Chapter 8: I Have A Dream…

Holy cow, it’s finally here. It’s about time that Matthew Matherne fellow got back to work, right? Jeez, what a lazy bastard.

 

Chronicles of Koeleth
Chapter VIII
Travelling Companions

“It’s going to happen again, Tommy Boy,” a voice called seductively, menacingly.

Tom knew the voice; he knew it well. She had haunted his dreams since…well, he did not want to think about then. He tried to ignore her—tried and failed.

“I know you can hear me, Tommy Boy. You look so cute when you’re trying to forget me. It’s going to happen again, darling. You know that, don’t you?”

The voice grated on his nerves, stirring up old memories, breathing life into new horrors. He saw visions of the past, of lost comrades and fatal mistakes. Blended in with them were foreboding images of a future yet to come, of great suffering and the fires of death.

“Do you see them, darling? Do you hear the shrieking? Do you feel their pain, Tommy Boy? Revel in it, as you once reveled in my affection.”

“No. No, no, no. No! NO!” Tom screamed, rousing himself from his restless slumber. “No…”

The nightmare was so real, so vivid. For a moment, he thought he was actually there, watching those horrors, reliving them, unable to change what happened. The warrior had little time to ponder this, however, as he became acutely aware of an unknown entity 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 confirmed his suspicions.

“I’m sorry, did I scare you?”

Another squeal of affirmation.

“I just had a bit of nightmare. Yes, it can happen to adults, too. Now, what’s the matter? Why aren’t you with Grace and Dennis?”

The golden wolf let out a morose howl.

“Can’t sleep, huh? Well, you can stay here, and we can chat if you like. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep myself,” Tom admitted, throwing off his covers. Throwing on the clothes hanging off the bedpost, he sat at the edge of his bed.

The pup, illuminated by the light of the stars, cautiously approached Tom. After convincing herself that he was safe, she hopped up on the bed next to him.

“Look at you! I’ll bet one day you’ll be a real beauty! A natural heartbreaker, what with your lovely hair and gorgeous 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,” Tom mused aloud. “Whatever suits your fancy, I suppose. I know a guy who makes great war hammers. Quality stuff, I’m telling you.”

Though she didn’t quite understand everything that Tom said, Rydia felt the kindness in it. She curled up beside the man, feeling very much at ease. Tom stroked her fur, trying to further reassure her—and himself—that everything would be fine.

“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.

“You like the sound of that, do you? Well, that’s good. I think you two will get along famously.”

Tom talked with the little girl for a little while longer until he, too, began to feel the clawing demands of sleep.

“Well, little missy, my eyelids are getting heavy and my muscles are aching, so I think I’ll be getting back to the business of sleeping. It’d be best if you ran off to your room, I think. If you want to stay longer, I won’t stop you, but I’m getting back under the covers and studying the backs of my eyelids.”

Tom tucked under the blankets and rolled onto his side, accepting the warm embrace of the bed. For a few moments, Rydia contemplated going back to Grace and Dennis, but she was exhausted, and the bed was quite comfortable. She curled up in the crook of Tom’s legs, right behind his knees, where it was warm and inviting.

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.

“Guess you didn’t quite make it back to your own bed last night,” he yawned. “I imagine this will cause a bit of a ruckus.”

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!?”

“She couldn’t sleep last night, so she wandered into my room. As luck would have it, I wasn’t sleeping either, so we chatted for a while. After a while, I decided to go back to sleep. She decided that the trip back to your room was too long, so she just curled up next to me. She’s still there now, if you doubt me.”

“By the guardians, you didn’t do anything to her, did you!?” Grace screamed in a panic.

The words were blurted out in fear, with no true conviction behind them, but Tom could not help but feel slightly insulted at the accusation.

“What!? No! Look, you can go check on her yourself.”

Tom had barely gotten these words out of his mouth when Grace shoved him aside and dashed towards the room. She discovered 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 bathroom, the morning went smoothly. Tom dragged Aaron along with him on his mission to collect his new gear and his companions. The rest of the company set about preparing for the journey ahead. 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 loitering 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. With the clanking of armor and the shuffling of papers, two guards rushed towards the group.

“Halt!” the shorter, black-haired female commanded.

“Yeah, what she said!” the brown-haired male gasped.

“Um, okay. Wasn’t going anywhere anyways…” Tom muttered to himself before switching to a more cordial tone. “Is there something wrong, sir and dame?”

“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, holding out some papers, “is that we were sent by none other than Captain Flowermaiden herself. She ordered us to join you for your mission.”

“Lilly sent you? How did she find out about our journey anyways?” Tom asked, flipping through the papers and eyeing Aaron suspiciously.

“Our deal contains certain…clauses concerning the exchange of information,” Aaron admitted cryptically.

“I see. 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 demanded. “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 a 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 agreed.

“Hey!” Diane blurted out. “Rude!”

“Not cool, brotaku!” Artie exclaimed, turning to Diane and whispering, “What does ‘subterfuge’ mean?”

“…I am pretty sure we’re safe from subterfuge,” Grace sighed. “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?” Colin 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,” Aaron interjected. “That was funny.”

“You can’t tell them!” Diane declared desperately.

Before Aaron could continue the story, another man approached the group, a big smile adorning his face; Tom recognized the man immediately.

“Theo! What took you so long?”

“Sorry, Tom. The man in charge had a few words for me before I left,” the man bellowed.

“But I’m here now!”

“I’m telling you, man, you should freelance with me.”

“What is he talking about?” Dennis inquired.

“Ah! My apologies!” the man said. “I am Lieutenant Theodore Mapleleaf of the Adventurers’ Guild, Ramsthrone Chapter.”

“He’s my best friend from the Guild. We go back to when he first joined the Cradle-of-the-Moon chapter, and he’s perfect for this mission,” Tom explained.

The man grinned again, his smile as large as the rest of his features. Though he was not much larger than Tom, his larger frame and 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 facial hair, but Theodore’s head hair was notably better groomed. The warrior’s eyes had a unique mix of brown and hazel hues. His travelling robe was a clean, beige equivalent to the ratty, weatherworn black robe 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 robe indicated his rank in the Guild, and the shadow of one could be found on Tom’s robe, if one looked hard enough. The seasoned warrior carried a falchion on either side of his waist, 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 answered, shaking the man’s hand. “I am Dennis Starcurse, pack alpha.”

“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.

“Fair enough.”

“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.

“Yep.”

“Theodore of the Twirling Blades?” Artie continued.

“That’s me.”

“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.

“So awesome!”

“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. Now let’s head out.”

The two star struck soldiers continued to babble on about the accomplishments of their idols as they left the city walls behind them. The company decided to push late into the night to reach the camp, arriving just in time to see most of the camp off 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, were 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. While Tom had a promise to keep here, there was 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 a few people would be better off staying in town, gathering supplies. Tom set up a few rooms at the local inn for himself and the other non-abominations. Grace and Dennis also rented a room, 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. Tom knocked on the thick wooden door.

“Hello, welcome to—Tom!” Angela started, but was shocked by the face she saw. “I wasn’t expecting to see you for some time. I figured you would be off on one of your jobs.”

Tom detected a tinge of bitterness in that last remark, but Grace seemed oblivious. 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 before I left.”

“Oh? What job are you on now?” Angela asked with genuine curiosity.

“I’m escorting some villagers to a new location. For reasons I’m not at liberty to discuss, they’ve been driven from their homes.”

“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 companions yet,” Angela mentioned, motioning 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, snapping to attention. “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 be 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 two 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 the two girls had become the best of friends, Tom and Angela gathered the children around them, and the young man began. As promised, the tales were much better than the last time. After several fairy tales and adventures, Tom drew his session to a close. Angela and Anna followed Tom, Rydia and Grace to the door.

“Bye, Rydia! Come back soon!” Anna gleefully exclaimed.

Rydia excitedly waved back.

“What, no goodbye for me? I’m crushed!” Tom declared with mock insult.

“Bye, Mister Tom!” Anna said, hugging him tightly.

“Bye, Anna,” he replied, hugging her back.

With a final smile, Anna darted back into the orphanage.

“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 and said their farewells. Grace jostled him a little bit about “cheating on” Amelia, but it was all in good humor.

“So, how did the visit go?” Dennis asked when they had reunited with the group.

“It went really well,” Grace chimed. “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.”

“Yeah.”

After a few minutes of walking, however, Rydia’s ears began to twitch, clearly in pain.

Even in human form, her hearing was sensitive.

“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 nothing else.

“Alistair!” Dennis and Grace announced, locking eyes with each other.

 

Pantheon #7 (A Day Late and A Dollar Short)

Is it even worth it to make excuses anymore? (Also I updated Isolati’s relationship status (kind of), so check that out.)

Showcase #7

Joye

Joye is the incarnation of the Progenitor’s bliss. Where celebration is to be had, there you will find her. Even in the midst of ceaseless tragedies, Joye finds a reason to make merry. Laughter and song are her gifts to humanity. Despite her hopelessly optimistic view of the world, she genuinely seeks to bring cheer to those around her.

Continue reading Pantheon #7 (A Day Late and A Dollar Short)

Pantheon #5

Sorry this is late. This one’s entirely my own fault. I forgot what day it was, and I hadn’t established the post ahead of time. Also, I don’t like the whole symbolic plant thing, so I’m going to stop using it. Too much complexity to it in real life, and I’m certainly no expert on symbolism.

Showcase #5

Fearl

Fearl is the incarnation of the Progenitor’s cautious nature. It is a curious point that even the father of guardians understood fear. Perhaps that is what makes Fearl so unique. He is righteous, holy fear, both foreign and familiar to man. The doubts and worries that crawl out of the shadows of your mind are the domain of Fearl. He is an everpresent nightmare, for himself just as much as for others. Fearl is the first mark of a broken god.

Religion:

Domain: Fear, Cowardice, Terror

Associated Pantheon: Koeleth Sentimentals

Religious Order: The Temple of the Creeping Shadows (commoner), The Inquisition of Koeleth (warrior)

Native Magical Element: Dark

Symbolic Weapon: Knife

Symbolic Gem: Golden Tiger’s Eye

Symbolic Bird: Killdeer

Insignia: Wraith, Sunburst

Appearance:

Body Shape: Straight, Medium Frame

Eyes: Jaundiced

Hair Style: Disheveled, Short

Hair Color: Sandy Blonde

Facial Hair: Stubble, Sandy Blonde

Skin Tone: White, Pallid

Attire: Ragged Hooded Cloak

Weapon: Dagger

Markings: None

Notable Features: Lanky, Wraith-like

Background:

Titles: Lord of Nightmares, Lurking Shadow, Coward’s Spirit

Siblings: Despar

Significant Subordinates: None

Relationships: Why won’t Enthusia just leave him alone? She’s scarier than anything.

Antithesis: Valro

Notable Events:

The Straggler: Fearl’s paranoia and horror had led him to avoid the company of other guardians in the early days. After the formation of Koeleth, it was, ironically, Valro who invited Fearl to join the pantheon of Koeleth. Valro saw it as a kind gesture to a guardian in need. Fearl was too scared to turn him down.

The First Inquisition: Orgalav went through a rapid fall and decay. As a result of Atoriti’s wrath, a curse was laid upon the Orgalav people who became wild and savage abominations who had no control. The Inquisitors rose to defend Koeleth against the dangerous abominations that wandered into their land. Fearl blessed these men for weaponising their dread and harnessing it to destroy the threat before them. As time went on, the threat from Orgalav grew weaker, and the Inquisitors, finding themselves purposeless, started hunting any abominations, whether they could control their powers or not.

 

Pantheon #4: Better Late Than Never (Or Something)

Yeah. Sorry this is late. Been busy with both my jobs, personal things, and being sick (I think I’m stressing about things more than I need to and it’s affecting my health more than I care for.) At any rate, the next main story chapter is on its way. Putting on the finishing touches, and then I’ve also worked on chapter 2 of Ender of Worlds and I’m getting back into the legends. Sorry about the delays in, well, everything. When I don’t get a paycheck to write, it unfortunately ends up being put off when other things come up. Anyways, enough chitchat. Pantheon.

Showcase #4

Valro

Valro is the incarnation of the Progenitor’s adventurous spirit. Everywhere he looks, he sees an epic journey waiting to happen. Staunch defender of the innocent and fearless leader of the vigilant, Valro relentlessly pursues wicked hearts and guides the weak through the fiercest of trials. Though pathetically idiotic when it comes to social situations, he is a battlefield genius who guides mankind through the darkest of storms.

Religion:

Domain: Valor, Bravery, Courage,

Associated Pantheon: Koeleth Sentimentals

Religious Orders: Order of Valor’s Rest (for the common man), Order of the Valiant Blades (for the warrior)

Native Magical Element: Earth

Symbolic Weapon: Greatsword

Symbolic Gem: Sardonyx

Symbolic Plant: Gladiolus

Symbolic Bird: Eagle

Insignia: Holy Sword, Cruciform Greatsword

Appearance:

Body Shape: V Shape, Large Frame

Eyes: Brown

Hair Style: Business Cut

Hair Color: Brown

Facial Hair: None

Skin Tone: White, Tan

Attire: Greek Tunic, Paludamentum

Weapon: Greatsword

Markings: None

Notable Features: Does a well chiseled chin count?

Background:

Titles: Lord of Valiance, Mighty Vanguard, Wolfbane

Siblings: Angern

Significant Subordinates: Fulhart, The Thorn Mountain King (I forgot his name)

Relationships: Hmm? Hmmm! Hmm… What was the cute one’s name again?

Antithesis: Fearl

Notable Events:

The Rise of Koeleth: Valro was the first guardian of the Koelings. When the miniscule Kingdom of Ekoal rose from the dust, he chose their leader to be his paragon. Thus, the legend of Hero King Baldric was born. Certainly he and his line had to contend with other hero kings for control, but with Valro at his back, Baldric birthed a nation.

The Great War of the Triad: Before the advent of the Orgalav Empire, a great war waged between the Nagyb, Koeleth and Ariluo. At that time, Disciplina was not amongst the ranks of the Koeleth Sentimentals, so when it came to matters of war, Valro, Detremenat and Angern took charge. Valro singlehandedly fought off Warrdu, Slaverus, and Faminu, the greatest warriors of the Nagybi guardians. No one questions Valro’s battle skill.

The Rise of the Valiant Blades: During a tumultuous time in history, Valro and Angern chose the same man as their paragon. The man gathered around several others like him, the double blessed, and together they fought to find a place in a world that had grown to hate their power. They earned their place as heroes by risking life and limb for the very people that loathed them, earning them the colloquial name of “Valro’s Blades.” Over time, they became the Order of the Valiant Blades, the hero’s guild.

Pantheon #3

Showcase #3

Angern

Angern is the incarnation of the Progenitor’s righteous fury. His rage burns away his foes with scorching flames. Angern detests wickedness and prefers fierce but fair justice over blind vengeance. He waits for a day when his ire will be quenched by the waters of peace. Until such a time, he shall forge a path to the future by any means necessary.

Religion:

Domain: Anger, Wrath, Ferocity

Associated Pantheon: Koeleth Sentimentals

Religious Order: The Cult of the Eternal Flame

Native Magical Element: Fire

Symbolic Weapon: Battle Axe

Symbolic Gem: Fire Opal

Symbolic Plant: Peony

Symbolic Bird: Hawk

Insignia: Flaming Fist

Appearance:

Body Shape: V Shape, Large Frame

Eyes: Orange

Hair Style: Shoulder Length, Unkempt

Hair Color: Brown

Facial Hair: Full Beard, Brown

Skin Tone: White, Tan

Attire: Bearskin Tunic, Horned Helm

Weapon: Battle Axe

Markings: None

Notable Features: None

Background:

Titles: Lord of Wrath, Purging Fire, Fierce Avenger

Siblings: Valro

Significant Subordinates: Venjenz, Vulcanis (Formerly)

Relationships: Detremenat (It’s Complicated)

Antithesis: Peaz

Notable Events:

Leviathan’s Departure: When Leviathan split from Sorowa, he managed to convince several other earthbound guardians to join him. Vulcanis, Angern’s trusted second in command, was one of those who agreed, if only to keep the balance of powers in check. Angern was furious at first, but Peaz convinced him to let events unfold as they would.

Warrdu and Angern: Warrdu, Angern’s Nagybi counterpart and the guardian of warfare, led the Nagybi tragedies in a war against the Koeleth sentimentals when the nations were still forming. The sentimentals were ultimately victorious, but Warrdu and Angern never determined who was the stronger force. This has led to an intense rivalry and some unsavory fanfics.

The Razing of the Cult: In the Cult of the Eternal Flame’s early days, a significant subset of the priesthood began making human sacrifices to gain the favor and invoke the powers of Angern. Angern was, predictably, enraged by this egregious act, and he wiped out the Cult, beginning anew with wiser, less cruel priests.

Pantheon #2

Showcase #2

Isolati

Isolati is the incarnation of the Progenitor’s separation from other beings. She bears no kinship with the world. Where most other guardians have a strong interest in the affairs of mortals, she would rather remove herself from the mortal world. She yearns for peace and seclusion. Her cold exterior hides a heart plagued by loneliness.

Religion:

Domain: Isolation, Solitude, Independence

Associated Pantheon: Koeleth Sentimentals

Religious Order: The Cult of the Lone Wanderer

Native Magical Element: Cold

Symbolic Weapon: Swordstaff

Symbolic Gem: Moonstone

Symbolic Plant: Hydrangea

Symbolic Bird: Great Blue Heron

Insignia: Crescent Moon

Appearance:

Body Shape: Rectangle, Small Frame

Eyes: Opalescent

Hair Style: Shoulder Length, Ponytail

Hair Color: Bluish-White

Skin Tone: White, Pale

Attire: Navy Blue Mouth Mask, Navy Blue Leather Vest, White Long Sleeved Blouse, Navy Blue Leather Slacks

Weapon: Swordstaff

Markings: None

Notable Features: None

Background:

Titles: Lady of Solitude, Lone Wanderer, Ghost Traveler

Siblings: Sorowa

Significant Subordinates: None

Relationships: No, of course not, connecting with others is pointless. All she needs is a strong drink and a quiet corner. The Bartender can do that for her just fine.

Antithesis: Empathae

Notable Events:

The Progenitor’s Disappearance: Due to her introverted nature, Isolati always stayed on the outskirts of guardian society, but it did not become truly isolationist until the Progenitor disappeared. She loved her father, despite his ever increasing aloofness. Thus, when he left the guardians behind, Isolati was utterly crushed, resulting in her withdrawing from most other guardians.

Welcome to the Pantheon, A Guardian Showcase

This is the first entry in a series of short profiles of the guardians that will update regularly. Dead serious, I’m going to write up a few of these while I’m waiting for chapter 8 to come back from the editing process, and then I’m going to set them to release at the same time every week. These won’t contain spoilers for the stories that they appear in, but will provide some context for and information on the guardians. For the sake of those who might know better than me about symbolism, the items I use for symbols are subject to my own creative license. For example, just because a sapphire stands for fidelity and insight in the real world doesn’t mean it’s going to represent that in my world. Also, brief update: remember Aaron’s newer character profile? Yeah, I’m making a minor update.

The Pantheon

An Introduction

The guardians are deific beings, but with a bit of twist: they were “created”. The guardians are a product of the Progenitor, the Creator of Eirmoda and the First God, shedding aspects of himself in order to create peers he could commune with. It must be stated that the guardians were created after the advent of humanity, because humanity was originally meant to serve this purpose, but they strayed from the Progenitor’s vision (which is pretty sad, he wasn’t asking much). With each new guardian, the Progenitor himself lost more of himself, growing weaker with every passing moment. He watched as his creations, extensions of himself, turned their eyes to the pursuits of man, just as he would, and their came a day when he no longer had a place in this world. Thus, he disappeared. He did, however, give on final gift to humanity before leaving; he established earthbound guardians to keep the world around them in balance. In the aftermath, the intelligent guardians took on the role of guiding humanity and the excess of residual magic left behind from the Progenitor’s work spawned several weaker, sometimes even bestial guardians.

Showcase #1

Sorowa

Sorowa is the incarnation of the Progenitor’s woes. Everything she sees in the world is a tragedy. She cannot help but weep for the state of the world. She yearns for happy endings but can never find them. Despite her comically exaggerated crying, she genuinely cares for humans and their sorrows.

Religion:

Domain: Sorrow, Sadness, Lamentation

Associated Pantheon: Koeleth Sentimentals

Religious Order: The Weeping Temple

Native Magical Element: Water

Symbolic Weapon: Halberd

Symbolic Gem: Lapis Lazuli

Symbolic Plant: Cypress

Symbolic Bird: Loon

Insignia: A Tear Held in Hand

Appearance:

Body Shape: Hourglass, Medium Frame

Eyes: Azure

Hair Style: Waist Length, Straight

Hair Color: Bluish-Black

Skin Tone: White, Pale

Attire: Ornate Sapphire Kimono

Weapon: Halberd

Markings: None

Notable Features: None

Background:

Titles: Lady of Tears, Mourning Maiden, Weeping Woman

Siblings: Isolati

Significant Subordinates: The River Dragon (Formerly), Leviathan (Formerly)

Relationships: There would be, if only only Apathos would care about her

Antithesis: Joye

Notable Events:

Leviathan’s Departure: Leviathan is one of the most powerful earthbound guardians. He was appointed by the Progenitor to guard the oceans and rivers of Eirmoda. Initially, he was subservient to Sorowa, when Sorowa had a broader range of duties, a position which he held no reservations about. As Sorowa’s focus drifted towards exclusively human concerns, Leviathan began to distance himself from her command, relegated himself to the darkest depths of his eponymous home ocean. The Progenitor’s departure was the final nail in the coffin for Leviathan, who promptly declared that he was severing all ties to greater guardians.

The River Dragon’s Downfall: After the departure of Leviathin, the River Dragon’s loyalty was split. He was sworn to serve directly under Leviathan, but also was beholden to Sorowa. As a result, Sorowa and Leviathan frequently clashed over the role of the River Dragon. The River Dragon put forth his best effort to perform as many tasks as he could for the both of them. After some time of this, he resorted to just concerning himself with the needs of his people. In the conflict that arose around the rise of the River People, he was slain by a human barbarian with exceptional strength and skill. With his unfortunate demise, the war over his allegiance also died.

A Serious Look At The Guardians

The few times I take in depth looks at the guardians, they tend to be comical and lighthearted. There’s a certain strange humor in thinking that a collective of supremely powerful beings is nothing more than a gathering of ridiculous goofballs. However, the guardians are actually grim, dark figures. Even the most jovial of guardians, Joye herself, has a tragic nature, if you bother to delve into it. I won’t go into all these stories now, though. Instead, I wish to highlight guardians who wield a greater amount of power.

The Greatest of Guardians

Nobodys, The Forgotten God – Nobodys (Nobody) is aptly named. He was once tremendously powerful, unrivaled in his influence and might. He ruled over the pantheons of countless nations. However, for reasons not yet revealed, he gave up his position and was forgotten, earning him a new name and a new face, and exiling him to the place where everything started: Trialias. He still contains much of the might and power he had before, but he keeps it under wraps for reason of his own. He is the most powerful guardian currently in existence.

Prophessia, The Keeper of Time – Nobodys is the most powerful guardian currently in existence, except, of course, for Prophessia. She is the only greater guardian that can freely roam Eirmoda without adverse affects to herself or the world around her. Prophessia (Prophesy) is the only oracular deity in existence. Her knowledge even surpasses that of Noew Leng (Knowledge) himself; not even he can perceive the future. This is not to imply that fate is set in stone, however. Prophessia sees all possible futures, the repercussions of all choices and all decisions, and the end of all things. She sees the choices that people will make; she does not guide them or influence them typically, but she happens to know which decision someone will inevitably make. Unless someone intervenes; specifically, if she intervenes. Intervening in history, however, is not without cost. Oftentimes the cost is too great for her to pay. So, to mitigate the cost, once every few decades, she finds a dying person and offers to restore their health and extend their life in exchange for the use of their body. That person becomes her oracle, often living a life of seclusion. When the oracle is called upon to deliver a prophecy, Prophessia possesses their body and uses her power to reveal what she sees. Upon occasion, she sends her oracle out into the world to influence a change. A small one, of course, like changing someone’s mind about drinking that last pint of ale or convincing someone to pursue one love interest over another. But Prophessia’s concerns are with guiding fate to its best possible end, so these small actions unleash greater ripples throughout history. Sometimes she does things which don’t seem right or may lead to further suffering, like asking a wandering warrior to go out of his way to save a damned thief from an otherwise inevitable death. All these actions are for the best possible outcome, which leads many to wonder about the dark things which she sees. She is the most tragic of guardians.

Atoriti, The King of the Guardians – The part of the Progenitor that commanded authority was personified in the guardian Atoriti. He is the sole deity of the now dead Orgalav Empire. During the Orgalav occupation of Koeleth and the Nagyb, he reigned over all the guardians of Trialias save for the Six Great Aspects of Ariluo, but when his rule was deemed to be cruel and unforgiving, an Ekaolem-based rebellion, led by his most loyal servant, Disciplina, rose up, overthrowing Atoriti, just as the returning Koelings overthrew the empire. In the aftermath, Disciplina permanently joined the ranks of the Ekoalem guardians. Atoriti, though furious, agreed to leave Trialias to its own devices. He still wields a great deal of power, due to his role as the embodiment of true authority, but he now affects the world in other ways.

Leviathan, The Ocean Lord – Leviathan is the most powerful earthbound guardian, having command over all the seas, rivaling the might of the greater guardians. Though he resides almost exclusively in the Leviathan Ocean, he reigns over the guardians of every other body of water on Eirmoda. Even the revered River Dragon bowed to Leviathan. Leviathan rarely intervenes in the affairs of mortals and he holds a certain degree of contempt for ascendant guardians and the greater guardians, whom he blames for the absence of the Progenitor. He and Sorowa once got into heated conflicts over the actions of the River Dragon, who served under both. However, those conflicts were made moot by the River Dragon’s sacrifice.

Malestromim, The Looming Storm – Malestromim (Maelstrom) is the guardian of storms, the only tragedy of the Nagyb pantheon that also brings life. For being the only life-giver of the Nagyb he is revered and worshipped by the countless scores of poor, weak and oppressed. Malestromim is the only tragedy that does not favor the rich over the poor in some way, and he bears no special love or hatred for humanity, which already makes him more compassionate than his fellow tragedies. Having command over weather makes him formidable. He rarely interacts with his fellow guardians, as he finds very little reason to do so. When he has cause to unleash his power though, one would be wise to flee; he commands the forces of nature and wields them as easily as a warrior wields a blade.

Creat and Annihilat, The Twins of Destiny – Creat (Creation) is the mother of civilizations, the aspect of the Progenitor that allowed him to bring all things into existence, and Annihilat is her twin brother that contains the power to undo all things. Though they rule over the relatively small and inconsequential nation of Ikkeld, they collectively wield the power to alter reality itself. As with Prophessia, however, to use their powers in their rawest form would incur a cost far too great. Thus they have hidden themselves away where few will find them: Ikkeld.

Chapter 7: I Have No Clever Title Here

So sorry it took so long to get this out. It’s here now, though. Still working on the other stuff.

Chronicles of Koeleth
Chapter VII
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.”

“Damn you.”

“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.”

“I see.”

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.”

“Is it?”

“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.”

“Why not?”

“It’s um, cursed. Yeah, let’s go with that.”

“Really?”

“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.”

“Excellent.”

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.”