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Book II, Chapter 1: A Glimpse of Lore

Gloriana's Gifts

By the time they reached Sandpoint it was late, and Abby’s crab dinner had to wait until the next day. The party’s grease-soaked clothes and skin had collected a garden plot of road grime. Half of their number was still weak from their battle with shadows, and they were all exhausted. They trudged through the village to leave the crab meat at The Rusty Dragon, much to the owner’s delight, then made their way back to the White Deer Inn. Their rooms had been kept waiting. They took turns luxuriating in the small bathhouse with portions of wine and cheese, and Rahab was able to borrow a set of patched—but serviceable—trousers and tunic from the innkeeper. Then the adventurer’s retired to bed and the welcome embrace of unconsciousness.

The next morning Gloriana used her divine magic to restore her strength and Abby’s likewise. In the afternoon Ameiko Kaijitsu wrought a work of art: Steamed crab and capers with lemon garlic butter, green beans and onions with black pepper mustard glaze, sliced tomato topped with melted cheese. Because of the amount of crab meat brought back, the adroit chef was able to craft enough to feed two hundred. The doors of The Rusty Dragon were thrown open and anyone and everyone was invited. The crowd grew until it spilled out into the dirt street. There was no official word or endorsement; word of mouth simply brought townsfolk to the festivities, among them Father Zantus, Sheriff Hemlock, and Mayor Deverin. As night fell, torches were brought to light the thoroughfare. New kegs were tapped, new bottles of wine uncorked. Sandpointers brought bodhrán and flute and began to sing. In the wake of the fight with Nualia, Gloriana suddenly felt more alive than she’d ever known, and she began to twirl in celebration, silk scarves spinning, bangles on her ankles keeping cheerful rhythm as her feet measured a rousing tarantella that was ancient when her great-grandmothers were infants. The crowd clapped time, and many fellow Varisians who recognized the dance formed a moving circle around her in complement. Already beloved, Gloriana’s esteem among the villagers only increased with the dance: It was beautiful and joyful and vibrant, and all who witnessed it felt swept up in the power of its exultation.

The impromptu festival lasted long into the night, and the news spread from person to person that the goblin threat had been vanquished by the Heroes of Sandpoint, until the whole village was abuzz with the telling and retelling of the tale. The adventurers never paid for a drink in the town again.

••••

One morning, Rahab made an appointment at a tailor from whom he commissioned a new set of robes. Though she did not have any ash gray cloth, the tailor presented a bolt of dark wine red as alternative. The wizard approved and the tailor took measurements and named a price. Rahab paid the coin and the tailor offered to destroy the old, ruined robes, but Rahab took that duty upon himself. He strode through town to the western beach, gathered a small pyre of driftwood, lay the cloth atop, and then blasted it with a cone of magical fire from his fingertips.1 He watched the smoke rise into the cool blue autumn sky and regretted the loss. The robes had been a proud purchase in Magnimar back in the days before his tutor’s disfavor and assassination, but there was nothing else to do.

When he returned to the tailor three days later, his new clothing was ready, complete with an interior pocket in which Escher could safely nestle. Rahab was pleased with the style and color, and proffered his thanks. The young widow favored him with an arch smile. The wizard left the shop an hour later.

••••

The accounting of the party’s success at Thistletop Stronghold came to 700 gold coins for each person, and an additional 250 pieces in gold set aside as a collective resource.

Since their return, Abby’s desire to know more about the brilliant silver shield she had claimed from the barghest’s prison had only increased, a tantalizing mystery that she could not put from her mind. One rainy morning she made her way through muddy roads to Savah’s Armory on Tower Street. Savah stood smoking a clay pipe calmly in her doorway, heedless of the rain, beefy hand on her hip. She recognized Abby, of course; there was almost no one in the village who did not recognize the Heroes of Sandpoint. Without ceremony, the older woman beckoned to the warrior as if she expected her arrival.

“Good day,” Abby said as she stepped inside, shaking rain from her shoulders and head.

“To be seen,” returned the smith. Savah was stout, a woman who had lived her life before the forge, shaping iron and steel, bronze and brass, copper and silver. Her arms were corded and thick and scarred with too many kisses of fire. Her body was solid and age had little diminished the strength there. For a moment Abby felt as though she gazed upon a version of herself advanced thirty years. Savah stepped to the massive central table where many of her wares were arranged: sword and axe, vambrace and greave, shield and helm.

Savah scrutinized Abby wordlessly, ostensibly gauging the quality and condition of the warrior’s armor, but her keen and expert eye could not fail to notice the circular steel slung over the half-elf’s shoulder.

“Show me,” the smith finally said, for it was obvious why the warrior had come.

Abby unslung the marvelous metal shield and laid it on the table. Savah approached and leaned close. She glanced at the warrior who nodded. The smith lifted the shield.

“Gods of old,” the smith whispered. Then, louder: “Where did you get this?”

“Thistletop Stronghold,” Abby replied. “We found it . . .” For a moment she thought to say more, then, simply, “We found it.”

Savah waved a hand as though she had thought better of the question. “Hmph. Do you know what you have here?” The smith was looking at the shield’s mirror-perfect surface.

“I was hoping you could tell me,” Abby said.

“Come,” Savah said, taking up the shield and drawing the warrior by the shoulder through the shop to the forge at the back. Though it was cloudy outside, the light was still better than within the shop’s confines, and the smith stepped close to the great kindled bed of coals. She held the shield at an angle to the glow.

“What do you see?”

Abby looked close for a long time. “It is metal, yet gleams like glass, or crystal.”

“Like no steel you have seen?”

“Yes.”

“Aye. Never have I worked with such metal. ‘Tis not silver. Silver is beautiful, but fragile.”

Abby nodded and drew the silver dagger she still held on loan from Gloriana.

“There” Savah nodded. “’Tis good for certain things, but soft. Pits easily. Turn that against armor and bend or break the blade double quick. Not so this,” she rapped the shining shield with a calloused knuckle and the two women listened to the resonant ring of the strange metal amidst the drumming of the rain. “There is magic here, I’d wager.”

Abby nodded. “Our wizard confirmed as much.”

“Aye,” Savah nodded again and drew on her pipe. “What else could it be, to appear so, as solid as any steel yet with the lightness of wood? Magic indeed.”

“Do you know this shield?” asked the warrior hopefully.

A long pause. “Nay,” the smith finally declared. Abby deflated somewhat. Savah continued, “But there is someone who might tell you more, to the end of Tower, left as you go. A sage, so he says. Seek him.”

Abby thanked the woman and took her shield back, slinging it over her shoulder once more. She strode from the forge around the side of the smithy to the road. Savah watched the warrior go.

“Hi, swordswoman!” the smith called. Abby stopped and turned in the falling rain.

“Wrecker, ‘tis called, of old Thassilon!”

“You do know it!” Abby moved to return. Savah waved a hand in an impatient gesture of dismissal.

“Nay. See your man!” The smith turned away and disappeared past the forge and into the shop as an end to it. Abby watched her go, then stepped back into the muddy road and looked to the west, but hesitated. Then she looked east and headed that way. She wanted to seek the sage, but in the company of her friends. She made for the White Deer Inn.

••••

Rahab was not there, but Abby found Gloriana and Kara, and together the three women set out for the end of Tower Street and to what, the warrior hoped, were some answers.

The small building at the end of the road stood in the shadow of the Old Light, jumbled block of large stones atop the sea cliff that predated the village itself. Residents assumed it to be an ancient lighthouse since fallen into disuse and eventual ruin. The rain was still drizzling when they arrived and knocked on the door to the cottage.

There was no answer, and after a while they knocked again. A wooden shutter on a window to one side of the door creaked open and a hoary head leaned out into the rainfall.

“Are you a sage?” Abby began.

“Why?”

“We have come seeking information, if you have it, about this,” and the warrior unslung her shield once more, turning it so its shining silver surface and seven-pointed star faced the window. The old man regarded the shield for a while, gums chewing soundlessly, then the wizened figure retreated and the shutter closed.

Abby blinked, nonplussed, and looked at the others. Kara shrugged. Gloriana offered an encouraging nod. Finally they heard a hasp rattling and the cottage door creaked open. There was a dark space beyond barely broken by candlelight and the flicker of a hearth fire somewhere in the recesses of the building. The old man’s head leaned around from behind the open door.

“Well, are you coming in or not?”

The three women stepped inside a cluttered cottage with shelves full of books and scrolls, and many more besides piled on the floor. The door closed behind them and the man shuffled around by the hearth. He made tea and poured four cups, handing them out and taking one for his own. Then he settled with difficulty into an aged and worn—though comfortable looking—chair by the fire. He lifted his slippered feet onto an ottoman of similar provenance.

He made no move to invite the women to sit, and so Kara simply did so, finding space on a bench against one wall. Gloriana sat on the floor in the manner of her people around the campfire. Abby remained standing and set the shield down near the hearth so the light would play across its surface, expecting the old man to regard it in greater detail, but he remained looking away, into the middle distance, at one of his shuttered windows. The sound of the rain on the thatching and the crackling wood in the fireplace was the only noise for some time.

Finally, Abby grew tired of the silence and sighed loudly in irritation. The man seemed to rouse from his reverie.

“I am Brodert Quink,” the elderly man said.

“We—” Abby started to explain.

“Are the Heroes of Sandpoint, or some portion of them, at least” broke in the old man suddenly. “I imagine there are few now in this place who do not know. Even I, shut away in this den. Congratulations on your recent conquest of the goblins invested at Thistletop up the coast.”

“Thank you,” said Gloriana. Kara maintained her silence.

“It was there that we found this shield,” Abby continued. Quink finally glanced at the bulwark again, and eventually nodded.

“What can you tell us?” the warrior asked.

“I can tell you it was no goblin kept that, to be sure.”

“We found it in a chamber below the fortress,” Abby declined to say more.

“The shield is old. It has a name.”

“Wrecker,” the warrior offered.

Quink said nothing for a long while, scrutinizing Abby sharply, sipping his tea. Finally, he rejoined.

“I can offer you knowledge, but I require a price.”

Abby nodded and felt on more familiar ground; this was like any tavern-side or back-alley bargaining in Riddleport. “Name it.”

“The Old Light, just yon. Do you know it?”

“No. I have seen it from the streets, but no, I do not know it.”

“No matter. It has an infestation of which I would see it rid, that I might continue my study of it.”

“Rats?”

“Something more than rats, and recently arrived. Until just a few days ago I had free access to the site. As I approached the other morning I saw something retreat into the shadows of the ruin and I fled, barring myself in the cottage for fear that it would follow. It did not, but I fear its proximity, nonetheless.”

“Goblins?” Abby tried again.

Quink shook his head slowly, his gaze severe. The cottage grew silent again as the three women considered the proposal.

“In return,” Gloriana spoke up, “you will tell us what you know of the shield?”

“I will. I think you are qualified for this work. It is, in essence, what you have most recently finished doing under your own impetus—or at village request—some near miles from here.”

“What is their number?” Abby asked.

“I took no census,” Quink shrugged.

Elf, half-elf, and human woman consulted one another silently with a glance.

“Very well,” Abby said.

“Excellent!” Quink seemed to brighten. “Now drink your tea and then into the rain with you. When you return victorious, I will tell you what I know.”

••••

The three women set out for the rocky rise of the Old Light. The ruined blocks atop the cliff face looking out over the sea to the north and west were accessed by a slick climb up a grassy slope that made for cautious traverse in the rain. When they reached the cliff top they finally got a better look at the ancient structure. Large stone blocks, carefully shaped but worn with the passage of many years of severe seaside weather, lay alongside and atop one another in a roughly rectangular area that rose fifty feet. It took some time to find a way inside. Whatever formal portals had allowed access to and from the ancient columnar building had long since been obscured by sizable segments of the upper structure collapsing.

Finally they found a narrow space between upright sections of stone. They were wet with rain, and the way inside was a tight squeeze that extended for nearly ten feet. The interior was shadowy, and water dripped and ran down the walls, the trickling sound of moisture from further above echoed distantly against the faint churn of the surf at the cliff base. Abby’s lightstone cast a glow that glistened off the damp surfaces. Gloriana followed behind, then Kara.

Mindful of the recent battle with the shadows in Thistletop Stronghold, Gloriana took a moment to ask the spirits to reveal the presence of any undead, but no response came.

The ground floor was treacherous, a jumble of stones, cracked and uneven, but luckily the moisture in the air reduced the dust. Abby could see a set of stone stairs against the far wall, but it, too, was littered with debris, making it difficult passage. The three women looked about for a few minutes, but there was little to regard on this level.

They began to pick their way across toward the stairs, uncertain what progress they might make, unclear on what exactly they had been tasked with eliminating, until a moment later a shape emerged from behind a block of stone and attacked Abby.

This time it was the warrior’s brush with death.

••••

The fight was over in less than a minute, and when it was done Gloriana had spent almost the entire time desperately casting healing magic on Abby. Twice the doughty warrior crumpled to the ground awash in her own blood, twice she was revived by the oracle’s channeled power.2

In the end victory owed to Kara’s shock bombs, and two shining blades of spiritual energy Gloriana called forth from the region of souls, each shaped in a graceful curve with guards that resembled outstretched bird wings.3

Their opponents had been two creatures, each roughly the size and shape of a human, but utterly featureless. Their strange forms were composed entirely of rubbery, malleable crimson flesh, with neither skeleton nor innards nor circulatory system. Only their hands ended in sharp claws that they put to terrible work rending great wounds in Abby’s body.

The warrior sat on the floor, leaning back against a fallen stone, breathing laboriously, though Gloriana’s magic had made Abby hale once more. Her sword lay across her knees and she regarded it with exhausted, shocked eyes. She passed a gauntleted, trembling hand across her brow.

Kara and Gloriana had gone up the perilous stairs nearly to the summit of the structure, scrambling over the stone-strewn steps in search of other monsters, but found none. When they returned, the oracle approached the recumbent Abby and knelt close. The warrior met her gaze.

“That place is dark, indeed,” the warrior whispered, and Gloriana, who knew only too well, gave a sad smile and embraced her friend. Abby returned the gesture, eyes closed. After a while the oracle sat back, but kept her hand on Abby’s shoulder in supportive encouragement.

“I am glad you are here.”

“The gladness is mine,” Abby replied quietly. “It is by your art that I remain.”

“We need not linger,” Kara said. “There is nothing else here.”

“What were these creatures?” Gloriana wondered aloud.

“I do not know what name they keep for themselves, but in Riddleport I have heard them called faceless stalkers,” Abby mentioned. “They can take the shape of a person they kill. Thus they infiltrate settlements, to devour them from within, slowly and in secret.”

“Then it is well we have ended these two here, that they may not gain foothold in the village,” said Kara.

“Let us return to Quink,” Gloriana offered. The women slowly made their way in the rain down into the village from the cliff height.

••••

“Aha!” Quink answered the door. “You return successful, I hope?”

Gloriana nodded solemnly. Abby and Kara made no response.

“Come in!”

The women entered wearily and resumed their seats. This time Abby cleared a space next to Kara on the bench. Quink brewed tea once more and the women took the proffered cups, which were welcome against the chill of the autumn rain.

“What did you find at the tower?” Quink asked.

“The place is clear, and you may resume your studies there in peace,” Gloriana spoke, assuming command of the conversation to Abby’s relief. “What can you tell us of the shield?”

Quink noted the redirection. “I am curious—” the sage began.

“As are we, about the shield” the golden-haired woman said with a ready and shrewd smile. “I trust we have not ventured to the tower in vain. You do have some information, after all? Or were we mistaken to come?”

Quink’s gums worked nervously, and his eyes narrowed. Finally: “No, not mistaken. Forgive my presumption. I am unused to . . . no mind, it is not important.” The old man waved a hand dismissively. His gaze turned to Abby.

“You named the shield ‘Wrecker,’ which you no doubt heard from someone else, perhaps at Thistletop, perhaps here in the village, but that name is a mistaken translation of a word from Thassilon.”

“What is Thassilon?” Abby asked.

“Ah! What indeed! An empire, long since fallen. At its height it was mighty, and its relics are found across Varisia, from densely-populated Magnimar to the wild places in the north and east. The Old Light itself is left over from that time. That shield,” and Quink gestured at the device Abby had set at her feet, “is a relic, as well. But that shield is not ‘Wrecker.’ That shield is ‘Avenger.’ ‘Wrecker,’ you see, is a mistranslation of the Thassilonian. The more accurate term is ‘Avenger.’”

Abby looked down at the brilliant silver surface with the star engraving.

“It is magic,” Quink continued. “The power that went into making that shield also transformed the steel into the substance you see there, which has all the strength of the metal but is eminently lighter. The magic also enhances its properties. Not only does it defend, but its heft and balance allow it to be thrown as a missile weapon. In order to make the best use of Avenger, the warrior that carries it should be familiar with the use of the shield not only for defense, but also for attack.”

Meet Abby! thought Gloriana happily.

“According to legend,” Quink added, “Avenger was carried by a fighter known as ‘The Captain,’ clad in mail and skilled in the use of the shield.4 Whether this figure was real or not we may never know, but the shield is true, and now in your hands. It is an important artifact. I beseech you, please keep it safe. If you would consider donating it, I could find an appropriate collection to house it,” the sage added in hopeful tone. Abby ignored the suggestion.

“Our friend, the wizard,” Gloriana said, “mentioned that there seems to be something more to the magic, but he was unable to say what it was.”

“The exact nature of magic is not my area of scholarship, but it is certainly possible that your friend is right. The full powers of that shield may be obscured in the mists of lost history, or perhaps time will reveal them to you, or perhaps it is no more than its present state. On that I cannot say.”5

Gloriana and Abby thanked Quink for his information, and then the three women departed the cottage, returning once more to the day’s rain.

••••

“Where were you?” Gloriana asked Rahab later that evening at the White Deer Inn.

“Research.”

“Research?”

Perhaps she had not heard him. “Research,” the wizard said louder and slower. The oracle crossed her arms and tilted her head pointedly.

“What kind of research?”

“Magical research. Does it matter?”

“Yes, you ass! We could have used your help at the Old Light this morning.”

“Why did you go to the Old Light without me?”

“Rahab . . .” Gloriana stepped close, her gaze withering, her hand on the haft of her morningstar.

The wizard took a deep breath and held up his hands in placation. “Very well. What were you doing at the Old Light?”

“We went to find out more about Abby’s shield that we found at Thistletop. There’s a sage named Brodert Quink who knew some things about it, but, in exchange, he asked us to clear out two monsters that had invested the Old Light. Come to think of it, Quink is a bit of an ass himself. You two would probably get along.”

Rahab ignored the last. “What did you learn?”

Gloriana started to mention the battle with the faceless stalkers, and then decided against it. “It is called Avenger and it is from a place called Thassilon.”

“What about the runes we saw on the pillar in the lower chambers of the stronghold?”

“We did not ask about those.” Gloriana seemed a little surprised by the question.

“I see.”

“What is it?”

“There may be a connection between the runes and the barghest and the shield.”

“You never mentioned a connection before.”

“The possibility is only a recent hypothesis, Seductress of Sandpoint. The whispering beast in that chamber clearly predates the goblin-invested motte-and-bailey on the ground floor, as do the statues and the column. The original structure there may be a relic of Thassilon as much as the shield. Yet hypothesis it remains; the shield could just as easily have been transported there for some other purpose, or the barghest itself may follow the shield. More likely we will never know.”

A thought crossed the oracle’s mind. Gloriana moved her arms akimbo.

“This magical research today. It didn’t happen to be a woman, did it?”

Rahab did not dissemble. “That was yesterday, and none of your concern. What do you think of my new robes? An excellent commission, I deem.” The conjurer stretched out his arms for full effect.

Gloriana’s stare was flint. The conjurer shrugged and lowered his arms.

“If you think there’s something to it,” the oracle said frostily, “Quink lives in the little cottage on the left at the end of Tower Street. You two can wile away the hours comparing who has the larger . . . body of knowledge.”

“No contest.”

Gloriana turned to go to her room. “Try to remember, Rahab: all that has happened successfully in recent days happened because we were all there to look out for one another.”

Rahab stood in the upstairs hallway after she left. He was looking at the wall, and he was there a long time. His eyes were unfocused, looking inward at an image in his mind: all of them there to look out for one another, and Gloriana lying in a growing pool of her own blood, redder red against a red marble floor.

••••

In the days following the meeting with the sage, Gloriana visited several village shopkeepers where she spent the majority of her share of coin. She gathered her companions to dinner at The Rusty Dragon: Abby, Kara, Rahab, even Lem who she chanced upon one day in the village, and Kuch who had stopped in from wilderness patrol and whom she convinced to spend a few hours sitting on a chair in a tavern.

The meal was beef broth stew with sliced vegetables, black bread, a round of marbled cheese, apples in honey, ales and wines. They sat around the table telling stories, not of recent adventures, but of older memories, from before their meeting, from before Sandpoint and the Swallowtail Festival. Kuch’s wolf sat on the floor, brilliant yellow eyes watchful. Escher clambered up to Rahab’s shoulder and nibbled at little bits of cheese delicately cradled in the wizard’s fingers, before ducking back into the folds of the wizard’s robes and out of sight of other tavern patrons.

When they had dined, Gloriana stood. “I have something for you,” she said to the table. The oracle drew forth a large, heavy basket from underneath another nearby table and lifted the cloth covering it. The others looked on curiously. She had been wondering what to say at this moment, what words could possibly convey how she felt. It was not that she could not speak. Words had always come easily to her; they were part of her power, as familiar and inescapable and eldritch as her haunts. It was translating her emotion about her experience into those words that stalled somehow, like a family vardo blocked by a fallen tree or mired in mud. To communicate was to move, and to move was to live. Her people knew that in their marrow. There was a reason the Varisian word for “home” was the same as the word for “road.”

“Among my people,” she began, “among my family, it is customary to signify great thanks with a gift.”

She reached into the basket and drew forth a long case of finely shaped cherry, luminously finished, fitted with brass hinges. There followed a quiver with a score of arrows, ten with heads of silver, ten with heads of cold-forged iron.

“The first is for Kara Silverleaf, who brought me from the edge of death and then spoke great wisdom to comfort me. This is her sign, the symbol that is her name. With this she will craft her magic under the autograph of her being. With her I travel the road.” Gloriana passed the heavy case and the quiver to the alchemist who now saw the case lid was embossed with a leaf design in pure silver. Kara opened the lid. The interior was lined in dark blue wool felt protecting the clever array of jars, glass pipettes, stoppers, wax, crucible, alembic, tongs, mortar and pestle, each similarly embossed with a leaf in argent.

Gloriana turned back to the basket and produced another case, this one of durable waxed leather rolled into a cylinder and buckled with twin straps. In her other hand she held a sheathed silver dagger to replace the one Abby had returned to the oracle.

“The next is for Abby Solo, who is the warrior that yearns to heal. Hers is the sword and shield, hers is the line that holds. She has asked me to teach her the skills of medicine and it is my honor to do so. With this she will practice the mending of life. With her I travel the road.” Abby received the dagger and the case, and unrolled the latter to reveal the healer’s kit inside, complete with bandages, salts, and herbs against fever and pain.

Once more Gloriana retrieved objects from the basket: three scrolls tied in a ribbon of red silk, and a small quiver holding ten crossbow bolts, five with heads of silver and five with heads of cold-forged iron.

“The next is for Rahab, of House Eldredshade, whose mind is unmatched. Knowledge is his power, and its increase is our increase. These arcane spells will add to his already formidable understanding: they will protect him, and augment him, and alter him, and so make our journey—the journey we all make together—better. With him I travel the road.” The wizard took the scrolls and ammunition with uncharacteristic silence, his expression strangely solemn and uncertain.

A fourth time Gloriana took gifts from the basket, now revealing a backpack of superior craftsmanship, and two small daggers of silver and cold-forged iron, sized to fit the dextrous hands of a halfling.

“The next is for Lem Gardener, new friend and stout ally in battle. He showed himself to great effect in our recent struggle against the goblins, and his skill helped insure our victory at the stronghold. These tools will aid him in the future. With him I travel the road.” Lem received backpack and daggers stoically, though he felt somewhat off-balance to discover a human who recognized not all the world was the same size.

Finally Gloriana recovered from the basket another scroll and two weapons: a sickle with a silver blade and a scimitar of cold-forged iron.

“The last is for Kuch, who helps us in the wild places of the world, whose understanding of the land leads us safely through dangers. These will help him against enemies who would poison waters and blight trees. With him I travel the road.” The druid took the weapons and nodded at their quality and materials, and tucked the scroll away for study later in one of his animal skin pouches. This was no ceremony with which he was familiar, and he was skeptical of its significance, but he recognized the importance of gifts that gave aid to his efforts.6

Then Gloriana stepped close to Kara and embraced the elf. She did the same to Abby, and then to Rahab; the latter seemed distracted and lost in thought. When she came to Lem the halfling refused, not yet familiar, not yet comfortable with such a gesture from the human woman. The gardener offered a hand to shake and Gloriana graciously accepted with an encouraging smile. Kuch likewise refused, still too new in the meeting of these people, no longer stranger but not yet friend.

The ceremony over, the detritus of dinner was cleared away save for post-prandial drinks. Kara, Abby, and Gloriana chatted. Kuch was eager to return to the wilderness and the quiet there, and excused himself, thanking Gloriana as he and his wolf departed into the nighttime chill. Rahab sat, quietly drinking his wine, his eyes on the fire in the hearth, and eventually he, too, paid his thanks to Gloriana and bid the others good night. The remaining four stayed a bit longer, then made their way to the door. Outside, in the tavern glow, Lem took his leave and stepped away.

Kara and Abby were already strolling up the dark, muddy street. Gloriana watched the halfling take a few steps in the other direction before she called out. “By the way, Lem?”

The halfling turned.

“You had no trouble returning Shadowmist to the farmer Forthright?”

“No trouble,” Lem answered.

“Good. Stop by the White Deer tomorrow morning and bring the reward. We’ll settle the shares. It was 300 in gold, correct? ”

Without waiting for reply, Gloriana turned and walked away into the night.7
_____________________________________________

1 Burning Hands.

2 Abby nearly died twice in this fight.

3 Gloriana’s Spiritual Weapon appears as a winged scimitar. She cast the spell twice in this fight.

4 Yes, Dgroo is a fan of Marvel comic books. Why do you ask?

5 Avenger is a +1 quickdraw weaponized throwing shield.

6 Gifts in order: portable alchemy laboratory personalized with silver leaf design; healer’s kit for Abby’s development as she puts points into the Heal skill; arcane scrolls of True Strike, Shield, Reduce Person to add to Rahab’s spellbook; masterwork backpack, which Glo had noticed Lem admiring before; divine scroll of Faerie Fire. All weapon gifts are either alchemical silver or cold-iron.

7 It’s important to note that I was traveling and thus unable to attend this session, so this chapter has been constructed from notes and comments made by the other players and our GM. I feel like this is one of the weaker entries, because my absence meant I never had a feel for how the session went, nor for particular details. Any errors or omissions are entirely my own, and not those of my fellows and friends.

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