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Gralhruk 3rd of September, 2004 01:13

Chapter 7 - Traversing the Wasteland
The vast bulk of the Citadel rises behind the adventurers like a huge, granite behemoth, casting it's angular, mishapen shadow over them like a tattered blanket. The wasteland stretches out in all directions, hill upon hill of broken stone and gritty dust. They have in their possession food and water sufficient for the trip, along with a crudely drawn map of the destination: a point near the base of Erol's Peak, where the structure said to contain the Runestone lay.

What dangers guard the stone, neither Ysene nor Cadogan had been able to say, though they are certain it will be guarded. It dawns on the companions that they never thought to ask why it would be guarded, or so carefully placed to begin with. Looking back, it seems that the door they exited from has vanished, leaving little choice but to coninue on the path so recently chosen. They would find the Runestone and return it to Cadogan, then he would work with his magical compatriots, using the stone to destroy the Cube - an evil artifact which the blind wizard had found and returned to the Brotherhood.

The Citadel had been a strange place, and one that did not do very much to comfort those alien to it. Yet now, compared to the desolate lands around them, it is hard to imagine why they would choose to leave such seeming luxury. Of course, the place they were headed would probably make them long for the simple dangers of the wastelands. Relativity is like that, one must conclude.

Black Plauge 4th of September, 2004 03:52

Things were moving quickly, a little too quickly for Blarth to follow everything that was happening. He's pretty sure they agreed to help the blind wizard find something, but what that something is and why its important are well beyond Blarth's ability to grasp.

They were, however, away from that strange place with its presumptious servants and Blarth, for one, was glad about that. Not knowing that things were going to be where you left them was disconcerting, even if they were taken to be cleaned or repaired. The wizrads had even been kind enough to take care of Trak's armor while Blarth helped out with this job so that he wouldn't have to carry it.

For the first time in several days Blarth is in high spirits and as the party heads towards their destination, Blarth takes advantage of the fact that he can move much faster than the heavily armored Cadrius to satisfy his curiosity and do a little exploring.

Gralhruk 10th of September, 2004 03:46

Her lips compressed into a thin, disapproving line Shade eyes the arid waste around them and compares it to the relatively barren map the wizards had supplied. Blarth's retreating form further tightens her grimace; hadn't the half-orc learned anything from the near death experience he had only a couple of days ago in this very land? Never particularly garrulous, she doesn't bother warning him. Sometimes it was easier to let people figure things out on their own.

Her flinty gaze shifts sideways to Cadrius, notices that his blue eyes are riveted straight ahead - almost unfocused, as though he was absorbed by his thoughts instead of their surroundings. The line of her mouth narrows even more. Typical. Not that it mattered, she was more than wary enough for the rest of them. Before he notes her scrutiny, her eye roves onward to Ben.

She was curious about him, but that curiousity was as edged as everything else about her seemed to be. Why was he here? A warrior, in the citadel, randomly recruited to join them. It seemed odd, and Shade didn't like it when things seemed odd. Unconsciously, she loosens a blade in it's scabbard.

Nicos notes the sound and gives her a half-amused, inquiring look. She returns it with a flat stare, wondering why she is making such an effort to alienate everyone even as her anger bubbles slightly higher. Her feet hit the ground rather harder than normal for the next dozen paces or so, glancing once more at the map before tucking it away. It didn't matter; they'd get this runestone and then they could get out of here.

itches 10th of September, 2004 04:49

Nicos is travelling quietly for a change, lost in contemplation and content to let the others lead. In their hurried departure, he barely had enough time to leave a cryptic note for Gemoud. 'Gone to borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbours. Be back soon.'

Well perhaps cryptic wasn't the word for it, maybe insensible was, he considered silently. Its purpose wasn't to pass on information about his task, just to inform that he hadn't run off without a word, a task that it performed admirable.

Continuing to muse in silent, the bard considers the implication of Gemoud being a Mooner. The Order of the moon wasn't a large organisation or an organised organisation either. It was just a small loosely allied band of bards with similar goals and basic means of getting in contact with each other. According to what he had been told when he had joined, the order had started when a bunch of bards had gathered together to exchange tales. At some point someone at pointed out that they all made a habit of poking their nose into other people's business for the same basic purposes. Then someone else noted how nice it would be if they had a way to work together. Several hours of drinking later, they had a system of symbols and code-words hammered out to identify each other, as well as a loose list of rules.

What bothered Nicos about the situation was that Gemoud wasn't a bard. When Saelyn had introduced him to the Order of the moon, she had described it as an organisation of bards, plus the handful that he had later met and worked with later had been bards. Gemoud however was a mage. Nicos by no means knew the organisation's secrets well enough to say for certain if there were non-bards or not, but the idea didn't seem too likely to him.

Putting the issue aside for the moment for the time being, the bard adjusts his pack on his shoulders and continues to walk in silence. Hearing Shade loosen one of her weapon, he shoots her an inquiring look. Getting a familiar glare back, he shrugs silently, content that if it was nothing more then paranoia something would have been said.

Unwilling for once to risk an argument, the bard adverts his gaze, instead resting it upon the back of their new companion, Ben. His presence so far was an enigma, and while Nicos remembered seeing him a couple of times, he knew next to nothing about the strange warrior. Making a mental note to strike a conversation soon, returns his attention inward, contemplating the mission, his companions, and his life of late.

Cadrius 10th of September, 2004 09:27

The open sky, along with all of the wilderness's dangers, is a welcome sight to Cadrius. Having to guard one's words is tiring. Being polite is one matter, but having to speak in code and doubletalk is a thing the fallen paladin has no skill for. He isn't even certain how it is they managed to make their way out of the Citadel without angering the other faction. In retrospect, he doesn't particularly care. They've escaped from the magical conveniences and web of sorcerous intrigue. It might only be borrowed time; the opposing residents are bound to learn of their plans. Yet it feels good to be outside all the same.

He hears the soft, but familiar, scrape of Shade's swords. They weren't drawn fully. No, she loosens them when she's angry or worried, as is her wont. What could trouble her, besides the potentially angry spellcasters, the monsters likely roaming the nearby wilderness, or the stranger named Ben, is beyond him.

"How far to the Stone?" he asks, keeping his eyes on the horizon.

red_dr4g0n94 13th of September, 2004 03:59

Ben placed his wide-brimmed hat back on his head to help protect himself from the sun that was just beginning to warm the surrounding land. He'd never been one of the best morning persons, so he had intended to get a decent breakfast before leaving the citadel.

The wizards had had other ideas. So here he was with the warrior Cadrius, that half-orc and one-armed bard, and a woman he didn't recognize. Brought together to look for a stone that would enable the wizards to destroy a cube capable of unleashing a demon on the world.

Ben shuddered at that thought. His friends had told him of their only experience with a demon, of it could convince rational men to perform terrible deeds, and the terrible cost the company had paid to stop its plans from reaching fruitation. Ben had never really asked exactly what those plans were, but he got the feeling that the group had never really understood exactly what the plan was supposed to do either.

So he'd agreed to find this runestone, to keep such a terrible presence out of the world. It was the least he could do for them after they'd given him a room and food for the night. Besides, he'd been the one who-

He rubbed his eyes at that. Best not to think of such things right now, Ben thought to himself. They didn't know exactly what they would face when they got there, but it probably wasn't going to be orcs or goblins or any of the other foes he was used to fighting. And he didn't know very much about his newfound "companions" either. He knew most of them only from last night at the table, and he only knew Cadruis' name.

That half-orc fellow was getting ahead of the rest of them. Ben didn't really know much about him, but he figured he must be the scout in this group. It was probably best to get moving fairly soon though.

He glanced back at the unknown woman who held the map that that female wizard had given them, and then returned his gaze to the receding half-orc scout.

Gralhruk 15th of September, 2004 05:53

She slows her pace until the others catch up, chewing on Cadrius' question. The answer, like everything else, wasn't exactly simple.

"I'm not sure. As the crow flies, the place lies perhaps 3 days northwest of here. Our route is going to be a little longer, and depending on the terrain, even longer than that. We'll head west until we reach what looks to be a dry riverbed, then follow that north until we hit the foothills of the mountains. Then west again along the chain until we reach the high peak called Erol. I suppose we'll know it when we see it."

She shifts the pack on her back, heavier now that it is laden with food for the trip. They should be able to refill their water in the foothills and once again at the place where the Runestone was said to be interred.

red_dr4g0n94 17th of September, 2004 04:45

Ben looks over at the mountains that can be seen rising above the horizon. They are only silhouette at this time in the morning, but many of them appear to be craggy spires of rock, impossible to climb except by the most rugged -- and some might say insane -- individuals.

None of them stood out to Ben as a tower or stronghold in which a magical stone capable of unlocking the key to a Demon's prison might lay. Not that he expected one to. He closed his eyes and tried to mentally picture the route the woman had described.

"Sounds like a trip of 5 days minimum to me," Ben mumbles to himself. "Maybe more, if we're waylaid by whatever it is that lives out here." Not much out here in the way of food, so I suspect we would look to be quite the delicious targets to a pack of starving monsters.

"That is, if anything does live out here."

itches 21st of September, 2004 04:45

The majority of the day is spent in silence, the surrounding desolation and the unknown danger of their mission conspiring to cast a pall of silence over the group. In the silence, they make cover a good amount of ground. As the sun starts to drop toward the horizon, the group discover a sheltered dell off the side of the road. Out of sight, away from the wind, and if push came to shove, more defensible then camping in a clearing.

Though all are seasoned travellers, the party members are foot sore and tired from the day's march and glad for the opportunity to rest. As the sun sets and the first of the night's chill settles onto the land, the group gather in their makeshift camp.

Gralhruk 21st of September, 2004 06:23

The tumbled ring of stones is as good a spot as they are likely to find. At least it blocked some of the wind, which would be positively numbing once the sun departed. They weren't being pursued, so a fire seemed likely to keep more critters at bay than it would attract. Shade goes about building one, noting that Cadrius is becoming more adept at camping in the wild.

Before she can even broach the subject, Nicos announces he'll be cooking dinner. She is skeptical of his skill, but the bard makes a great show of combining food and herbs in an almost dazzling spectacle. Dinner is passable, and at the very least, hot enough to warm their bellies for some time afterward.

Almost immediately after they have finished eating, even before watches have been discussed or decided, Shade focuses on Ben.

"The rest of us have travelled together for a time, and so know something of one another. You don't have that benefit. I'll start by telling you something of myself, and then perhaps we can all do the same. I like to know who I'm travelling with."

The veil is down now, as it has been for most of the day, showing the thin, white scar that runs beneath her eyes. Her steel grey eyes are harder than the tone of her voice.

"I used to thieve for a guild in Darnell, a large city many leagues south of this place. It wasn't the life for me, although it beat starving to death. There was a falling out, and I went north, eventually coming to Karkas and resolving some unfinished business. Since then, I've been trying to figure out what to do, but trouble keeps finding me."

It isn't much, but more than the others are used to hearing from her. She folds her arms and waits for someone else to speak, her eyes still on Ben.

itches 22nd of September, 2004 04:22

Washing down the meal with water from his water-skin, Nicos lets his eyes switch between Shade, Ben and back again. It was obvious that Shade didn't trust the new comer, but by the same mark she didn't appear to be overly distrustful either - those few sentences were the most the bard had ever heard about the woman's past.

As good an idea as sharing histories to build trust is, the last thing Nicos wants is for Ben to feel overly set upon. Clearing his throat, the bard draws attention towards him.

"Well, as long as we're sharing juicy pieces of gossip about our past, I think I'll join in. I used to be a monk, a member of the Brotherhood of the Ravenís Claw. An overly ponderous name if you ask me, though they never did. When I lost my arm, it became clear that the life of a monk wasn't suited to me, nor I to it. The option to become a travelling performer became available, and I took it."

Black Plauge 22nd of September, 2004 05:33

Nicos's cooking was certianly edible, if not as tasteful as what the citadel had had to offer, and Blarth consumed it with a gusto.

Staring at the stars, Blarth doesn't even notice the conversation going on around him.

Cadrius 22nd of September, 2004 10:16

The warm food is a comfort against the cool autumn air. He isn't used to this climate, in a place where gnarled, scragglily trees eek out an existance. Still, a hot meal does wonders to fortify one against the elements. If only they had some ale or whisky as well.

He raises an eyebrow while Shade summarizes her tale. Had she told him she used to belong to a guild? He didn't think so. Then again, she didn't relate what her unfinished business were. Perhaps the murder of a dwarf isn't best brought up, not to acquaintances.

Cadrius draws his blade and whetstone and methodically sharpens the edges. The shhhrk-shhhrk fills in the gaps in conversation. When it comes his turn, Cadrius doesn't look up, and keeps running the stone along the blade.

"I was in the military and now I am not. I also may, or may not," --he smiles softly-- "have run afoul of a certain priest along the way. I met Shade during my first stay in Karkas. Blarth and Nicos came later."

It's a story, if only barely. Then again, why complicate things with a tale of woe and self-pity regarding murder and a fall from grace? Looking around at his companions, he wonders how many have done the same. Shade? He has a hard time ever imagining her being innocent, or at least pure enough to fall. For all her qualities, she seems to have been permanently hardened by the world. That alone causes a twinge of sorrow within the former paladin. Blarth? Innocent, certainly, but perhaps too much. The half-orc is too simple, and likely hasn't killed, not outside of combat. And Nicos? Cadrius imagines it's rather hard to murder someone when they have two arms and you only one. Still, out of the three, the bard is the most likely to have fallen. Perhaps his life as a monk was more complicated than he leads them to believe.

Turning his eyes to Ben, Cadrius awaits the man's story.

red_dr4g0n94 22nd of September, 2004 15:06

It wasn't much different from what Ben had used to do really. Never really spending more than a few days in any one place, walking from destination to destination. The wide-brimed hat on his head protecting him from the worst of the sun, and once again his close were covered in the dust of the trail.

It wasn't the first time he'd had travelling companions either. He'd often traveled with -- and protected -- a caravan or some other group in return for food and temporary shelter. This was the first time he had ever traveled with other adventurers, or toward someplace that wasn't a city or town though. So it was that he found himself agreeing when the woman suggested they share a little bit of themselves.

He listened as the others revealed a little about themselves. The woman spoke of being part of a theives guild at one point, but leaving after some sort of disagreement apparently. The one-armed man stated that he was a monk in a Monastary until the loss of his arm made him rethink his life. Cadrius said he was part of the military and running afoul of a priest, though that was hardly odd. There were plenty of priests out there serving evil dieities who caused a great deal of trouble. The half-orc remained strangely quite.

They'd each spoke of at least a bit of their past. Ben didn't doubt that there were some things about their past they weren't telling. Everyone had something they'd rather keep to themselves. It was his turn to tell something now though. He poked the fire with a stick as he stared into its crackling depths. Then he spoke.

"I was a street urchin for a time, before I joined up with a mercanary group. I traveled with them, and they raised me to be part of their group, but I never really got the chance." He paused for a bit, but then pressed onward. "A little around 8 years ago, they were all killed in a forest after finishing a job for a nearby village. I was the only survivor out of a group of nearly two dozen seasoned adventurers. That happened far to the Southeast from here though, and I've been traveling ever since."

No real need to tell them why he'd been traveling. Still, if knowing who what one was traveling with was the goal of this little chit chat...

He looks up at the woman with the scar on her face. "So what are your names anyhow? I know his name's Cadrius," he gestures at the man sharpening his blade. "But I don't think I was formally introduced to the rest of you. Or, if I was I don't really remember it."

Gralhruk 22nd of September, 2004 23:33

Her grey gaze doesn't waver from Ben's blue one, her scrutiny undiminished by his short tale. When Paladin had joined them she had every reason to be uneasy. With Ben she had none of those reasons but the unease was still there.

"Shade. You can call me Shade. Everyone else does. The quiet one is Blarth, the not so quiet one is Nicos."

She folds her arms, frowning.

"You must have been pretty lucky to escape. Mercenaries tend to be a tough bunch, and eight years ago you couldn't have been more than . . . what . . . sixteen?"

red_dr4g0n94 23rd of September, 2004 04:40

Shade, Nicos, and Blarth. Not the most flamboyant names he'd had ever heard, but then again there was a decided lack of Elves present. Probably just as well, Ben's experience with Elves had been more annoying than productive for the most part.

Shade's comment caught him a little off guard though. He looked back at the campfire, not responding immediately. He wondered for a bit if he should just ignore the statement. But no, it was harmless enough, more of an observation than a question.

"Fifteen actually. As far as being lucky goes..." He trailed off, silent memories coming forward in his mind unheeded. But he beat them back to the farthest parts of his mind, where unpleasant memories were buried and forgotten. Or, were tried to be forgotten.

Giving a little sigh, he looked back at those steel gray eyes. "Sometimes the worst punishment one can receive is to be the survivor when all the rest of your friends have died."

Gralhruk 23rd of September, 2004 04:57

Shade shrugs slightly, her narrow shoulders making the gesture lithely reminiscent of a lioness stretching before the hunt. It wasn't fun to outlive your friends - unless they were trying to kill you, that is. Of course, Ricard was still alive.

The bastard.

"Loss is a lesson we all learn, one way or another. The good news is it means you're still alive. How did it happen?"

red_dr4g0n94 23rd of September, 2004 05:51

Loss is a lesson huh? That was one way of lessening the pain, Ben supposed. It wasn't all that accurate in his eye. Loss happened to lots of people who didn't deserve it. The sons and daughters he'd met, to tell them their mother or father was never coming home, had probably never deserved it. The parents, who would never be able to see their son or daughter again, had probably not deserved it. If loss was a lesson, it was a lesson that was all too often not deserved.

Shade probably didn't want to hear that though, his opinion on loss, else she would have asked for it. No, she wanted to know about the loss of his companions, how he alone had gotten away from the slaughter. She probably suspected he had sold them out to enemy forces or something. Ben wondered how close to the truth she was.

"How did it happen?" he repeated the question like it was a matter of course. He fell onto his back and a small puff of dust flew into the air. He gazed up at the stars, just starting to twinkle into existence with the sun disappearing behind the mountains, before answering. "It probably happened like you think it would have happened," he pulled his hat off his head before continuing. "It happened with a fight."

With that, he put his hat over his face.

Cadrius 24th of September, 2004 10:55

He shoots Shade a warning glance, unseen by Ben's hat-covered eyes. He can't exactly fault Ben for being unwilling to disclose each and every detail, but to tell them that there was a fight and that his entire company was slain without explanation is a tale that cannot be ignored. It isn't that Ben supposes the rest of the mercenaries were slain, it's that he knows they were. The complete certainty of his knowledge puts Cadrius ill at ease.

"If what you say is true, those numbers of that skill, it would have taken quite the foe, or foes, to wipe them out. Yet you survived. Was it through strength of arms? Speed? Or simple luck? There is no shame in the last two.
If you are to travel with us, Ben, I would know more."

red_dr4g0n94 24th of September, 2004 12:58

Should I tell them? Would it really be so bad to tell them the truth? To get this lie off of my shoulders. Would it really be so bad to tell the whole story?


But apparently they weren't going to take his dodgy answer lying down. He couldn't blame them really. They didn't know much about him, or why he had been thrust into their little group with little in the way of explanation. Ben sort of wished he knew himself, but that didn't change the fact that their own stories had been just as scant on detail as his.

That got his blood boiling a bit. What gave them the right to interrogate him, when they had told him so little themselves? Granted they weren't asking much. Just a simple question really, how he alone had gotten out alive when so many others who deserved to live didn't.

Several more seconds pass after Cadrius asks his question. Finally, Ben takes the hat off of his head. He looks up at the stars once more, so familiar and yet so alien in their own world, ignorant of the problems of those they twinkled down on. Then he spoke, never actually rising to meet their eyes that he could feel on him, just watching the stars.

"Strength of arms I suppose. I had to fight to survive, but I wasn't the target, not really. Whoever caused it all must've known I was not a great threat to them. It always happened at night, and the attacker retreated, only to return the next night. I never saw who it was; Hell, all I recall are the faces of my friends as they fell, one by one. At the end of it all, only I remained to continue on in the land of the living."

He let that sink in a bit. Ben, for his part, wondered how he was able to recall the event without bursting into tears. He had at first, and so many times thereafter. But, after a while, the emotions attached with the memory had...lessened. He still felt them, but they were dull reminders at best, ghost-pains at worst. Maybe in time they would disappear all together. Ben didn't think so, but one could never tell with these things.

"I'll take second watch."

The words break the momentary silence, and Ben places the hat back over his head as he finishes the small statement. Closing his eyes, he tries to find in the blackness of his sleep what he cannot find in his conscience.

Gralhruk 24th of September, 2004 22:51

Shade blinks once when Cadrius meets her eyes; she senses the warning there and her head dips ever so slightly in the smallest of nods. Wariness creeps up and slowly overtakes the anger that burns beneath the stillness of her face. As she waits for Ben's response, arms folded beneath her cloak, her hands slowly drop until they rest comfortably on the hilts of her swords.

Her brow creases slightly as Ben speaks, but she does not relax at all. His grief was plain but his story does little to ease her tension, nor does it answer the question of why he was still alive when other -presumably more competent- warriors had perished. Very nearly does she let anger and fear get the better of her; harsh words are already forming in her mind, the desire to expose and remove any threat vibrantly alive.

She bottles it back up; maybe because she is uncertain, maybe because he seems genuine, or maybe because she can see a glimmer of what he must have gone through. Her eyes meet Cadrius' once again. If he was telling the truth.

"I'll take first watch then. Cadrius, tag along with me while I mark a perimeter? We don't know what else is out here."

itches 25th of September, 2004 02:24

Listening to the tale Ben weaves; Nicos quietly considers its implications. Lost in his silent contemplation, it takes the bard several long moments to respond to Shade's declaration of taking first watch.

"Actually Shade, it might be a better idea if I," he says looking up to see Shade and Cadrius already beyond the range of his low voice. "Damnit."

Pulling himself to his feat, Nicos quickly jogs after the pair.

Cadrius 28th of September, 2004 11:01

Shade sees the danger too, and Cadrius supposes he shouldn't be surprised by that fact. The woman has an uncanny ability to feel out the potential harm in any given situation. Then again, a deaf man could likely hear the danger in Ben's story. He gives a quick nod and shoulders his shield.

"A wise plan. I would know our surroundings as well," he says, brushing some errant dirt from his breeches. He fetches a brand and nods to the bard."Nicos, watch the fire, would you?"

He casts another look over his shoulder and sees the bard looking down at something. Cadrius shakes his head; the man only listens when he wants to hear what's being said. Turning back he sees Shade has faded just far enough to honor her namesake. In the growing dark he can barely make out her sillouette, but it's there all the same, a lithe shadow amidst a wasteland of black.

They move away from the fire in silence, unwilling to break it, unwilling to risk Ben hearing their thoughts. She must want to speak of his story. No other option enters his mind.

Drawing a slow breath, Cadrius exhales, watching the plume of steam billow forth and dissapate into the chill autumn air. It's cold up here, colder than he's used to. A blanket will serve him well tonight.

Or a warm body. The thought startles him, a rogue emotion amidst a disciplined order of duty and melancholy. Cadrius wills it away. There will be enough time to dwell on such foolishness when there isn't a risk of being murdered while sleeping.

"Something is not right, obviously. He spoke plainly enough, I would think, but what would take a handful of well-trained mercenaries each night but leave a boy alone? Some sort of monster that refuses to prey on the innocent? Or does Ben bear a dark secret like us?"

The crunch of feet across earth and stone sets Cadrius's heart racing. Had they been discovered? Had Ben just overheard the suspicions?

Nicos walks out of the dark. Cadrius rolls his eyes. If Ben was asleep that meant Blarth was tending the fire. Cadrius reconsiders his apprehension; the half-orc likely has more sense than Nicos ever will.

"Yes? What is it?"

Gralhruk 29th of September, 2004 00:40

As usual, Shade doesn't wait to see if Cadrius listens to her. She is already well away from the group when she hears his footsteps approaching. Her steps slow slightly, waiting for him to join her, one hand pulling her new veil across the lower half of her face. When he speaks, his sentiment is not unexpected; the very same suspicions had run through her mind. Hidden, her mouth frowns at his choice of words.

A dark secret like us.

Her mind flashes back to a dark stain on the floor of a tavern in Karkas, where a dwarf had spilled his life's blood. The blade that had opened his throat was at her side still. Cadrius had witnessed the murder and though he had never offered an opinion on it, she knew he had never forgotten it. Before she can sort out her feelings and respond Nicos appears. For a change, she is relieved, having wanted to ask him along but fearing that the three of them convening would appear suspicious.

"I would guess he knows that I wanted to talk to you privately, and that he knows what about. Ben. His story is far from complete, as anyone who tells stories for a living would know.

"The real question on my mind is why is he here?"

itches 2nd of October, 2004 04:04

"Actually there are two reasons I'm here."

Holding up a finger, Nicos looks from one to the other.

"First, I don't think you should take a watch tonight Shade. I'm not trying to step on your pride, but you still don't look 100%, and would benefit from a full night's sleep more then any of us."

Lowering the first finger, Nicos holds up another.

"Second, Ben. Obviously you sensed he wasn't telling us everything about his friends' deaths. He didn't appear to be lying, but to be blunt; I've heard whore's promises that sounded more likely. It sounds like he blames himself for their deaths, maybe because he fell asleep on watch, ran away, maybe he was giving their potion away. I don't know, but I don't like that he was left alive."

Taking a deep breath and making sure that none of the others had followed him, Nicos looks tired from the day's march.

"The killings could have been a vendetta against the others and not him, an assassin. Maybe he was allowed to live because the killer had a use for him still, or maybe he just got lucky and is still being tracked. Or maybe he is the killer, I just don't know."

Giving the pair in front of him a grin, Nicos continues.

"The one thing that bothers me about all of this isn't why Ben is here, but why none of the mages came with us. There were a lot of people at that citadel, and even one or two of them would have been a help. Instead they send us out a former mercenary? The pair of you have a greater sense of mistrust then I do, what do you think?"

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