Chronicles of Koeleth
Chapter VIII
Plotting and Planning

“So, how did you two meet?” Grace asked the two friends.
“That question is so stacked,” Amelia grimaced at the women sitting across from her in the cart.
“We grew up in the same village. What more do you want?” Tom retorted from his position next to Collin at the front.
“Everything,” Grace said in a mischievous tone.
“Fine. When I was four, I was running around my father’s blacksmith shop, causing havoc. Being a workplace obstruction, he sent me away, none too happy about my intrusion. So, I decided I would bother the neighborhood fletcher. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one thinking that way, as a four year old girl was also giving him trouble. Well, he wasn’t at all pleased, and he kicked us out of his shop. So, the both of us decided to go bother someone else. That was the start of our friendship. We have remained good friends since.”
“Who goofs off in weapon shops?”
“We do,” Amelia answered.
“How on earth did you survive?”
“Carefully,” 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.”
“Not that that’s any of your business,” Amelia said bitterly. “I was headed to Cradle-of-the-Moon, Sorowa’s Cradle’s capital city, to join up with Compassia’s Hand, and Tom was headed to Lamentation, the other big city in Sorowa’s Cradle, 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 began. “I didn’t like all the rules and restrictions they had. If I wanted that, I would have joined the army. What a bunch of tightwads. Anyways, I set myself up with the local branch of the Adventurer’s Guild for a while. They have much lighter rules, in exchange for less funding. It’s a good place to get started, though. Never got the opportunity to meet the guild master, but I suppose that stands to reason. Very mysterious figure. Also, he doesn’t live in Sorowa’s Cradle. Once I had established myself, I left the guild. I’m an indie, now.”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s great,” Grace interrupted. “But what about you two? How was your time together? Were you dating at the time? Was it a romantic and tearful goodbye? Did you kiss and hug?”
“No!” Tom and Amelia angrily answered in unison.
“So, you were dating!” Grace said, completely ignoring their protests.
“Don’t you listen to anything I say?” Amelia questioned.
“Hey, lovebirds!” Dennis called from the back of the cart. “I think we should take a break soon. The nerd is getting tired.”
“I am not a nerd! I am a scholar!” Collin fired back. “But, yes, I am in need of a break. As are the horses. How you could tell that from back there, I will never know.”
“You’re swerving, nerd.”
“…So I am.”
The entire troupe was weary, if they were being honest with themselves. Everyone agreed to pull off at the next available clearing.
“As I recall,” Tom began when they had all settled down for a meal. “I invited Gabriel, Grace, Dennis and Amelia. Gabe stayed behind to watch the pack. I understand that. What I don’t understand is why she is here.” Tom pointed to a golden-haired wolf curled up and sleeping in the back of the cart.
“Poor girl. Grace began. “She was so scared to be left behind that she begged us to bring her along. I just couldn’t tell her ‘no.’”
“I was hoping there was a little more to it, when you told me she was coming with us this morning. Regardless, Rydia is here. There’s nothing we can do about it now.”
“Why don’t you want her here, Tom?” Amelia asked.
“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?”
“Why are you putting this all on me?”
“That’s what you’re here for, after all.”
“Technically speaking, I am here to protect Collin. I haven’t started my mission to help you all yet.”
“Your mission? You haven’t started it yet? So, you are going to do it?” Her voice was filled with hope.
“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’s unwanted commentary received two nods of agreement and two malicious looks.
After some more banter and 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 little girl sleeping in the cart. “We’re going again.”
“She either has a great deal of control or no control at all over her powers,” Tom said. “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. Does she use sign language?”
“No. We just kind of understand her, nowadays. We used to have a telepath with us. He was super helpful.”
“I’ll bet.”
The little girl stirred from her slumber. She stretched and yawned and then proceeded to chase after a butterfly that flew by her face.
“So, how did you guys find her?” Tom asked.
“Well, we were camped outside of Carrion, seeking aide from the townsfolk, when a little girl wandered into our camp. We brought her into town with us, thinking she might be lost, but we were met 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 on her own? They should be ashamed.”
“It makes sense. Haven’t you ever been afraid of something you couldn’t understand?”
“No. I am afraid of heights. I’m afraid of snakes. I’m afraid of letting people down. I am not afraid of things I don’t understand. On the contrary, the fact that I can’t understand them just makes me want to understand them. Besides, a human is a human, period. Just because you’re a little different doesn’t mean you deserve to be treated like a monster. It makes me angry, but more than that, it makes me sad that some people don’t understand that.”
“That’s so strange.”
“Well, I’m a strange person. So is Amelia. She’s the best ally you can have.”
“We really can trust you, can’t we?”
“What good would I be if people couldn’t trust me?”
No one seemed to have heard this conversation, so Grace decided to keep it as her little secret. The cart had been packed up by the time it had come to its conclusion, so they immediately left. The rest of the morning went by uneventfully, with some banter about Tom and Amelia, and a few counterattacks directed at Dennis and Grace, which met a similar response. 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 said sincerely.
“This is truly shocking. I didn’t expect you to own a home this ritzy.” Dennis said this with as much condescension as he could possibly muster.
“Allow me to head in first, to make sure my boarder isn’t too surprised.” Tom entered the home ahead of his guests. “Hey, Aaron, we have guests!”
“Mmm! Gmm mmm!” The 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 did not purchase.
“Is all this stuff stolen?” he whispered to himself as approached a gem encrusted golden egg sitting near the entrance to the gallery.
“Yes,” Aaron said, materializing behind Tom. “Don’t…touch that.”
“Why not?”
“It’s, um, cursed. Yeah, that’s it.”
“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 your next job, isn’t it?”
“Ok, yes, it is. So don’t touch it! If I deliver that one, I can put off my next seven jobs for weeks!”
“Alright, then. Well, I told you 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 let them touch that egg.”
“Fine. I’m going to bring them in.” He left his house briefly 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 enough about it to tell you where things are. Upstairs is where you’ll be during your stay here. Aaron stays in the first guest room on the right. Collin stayed in the second guest room on the right when he was here last, so I imagine he’ll want to stay there again. There is only one remaining guest room, and it’s on the left. This means you’ll probably have to double up. Or I have some comfy couches down here. If worse comes to worst, I can sleep in my study while someone takes the master bedroom.”
“Wow. Indie work treats you well, Tom.” Amelia was awestruck.
“Indeed it does.”
“Dennis and I will double up in the remaining room,” Grace offered.
“Ooh, romantic,” Amelia mocked.
“And Rydia can stay with us,” Grace stated flatly in response. “Where will you stay, Amelia? Surely, you have no choice but to stay in Tom’s room with him?”
“Ergh, no, that’s not necessary. I’ll stay down here and use one of the sofas.”
“Actually,” Collin interrupted. “If it is alright with you, Tom, I would like to spend more time in the library. If you give me access to your study, I will stay in there. I am aware that you keep a hammock in there, and I happen to enjoy hammocks.”
“That seems fine to me.” Tom responded. “Now you have a room to yourself, Amelia.”
“Great!” Amelia sighed with relief.
The lodgers set themselves up in their respective rooms, and then Tom gave them a small tour of the house, ending in the dining hall.
“Before we commence any business, let’s get some food in us. Makes negotiations easier and more pleasant, as well.”
“That’s one thing you and I can agree on,” Dennis heartily concurred.
Tom, Amelia and Grace set about preparing the food, while Dennis and Collin prepared the table. Aaron was guarding his egg. Shortly thereafter, everyone was gathered at the table, hungering for the small feast set out before them. Upon finishing the meal, they moved into the great hall, where they set themselves in front of the fireplace.
“Why am I here? I just want to go back to sleep. Whatever your job was, why did this have to inconvenience me?”
“You can always leave, if you want to, Aaron. I’m a little hurt that you don’t want to know what I’ve been doing these past few days, though,” Tom said, mostly jokingly.
“I would come back with something witty, but I just don’t care enough. Also, I’m staying because this sounds like it might be not boring.”
“Whatever floats your dirigible.”
“What the hell is a dirigible?” Dennis asked.
“The future!”
“So this contraption doesn’t exist yet?” Amelia followed.
“It’s in the works. Anyways, let’s get down to business.”
“Right,” Grace responded.
“The first thing I would like to know, before I agree to anything, is the exact nature of your request. What am I being hired to do?”
“As to your question, we would like you to accompany us until we reach the town of Cryptid Oasis. Upon reaching our destination safely, you will be released from our service. Up to that time, your duties shall include guarding the pack and defending it from assaults by bandits, ruffians, headhunters, and any other assailants. It is recommended that you acquire someone to aid you in your endeavors; however, members of the pack are capable of defending themselves in some capacity. 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 loss of life.”
“So, pretty standard fare for me? Got it. Now, about payment. What is your offer?”
“All travel expenses will be covered by the pack. This includes any expenses incurred for food and lodging, and any expenses incurred for the use of carts, carriages, horses and vehicles. On top of that, we are prepared to offer you seven hundred kelons for your services, plus one hundred kelons for each companion you bring along, to be divided amongst you as you see fit. We might be willing to throw in a change of clothes, if you want, too.”
“I’ll pass on that. Thanks, though. Continue.”
“Suit yourself. Ha! See what I did there? I’m so good at jokes.”
“Take this seriously, Grace,” Dennis interrupted, mildly perturbed.
“Right, sorry. If you need even more money, we can jump it up to one thousand kelons and an extra three hundred per companion, but we won’t go any higher.”
“Tempting, but—“ Tom began, but he was interrupted.
“He’ll do it for free!” Amelia interjected.
“What? That’s not—“
“Won’t you, Tom?” she said, half-pleading, half-threatening.
“Now, hold on a—“
“Please!” she begged with puppy dog eyes. “For your childhood friend?
“Damn you. Fine. Alright, thanks to Amelia here, you don’t owe me any payment. However, I still would like my travel expenses covered, and if I bring any companions, they must be paid two hundred kelons each.”
“Excellent!” Grace smiled. “We agree to those terms. Now, speaking of companions, are you bringing any?”
“Yes. I am unsure who, though. I would ask you to give me a day to gather any companions I might want. For now, though, assume Aaron will be accompanying us, as well.”
“Me? Why?” Aaron asked, mildly shocked by the suggestion.
“You never know when you’ll need a professional thief.”
“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 exclaimed, more perturbed than he should be.
“Sorry! Sorry. Just joking.”
“Before you settle your dealings,” Collin interrupted. “Please, allow me to speak.”
“Sure, what is it?” Grace asked.
“I would like to accompany you, as well.”
“What?” Tom uttered, shocked by this unforeseen development.
Everyone stared at the scholar for a few moments.
“I realize I am no warrior,” he began, breaking the silence. “But I would like to go along anyways. I require no payment, as I will not be rendering any services in particular, but I have never been out to the Nagyb Dessert. I am very much interested in the architecture of that area, and, if I recall correctly, Barren Reach was acquired from the Nagyb in some long ago war with the United Tribes of the Nagyb. I recognize the dangers of such a trip, but I willingly accept them. If it’s no trouble, allow me to come along with you. In return, I will help in any way that I can, either through my knowledge or through manual labor. I will even offer the use of my cart and horses for travelling.”
“…I see no issue with it. I’m already responsible for an entire encampment, what’s one more soul? What do you say, Grace? Dennis?”
“If that is his wish, I don’t see a problem,” Grace said, as politely as ever. “We’d be glad for the company.”
“Wait,” Dennis said. “How do I know you’re not some sort of spy or agent for our enemies?”
“I swear on my life, I have no ill intentions.”
“How can I be sure? You are aware that we are abominations, and yet you willingly agree to come with us. There’s no reason for it. Tom was brought to us by Amelia, so we didn’t question his motives as highly, but you are a complete stranger.”
“I am a follower of Peaz. My mission is one of peace, not war. Besides, if I were a traitor, I could have easily left and gave you away by now, but I have accompanied you this entire time and you have never seen me leave.”
“He brings up a good point, Dennis,” Grace stated. “And Tom trusts him, and Amelia trusts Tom.”
“Alright,” Dennis said. “But I’ll be watching.”
“If that helps you, so be it.” Collin offered a handshake, which Dennis accepted.
“Excellent.” Tom finally brought things back together. “Now that everything is settled, anything else we need to discuss?”
“Just travel plans,” Amelia pointed out. “What are we doing?”
“Oh, right. Forgot about that. Let’s get working on those.”
The coconspirators planned out the journey from start to finish, discussing their safest options. When they had determined their proper course, they dismissed their meeting and went about enjoying the rest of the evening.

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