Unforgiving lands - Now in hiatus - Details at last post


First Post
Salutations, people of EN World! I'm a new author for the Story Hour forum, and I'm here to start making my story known :)

This tale is 100% fiction, not based in an actual real-life game, and is staged in the campaign setting called The North, created for anyone to use. I don't know the author or his/her name, but the setting has no copyright, and thus I will use it as a solid base for my story.

You can check the setting on-line: http://thenorth.pbwiki.com/

Although The North is made for a low-magic Iron Heroes game, I've decided to use it for normal 3.5 DnD.

It's my first story ever that I write on a forum, but I've been a DM for close to 8 years, if that counts for something :p Now, all of that being said, my grammar and spelling aren't perfect, and I'm well aware of that. How can you help me improve on that, you say? Easy! Point out any spelling/grammar mistakes that I make in the story, and the right way to do it. That's how I learn, through errors ;)

The link for the Rogue's Gallery is here

Without further ado, I give you... my story! :cool:
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First Post
Chapter 1

The House of Wisdom

Berendes Mithrar, Patriarch of the Mithrar clan and Pledged of House Dagoth paced back and forth across the richly adorned carpet that was placed in the center of the no-less richly decorated chamber. It was dark outside, since it was close to midnight, but the room wasn't very brightly illuminated, since Berendes didn't require it. His fine cape flowed in every direction as he turned at the end of the carpet once again.

“You're ruining the carpet”.

The Pledged of House Dagoth stopped abruptly on his tracks and turned his head to look at the source of the words, the figure that was leaning comfortably against a nearby wall. It was a human male, looking to be in his mid-thirties, wearing nothing but a long sleeved black shirt and dark green trousers. His hands were covered with simple leather gloves, one attached to a black pearl in the center while the other one had a white one.

“So? There are more important things than this expensive carpet, Rudokai” Berendes replied, clearly annoyed by the remark made by the other man.

“And how's pacing from one end to the other going to resolve those “more important things”, Berendes?” Rudokai said with a calm voice, almost devoid of any emotion.

The nobleman seemed even more anxious than before after hearing this “I'm pacing because I'm nervous, and I'm nervous-”.

“-because you fear House Ganellar” finished the other with a simple gesture of his left hand. Once it was put in the open, the words sounded less important or impressive than they did in the mind of the Patriarch.

“And rightly so!” Berendes shot back, raising one angry fist in the air with great drama “We are the House of Wisdom, they are the House of Might. If it came to open war, their forces would surely overwhelm ours, and you know it”.

Rudokai abandoned his comfortable position and separated himself from the wall, folding his arms as he did “If” he began, with great emphasis in the word “it comes to open war. You seem to forget, thanks to your nervousness, that so far there has been no indication of Ganellar – or any other Noble House, for that matter – intending to assault us”.

Berendes paused before formulating his reply, and took a deep breath as he walked towards the balcony at the end of the chamber, his need for pacing gone. At least for the moment. He stopped walking half-way to the balcony as a flash of red caught his attention, but when he realized that it was the light of the torches reflecting on an ornament, he continued his walk without thinking about it for another second.

He was fifty six years old, and had witnessed the ever changing flow of power in the world for as long as he could remember. As a Pledged of House Dagoth, it was his duty to watch over the House and protect it from threats. He had accomplished this several times in the past decades, but never against another Noble House. Such a conflict would be the equivalent of two nations warring against each other, possibly dragging the neighboring ones into it in the process.

Placing both hands on the white marble railing of the balcony, Berendes took a quick look of the magnificent vista of the city of Ysalis, one of the biggest metropolis in the land. It pained him greatly that this fair place might be endangered from other cities or Houses.

“You speak the truth, Rudokai, but yet...” his voice trailed off, unable to put his thoughts into words.

“...yet the fear persists?” the other man finished for him, placing himself right next to him on the balcony. “Why should you remain paranoid, Patriarch? A couple of House Dagoth members have gone missing, some of the nobles are being harassed here and there – nothing that hasn't occurred in the past”.

“True” Berendes admitted. “But this time it feels different, somehow, in a strange and unexplainable way” he looked at Rudokai, who in turn was gazing towards the heavens above, a beautifully starred sky. “What shall I do?”.

It almost sounded like a plea, a desperate request for help coming from a child and giving it to a father. The child in this scenario happened to be one of the most powerful men in the land, and the father in question was in fact more than a thousand years old. Rudokai was one of the First, the beings created by the Gods at the dawn of time to guide the Noble Houses. Through the gloves that he wore, Rudokai was bound to House Dagoth, forced to assist the group no matter how big the cost.

Rudokai smiled, but only to put Berendes at ease, since the divinely-infused being never really felt anything. “If you have an enemy, cut it. If you have a problem, solve it. Is there an enemy to slay, or a problem to defuse? Since the answer is 'no', what must we do, Berendes Mithrar, Pledged of House Dagoth?”.

Only a certain few could talk to a Pledged in such a condescending fashion, and Rudokai was included in that minority. Berendes swallowed his pride and sighed deeply before stating what sounded to him as the obvious, yet something that he had refused to consider until now:

“I will send scouts to gather information on the matter, to see what the threat is, if there is one at all. No military maneuvers will take place until my suspicions are confirmed”.

Rudokai nodded, satisfied, and kept staring at the night sky for a couple of moments before turning around and walking back into the palace of House Dagoth.

“You know, it's quite the spectacle to watch mortal beings stumble upon solutions that were always right in front of them, like a peasant that runs through a forest, looking for trees”.

Since it was pointless to be angry at one of the First, Berendes merely pretended to ignore the remark and remained in his position at the edge of the railing, pondering.

“I feel like a blind peasant, running through the woods, running for my life, as skilled hunters track me down, slowly but surely” .

Malakhati the Scorpion had to restrain a laugh upon hearing this, for he felt it a very accurate representation of the present situation. Earlier on he almost got caught as his blood-red eyes reflected on the torchlight, and he made a mental note to be mindful of that for the next time. His eyes were the only part of his body that he couldn't completely hide, but he had ways of avoiding this little annoyance. Laughing inwardly, Malakhati left the palace the same way that he had entered.

Right through the solid stone walls, without making a sound.
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First Post
Chapter 2

Knight and Bodyguard

“You don't talk much, do you?” Vincent inquired as he hoisted his traveling pack on his back in order to start another day of walking from where they set camp.

Gilliam only nodded in response, proving Vincent's comment right in doing so. He was almost finished packing his belongings into a weathered old backpack.

“But it's better if you do talk, wouldn't you agree?” he pressed, seeing that he had to force a verbal answer out of his traveling companion and bodyguard. “It makes the walking treks go faster, and it's not as dull when there's conversation”.

“You can't force me to talk to you, Vincent” Gilliam said at length, checking that his weapons and armor were in the right places. “It wasn't in the contract”.

It was a sunny summer day, in the middle of pretty grasslands, but Vincent Ender somehow felt coldness emanating out of Gilliam. “But there wasn't a rule that said that you couldn't talk, yes?” he pointed out, looking to the northeast, the general direction in which they were heading, towards the Rainbow River, then back at Gilliam.

With a deep sigh of absolute resignation, Gilliam stood up from his crouching stance and hoisted his own traveling pack over his shoulders. “Alright, master Vincent, what would you prefer to converse about this fine day, as we travel towards the home of a hermit, carrying a message of great importance?” he asked with fake reverence, his facial features more than obvious signs of frustration.

Frowning only for a moment, Vincent nodded and started to lead the duo northeast “Well, for instance, I barely know about you, only that you're performing 'body-guard jobs' as your main occupation, risking your life so that others may travel safely, or at least relatively so. My House paid a good amount of gold for your services, Gilliam, but I don't like to see my House's employees as... mere servants”.

“If that would please you, then I don't see the harm in it” Gilliam took a couple of quick steps to catch up with Vincent, who had already walked twenty feet or so while he was talking. Still, Vincent was wearing full-plate, while Gilliam sported a battered but solid chain shirt, which granted him more mobility and posed less of an encumbrance.

“What do you want to know?”.

“As much as you're willing to tell me” came the quick reply, accompanied with a smile, now that they were walking side by side.

“Fair enough”.

Gilliam spent half a minute considering where to begin his tale, and when he felt satisfied with his choice he began talking in a casual way, not putting much emotion into the words.

“My father was a human, my mother was a human, and after they married I was born, as a human”.

“Imagine that, two humans giving birth to a human baby!” Vincent joked, not realizing he had interrupted the tale he had demanded for at the very start.

“I was merely clarifying my blood-line” Gilliam said in a strained fashion. “Some folks I've met thought I was of elven descent, if only on one side of my family”

Vincent hastily cleared his throat. “Sorry, please continue” .

“Anyway, I joined the Battle Forged, the guard at the city of Capris, at the age of seventeen-”

“That's surely an early age to join the city guard” Vincent commented with a low whistle, sounding impressed.

Gilliam ignored the second interruption and went on “I trained with the best, got my fair share of combat, and reached the point in which I could have beaten anyone in the local garrison. The most dangerous missions were always delegated to me by default, and I always took them, completing them with great efficiency”.

This time, Vincent didn't interrupt, as he was listening to the story with rapt interest. After all, not everyone has the chance in life to hear the life-story of a city guard veteran!

“I was given the rank of Captain, had my own group of soldiers to command, and I could've made it to Sergeant if I had wanted to. But I wanted to keep it simple, and guiding my own group of ten Battle Forged seemed like the perfect job for me. Once I was given the mission to look for a dagger-wielding assassin throughout the entire city” he looked at Vincent in the eye and added “Capris isn't as big as your city, Seawall, mind you, but the place had easily over five thousand people living in it. Finding this murderer was the equivalent of catching a needle in a haystack”.

There was a pause, and Vincent took the chance to ask “How did you find him, then?”.

For the first time in the entire trip, the three days that they had traveled together, Gilliam smiled, if only for a brief time. “We knew through our sources that the assassin was a proud man, and so we set up a trap for him: we hosted a tournament for all swordsmen to participate in, but we restricted the weapons to small blades only”.

“The weapons the assassin was proficient with!” Vincent cried out as he snapped his fingers, catching on.

“That's exactly right” the bodyguard praised with his index finger pointing at his companion. “By the end of the tournament, there was only one who could possibly outmatch the rest of the participants. We got a hold of him on the spot, and shortly afterwards we managed to make him confess for his atrocities”.

There was a vague hint of pride in Gilliam's words, but then again, it could've been Vincent's imagination playing tricks on him.

Eying the twin bastard swords sheathed in scabbards at Gilliam's waist, Vincent inquired “You have two, in case you lose the other?”.

“No, I wield the two at the same time”. Since he wasn't looking at Vincent, Gilliam didn't notice the man's eyes go wide with awe: few people decided to train in wielding the exotic bastard sword one-handed... even fewer would choose to master wielding two in each hand!

“How long did it take you to learn how to use them like that?”.

Gilliam considered the question for a moment. “All of my life” .

There was another pause, and Vincent felt forced to press on.

“What happened next? What other important tasks were you given?”.

“Nothing. I deserted the Battle Forged shortly afterwards” was the indifferent response that Gilliam gave. Vincent almost stopped walking after hearing the turning of events “Y-you jest! Surely you wouldn't leave after-”.

Gilliam cut him off before he could formulate the inevitable question “Personal matters, none of your business”.

An uneasy silence fell upon the two, just then, and for a several minutes the only sound that could be heard was the clanking of Vincent's armor as he walked.

“What about you?”.

“M-me?” stuttered Vincent.

“Yes. You, your past, your story” Gilliam added, sounding as if he was asking this for the other's sake than for his own curiosity.

Vincent smiled as he began to unfold the events of his own past with great pride “As you know, I was born as the son of an elven noble couple, both of House Kashtar” he tapped the symbol of the House that was engraved in the chest area of his plate armor, a silver helm on a blue field, almost subconsciously. “I was raised with the ideals of my House: honor, loyalty and courage. I was trained since I was little in defending myself and others with weapons, but also studied subjects such as history and politics, both of which I find very profound and helpful. The deals of the Noble Houses do get complicated more often than not”.

“Tell me about it” Gilliam whispered.

“I became a squire only three years ago, and it's been quite the challenge for me, in more than one way”.

Vincent glanced at Gilliam, who nodded in comprehension “Indeed, it will take time getting used to it. Speaking of which, how long have you been wearing that full-plate armor for?”.

“All my life – as a squire” Vincent replied, sounding quite happy with himself despite the small accomplishment.

“What of your spear? Isn't that the signature weapon of House Kashtar?”.

The noble-born elf nodded and patted the shaft of his weapon placed on his back diagonally “Correct. Every member of the House receives intensive training with these type of weapons, for the most part. I admit that it was hard to train with it and the armor at the beginning, but I intend to plow through these hardships and to strive forward! One day, I'll become a full-fledged knight of House Kashtar, and I will make my family proud. Unfortunately, I don't have any grand tales to talk about, like you, since I've only been in this position for a short period of time”.

“I take it you'd do anything to please your family, your House, to make them proud of you?”.

The elf in heavy armor blinked twice before replying hesitantly “Well, yes, that's what I would like to do”.

“And what if they ask you to do something you don't want to do?” Gilliam pressed on, his tone starting to switch from casual to deadly serious.

“I-I don't know what you mean, anything they would ask of me-”.

“Even if they ask you to kill a loved one?”.

Vincent came to an abrupt halt, as if he had been slapped on the face, and turned to face Gilliam directly “Neither my House or my family would do such a thing! How could you suggest something like that!” he shouted, outraged.

“My question stands, Vincent: what if they do?” he asked patiently, standing on the spot and folding his arms as he awaited for a response.

“Then-I-I would-my family... House Kashtar...” Vincent tried to say something, but the dilemma that Gilliam hit him with had clearly caught him unawares.

“Think about it” Gilliam said right before he resumed the walk.

Vincent tried to come up with a clear cut answer on the spot, he really did, but as much as he tried, he couldn't fathom what he would do in a situation like the one Gilliam presented.

“Are you going to keep going, or what? I can't defend you if you lag behind me” Gilliam called from a couple of feet ahead.

That brought him back to the present, and so the warrior of House Kashtar resumed his trip as well. But he couldn't shake off the feeling that the question he was asked had once been asked to Gilliam as well. And whatever choice Gilliam made, it had to be the one that forced him to leave the Battle Forged.

Vincent sincerily hoped to never have to make the same choice that Gilliam was forced to do.
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First Post
Chapter 3

Blood on the road

Vincent and Gilliam had traveled for three days on the road, the only one made for reaching the city of Seawall, situated at the coast. It was the safest way to travel, but that didn't mean that it was devoid of any dangers, since only the section closest to the port city were patrolled by guards. From that point and on, travelers were on their own in the wilderness.

At first, they walked through grasslands, almost completely flat, filled with wild animals everywhere. Thankfully, none decided to attack the duo as of yet. Not that Gilliam or Vincent wouldn't be able to handle them, but neither man felt like adding unnecessary struggles to their trip. As they approached a fourth day of traveling, the flat terrain was transforming into hills, and the abundant grass was disappearing progressively.

For the most part, both bodyguard and squire kept their conversations to a minimum, only engaging in small, trivial talk every now and then, when it was necessary. Vincent, out of fear of being assaulted with another moral dilemma from the ex-guard, and Gilliam... he simply didn't feel like conversing.

However, an exception was made as they stopped momentarily for Vincent to re-adjust his backpack, which had a broken leather strap due to all the weight he was carrying, and the elf bent down to fix the inconvenience.

“Do you know what's in the wooden case?”.

Vincent looked up curiously at Gilliam. “You mean the scroll, the one for the hermit?”.

“The one and only”.

The squire stopped trying to make a knot out of the broken strap and stared at the backpack for a moment. “I know it's a message for the hermit, no more”.

“And who's this hermit? What connection does your House have with him?” he asked as he stood next to Vincent, checking the surrounding area as he did.

“I must admit I'm not sure; in all of my history lessons, I've only found out that this hermit has helped my House, but the transcripts are vague on the matter”.

Gilliam sighed, as if he had expected as much from the squire of House Kashtar. “Is there anything that you actually know about the hermit, then? Where he lives, why we are traveling all the way to his house, in the middle of nowhere, or even what we are going to give him?”.

Vincent was looking through his pack for a rope while he replied. “I'm afraid... that no, I don't have an answer for those questions. The hermit resides in a shack close to the Rainbow River, that's what I know” he looked up once again to look at his bodyguard “Why didn't you ask your employer about this matter, if you wanted to know?”.

“Because my contract didn't involve me knowing more than what was necessary”.

“Have you considered 'bending' the contract, every now and then, so that you may better understand your mission?”.

Gilliam looked amused by this. “When I start bending the contract, that's usually followed by my employer doing the same – when we are discussing the matter of my payment”.

“Oh” Vincent nodded and returned his attention to the backpack. He had found the rope, now he needed to cut it and tie the straps together.

Both men remained silent then, Vincent giving the finishing touches to his backpack while Gilliam continued to observe the countryside. It was a peaceful afternoon, with clouds forming on the horizon, radiating a variety of colors, from gray to orange, and from purple to pink.

The mercenary broke the silence, all of a sudden. “Good Gods, man, you've got no information on the matter, and you're obviously carrying out an important task!” he said, frustrated at his companion's lack of care.

“Important? How so?” replied Vincent, still looking down, focused on the task at hand.

Gilliam let out an angry breath and began to slowly pace around the crouching elf. “You were not given specifics on what exactly you're taking to this hermit, whoever he is. If you're captured and interrogated, you won't be able to tell a thing”.

“Since you can't tell anyone about it, it's the safest way to carry this message in the wooden case you have, because you couldn't betray the contents of the scroll even if you wanted to, since you're in the dark about the whole damned thing”.

Vincent merely kept tying the straps tightly with the piece of rope, and Gilliam practically wanted to scream at the squire.

“I trust my House, Gilliam” he said, at length. Gilliam stopped pacing and stopped to glance sideways at Vincent.

The mercenary mumbled something that Vincent couldn't hear, but he could guess it had to do with his loyalty to House Kashtar.

“In any case, since you know the land better, have you heard of any Barbarians in these hills?” Gilliam asked, changing the subject.

Vincent was done fixing the strap; he checked to make sure it would hold. “No, since they're only seen in the Gray Spears, the mountain range to the north. That's what I've learned from the historians of Seawall during my lessons”.

“Is that so?” Gilliam turned to face the land to the side of the road. “Then I think I'm going to have a talk with your history teacher when we get back to Seawall, since current evidence proves otherwise”.

Confused, Vincent looked up at Gilliam, then at the direction the warrior was facing. A trio of humanoids, Barbarians, judging by the way the savage way they dressed, were approaching them at a swift pace, trotting on the hills to the side of the road, from the north.

“Maybe they're exploring” was Vincent's suggestion.

“Or maybe they're here to slit our throats and drink our blood. Stay on your guard” Gilliam replied as he subconsciously checked his equipment to make sure it was battle-ready. His swords were in their respective scabbards, and his leather belt held exactly ten throwing knives.

He didn't have to say any more to convince the other warrior. Vincent understood the potential threat and stood up, hoisting his backpack over his shoulder, and it seemed as if his earlier work had been successful at repairing the strap. He placed a hand on his back, grasping the spear's shaft firmly, feeling it's solid wood for reassurance. His iron shield had to be re-adjusted to his right arm, as he displaced it while he was busy with the backpack. Vincent didn't have to confirm if his heavy metallic armor was ready for a potential battle: it was always with him, like a second skin, only taken off when going to sleep.

The three Barbarians were now at fifty feet from them, and all of them had weapons in hand. One was an orc who he had a battle axe. His companion, a human, was carrying a trident along with a leathered wooden shield. The last one, a half-orc, looked no less impressive with his two hand axes, one held firmly in each hand.

At twenty feet they stopped, and the half-orc took a step forward to speak. “You” he pointed at Gilliam and Vincent “Where you go?” he asked, his words and pronunciation way off, but clear enough for the duo to understand well enough.

Vincent was about to respond when Gilliam placed an outstretched arm in front of his chest and whispered “Let me handle this”.

Taking a step forward, like the half-orc did, Gilliam responded “We go to adventure. No more”.

The orc growled something in the tongue of the Barbarians, and while neither Gilliam nor Vincent could guess what he had said, his companions understood it well enough, and the half-orc pressed the matter. “You, eh, go to hermit?”.

Vincent stuttered something incomprehensible. Gilliam's mouth hung open a couple of inches, a trickle of cold sweat crawling down his neck meanwhile.

“How do you-” Vincent began to say, with Gilliam trying to cut him off, but it was too late. The half-orc understood the meaning of the response well enough, and yelled one word in his native tongue. The command was very likely tied to the lives of Gilliam and Vincent, for the three Barbarians howled with abandon and charged forward, weapons at the ready.

“Wait for them with your spear!” commanded Gilliam in a low voice. The mercenary drew his two swords in one smooth maneuver at the same time and looked to the side to see if Vincent was holding his spear as he had instructed.

The sight of the young squire charging forward greeted him, instead, and Gilliam cursed under his breath.

The clash of weapon upon weapon resounded in the otherwise quiet afternoon, as Vincent's spearhead was parried by the half-orcs axe. His other hand axe was ready for a strike, and it was through sheer luck that the elf brought the shield up in time to prevent his head from being split in two. Shield or no, Vincent felt the force of the impact, and he could tell that the Barbarian was quite strong, maybe even stronger than him. He probably had more battle experience, too, and that certainly didn't help him with his survival.

Seeing that his companion was about to be flanked (and subsequently brutally murdered), Gilliam had to dash forward and reach the other two foes before they reached the squire. The bodyguard managed to go around Vincent and the half-orc just as the other two were about to reach them. In a second, he was forced to fend off the horizontal blade from the battleaxe with his left sword, followed by parrying and deflecting the trident's head away from his body with the right one.

The half-orc screamed like a wild beast, shaking Vincent somewhat, but the warrior steeled himself and forced his mind to stay still, like he had been taught to do in his sparring sessions countless times. Attacking his opponent with no strategy in mind would only lead to his early demise, Vincent realized, lifting his shield-arm once more to block an axehead from impacting his arm. He used the opportunity to take a step back and stab forwards with his spear, aiming for the half-orc's groin. At the last second, the second handaxe came down upon the spear, and the weapon went off its intended course, missing the half-orc entirely.

“He's good” Vincent admitted under his breath.

Gilliam was somehow faring better off than the elf. He whirled around the two Barbarians, moving his swords around in sharp angles, changing directions in the last moment, attempting to create an opening. So far, the opportunity hadn't presented itself, but neither had the two brutes managed to land a hit on the evasive mercenary.

“Come on, you big oafs, why don't you run me through already?!” he taunted, banging the flat of his blades together to increase the effectiveness of the insult.

Predictably so, both human and orc shouted in fury, letting go of their attempts to surround Gilliam and going straight for the man. That was the biggest mistake of their lives. Gilliam was running away from them, but he pivoted and slashed diagonally with one sword, forcing the orc to stop an inch short of the extended blade. The human, confident in his skills, jumped high in the air as he pulled the trident back in order to add momentum to the attack. Smiling like a maniac, he fell upon the seemingly unprepared mercenary, and stabbed forwards with full-force.

His trident met only air. And his stomach was greeted by Gilliam's second bastard sword, running him through, with the end of the blade jutting out of the man's back. Gilliam kicked the dying man's body to retract the sword quickly, and he was able to pull the blade free in an instant.

“One down. How are you faring, Vincent?” Gilliam asked quickly as he observed his remaining opponent, the orc that no longer looked confident of an easy win.

The response came in the form of a cry of agony, distracting Gilliam for a second. He looked over and saw the half-orc scoring a solid hit on the squire's shoulder, biting deep through the metallic shoulder, cutting skin at the best, bone at the worst. It didn't seem like he would recover quickly enough to prevent the additional axe from dealing the killing blow, and Gilliam thought of running for his companion's aid for that instant.

His intent and his life were almost cleaved in two by the orc's battle axe as it forced the mercenary to raise both swords in an “x” to defend from the attack. The distraction had almost cost him dearly and he had to forget about Vincent for the time being. The squire would survive, Gilliam told himself, and decided to leave Vincent's fate be.

As he struggled with the orc to push the weapons forward and prevent the other's from falling on his head, Gilliam had the rare chance to admire the orc's weapon quality: it looked like it was bought from a blacksmith, rather than crudely fashioned.

“How in the Hell's did they get these?” he wondered out loud.

If the Barbarian understood his words, no one could tell, but he did notice Gilliam's attention fading for an instant, long enough for the orc to gain the edge on the struggle and push down with all his might, yelling all the while. Gilliam's simply strength wasn't enough, and he had to twist his body to the side in order to preserve his head intact. The edge of the weapon cut through the links of his chain shirt, however, making Gilliam feel a searing agony by his chest.

Gilliam finished the evasive jump and performed another one for good measure, to keep some distance between himself and his opponent. The orc's weapon was now thinly coated in blood, his blood, and he used the chance to look at the wound. It didn't seem serious, even if it broke a section of the armor, but it didn't feel quite right at the same time. He could still fight, but he doubted that he could take more hits like that and remain in the same condition,

From behind, he could hear Vincent's voice, yelling something that he couldn't quite make out in the heat of the battle, not that he really intended to so anyway. One distraction was more than enough for one battle, Gilliam told himself. There was also the sick sound of metal piercing live flesh a couple of feet behind him and hoped it wasn't the squire's body that had suffered the assault.

By now, the orc had changed his fighting stance and decided to approach the mercenary with greater care. Instead of charging, he trotted and started coming from the left, axe held to his side with both hands, gaining momentum for the attack. Gilliam opted to meet him from the opposite direction, both swords held low on the right side of his body.

When they were about to clash, the orc shifted directions, side-stepping to the right swiftly and changed the angle of his weapon to strike diagonally. But Gilliam was far from surprised, for he had seen the feint coming. He met the orc's axe with his two blades, sandwiching it in-between, and twisted on the spot to drive them out of the Barbarian's hands. The orc held steady to the axe's shaft, but while he had rescued his weapon from being tossed away, that action cost him his balance, making it impossible to avoid Gilliam's twin swords. The bastard blades cut him in the forearm and in one of his legs, both wounds starting to bleed profusely.

But the orc rejected the notion of defeat against any odds and he slashed at Gilliam one more time, only to find out that he wasn't standing up anymore. Gilliam had crouched low right after his attack and came from below with one sword, stabbing the savage orc's throat, ending his life.

Gilliam was about to clean his blades as he usually did after a battle, when he recalled Vincent's predicament. He spun in a half-circle and couldn't believe his eyes.

Vincent's spear was laying on the floor right next to his body, laying face-up on the ground horizontally. He wasn't moving

“Vincent!” Gilliam screamed, running after the squire and dropping his weapons in the process, forgetting all caution.

He bent on one knee and shook him by the collar bone with his hands “Vincent! Answer me, say something!”

The squire's mouth opened and he mumbled something.

“What?” Gilliam shook him once again and placed his ear right next to the squire's mouth to hear better.

“Gi-Gilliam...” Vincent called, sounding weak and distant.

“I'm here Vincent, I'm by your side. I know you're strong, I know you can make it with me to the hermit and back” Gilliam reassured him, shaking him some more as he did, trying to drag him back to this world.

“Could you please...” added the weakened elf.

“Anything, my friend. For you... anything”.

There was a moment of absolute silence in which it seemed to Gilliam that the world had stopped as he waited for the dying man's request.

“... stop shaking me around? My head hurts”.

Gilliam stopped the movement and dropped Vincent's upper torso altogether, which fell to the ground and made the squire grunt.

“You- you aren't dying!” Gilliam accused, standing up with a jump, perplexed and relieved at the same time.

“Of course not. I killed the Barbarian and fell back, hitting my head and practically blacking out in doing so” he replied weakly, trying to get up as he did. The movement brought him pain, making Vincent grasp his injured shoulder.

The mercenary felt slightly silly at hearing the explanation “Oh” he looked to the side and saw the half-orc's corpse, which was 'resting' in a weird position, one of his axes stuck on his head.

“You killed him...”.

“With his own axe, yeah” Vincent groaned, still in pain, but managed to sit up “I dropped my spear after he cut me on the shoulder, but I was able to snatch his weapon and use it against him”. He looked towards the Barbarian's corpse as well “I didn't know they had such fine quality weaponry, truth to be told”.

“They don't” replied Gilliam, his tone serious. Vincent looked up from his seat. “But, you just saw them-”.

“Use the weapons? Yes, but what I'm saying here is that they are not their own. Someone provided them with the axes and trident”.

“They could've stolen them”.

“And then going after the two lone travelers who happened to be journeying to see a hermit?” Gilliam shot back.

Vincent could only stare at the bodyguard, unable to to formulate a better theory. The Barbarians had been sent to kill them.
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First Post
Happy new year to all of you! :) Enjoy the longest chapter so far!

Chapter 4

Tenacious assailants

After leaving the Barbarian's corpses for carrion to take over, the pair of warriors resumed their trip, their steps accelerated slightly by the realization that they were being targeted by someone who wanted them dead. They didn't make a fire at night, as they usually did, at Gilliam's insistence. They also spent longer amounts of time guarding the place when the other was resting. Their wounds hadn't been lethal, since a couple of bandages to patch up the two men was enough to ease the pain and ensure a swift healing of the cuts they had received.

The next morning they left camp even faster than they had settled down, once again at Gilliam's suggestion for “extra caution”. They walked at a brisk pace for half a day, stopping only for a swift lunch of cold rations. The surrounding area was now hilly terrain only, with not much green to cover the patches of ground. They could see the Gray Spears to the north more closely, but they wouldn't be getting up close to them, as their goal lay more to the east, near the river. They had only half a day left of traveling, and by Vincent's estimation they should arrive at the hermit's shack by twilight.

“Hey, Gilliam” Vincent called as he looked upwards at the clear sky.

“Hmm?” Gilliam replied, obviously lost in thought a moment ago.

The squire lowered his gaze back to the road “Back then, when you though me dead...” he began to say.

Gilliam merely looked sideways at his companion “What of it?”.

“You called me 'friend', as you shook me left and right”.

“You must have heard incorrectly, with your weak condition and all” replied the mercenary dismissively with a wave of his hand.

“Oh” Vincent nodded slowly and looked at Gilliam “I see, maybe I was hallucinating...”

“Indeed. You're the one I must protect from harm, no more”.

Silence fell upon the two, as it usually did after this type of conversation. This time, Vincent was the one to fill the absence of words with his own.

“May I call you 'Gil'?”.

Gilliam's body stiffened and he turned his head abruptly to look at Vincent straight in the eyes. “What?”.

“I said 'Gil'. It's short for your name, 'Gilliam'” the elf explained with a smile.

There was a pause before Gilliam's answer became manifest. “I don't see the purpose of-” he began, turning his head back to the path ahead.

“If you don't like it, that's fine by me. I was merely asking, that's all” Vincent said with a shrug. “Some people I know call me 'Vince', so I don't mind if you call me by my short name”.

Gilliam sighed “I had thought that House Kashtar was more serious and formal”.

“A common misconception!” the squire retorted happily “My House teaches respect, honor, and many other virtues, but it doesn't by any means tell its members that formality is a virtue” he rubbed his chin and added “At least not all the time”.

The bodyguard considered the proposal for almost a minute, apparently having to weight the positives and negatives of agreeing to it.

“Very well, call me as you wish” he agreed, not entirely sure if he was agreeing to something more in the process.

“Great. I'm glad you like the idea, Gil” Vincent responded cheerfully.

Gilliam couldn't explain it with words, but he felt something deep inside of himself that he hadn't felt in some time after he heard the name 'Gil'. It was a sensation that he had experienced, back then when he was surrounded by those he loved. And it seemed like he had almost forgotten what friendship felt like.

The remaining of the journey was spent in more frequent chatter, the squire and the bodyguard exchanging more than nods and 'hmm's. They didn't encounter any other assailants on the road, and by twilight they had reached the Rainbow River, its beauty not fully appreciated due to the lack of sunlight, which was said to make it look multicolored. Fifty feet from the river's bank was an old wooden shack, apparently devoid of any life. Shadows were long and imposing, but with the day waning they still had plenty of room to expand to swallow the land in darkness.

Stopping thirty feet or so from the cabin, Gilliam rubbed his chin warily as he considered the situation at hand.

“I don't like this” he said with suspicion.

“It's not the most beautiful house I've seen, either, but you should understand that hermits usually don't have much resources to-”.

Gilliam cut him off. “I'm talking about the fact that it looks abandoned, aside from the other fact that we should approach it with daylight on our side”.

Vincent didn't seem to comprehend the meaning behind the suggestion. “Gil, I'm sure the hermit won't mind if we wake him up”.

Instead of punching him in the face, Gilliam turned to face the squire, and with a constrained voice he explained “Think, Vince, think! Barbarians attacked us a day ago and now we are by the hermit's house, no light to be seen and the darkness to cover potential assailants” he paused, gesturing towards the area that they came from “We should retrace our steps and wait for daybreak”

“Nonsense, Gil!” Vincent replied, sounding baffled by this idea. “Let us go to the hermit, deliver the scroll, and be done with things. If there would be assassin's, we would have seen them by now, don't you think?”.

Gilliam wasn't sure what bothered him the most: the elf's naivety or his carefree attitude. How in the Hells had this man survived three years as a squire? “You don't get it, do you?” Gilliam replied tiredly, sliding one hand down his face.

But the elf wasn't there to listen to his words! Instead, Vincent had started moving towards the shack, fearless of a potential attack. He didn't try to remain stealthy, or least become more stealthy, with his plate armor clanking all the way as he moved down the hill.

Gilliam cursed, loudly, before trotting after his companion in order to get ahead of him.

“Why don't you listen to me?! If you're not more cautious, you could end up dead!” he whispered angrily at Vincent.

The squire merely smiled and shrugged. “Why be cautious when there's nothing to fear? You're being paranoid, Gil”. They had reached the shack by now, and they got to see the small building more closely: it was a one-room shack made entirely out of wood, with a window next to the entrance. The inside was pitch dark, with no sources of illumination on sight, like a candle or a lamp.

Since there wasn't a door, only an old curtain, Vincent walked in as he moved the curtain aside. Gilliam resisted the urge to violently drag him back by the collar of his armor and followed suit.

“Seems like no one's home” Vincent said to himself.

They were standing in the middle of the place and they could barely make out a couple of the shack's items: a weathered bed, its sheets torn apart; a one-inch candle with wax spilled nearby; finally, they spotted a three-legged wooden table, threatening to collapse at the slightest pressure applied to it. There was also a strange smell in the place, which could be attributed to the lack of hygiene.

“See? Nothing to-” Vincent began to say, but had to stop talking as he took another step and slipped, falling face-down on the wooden floor, which cracked at the pressure.

“Easy there” Gilliam bent down to help the squire to get back up. He didn't seem to be hurt, save for a small bruise on the side of his face.

“Sorry, I slipped on the oil puddle over there...” the elf commented absentmindedly as he slowly got up with Gilliam's assistance.

Once he was standing up once again, Gilliam looked at Vincent with a raised eyebrow “Oil?”

Vincent nodded and pointed at the ground. “Yeah, oil, right there”.

Gilliam looked in the direction he had pointed, surprised to see that it was effectively the liquid Vincent had named. The mercenary tensed, but Vincent didn't seem to notice.

“Now, why would a hermit have-”.

“NOW!” a rough voice interrupted from the outside, just as two flasks that contained a luminous orange substance flew into the shack from the window and the curtain. The contents of both vials were, in fact, alchemist's fire, for upon impacting the ground they sprayed surreal-looking flames. They quickly caught on to the oil that had actually been placed practically everywhere within the small house.

“I told you it was an ambush, but you wouldn't listen!” Gilliam screamed as he desperately looked around for a potential exit other than the main entrance. There seemed to be none, and the flames didn't waste a second in expanding throughout the floor around the two men. The fire began to lick at the curtain's base, which would mean that their only escape route was about to be turned into a flaming barrier.

“We can't waste time arguing now, Gil, we need to escape” Vincent said, somehow maintaining a serene expression and tone of voice. “I'll lead the way” he added, grabbing his spear from his back and assuming a throwing stance, aiming for the curtain.

Smoke began to envelop both mercenary and squire, and they had to hold their breath to prevent a coughing fit “What in the Hells are you doing?” Gilliam shouted as he saw his companion about to throw his only means of defense.

“Why, creating an escape” was the only response he got before Vincent's spear flew forwards, cutting a clean hole through the curtain. The departure of the weapon was followed by a cry of pain coming from the outside of the shack.

Before Gilliam could ask how Vincent knew there was an enemy waiting for them to come out, the squire had already begun to run forwards, bracing his iron shield tightly in front of him. As soon as Vincent made it outside the shack's walls he was greeted by a spear point other than his own, wielded by a half-elf wearing a leather armor. The weapon's pointy end collided with the squire's shield and thus was Vincent able to avoid getting skewered by it.

Not intending to become fuel for the flames, the bodyguard followed suit and abandoned the fiery shack as well. As he did, Gilliam noticed a second figure, this one a human, clutching Vincent's spear shaft, trying to remove the weapon from his leg. The man's own spear was near him, by the floor. Gilliam didn't miss the fact that had Vincent not thrown his weapon before exiting the shack, that spear would have impaled him the moment he walked out.

Without wasting another second, Gilliam went for the injured man and took a solid hold of the spear that had hurt him “Here, let me help you with that, mate” he offered as he pulled out with a mighty yank, drawing a cry of pain from the man as well as the weapon. Gilliam tossed it at Vincent without even looking.

The squire's “Thanks Gil” was all he needed for a confirmation. The mercenary crossed his arms downwards, grabbed the hilts of his twin swords and drew them forth, ready to spill blood.

Vincent was confident he could take the half-elf down, now that he had his weapon back, its familiar feeling comforting him as he grasped the wood firmly, with his shield in front of his chest, guarding him. The half-elf didn't strike again with his own spear, however, but merely stood his ground, smiling. The source of his triumphant look became obvious when he heard a longbow's 'twang' behind him and an arrow struck him on his back, piercing through the fine plate. The wound wasn't very painful, thankfully, but the next shot could be deadlier.

The elf didn't have the time to look behind him and see where the archer could've fired from, since the shack was empty save for the flames, so he decided to focus on the threat at hand.

“Beware the sniper!” he warned Gilliam while stepping forward and making the spear's tip descend from above upon the half-elf. His enemy wasn't wielding a shield, but he bore the spear two-handedly, lifting it horizontally and deflecting the downward stab with ease. This left Vincent's guard weakened, and his opponent took notice as he stabbed with his own spear like a lightning. But the squire had predicted the incoming counter-attack, and he simply had to turn his shield to the right to avert the weapon from running him through his groin.

Gilliam heard the warning just fine, but he was unable to do much on the matter, since his own opponent had lifted his fallen weapon up from the ground with a foot and was ready to fight, wounded as he was on the leg. Gilliam slashed twice quickly, more to measure the man's skill than to actually do some damage, and judging by both parries he could assume that he had seen his fair share of combat.

The man countered the mercenary's twin blades with a quick jab, which was in turn defeated by a downward cross-guard. Gilliam went in for the kill with both swords held forward like pincers, but had to stop in mid-thrust as a threatening growl emerged to his side.

Within a split second, he hit the ground hard, being pinned down by a furry four-legged creature. It was all he could do to prevent the wolf from biting his neck and ending his life, using both hands to push the wolf back. Both swords lay to his sides, useless now that he had a rather hungry animal on top of him. Then a spear head came from above, forcing him to turn sideways, wolf and all, making the spear punch through the ground instead of his arm.

“Vincent!” Gilliam cried out in a strained way, clearly seeing that he wouldn't last long if he stayed like that.

But unfortunately for him, Vincent had other things to worry about. The half-elf he was battling kept him on the defense constantly, never leaving enough time for the squire to retaliate fully. He had been able to deflect most blows, the one he had missed was no more than a cut on his leg, and he felt like his energies were leaving his body already. Maybe resting after the long trek would have been a good idea, after all.

Just when Gilliam called his name, Vincent heard a canine growl from his left, indicating that a new wolf that was coming for him. He lowered his center of gravity by bending his knees and holding his ground the best he could, bracing for impact. The wolf jumped and the half-elf yelped in surprise as it brought him down to the hard ground.

Vincent was unable to fathom why the enemy's wolf attacked one of his masters, but he wasn't about to complain. He thanked the wolf, ignoring the fact it couldn't understand him and began moving to the right in order to assist his fallen companion.

An arrow zipped right in front of him, bouncing off his chest plate harmlessly and informing the squire that there was still the matter of the archer.

“I will be your opponent, bastard of House Kashtar!” yelled a lone figure atop the shack's roof. The flames had consumed most of the house's inside and the ceiling was about to follow the same fate. The archer knew this, for he casually jumped down from the wooden roof and landed merely five feet from Vincent.

“What quarrel have you with my house, assassin?!” Vincent shouted, outraged. “We are merely delivering a message to the hermit!”.

The archer was dressed in the same fashion as the other two, save for the dark green cloak that enveloped him. Vincent also noticed that the man's bow wasn't the usual size and seemed like it would require a great deal of effort to pull back for shots. Judging by the two shots that he had fired, it seemed like he had no problems handling the great bow.

“Do you really have to ask for the reason you will die tonight, Kashtar lapdog?” the archer retorted, knocking an arrow as he did. He didn't take the time to aim, or at least it didn't look like he needed to. The arrow departed from the great bow in an instant, its goal no less than Vincent's throat. The squire didn't have the time to pull up his shield or jump to the side, resorting to turning his neck on an uncomfortable angle instead. He heard the missile zoom by his ear as he felt the sharpness of the arrowhead cutting the skin of his neck, but no more.

Vincent was about to sigh in relief when he noticed the sniper about to fire another shot at him.

“How many can you dodge?”.

The answer was 'two', for Vincent used his loss of balance to his advantage, opting to fall to the side completely instead of returning to an upwards position. He fell into a roll and came back up on his feet, spear and shield ready.

“You're finished in close combat, archer!” the squire of House Kashtar announced proudly, moving in the few feet that kept them apart and thrusting the spear at the assailant. When up close, Vincent noticed that the archer was an elf, like him, but some decades older. Still, the fact that they shared the same race didn't stay his hand from angling the weapon for deadly intent.

The archer didn't appear preoccupied by a head-to-head clash. He hooked Vincent's spear with his bow, twisting it around into an awkward angle away from himself and thus avoiding the lethal hit. Using the momentum of the twisting maneuver, the elf completed a full circle and brought the bow sideways, like a baseball bat, smacking Vincent straight on the face, leaving a big bruise around his forehead.

“You were saying?”.

“D-damn you!” Vincent cursed, more than a bit stunned by the impact. He tried to regain his focus, but failed miserably as he stumbled back several steps. If the archer shot another arrow at him, he would be gone from this world.

“Get the archer, boy, get him!” came a familiar voice from behind. There was a feral growl, followed by a curse as the disloyal wolf bit his master on the leg. The sound of footsteps came after as Gilliam charged for the archer, who was busy asking the wolf to obey his commands.

Vincent used the chance to confirm his suspicions, looking over his shoulder to see that, indeed, the mercenary had slain both wolf and human assailants, all by himself. The half-elf's throat was but a gaping hole, the surrounding area splattered with his blood, clearly the handiwork of the rebellious wolf.

But the leader of the 'pack' was far from finished. He kicked the dog away from him and managed to draw forth another arrow right as Gilliam pounced upon him, swords flashing from the flames of the shack. The great bow twanged, two blades sliced the air at the same time and Vincent didn't know what outcome to expect.

Gilliam restrained a cry of pain as the arrow penetrated the fine links of his enchanted chain shirt on the left side of his chest. He brought the bastard swords down with all his might, but the impact had cost him his concentration and he only slashed the empty space where the archer had been a second ago. The mercenary had to drop the assault and clutch the arrow with one hand, trying to pry it out from his chest.

“I'll handle him, Gil, stay back” Vincent asked, seeing his friend and protector severely damaged. He couldn't tell if the arrow had reached his heart and he knew that there was little to be done if that happened. Gritting his teeth, Vincent sprinted as best as he could in his heavy armor after the elven sniper, bringing his shield tight to his chest on the way.

The opposing elf had his leg wounded after the wolf had attacked him, preventing the swift escape that he clearly desired for. As Vincent's spear came at him, he attempted the same whirling maneuver with his bow that he performed earlier, but this time his bow was rebuked by the squire's shield, bashing it aside.

Time seemed to freeze for an instant, the fraction of a second before the spear's head went through the archer's chest and dealt an end to his life.

Any satisfaction from the kill was evaporated for Vincent when he heard Gilliam's grunt of pain behind. Desperate, the squire dropped the spear that was embedded in the archer's corpse altogether and ran after the mercenary, who was on his knees at the time, still trying to remove the missile from his chest. The wolf was by his side, seeming to understand his predicament, looking quite saddened.

“Hold still, Gil, allow me to pull” he asked as he moved Gilliam's hand away from the arrow shaft and tried to take it off himself. He was about to yank it out when he realized that it had already gone deeply enough to reach the man's heart.

“Gil, your heart...” Vincent tried to say in a weak voice that seemed more distant by the second. It was pointless, he thought: hermit or not, he had allowed his protector to get killed for him, to take an arrow that was intended for him. How could he live with this weighing his own soul for the rest of his life?

More than anything, Vincent Ender wanted to cry and shout at the Gods to spare his friend's life. He wished that a divine entity could descend from the heavens and deliver Gilliam from death's door, but he knew that such a thing wouldn't happen.

“Here, let me take care of your friend”.

Vincent blinked twice before attempting to focus his mind back to reality and figure out that the soft female voice had come from the side. He looked over and there she was, a battered woman wearing blackened and gray rags that covered her whole body somewhat. She had messy brown hair that was covered in dust and her face indicated she must have been in her mid forties. Her slightly pointed ears indicated that she was of elven and human descent.

The squire had no idea where she had come from, but he felt like it wasn't wrong for her to be there. Her thin hands were placed on the arrow wound as she seemed to be... chanting, Vincent realized, in a low steady rhythm. Seconds passed and a soft orange glow emerged from her open palms and moved over onto Gilliam's chest, filling the hole that the arrow had created. Suddenly the arrow came out on its own accord as the amber energy moved into the wound and filling it entirely. Vincent couldn't believe his eyes, but somehow the energy had mended the wounded completely and the only remnant of it was the broken chain links.

Gilliam opened his eyes right then and looked at the lady who had saved him “Thank you” he managed to whisper weakly, clutching the spot where the arrow had pierced him with his hand.

Vincent was overjoyed that his bodyguard was brought back with this... magic, or whatever it was, but he had the feeling that something wasn't quite right at the same time. He looked at the woman and asked “Where did you come from?” then looked around for a brief moment. “And what did you do with the wolf?”.

The woman turned to face Vincent, appearing perplexed by the question.

“What do you mean, good elf? I am the wolf”.
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First Post
To all of you faithful readers out there: I'm sorry, I apologize. From now on, I'll double check every single line of my chapters before I dare post them up here. I noticed that a battle scene had a severe inconsistency at one point, and several words were misspelled throughout the whole story. I've already edited most of it, though, so it should look pretty now :)


First Post
Chapter 5

Path of the Shaman

Neither Gilliam nor Vincent spoke then, stunned as they were by the woman's proclamation. The rugged-looking half-elf appeared to be waiting for either warrior to say something.

“Since you are fine now, I will be going my way” she said, getting up from the ground and moving her hair to one side of her face. The shack's flames were still burning intensely, and thanks to the light they provided Vincent was able to see that the woman had a scar where one of her eyes had once been.

Seeing this, the squire jumped. “Wait, my lady, where are you going, all by yourself?”.

If Gilliam had had the strength to get up as well, he would have, but the near-death experience had depleted him of his energy for the time being. “True, you have just saved my life, and now you're going away, just like that?” he managed to ask from his sitting position.

The woman stopped walking and glanced over her shoulder with her good eye at the two men. “My house is about to turn into ashes, as you can see, so I must look for another place where to live”.

Gilliam and Vincent looked at each other briefly before the mercenary pressed the matter further. “In that case, would you be able to tell us where the hermit's shack is? We were told he lives in these lands, by the Rainbow River”.

“That much I can do, child” she said, slowly turning to face them. “The location of the hermit you seek is, currently, right in front of you”.

Vincent would have laughed, had the whole situation been more cheerful. “You are the hermit?” he asked, confused. “I had heard the hermit was a man, back in Seawall”.

“I didn't know hermits could shape shift” Gilliam muttered under his breath.

“Truly?” she responded, not sounding offended in the very least. In fact, her voice hadn't changed from that serene tone she had used from the very beginning when she healed Gilliam. “An honest mistake, I am sure” she smiled a little at the squire. “In any case, why is it that you seek me, travelers?”.

“Ah, yes, of course...” Vincent placed the backpack on the ground hastily, rummaging through its contents until he found what he was looking for. “Here, this is for you, ahem, madam...?” he said as he offered the plain wooden case at the woman.

“My name is Kahleen of the Wind spear tribe” the hermit responded, grabbing the case with both hands. “From House Kashtar, I presume” she added while opening the lid. Somehow, she had expected this.

Vincent cleared his throat, obviously embarrassed that he hadn't presented himself. “Yes, that's correct: I am Vincent Ender, squire of House Kashtar” he straightened and gestured towards Gilliam “And this is-”

“You may call me Gilliam, currently the bodyguard of Vincent, here” the mercenary interjected, taking a small step to stand next to Vincent. He had somehow been able to stand up and looked quite pale, almost about to collapse on the squire for support.

“Go easy on your body, child” the wise woman instructed Gilliam. “You have not fully recovered from the wound yet”.

“I'll be fine, thank you” he replied dismissively. Kahleen had taken out the folded scroll from the case and was focused in reading it, using the burning shack as a source of illumination. There was something odd with having the owner of a house reading a message as the building slowly burned down.

It didn't take her more than ten seconds to read through the scroll, apparently.

“It's blank”.

“What” Gilliam exclaimed, unable to believe what he had heard.

Vincent seemed nervous, unable to understand how this could be. “Here, Kahleen, let me see the message, maybe you opened it on the wrong side...” the squire asked, standing next to the hermit in order to look at the message.

Gilliam patiently waited for Vincent to confirm the scroll's content, his expression a mask that betrayed no emotion.

“It-it's blank. There's nothing on the scroll” Vincent declared after having double-checked the scroll by himself.

“Just as I said” quipped in Kahleen.


Both squire and hermit looked up at the mercenary at the same time.

“What?” Vincent asked.

“We are a decoy, Vince” Gilliam explained, his voice quite calm, even though his insides were on fire “There's no message to deliver. None at all. But they made it look like there was one, alright”

Vincent stammered a reply, then tried again more slowly, but his words still came up in a jumble.

“It seems like, for some reason, House Kashtar wishes to see if there are enemies lurking in the shadows” Kahleen explained to the confused Vincent.

Gilliam pointed a finger at the hermit. “Exactly”. He took a breath to steady himself before going on. “They sent you, a member of the House, with me, a bodyguard for your protection, carrying a scroll inside a wooden case, all to see if we would lure out the assassin's that were interested in the information that wasn't there in the first place”.

While the bodyguard took several more breaths to recover from the long sentences that had used the better part of his energy, Vincent simply stared at him, looking like a frightened child that had just been taught that people eventually died in this world. He was holding the scroll like a lifeline, something to keep in touch with reality, or at least what was left of it.

“No, I don't believe it”.

Kahleen didn't say anything, and Gilliam stared back at Vincent in silence. “I don't believe any of it. My House would never deceive me in order to trick our enemies into jumping out from the darkness!” he shouted, sounding more desperate by the moment.

“I'm afraid that that's what they have done, Vincent Ender” Kahleen explained in a comforting tone, placing a hand on the elf's shoulder pad. “The evidence is all too clear”.

“NO!” With a fast jerk, Vincent moved Kahleen's hand away from him. “It's all a mistake, the scroll they've given me is the wrong one, the real message must be back in the city-”.

His desperate cry for salvaging his House's image was violently put to death by Gilliam's fist smashing Vincent on the side of his face. Vincent staggered backwards, stunned, holding one hand on the spot that he had been hit.

“You are a bigger fool than I had thought, Vincent” Gilliam took a step forward, his ire giving him sufficient strength to remain standing after having attacked his companion. “Not once, but twice are we assaulted by strangers, first Barbarians, now some sort of trained assassins, and after seeing that there was no message, you still believe it was something else than an elaborate ruse?”.

The mercenary advanced one more step. “Your House did what anyone else would have done in a situation like this: they send an 'important message' to someone and see if someone else jumps to the bait. It's what Noble Houses do when they need to figure out who's on their side and who's not”.

Vincent had managed to regain his balance, but he wasn't about to move from the spot he was or retort to Gilliam's words.

“Remember the savages we encountered on the road, who coincidentally knew we were after the hermit, here?” he pointed at Kahleen while his gaze focused on the squire with intensity. “They were carrying weapons with the symbol of House Grugarch, something that should ring a bell in your mind and wake you up from the dream-state you've been since you joined your House!”. Gilliam had to pause for a quick intake of air before going on. “They thought the scroll was so goddamn important, that they took the trouble of sending Barbarians after us, provided with brand new weapons”.

“But it doesn't end there, oh no: the archer we just killed a couple of minutes ago, remember him?” Gilliam didn't bother to point in the direction of the corpse. “He KNEW that you were from House Kashtar, and that fact lead him to try to kill us both”.

“But, hey, if that still isn't enough to force you to grasp the facts and accept you've been used as bait, we can always have a friendly chat with whoever sent you, back at Seawall, and see what they have to say about this”.

Either Gilliam's words had struck true, or Vincent's outrage prevented him from saying anything in his defense. The squire nodded slowly, his eyes narrowed as he looked at Gilliam in the eye, and said “Very well. We will confirm this matter with Master Ender, once we reach the city”.

And with that, Vincent started walking in the direction they had come from, the road that lead home.

“We should hurry, Gilliam” Kahleen suggested, unaffected by the argument that had taken place.

The mercenary almost started to walk after his companion when he noticed something odd in Kahleen's words. “What do you mean by 'we', hermit?”.

The lady didn't seem to grasp what was wrong with including herself as part of the group, at least in Gilliam's view. “I mean that I will be accompanying you and your friend back to Seawall” she replied, her tone not even hinting of condescension towards the mercenary. Kahleen thought the issue settled and begun walking after Vincent.

More than anything, Gilliam wanted to scream at the heavens above and demand that the world settled down, just for a single instant. He had to resign himself to tailing the hermit woman, forcing his legs to move in spite of his weakened state.

He had managed to catch up to Kahleen when he spotted Vincent, who had somehow managed to displace his heavily armored body farther than he had expected.

“Your friend's expectations, albeit naive, have collided with the harsh reality of the world. He will adapt or blind himself to the truth, but either way, he shall suffer greatly” she said to Gilliam in a low tone, so that Vincent couldn't catch what she was speaking of.

“You speak the truth, unfortunately” Gilliam sighed heavily. “But in any case, there are some matters that I need to settle with you, mostly to understand who you are and why you are doing certain things”.

“Such as why I decided to follow you two after having met with you less than several moments ago?”.

“That's one. It's not that I don't trust you; you did heal my wound, after all” Gilliam grasped the open hole in his armor with a hand as he said the words. “So tell me, wise one, why are you intending to go with us?”.

“If House Kashtar sends a mere squire to draw out enemies, then they must be in need of assistance”.

“And so you go to their aid” Gilliam stated rather than asked. “I take it you have some ties with the House?”.

Kahleen nodded. “Indeed. I had once helped a Kashtar noble survive in the wilderness. It was long ago, close to a decade, but the House has a good memory, and a noble heart, too” she seemed pleased at recalling the event.

“So that was you, after all” Gilliam said to himself “Tell me, Kahleen, how was it that you healed me? I have seen priests working the magic of the Gods, but I've never seen a... hermit?” he asked curiously, unable to decide how to address the woman.

“I am a shaman, if that's what you wish to know, Gilliam” she replied without further introduction. “I deal with the spirits of our world, which permeate our lives in more than one way. My connection allows me to exchange my energy for spiritual essence, which in turn allows me to do certain things, such as repairing a breach in a being's essence”.

She made it sound simple, since she wasn't relying on many complicated terms, but Gilliam couldn't help but feel a little lost. “What do you mean when you say 'repairing a breach in a being's essence'? Are you referring to healing my soul?”.

The shaman shook her head slowly and raised a finger pointing upwards. “Listen carefully, mercenary: every being is formed, rather than combined, with an essence. There are multiple things added to it, like organs, blood and a soul, just to name a few. The essence is that which constitutes the most basic form of every living and unliving being”.

Kahleen made a pause for Gilliam to digest all of this. “The spirits allow me to alter the essence of beings of this world, including my own”.

“That's how you turned into a wolf!” Gilliam exclaimed triumphantly, feeling like he grasped the concept that the shaman was talking about.

“Exactly. You are a fast learner, even though your expertise lies in the material, not the spiritual” she appraised, although her facial expression didn't change from her serene look.

Gilliam took that as a compliment and remained silent, realizing that the less he talked, the more air he could preserve for his battered body. The pain from the ghastly wound was gone, but the scar would remain in his chest.

Vincent was still several feet ahead of them, a dark figure on the road, oblivious to their talk about spirits and essence. The mercenary wondered if his companion would be able to handle the truth, at least in the long run. He had four days of traveling to ponder on it, after all.

Almost as an afterthought, Gilliam glanced back to the shack, which was by then a pile of blackened wood, with a few embers still flying around. He found it hard to believe that Kahleen had left it without so much as a sigh or a tear. Maybe it was true, to an extent, that those who focus more on the immaterial rather than the physical lose the attachment to material goods.

Gilliam hoped that Kahleen's eye had been taken from her after she had let go of her attachments to her body.
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First Post
Kahleen's stat block has been updated in the Rogue's Gallery, isn't that just pure awesomeness? ;)

For all of you who are interested in this story hour: please, I beg of you, criticism, blatant praise and all sorts of coments are more than welcome! If you don't say anything, I'll assume that I'm doing things right so far, and it's less likely I'll spot something that brings the story 'down' on my own ;)

Almost forgot, happy new year! :D


First Post
I feel like I've been writing this story hour since the dawn of time. Is that normal? I also feel like my eyes burn and my head wants to explode. Is that a standard happening for novice story hour writters? :uhoh:

I now give you Chapter 6, what I consider one of the best so far, of the few that I've created.

Chapter 6

In the name of House Kashtar

The road had turned from a simple dirt path into a vast, muddy pathway full of puddles and rocks to make it even more obnoxious to traverse. After the second day of traveling, a storm had broken without warning, and it had transformed the hills into a swamp overnight. Everyone's boots (and the shaman's bare feet) were caked in the sticky brownish substance all the time, and they knew it would be pointless to bother washing it away, since the next couple of miles were in the same depressing condition as the section of the road they were at.

Kahleen walked in-between the two men, and so far hadn't complained about the road's condition or given any hints that she was annoyed bit it. Both Gilliam and Vincent glanced her way at some point, almost expecting her to put aside her silent demeanor and begin to preach to them about dealing with the muddy road and weaving analogies between their journey and life.

But the wizened woman remained silent, no teachings forthcoming from her. At least not at the time.

The same thing could be said of both squire and bodyguard, however, for the argument they had two nights ago had sundered the small link they had begun to share. It wasn't the kind of thing that would take time to mend, unfortunately, but the willingness of both men to bring it back.

“Do you think he'll accept the facts once we have a talk with Master Ender, the one who sent him in this mission?” Gilliam asked Kahleen as they sat at camp at night, while Vincent slept in his bedroll. They didn't bother to set up guards, since it was unlikely they would find more assassins, now that they had moved away from their intended goal, alive.

Kahleen had been watching the fire they had started when Gilliam talked to her, and she didn't remove her gaze from the flames while responding to the mercenary's question. “I say we wait for the egg to hatch, before we claim to have a chicken for dinner”.

Gilliam sighed wearily and looked away in the direction of the mountain range to the north. “What's with you shamans and all these animal analogies?”.

“It's merely the world that I am most used to, and thus the connections that I draw are related to the wild, more often than not”.

The fire began to weaken and Gilliam had to move the wood around to keep it going “I suppose there's some logic in that” he admitted. “Only time can tell how a man will react to life's challenges”.

“You wish him to face what his House did to him” Kahleen said. It wasn't a question.

The mercenary nodded, looking over Vincent's sleeping form as he did.

“Is it compassion or sympathy what drives your concern for him?” the shaman inquired, turning her head to face Gilliam.

“Maybe both” he replied absentmindedly, but a second later he blinked twice, as if confused “Now hold on, what do you mean by sympathy? How could I possibly-”.

“Relate to him?” she finished for him, smiling in a cunning way. “Why, weren't you part of an organized military group, once? I can tell by the way you talk, the way you move, and the way you fight. You didn't learn all those things from experience, but from training under the supervision of someone else. You were a knight, once, but with my limited knowledge of your cities and their factions, I don't know from where”.

“You're even smarter than I figured, shaman” Gilliam appraised with caution, his eyes slightly narrowed. “But I'm afraid that what I've left behind will remain in my memory and the memory of the one's involved only. No one else has to know the tragedies that I've been part of”.

“That's understandable” Kahleen replied with a nod. She didn't look perturbed by Gilliam's angry tone. “We all wish for our burdens to remain ours to carry on our shoulders, that's only natural”.

There was a moment of silence before the hermit continued with her words. “But remember this, Gilliam: very few can carry such weight with them for their whole lives and avoid getting crushed under it. When the opportunity to pass this weight to someone else arrives, do not hesitate to take it”.

“You don't know me, witch” Gilliam snorted and stood up from the rock he had been sitting on. “I can take my burden with me for my entire existence, if I so desire it, and there's no need for me to tell others of it” he glanced at her one last time and said “Leave me be” before storming off, moving away from the camp, intending to walk back to Seawall by himself, in the middle of the night.

He didn't do it, for some unexplainable reason, since after walking for a minute the mercenary stopped what he was doing and looked back at the fire he had started in the camp. Sitting next to it was the only person who had tried to help him. A part of Gilliam wanted to run back and apologize, but another, stronger side of him, cautioned him to avoid such a course of action.

“I can handle it” he said to no one in particular as he glanced back at the campfire. “I can handle anything. There's nothing in this life stopping me, not as long as I have the will to fight”.

The words would've sounded full of conviction to anyone else who heard them, but to Gilliam himself they resembled a lame excuse.

Gilliam walked back to the camp but said nothing to the shaman for the rest of the guard, until he went to sleep himself.


The next morning the three travelers got up to face another hard day of moving through mud, but none of them were about to complain, following Kahleen's example. Gilliam looked to be in a foul mood, not much better than Vincent's, and Kahleen remained in her classic relaxed state of being. It didn't seem like it was rubbing off either man, unfortunately.

For every step that they moved forward, the ground turned greener, as they returned to the lush pastures that surrounded the southwestern area of this territory, near Seawall. Thankfully, not everything was soaked from the storm, and so it was a far more pleasant journey than they had expected. Additionally, the march was faster, since they didn't have to take care to avoid slipping off the wet road at every step.

It only took them an additional one day and a half to make it to the gates of Seawall, also known as the City by the Sea. Its double metal gates each had the symbol of House Kashtar on them, the icons being practically twenty feet tall. It was the early morning when they reached the city gates.

The Honor Guard, the city's military power, guarded the door's with sentries placed on top of the walls and with additional men positioned by the gates themselves. Vincent saluted the guard that was closest to him as he passed, and the armored man gave a quick signal to the others in response after returning the salute, which made the gates seemingly open on their own for the trio to enter.

“Have you ever been to Seawall?” Gilliam inquired, without looking at Kahleen.

“Yes” she responded, pausing to admire the entrance. “It was a while ago, and it might be different than what I had seen back then”.

With nothing else to be said, both shaman and mercenary quickly followed after the squire of House Kashtar inside the metropolis. The city was shaped roughly like a rectangle, and its several districts had an almost identical shape. The Explorer's district, home of the Explorer's Guild, wass located in the center area, the busiest section without a doubt, while the Poor district, aptly named after the monetary status of its residents, resided in the southwest section, right next to the Port district, where the warehouses and docks were located.

The remaining districts were the Noble's area, where the upper class folk inhabited richly adorned, good looking houses and mansions; the Merchant's district was located adjacent to the Port district and the Explorer's district: it was designed this way for practical purposes, so that merchants could reach the port, the source of their goods; the Explorer's guild, a profitable place where to get connections with potential clients; and finally the Merchant's district itself, where the real business happened.

As they walked through the Explorer's district, busting with travelers, adventurers, and many other people, Gilliam exchanged his knowledge about the port city with Kahleen, mostly to see if there was something he was missing about the place. He had been around for more than a month, but for a city of this size a month wasn't nearly enough to know it full well.

Apparently, he knew as much of the area as the shaman did, and he was surprised that she was so knowledgeable of a 'civilized' land. “I would have expected you to be more... skittish, with the city's noise and population” he admitted.

The half-elf lady merely smiled “Few things can shake my resolve, child; this is not one of them”.

Gilliam left it at that, and decided to remain silent, at least until they reached their destination. The three reached House Kashtar's home after nearly an hour of walking: it was called Valor's Banner, a fortified keep with the symbol of the House proudly displayed in banners, which were placed on top of every tower and wall. The sight was empowering and spectacular, and such a grand display of craftsmanship gave pause even to those who resented authority. Gilliam couldn't help but feel a twinge of regret at seeing such a place, for it sparked fond memories of a military group he had formed part of.

Just like at the city gates, Vincent merely had to salute the guards at the entrance of the keep to gain access to its interior. The guards did eye Gilliam with some suspicion, but much to his surprise they bowed at Kahleen when she passed by them.

They followed Vincent across several rooms, each decorated in the same proud, military fashion, with ceremonial weapons and armor everywhere, along with paintings of notable leaders and members of House Kashtar. Several Honor Guards could be found throughout the fortress in several rooms, patrolling, chatting, or simply relaxing for a small period of time. Eventually, the group reached an exquisite oak door, with gold lines running through it to great effect.

“Master Ender's room” the elven squire announced as he stared ahead. “Do be mindful of his status as the Master of the Honor Guard. He is Pledged to House Dagoth, but his devotion to my House is not diminished by this”.

Within the deep recesses of Gilliam's mind, something clicked into place. He wasn't sure what it was, at the time, but it was connected to the Master of the Honor Guard.

“Is he your... relative, related through blood in any way to you?” Gilliam inquired.

“No. The Ender clan gives each and every member the name of the clan for a last name, and Draegen Ender is not connected to me through blood”.

“Very well then, let's face the man who sent us to Kahleen's house” the mercenary looked at the shaman as he said this, but the woman's expression was unreadable. Damn mystics and their obscure ways, he thought, but didn't say.

After knocking three times, a man's voice came from within the room ahead to allow them passage, and Vincent lead the way once more as he opened the expensive door in order to go inside.

Master Ender's room wasn't that much better than the rest of the keep, with the exception that there were trophies displayed within transparent glass cases on top of wooden stands. The room was quite spacious, offering about thirty feet from beginning to end in both dimensions. The owner's heavy wooden desk was placed opposite to the door, near the window, where beams of light illuminated the room naturally.

Draegen Ender was dressed as he always did, no matter when or where: he wore a magnificent suit of banded mail, the armor's texture being dark blue rather than pale gray, with the symbol of House Kashtar, a silver helm on a blue field, engraved on the center of the chest plate, occupying most of it. It was made out of one of the toughest minerals in the world, Divine Steel, and it was one of the priciest to obtain. The human's face was grave, absolutely serious, and he seemed the type to keep a professional appearance at all times. His black-grayish beard was cut short, and his hair was brushed backwards, like a raven's. He looked about fifty years old, but his physique indicated that he could still put up a fight. With anyone.

“Welcome back, squire Vincent” the man said after the three had entered the chamber and closed the door behind them. He was currently sitting behind his desk and had pushed aside some papers he was reading in order to look at his guests.

“Thank you, Master Ender” the squire returned with a salute. His movements were stiff, as he was clearly anxious to meet with the one who sent him in the mission to the hermit's house.

Vincent stayed there, standing upright on the spot, unmoving, waiting for his superior to continue.

Draegen saluted as well, and only then did he stand up from the chair and move around the desk to approach the trio “You have brought your bodyguard with you” he stated casually.

“Surprised that we're still alive after the two attempts on our lives?” Gilliam inquired with an annoyed look, arms folded across his chest. He could've sworn he heard Kahleen sigh right next to him.

“I'm glad you've both made it back” came the retort from the high ranking man.

Gilliam gritted his teeth and had to do his best to avoid adding swears to his words “I'm the man that your House hired to protect him,” he pointed at Vincent “from certain assassins that were on the way to the hermit, here” he finished with a gesture towards Kahleen, who simply nodded. “My name is Gilliam”.

The Master of the Honor Guard didn't look offended by the mercenary's tone and instead looked over at the hermit to smile at her “It's an honor to have you back, wise one” he offered with a salute. “I thank you, in the name of House Kashtar, for coming to offer your help”.

“No need, Master Ender; I'm merely repaying the favor that I owe to your fine House”.

Gilliam's mouth hung slightly open while Vincent's face was constrained with anxiety as he kept looking at Draegen, waiting for the right moment to voice the questions he had been meaning to ask since four nights ago.

“Now, back to your task, squire Vincent” Master Ender offered, turning his attention back to the elf “I take it, that with miss Kahleen here, you have been able to deliver the package?”.

“No sir, I wasn't able to fulfill the task I was given”.

Master Ender raised an eyebrow. “And why is that?”.

Vincent swallowed once and took a deep breath. Gilliam was holding his, a couple of steps behind him.

“You see, Master Ender, there was no message, therefore I couldn't deliver it to the shaman”.

The leader of the city guard received these words and betrayed no emotion after processing them. “Indeed, a message that doesn't exist can't be delivered, that's perfectly understandable”.

“But tell me, squire, what of the assassins your bodyguard, here, mentions? Have you actually been attacked on your way to the hermit's cabin?”.

Vincent nodded. “Yes, sir. We were attacked twice, once by Barbarians, the second time by trained professionals at Kahl-I mean, the hermit's shack”.

“We have two witnesses for the first one, three for the second, will that be enough?” Gilliam inquired angrily while clenching his fists by his sides.

Draegen appeared to ignore the mercenary's question. “I see” he noted with a brief nod to Vincent. “Is there anything you wish to ask about your mission, now that it's concluded?”.

Gilliam stopped feeling furious for an instant, when it came to him that this man had well expected having to answer to Vincent's more important questions. In his mind, it didn't make any sense, though.

With his hands firmly by his sides, back straight and his chin up, Vincent opened his mouth “Why did I risk my life for a message that wasn't there in the first place, Master Ender?”.

The words were uttered with the utmost respect, but to the humble squire they still sounded brash and aggressive.

Just like Gilliam predicted, however, Draegen's expression seemed placid, as if he had indeed seen this coming. “A good question, squire, a very valid request for clarification” the man said, taking a seat back at his desk as he did. Folding his hands together, the old warrior began to talk.

“The purpose of your task was twofold: firstly, to verify if there was a group or faction interested in harming House Kashtar”.

Gilliam smiled triumphantly, since he had known it all after the fight with the sniper by the burning shack.

“Secondly, you were sent to bring the hermit, miss Kahleen, back to Seawall, to assist us. It so happens that House Dagoth's quarrel with House Ganellar is escalating by the day, and allied Houses on both sides are being drawn into the conflict. House Kashtar has supported House Dagoth for a long time, and it will continue to do so”.

“What about House Grugarch, the House of Men?” interrupted Gilliam. “The Barbarians that tried to kill us had weapons from that faction”.

“Grugarch is an ally of Ganellar, this isn't recent news. But the fact that they've contacted Barbarians to enforce their actions is... questionable, to say the least” the old man paused and closed his eyes as he considered this. “In any case, you have succeeded in both goals, squire Vincent, and thus I congratulate you,” he looked straight at the elf “and your bodyguard, Gilliam” his gaze moved over to the astounded mercenary “for the accomplishment”.

Silence enshrouded the room, then, and no one made a sound. Gilliam wasn't very pleased with the Master's words. Standing right across from Master Ender, Vincent didn't look satisfied, either.

The squire cleared his throat. “Excuse me, Master Ender, but...” he began unsteadily, mustering a great deal of courage to even dare to speak in front of a higher ranking man without permission “...why was I deceived about the true purpose of our mission? I had thought House Kashtar's ideals were of honor and respect, not about deceit and obscurity”.

Draegen Ender's visage hardened, then, and he stood up from his seat like an executioner who was about to get to his work with grim determination.

“Squire, if there's a good time in your life to learn this basic truth, that time is now, here, in this room” he placed each gauntleted hand upon the desk, leaning forwards “We live in a world where the honest and hardworking are preyed upon by the greedy and devious; where lies obfuscate the truth; where the goals of each one of us get smudged, darkened and obscured, all because we refuse to face our enemies in the proper way, whatever it might be”.

“Yes, Kashtar is the House of Honor, among other things; but the truth, painful as it is, leads us to recur to tactics that are without honor and less than worthy of our standards. This is done to preserve the ideals of our Noble House, not to condone such actions”.

Gilliam couldn't take it anymore and took a step forward. “How in the Hells do you intend to represent honor and integrity with lies and trickery?!” he shouted at Draegen.

“And how in the Hells do you intend to strive for justice and equality with no House at all, mercenary?!” the man shouted back, his booming voice backing up the conviction behind his words. “If we don't lure out our foes, how can we defend from them? How can we fight for honor when our enemies take a stab behind our backs, all because we refuse to face them through less than honorable means?”.

With a disgusted look and a couple of mumbled words, Gilliam turned and walked to the door. “Yeah, good luck with that” he turned the handle and pushed it open. “Your men will depart you as soon as they find out they're being used, like Vincent, here” Gilliam added without looking back.

The sound of the door being closed violently resounded within the room, leaving the three remaining occupants a bit shocked. Draegen Ender shook his head, then, and said “That man is a fool. A righteous well-intending fool, but a big fool nonetheless”.

Vincent didn't think he could understand those last words, but Kahleen did, all too well.

“Master Ender, if I may...?” the shaman said, for the first time in a long while, gesturing with a hand at the door.

“Yes, please do talk to him, miss Kahleen” the man replied with a nod and a quick smile.

While Kahleen left the room as well, Vincent realized he was the only one left besides Master Ender. The old leader seemed to read his mind, though, and asked “Anything else, squire Vincent?”.

This time, Vincent was smiling, troubled no longer. “No sir, not at all. Thank you for explaining this matter to me” he said with a salute.

“You now know, Vincent Ender, that in the name of House Kashtar, we must do all we can to preserve the House's ideals, even if we must go against them at times to do so. Survival comes first; honor, loyalty and courage come second”.

“For if there's no Noble House in which to base those values, how can we stand for them at all?”.
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