By Carey Sauerbrun
Five figures rode silently throughout the misty morning fog. There was a slight chill in the air, the blustery winter unwillingly giving way to spring in early Mirtal. None of the five were bothered by the weather, bundled as they were in warm woolen cloaks.
Deagan glanced back along the column, his knowledgeable eye scanning the horses for any problems. His 'misspent' youth as a noble's son had instilled in him a love of riding. He saw horses as more than just a means of travel: the proper mount could well save its rider's life.
He thought fondly of his youth as he returned his attention to the wilderness surrounding the party. His parents always figured prominently in his memories. His father had been an up and coming young lord, a Huntsilver in every sense of the word. He'd met his future bride while adventuring abroad. Deagan's mother, a moon-elven bard, was welcomed warily into the family. By Deagan's twelfth summer, the pair's love was tolerated.
That same summer, the two began adventuring again. By autumn of that year, they had both disappeared, by all reports, into the wilds of the High Forest. Deagan had never seen them again.
The half-elf was pulled away from these painful memories by the low grumbling coming from Weber. The squat dwarf was sawing on his pony's reins, lowly cursing the beast, calling it a mangy, long legged excuse for a dog. Deagan's eyes twinkled with amusement as the mare tossed her head and glared back at the irascible dwarf.
"Here, Web, let me." Deagan reached into one of his saddlebags and pulled out a carrot. The dwarf's mare whistled with pleasure, while his own mount snorted. "All in good time, you glutton." Deagan gave his horse a friendly pat.
As the dwarf's pony moved along, happily munching on Deagan's treat, the thief once again scanned the companions and their surroundings. It was their fourth day out of Waterdeep, and they were heading south and east. After recovering from the attack at the inn, the group had decided to go after the statue of Tyche first. Micah was fairly certain that the artifact could be found somewhere within the Wood of Sharp Teeth. He warned that the forest had a dark reputation. The companions collectively shrugged. They were all experienced, and rumors no longer frightened them.
Deagan and Weber, riding side-by-side, topped a low, sparsely wooded ridge. Below them, tucked in along the bend of a stream bed to their right, was a small village. The two adventurers saw immediately that the town had been razed, and recently. Smoke still drifted above a number of the ramshackle buildings. Out in the surrounding fields, amidst the haze, Deagan thought he saw the crumpled forms of cattle. The two reined in their mounts, exchanging grim looks and waiting for their companions to join them.
"Bloody work out there," the dwarf stated as the rest of the group pulled up next to them.
Deagan watched Rilladell's face pale, as if the scene disturbed the elven sword maid much more than her experience indicated it should. Deagan had seen carnage much worse than this in his time, and he had no doubt the elf was far older than he.
While the others held their place, Rilladell inched her horse forward. "This reminds me of my youth," she said softly, her voice filled with pain. "I was just a girl, only twenty or so, and I lived with my parents in a small krall similar to this. One evening, the village was attacked by drow. Before he went out to face the attackers, my father concealed my brother, only a babe at the time, and I within a hidey-hole. It was the last I ever saw of him." The elf-maid looked up, and Deagan could see the tears in her eyes. "When I finally left, the village looked much like this," she gestured feebly with her free hand, the other spasmodically clenching her sheathed long sword.
Deagan noted the sympathetic looks on the faces of the others, and knew he wore one himself. Justin moved forward, the priest reaching out and reassuringly gripping the elf's shoulder. "We feel your pain, Rilladell. Whatever caused this carnage, however, may not be far away. Here is not the place to stop and grieve." Weber grunted in agreement.
The elf-maid took a deep, steadying breath, nodding. Then realizing how much she had just revealed of herself, her face hardened. "It was after this that I took my brother to Evermeet. There I learned the skills I would need to avenge my lost family. Know this. If ever we come across the dark elves in our travels, do not stand in my way." She flicked her reins, urging her mount down the path toward the town.
The half-elf shook his head. "And I thought I had it bad."
Micah's daughter, usually quiet and subdued, overheard him. "Your problem, Deagan, is that you don't think about others often enough."
Deagan quirked an eyebrow. "Corina speaks? Well, my friend, I'll have you know that I've seen too many of my companions die beside me to become easily attached to others. I distance myself on purpose."
"And what a lonely life you must lead." Corina said softly. Then she quickly followed the elf-maid.
Weber, who had listened to the exchange, blinked. "What were that?"
"I don't know my friend. She's probably worried that I'll abandon the group at a rough moment, since I'm busy 'thinking about myself'."
Justin, who had also heard the two, shook his head. "No, Deagan. She's not worried about you leaving. She's worried about you living. If you close yourself off from others, thinking to spare yourself pain, then, then you will have nothing to live for. Understand?" The young priest smiled softly. "She worries for you as a friend should." As he put his heels to his mount's flanks he said, "Come, let's catch up to the ladies, or they might deal with whatever is out there before we arrive!"
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