Hey, good peoples of the world. Matthew Matherne here with the long expected ninth chapter of the Chronicles of Koeleth. Due to reasons which are probably good ones, it took longer than planned to get this to you, my dear readers. To compensate for your arduous wait, I have a gift for you that I will post up here either later tonight or tomorrow morning, depending on when I finish it. Now, it is an honor to present you with the next episode in this humble adventure.
Chronicles of Koeleth
Tom didn’t sleep well that night. He was plagued with nightmares and visions of a dark nature. After a particularly horrid dream, the young man awoke, unable to endure the torment any longer. Dreams and nightmares are not exclusive to magic users, but magic users can sometimes feel them more tangibly. Sometimes it is simply intense experiences, and sometimes it is a prophetic dream. Tom hoped that this situation was the former, and not the latter, because it bred in him an ill sense of foreboding. He never worried about his own death, but something in Tom told him that his companions were in danger.
The warrior had little time to ponder this, however, as he became acutely aware that an unknown entity was watching him from the shadows of his moonlit room. Carefully scanning the eerie darkness around him, his vision finally set on a pair of predatory eyes glimmering in the doorway. He was briefly unnerved by this visitor’s intrusion, until he remembered the youngest of his guests.
“Rydia, is that you?”
A timid whimper affirmed his suspicion.
“What’s wrong? Can’t sleep?”
“Me neither. You can join me if you like. I might be awake for awhile.”
Cautiously, the pup approached the bed, her distinct golden fur illuminated by the light of the stars.
“Look at you! I’ll bet one day you’ll be a real beauty! A natural heartbreaker, what with your lovely hair and vivid blue eyes! You’ll have to beat the boys off with a stick. And a few girls, I imagine. Or you could hit them with a war hammer, too. Whatever suits your fancy, I suppose.”
Though she didn’t quite understand everything that Tom said, Rydia felt the kindness in it, and she jumped up next to him. Curling up into a ball and lying next to the kind man, Rydia felt very much at ease. Tom began to stroke her fur in a further attempt reassure her—and himself—that everything would be alright. Soon, Tom began talking again, telling the young girl about why he agreed to help.
“You know, you’re part of the reason I joined this adventure. You remind me of another little girl I made a promise to. In fact, you two could be twins. She’s a couple years younger, but other than that, she’s the spitting image of you. Same blonde hair, same blue eyes. Same timid disposition, even. Why, if I didn’t know better, I would say you were sisters.”
The wolf pup perked up her ears at this news. Another little girl that looked just like her? How much fun would that be?
“You might get to meet her, too! I managed to convince Dennis to let us run by Stonewall before we get on with the main journey. Assuming she hasn’t been adopted, she’ll be at the orphanage there. Won’t that be fun?”
Despite the encroaching weariness, the child began to wag her tail as vigorously as she could manage. Tom continued to chat for a little while until Rydia drifted off to sleep. Noticing that his new friend was comfortably situated, he decided not to disturb her and simply laid back and allowed himself to follow her example.
The next morning Tom awoke to a blonde-haired, blue-eyed little girl laying sprawled across his chest. By some miracle of nature, he managed to safely escape without disturbing the child. He went about the business of preparing for his day, and, by the time he left his room, Rydia was beginning to stir. Walking into the hall outside his room, he heard a commotion coming from the door ahead of him. Just as he reached for the doorknob, Grace barged in, nearly breaking down the door in the process.
“What’s wrong?” Tom inquired, already having an inkling of an idea.
“We can’t find Rydia!” Grace shouted in panic.
“Rydia’s fine,” Tom said as he yawned.
“How do you know that? How can you be yawning at a time like this!?”
“Because she came into my room last night and slept with me. She’s still there now, if you want to check.”
He had barely gotten these words out of his mouth when Grace shoved him aside and dashed towards Tom’s room. She discovered, just as Tom had said, Rydia sitting on the edge of the bed, squinting in the sunlight. Grace ran up to her and hugged the confused little girl, right before collapsing from relief. Fortunately, the bed broke her fall.
After she had recovered and everything calmed down, the company began to prepare for the day accordingly. Aside from a line for the bathroom, which Tom quickly resolved by allowing the use of his private commodebathroom, the morning went smoothly. Tom dragged Aaron along with him on his mission to collect his new gear and companions. Grace and Amelia set about preparing for the journey ahead. Collin and Dennis busied themselves packing things into the cart. By the end of the day, they were all gathered around the dinner table, sharing one last home-cooked meal before their long travels.
The next morning they found themselves waiting outside the gates of Ramsthrone, almost ready to embark. They were still waiting on one person, the only companion Tom could find to join them. While they waited, two guards came running up to them, their metal armor clanking.
“Halt!” The shorter, black-haired female commanded.
“Yeah, what she said!” The brown-haired male said breathlessly.
Tom, being the official leader of the company, addressed the two guards.
“Is there something wrong, sir and dame?” he asked cordially.
“You bet there is!” responded the man. “You were gonna leave without us, bro!”
“That’s a problem? I was unaware that you were a part of our company.”
“What this idiot failed to mention,” the woman responded, “is that we were sent by none other than Captain Flowermaiden herself. She ordered us to join you for your journey.”
“Lilly sent you? How did she find out about our journey anyways?” Tom asked, eyeing Aaron suspiciously.
“Our deal contains certain…clauses concerning the exchange of information,” Aaron admitted cryptically.
“I see,” Tom responded. “Well, we appreciate your company, then. It might be helpful to know your names.”
“Absolutely,” the woman said. “I am Diane Shipswain, at your service.”
“And I” began the man, “am Arthur Foresthare, at your service. You can call me ‘Artie,’ though, bros and gals.”
“Nice to meet you, Diane and, uh, Artie.”
“Wait,” Dennis interrupted. “How do you know we can trust them?”
“Lilly is utterly unconcerned with politics that don’t influence Ramsthrone. Either she is sending us these guys to help out a couple of friends, or, by helping us it either helps or prevents harm to Ramsthrone. Lilly knows me, she knows I have blessed weapon, and she knows I can handle it well. She also knows Aaron, knows that Aaron would immediately recognize any deception, and knows that he would stop it if it were to his benefit. So, the chances of any trickery are low. Besides, do these two really seem like spies to you? I don’t think they even know what subterfuge is, much less how to use it.”
“True,” Dennis replied in affirmation.
“Hey!” Diane blurted out. “Rude!”
“Not cool, brotaku!” Artie exclaimed. He then turned to Diane and whispered, “What does ‘subterfuge’ mean?”
“…I am pretty sure we’re safe from subterfuge,” Grace began. “But are they any good in a fight?”
“We are former members of the Ramsthrone Castle Guard. We know how to fight, bro. Or is it ‘sis?’”
“Former? Why former?” Collin inquired.
Since Artie was still pondering the important questions about life and the universe, Diane answered.
“As you may have noticed,” Diane said sheepishly, her face the hue of a tomato, “we are lacking in tact and decorum, so there may have been an incident concerning a guest of Lord Ramsrest.”
“I heard about that. That was funny,” Aaron chuckled dryly.
After a bit more discussion, a third stranger approached the party. This time Tom recognized him immediately.
“Theo! Hey, what took you so long?” Tom exclaimed.
“Sorry, Tom. The man in charge had a few words for me before I left,” the man grinned. “But I’m here now!”
“I’m telling you, man, you should freelance with me.”
“What is he talking about?” Dennis inquired.
“Oh, sorry. Let me introduce Lieutenant Theodore Mapleleaf of the Ramsthrone Branch of the Adventurers’ Guild. He’s a friend of mine. We go back to when we first joined the Guild, and he’s perfect for this mission.”
The man grinned again, his smile as large as the rest of his features. Though he was not much larger than Tom, his overall appearance made him look like a giant. Standing an inch taller than Tom, and being a good fifteen pounds more muscle-bound, he definitely made an impression. The brown mane that framed his face was similar to Tom’s black beard, but Theodore’s hair was notably better groomed. The brown-haired warrior’s eyes had a unique mix of brown and hazel hues. His travelling cloak was a clean, beige equivalent to the ratty, weatherworn black cloak that Tom wore. The sleeves fit tightly on Theodore’s arms, in contrast to the loose sleeves on his friend’s, but that was due to his size and not a difference in style. A small pin on the neck of the cloak indicated his rank in the Guild, and the shadow of one could be found on Tom’s cloak, if a person looked hard enough. The seasoned warrior carried a sword on either side, indicative of his prowess as a dual-wielder.
“Good to meet you all!” Theodore announced in a booming, happy-go-lucky voice. “I assume this is only part of the company?”
“You assume correctly,” Dennis replied. “I am Dennis Starcurse, pack alpha.” They shook each other’s hands firmly.
“And I am Grace Nightstalker, the neck that turns the head.”
Theodore dignified her with a bow.
“Your name fits you, fair lady.”
“Smooth as a landslide, Theo,” Tom jested.
“Oh, and your many relationships have been so successful?” Theo readily countered.
“Joking aside, we have business to attend to, don’t we?”
“Yeah, let’s get that over with.”
The four of them discussed what little business there was left to discuss, and soon enough the journey truly began.
“Wait, you’re Theodore Mapleleaf? The Theodore Mapleleaf?” Artie asked, upon discovering Theo’s identity.
“The one and only.”
“Theodore the Sabertooth?” Diane eagerly pressed.
“Theodore of the Twirling Blades?” Artie continued.
“Theodore the Twin Fanged Warrior? Theodore the Nightprowler!? The Hero of Blackfalls!? The Beast of—“
“I see you are fans of mine. Yes, yes, I am all those things,” the merry soldier interrupted.
“He’s not that great, guys,” Tom jabbed. “In fact, the reason for the title ‘Theo of the Twirling Blades’ is more humorous than it is heroic.”
“Yes, well, Thomas Riversedge the Golden Wall isn’t all that flattering either.”
“Wait…you’re the Thomas Riversedge?” the two fans said in unison. “Thomas the Bulwark? Thomas the Bloodless? Thomas—“
“The Hero of Shoreland, and many other titles, yes. Just titles, guys.”
“So you two are the famous Thomas and Theodore of the devastating duo, ‘The River Brothers?’”
“Yep, that’s us!” Theo laughed.
“I didn’t know you were famous, Tom,” Amelia declared in shock.
“I’m not. You earn a title for every mission you complete above a certain level in the Adventurers’ Guild, and I was really good at my job. So was Theo. These two are nerds just for knowing them all.”
The two star struck soldiers continued to babble on about the accomplishments of their idols, completely oblivious to Tom’s remark. The company travelled on, the guards and mercenaries at the ready in case trouble showed up. Although they could have taken an extra day to get there, the company decided to push late into the night to reach the camp, arriving just in time to see most of the outcasts go to sleep. Gabriel remained awake so he could ensure that the newcomers were trustworthy. After a lengthy conversation, he was convinced that they were reliable enough to join them. Not that he had the power to make that decision, as Dennis reminded him. Agreeing that it was in the camp’s best interest to set out a guard overnight, they eventually decided on Theo, who was eager to do the job, despite his long day of travel.
The morning arrived without incident, and the camp packed up for travel. Aaron and Collin, who were unaccustomed to travelling with large camps,ere shocked at how quickly they could pick up and leave. After another couple days of travel, with a quick stop at Pasture’s Edge to let Tom say goodbye to Cleo, the camp settled outside of Stonewall, as Dennis and Grace promised they would. They set themselves up to sit there for a couple days, knowing that they would be staying. While Tom had a promise to keep here, there was also another valid reason to rest here. The whole of Darwin’s Expanse lay before them, and it was a harsh land. They would need to be as prepared as they could be, because it would be some time before they could rest in a safe place near a well stocked town. After some discussion, the group decided that the camp would be safe enough near Stonewall that the soldiers and the outsiders would be better off staying in town, gathering supplies. Tom set up a few rooms at the local inn that he had used last time he was here for himself, his friends and the soldiers. Grace and Dennis also set up a room in the inn, which they shared with Rydia, who refused to be left back at camp. They decided to use what was left of their first day in town to adjust their plans and to rest. The next day, while the others set about gathering supplies, Tom, Grace, and Rydia went to the orphanage that Anna lived in. Tom knocked on the door.
“Hello, welcome to—Tom!” Angela greeted him with shock. “I wasn’t expecting to see you for some time. I figured you would be off on one of your jobs.” She made this last remark with a tinge of bitterness that Tom detected, but Grace didn’t. Nevertheless, she gave him a brief, friendly hug while she said it.
“It’s funny you should mention that. I’m actually on a job now. I’ll be gone for a while, probably a couple months, so I figured I should drop in and keep my promise before I left.”
“Oh? What job are you on now?” Angela asked with genuine curiosity.
“Me and a few fellow adventurers are escorting a group of people to a new location. That’s about as much as I’m at liberty to say, though.”
“Oh, that sounds interesting. You’ll have to tell me all about it when you get back. By the way, you haven’t introduced your two friends yet.” Angela motioned towards Grace and Rydia.
“Oh, man, I totally forgot! Angela, this is Grace. She’s one of the people I’m escorting.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Grace said politely.
“It’s nice to meet you, too,” Angela replied.
“And this is Rydia,” Tom said, introducing the abnormally excited little girl.
“Hey, there, sweetie! How are you today?” Angela leaned down and smiled at the little girl.
Rydia simply smiled in response, wagging her butt back and forth in a very doglike manner.
“Umm, I’m Angela, Rydia. You can call me ‘Miss Angie.’” Angela’s response rolled out awkwardly.
“Oh! Sorry!” Grace exclaimed. “She’s mute. She can’t speak.”
“Oh, okay! Sorry, I didn’t realize.” Angela blushed at her own mistake.
Rydia kept smiling and wagging a non-existent tail, oblivious to the young woman’s mistake.
“Well, I imagine Tom brought you here because of your strong resemblance to Anna. Let me take you to her, and you’ll understand. And have a new friend, I imagine.” Angela led them to a large open playroom where several of the orphans were playing. She called to a little girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. Anna was bashful and hid behind Angela at first.
“Wow!” Grace blurted out. “The resemblance is beyond surprising. Aside from the age, they could be twins!”
“Right? It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Tom said.
“I was shocked when I first saw Rydia myself,” Angela admitted. “I thought Anna had run away.”
“Well, thank goodness she didn’t,” Tom expressed, “because it would difficult for me to keep my promise to a person who wasn’t here.”
“Mister Tom! You’re really here to tell us another story?” Anna asked hopefully.
“You bet, but Rydia’s been waiting to see you, so I’ll tell it after you to get to know each other, okay?”
“Yeah! Okay! Hi, Rydia! Wow, you look a lot like me! What do you like to do for fun? I like to play with dolls, and I like Mister Tom’s stories, too.”
Anna’s quick change of attitude made Rydia ecstatic, and she began to ‘talk’ back. Despite Rydia’s muteness, Anna seemed to understand her perfectly, and the two doppelgangers chatted for quite some time. When they had finally become the best of friends, they were ready to here Tom tell his stories. Tom and Angela gathered the children around them, and the young man began to tell his stories. As promised, the tales were much better than the last time. After several fairy tales and adventures, Tom finally drew his session to a close. He, Grace and Rydia said their farewells and headed for the door. Angela and Anna followed them out.
“Bye, Rydia! Come back soon!” Anna gleefully ejected.
Rydia excitedly waved back.
“What, no goodbye for me? I’m crushed!” Tom said.
“Bye, Mister Tom!” Anna said, hugging him tightly.
“Bye, Anna,” he replied, hugging her back.
After the hug, Anna darted back into the orphanage to play with the other kids.
“Hey, Tom,” Angela spoke in a serious tone. “Be careful out there. I’ve heard that some dangerous criminal escaped from the Vanguard Prison. They don’t know where he headed.”
“Alright, thanks, Angela. I’ll keep my eyes out for anyone suspicious. And you take care of yourself, too. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“I’ll do my best, Tom. Don’t forget about us here in Stonewall while you are on your journey.”
“Don’t worry. I couldn’t do that if I tried.”
Tom and Angela shared a brief hug, said their farewells, and finally left. Grace jostled him a little bit about “cheating on” Amelia, but it was all in good humor. They met up with the others at a prearranged spot to make sure they had done everything they needed to do.
“So, how did the visit go?” Dennis asked, in a surprising show of kindness.
“It went really well,” Grace answered. “Rydia made a new friend. Didn’t you?”
Rydia nodded vigorously.
“Good for you,” Dennis replied. “We’ve gathered everything we can for now, so I guess we should head back to the inn.”
After a few minutes of walking, however, Rydia’s ears began to twitch, clearly in pain. Even in human form, her hearing was hypersensitive.
“Is a noise coming from the camp?” Theo asked, his acute intuition coming into play.
Rydia morphed into her wolf form and ran under Tom’s legs to hide from the sound.
“Let’s go!” Tom said, scooping up the wolf pup in his arms.
Upon reaching the city gate, they all heard it: an ungodly screeching sound like no normal human had ever heard.
“Alistair!” Dennis and Grace announced, locking eyes with each other.