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Archives: Quest for Neria

Chapter 3: Rest at the River

    Jereidon and his companions had walked from Shinning Hill until the sun began to set. This took them down from the city along the Shinning Hill road, onto the main road. They had crossed the bridge over the river late in the evening, and decided to camp next to the water for the night. The river was a busy waterway by day, but by night, once the Marmo ferry had returned to the island, it was quiet.

    They set up their camp, and Katela gathered a few pieces of wood for the fire in the nearby woods. Once the fire was started, Katela collapsed onto her bedroll and looked up at the sky.

    “Ahhh...I love camping out under the stars!” the half-elf proclaimed. However, it wasn’t quite dark out, but a couple bright stars could be seen on the eastern horizon.

    Brynn struggled with the removal of his armor. He could, if necessary, sleep in it, but it wasn’t very comfortable. In cases such as these, where he felt safe, he could take it off and put it back on in the morning when he performed his daily rituals to Myrii. “Anyone care to give a dwarf a hand with his armor?” he asked, looking to his three companions. “Just be warned, it’s not going to smell to pretty after bein’ on all day in the sun. I thought to take a quick bath in the river here.”

    “I’ll lend you a hand, after all you were willing to help me out.” Jereidon walked over and helped Brynn. Looking at the water, he thought that it did look pretty nice. “I’ve handled bad smells before, some of my master’s experiments did not turn out that good.”

    “Experiments, Hah!” Brynn guffawed. “You’ve never smelled sweaty dwarven full armor then.” The dark haired dwarf smiled at Jereidon, but was he thankful for the assistance. “I can’t swim a lick, but I’m good as long as I can touch the ground and still breathe. Unfortunately there not much you can do for the insides of this stuff,” he said referring to the armor. “Its not like you could take it in the water and scrub it out. I think it would rust. Some armor is conditioned for wet weather. I never had mine finished properly.” Apparently Katela’s enthusiasm had worn off on Brynn as he babbled away like a little hairy dwarf school girl with her friends.

    Katela giggled a little as Jereidon stuck himself with the reportedly smelly task. “Maybe a bath would be nice for us girls too,” Katela said to Aquila. “After they finish, of course.”

    A very light giggle emitted from Aquila’s lips, but it was apparent that she didn’t want anybody to hear it. Being on the road, walking around with the small group seemed to have tired her just a bit, but she wouldn’t allow herself to tire so easily. Hearing Katela’s words she nodded, a bath seemed to be a nice thought, considering it had been a good day for her too, even though she obviously hadn’t done more than the others. It had been a hot day though and even though she was a girl, she too did sweat.

    Brushing her bangs from her eyes she glanced around the area, trying to avoid watching Brynn as he bathed in the water. She turned around and glanced around the area, “Are we going to be sleeping in this area?” she asked, unsure if that had been said yet. It was obvious right then that she hadn’t really paid too much attention to what had been going on around her.

    “Well, yeah, of course!” Katela said with a giggle. “Don’t worry, I think we’ll be safe. There are guards at the bridge, so I don’t think that highwaymen will be a threat. Are you alright with that?”

    Aquila glanced towards Katela and nodded her head, another attempt for a warm smile becoming quite obvious, “Not a problem at all, I’ve slept in far more worse conditions than this,” she replied. It wasn’t that she was so worried about strangers coming that could possibly harm them, it was something else, but nothing she’d worry them with. Taking her honey blonde hair down from the single braided bun is was in, it seemed to just gracefully fall upon her bare shoulders. It actually felt nice taking her hair down, as she relied on herself to put it up, it wasn’t exactly a comfortable process pulling tightly at your own hair.

    The arduous, and smelly, process of removing Brynn’s armor complete, the dwarf wholeheartedly splashed around in the shallow part of the river, just deep enough to make sure everything private was kept private. He decided to thank Myrii by singing a song of prayer. It was loud and not sung very well, as Brynn was not a professional singer, but he continued anyway. His deep voice would be able to be heard for quite some distance away.

    Hearing Brynn’s sing made Aquila flinch just a bit, considering she hadn’t expected the dwarf to sing while he bathed. Not in such a loud, off-tune melody. Aquila turned from the group and wandered a couple of feet away, examining the area to almost the fullest extent as possible. Something just seemed off with her though, but what else was new?

    Katela giggled at the dwarf’s singing. The half-elf felt quite at ease surrounded by new friends who were in such high spirits. The mission she was on gave her a sense of purpose, and she felt fulfilled.

    Seeing Aquila let down her hair, Katela decided to hop in the river after Brynn was done. The half-elf removed her armor—which, unlike Brynn’s, didn’t smell the least bit offensive. The breastplate was easily unhinged at the side and she dropped it in the sand. Next off were her boots and belt, then the shrug style jacket around her shoulders. She didn’t bother to remove her circlet, but it wasn’t going anywhere while wrapped around Katela’s curly head.

    The half-elf glanced back at Aquila as she walked away from camp. She seemed tense, despite Katela’s assurances. “Hey Aquila, is something bothering you?” she called back.

    Slowly turning her small, petite frame around to face Katela, she shook her head, “No, nothing at all. I’m just a little paranoid about meaningless things,” she replied, noticing that Katela seemed to be ready to bathe once Brynn was done. Changing her direction, she found herself back with the small group of people. Aquila still hadn’t been with them long enough to be able to explain things. Yes, she was a very weary person and the truth was that she couldn’t be trusted too well. After all, a dancer with thief tendencies wasn’t exactly the first person you’d want to hang around with. At least, nobody she’d known preferred her company all too well, except for her step-brother. He was left back at home though.

    Truth was, she missed home. She’d been away for so long now, but she knew her father was out of the question. Aquila would have to get used to staying on her own for the rest of her life. It was just the matter of figuring out where she would actually fit in. No more home and probably no more Darik to depend on. It was just her and finding out her destiny in the world. Good or bad, unfortunately. Absentmindedly, she took a strand of her loose hair and slowly twirled it around her index finger. Her gaze had simply been aimed towards the ground and she didn’t seem to be blinking so much. It was obvious that she was thinking about something though.

    “Ooo... Jereidon. I think the lovely ladies wish to join us?” Brynn chuckled mischievously. “There’s plenty of water to go around. But someone should stay on shore to watch our things, in case someone would decide to st....” Brynn stopped in mid-word, realizing that he was about to say something that would probably hurt Aquila’s feelings further. “To stop and admire them,” he tried to correct, most likely unsuccessfully.

    Brynn hadn’t any soap to wash with, and the little bit of sand and mud he used to scrub with was just making him more dirty, so he headed back to shore and quickly donned his priest’s robe. That would allow his clothing and armor (along with himself) to dry out while he sat in the sun.

    The smell had been slightly worse than his masters biggest failure, but then he was not going to be deterred. Once Brynn’s armor was off, Jereidon had joined the dwarf in the river while the hymn was sung. “By all means, they’re welcome to join us. If they wish to, the first one out of the two of us watches the clothing then,” Jereidon replied to the dwarf.

    “No chance boys!” Katela called out, hands on her hips. The thought of a unisex bath was a little uncomfortable for Katela, but she played off her discomfort with a little bit of humor. “We girls need our privacy, you know!”

    Brynn’s words had really gotten to her after a while, considering she knew what he was really going to say. Yes, she did steal. There was no getting over that fact and the actual possibility of her quitting the useful habit though, even though it just made others think low of her. Of course, by now she was quite used to the whole scenario. Aquila had forced a smile though, a quick chuckle following.

    Of course, about them joining the males, Aquila too wasn’t quick to agree to the idea either. She too didn’t really like the idea of unisex bathing. Wasn’t too unusual though, considering she was still quite a young one. Shaking her head, she just took a seat down on the hard, dirt ground and glanced around, “I think I’ll leave you two be alone, until you are done with your own business.” she randomly called out. However, by that time Brynn had already made his way out of the water and Jereidon was the only one left of the two.

    “Oh c’mon. You gals don’t have anything this old dwarf hasn’t seen before.” He smiled at Katela and Aquila mischievously. “Although it has been some time, and that was an old dwarf woman...” his words trailed off, as he looked to the sky as if trying to pull back some far away memory. He then suddenly started laughing. “I’m just teasin’ of course. I’m all done here, just gotta dry off until I can shake the dirt off.”

    Brynn sloshed out of the river and sat on a stump next to his gear making sure his loin cloth remained in position until he was sure that the angle to the girls wasn’t revealing anything untowards.

    Katela plopped down on the ground near Aquila and waited for the men to finish up. The girl’s presence was cold and distant, but Katela was doing her best to offer her a branch of friendship. She knew it would take time for Aquila to open up to her, so it would probably be a slow process. As a half-elf, Katela knew how to be patient to solve her puzzles.

    Unfortunately, Aquila had been caught up with her own thoughts to fully hear what Brynn had told them. Her gaze drifted from the cold ground, towards the darkening sky. The bad thing about her was that she was just quiet, with nothing to say half the time. Well, nothing she wanted to bother talking about. Life seemed so much easier that way; staying quiet, being the person pushed to the outside of a group and not minding one bit, instead just leaving from everybody. She’d been like that for years now, but it was something that was almost expected from her, if somebody could’ve actually had the chance to befriend the young girl.

    It seemed too that she was going through several mood swings, considering earlier on she’d been much kinder to the others. Now she was just off in her own world and she honestly did appear to be cold. Everybody had been so nice to her, but her problem was trying to figure out the art of kindness. She hadn’t known it for a couple of months, it had almost just left her completely.

    Jereidon quickly and quietly finished up, not wanting to waste too much time. Once he was finished and dressed, he looked at the women. “Sorry for taking so long, the river is all yours ladies,” he said, then bowed lightly. Looking to Brynn, he realized that since they both were out they could finish setting up camp.

    “’bout time,” Katela replied to Jereidon in jest. The half-elf then hopped to her feet and dusted herself off. “Let’s find a spot a little upstream,” Katela said to Aquila as she began to walk down to the bank. “I’ll try and warm the water up a bit.”

    “Ha!” Brynn guffawed. “You must think you’re pretty hot stuff, if you think you’re gonna warm up the whole river!” The dwarf shouted out to Katela in jest as she headed off.

    Brynn looked to where Aquila was standing in her funk. “We promise to get you a hot bath at the next available inn. Something a little more comfortable that the chilly river. It’s just you can’t pass up a good cleaning every now and again, especially when you’re on the road.” The dwarf misinterpreted her melancholy as not wanting to go into the very open space of a river to clean herself.

    Brynn’s comment towards Katela made Aquila chuckle, but she did seem to find it quite amusing. Of course, she was curious as to how Katela would end up warming up the stream, but she was also quite unaware of what the half-elf could do too. Aquila had never grown up around them, merely commoners than anything, so most of everything going on around her now, she hadn’t truly ever experienced before.

    Finally deciding to get up, she hoisted her small frame up and watched Katela walk towards a further spot from the two males. Hearing Brynn speak, she shook her head, “I’m used to not being in a hot bath most of the time. I haven’t experienced such a thing in a while now, it almost appears to be non-existent,” she replied, attempting to make it sound as nice as possible. Aquila flashed a smile towards the males, “I guess we’ll see you two in a bit though,” she stated, her pace quickening to catch up with Katela.

    Looking to where Jereidon was preparing camp, Brynn asked some more questions of the man. “What do you remember of the night that your parents and sister went missing? Any information may help us track down the varmints that attacked you. Was it an ambush? As if they were waiting for travelers to get to a certain spot? Can you recall how many of them there were, or if they called each other by any names?” Brynn knew he was going to overwhelm the young man, but they needed to start thinking about how they were going to find the human boy’s sister. Luck would only take them so far.

    Jereidon listened to Brynn and thought, he might have heard something from the person sent with the message. “I wasn’t there, I received the news soon after it happened. My father had a bloody dagger in his hands I was told, and the man who had the pendant when I was attacked was missing an eye. His name was Bowrin, I believe, and he had a lot of scars.” He gave him what he knew about then and about the fight he found the pendant in. If the two were the same people, then he would do what he could to stop them.

    “A name, thats a very good start,” Brynn answered. “Although its probably not a good idea to start asking around for such a vicious criminal right off the bat. That would likely draw attention we don’t want or cause the man to go into hiding.”

    The dwarf thought for moment. “Do you know what happened to the dagger? There are certain spells that a person may perform to get impressions off of items.” As a priest of Myrii, this was not something Brynn could do, but perhaps Jereidon’s friend had such a spell, or knew of someone who did. “If we could track down the dagger, we would most assuredly get the violent deaths that it caused. I have also heard tales of wizards able to stare into crystal balls to see items far away.” Brynn was pretty much brainstorming out loud, but Jereidon may have a clue of where they could find a wizard that could do the things he had heard about. “If you described something to them, they could get images of where it currently is by looking into a crystal ball or a clear pool of water. We could use this to find the pendant.”

    It wasn’t as if Brynn was afraid of meeting this Bowrin, but the fact that the villain had a lot of scars could mean that he was quite tough. If their small band gained a little experience before taking him on, that would probably be for the best. That and they could always go hire that mercenary they had talked about.

    Jereidon paused and thought for a moment, going back through his memories of that day. The only piece of evidence had been kept safe, and preserved as best it could be. “I know. Bowrin probably had no clue why I took the pendant. I’ll heed your advice, and proceed carefully. As for the dagger, it would have probably been kept by the village magistrate. I can’t recall his name right now, but he was a reliable man.”

    Brynn’s second idea made things seem more feasible, his master could be of use there. He would know someone, after all he chose to live alone to work in peace. “Let’s talk to Darjis. He’ll know someone. Maybe the pendant could be read too, once located.” He then resumed working, trying to remember more details, so their search could be narrowed down even more.

    Neria spent this time hunting for game, enough for them and for her. She was happy right now, and making the odd appearance after setting up some webs to trap small game.

    A shiver ran up Brynn’s spine as he watched the giant spider work on its web, and then sit silently wait for prey. He couldn’t help but picture the poor little rabbit or squirrel that would get caught in her web and be her next meal. Truthfully, it was really no different than a person setting a snare for hunting, but for some reason, the spider sitting there was more sinister.

    “How long ago was the attack?” Brynn asked, even though Jereidon had probably already told him. “The authorities may not have kept the dagger. If they are not looking in to it anymore, it would just be in their way.”

    “This happened eight years ago, that dagger could be anywhere then. Let’s try that first, then if that fails find a wizard who can scry. I understand what your saying, I can’t give up on any possible leads though,” Jereidon replied with confidence, this was a search that had only memory and circumstance behind it. Still as long as him and his companions believed it was possible, then there was a way. “I don’t know how to repay you all when this is over, but I intend to.”

    “REPAY!?” Brynn was shocked. “Are ya daft? None of us here so far have asked for any type of payment. It seems Katela and I both are in this to find a girl who was abducted many years ago, safely returned to her family. And for Aquila it is a second chance at an honest life.” The gray haired dwarf shook his head while he helped make camp. “I will accept no payment at any time. If you want to pay for my lodging and meals while we are together, then I won’t refuse that. But that as well will only go so far. If I feel that I have become a burden upon you’re pocket book, then we will find another way to pay. This is the way that I live my life and will not be changed.” The rest of Brynn’s speech was lost to grumbling, the only clear words every now and again were “foolish boy.”

    Jereidon listened and replied with a light laugh, he had meant in a more humble way. “Once we’re reunited I was thinking of settling down to my scholarly whims, you’d find a bed, good company, good drink, and a warm meal waiting if you ever came by then.” He would always be hospitable to old friends and allies, and his search had found such people.

    Neria returned with some rabbits tied by the feet, enough for everyone to eat. After that she returned to getting meals for herself, while Jereidon started to work on them. “Anyways, let’s just focus on the task at hand.” He hated the task of handling game, but he had to learn it helping his master cook.

    “At least you’re optimistic about finding her well.” Brynn smiled.

    “Err, how does your little pet catch the rabbits?” Brynn asked with a worried look on his face. “Are they safe to eat after they’d been bitten by her?” Brynn wasn’t trying to be mean, but he was honestly worried that the spider’s venom may be ingested by their little group. Of course he was sure the Jereidon had eaten her booty before, but perhaps he had grown a tolerance or maybe they had some kind of magical bond that protected him from her venom.

* * *

    Katela led Aquila down to a suitable place in the river, then stripped off her clothes quickly on the bank. The half-elf stepped into the water, shivering at the chill, but she would soon fix that. “Sister Undine, great spirit of the water. Do me this small favor and bring me your warm currents,” Katela spoke, holding her hands over the water.

    The spirits answered the young shaman’s request and more comfortable currents began to swirl around her legs. Katela walked a little further into the river until she was up to her shoulders. “Well, it’s not a hot bath, but it’s not freezing either!” Katela called back to Aquila. “Come on in.”

    Aquila had started to strip of her own clothes, though there truthfully wasn’t too much to worry about. She’d never had much of a sense of clothing and well, the only thing she was glad for was the coverage of the clothing, even though it still was quite inappropriate in some ways. Neatly making a pile of her own clothes, she listened quietly to Katela as she spoke the first time. She’d honestly never heard anything of what the half-elf was basically chanting. Of course, for just a traveling bard, Aquila didn’t find it very weird, considering she’d heard and seen a lot of unusual things. She was still having a hard time adjusting though, honestly.

    Hearing Katela talking to her, she jumped a bit, then quickly turned around with a nervous smile. Slowly walking that way she poked her toes into the shallow bit of the water and wiggled them around. At first it was a little bit of a surprise to her. It was actually warm, not cold like you would have usually felt. Katela truly had magical abilities. That seemed to have intrigued the young girl quite a bit. Aquila walked further into the water, being careful to not walk out too far. Considering she was rather short, going into water without being cautious usually caught her most of the time. It was quite refreshing, considering she’d been wiping off with basically a rag and some water. The poor girl hadn’t seen a bath for a couple of days, so this was a magnificent feeling.

    “Wow, this is amazing,” she stated, looking in Katela’s direction. It seemed a lot warmer to her than what Katela was pursuing, but of course cold stream water tended to usually be considerably cold. A warm smile pranced upon Aquila’s lips as she splashed around a bit and wiped off her shoulders and arms, “Seems pretty warm to me though, good job, Katela,” she shortly praised.

    Katela grinned. “Don’t thank me, thank Undine,” she said. The half-elf then plugged her nose and dunked her head under water to wet her hair. After a moment, she popped back up and tossed her curls about, then began to rub her arms clean.

    Aquila smiled. “Well, of course I have to thank Undine, but I honestly haven’t got a clue as to how that would be possible, but, thank you Undine,” she said, her thanks being said plainly into the moist air. She laughed at Katela as she dunked her hair, but it wasn’t long before Aquila had done the same thing. Of course, she would’ve settled for splashing some water into her hair, but it would’ve taken a while longer.

    As she washed, Katela’s eyes wandered over to Aquila and she noticed a rather nasty scar on the girl’s chest. With a frown, she had to ask; “What happened there?”

    Aquila had almost completely forgotten about her scars, considering she never though much of them in the first place. Though, since the scar on her back was hidden most of the time, as well as turned, it was obviously the one on her chest. Aquila thought back to that night, wincing at the remembrance of the wound. Shaking her head, she sighed, looking down at the scarred part of her bust, “Eh, nothing important. Just an injury I got. Silly kids do silly things to get punished,” she replied, shrugging it off. Though, she was positive such an answer wouldn’t slide by as well as she wanted it.

    “Think the boys are doing some useful back at camp?” she asked, trying to switch the topic from her past injuries to something that would hopefully create a laugh at the thoughts.

    Katela could tell Aquila was trying to change the subject, but she was far too curious to let something like that go. “Punished? That looks like a pretty extreme punishment...” Katela commented.

    Aquila nodded in agreement. “Very true, but I guess I did deserve it though. At least, that’s what my father always told me,” the girl said, the last part lowering to a mere whisper. Truthfully, she hadn’t done anything wrong to deserve such abuse, but for the fact she’d lived with it for so long it was just like a punishment for her. Ever since she was a little girl, her father had always blamed her for the death of her mother and well, Aquila had soon just went through with that.

    “Sorry, I don’t come right out with things,” she spilled. That was the truth, but no further she would continue on. Bringing up the past always made Aquila uncomfortable and she dreaded having to explains things to people, especially when her father had been the one to cause the scars from the beginning. Slowly shimmying under the water, she soaked her hair with the warm water, then looked towards Katela once more, “Have you never been punished like that before? I was always told that I had it far more better than most kids at that time. Was I being lied to?” she questioned, a puzzled look soon coming in the play amongst her emotional features.

    “I can’t imagine what would make a normal parent cause such a horrible wound to their own child,” Katela replied. She was so wrapped up in worrying about Aquila, she didn’t bother with washing, she just sat in the water. “Yes, I think you were. The worst I ever got was a spanking when I was a child.”

    Aquila didn’t even know where to begin with anything else. It was quite depressing that her whole childhood had been a lie, as well as her early teenage years. Although it was nothing surprising for her, she just hated everything from her past. Aquila often thought of how her life would’ve been if her mother hadn’t died giving birth to her, maybe she’d be back at home, enjoying her life to this moment in time. Alas, that would never happen and imagining it wouldn’t make the impossible happen.

    “I wish I would’ve just got a spanking my whole life. Only got one or two and then everything else was downhill from there. I spent most of my time learning how to dance, honestly. Always tried to stay out of the house, away from—” she suddenly stopped. Although she hated her father with no thoughts given about it, she wasn’t about to say who had done the dirty deed. Aquila shrugged her shoulders, “Well, the deed has been done, unfortunately. I hope that soon the abuser will get the much needed revenge,” she babbled on. After those words, she silenced herself.

    “Well, at least you’re free of it now,” Katela said, putting a bright smile. However, underneath it, she was still feeling sorry for Aquila. It was obvious that Aquila didn’t want to talk about her past, and Katela felt bad for pushing the issue. She could only look to the future, and hoped that his adventure could be a positive experience for her new friend.

    “I think I’m clean,” Katela said, then swam a little to the shore before climbing out of the river. “Hmph...nothing to dry off with,” she noted, then tossed her head to shake out the excess water and began to dress again.

    Emitting a faint sigh, Aquila nodded slowly. “I guess so. Can’t help myself from worrying about it all though. Maybe I really just need a fresh start at life, but that seems far fetched to me at this point in time. When I was little, I had always wished that I could have a big, loving family, but I was stuck with an unloving family. My step-mother might as well have been killed, along with my father and step-sister. They were all nasty to me, except for my step-brother. I miss him very much,” she said, though it truly was the beginning of a sob story. Aquila thought about it for a moment, then wondered if she’d ever told anybody the whole story, if they’d actually believe her. For so long, she’d lied about things and stolen several people’s pricey items, as well as their money too.

    Aquila nodded her head in agreement. “I’d assume I’m clean too, my hands are starting to look like a prune,” she said, giggling as she held them up. Instead of swimming, she chose to walk out of the warm body of water, spotting her clothes. Hearing Katela she chuckled. “Well, a moment I hadn’t prepared for. It’ll be alright, I have a night shirt to wear for myself. Though, my clothes will dry too,” she said, taking her top and hoisting it over her head. She got dressed in a jiffy, her hair still dripping wet.

    “I wonder what’s been going on at the camp?” she said, slowly starting off in that direction.

    Despite the abuse Aquila seemed to have suffered, she still giggled and went about life. Katela supposed that when you were accustomed to something, you just learned to accept it instead of dwelling on it. She smiled at the thought.

    “Hopefully they’ve been doing something useful, like making dinner,” Katela said with a grin. “I’m starved!”

    Aquila looked to Katela with a grin and a nod, giving a quick rub to her grumbling stomach, “Oh, I hear ya. I’m hungry too, so lets just hope something has been done,” she said, twirling her damp patches of hair. It looked rather funny, now that is was getting ready to dry and there wasn’t so much excess water dripping from the ends.

    Once Aquila dressed, Katela turned back toward camp. “Let’s go!” she said, trudging onward up the riverbank.

* * *

    As the girls arrived back at the campsite, they found Jereidon and Brynn sitting around, doing nothing and no food to be found. “Hey, what were you two doing, sitting here twiddling your thumbs? We’re starving!” Katela said, half-serious, and half-teasing.

    “What’d ya think those rabbits are lying there,” Brynn jibbed back. “Our wizardly companion even skinned them for ya. Sitting here doin’ nothing, bah!” Of course Brynn was just sitting there doing nothing while Jereidon did all the work, but it was a group comment.

    The grumbling dwarf got up and stretched his stocky frame. “I suppose we’ll need a small fire to cook them on.” He walked over to his pack and drew out a flint and steel, carrying them over to a sandy area that would make a good fire pit with a little work. He tucked his tools into his broad belt and began to move some rocks forming a circle. It was obvious that this area had been used before for this purpose, because he didn’t have to go far to find the correct sized stones for a fire wall.

    “We’ll need some fire wood, if you’re done standing around watchin’ us men work,” Brynn called to Katela.

    Seeing the girls return as he finished up, Jereidon finally answered to Brynn’s question. She never bit the food they ate. “She actually makes snares for them, she’s quite the interesting one. I had to carry anti-venom at first, myself, until she finally got the hang of it. Don’t worry, these ones are safe.” Jereidon laughed a little, as he knew that anyone would assume the same of food she’d caught. Looking to the girls, he knew they had to do some work. Brynn had done an important job in their absence by their conversation about the facts.

    “Oh, I see,” Brynn said stopping his labor of organizing the fire pit. “She must be quite good at it by now. I didn’t even hear the little guys screaming in the snares. Ah, that is not proper talk. I should just be thankful that a meal has been provided for me.”

    Brynn shook his head and smiled. “If we plan to stay here the evening, we will need sufficient firewood to keep us warm and some decent sticks to make a spit for the rabbits.” He looked around at the small brush and scrubby trees in the area. “This may be a more difficult task than I thought, perhaps I will go look for some dry wood as well.”

    Katela paled a bit at the talk of dead rabbits. All she could see were previously adorable living creatures. Having been raised by an elf, she was a vegetarian, and she knew humans ate meat as she had shared many a meal with her father and step-family, but she had never been faced with the reality of a butchered animal. It made her sick, both morally and physically.

    “I’ll get the firewood,” she said and turned her back on the camp, lacking her normal upbeat attitude. The half-elf quickly put her boots back on, then ran into the woods.

    Brynn put an odd look on his face, looking at Jereidon. “I think she reacted worse than I did about the spider food. Can you and Aquila manage things here while I go aid in the search for wood and see whats up with Katela?”

    Aquila glanced around the group as they had finished speaking amongst each other. In the mean time, she’d found a nice and cozy spot on the ground to sit on. Although, the last part about the spider food got her, especially because she didn’t eat meat either. Cringing at the thought of it all, she looked towards the ground, thinking about pretty much nothing.

    Changing her gaze to Brynn for a moment she nodded her head. “I think I’ll do quite fine here,” she replied, looking over to Jereidon with a subtle nod. Unfortunately, Aquila had never seen the big spider the two men were talking about, it scared her anyway. Emitting a soft yawn she looked at the empty circle of stones, hoping that it wouldn’t be too long before a fire would be started. The girl had a slight fascination with the flames, but nothing terribly extreme. They just tended to look pretty dancing around freely above the ground.

    “Perhaps she’s more like her elven side. If so, then we can split the last one three ways. You should go ask her, that is my only thought on the matter.” Jereidon finished preparing the rabbits. As he looked at the hides, he thought that he did not want to waste them, perhaps if they could be brought a tanner in a village they could make some money. “I’ll be fine as well, I have some other work to do,” he spoke after looking to Aquila, who was staring at the empty fire pit.

    “Keep an eye on my armor, would you?” Brynn asked of Jereidon and Aquila. “There’s not many that would fit in it, but its still quite valuable.” Wearing his talbard, belt, pants, and boots Brynn walked off at a quick pace in the direction that Katela had gone in. He had to hurry after her because her long legs would take her faster than his stumpy ones would. “Hey, Katela! Wait up!” he shouted into the brush.

    Aquila looked over to Brynn and nodded her head, “I don’t believe that will be too much of a problem at all,” she said, obviously accepting the task given to Jereidon and herself.

    She looked over to Jereidon, who’d been previously looking at her, “I hope it won’t be too long of a wait for the wood. Shouldn’t it be getting dark soon enough?” she asked him. Aquila had spent more time talking to Katela than either one of the men, so she was honestly at a loss of words. It was difficult to talk to strangers, but she also wouldn’t speak to her family, excluding her step-brother. Her damp hair curled at the ends while the blonde started to light up a bit. She’d decided to leave it down until it dried, as it always looked weird when she put it up wet.

    “It shouldn’t, and I hope it doesn’t get dark too soon. For now let’s just take care of things here, and Neria should also be keeping an eye around us too. We’re safe, I promise,” Jereidon replied to Aquila, looking up shortly after she spoke to him. He’d been thinking a little about what happened and on anything that might aid them in their search.

    Aquila nodded her head, but took a moment to think. Obviously, she honestly had no idea about the giant spider companion of Jereidon’s, so she gave him a puzzled expression, questioning the pet known as Neria, “Excuse me for asking, but who is this Neria that you spoke of? I know you said that she is watching us, but who is this ‘she’?” she asked.

    “Neria is my sisters name, but also the name of my present familiar. She’s just a hatchling, but she’s a giant spider. Don’t worry, she’s not hostile at all,” he explained as he looked over, hoping Aquila wouldn’t be too nervous about traveling with a giant spider as well.

    She was aware of it being his sister’s name, but was knew that the group was searching for her as well. However, after hearing that his companion was a giant spider, she just took a large gulp, her eyes widening with fear, “A g-giant spider?” she stuttered, glancing around the area, seeming as if she was afraid of the spider coming to eat her for dinner. It was quite apparent that worrying was out of the question by now. She wasn’t particularly fond of spiders and the fact that she was traveling with one only frightened her more.

    It took a lot of courage for her to even try to ignore the thought of it all, “Well, I guess so long as she’s the way you say, I might be alright,” she said, still looking around like a chicken without a head. Aquila hadn’t known about the giant spider to begin with and well, it was quite scary. She didn’t know what to do in such situations, but she wasn’t just going to abandon everybody right now. Wasn’t like she was much help, but she’d already grown to enjoy the company of people now.

    Toughing it out only seemed to be the best thing to do.

* * *

    Katela had picked up a few twigs and branches so far, mostly just kindling, when she heard Brynn calling for her. Oh boy, I guess he wants an explanation, she thought. Turning around, she saw the dwarf catching up to her through the woods. “Yes?” she asked as he came into hearing range.

    “Are you alright? The way you paled back there I though you were going to be ill. Jereidon promised me that Neria doesn’t use her bite on the rabbits, so they shouldn’t be poisonous.” Of course Brynn was mistaking her disfavor of meat incorrectly as prey being caught by the giant spider. While he waited for her to answer, he looked around for some nice stiff sticks that could be used as spits for the rabbits. Scrap twigs and stuff were not to much trouble to find, so as long as they were not looking for multiple days worth, but proper branches, strong enough to support the weight of the gutted rabbit was more of a challenge.

    Katela gagged a little as Brynn talked about Neria killing the rabbits. “I uh...don’t eat meat,” Katela replied. “The sight of those rabbits was umm... a little hard to take.”

    Oh, this is going to be an interesting trip, Brynn thought to himself. If every time we eat, Katela gets sick. “Is there anything we can do to alleviate the...repulsion that you feel? Besides not eating it, of course.” Brynn wasn’t sure if it was the sight of the meat before it was cooked, or the whole concept of eating another’s flesh in general that Katela found repulsive. The dwarven cleric supposed that it may do his body some good if he fasted for a time while travelling with the half-elf. Perhaps not eating meat would even be healthier... for a time.

    “I won’t get sick if you eat it,” Katela replied, pouting slightly. “I... just can’t handle the sight of them being slaughtered. My father’s family ate meat all the time, and I didn’t complain. I’ve just never seen a butchered animal, and I really don’t want to see it again. I think it’s barbaric, but I can’t change people’s eating habits. When it’s just a cooked steak or whatever I can convince myself that it’s all right... but not... not when I’ve seen it like that.”

    “That’s completely understandable. Its not often that I’ve had to clean an animal in that way, and it is not a pleasant experience,” Brynn tried to console Katela.

    “Its kind of funny,” Brynn began to launch into a side story. “I’ve had to hold a soldier’s innards in his gut and that didn’t bother me, but gutting a boar did.” While he rambled, he continued to pick up firewood and searched for a proper spitting stick. “Its relatively the same thing, but in the first case, you’re trying to save a life. Something must take over in your head to bypass the disgust.”

    Katela wrinkled her nose. “Well, if it’s all the same, I’d like to not be around when any animals are butchered. I breaks my heart,” she replied, and her ears fell a bit.

    Brynn smiled at the downtrodden elf. “I don’t think that is too much to ask. I’ll talk to Jereidon so that he knows. If we are lucky, we wont even have to deal with it. Eating on the road can give a dwarf wicked bad gas. I’d much rather eat in an inn.”

    A short distance away, the dark haired dwarf noticed some good sticks. “I see some good ones over there, so I’m gonna go get ’em. Don’t wander off to far on your own, alright?” he said with all seriousness.

    “Are you going to get lost without a ranger to hold your hand?” Katela giggled. The half-elf had a small bundle of twigs, hopefully they would soon have enough for the night.

    Brynn called back to Katela; “Some would say I am already lost. Especially other dwarves that I meet that think a dwarf my age should be settled down.” He began chuckling to himself thinking of those dwarves. It wasn’t wanderlust that had its grip on him, it was a driving need to help others. Until Brynn could no longer find someone who needed his help, he would most likely continue to live as he is right now.

    “Oh yeah? If you want to feel lost, try being a half-elf and living between human and elven families,” Katela replied. “Shifting between timeless and timed can be very confusing.”

    “Yeah, you got me beat there,” Brynn answered, but then fired right back as this was becoming a competition of comparing scars, “At least you have family, mine were all killed when that darned demon attacked my homeland!”

    Katela smiled to herself, bittersweetly. “Ironic. If it wasn’t for that demon, I wouldn’t exist,” she said.

    “Did your parents meet because of the displacement it caused?” Brynn asked curiously, pausing in his search for sticks. The dwarf couldn’t think of any other reasons for the attack on the dwarven city to have caused the birth of a half-elf.

    “No, not exactly,” she replied. “My father was a Valis soldier, and my mother of the Mirror Forest. After the demon attacked the Mirror Forest, my father and other soldiers were sent to help the elves rebuild and defend their land from demons. He and my mother met then.”

    “Ooo, sounds romantic,” Brynn said in a wimpy girlish voice, at least as girlish as he can manage. “Sounds like a bard’s tale come to life. In any case, I’m glad that they got together as well, just for the opportunity to have met you.”

    Brynn started to head towards the trees again. “Now off to find those pesky sticks. Those other two are probably eating the meat raw by now.” A big toothy smile spread across Brynn’s face at the thought of the scholarly Jereidon and the youngster Aquila gnawing hungrily at the bones of the rabbits.

    Katela snorted a giggle at Brynn’s jest, but she felt her sickness return as he talked about eating the rabbits raw. While he continued his search for sticks, Katela wasn’t sure what made a good spitting stick, so she just looked for more firewood.

* * *

    Brynn walked back into camp with a bunch of sticks suitable for using to spit the rabbits on. He was surprised that he had found a decent enough tree, that he could reach, to get the branches from.

    “Here ya go Jereidon,” the dwarf said, walking up to the mage and handing him one of the sticks. “These should work nicely.” He had found four nice, stiff branches roughly the thickness of a cigar, and as long as a sword. They would have to insert the branches through the rabbits and then hold them over the fire, turning as the meat cooked. It was tedious work, but the best they could do without a pot to boil the meat with some vegetables and spices.

    Katela followed behind Brynn with her bundle of firewood and dumped it near the fire so it could be reached. The thought of seeing the rabbits cooked still bothered her, but she couldn’t really complain. It would be waste if they threw them out, so she would just have to let the humans and dwarf have their meat. Instead, Katela went to her pack and unpacked her food, which consisted of elven waybread, along with some nuts and berries she had foraged along the way to Shinning Hill. With her dinner together, Katela plopped down next to Aquila again and began to pick at her food. The thought of the dead rabbits wasn’t helping her appetite though.

    Aquila wasn’t much for the thought of eating meat herself. In all honesty, she was very much so a vegetarian and resorted to eating well, certain plants over the poor, unfortunate animals. The thought of eating a rabbit made her stomach twist, but she didn’t exactly want to express the dislike of eating the animal. However, when it came right down to it—she too was doing the same as Katela; picking at her food.

    Glancing around, she seemed to be rather content with the group now, but the fact that it was going to became dark sort of frightened her. Aquila didn’t know how to camp with other people. She was used to being by herself, straying away from the public, unless it came down to her having to perform. Right about now, she wished that she could be doing that though.

    “Thanks, I’ll get started on them right away,” Jereidon said as he placed the meat on the sticks and set them in place by the fire, so that they would cook fully. Looking over to Aquila he wondered what her background was, before she became a thief to survive. “Aquila, I was wondering something. What was your life like before you had to become a thief? If you don’t want to answer that’s fine, you don’t have to.”

    Hearing Jereidon’s question, she merely stared into the fire for a moment, looking as if she’d just ignore the question. It was hard thinking about the past, considering she’d been so young and still was. Her life had been a burden those several years ago and she hated having to remember them. Although, it didn’t surprise her to finally hear that question, but it did bring back some awful memories. She sighed softly, her gaze lifting towards Jereidon, “It wasn’t much of a life, to be honest. All thanks to my father. My mother died after giving birth to me and I guess you could probably guess most of the rest after that. Bringing up my past makes me feel helpless, to be honest,” she finally spilled. Normally, it was against her nature, but he had told her about his sister.

    She didn’t want any sympathy from anybody, which is why she hardly let people in on her personal life. Aquila always put it behind her, considering it as something that had already happened and hopefully wouldn’t happen again. It made her feel merrier, just knowing that she could live on with her life without her father, in particular. Her gaze slowly wondered back to the fire though, “And, if I hadn’t become a thief, I wouldn’t have anything for myself. Even though I’m rather horrid at it,” she said, a short chuckle following. It was the truth though; she didn’t make much of a thief.

    “I imagine that the story is not all that rare,” Brynn said sadly. “Many people believe they have little other option than to turn to crime to survive. Thank Myrii that we ran into Aquila when we did, that we might give her a chance at a different life choice.” Brynn walked over to his armor and began inspecting it for wear and tear. “Thieves rarely live to a ripe old age, at least not without spending some time in jail.”

    Katela stayed quiet as Aquila answered Jereidon’s questions, as she had nothing more to ask—at least not outright. Her ears dropped slightly as she looked to the ground, hearing more about Aquila’s rough life made her a little sad. She already saw that horrible scar on the girl’s chest from whatever punishment her father had exacted on her. The half-elf perked up slightly at Brynn’s statement though. “Yeah, we’ll help you out in any way we can,” she assured Aquila, a smile returning to her face.

    Jereidon listened to her story and knew he’d had a hard life, unlke his, which was spent under his master’s room and board, learning magic and many other things related. He’d always wondered what life was like for others up until he started living on the road, and all he’d seen and heard had done nothing but made him want to help others more. “I’ll help you out, as best I can too, Aquila.”

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