.

He fantasized for a moment about the thrashing he was going to give this little one after he was fully healed, and that made him feel a little better.

The boy crept slowly forward, keeping just our of range of Bartholemew’s reach.

Bartholemew winced as he shifted position. “I will not hurt you, Daeson.”

“How do I know that?”

“My name is Bartholemew. I am a paladin of the order of Truesilver.”

The boy sat back, a puzzled expression on his face.

Bartholemew sighed. “That means, if I harm you after I have promised not to, the gods themselves will take revenge on me on your behalf.”

The boy inched closer. “What do you need me to do?”

Bartholemew turned, his tail flicked out from under his cloak and the boy jumped. “It’s okay… just grab the arrow in my thigh. Hold it very still.”

The boy did just as he was asked, but as he gripped the arrow, it shifted against Bartholemew’s thigh bone sending pain flashing up his body, causing him to scream.

The boy quickly released the arrow and scrambled backward. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“No. Again. This time, just be careful. Push straight forward.”

“But, won’t that hurt even more?”

“It will hurt, but alot less than pulling backward. These arrows are barbed.” Bartholemew relaxed and took a deep breath. “Go ahead.”

“I can cut it out.” The boy said, weilding Bartholemew’s dagger.

“No!... no.” The boy did not appear to be adept with surgical skills. “Just push it through. It’s okay.”

The boy leaned forward and gently wrapped his fingers around the arrow. With a tentative look and a strong push, the arrow ripped through his inner thigh. The stone arrow head dripped red just a few inches above Bartholemew’s knee.

Bartholemew took several long breaths, controlling the pain as he pulled the arrow cleanly through. “Okay… good…”

“Here.” Daeson held up the unusual bottle with the brown liquid.

Before Bartholemew could respond, the boy had the cap off and was nearly pouring it down Bartholemew’s mouth. A warm rush of energy seemed to radiate from his throat as the liquid flowed down. Bartholemew choked and swallowed. In a fit of coughing and sputtering, he felt a warm flow, like boiling-hot water flowing across his skin, down to the wound in his leg. In less than a second, the skin seemed to mend itself, leaving a minor yellow scab where a gaping hole had just been.

Bartholemew wiped the liquid from his chin with his good arm. “Thank you… but we aren’t ready for that yet.” Turning, he presented his shoulder. “We can’t just push this one through. It would pierce my heart if we did.”

“What can I do, then?” The boy crept behind Bartholemew and inspected the arrow closely, gently touching the area where the arrow intersected the skin. He wrapped his fingers around the arrow, sending pain radiating down to Bartholemew’s fingers.

“No! Just wait a se—”

The boy pushed forward and the pain was nearly more than Bartholemew could stand. Then, with a sudden jerk, the arrow ripped violently back through, taking chunks of meat and flesh with it. Bartholemew’s world went dim for several seconds as he’d already lost a considerable amount of blood.

When he came to his senses again, the boy had emptied the remainder of the bottle. Apparently he’d forced the unconscious Tiefling to drink it.

“There.” The boy smiled as he checked the wound on Bartholemew’s back. “It is healing nicely.”

Bartholemew closed his eyes, just thankful that the event was over, despite the fact that it hadn’t gone the way he’d planned. The smell of smoke filled his nostrils so that he couldn’t make out any other scents of the forest. The hobgoblins were sure to smell something

He pulled himself back and leaned against the dilapidated stone wall. “Tell me, Daeson. Why are you so afraid of the Rom?”

“I am not afraid.” The boy scowled. “I am Rom.”

“Then why not take me back to your camp for healing?”

“Because they would cage me for taking their supplies. And they would have caged you, or even killed you. The Tiefling are not respected with the Rom. The Tiefling elders have promised many things to the Rom, but have never held up their end of the bargain.”

“The Rom will not kill their own except for treason… I don’t see taking supplies as treason.”

The boy frowned. Bartholemew had obviously hit a nerve.

“Besides, I thought you said that you didn’t believe that Tieflings such as myself even existed.”

“I didn’t. But while I was being bandaged, I asked Keital, the leader, about the Tieflings. He spat into the fire and told me all about your kind. He thought that you did this to me. I tried to tell him otherwise, but he wouldn’t listen.”

Bartholemew exhaled… afraid to even ask. “What did he say about me and my kind?”

The boy just smiled. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t believe a word of it. Hey, look! I got your armor back. See?” he limped across the room and picked up the over-sized segments of plate armor. “You were too heavy to drag with it on, so I had to go back and get it.”

Bartholemew smiled and closed his eyes. “Thank you, little one.”

“Mr. Bartholemew?”

“Yes?” he answered, still keeping his eyes closed, absorbing the warmth of the nearby flames.

“Can I go with you?”

“With me?... where?”

“On your mission. To clear out the hobgoblins. I’m good with a blade.”

“Indeed, you are, little one. But I think you are too young. Too small. Too green. Besides… you don’t know.” The world seemed lighter and foggier than just a few minutes before. For a moment even Bartholemew couldn’t even remember what it was he did or didn’t know. Why was he here again? Then it came to him in a wave of fogged realization. The evil of the river.

“Jut let me go with you a little while. I have no where else to go right now.”

He felt a wave of happiness flow over. Something seemed to be taking him down into a deep sleep against his will. He really didn’t want the boy to come. He would easily get hurt, but he heard himself say, “Yeah… okay. Tomorrow.”

“Good. Now let those herbs relax you. We can start the search again tomorrow.”

“Herbs?” He managed to mumble.

“I dabbed the herb oils on your shoulder before I pulled the arrow out. It will allow you to rest, now.”

Before Bartholemew could even respond, he was asleep.

View
Into the wood

The campfire crackled and made harsh shadows against the night. Bartholemew closed his eyes and absorbed the warmth from the fire. Three days had past since he had spoken with Priest Donnair, and still no word.

A rabbit hung on a spit over the dying flames where he’d eaten a good portion of it. A loud crack behind him made him jump. In an instant, his sword was drawn facing the direction of the sound; “Who’s there?”

“Mr. Bartholemew?” A weak voice called out of the darkness. “I was sent from Veluna by request of Priest Donnair.”

Bartholemew put his sword away and pulled his hood over his head far enough to cover his face. “Come closer.”

A skinny man no taller than five-foot slipped from behind a tree, nervously inching closer. “Y-you… you are a Tiefling.”

“No. I was scarred as a child. But you did not come to discuss my malformities. What do you have to report?”

“I saw your face. You are a Tiefling. I’ve always wanted to meet a Tiefling. Are you as kind as Priest Donnair has said?”

Bartholemew slowly lowered his hood, letting the flickering light of the campfire dance on the side of his face. “I hope so. He has placed alot of trust in me.”

“Indeed,” the man held out a coin purse in a trembling hand. “He said that I should give you these.”

Slowly taking the coin purse from the little man, Bartholemew smiled. “Thank you. I assume this means that I have been officially commissioned.”

“Yes. I have much to tell you.”

Bartholemew stepped back, inviting the man to sit at his campfire. “Tell me more. I have a rabbit cooking. There’s not much, but you are welcome to what is left.”

The man sat and eagerly devoured the remains of the rabbit, sucking the bones dry, sure to get every ounce of meat from the sparse carcass. His name, as Bartholemew discovered, was Herman, but preferred to be called Shorty. He detailed the region of the forest that seemed to be having issues. There was a great evil boiling somewhere in the wood, and the epicenter seemed to be somewhere to the east.

After the man finished speaking and eating Bartholemew began to collect the bones to be buried to prevent wild animals from approaching his camp. “Thank you, Shorty. The hour is late. You are welcome to camp here and return in the morning.”

“If I may,” Shorty slowly stood, “I would like to go with you.”

“Hah! This wilderness is no place for city dwellers. Especially if there is such a great evil as you have said.”

“Please. I’m a cartographer by trade. I know the area outside the wood quite well. Let me go with you. I have nothing back in Veluna, and to spend time with a Tiefling would be my honor.”

The last sentence made Bartholemew pause. “Tell me, Shorty. Are you afraid of me? Afraid of my kind?”

“Not at all,” Shorty chuckled. He stood and stepped closer, “I’ve been interested in your kind since I met one as a child. It was a simple action, really. I had fallen in the dirt and began to cry, and a woman came over and picked me up. She dusted me off and sat me down next to my parents. I don’t think they ever saw her face, but I did. She was a Tiefling. I remember the shape of her face under her hood. I know she was. And if she were evil, I would have been dead already.”

“This commission may get dangerous. How do I know you can take care of yourself?”

Shorty drew two daggers from sheathes at his side. “This is Margaret, and this is Betty. They’ll do the talking for me.”

Bartholemew nodded with contemplation. He was happy to see a human so interested in his heritage for a change, but something still nagged at him. With a single movement, Bartholemew drew his sword, and thrust it just over Shorty’s left shoulder.

Shorty screamed and rolled to his side. Bartholemew tried to contain a laugh as Shorty tripped over a small log and nearly landed face-first in the fire, missing it by only a few inches. 

“The woods are too dangerous for someone who is not ready at all times.” Bartholemew slowly replaced his sword. “I mean you no harm, but if I needed someone to go with me, I would need someone whose nerves are a bit more steady. As I said before, you are welcome to stay until sunrise, but then you must return. Tell Donnair that I accept his offer, and tell no one of my heritage. It is important that I remain hidden for now. Agreed?”

Shorty nodded. “Sure. I understand.”

With that, the two made preparations for bed. Bartholemew buried the leftover bones, and Shorty placed another bit of driftwood on the fire and unrolled his bedroll. Little else of adventuring was mentioned between them.

Sometime past the third hour, deep into the darkness of night, Bartholemew woke to the sounds of shuffling nearby. He got onto his knees and wielded his sword. Keeping the light of the fire out of his eyes to prevent night blindness. Glancing around the camp, he noticed that Shorty was no longer in his bedroll. 

“Shorty? Is that you?” Bartholemew peered toward the rustling sounds as they seemed to draw closer. He saw a brief flash of white darting from tree to tree.

Bartholemew gripped the handle to his blade tightly. The rustling sounds faded, and soon there was nothing but errie silence. Not even the insects made their usual forest noises. Something had startled even them.

In an instant, Bartholemew felt something heavy land on his back, tossing him off-balance as he tumbled face-first into the dirt. He spun onto his back where a wide-eyed Shorty stood over him, daggers drawn and pressed against his throat. “Now… I think you see that my nerves are a bit better than before. Perhaps you would reconsider taking me along.”

With that, shorty smiled, withdrew his weapons and sheathed them. He extended a hand to help Bartholemew off the ground.

With little else than his pride injured, Bartholemew stood and dusted his clothing. “Perhaps you are right. I was a bit hasty. In the morning, we will head out. But if something happens to you, I owe you no allegiance. You are going on your own merit, and whatever happens is on your own head.”

Shorty smiled and extended his hand. “Agreed. It will be my honor to fight at your side, come what may.”

  • * * * *

The two strode through the trees as the early morning sunlight danced like golden glitter through the tops of the trees. Bartholemew kept a hand on the hilt of his sword as he looked around.

“So, what did Donnair tell you about these woods?” Bartholemew asked, breaking the silence between them.

“That they were full of wonder, and that you would know what to do when you found it.”

Bartholemew stopped. “Found what?”

“That’s just it. I have no idea. He said you would know. That your training would come into it’s own and you would know it when you see it.”

Bartholemew sighed heavily. “The man was always full of vagueness. But he is rarely wrong on such things. Come on. Let’s find whatever it is I am to find, and get back to him.”

“You don’t suppose we’ll find orcs, do you?” Shorty asked with a gleam in his eyes. “I’ve read much about them, but haven’t ever seen one.”

“I doubt it. The elves have them cornered down in the southeast, except for a few roaving raiding parties.”

“But if we do,” Shorty smiled, “What would you do? Would you draw your sword and charge them? Or would you announce your presence and try to negotiate?”

“Negotiate what? They only seek to kill, ravage and destroy.” Bartholemew spit on the ground at the thought of Orcs. “To announce my presence would be to give away tactical advantage. If I felt I could win, I would draw my sword and charge with all that was within me. If I did not, I would skirt by.”

“Hmmm. And the same could be said about Tieflings from a human’s perspective.”

Bartholemew nodded. “Touche. But I have witnessed my fair share of orc attacks. Have you ever come upon the scene of a Tiefling attack?”

Shorty laughed. “Touche, indeed. And no… I have not. Then again, how would one such as myself know the difference?”

“Well, first of all, we do not revel in the spilling of blood. Only if our own lives are threated would we risk spilling blood onto the soil. We believe there is an inherent life that flows through the blood of all living things. If the scene is a bloody mess, then it is most likely not the work of a Tiefling.”

“I will keep that in mind for when we come upon our next scene of an attack.” Shorty grinned from ear to ear. “I appreciate you letting me spend time with you. There is so much I can learn from you.”

Movement to their left made Bartholemew stop. He held out his hand for Shorty to remain silent.

“What is it?” Shorty asked.

“Shh.” Bartholemew scanned the horizon. Darting between the trees in the distance was a tall humaniod. It’s skin darker than usual, and bare-chested. 

“Get behind me.” Bartholemew whispered. When he looked back, Shorty was nowhere to be seen. “Shorty?!” Bartholemew tried to yell and whisper at the same time. “Oh well…” he whispered to himself. “At least if he ran home, he won’t get hurt.”

Bartholemew slipped behind a tree and peered around, watching the humanoid as he ran in the distance. Soon, it changed direction and began running directly at Bartholemew’s position. That’s when Bartholemew noticed the tiny goblin leading the way. 

“Nooooo!! Be freee!” the Goblin squealed. “Let me be free!”

As the large humanoid stepped from behind a tree, Bartholemew could make out its origin. It was a Hobgoblin.

It stepped forward and drew its bow. In one swift move it notched an arrow, pulled back and released. The arrow sped forward, piercing the goblin’s chest.

Bartholemew stepped out from his hiding place and rushed to the fallen Goblin. As he touched its body he knew that the creature was dead. There was no life emminating from his body. 

An arrow flew by Bartholemew’s head. Looking up, he saw the hobgoblin bearing down at full speed on him, notching another arrow. 

Bartholemew jumped up and ducked behind a tree, followed by the ‘thunk’ sound of the arrow embedding itself deep into the bark. Knowing that the hobgoblin would take a second or two to notch another arrow, he spun out and charged the creature with a mighty roar. The hobgoblin was not phased by the display of force. He stood fast, notched the arrow and drew back his arm. 

A ball of white fell from the branches above, knocking the bow and arrow off target just before the arrow was released. “You’ll not defeat us!” Shorty screamed as he drove his dagger deep into the hobgoblin’s chest. As the creature fell forward, another arrow came from nowhere, catching shorty just under the ribcage.

Bartholemew dashed forward, leaping over logs and underbrush. Another hobgoblin turned and ran in front of him. Without a thought, Bartholemew pressed harder to chase. If the creature reached any other hobgoblins, Bartholemew would be dead. Soon, they approached a clearing where a dry riverbed lay. By this point, Bartholemew was only inches from the hobgoblin. He raies his sword and brought it down with full force, plunging it deep into the creature’s back.

As it came to a halt, Bartholemew plowed full-force into it, sending them both into a tumble down the steep hill until they were both sprawled at the bottom of the dry riverbed, his sword and only weapon still firmly lodged in the hobgoblin’s back.

He lept to his feet, poised to defend himself, but the creature did not stir. He stepped slowly forward, and yanked the sword out of the creature’s back. As he did, he could feel the life-force fade from it. It, too, was dead.

Dashing back through the woods, he finally made it back to Shorty, who was panting heavily, trying to press on his bleeding wound. 

“I’ll … be okay.” He growled and grimaced as he pulled the arrow cleanly through, then let out a scream that startled the birds in the distance.

Bartholemew placed his hands on the human’s wound. He could feel the life quickly fading as the blood poured out. “No.. No no no… hang on, Shorty.”

He closed his eyes and tried to summon all that he could. He could feel the warmth flow through his fingertips, and he heard Shorty sigh. When he opened his eyes again, Shorty lay on the groud. His shirt covered in blood, but the wound was sealed.

“Shorty?”

After a long pause, shorty looked up. “Yeah?”

“You scared me to pieces.” Bartholemew collapsed on the ground beside him.

“I scared you?? What about me?” The two laughed until they could laugh no more. 

“So, you still want to go with me?” Bartholemew asked, breaking their revelry.

“That depends… was that an orc?”

“No. A hobgoblin. Meaner, uglier and deadlier. Probably more of them, too. They don’t travel alone.”

Shorty stood, slowly checking himself over. “What did you do to me? I thought I was going to die.”

“It was a blessing of Truesilver. You will not die. Not right now anyway. But things just got worse than I could have expected. I need you to return to Donnair. With the discovery of hobgoblins in the wood, we have a huge problem. Go back to Veluna and tell Donnair that we ran into Hobgoblins near a dry river.”

“What dry river? There’s only one river that flows through Dapplewood. That’s Stone River. I charted it years ago, but rumors say that it has been poisoned, not dried up.”

Bartholemew glanced back in the direction of the second fallen creature. “Go. Tell Donnair that Stone River has been dammed up someplace up river. I will go see what I can discover and return to him as quickly as I can.”

Shorty nodded as a smile spread across his face. “A hobgoblin, eh? I killed a hobgoblin?”

“Don’t let it go to your head. You were almost killed by one too.”

Bartholemew shook the small man’s hand. Despite how humans had treated him in the past, in the past day, he’d begun to hope. Perhaps he could discover acceptance after all. Maybe with enough time, Tieflings could once again be trusted. “Go with Truesilver.”

Shorty nodded, and jogged back up the small trail toward the former campsite.

Bartholemew dashed back down the hill to the fallen Hobgoblin. As he stood in the middle of the dry riverbed, he placed his palm on the ground and a sense of foreboding and evil swept over him. 

“This isn’t good.”

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.