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We Lounged on a hilltop overlooking a minor city. Walls cut a river of stone through the forest below us. Guard towers stood sentinel above the tree-tops. Heavy grey clouds cluttered the sky, blocking the dipping sun. An icy wind from the south shook the forest.
“We should camp here tonight.” I offered.
Phebes stretched her arms above her head. “Why? Doesn’t sleeping in a bed sound good after two weeks on the road?”
A gust of wind buffeted us. Wyanet pulled her cloak tighter. “We can make it to that city before nightfall. Why do you want to camp?”
I rolled a stone back and forth between my feet. “Something feels… off. I don’t know what it is, but everyone we’ve met since Bauerndorf seems to know more about me than I do. Also, I keep having these strange dreams about a tiger with blood-red stripes and a woman dressed in blue and silver.”
“That does not answer our question.”
“Everyone keeps telling me to hide who, or what, I am and I don’t know enough about either of those things to know what they mean. I wanted to spend a bit of time trying to make a fake identity before we go into a new place.”
Wyanet studied me in silence. “The spirits work in ways beyond our understanding. If you wish to stay out here tonight, we will.” Wyanet opened her rucksack and began setting up our camp.
“What’s a tiger?”
“I don’t know.” I pulled the hatchet out of Wyanet’s rucksack. “It looks like a really big cat, with stripes in its fur. I don’t even know how I know it’s called a tiger. The name sort of came to me.” I started walking towards the nearest tree. “Help me gather some firewood.”
“You should say that you’re a ranger,” Phebes said through mouthfuls of acorn cake. “You’ve got the long cloak, and know a bunch about nature. Plus, rangers passed through Last Oasis all the time. They were all so cool and mysterious, sort of like you.” She wiped away the dribble of honey on her chin. “You’ll have to figure out something for a different sword though.”
“What’s wrong with my sword?”
“That is not a bad idea,” Wyanet added.
“Okay, but what is wrong with my sword?”
“It is too curvy. most woodsmen don’t carry swords, but the ones who do use a straight blade.” Phebes replied. “What about magic though? All the rangers who came through Last Oasis could cast some basic spells.”
“The Fae can hide beneath his cloak, and use their magic to make it look like he can use magic.” Wyanet offered.
“If I’m not carrying my sword, what will I use as a weapon? I don’t know anyone who ventures out into the wilds without a weapon.”
Wyanet stroked her chin. “Keep the hand axe in your belt. If anyone asks, you can tell them you lost your sword in a fight, and need to replace it.”
“Have you thought of a name? Names are important.”
“I haven’t decided.” I looked up into the pitch-black sky. A handful of raindrops spattered my face.
“You two get some sleep.” Wyanet tossed a couple more logs onto the fire. “I will take first watch tonight.”
Phebes and I crawled into our makeshift tent. Rain pounded a steady rhythm as we wrapped up in a blanket and drifted to sleep.
I woke up several hours later. Wyanet had replaced Phebes. Crickets and frogs screamed somewhere in the forest, occasionally drowned out by a popping log. I wrapped my new cloak around my shoulders and collected my sword before I ventured out into the night.
A shy full moon peeked through rolling rain clouds. Cold, wet, air bit down to the bone. A wolf howled a sorrowful note. Phebes sat next to the dying fire, her back to the tent. I put my hand on her shoulder.
“Ope! I was about to wake you.” She jumped at my touch.
“Why’d you let the fire die down?” I sat down opposite her.
Phebes gestured to the handful of small logs piled beside the fire. “I wanted to save you some wood.”
I picked up a log the size of my wrist and tossed it onto the coals. Cinders floated on the smoke. “Get some sleep. It’ll be morning soon.”
Phebes circled to my side of the fire. She sat down beside me and put her blanket around both of us. “I’m going to stay up a bit longer. We’ve never had a chance to talk, just the two of us.” She leaned on my shoulder. “Is there anything you want to talk about?”
I poked the coals in the fire with a stick. “Why did you leave Last Oasis?”
Phebes yawned. “There aren’t any real warriors there. I wanted to learn how to fight, so I could protect those I care about.”
“Why? Nothing ever attacks there, it’s too isolated.”
“The council thinks so too, but a few months ago an Ice Goblin raiding party attacked us. A lot of people died. Despite that, the council still doesn’t think we need any warriors. So I left to find someone to teach me to protect my home.”
“You’ve only been out in the world for a few months, and you thought you could fight Dark Elves?”
“I’ve known how to fight…” Phebes yawned again, her speech slowed. “The woman who raised me wanted me to know how to stand up to the other kids.”
“Weren’t you raised by your parents?”
A soft snore responded. I tossed another log on the fire and listened to the chatter of distant wolves.
The clouds on the Eastern horizon glowed. A heap of cold ashes rested where the fire had been. Phebes slept in my lap, using my legs as a pillow. My breath formed wispy tendrils in front of me.
“Have you noticed the weather has gotten colder the further South we have come?” Wyanet offered me a strip of jerky.
I took the meat and bit a chunk off. “I have. Something unnatural is at work here, and I don’t know what.”
“Perhaps someone in town will know more.”
“Some super powerful magic creatures can affect the weather.” Phebes piped up. “I read about some of them when I was back home.”
I looked down at Phebes. “We should still ask around. They might be able to tell us what is causing it.”
Phebes realised where her head rested and shot straight up, stiff as a board. “I’m just ready to have a roof over my head again.” A nervous giggle escaped her lips.
“Let us break camp and be done with it. There is no point in waiting any longer.”
“Agreed.” I got to my feet and broke down our tent.
“Morning folks!” A guard in a ringmail shirt covered by a violet and silver tabard called to us. He carried a steaming wooden cup in one hand as he approached us. “You’re the first ones to enter Vercingetorix through this gate today.” He paused and sipped at his beverage. “Actually, you’re the first travellers I’ve seen since the relief group last month. What can I do for you?”
“We have covered a great distance. We seek beds and a warm meal.” Wyanet replied.
“Sure, sure, those should be easy enough to find.” The guard pulled a leather book and a reed pencil from the pouch on his hip. “Lord Tiarna just wants me to take everyone’s name down. He likes to know who is entering and leaving his city.” The guard set his cup on the ground and looked at us, the nib of the pencil sat on the paper.
“I’m Percival von Veltliner. These are my companions, Wyanet of the First People, and Phebes of Last Oasis.” I replied.
The guard scribbled the names down in his ledger. “Last Oasis, huh, you’re a ways from home.” He finished writing the names and tucked the book away. “Right, My name is Irven, I’m the captain of civil security. If you need anything, let me know.” Irven took two steps toward his post. “Oh, I almost forgot. Food has been scarce for a while. Don’t be too surprised if you can’t find any.”
I Stepped forward. “Irven, I lost my sword in an encounter with some bandits on the road a few days ago. Do you know where I could get myself a new one?”
Irven looked at the hatchet in my belt, then back at me. “You should talk to Rory. She’s young, but she’s the only blacksmith in town, now that her master is dead. Good kid, rough life.”
We entered the city. Dismal buildings lined the narrow cobblestone streets. We wandered toward where we thought the city centre was. Sad, thin, angry faces sneered at us as we walked past them.
“We are being followed,” Wyanet whispered as we entered into a plaza.
I glanced at the roofline behind us. A lithe hooded figure in a green cloak ducked behind a balcony wall.
“I see them. I bet they’ve been following us since we entered the city.”
Phebes stopped in front of me and looked around. “Where are they?”
I bumped into her and pushed her forward. “Keep moving, we don’t want them to know we’ve seen them.”
“What in the Nine Hells are you doing here?” A chubby man in priest robes demanded of a woman who looked like Wyanet. “You heretics are the reason our crops keep failing!” The priest struck the woman across the face, sending her sprawling across the ground. “Get out of my city.” The priest kicked the wares the woman had set out on a blanket.
A child screamed, the woman’s husband rounded their wagon and went to his wife’s side.
Wyanet pulled her war club from her belt and sprinted across the plaza. Phebes and I sprinted after her.
Wyanet hooked the ball of the club around the priest’s ankle. She swept his leg and shoved him to the ground.
“How dare you heathens assault me!” The priest bellowed.
Wyanet knelt with her people and spoke with them in their language. I stepped between the priest and the First People.
“Walk away, while you still can, priest.”
The priest scrambled to his feet and adjusted his robes. “You would betray your people for savages?”
Phebes stepped to my side, an arrow rested across her bow.
“I betray no one, but defend those who would be victims to power abusive people.”
The priest studied his situation and turned away. “Wait until my superiors hear about this. They will certainly send an entire Inquisition company to eradicate all of the heretics and heathens here.” The priest stomped away.
The woman of the First People appeared at my side. “You sit on a throne of opulence while your people starve.”
The story will continue, November 7th.
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Written by: Sweeney
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