Thursday, November 03, 2005

Top Ten

The Top Ten D&D Characters You'll Never See

10) Centaur meter maid
9) Orc manicurist
8) Drow crossing guard
7) Gnomish driving instructor
6) Halfling file clerk
5) Dwarvish janitor
4) Half-elven rodeo clown
3) Bean burrito
2) Wyvern mailman
1) Minotaur ballerina

Monday, October 31, 2005

Pffft..."I don't think I'll be checking for track marks now.": RP Update

Again, no letter as we are in the middle of the wilderness and no way to get out a letter home.

What a night!

Despite most of the group being partied out from the birthday shindig and half the group reveling at the Ren Faire, we actually had a really fun night. I think it had something to do with the application of my special brew coffee to God. I don't make weak coffee. Ever.

Anyway, here's what's happened:


The scout outpost was in poor condition. All of the scouts had been enduring almost nightly raids on the post, trying to hold it. They had already lost one and had to relocate farther back from the mine, but the attacks are still coming on strong. This time, they had a little help from our group.

Ghost shared first watch with Andre. She was not at all surprised to find him nodding off and snoring probably an hour or two into the watch. Once Ayman came up the tower, Dwight called up from below that there were creatures at the gate. One of which he promptly spitted on the end of his sword. As the mage and ranger rang the warning bell and sprinted down the steps, the other party members were waking up and going after their weapons.

The gate came down as ogres and hobgoblins were chopping away at it, but by that time, Dwight and Shallan had taken care of the three ogres (Dwight's work) and five hobgoblins (Ghost's), so there wasn't much to come through. Ayman fired off a quick spell, repairing the gate and effectively locking Ghost outside. As she circled around, there came a call from the south, "They're over the fence!"

All of the scouts were engaged in a battle with more hobgoblins who had grappled over the fence and were trying to keep them at bay. Bats the goblin bounty hunter and Uhmvli (our big hairy guy) held off the Ogres outside the barricade while the rest took care of the hobgoblins inside. Ghost scaled the fence and joined in. It was a slaughter.

Next morning, Ghost had a chat with Andre. It was time to find out what was going on around us, so at her suggestion, Andre sent out three scouts to see if anything else was in the works for us. One came back with some bad news. While flying over the mine, he had seen a black dragon speaking to a larger hobgoblin-type and reading some sort of map, while more of the pseudo-hobgoblins stood around a huge pavillion tent.

The party suspects the dragon to be Menulok the Black, but his last reported sighting was in a swamp elsewhere in the kingdom.

Again, Ghost convinces Andre that someone needs to go out and send word back to Woodland. But Cyneric has a better idea. Being of the Order of the Fleet Fox, messages are his specialty. He enchants a peregrine falcon to deliver a message back to his superior, Armand, to ask Darik the Bronze for more help A.S.A.P.

In the meantime, Ghost convinces Andre there should be some reconaissance done on the older outpost to see if it were still in good shape. If the group could move to the first outpost, it might confuse their enemies enough to give them some sort of break. Drake, the hippogriff rider, volunteers to fly Ghost close enough to the first outpost at night to use her elven eyesight and see if this plan would work.

Tune in next week...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Pondering the *sip* consequences

Dwight was taking advantage of the down time by leaning against one of the tower's support beams and wiping his brow. "This situation could easily become dire," he said to nobody in particular.

Ghost had been occupying her time by tending to the various wounds of the scouts. She was clumsy, but had tried her best. She tied off the last bit of bandaging she had and smiled at the scout before joining Dwight. With a quick glance around the enclosure, she asked, "I wouldn't mind a bit of cleaning up. Could you take me to that pond?" She gathered up the now-empty bucket she had asked him to fill.

Dwight pushed off of the beam. "Let me find a pole and some more buckets. We may as well pull some weight while we remain here."

Shallan nodded and gathered up a few more buckets. "The mounts will need water for the night too," she agreed.

Dwight left his pack in the care of Cyneric, taking only his sword and anything already tied to his belt. "Shall we be off?"

Shallan grabbed a scrap of cloth and some soap and tucked both into her belt, then shouldered half the burden of buckets. She nodded and silently followed him, armed only with her sheathed sword.

The two started off through the trees in the afternoon sunlight. The forest was quiet. "I don't think any of us are looking forward to this ordeal."

"I think there's something else going on that someone isn't telling us..." Shallan replied suspiciously. "I don't like being deceived."

Dwight nodded. "That makes two of us. The only reason I'm here is that it's an opportunity to keep the goblins at bay, hopefully for years."

She kept a close eye on the woods as they traveled, more than ready to dump her cargo and go for her sword. It felt strange not traveling with her bow strapped to her back. "So do I get to hear about your adventure the other night? How did you get rid of our pest problem so quietly?"

Dwight smiled and chuckled silently. "It's quite funny, really. The first two that strayed into the campsite weren't paying attention. I knocked one out and beheaded his friend when he wasn't looking. Assuming there were more in the area, I came up with a plan."

Her eyebrows raised and she glanced at him in between her scanning their path. Apparently, she was in store for another of his interesting tales. A hint of a tilt to the corners of her mouth appeared. "Tell on..."

Dwight cleared his throat. "Well, I figured they would come..." Dwight took a drink from his waterskin. "... looking for their friends. So, when I heard some rustling in the bushes, I laid down near the fire and placed all of my gold on the ground in plain sight. When I heard one picking up the money, I reached out and snapped its neck. The next two also fell for it." Dwight stifled a laugh. "It reminds me of a joke that my brother Dorian used to tell."

She sighed and shook her head. Amazing how he fought so well only when they weren't in combat together. "Amazing," she commented. "I hope this joke is not about fireflies."

"No, it's about goblins. It seems there was a halfling who was in the woods, jumping up and down next to his fire-pit, saying 'seven, seven, seven.' A goblin saw him and asked what he was doing. The halfling replied, 'For a gold piece, you can try.' So the goblin gave him one and began jumping up and down saying 'Seven, seven, seven.' Suddenly, in mid-jump, the halfling kicked the goblin into the fire, where it perished." Dwight began to snicker. "Then the halfling pocketed the gold piece and started jumping again, but saying, 'Eight, eight, eight!'" Dwight let out a great guffaw at this point.

Shallan laughed quietly. "You'll have to tell that one to Ayman, I believe he'll enjoy it..." She looked up and saw the glint of reflected sunlight. "I believe we're here."

The pond ahead shined in the sun as it began its trip downward over the horizon. The water was clear enough that one could even see several small fish swimming near the surface.

"How tranquil!" said Dwight. He began to fill some of the buckets he had brought along. "Would that I could stay here all day. Alas, work to be done. But I don't see why we couldn't sit for a minute."

Shallan filled her buckets and drew out her soap. She was not as clean as she usually liked and used one of the buckets to wash up in. "If we weren't using it as drinking water, I'd jump right in for a bath. A week on the trail does not leave the scent of roses."

Dwight chuckled again. "Don't concern yourself. I don't think anybody has noticed, nor is it foremost in our minds."

Shallan peeled off the top layer of armor, revealing a cloth shirt underneath. She glanced up, "Keep an eye out. Bandaging is filthy work." She dumped a bucket of clean water over her head, gasping at how cold it was. She wrung the water out of her hair and sat back, running her fingers through her hair to separate it to dry. "That felt good," she sighed. She thought for a long moment, trying to decide how to broach this subject with her companion. " much military training did you receive before you left home?"

Dwight straightened up his back. "From the time I was eight years old I was trained both as a soldier and a noble."

"I mean no offense! Only..." She grimaced. "I am concerned with how your brother seems to be handling the Guild. I see no signs of the Guildmaster, and yet I see your brother sending messages and directing guild members as a commander. I'm hoping my concern is unfounded, but my concern still remains."

He splashed his face with some water. "I'm concerned as well. I have heard others asking about the guildmaster. I'm curious as to where he has been myself."

"I believe we're getting in over our heads, but I think we need to do something about this once we return to Woodland." She leaned back and propped herself up on her elbows. "I'm dreading the fact that it seems the man we need to start with is your brother." Her eyes glanced up at him, "I do not wish to cause you distress, so I would understand if you did not wish to confront him with me. Especially with his treatment of you lately."

Dwight looked puzzled. "Lately? How do you mean?"

She frowned. "I do not know how he has acted with you in the past, but I was not impressed with his manners each time I have witnessed you two together. His attitude belies his nobility."

"Well, it has been some time since I left home, so I cannot tell what evoked the change. However, he does not act fully like himself. He seems too..." Dwight grasped at words. "... Underhanded."

Shaking her head, she looked troubled. "Were that I held a higher position in the guild. Then perhaps, I would feel more informed." She glanced up at him again. "I feel as if I am placing this burden on you, for he is your brother. I do not mean to cause you pain, but you know him best, and his manners and habits. I am sorry if it is uncomfortable for you. If you wish it, I shall not trouble you with this again."

"... No." Dwight stood up. "Perhaps I should have a talk with my brother." He gathered the buckets and filled the empty ones. "And perhaps it's time I sent a letter home."

Shallan took that as a sign he wished to return. She plaited her hair and fastened her armor back on. After refilling the bucket she used, she stood straight, stopped cold and looked at him carefully. "I'm sorry, Dwight," she said sincerely.

Dwight looked hard back at Shallan. Slowly, a smile grew on his face. "Come on, let's get back. There's probably several thirsty people who would be happy to see us."

She nodded and shouldered her burden, taking a moment to steady herself. She wasn't used to lifting, and weightlifting was certainly not her specialty. "Just so long as I can make it back without getting soaked..." She grinned at him and started back the way they had come.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Shoupty Jiltens: RP update

Bad news. No letter from Ghost this week. It will be kind of difficult as we are in the middle of the forest and stuck at a scouting outpost in the South. Next time we arrive in town, there will be a new letter. This update will be OOC only.

Not wanting to be caught in town should a lycanthrope attack come upon herself or Linora, Shallan decides to head out and continue their message delivery. The first day out was mild, where we found Uhmvli (aka Big Hairy Guy) and during Dwight's watch, he takes down five goblins without even waking the rest of us. Second day, we avoided an encounter and wound up annoying God by doing so. Full moon appeared and no ill effects, so Linora and Shallan are safe.

The next few days were fairly uneventful, with only an ogre to entertain us. We easily dispatched him and again annoyed God by just lopping the poor ogre's head off. (I think he had something more planned.) While on the way, we had checked that mine we cleared out earlier and it seemed empty, so good news on that front.

The outpost was in not so great condition. Andre the scout greeted us among the broken remains of the outpost gate. The men there were tired, hungry, and stretched way too thin. The message we delivered was orders for them to hold position until reinforcements arrived. Shallan vehemently displayed her distaste for the form those reinforcements were to take: army regulars. Meanwhile, the party took up fishing, hunting, and tending wounds, trying to bolster the outpost members. They've been attacked practically every night, and the night previous the gate was broken. Hobgoblins and goblins have been causing the most trouble. Scouts are not meant to hold down the fort, but they've been forced to by the situation. With a newly-repaired gate thanks to Ayman, Andre fairly well asked for help, which was freely given.

Shallan's respect for Darik the Bronze just fell down a few more pegs.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Behind the scenes

Oh, what a difficult thing it is to learn something new. Especially something complicated...

I've been fortunate enough to have a cousin offer to teach me to sew. And she's leaving me the tedious parts of cutting out patters and fabric. Aside from that, I've only done long seams, very little work on sleeves and I'm far from doing a zipper. But I'm learning slowly. How I wish I had taken some form of household course while in school. On the other hand I'm very excited because I found a pattern on sale for Carrie. So she shall now be able to dress the part of the pirate that she plays. I've begun work on my Renaissance costume and I plan on outfitting my little Jedi soon. Wouldn't it be so simple to do it the D&D way: I choose the sewing proficiency!

Game comments:
I try to pride myself in forseeing plots and subplots, and the DM's little ruse the other week with the silver dragon/eccentric old man almost had me fooled. For about two seconds. It was amusing to watch the others become impatient, and very difficult for myself to remain patient, as elves have a different perception of time than humans. But I managed. I had approached the old man after the first day and asked him, addressing him with the dragon's name of course, if we were meant to travel the entire mountain. I didn't let on to the others that I suspected who/what the old man was. The others were kind to him and were exceptionally patient themselves, so I think we all got bonus points for that.

This last adventure got me rattled a bit though. Starting innocently enough, taking a message to the scouts in the South sounds easy enough. I remembered that we had run across the werewolf down there once before, but I did not know how many or if it was still in the area. We hadn't even scratched he/she/it last time. I wasn't surprised when it showed up. I WAS surprised that I was able to hold my own. The difficult part was that I actually got hit this time. When we battled the wererats in the sewers under Woodland, I wasn't hit once. I credit my doing as as I had to the new sword that the DM refuses to let me find out what it does. (I had asked him another time if I could try to purchase something akin to those sweet blades of Legolas, roughly short sword in size, but no cross-brace.) I've come up with my own name for it, and really enjoy the unique design of the blade. On the other side, I don't want to find out and be slightly disappointed if it turned out to be a +1 blade with no backstory. I have figured out it is magical in some sense, otherwise it wouldn't have damaged the werewolf at all.

This coming week will be interesting. The whole Guild seems to be headed towards all-out war with the goblins. Fitting bounty hunters into army regulars won't be pretty, and the Armsmaster seems to be taking the Guild in that direction, with the Guildmaster so far out of the picture as far as we can tell. Most bounty hunters choose that way of life because of their aversion or lack of ability in organized combat. Meshing them or molding them into it won't fly too well, I suspect. Mix them into a established company of army regulars, and there is sure to be chaos. With the Armsmaster being a nobleman and Dwight's brother, there are so many layers of complications, it'd take pages to write out my thoughts on it.

Once we get down south, I might have to check things out a bit on my own.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Removing a curse


Shallan opened the door, a little worse for wear, and still not feeling her best. The fight with the werewolf had knocked a little more than the stuffing out of her. "Yes?"

Dwight stood as upright as he could. "Milady, are you all right?"

Shallan grimaced. "Scars will heal. What I'm concerned about is the infection. I'm not entirely sure the apothecary's antidote worked, he recommended that I see your brother."

Dwight grimaced back. "Well, as much as I dislike saying it, that may be a desirable course of action. The hands of the paladin can be quite powerful, but with an illness such as this, I would not recommend waiting."

Shallan nodded. She had hoped the antidote would work, but she would rather not take the chance. "I think you're right. The hard part now would be to find him..." She glanced up at him quickly, "I understand if you'd rather not come along."

Dwight momentarily looked surprised, but composed himself. "I... didn't think you would want me along anyway."

She smiled up at him, "Why else would I invite you along on all our adventures?"

Dwight blushed, a stark contrast to his pallid complexion and manner of dress. "Er... um... I meant that this was a personal matter, nothing more."

Shallan shrugged, "I wouldn't mind you along, but if you are busy or would feel uncomfortable, I will understand."

Dwight stood at his full height. "No, not busy at all."

She stepped out into the hallway and locked her door behind her. Her movements were stiff, as the damage done by the werewolf had not yet healed completely. "I guess the best place to start looking for him would be with Mel or Fred." She started off, feeling much more comfortable with Dwight along.

"Hopefully, we shall find him tonight." The two headed directly for the guildhall; upon entry, they discovered Mel lazily reading over a few scraps of parchment. Dwight cleared his throat.

"Whuh...?" said Mel.

"Mel, I need to see the Armsmaster immediately. Do you know where I can find him?"

"uh... yeah. Uh..." He waved his hand in some unrelated direction for a moment, then woke up suddenly, and scrawled something on another loose scrap of parchment. "Take this up to the guard inside the main doors, I think he can help you." Then he slumped over the counter again.

Shallan grabbed the note, giving it a quick scan. She gave Dwight a slightly annoyed look, but thanked Mel. After finding the guard, she handed him the note.

The guard led them up a stairwell and down a long stone corridor. Dwight whispered through gritted teeth, "What was that look for?"

"Apparently there's a protocol for everything, even for bounty hunters..." She sighed, but seemed to be in a better mood as it seemed they were getting somewhere.

Dwight responded with a "Hmmm." The guard took them up two more flights of stairs, and rapped at a door at the top of the final flight. "Enter," a voice called from within.

Shallan nodded thanks to the guard and stepped into the room.

Darik's chamber was fairly large for one man. It resembled the dojang where Shallan had been once before, only smaller. Weapons of many varieties lined the walls, from common to exotic. Darik himself was seated on the floor at a low table, drinking a cup of tea. He did not rise, but finished his beverage and looked up at the two. "And what can I do for..." He broke off for a second, realizing who was in the room with him. "... For you?" he continued.

The urge to turn and check on Dwight was difficult to ignore, but Shallan did not step so far into the room to abandon him. She did take one measured step forward though. "I need help. On our last mission, we ran into a werewolf." Most of her wounds from that fight were still visible. "I visited the apothecary who tried some form of antidote, but I am unsure if it worked. I don't know where else to go, but the apothecary suggested you." This time she did glance back at Dwight, though it was more for her own need of strength. "Please, can you help?"

Dwight was stone-faced, staring directly at his brother.

Darik stood up and approached the pair. "Well, normally I am not needed to tend to wounds." A smirk grew on his face. "However, this IS a special case." He took Shallan's hand, then looked at Dwight. "And I suppose any friend of my dear brother's is a friend of mine." He turned again to Shallan. "I do need to see the wounds."

Shallan rolled up her one sleeve, and lifted the tail of her shirt to show the rough bandaging job she had done. "A claw across the stomach that my armor couldn't quite cover, and a bite to my arm..." Even after four days, it still hurt, but two of those days had been traveling back to Woodland. She had been in no condition to continue on with any rough traveling at that point.

Darik looked over the arm wound in detail, and glanced at the other. "I see. Well, it has been a few days, but I will try my hand. Please, come in." He directed Shallan toward the small bed against the far wall. "I need you to lie down and relax your mind in order for the treatment to work."

Dwight entered behind Shallan and stood inthe center of the room.

"It couldn't be helped. We were two days out, and once we got back, I was not in the best of shape." She lay down on the bed, a little uneasy at being asked to get so comfortable in a strange man's room.

Darik removed his left glove and moved to the side of the bed. "Now," he began as he held out his hands, "Concentrate on purging the disease from your body." He closed his eyes and placed both hands on Shallan's arm.

Shallan did as she was told, closing her eyes to concentrate. It felt odd, but if it helped, she would do as he asked.

After a moment Darik opened his eyes and looked down at Shallan, frowning. "No good," he muttered. Then he looked across the room. "Brother. I need your chi."

Dwight looked stunned. He began to stammer. "B-but... you know about... that I cannot..."

"It doesn't matter," replied Darik. "You have our father's blood. Come join me, I need your energy to heal her."

Shallan looked up at Dwight. She would not beg him and would leave the decision to help her up to him. Although, knowing him, she knew what to expect already.

Shallan's instincts were correct. Dwight uneasily joined Darik in the cleansing ritual, and by and by it was as though they were both well-practised in the procedure.

After several minutes, both men backed away. "How do you feel?" said Darik.

Shallan sat up stiffly, and looked down at her arm. "I don't feel any different. Should I?"

Darik had a serious look on his face. "Well, the woulds won't just disappear. We were trying to purge the illness from your body, to remove the werewolf's curse."

She stood, a little unsteadily, a small crack in her usually cool and collected manner. "I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to feel like. I guess I'll have to wait two more days and see what the full moon brings..." She paused then added quietly, "Thank you for what you've done."

Dwight drew a sharp breath. "Yes... thank you."

Darik once again had the smirk. "Please be careful in the future. You were fortunate that I had energies to expend. Another day and I may not have been able to help you." He turned toward another table with an unrolled map and several scrolls scattered about it. "Now, I hate to brush you off, but I have many things to attend to before I am able to call it a night."

Shallan left the room without another word, and began walking back to her room. She was more than a little distracted and wasn't aware if Dwight followed her or not. She was concentrating enough on trying to keep her hands from shaking.

The guard led her out of the fortress and to the gate.

As she walked, she felt a hand on her shoulder. "Milady, how are you feeling?"

"I...don't know." She glanced up and around, looking to see who was watching. Satisfied they would not be overheard, she continued. "I'm afraid, Dwight. I do not wish to be..." She broke off and her gaze cut away. She didn't even want to think it, let alone say it.

Dwight grasped at words for a moment, unsure if anything he could say would be helpful. "Darik is... capable. I do not know if the ritual can cure such a disease, but I have never seen it fail before." He steadied himself and stood at hs full height once again. "And should it not work, I promise we wil find another way to help you."

"I hope so. I think...that I'd like to go back to my room now..." Usually she spent most of her free time at the Cleft Tombstone just simply watching the crowd. But at the moment, a crowd was the last thing she wanted to face.

"Understood. Do you require an escort?"

Shallan nodded, "I would feel more comfortable. Please."

"Agreed." Dwight smiled and offered his arm.

She gently tucked her hand under his proferred elbow, the contact giving away the slight trembling she was trying to calm. Of all the things to unsettle her, this had shaken her worse than she had meant it to.

The walk in the brisk evening air was a short one. It was quiet; other than a brief nod at a prior from the Order of the Fleet Fox, the two encountered nobody.

They arrived at the barracks and Shallan's room. It took her two tries to open the lock, but eventually the door swung open. "Thank you, Dwight. I know it's difficult for you to deal with your brother, but I appreciate what you did for me."

Dwight smiled and took her hand. "It was the least I could do. If you need me, you know where to find me."

"No, actually, I don't..."

Dwight looked puzzled. "Um... my quarters."

"Where are they? So far I've found you in the tavern, at Appolo's temple, and on the streets. And that's about it..."

Dwight looked thoughtful. "Why, you're right. I don't suppose you have seen my quarters. They are in the southeast barracks, in the center of the north side."

She nodded. "I will find you if I need you. Thank you again." She pulled his hand down gently, and standing on her tip-toes, kissed him lightly on the cheek. With an unsteady smile, she closed the door to her room.

Dwight stood stunned for a moment. He pondered on the number of times that evening that things had taken him by surprise. By his count, this was four.

Ghost's Letters Home

Dearest brother,

It is a wondrous thing, to ride a-dragonback. If it were not for the reason behind it, the experience would have been perfection incarnate.

The humans are mobilizing. It appears that even our insignificant little guild has been recruited into bringing down the Goblin King and his army.

We had been hired to deliver a message to the great Khrom-vel, the shining silver wyrm. Along the way we picked up a strange creature, completely covered in hair and a lover of silver and gold. He was a true help, and even assisted us in finding some decent treasure. I myself acquired a fine sword, which I now call Dragontongue. Traveling to the town of Haumar, we were led far and wide across the mountain by an old man whom I had suspected all along to be the dragon in disguise. My guess had been correct, and what followed was a ride that I will remember to the end of my days back to Woodland Town. There, Khrom-vel went into seclusion with the Weaponsmaster and the Guildmaster, I can only assume in a council of war.

Meanwhile, us common folk were distracted by a nest of wererats in the town sewers. Following, the Weaponsmaster, Sir Darik, spoke to the entire Guild about our responsibility in hunting down the Goblin King. It seems all efforts of the Guild are being focused down south, to the mines, where they suspect his stronghold lies.

Once again, we were hired for messenger duty only just the other day. This time to the scouting outpost in the south. We ran into a werewolf, which I must admit, hurt me more than I let my companions realize. I held my own against him and had nearly defeated him, but lost the kill to my companion Linora and her well-aimed sharpened silver piece. We returned back to town instead of completing our mission, victorious but grieviously wounded. I hired the apothecary to create me an antidote, for I am fearful of contracting the curse myself. I even paid a visit to Sir Darik, for the scare of this affliction rattles me to my core. Sir Darik and my companion Dwight tried their best, but only time will tell if the foul beast has infected me. I pray to Solonor that my luck holds. Dwight has been very kind and has offered to help me in any way he can.

I send my best to you and to father.
Nae saian luume'


Dragon dreams

After being woken herself, Ghost goes to wake Dwight for their watch with a hand on his shoulder.

"Ach! No! Not so hard!... oh, is it our watch?"

Shallan nods silently and jerks a thumb at the two climbing under their respective blankets for the night. "Sleep is for the innocent and the dead. Time to get up and watch for beasties." She softens the odd comment with an amused expression on her face.

"Understood. Give me a moment."

Dwight slides himself into his suit of chain. He then grabs a small
pouch and fastens it to his belt. "Can't forget this."

Shallan nods again and begins fastening the rest of her own armor. After belting on her scabbard, she glances up and watches.

"What dry weather we hae been having. How very comfortable." He looks over. "Sorry. I wasn't expecting Woodland's climate to be so dry. I spent some time in the west and was hoping for a change... but this is still nice. Cooler."

As she settles down for their watch, she puts her back to the fire for the night.

Dwight stokes the fire a bit. "The trees at least keep the heat off during the day. That desert sun can be brutal."

"Desert?" she asks curiously, only just becoming aqainted with certain parts of the country. She knew of the desert, but had avoided it in her travels. She was surprised to hear he had been there.

Dwight looks up. "Yes. Before I came to Woodland, I spent two winters in the Great Desert."

"I...don't think I would have enjoyed that. No trees." She softened the obvious disagreement with a smile, and thought back. "What was it like?"

Dwight pondered it for a second. "Well, bartering for water was definitely exciting. I must say, it's certainly a commodity that we take for granted in the east. Travel was also a bit... different."

"Different? You mean getting sand everywhere?"

"Well, that was part of it. What I meant was that travel in the hot sun was more strenuous than anything I've ever experienced. Even seated on a bactrian, the sun takes its toll."

"What's a bactrian?" She had seen sand before, but never in such quantity as a desert before. The only sand she had ever known had ended in forest on one end and crashing waves on the other.

"Bactrian camel. It's... like a horse. A desert horse. It doesn't have to drink as often." He chuckles. "They also smell much worse."

She wrinkles her nose. "I thought horses were bad enough..." The image she places in her mind makes her give a small chuckle. "What brought you to the desert?"

"Happenstance, mostly. It was in the direction I was heading. Since I didn't have anywhere else to go, I figured I would find my fate

She glanced up at him, meeting his eyes, "And did you...?"

Dwight let a smile grow. "You could say that. At the very least, what I found kept me occupied."

His mood was a little infectious. "And what did you find that occupied you?"

Dwight clenched his fists. "A challenge. I found work as a prizefighter."

She tried to contain her laughter, but was only slightly successful, as her words stuttered with coughs that only barely covered her mirth. "I...simply
couldn't imagine... How on earth did you get into that?"

Dwight thought for a moment. "Well, I had just used most of my money to purchase a camel. As I was loading it up, somebody tried to snatch my pouch." He patted the pouch fastened to his belt. "I was pretty angry. I keep some important keepsakes in here. Fortunately, the thief was not very adept. Unfortunately, he was armed with a khopesh, and I had nothing."

"You astound me, Sir Dwight." She grinned at him to take the mocking tone from her comment. "An armed man? What would need such protecting that you would thrash a man who held a weapon
against you?"

"A gift from my mother. Something that I used once or twice to get the best of my brothers in training."

"Since I doubt you would cheat, what treasure would a younger brother use to best his older brothers?" Her insatiable curiousity was peaked, and it seemed he was purposely drawing it out just to tempt her along.

Dwight paused again and squinted at Shallan tentatively. "Well... I suppose you can have a look."

She grinned, but added seriously, "If you wish it to remain your secret, I promise it will remain so unless you wish it otherwise."

Dwight reached for his pouch. "I think I trust you." He opened it and withdrew a shiny, silvery set of metal knuckles. The knuckles had jewels inlaid along their face--six of them, each about a centimeter and a half in diameter, alternating between rubies and sapphires. Along one of its edges were Elvish letters...

Reading 'La Pugilista.'

"'La Pu-gil-ista'? That is no elven word..." She studies his face. "I didn't know things like those were legal in prizefighting..."

"It's not. I never used it for prizefighting."

"What does it mean? It doesn't seem elven-made, but someone did take care with it, and the words are written in Elvish script."

"I don't know. I received it on my tenth birthday from my mother. She said that it was a treasure given to some great fighter by the elves, but she did not know the story behind it."

"Well, I've never seen the like, nor do I recognize the word put upon it. I'm sorry, but the mystery of its origins will have to remain so." She shifted and listened to the sounds of the forest around them, checked the fire once more, then turned back to him. "Did you do well in your prizefighting? I'm assuming so, as it seems your nose is where it should be..." She winked, "though one never can tell with you humans."

Dwight sighed. "I certainly won more than I lost. I must say, I think I gained some small degree of notoriety. ... Forgive me. I sound like a braggart."

She replied quite happily, "Not at all! I should like to hear of it."

Dwight straightened up a bit. "Well! I shall tell what I remember. As I was saying, a man tried to rob me, then brandished a weapon. I was unarmed; the only weapon that I had bcarried with me I was required to sell when my money ran out."

"Out of necessity, I avoided his attack, and knocked him out, bare-handed."

She sized him up. "Impressive. So you went from a street brawler to a prizefighter?"

"Something to that effect. After the thief was dragged away to be locked up, a man came up to me, told me he was impressed with the way I handled myself, and asked me if I would like to use my skills to make some money. I won't say that I jumped on the opportunity, but in my state of affairs, it took little convincing."

Ghost agreed, "I can't imagine, though. How did you take to it?"

"At first, it was quite the rough life. I must say, I was quite nervous in my first fight. My opponent was quite the brute. I am fairly certain he had never bathed. I was fortunate enough to win the bout. The ringmaster spoke with a heavy dialect and cound not quite understand my name, so he mistakenly called me "The White." Paired with the fact that I was the palest face among those many sun-bronzed men, the name stuck after the fight. After that, my promoter, Sorj, and I traveled between towns, and I would fight one or several others for a purse of various amounts. I think my notoriety really came after I lost a few fights, though... nobody wanted to watch me fight after that. An easterner who could not hold his own! How unexciting to them."

"How would you become famous for losing?" Ghost dug into her pack and handed a ration bar to him, then took one for herself.

"Thank you." Dwight took it. "Actually, I arrived in one village where the turnout for the fight was very large. The reason for that is that, during the fight, the locals found great pleasure in hurling vegetables at me. Despite the distractions, I managed to win. After that night, my luck picked up a bit. My opponent was another foreigner who called himself Takash. He claimed to be from the continent to the north, but wouldn't say from where exactly. After our bout we discussed much about combat. I actually stayed several days in that town; Sorj's camel became rather ill, and he was forced to trade for a new one. I fought a few bouts for money and performed some odd jobs for the villagers, and would always join Takash for a drink in the evenings."

"He sounds like an honorable man, despite losing a fight to you."

"That he is. I was quite disheartened to have to leave his town, but there was no more money to be made. From the north to the south, for a few months, I had a long string of knockout wins... It was to the point where people would be waiting for The White to come into town, just to size me up so they could bet on the matches."

"So if things were going well, why leave and come to Woodland?"

Dwight sighed again. "Because the money always ran out fast, thanks to Sorj. He was not particularly good with our finances. He frequented disgusting places when he wasn't in my company, and I often saw him with some rather unsavory women."

She sighed, "I can only imagine. There were places like that to the south, not so much in my homeland...but they were there, just in a slightly different form."

"I believe it to be universal, alas. The worst came at the end, though, when I realized that Sorj was no true friend."

"What had he done?"

"He set up a fight so that I would surely lose, then bet against me. After the fight, he left the town with the warrior who had defeated me, probably to swindle him down the road as well. He also took my camel and most of the salable things I had when he left, and once again I was reduced to nothing."

She shook her head, "I was lucky for running into Jacob once leaving Navarene." Ghost glanced at him, "Is that how you came to Woodland?"

Dwight looked around himself briefly, then rubbed his face with his hands. "By and by. I actually became lost in the desert briefly, due to some bad directions and a camel that I bought on a very tight budget. However, fortune smiled on me once again, as I had an opportunity that few have, and that I am recreating only now."

"What would that be?"

"I came face to face with a dragon."

"Hopefully an honorable dragon?" She grinned, fully entranced in his tale.

"Indeed, it was none other than Thanacc, the brass wyrm of the Great desert. I am most fortunate that it was not another desert dragon!" He laughed a bit at this.

"Agreed." Her imagination ran rampant. "What is it like meeting a dragon? No one I've ever met before has seen one, let alone met with

"Quite frightening at first. I believe he thought me to be a food item at a

"I would feel to be nothing more than a snack, I think..."

"Verily! However, he proved to be very kind. He revealed to me that he probably would not have eaten me anyway, and rather preferred the dews and moisture provided by the scant desert flora. I was near death when he found me, but the days I spent with the dragon helped me regain my strength, though I was nearly bored to tears listening to him drone on about himself."

"But the stories he could tell! There are few creatures that can rival the lifespan of one of my people..." She glanced off to the west. "It would be almost like being home."

"Well! Perhaps one day I shall take you to meet Thanacc."

"I think I would like that...and perhaps some day, I would take you to my homeland. To see the ocean, and the elven forests, the city among the trees." She smiled slightly, sadly, knowing that his lifetime would end far faster than hers. "Perhaps we should take one adventure at a time."

Dwight smiled at the sentiment. "Well, I can make no promises... but should our travels take us to that place, it would be worthwhile."

"So tell me of your dragon friend. Besides telling boring stories, what was he like?"

"Well, he mostly complained about two things. One was the fact that the females of his kind are elusive, at best. The other was Rel."


"Another desert dragon. From what I understand, his influence is more potent in the northern parts of the desert. They do not get along."

"Ah. Well, then I'd expect that. I thought I heard mention of a female dragon elsewhere, but the conversation seems to be eluding me for the moment."

"He made it sound as though there are more dragons than we think, maybe many more. I suppose they do not want to be found."

"Alot like the elves. Great pains are taken to disguise the cities, so that even if you were to pass through the heart of one, you would not even know."

"So secretive! I often wonder just how much I cannot see."

Shallan shakes her head. "I wonder sometimes that I see too much..."

"I beg your pardon?"

She shifts her position a bit to glance back at the fire then away into the darkness. "There is so much evil in the world... I have seen probably far more seasons than any man could hope to, and wether it be elves or men, the sins really don't change." She glances down at her hands, clasped together, feeling the calouses gained by her weapons training.

Dwight falls silent.

"I can only hope that things will change for the better, and even more so within your lifetime rather than mine." She glances up and chuckles a little, making light of the conversation.

Dwight smiles a bit also. "At least there's hope. Goodness."

"Instead, tell me more of dragons..." She nudges him gently with her elbow. "What can you tell me of the dragons in this area?"

"In this area? I only really know what Thanacc has told me about himself and Rel."

"Of course, he told me a great deal, so it's at least substantial."

"Tell me, we've got a few more hours of our watch..." She grins, more than happy to listen to another tale.

Dwight sits back and takes a swig of water. "All right." He cleared his head for a second, recalling the words of the great dragon. "He told me of one ferocious battle with this dragon Rel, one that I have also heard about in stories told by the other denizens of the desert. It was territorial, and it is the reason that Rel is confined to the northern part of the desert..."

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Three whole weeks!

Yes, it's true. It had been three whole weeks since our last game. I had been going through a severe withdrawl. There had been scheduling problems between the others, since the Ren Faire is going on, and the biggest problem was no one wanted to give up their sleep in order to work early Monday morning. Due to a personal need for restraint in order to maintain a positive gaming environment, my comments shall be reserved.

SO. Back to the game.

I must say it was a marked improvement over what we had been doing. For the first time, I broke my bowstring and was stupid enough not to have purchased a replacement. On a better note, I was responsible for stapling a full third of the mosquito/bats that attacked us. My best shot was knocking one off of the cleric's arm. I think the best was the lack of bathroom breaks. We took one or two group breaks, but didn't have trickling away from the table, and I think that helped immensely.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The following night

The two are awoken for their share of the nightly watch and Dwight finishes a long session of stretching.

"Well! I'm thirsty."

Shallan pulls out the half-full waterskin she carries and holds it up in offering. "This is just about all I have left."

Dwight goes for his. "I think I have plenty. Just stating my intentions. I could do without wine for a few days, though... after yesterday, a nice hot
tea would do just fine."

With a hidden smile, she takes a sip of her own water and stoppers it back up. "I apologize, I sometimes forget that these spirits affect humans much more so."

Dwight settles onto a log and chuckles. "Is that so? So much I don't know about the races. I find humans quite complicated enough."

"Some are good and some are evil, just as any race. It's the details that can overwhelm you."

A moment goes by.

"You've hardly said a word. Something on your mind?"

She shakes her head and evades the question, "Nothing of consequence..."

Dwight quickly tries to change the subject. "So where exactly are you from?"

"Navarene, the elven capital. It is a beautiful city, though I doubt most in your country would even know it is there... Everything is very different, houses and dwellings are blended in so well, one could walk entirely through without even knowing they had passed through the heart of it.” She closes her eyes. "The scent is of a thousand flowers drifting on the breeze." She opens her eyes and looks over uncomfortably. "But
it is no longer home, so..." She shrugs and lets the image fade.

Dwight waits a moment. "Did... did you have to leave suddenly?"

She considers the question for a long time. "It would have happened eventually. I was the apple tree among the flowers, and things were
uncomfortable for a very long time. When I left, I finally found happiness, doing what I love to do."

Again, nothing is said for a moment.

Dwight takes a drink, mulls it over for a bit. "What is your family like?"

She smiles. "My family has been Captain of the Nyssa guard for well over a thousand years. My brother stands to take my father's place." The smile fades, "He had the same upbringing you did, training and drilling with Guard regulars from the time he could walk."

"A thou..." Dwight starts, but stops. "Ah yes. Please, go on."

She nodded. "Four generations. But I was never offered the same chance given to my brother. Or my father, or his father..." She meets his eyes with a sad look. "As in your family, most likely. Father to son."

He gets a stern look on his face. "I guess some things don't change no matter where one is. So you didn't get the same opportunity?"

"No, not in Navarene. Not even in Are'thane. I had to cross over the border where a very good friend was able to help me. My brother
most of all, did the best he could, sharing what he learned at my father's hand. studies and my domestic skills suffered and it was difficult hiding what I was doing. A disastrous house will do that..." She
chuckles, but most of the humor seems drained from it.


"There is no time to stock the cupboard when you are trouncing your brother. Floors cannot sweep themselves while you try to outfly your
brother's arrows." She sighs. "Don't even ask about embroidery. Sword and bow string blisters are difficult to hide whilst weilding a sewing needle."

"Hmm. So they expected you to keep house." Dwight chuckles again, to
himself. "I can't imagine you in an apron. This seems to suit you much better. Of course, I am biased."

"Thank you," she says quietly, content with the acceptance she has found with her group of companions. "For a time, I served at court as well. Father thought it would keep me from daydreams of joining the Guard. It was something to do, and I became quite good at it. It is where I learned to speak and read the common language and I could converse with some of the visitors from other lands. And in between errands, I was able to catch glimpses of the Guard. It worked for a few years, but again, I failed him. A visiting noble was very rude, and demanded I be let go. He claimed I ruined his favorite cloak, when the slob spilled his own wine."

Dwight smirks. "Nobility can go to one's head with ease. I've heard more than one high-born buffoon bellowing at their servants with no provocation."

"At first, I thought it was an inborn trait that went with their noble blood. I am happy to see you do not suffer from that affliction." Her eyes studied him with a pleased curiosity.

"Well, it's hard to be a protector of the people if you equate the job to

"I find it a pity that most see it that way. A friend of mine would equate it to just like that...only he really did herd sheep as well, to help the local farmers." She laughed. "He was an excellent woodsman, an excellent mentor, and an even better friend."

"A friend of yours from elven lands?"

She shook her head, "A ranger of the wilds, a human, Jacob Buckthorn. One morning he just appeared by my campfire." She indicates the
burning coals of their own fire. "It was the best surprise I had ever received. And my first and only friend."

He gives her a quizzical glance. "Surely you had some friends during your upbringing."

She shook her head and shifted uncomfortably. "When not studying, the boys had weapons training. The girls were given 'womanly instruction'. Since I very much preferred the former..." Shallan glanced down and seemed to intently study the ground before her, tracing elven script into the soil with a stray twig. "After a while, finding a mate and settling down were not to my liking, although my father tried to help..." She bit off the last words bitterly, not really willing to go on.

Dwight took the hint. "... What did you just write?"

She looked at the lettering, not even really paying attention to it. "The beginning words of most elven tales, 'When the wind was young and the
land just born...' " She scratched it out with a slightly unsteady hand, clearly trying to hide how emotional this discussion had gotten her.

Dwight takes another drink. "Mother used to tell us stories of the west. They always made your people sound like they swung from trees and played tricks on unwary humans. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to meet a real one, and now I've seen two. Every day I find that the
things I see become more and more incredible."

She was quiet for some time, simply letting the silence stretch. She stared at the fire, letting the years fade back to where they belonged, in her memory and not the here and now. After collecting herself, she gives Dwight a tight smile, "My most difficult time is getting used to your strange ways. I have been in your lands for some time, and I still find things to surprise me."

He lets out a good laugh. "I have been in my lands for some time, and I still find things to surprise me!"

This time the smile is genuine, and Shallan relaxes a little, leaning back a little. She glances up at him, then sketches a few other elegantly shaped scripts in the soil. "...The honorable and most noble protector of the realm..." she reads.

Dwight grins, and also relaxes a bit into his seat. "I'm curious. How would you write 'friend?'"

She scratches out what she has written and replaces it with something much smaller. "Mellon..." she gives the word a softly singing sound,
speaking her own language.

He lets it sink in. "Mellon. It's very nice." He places his hand on Shallan's shoulder. "May I... call you that?"

She pauses for a moment, slightly startled, then answers solemnly, "Amin harmuva onalle e' cormamin, mellonamin...I shall treasure your gift in my heart, my friend," she translates. She takes care to speak slowly,
emphasizing the use of the word she had shown him.

A grin crosses Dwight's face. "I am glad to be able to call you likewise." He squeezes her shoulder lightly and lets go.

She leans forward, dropping the stick into the fire, steeling herself. She convinces herself it is right and just, considering what she had put him through the night previous. "You asked before what troubles me..." Though the words come with difficulty, she tries to find the easiest way to present it to him.

"You will tell me? I wasn't going to force the subject..."

" not know the customs of this land so well, and am unsure of how this would..." she searches for the correct words, "affect your opinion of me."

Dwight stands up and kneels. "I give you my word as a knight that I shall not judge you by your past deeds."

"I wrote to my brother weeks back, as I first came into Woodland city. And have written him twice since. No word has been sent, and I fear..." She takes a deep breath. "I said before my father tried his best to occupy me, to keep me from trouble." She continues much more quietly, not meeting his gaze, "He signed a marriage contract. One I did not

He returns to his seat. "Even in my culture, that is a serious matter."

"Arranged marriages are common in our lands and forced marriages are not unheard of, though they are rare. Even more rare is a soul-pairing. None would dare to deny the last. Even a marriage of state would be dissolved to unite a soul-bonded pair." She still refused his gaze, instead focusing on some unseen point on the ground. "Palis was ambitious, seeking to gain my father's good graces, and eventually his position. My
father knew none of this, though Palis saw me as his way to gaining my father's trust. A political coup, very profitable for himself and his family, a place of honor and note in court."

"It sounds like he was the one who was not acting honorably."

"Again, what he was doing was not unheard of... Father thought it a blessing sent by the gods, finally something he could do to settle me down. A marriage offer would settle me down, and perhaps father thought that Palis would finally be able to contain me." She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself, though the night seemed warm. "There is a custom, old as the earth but not used in the last centuries, not even in my great-grandfather's lifetime..." She paused, trying to think of the best way to explain. "Elves are not a prolific race. There have been at the most three children in most families..." She steeled herself, but looked to him for some sort of strength. "To ensure that a union will be fruitful, it can be demanded that this be proven before a marriage will take place. Palis demanded this of my father, and he agreed."

Dwight replaces the hand on Shallan's shoulder, and waits a second to talk. "I can see why it might remain unused. It sounds like a dreadful custom."

Her fists balled in barely supressed anger, her voice quiet and dangerous. "My father only did what he saw was best, as no other would have me... I did not know of any of this, and even if I had, I STILL wouldn't have agreed." She was tense, as if a spring wound too tight. "The contract was signed, and Palis asserted his right. It was a legally binding contract. When I refused to comply, he hit me. Once."

He inhales audibly but says nothing.

She gave a tight, controlled smile. "He did not raise a sword for many months after that, I think. My training with my brother had paid off much better than I could have ever thought." She looks down and consciously relaxes her clenched hands. "What I the disgrace I have caused my family. I left not long after, kissed my father and brother goodbye. As I said last night, a visit is all I shall probably be allowed, and then not for many, many years."

Dwight gives a small chuckle. "Forgive me. Just thinking it was something we had in common."

She closes her eyes and rubs her hands on her face. "It would have happened eventually. Perhaps it was my fault for not leaving earlier..."

"Perhaps not. But we cannot alter the past."

Shallan takes a deep breath and releases it slowly. "I do not regret my decision. I regret the consequences I left behind, but once I met Jacob, and then being here, I have never been happier."

Dwight also takes a deep breath. "I guess you could say that you didn't leave bad circumstances, but rather you came into better ones?"

A relieved but tired smile lights her face. "Heruamin, ‘my lord’..." she bows her head. "Your friendship comforts me, no matter the road ahead, or the road behind."

Dwight puts his arm around Shallan and squeezes briefly, then lets go. "A
worthwhile sentiment. But I fear we should be more concerned about the road ahead, based on what we've seen over the past two days. We have many concerns in front of us, especially dealing with a dragon."

Shallan nods, and stands to stretch. "Agreed. In the meantime, get some sleep. I shall wake the next two." She moves off to do just that, but turns back only slightly to whisper, "Kaima eithel, Astalder."

(Sleep well, Valiant one.)

A shared nightly watch

As bounty hunters, they go where the money is. And this time the largest payment included a dilvery to a Silver dragon, handed down by the ArmsMaster himself. The Order of the Fleet Fox was being employed to help find a messenger, and the group volunteered, confident they could complete the delivery. Two days passed, and the nagging worry that their sometime companion was troubled bothered Shallan.

After beng plied with the finest vintage carried by the Cleft Tombstone for some time that watch, she finally dropped the small talk and outright asked why he was not pleased his brother was made Armsmaster of the Guild, Dwight finally relented instead of turning the question aside.

"There's a lot that people don't know about me,” he began unsteadily. “The reason for that is that I've been trying to hide as much as I could. Darik coming to Woodland was the bombshell, though... and I guess I can't keep it a secret forever... I've already told you where I'm from, a city called Joven, to the north, about 200 miles north of Mount Willow. I've also mentioned that Joven is my surname. My family owns the land that the city sits on, as well as the surrounding peasantry."

Shallan nods slowly and refills both of their drinks from the wineskin. Sometimes the application of alcohol broke down barriers.

"For over two hundred years, my ancestors have been the sworn protectors of the people of that area. The paladins of my bloodline defended our city honorably against any intruders. They also took care of the common folk. They kept themselves above, but treated them as equals. My grandfather was such a man, and I loved him very much for it. My father, however, got too wrapped up in his nobility. Now, I am the youngest of four brothers. Darik is a few years older than I."

"And Donovan, the oldest? Darik told me when I went for training at the Guild Hall..." She had been coming at this conversation obliquely, quizzing him on the coats of arms and lineages of the human realm for the past few days. An innocent enough topic, but one that would eventually lead to his own family, exactly where Shallan wanted him to go.

"Oh? Have you?"

"Yes, he beat me quit soundly." She indicates the slowly fading bruises, a raccon’s mask the lasting result from her bout.

"Always the charmer, Darik. I'll admit he is a smooth character."

"Except for him being a bit short with his errand boy, he seemed fine."

"He gets that way with his help. He takes after my father a good deal."

"I've run into the recieving end of it myself more than a few times."


"That is why I decided to try my luck elsewhere. I would never be Armsmaster in court, I'm the wrong sex. So I do what I love and write when I may, and see where my feet will take me next."

"You sound as though you were free to leave, though."

"Yes, and someday I may return. But only for a visit."

"I don't think I ever want to do the same."

"Your grandfather is gone?"

"He died nobly many years ago, performing his duties. Not long before my mother, actually."

"But leaving your family over a difference in attitudes for treating those of a lower caste? There must have been something more than that to make you leave?"

"... there was..." He pauses for quite a long time, then takes a long draught of the wine. "Like I said, from the time I could hold a sword, I, like my brothers, was groomed for my place among my ancestors. Now, Donovan and Darik both take after my father, although I admit that Donovan is much more dour. They are all very serious men, at all times. My other brother, Dorian, is a lot more like my mother. He isn't uptight. He can laugh at things. I so wanted to be like him."

"Where is he?"

"When I last saw him, he was at home, with my other brothers."

"That still doesn't seem like a good reason to leave. Dorian seems like a very good reason to stay." Shallan could empathize. She missed her brother terribly, but returning in the next century was not very likely.

"The breakdown started when my mother died. She cared about us more than father ever did. She understood much better than he did that our people were real people, not just a burden to bear. She kept him in check. While she was around, I did not fear the consequences of making mistakes in training. I would be resolved to try again. Once she was gone, I had no chance to make up for any slip-ups. All I would hear was, 'You're a failure, Dwight. A whelp like you could never find his way through the citadel.’ Father... my brothers... Dorian, after mother was gone... he changed. Eventually it was too hard to go on. I lost my focus. I began to become ill for no reason. They thought I was faking, but it was all too real."

"I am not sure exactly what is worse, being given your training and not meeting standards, or beating the standards but never being offered the proper training."

"I can't say. The feeling of failure was awful, though."

"What I don't understand, is why would your brother come down to Woodland, if he was charged with protecting Joven?"

"I don't know. I was very surprised to see him again. It's not something I expected to happen."

"He was not unforgiving of my lack of skills, albeit a little rough during my training session. But nothing beyond what I've gotten in training before."

"I can't guess at his motive for coming here, or taking such a position."

"I felt it odd for someone not of the Guild to arrive and secure such a place so quickly. Don't they usually choose someone from the Guild membership?”

"I know little of the Guild's bureaucracy. It's possible that this was handed down by the king."

"I had not considered that." Human customs were still something she was getting used to. Not all positions of consequence were given to nobility where she came from.

"Woodland City and Joven lie within the same boundary and answer to the same sovereign. I was really hoping that Woodland would have been far enough to go."

"I would not recommend the Elven lands either..." She gives a quiet, throaty chuckle. It seemed nobles the world around held the same predjudices.

He echos her laugh. "You must pardon me. I know little about the ways of the elves. In fact, it was the short one, Slewfoot, that informed me that you are much older than you appear. ... No offense."

"Not at all. I have probably seen three of your lifetimes, perhaps more... And yet I am finding that things change little given time and distance."

"I had at least found that I could hide myself from the thing that I am ashamed of."

"Of being a failure? You are far from it. Perhaps you are thinking that the standard we all live to has raised a little for you? I left to find what I am truly capable of, perhaps that would fit you as well?"

"No, not being a failure... being a coward. I haven't actually told you why I ran yet." He takes a much longer drink this time. "When a Joven man comes of age, he must complete a final task, the culmination of his training. He has to face the citadel. The Citadel is both a hallowed and feared place. It is a true test of a warrior's wits, skills, courage, and fortitude. It lies on our land, surrounded by the burial grounds of our ancestors. Each of us was to venture through the citadel, face the terrors inside. Upon reaching the final chamber, one is presented with his sword, and emerges a paladin. At that point, he is designated with a color, in order of his birthright."

Shallan unconsiously raises her eyebrows at the ritual, and the result. But she says nothing and allows him to continue.

“Donovan, for example, is called the Gold. Dorian, being second in line, claimed Silver. I remember well the day that he was given his colors. He was so happy on that day... we all were. He seemed like the old Dorian. Darik was named the Bronze, as you know. As for me, I do not know, as mine was the first generation with four sons."

"And you are White, no color?"

"We were clothed in white during our years of training. That was supposed to change when I made it through the citdael. When my day came, however, I felt ill again, for the first time in a year. I knew something was wrong, but I also knew I had to face what was ahead. Everyone watched as I approached the citadel. People were lined up on the streets, like they always do when a man goes to that place. A friend, a huntsman who I knew well and saw after I had fled, told me that he could see me entering the citadel, heard me scream, and saw me run back out. What I saw there terrified me so much that I just kept running. Since that day I have not returned to Joven."

"You must forgive me, but you have to understand you now have baited my curiousity. What was there?"

He empties the remaining wine down his throat. "I saw death. I saw my father murder my mother. I saw one brother pierce the eye of another and bring him down. And then I saw myself, with all of them around me, coming closer and closer. I didn't give them the chance. I fled then and there. Since then I have been trying to forget what I saw there, and trying to prove my courage to myself." He gives a hiccup. "Hunting monsters was a way out. So now you know."

"I do. And I think none the less of you. Because you know what it is you must do. I shall be honored to be there the day you decide you must finally do it."

"You think I should go back."

"No. I think you should go forward. You've been backwards and all it has brought you is pain."

He begins to chuckle again. "Isn't it funny though? I can descend into caves and battle with inhuman horrors, on the edge of life and death, and not break a sweat. ... But I can't face a room full of spooks."

"Yes, but you are afraid of being hurt by those you love because they have hurt you before. That is all the images showed you. Nothing more, nothing less. You can either face the fear or run from it. And you can face your family or run from them. But they are always there, inside your heart. It is not your sword arm that needs strengthening, it is your heart."

He draws his sword and lays it across his lap. "I suppose you're right. And I still dream of joining them. Lion's Heart. Shadow's Wail. Heaven's Riot. I should be wielding such a blade alongside them."

Shallan pulls out her weapons, even the elegant elven bow, and lays all down on ground in front of him. "Am I a warrior?"

"That depends. Why do you carry these things?"

“Because I do not wish to die on the road. But I wield them to protect others, no matter their birth caste. I carry no weapon as I stand here, and yet I am a warrior. Weapons do not make the warrior. If I were to lay them down, or to carry none, my heart would still call to protect those who could not protect themselves.” She quirks a crooked smile. "And it does not hurt that I get paid for it!”

He gives a smaller, similar smile. "Then I would agree with you. You are a warrior. Why is a warrior so different from a thug? It is not the steel thet he carries. One fights with a purpose, the other for the love of the deed."

"Oh, don't get me wrong, there is pleasure in a pure combat form. But if there were no more need of my skills, I would happily lay my sword down to rust."

"As would I."

"I protect those I can, and my heart feels for every soul I am unable to defend. But I know, when I lay my head down, that I could have done no more than I could."

"...I'm empty."

"So who was that old woman in town the other day?"

He gropes for the wine. "Oh, I was walking through the town and this old woman came up and asked me if I'd help her carry some things. "She had purchased more than she could manage herself. Then a woman living near her asked me to fetch a few things for her, and I spent the next hour doing odd jobs."

"Ah." She nods sagely and pokes him gently in the chest. "The seed has been planted. Now it needs only water and sunlight to grow into the mighty oak."

"... I'm not sure I follow you."

"Your honor is there. At the citadel you were presented with a trial that you were not prepared for. Your honor will overcome it, as it cannot deny your need to help even an old peasant woman with her shopping. Courage will grow, as the oak, if given time and the right nurturing."

"I see now."

"But sometimes, as the oak, you don't get to choose when water and sunlight will come your way!" She gives a genuine laugh, thoroughly amused at her analogy.

Dwight laughs along.

"Be patient. The day will come when you are ready, wether you choose to return, or find peace with a different choice."

"Well, thank you, Shallan... And now you know so much about me, yet I still know so little about you."

"There is little to tell." She shrugs slightly and smiles. "Nothing tragic, just simply inconvenient."

"Well, I should like to hear of it, but perhaps another time. I believe it is time to awaken that rather roughly-hewn woman and the other elf so that we may rest." Dwight stretches and yawns.

"I'm glad you're with us." She leans over and gives him a light kiss on his cheek, then walks over to lay out on her blanket. "And you can wake them up!”

He pointedly changes the subject quickly as he stands to wake the others for their watch, "I'm surprised that that hairy creature's snoring hasn't done it yet. What a din he raises!"

(September 2, 2005)