So sorry it took so long to get this out. It’s here now, though. Still working on the other stuff.
Chronicles of Koeleth
Plotting and Planning
“Sooo,” Grace began mischievously, “how did you two meet?”
“That’s a loaded question if I ever heard one,” Amelia scowled, glaring at the woman sitting across from her in the cart.
“We’re from the same town; we grew up together. What more is there to know?” Tom answered dismissively from his position next to Collin at the front of the cart.
“Everything!” Grace declared. “I want all the juicy details.”
Tom let out a heavy sigh.
“Fine,” he said, resigned to his fate. “When I was four, I was running around my father’s smithy, being a general nuisance. None too happy with my antics, he scolded me and told me to go play somewhere else. That somewhere else was the neighborhood fletcher. Apparently, great minds think alike, because a certain four-year-old girl was also intruding on the fletcher’s work. Well, he was just about as happy with us as my father was, and his reaction was much the same. So, both of us decided to go harass someone else. And we’ve been the best of friends ever since.”
Amelia nodded in affirmation.
“Who messes around in a weapons shop?”
“We do,” Amelia chimed.
“How on earth did you survive?”
“Luck, caution, and a good bit of dexterity,” Tom quipped.
“Anywho, tell me more about when you two left your village. I knew all about Amelia leaving her village, but I didn’t know she was leaving it with a friend. Especially of the male persuasion.”
“Well, I’m not the only one who has traveled alone with a man,” Amelia said accusatorily.
Grace turned red at this implication.
“I was headed to Lamentation, a river city in Sorowa’s Cradle, to join up with their branch of Compassia’s Hand, and Tom was headed to Cradle-of-the-Moon, the Cradle’s capital, to join up with the Valiant Blades. We traveled together for a few miles, until our paths split. Before we split up, though, I received my shield from Lady Empathae. Shortly after we split up, Tom received his halberd from Lady Sorowa. I met with success in my endeavors, but what happened with you, Tom?”
“Well,” Tom explained, “I was shocked to find that they were quite a bit more rules heavy than I thought they would be, so I decided to take my skills elsewhere. If I wanted that, I would have joined the town guard or hooked up with the militia or army. So, I made my way to the local chapter of the Adventurers’ Guild. Much more flexible rules. Of course, they also don’t get backing from the government, so your pay isn’t guaranteed. Great place to get started, though. Never got the opportunity to meet the grand guildmaster, though. Stands to reason, I suppose; the Adventurers’ Guild main HQ is in the royal city. Real mysterious figure the guildmaster is, but that’s a story for another time. After a few years, I left the guild to go indie. My reasons are my own.”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s great,” Grace interrupted. “But what about you two? What was your time together like? Were you an item? Was the goodbye tearful and romantic? Did you kiss?”
“No!” Tom and Amelia denied in unison.
“So, you were dating!” Grace declared, blatantly ignoring their protests.
“Do you ever listen to me?” Amelia sighed, resigned to her fate.
“Hey, lovebirds!” Dennis called from the back of the cart. “I think we should take a break soon; the nerd is getting tired.”
“I’m not a nerd! I’m a scholar!” Collin fired back. “But yes, both the horses and myself need a bit of a rest. How you could know that from back there is beyond me.”
“You were swerving, nerd.”
“…So I was.”
The entire troupe was weary, if they were being honest. They pulled off at a nearby clearing to eat and rest.
“As I recall,” Tom remarked towards the end of their lunch, “I invited Gabriel, Grace, Amelia and Dennis. I understand why Gabe stayed behind. What I don’t understand is why she’s here.”
Tom waved his hand over the golden-haired wolf girl who had curled herself up next to him after finishing her meal.
“And why is she sleeping next to me instead of you all?”
“Poor girl,” Grace explained. “She was so scared to be left behind that she begged us to bring her along. I guess I’m soft, because I just couldn’t say ‘no.’ As to why she’s chosen you to be her pillow, well, she probably feels that you’re the safest person in the group, which, all things considered, you probably are.”
“I was hoping there was a little more to it than that. Regardless, Rydia is here now, I suppose. Nothing we can do about it.”
“Why don’t you want her here, Tom?” Amelia questioned.
“This is a dangerous road, and she’s just a child. In my opinion, she would have been safer with the pack. I don’t want anyone to be exposed to any unnecessary risk, especially a child.”
“She’ll be fine, Tom. I mean, you’re here to protect her, right?” Amelia grinned smugly. “That’s what you’re here for, after all.”
“That is an unfair amount of power you wield.”
Amelia’s pleased expression simply grew.
“Technically speaking, I am here to protect Collin. I haven’t started my mission to help you all yet.”
“Your mission?” Amelia parroted, her victory smile ever growing. “You haven’t started it yet? So, you are going to do it?”
“Now, that isn’t what I said! I still have to consider it!”
“Don’t listen. He’s already agreed to help.”
“You would make a cute couple,” Collin said innocently.
His unwanted commentary received two nods of agreement and two malicious glares.
After some more conversation, they packed up and hit the road again. The remainder of the day was peaceful. When it grew late, they found a clearing to rest in for the night.
“Wake up, little one,” Grace whispered to the sleeping girl. “We’re going again.”
“She either has a great deal of control or no control at all over her powers,” Tom noted.
“She doesn’t seem to sleep consistently as a wolf or a human.”
“She has some control. She told me one time that sleeping as a wolf is more comfortable for her.”
“Huh. How do you communicate with her?”
“We used to have a telepath with us, and he was super helpful. After he left, though, we just kind of learned to understand her.”
The little girl stirred from her slumber, stretching and yawning. Her newly awakened eyes caught sight of a butterfly, and she began chasing it around the clearing.
“So, how did you guys find her?” Tom inquired.
“We were camped outside of Carrion, seeking aide from the townsfolk, when a little girl wandered straight into the heart of our camp. We brought her into town with us thinking she might be lost, but we were met only with anger and fear. Apparently, since she was an abomination, they feared it would bring ill fortune to the village. Some of the more compassionate villagers asked us to take care of her. We agreed, of course.”
“Wow, how could you do that to a child? Sending her out into the wilderness like that. They should be ashamed of themselves.”
“It makes some sense. Haven’t you ever been afraid of something you can’t understand?”
“No. Afraid of heights? Sure. Snakes? You betchya. Letting people down? Absolutely. But things I don’t understand? Never. On the contrary, the fact that I can’t understand them just makes me want to understand. Furthermore, a human is a human is a human. Just because you’re a little different doesn’t mean you should be treated like a monster. It makes me angry, but more than that it makes me sad.”
“That’s so strange.”
“I…we’re so used to being hated, reviled, treated as subhuman beasts. It’s…refreshing to have someone look at us as if we’re normal. It’s strange.”
“Well, I guess I’m just strange.”
“We really can trust you, can’t we?” Grace admitted thoughtfully.
“I suppose I wouldn’t be much good if you couldn’t.”
No one seemed to have heard this conversation, so Grace decided she’d keep it as her little secret. The cart was packed by the time their conversation had concluded, so they promptly left. The rest of the morning went by uneventfully, with some banter about Tom and Amelia, which was met by a few counterattacks directed at Dennis and Grace. Before too long, Ramsthrone came into view. As he had done before, Tom used his sigil to enter the city, and the entire company found itself at Tom’s mansion before the afternoon had turned into evening.
“Well, this is my humble abode,” he said when they had gotten off the cart.
“Humble, indeed,” Amelia said sarcastically.
“Isn’t it nice?” Collin replied sincerely.
“This is truly shocking. I didn’t expect you to have a home this ritzy,” Dennis uttered with as much condescension as he could muster.
“Allow me to head in first, to make sure my boarder isn’t too surprised,” Tom declared as he entered the mansion. “Hey, Aaron, we have guests!”
A muffled voice came from the second floor, presumably with the door to his room closed. Tom explored his home a little before inviting the waiting travelers inside. This turned out to be a wise endeavor, as he found a number of artifacts adorning his halls that he had not purchased.
“Did he really steal all this stuff?” he whispered to himself as he approached a gem encrusted golden egg.
“Yes,” Aaron replied, materializing behind Tom. “Don’t…touch that.”
“It’s um, cursed. Yeah, let’s go with that.”
“Yes! Wait, no. Better yet, it hatches into a vile insect that crawls into people’s brains and eats them alive.”
“It’s for a job, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Don’t touch it. If I deliver it in one piece, I can put off my other jobs for weeks.”
“Alright, then. Well, as I said, we have guests. I picked up another job while I was on my last job, so I brought them back here to discuss terms.”
“I don’t care. Just don’t touch the egg.”
“Fine. I’m going to bring them in.”
Tom left his house long enough to beckon to his new roommates.
“I welcome you to my home. I spend as little time here as I can, but I know my way around. All the rooms are upstairs. Collin is currently staying in one of the guest rooms, and I imagine he would like to stay there. Aaron is staying in another. Best not try to deal with him. That leaves one room open. I imagine Grace and Dennis will want to share that one?”
Tom asked this question innocently, but it still received a matching set of scowls. They did not object, however.
“Ooh, how romantic,” Amelia mocked.
“Sorry, just trying to make things easier. Anyways, that does still leave us with one extra person to deal with—I’m assuming Rydia will be staying with Grace and Dennis.”
“I guess that means Amelia has no choice but to stay with Tom for the night,” Grace vengefully sneered.
“Get your mind out of the gutter,” Amelia chided. “Wouldn’t the master bedroom have room for two, though, Tom?”
“Well, yes, but that would mean us sharing a bed and a bathroom. And I’m pretty sure that no matter how good of friends we are, you don’t really want me to see you naked or even scantily clad.”
“You raise a valid point.”
“I can take a couch downstairs,” Tom offered.
“Actually,” Collin interjected, “I was hoping to spend some time in your library, Tom. I am aware of the fact that you keep a hammock in your study, and I am rather fond of hammocks. Perhaps I could relocate, giving Amelia a room for her own.”
“I have no issue with it.”
The rest of the afternoon went by rather uneventfully, and, after a hearty supper, Tom gathered the company in the hall to plan their journey.
“Why am I here?” Aaron objected half-heartedly. “I’d rather go back to sleep. This is inconvenient.”
“You can leave anytime you like, Aaron. I’m a little hurt that you don’t want to know what I’ve been up to, though,” Tom joked.
“I would come back with something witty, but I just don’t care enough. But this does sound not boring.”
“Whatever floats your dirigible.”
“Dirigwhat?” Dennis asked, baffled.
“It’s a hypothetical flying contraption. Doesn’t exist yet.”
“Fascinating,” Amelia remarked.
“Right, down to business. First thing I want to know is what exactly are you hiring me to do?”
“We would like you to escort us to Cryptid Oasis and act as a guard,” Grace began diplomatically. “Upon reaching our destination, you will be released from our service. Up to that time, your duties shall include defending the pack from assailants of all varieties. This may result in confronting powerful organizations. As such, it is recommended that you acquire a team of skilled and trustworthy individuals to aid you. Several members of the pack are capable of defending themselves to a certain extent; however, none of us are trained combatants, which is why we require assistance. Any life lost due to an assault on the pack will be credited to you and/or your companions. Payment may or may not be affected by such a loss of life.”
“So, standard fare? Got it. How about the payment?”
“Any and all travel expenses for you and your companions will be covered by the pack. This includes, food, lodging, the use of horses and vehicles, etc. On top of that we are prepared to offer fifty silver coins to you for your services and ten for each of your companions. We might even be able to throw in a change of clothes, too, if you want. We have an excellent tailor in our company.”
“I’ll pass, thanks. Continue.”
“Suit yourself. Ha! See what I did there? I’m so good at jokes.”
“Take this seriously, Grace,” Dennis interrupted, somewhat perturbed.
“Sorry. If you need more, we can jump it up to seventy for you and twenty for your companions, but not much more.”
“Tempting, but I’m not sure I can do it for that price,” Tom said hesitantly.
“Right!” Amelia interjected. “He’ll do it for free!”
“What? That’s not—“
“Won’t you, Tom?” she urged, pulling out her best puppy dog eyes.
“Now, hold on—“
“Please!” she continued, pouting. “For your childhood friend?”
“That is so not fair. Fine. Thanks to Amelia, you owe me no monetary payment. However, I want travel expenses covered and each of my companions must be paid twenty five silver coins.”
“Excellent!” Grace smiled. “We agree to those terms. Now, speaking of companions, who are you bringing?”
“Well, I’m not sure about numbers yet, but that’s an aside. Give me a day. I have a few ideas—all trustworthy—but I can’t guarantee anyone will actually agree. Well, except for one. But I’m going to him last. In the meantime, assume Aaron is coming with us.”
“Me? Why?” Aaron asked, mildly shocked but unconcerned.
“You never know when a professional thief will be useful.”
“What a pain.”
“Alright, you’ll have your day,” Grace declared. “Bring us back some good ones. A couple of handsome, strapping young men would be ideal.”
“Grace!” Dennis said, more perturbed than a simple friend should be.
“Sorry, sorry! Just joking. Jeez, you take the fun out of everything.”
“Before you settle your dealings, please allow me to speak.”
“Sure, what’s up?” Grace replied.
“I would like to accompany you as well.”
“What?” Tom uttered in bewilderment.
The whole group turned their gaze to the scholar.
“I realize I am no warrior,” Collin continued, “but I would like to go along anyways. I require no payment, as I will not be rendering any service, but I have never been to the Nagyb Desert. I am very much interested in Nagybi architecture, and Barren Reach was once a territory of the United Tribes of the Nagyb. I recognize the dangers of such a trip, but, if it is no trouble, I would nevertheless like to join you. Of course, I will offer what help I can. You may even use my horses and cart.”
“I see no issue with it,” Tom replied. “I’m already responsible for an entire encampment, what’s one more damned soul? Grace? Dennis?”
“We’d be glad for the company,” Grace answered, as eloquently as ever.
“Wait, how do we know he isn’t some sort of spy?” Dennis interrogated.
“I swear on my life I have no ill intentions.”
“How can I be sure? You know what we are, yet you join us so easily. There’s no reason for it. Mr. Riversedge was brought to us by Amelia, so we didn’t question his motives, but you are a complete stranger.”
“Certainly, if I were intent on betraying you, I’ve had plenty of opportunities already.”
“Hold up there,” Tom interrupted. “There are several reasons why a potential traitor would wait to, well, betray you. Trust me on that. That’s not to say you are a traitor, of course. I just want to air out that misconception. Carry on.”
“Oh, well, I see your point. Regardless, you all have kept your eye on me this entire time, and I have not left you even once, so I obviously have made no secret correspondence. Furthermore, you’ve seen my power; I am a follower of Peaz. I would never intentionally bring harm to anyone without a very strong reason. I have no grudge against you or your people.”
“He brings up a good point, Dennis,” Grace pled. “And Tom trusts him. And Amelia trusts Tom. And…so do I.”
“Alright,” Dennis conceded. “I’m keeping my eye on you, though.”
“If that helps you rest easy, I welcome it,” Collin said, offering a handshake.
Dennis shook his hand, and they went on to the next piece of business.
“Now, what do we have left to discuss?” Tom said vacantly, his mind elsewhere thanks to the previous discussion.
“Just travel plans,” Amelia reminded.
“Oh, right. Let’s get to it, then.”