A Fateful Meet

A short story by Erik Collett

Based on events from

Keith Haney’s

Pathfinder campaign:

In the Company of Witches

Previous Chapters

8. A Fateful Meet

9. The Two Shekels

10. All’s Well

11. Bumps and Bruises

Appendix - Additional Notes

8. A Fateful Meet

The city seemed to closed in around the boat as it approached the dock. It was an haphazard but incredible panorama lining the bluffs layer upon layer of the Five Sister Isles. The seething life on the streets was even apparent at this distance with a mixture of moving dark shapes, bright colors and glittering metals in the afternoon light.

This was Keppel’s first real adventure being far from home. The thought made his skin crawl, but he forced himself to take this quest even if his mother proposed that she send a trusted servant to retrieve whatever was left.

This was his chance to break free from the island of Thessalya. He had found freedom on the island after an enraged encounter after standing up to her. But, increasingly, he knew he was being watched and followed. Likely servants of his mother lay in the shadows as he passed, whether it was a street urchin or someone with more experience, he knew that coin was being exchanged to keep an eye on him and keep him safe if trouble were to arise. It made Keppel ill to think that even now he was free to move about Hadrias, pursuing the paths he had wished to for so long; he was not, in fact, free from his mother’s watchful eyes and ears.

This adventure was his chance of evading that watchful eye. It was time for him to be his own man, whatever that meant. For him, it was the ability to make mistakes and stumble around like a buffoon--if necessary--just so he could find his own feet in this life. He had Ghost to protect him, too. He had come to rely on him as a companion and a protector. There was little that they did without each other, but the bond that once was there officiating his learning and keeping track of notes and knowledge was not there. Keppel had to rely on his own memory and knowledge, which he hadn’t ever needed to do until Ghosts first summoning. It was then that Keppel realized that he wasn’t nearly as smart as he thought.

Now he was here, disconnected from The Tower and out in the world alone. It was a thrilling experience with equal parts terror and wonder. He had been sick for the first three days of a five day journey, but now he felt he was getting the hang of being at sea just in time to make landfall again.

Fresh off the docks in Caseada, Keppel listed back and forth down the docks to the stairway, avoiding getting his brain scrambled by a cart while still uneasily getting accustomed to being back on solid ground. After nearly a week at see, this was something that may take a while. At the base of the stairs, were two musclebound thugs were asking for contributions to “the guv’nah”. Keppel had little knowledge of this area other than that it has had a fairly tepid history with pirates, law and religion.

The man who spoke to Keppel did so with an attempt at respect, but it was difficult for his tongue to approach something so unfamiliar. It was a noteworthy effort for the delivery, but the tell-tale scars and a frequently broken nose along with the knuckle-cracking companion at his back warned Keppel of any missteps.

“Where can I find Friar Benedicto?” Keppel spoke to the voice of the two thuggish men. This question sparked a long and completely incomprehensible utterance of landmarks and directions that left Keppel smiling, nodding and utterly confused. Two names stood out: Coral Street and the Two Shekels. He tossed a gold their direction. It brought a crooked smile, showing chipped and blued teeth on the spokesman, but strangely, a grimace flitted across the thug bringing up the rear. Keppel didn’t want to see what the disgruntled thug had to say and moved on quickly.

It’s best to keep the natives happy, Keppel thought. But then he was unsure if he had just given away too much in the process. He had very little in the way of smaller exchange on him. His pockets were full of his mother’s gold and that alone made him exceptionally uncomfortable. There would have to be a time where he could simply rely on himself.

Eventually. But the way he was dress, from a bright red robe with blue trimmings and edged with silvery threads. It was his mother’s specialty: tailoring incredibly ensembles. He had been dressed as garishly as long as he could remember. It was fantastic, sure, but he was going to have to find a way to shed his mother’s influence. The clothes were going to have to be some of the first to go.

As he ascended the stairs, it dropped him at the base of what was Coral Street. It zig-zagged up the exceptionally sheer bluffs, allowing the road to merely climb steeply instead of being, frankly, an impossible ascent. Those shuffling wagon-haulers had biceps to show for the effort and the weary horses and balking mules helped the older folk along as long as they could get them moving.

The staircase deposited Keppel nearly at the front door of the Two Shekels. It was a tall-standing eatery with some rooms to lend on the upper storeys. They had a set of fenced in tables that littered the entryway with three standing doors with accompanying hurricane shutters. The place smelt of rust, sea-salt and a variety of aromas. Food was being served, but their were many in the place who stunk of the sweat of a days work, if not seasoned for considerably longer.

The patron of the Two Shekels was an exceptionally squat man with a rolling belly. He approached what Keppel would assume was the size of a Dwarf without all the signature Dwarven features. He was rallying people in as they came up the stairs from the docks, filling the Two Shekels with visitors. The place was alive with people spilling both in and out of the three open doors. More than a few times had the patron mentioned Acada’s name, and it brought a tingling sensation that run rampant over Keppel’s weakened soul.

As he wandered near, he saw a stolid man standing with a large blade strapped to his back; definitely a man of action. The man was looking contemplatively at the aged Two Shekel sign creaking slightly while swinging in the breeze coming off of the waterfront.

“Have you stayed here?” Keppel’s offering at conversation was timid. He had neither found his voice or his footing since making landfall.

“Yes, I have been here before. It is much the way I remember it.” He didn’t look to Keppel as he spoke. It was as if he was talking to himself as much as anyone, being lost in thought and memory.

That made Keppel hopeful. A local, maybe? Even better, a local that might not extort coin to get him where he needed to go?

“What brings you here?” Keppel cleared his throat and presented himself with slightly more spine.

“I am here for the funeral. As it seems everyone else is as well. I knew the man myself. He was a great man. ‘Tis a shame that he’s passed on.” He spoke with a reverence that sent tingles through Keppel.

A great man. He wasn’t surprised, but it only increased this longing inside of him. It hurt to be so close, yet so very far away from this greatness.

“I am, too. But I never met the man.” It was a sullen response, reflecting Keppel’s own mood.

“Come, then, let’s talk of him. Will you join me?” He offered, pointing toward the door to the Two Shekels.


9. The Two Shekels

“The name’s Iason”, the study man offered, while waving to a stool at the bar.

Iason’s great blade draw more than a few looks. Some wild, some slightly disgusted. Keppel thought it was more than a worthy companion in a place like this. Besides the sword, Iason was bundled in a traveling cloak of sorts with well maintained metal armor clearly visible through the opened front.

Keppel introduced himself as well, bowing slightly as he offered his name and origin. A knowing grin creased Iason’s face as he saddled the stool and put his weight on the bar.

A jovial pear-shaped woman with a winsome smile and bouncy-curly brown hair spun to greet the new arrivals. There was another, more venerable, woman who tended the bar bustled in and out of the backroom and kitchen area. A somewhat unpleasant stick-like, spidery girl was serving at the far side of the tavern.

“What can I do for ye?” She poured on the charm with the smile. She was a catch simply for that feature; her easy, naturally beautiful smile. A face one could wake up to and not wonder if one made a very poor decision the night before.

Keppel looked at Iason. He already had a loaf of bread in hand and was tearing small chunks off of it.

“What’s good here?” The question was meant for Iason, but the sprightly brunette pumped in quickly.

“We have the finest of crab cakes, freshly baked and steeped in butter. Along with a variety of ales and spirits.” She lilted through a singsong menu that she had likely said thousands of times before.

“An ale for me,” Iason offered, “And I’d recommend the crab cakes.” He winked at her, but Keppel was unsure of the intent. He hesitated.

“Anything less heavy? I can’t say that anything from the sea will put my stomach at ease just yet. What about a solid, earthbound creature? Beef?”

She didn’t miss a beat. “We have garlic roasted chicken. Also very fresh, indeed, made by the mistress herself!”

“That sounds delightful.” Keppel grinned, mostly for himself. The salted meats and lime from the voyage was far from the trappings of home. Most of it had ended up off the bow of the ship as it was. He ate very little for the last half of the voyage which seemed to work better. But this left him voracious and the tugging of the aroma of food stirred his rumbling appetite to a painful crescendo.

“So, you didn’t know the man?” Iason continued, “and by the way, good choice. I don’t actually recommend the crab cakes.”

“The mention of that much butter made me second guess your recommendation. I’m glad you have my back. You can never be sure who to trust.” Keppel looked askance at Iason’s fair skinned, solid face and grinned.

In response to the somewhat facetious comment, Iason broke some bread from what was in his hands and offered the still warm chunk to Keppel, “The street vendors can be trusted. This is their livelihood, it has to quality or people won’t buy it.”

It makes sense, after all. Keppel mused. Establishments like this can prey on those who aren’t locals, even if this one seems of worthier repute than those at his home in Thessalya.

A bell rung and the service clapped momentarily. Extra attention was being given to two fair men with uncharacteristically narrow and finer features: all of which were telltale signs of Elven descent. Keppel’s limited experience meant he had never seen Elven folk in the blood, but he had read about them in great detail. His excitement around this adventure rose at the thought of meeting people from such a variety of backgrounds.

This is exactly where I want to be. He thought to himself, with a satisfied smile.

Iason spoke of Acada again, recounting tales and shared experiences showing again the reverence he had for the man. It unlocked Keppel’s own tongue, putting many a sensitive subject about his origins right there on the tip, waiting to spill out. It didn’t take much urging to explain that he was there for the Will’s reading and that he was a long lost son. This made Iason grin, and seemed to prompt him to make a call to the remainder of the inn--in a fairly bombastic maneuver--to call out those who were here for Acada.

“Who is here for Acada’s funeral?” This prompted many lifted ales and hands and a wave of cheers.

“Who here are Acada’s sons?” Besides a drunkard at the back who slurred an “Aye!” and sloshed an ale into the air. Keppel offered a slightly lifted hand and one of the Elven’s, who clearly had his wits about him, did the same. They looked each other over, looking for a resemblance that simply wasn’t there.

Iason clapped on Keppel’s shoulder. “See, you are in good company!” But Keppel wasn’t sure. Acada had clearly gotten around, as it was. There’s no doubt there were more fatherless children in the world because of the man. It made him feel insignificant, like an afterthought. This set him to brooding as he had been wont to do.

Food was served, a fantastic roasted chicken smelling of garlic and spices served with some slimy vegetables that were clearly not the specialty of the kitchen. It took his mind off of why he was here and put his stomach in clear control of his mood. The deliciously prepared chicken fell right off the bone. The Mistress sidled along the bar, looking out at the crowd in her establishment. She spied her man in the crowd, with whom she was clearly still smitten. She smiled slightly, seeing him move in and among the crowd. She seemed a bit misty from the lively activity filling the place with a look that was lost in memory. Iason saw this and struck up conversation with her.

“You’re as lovely as ever, m’lady Elenor.” Iason buttered the Miss.

“Why thank you! Do you frequent here often? I recognize your face.” She scrutinized him, her heart-shaped face leaned in close in the attempt pushing her bosoms against the bar to near bursting their containment.

“Just in off-times, miss.” He smirked, clearly keeping something back. He cast around for a diversion and noted the well worn sword that hung on a rack above the bar itself. “That looks like it has some history to it.”

She looked up at a dulled blade etched with grooves and wear. She turned back, her eyes lit up visibly, and she flushed a little. After a moments effort of moving chairs about and placing a small stepladder to retrieve the well-worn sword, she placed it on the bar and explained each and every notch and blemish that her husband, Arno, had etched into the sword’s history. She often glanced toward her mate, who was still busy with bringing in more visitors from the string of docking ships.

Elenor’s excitement and chatter lasted well after their meal had been reduced to nothing, but the drink never seemed to go empty with her deft hands filling and refilling seamlessly with the stories she told. Keppel hadn’t gotten used to strong drink and it put him into a lolling semi-lucid state making him further prone to personal disclosure. A few coins rolled onto the bar from Iason and she scooted them in a two stage drawer that noticeably dropped them into a coffer far below the bar. She smiled at the two of them with an “Our little secret” kind of a smile. Keppel awkwardly palmed a gold to the Mistress as well who promptly slid it away and expertly plopped it between her bosoms.

She leaned in after the token was procured, “Would you … be needing any other … services this even?” She said with a wink.

Keppel looked up, seeing her bosoms again nearly popping through. “No, no, that is simply for our meal and the time spent keeping us entertained.” Keppel flushed slightly, but with his dark skin, he hoped she didn’t notice.

As the Mistress wrapped up her business, Keppel noticed that the two Elven men had also joined them. One, a straight-backed man who was well kempt and maintained a proud countenance. The other, slightly more withdrawn and seemingly having a bit of a cloud above his head. This, Keppel recognized, was the man who was also a son of Acada.

Apparently, he was feeling a bit lost. Just as Keppel did.

The well kempt man spoke in a well formed, somewhat clipped tone and introduced himself with a long name and title, but Keppel only heard Vandrose and Belemonte. No doubt he was well educated and easily twice as sure of himself. With the introduction, instead of hands shaken, glasses were raised around the table. Keppel’s glass wavered slightly in the air as he was feeling a bit more tipsy than he realized.

“And this …” Vandrose continued gesturing toward his friend, but the other Elven man interjected.

“Aebben,” he said, with a scowl toward Vandrose. His manner, still yet cloudy, was exceptionally brief. His moodiness shown through in his manner and his countenance.

After a moment of conversation, it was shown that the two sons of Acada had significantly less to say about the man who, in their eyes, abandoned them to fate then those who travelled with the Great Acada DuLak. Keppel somewhat mirrored the bitterness that Aebben had, both were admittedly named Bastards, albeit Keppel’s name and title was considerably more politely put than Aebben’s.

They were half brothers and, in a sense, two who stood against the world that they had been left in. Keppel’s life, though not at all difficult or rough, left him to brooding. Aebben’s was similarly estranged, but much more desperate. This put a pressure on Keppel’s heart, a emotional pain that made him ache deeply. He had a half brother. Even if they looked nothing alike, they had a welling bitterness in common that defined them and their lot very clearly.

The jovial brunette closed in again after the Mistress retreated into the kitchen. The Two Shekels was loud, but it was easy to get the attention you needed by paying a bit extra and apparently these two Elven’s had done just that.

“So it was you that they rung the bell for?” Iason looked between Vandrose and Aebben, our two new companions.

Ah, that makes sense now. Keppel was now slightly more enlightened by the way things worked here.

It was clear that Vandrose was the man of means in this situation, along with the fact that Aebben was deliberately motioning toward him. Vandrose was spending a lot of time scrutinizing his company, weighing and measuring. Aebben couldn’t seem to care less, but with maybe perhaps a little bit more hope in his eyes than before.

“Did you travel together, then?” Iason was making an effort to keep the conversation going.

A simultaneous countering answer came from the two. Vandrose clarified, “We came on the same ship, but my friend and I did not plan this trip together.”

Aebben snorted as he gripped his ale again, “I really can’t stand the guy. Hope you to prove to be better company.”

Vandrose’s mouth formed in a pinched smile. “His tongue often gets the better of him.” He explained, prompting Aebben to glower with more acuity at the bottom of his ale. A strange silence enveloped the group. Setting Keppel to shifting uncomfortably.

“So we are all for the same thing?” Keppel broke the brief silence, allowing the tension to subside. “We all have a summons to the reading of Acada’s will?”

Iason pulled a slightly crumpled letter. Aebben’s was tattered and worn, sporting the round stains of condensation from a glass and maybe a little blood. Keppel’s was folded and well kept. Vandrose produced a tightly folded, but immaculate, summons of his own. Keppel was a little surprised by Vandrose, thinking he really was just getting Aebben to where he was supposed to be.

“How did you know the man, Vandrose?”

“He made me into the man I am today!” He presented proudly.

“Aye!” Iason nodded to Vandrose with the tip of a mug.

“At least you met the man,” Aebben slighted, “He couldn’t seem to be bothered with his own blood.”

Iason and Vandrose were more annoyed with Aebben’s outburst than rightly offended. But even Keppel himself felt a sting from the presentation. He had the briefest of inclinations to find Acada’s remains just so he could give it a single swift kick. He didn’t hate the man, but he damn well could have benefit from his presence at least once in his life.

Arno, the Mister of the Two Shekels came to the bar’s edge. Keppel had to revise his thoughts on the man, he wasn’t Dwarflike. He was just an exceptionally squat man with a big round belly. He barely seemed to be able to put an elbow to the bar without it looking almost painful.

“‘Ow’s El’nor treatin’ ya?” The man grumbled. It didn’t seem exactly in his nature to be bright and chipry as the others, but he’d been doing a fair amount of glad handing himself. Now he just seemed worn by the day.

“Good as always, Arno!” Iason seemed refreshed by the man’s presence and spoke with a chipper attitude that seemed a bit out of place. This set Arno off slightly, he stopped and stared at Iason while Iason continued to talk. It was a moment that faded into a certain discomfort before a smile brightened Arno’s face again.

“Iason! From the Friar’s hand!”

“It had been a while, I didn’t expect you would recognize me.”

“Once I’ve seen it, it’s up ‘ere!” Arno tapped at his head, “An’ I remember you!”

“Arno, what’d it take to get a room here.”

Arno thumbed through a series of keys hanging on the wall with papers covering them. “We’re done booked for most of these, “ Arno laborered at thought. “But... “ He stopped above one and tore the paper from it a let it fall to the floor.

“Wait, there’s one here.” He said nonchalantly.

Vandrose added his own thoughts, “How much for two of these rooms?” While palming a gold to Arno.

Arno shrugged and pulled another tag off and let it fall to the floor, “Aye, it looks like yer in luck! You ‘ave two rooms or the night! Anything else for ye?”

“None yet, but we will let you know.” Iason spoke

“It’ll be a good night for ye! Ya be sure o’that!” The uncharacteristically short man spoke while dusting off his hands making it seem he’d actually done some work with the little transaction and moved deeper into the Two Shekels leaving the gathered company with the remaining ale.

10. All’s Well

There was a collective gasp and both Vandrose and Iason disappeared from their chairs. A pop and a shower of sparks lit from outside, but left Aebben and Keppel none the wiser to what had just happened.

Keppel was tipsy even from weak ale that was offered and it took a moment for his wits to come about. Aebben waited a moment, but cleanly moved from his chair and filtered through the crowd. Keppel got caught up on every chair and patron on his way to the center door to look out onto the street to see what had occurred.

There were already words being shouted, the smell of burnt flesh and the hiss of a drawn sword. The latter prompted cursing about a “blade being drawn” and “we’ve got trouble”. Outside, while Keppel’s eyes adjusted to the dim light, he could see Aebben’s back moving toward the cluster of posturing men all standing above a form hunkered down to the city street.

Ghost. I should have summoned you! Keppel thought.

“Stay your hand or suffer the wrath of Cuthbert!” Vandrose was clearly engaged with one of them. Keppel could make out a blade wavering to and fro in the dirt with Iason engaging a dark skinned man with his fists.

It sent a shiver down his spine. These were Nessian faces. Whispers through the crowd had dropped the word “pirates” more than once. Nessian pirates. It brought about more than a little fear in Keppel.

Nothing good could come from Nessia. He had only seen a few in his days and he had deeply despised each one he had met and he had no reason to feel otherwise.

A whistle and a shout in the distance brought about another tumbling of whispered words. “The guards!”, with that you could hear the distant jangling of metal through the streets. Keppel was bewildered by it all, what was happening was happening fast. Keppel eyed Aebben engaged with the third shadowy figure in the mix, swinging in with his shield, but taking a few blows from a notched club in return.

The hunched figure became clearer now, a woman, another Nessian, holding a small smoking bundle. It looked like a small animal, still smoking from where the fur had been burned off. It was clearly the source of the smell that wafted in the air. It brought up a well of bad feelings in Keppel, but the protection his new friends were offering could not be slighted.

The three of them were engaged and Keppel could only think of how to escape. Blood was showing on all three of them. They had all taken a few painful scores from the handily wielded clubs. The woman weakly called to Iason, “You should go,” and pointed to an alleyway tucked alongside the Two Shekel’s. He was still readily engaged, though, and did not pay any mind to her plea.

Keppel couldn’t help buy wonder why the sword was planted in the ground, but approached Iason from behind, “You best grab your sword and go, friend!”

Keppel spent a moment and concentrated on summoning. One thing that he had learned was that he did not only need to summon his own Eidolon, but could also attempt at summoning other creatures as well. His mind brought about a visual of a large street rat that he’d seem moving among the crates of the Dirty Row that was dockside just outside of The Tower. This creature appeared at his feet and instantly engaged the leader of the rabble, but to little effect.

Vandrose’s ability to speak eloquently while engaged in combat was paramount. He spoke to the group, vowing vengeance and pain if they did not follow their leader’s path. There was the tingle of magic being used, but it was entirely unfamiliar to Keppel, stirring other senses that were similar but tangential to his own. The leader’s eyes popped wide open and, without a moment’s hesitation, he sped down the street. The newly summoned rat creature followed closely behind, dogging his trail.

The other two, mid-attack, saw this and faltered in their own conviction and quickly took flight to fall in step behind their once fearless leader.

During this moment of chaos, Keppel approached the woman and pulled at her. A strange look had passed between Iason and her. She was bewildered and unsettled, but Keppel was unsure of what had taken place earlier to prompt such a reaction. She clung to Iason briefly, but then let Keppel pull her along toward the alleyway she had motioned to earlier.

After the Nessian pirates disengaged, Iason picked up his sword and quickly sheathed it then bolted past Keppel, taking the woman by the arm and led her into the alleyway. Keppel moved into the fenced seating area nearest the alleyway. Aebben was bloodied and scuffed with a large swelling mound on his head. He nonchalantly moved into the crowd in front of the Two Shekel, took a seat and said, clearly over the commotion, “Give me an ale.” Then and there, a patron moved his ale over. Keppel could see a few people clapping him on the shoulder and other’s moving away. Keppel whistled sharply toward Aebben, who flagged him to go on.

The whistling grew loud and a few people moved into the Two Shekels to avoid what was to come next. A fair number of uniformed guards moved into view as Keppel mounted the low fence and moved to the end of the alleyway to meet up with the others. Characteristic for the sheerness that the city was built on, the alleyway had a large waste bin with a short ladder pulled down that went to the next level of the city.

The group was clustered together just inside of the alleyway a short climb away from Keppel. There was conversation going as he finally got within hearing range.

Vandrose was testing Iason’s wounds and under his fingers, and with a few spoken words, the itch of magic again filled Keppel’s sense and Iason’s wounds began to knit and blood clotted where it was leaking earlier. The blows they had both taken looked well on their way to mending. Keppel hadn’t seen anything like this, but had heard of it from the churches and temples of the area. Those who had a religious bent were much more inclined for this work.

It was strange, though, because Vandrose did not look like a mild healing sort. His manner was far sharper and more apt to action than such would imply.

Iason was appreciative of the help and turned his attention to the Nessian woman.

“Are you well?” Iason said. He reached his hands out to take her shoulders, but thought better of it.

She had a very timid nature about her. She was holding the corpse of a small dog-like animal and cradled it close. It was something she clearly had affection for before its demise. The sadness seemed to disable her and her decisions had been slow and clearly confused with the emotions that had stirred.

“Yes. I don’t think I would have done well there without you.” She looked up into Iason’s face. “I remember you.”

“Yes. From the orphanage,” Iason seemed lost in his own recollection, ”one day you just disappeared.”

“The others were not … nice, but you? But you were nice to me. Distant, but genuine and nice.” She spoke softly, in a way confirming these things to herself.

“I should remember your name.” It was after a moment’s thought as Iason plunged the depths of his mind. The woman seemed to be urging it along, as if remembering her name would somehow complete the connection. “Suri? Is it? Now that I think of it, it seemed longer.”

“Nusurika, but Suri for short.” She nodded, she looked down a bit sheepish as a slight smile pulled at her lips.

In kind, Iason smiled to himself in the deepening darkness, perhaps unaware of it himself.

“We should find a place to lay low,” Iason boldly continued, pushing that moment of tenderness aside, “Standing in this alley isn’t safe. Do you know of a place?”

“There is a place. The Fearsome Kraken, it is a moments walk up the street.” She took a few steps toward the alley’s exit and looked down the street in the establishment’s direction.

It was a short time before they reached the establishment, it was a fair bit quieter than the Two Shekels. Iason, Vambrose, Keppel and Nusurika all took sets around a small round table. A smartly dressed, but unremarkable girl served them drinks while they began to muse about the situation.

“What were they after?” Iason probed.

“I am not sure,” Nusurika furrowed her brow a bit, seeming to weigh what she would say about it, “I had just come off the ships and these men seemed intent to harm me. If you hadn’t been there …” She trailed off, knowing the answer. It was a grim reminder of the frailty of humanity. Even for a Nessian.

“I will summon a new companion tomorrow.” She said, clearly stricken with grief. She took the small corpse and funneled it into a burlap textured sack.

“Did you have anything of value? Anything they’d know about?” Iason probed further. Vambrose nodded at Iason’s words; they seemed to be on the same page.

“I was making a delivery to the Friar. We had these made for the special occasion of the reading of Acada DuLak’s Will.” She pulled out a satin wrap which nestled a finely wrapped leather case, which she sprung open and showed the contents as a sparkling pair of crafted spectacles. They were of phenomenal quality, as was the silk lined case. Keppel couldn’t help but nod in approval of the craftsmanship.

Nusurika suddenly became aware of herself and looked at everyone who was looking at the small treasure in her hand. She snapped it closed, slid it back into the satin and way from prying eyes.

“I’ll be back. I must find what’s become of my recently discovered half-brother.” Keppel warned. He had been itching to go and retrieve Aebben from the Two Shekels. He also wanted Ghost to be here.

It was one of those things that only took a few moments, but it was more about other’s reactions. He had done this in Thessalya in front of others and sent them scurrying off in fear. The whole process was intimidating, and here, he just wanted it to be subtle. He went outside in the quiet of an alleyway and, somewhat unceremoniously, summoned Ghost. The intelligent beast looked around the area, doing it’s usual testing of weight and balance when he became physical.

Echoing his mood, Ghost had taken on a slightly darker tinge from the usual bright, glassy white and blue that usually lined his fur and scales. Now it was more of a navy with gray and black scales and fingernails. His mane was pepper with some of the same coloring and the creatures eyes were more yellow. The obvious pictogram of the dreaded ice comet clearly show on the beast’s forehead telling Keppel that the same was obvious on his own likeness.

“Trouble?” As Ghost spoke, he turned slightly toward Keppel and inclined his wolfish face in a very human motion.

“There was, but not anymore.” Keppel tightened his lips into a grimace.

“Very well then.” Settling into his haunches and staring at the wall straight ahead. Keppel wanted to speak, but sat for a moment with the beast briefly explaining the events of the night. Ghost sat, unperturbed, but also much more distant than normal.

“You’re quite stoic, you know. And unnecessarily so, I might add.” Keppel added with a bit of heat.

Ghost cocked his head slightly, but in a very humanlike gesture, probably something he had picked up from Keppel himself, he did a wolfen shrug.

“You’re angry because I haven’t summoned you since I’ve been travelling.”

“Anger is relative.”

“Well, please, I beg you not to do this here. We’re here now and I think that people are more likely to be able to handle … uh,” Keppel spoke, trying to put things delicately, ”Someone like you.”

Ghost had become far more of an echo of Keppel’s own personality since he had gained a physical form. Thus, he’d seemed to achieve all the same sensitivities, ability to like and dislike and, most importantly, to brood.

Generally, Ghost was happy sort, but since this trip started, Ghost had been waiting patiently in his other-planar realm, which was akin to a sort of solitary confinement. His adjustment to being included in the human timeline, to which he was now acutely aware, hadn’t been quite as smooth as one would have hoped. This was especially so since he did not overtly need to rest and--apparently, from frequent tests--winked out of this plane when Keppel went to sleep.

Keppel shook his head, slightly fed up. One thing that did benefit Keppel, though, since the creature had been summoned and taken on this form, he had the privacy of his own mind without Ghost picking at his thoughts.

“Let’s go, there are some people I’d like you to meet.” Keppel moved to the mouth of the alley, beckoning Ghost along.

“Very well.” Ghost spoke, in a tellingly flat tone.

Keppel moved back into the Fearsome Kraken followed by Ghost. The Mister of the pub immediately stood and moved his way through the crowd toward their table.

“Iason, Vambrose, Nusurika, this is Ghost.” Nusurika’s face pinched with disgust at the mention of the name. “He’s my … pet?” This brought a bit of a reaction from Ghost, who looked up a Keppel with what could only be considered indignation.

“Sorry, I’m still not sure how to approach this, but I wanted him about if we ran into any other trouble. I am going to fetch Aebben from the Two Shekels.”

“We’re not going to have any trouble here, are we?” The Mister eased in next to Keppel and spoke low for only those at the table to hear.

“What? Oh. No. No trouble.” Keppel was intensely uncomfortable. This is most of the reason why he hadn’t summoned Ghost until now.

“I have your word on that?” The Mister was deadly serious. “I’ve seen this trick before, so I just need your word.”

“You could ask him yourself?” Keppel referred to Ghost, who again looked sullenly at Keppel. “Ghost?”

After a moment of uncomfortable silence Keppel spoke again, “He won’t cause any trouble. He’ll be here with them.”

Everyone at the table was looking at Ghost with a little discomfort, but since there didn’t seem to be trouble, the Mister moved on.

“I’ll be back.” Keppel announced then he looked at Ghost, “Stay. With them … I mean.”

Keppel left, shaking his head. Ghost is going to be incorrigible after this.

11. Bumps and Bruises

Keppel lit down the alleyway and took the ladder down to the large trash bin tucked in to the alley near the Two Shekels. Two guards were loitering in the alleyway, talking amongst themselves until they caught sight of him.

“What’s your business here?” One of the guards barked, which put Keppel off of his already tepid mood.

“I have a room at the ‘Shekels.” Keppel announced while continuing to light down the ladder.

“You should use the street like everyone else!” The guard had an increasing edge in his voice, showing his displeasure with the nonchalant exchange, perhaps he thought that being a guard would demand respect and perhaps Keppel should have been a tad more aware of it, but at this point, he didn’t care.

“Why? It takes two shakes instead of long walk.” Keppel’s tone insisted they listen to reason, while feigning an off-putting ignorance to the guard’s need for respect.

“Just … be careful getting down, then.” The guard immediately grumbled to his compatriot while Keppel padded past them and rounded the corner. Aebben was still in place, the bleeding had stopped, at least. The ale he had been drinking from that had been refilled at least twice, and likely on the neighborly offerings of others.

“We’re up at another pub, called the Fearsome Kraken.” Keppel eased into a vacant seat at the table. He looked in the mug. There was a chunk of blood clotting in the bottom of the drink making it look wholly unappetizing.

“But we have rooms here?” Aebben slurred slightly, but still quite lucid.

“Yes, we are coming back. We’re just walking that woman home and then visiting the Friar’s. You should join us.”

“Very well.” He groaned and hefted himself on his feet. His brow pinched as either too much ale or a massive headache from the goose-egg tried to push him back down. He steadied himself and followed Keppel.

They made their way through alleyway where the guards had now departed, then up street leading up to the Kraken. There was slight commotion from the left side of the street as an armorer’s shop, open far later than normal. There was a torch lit and it looked as if it was still welcoming business.

A tall, stalwart being nearly fell as it stumbled from the shop and into the path of Keppel and Aebben.

“Watch were yer goin’!” The gruff female bellowed at Aebben.

This sent Keppel’s hair on end. A woman? The torchlight from the store had masked her face, but it was now readily apparent that she was yet another mix of human and … something else. Pale green skin with standing wolf-like ears with large teeth curving up from her bottom lip. She was quite curvaceous but with incredibly solid shoulders and back. All composed on a well defined body. It was clear you were looking at a woman, but the amount of raw power and potency she possessed was frightening and disconcertingly attractive to Keppel. He’d had this problem before.

The stocky, gray-green skinned woman stalked back into the armor shop she had stumbled out of, a loose fitting legging was hanging by a strap and likely the cause for the mishap.

Keppel nudged Aebben and tried to give an approving look, but Aebben had already moved into the armor shop. It was late, torches lined the inside of the shop and a sweating man of some heft was looking on at the woman with more than a little fear crawling through his eyes.

“Fit these vambraces!” She shoved a well-muscled smooth arm sporting a loose bit of armor at the sweating man.

“I don’t fit the armor! I just sell it!” He was beside himself. His eyes rolled, and you could see they were rimmed with red. Each time they orbited, it was as if he was about to faint.

“Let me help with that.” Aebben offered. An angsty smirk graced the woman’s face and Aebben carefully kept his eyes attentive to her most important details while working the leather bindings. He pulled the leather thongs tight clearly pinching the skin, which didn’t even make her eyes flutter with any sort of pain. She turned to the shopkeep and slyly jabbed Aebben in the stomach while she was turned away. He winced slightly, but it seemed to only embolden him in his attempt.

“This’s a man who knows how to fit armor,” She slammed her newly fitted vambrace on the wooden counter, leaving a nice dent to work out later.  “I’ll take this.”

While money changed hands, Keppel stood at a distance. Whatever lessons in courting Aebben had taken, they were definitely a bit more aggressive than Keppel was used to. He wasn’t much for pain. He’d learned that lesson a while ago from a woman who was far better fit, as well as more attractive, than this behemoth.

“What happened to you?” Her raspy voice was low. She practically palmed Aebben’s head with her large hands and pressed on the large bump that was still oozing from his early advance into battle. She brought her bloodied fingers to her own lips.

“Nothing I couldn’t take.” Aebben’s nonchalant response was a tad labored, he had taken some decent blows from the Nessian vagabonds in defense of Nusurika.

Keppel felt a bit sheepish, or disgusted, he was unsure which. He turned away and moved out into the street, spying a few wandering beggars moving amongst the shadows in the street. It had gotten dark very quickly and he was wondering what his other companions were doing. He looked back into the armor shop from a distance just in time to see the woman hit Aebben across the face with her open palm. It was far more than a slap, but a concussive blow that had to have him ringing. Keppel winced from a distance, but Aebben looked back into her face and they exchanged words riled from lust more than anger.

Aebben strode out with a conquering stance, holding himself straight and high. It was something he’d not seen from Aebben’s closed in nature since he met him. Apparently, conquest has its benefits.

“Katra. That’s her name.”

“Oh? That seemed … painful.”

“Yes, oh by God yes.” He smiled to himself and moved ahead with renewed vigor. “Where are we off to again?”

“That, uh, the Kraken right up there.”

Aebben and Keppel walked through the door to the Inn. Everyone still sat at the table speaking quietly. The pub had slowed a bit and some had filtered out into the night air. It looked as if Iason, Nusurika and Vambrose were just about to stand up. Ghost remained at the same spot, sitting unnaturally still.

“He said he could sense you coming,” Vambrose said, eyeing the great, brooding frost wolf.

“It was about time, too. We’re taking Nusurika home and making the delivery the Friar.” Iason said flatly. He was ready to move on with the business of the night.

It was a short walk with some conversation to where Nusurika resided. It was a large, stately structure. As they approached, ravens lifted into the air in an unnaturally uniform way, and swung around the area in a large loop overhead. As the group stood at the base of the wide steps, the ravens settled back in, with hundreds of eyes and feathers glinting in the natural and magical torchlight that lined the approach.

Great banners draped from high places announcing the Bin Cabal without words but symbols and bright colors. And, though the doors were open, there was a tension in the air that kept one from advancing. Something about the building, perhaps its history, made it deeply foreboding. The itch of magic consumed Keppel, even at this distance. It felt incredibly dangerous to be there.

Iason and Nusurika exchanged a few words that were tenuously bound with a thread of tenderness. She was a striking woman, but Keppel’s senses had built up such a prejudice for those of Nessian descent that it was hard to see her little more as yet another dangerous woman who’d likely try to gut you if you got in her way.

Nusurika had no issue ascending the stairs and being swallowed up in those grand, open doors. Keppel could just make out the lines upon lines of text and runes etched around every portal and every path leading into the grand hall beyond, there was an incredible amount of magical warding infused with the wood and stone. It might as well have been bars, guards and the most dangerous mercenaries one could hire lining these walkways and paths. Keppel shivered at the thought.

One misstep and you’re done for. It was likely that it wouldn’t happen exactly like that, but with the brutality this city had already seen, he wouldn’t have been surprised.

“They killed the members of the church and desecrated this; a once holy church of Cuthbert.” Vambrose said quietly, but with enough force for all close to hear. “They felt the church had … overstepped.” There was a tension lining his words and his frame as he spoke.

“These are good people, but the cost …” He trailed off, his leather gloves protesting slightly as he cranked his fists.

Iason watched as Nusurika slipped into the darkness, paying little attention to Vambrose’s musings.

The group wandered from the front of the converted Church somewhat listlessly.

Appendix - Additional Notes

Iason, the Orphan.

Vandrose, the Zealot.

Keppel, the Bastard.

Aebben, the other Bastard.

Nessian Witch: Nusurika Gotward http://www.gamepointworlds.com/Witches/NusurikaGotward_.html

Vandrose Belemonte  http://www.gamepointworlds.com/Witches/VandroseBelamont.html

Aebben does not have a last name  http://www.gamepointworlds.com/Witches/Aebben.html

Two Shekels: Arno Brian and Elenor Brian

The Fearsome Kraken

Go to the Orphanage. Kids, kids and more kids.

The friar, “why can’t these kids stay in bed?”.

The find glasses delivered.

Until tomorrow.

Morning time, breakfast of bread, butter and honey with milk.

To the reading.

Barrister and will.

The song of the Tetracora.

The gifts.

The estate.

And the barrister takes his leave.

To DuLak’s estate.

two wine glasses and a worn, but well tended sword.

Upstairs, trinkets, notes, instruments.

A bed.

Retelling the story of the song and how he emulates it and how our gifts coincide.