Back  To The Gassenti Chronicles  


The ride to Dreet Proper took a couple of days, during which time the ladies got to know each other better. On their first relaxed evening together, Victoria, being a Bard, began singing about the history of Gassenti. As the flames died down around the campfire she sang:

"...And Lo, though they knew

all was lost, and grimly

held their spears and swords,

The Claw of Dralg did ride

the waves, and behind it

sailed his endless hoards.

"Kyreen, though all thought

her maiden fair, knew

her heart would always soar,

She turned from elf to

Dragon's form, and rose,

to see Bremore no more.

"She crashed into the Claw

and never rose again.

And then the tide was turned,

without their master Dralg to

lead them all to war,

most fled back to Murhn..."

Victoria let the last note die down before saying anything more.

"Not the best version of the history, to be sure, but I get many requests for it."

"It felt very awkward," said Perah-Perah, trying her best to be diplomatic.

"Well, it's not as if I wrote it. Personally I don't care for it, it loses a lot in the translation. Also a lot of people don't want to hear new songs unless they sound really old. I give them what they want."

"Oh? What about your artistic integrity?"

"It doesn't pay the bills."

"Well, I think the story was beautiful," said Rosileen, roasting some meat over the coals, "I've always found the story of Kyreen and Bremore to be so sad and poignant." "Hmph," said Perah-Perah.

"Hmph?" said Rosileen, but Perah-Perah didn't reply at first. Rosileen pressed further, "You don't find their story touching?" Victoria sighed, she could see where this was going.

"To be honest, no," said Perah-Perah, "I was talking about this with my tutor before, and I think it is sick! A dragon and a human, it's bestiality!"

"But she wasn't a dragon when they... you know..." said Rosileen.

Victoria cut in, "There actually isn't any records of if they "did it" or not, but I understand Perah-Perah's point of view. I wondered about that myself for a while."

"Not you too!" Rosileen almost wailed, the story of Kyreen and Bremore had been one of her childhood favorites.

"No, I didn't say I still think like that. The way I see it is this: You are what you think. Kyreen spent so much time among humans and elves that she even thought like us. When she was in human form she was as good as human physically as well."

"But she wasn't human!" Perah-Perah insisted.

"So, elves and humans breed, and they are different species!"

"That's different!" Asyra interjected, the subject hit close to home.


"Well... for one thing they can have children. That makes it natural. Could Kyreen have had Bremore's children?"

Victoria thought about it, "I honestly wouldn't know. Probably not."

"Then it's not natural!"

"Whoa!" said Rosileen, "What about half-orcs. Are you saying breeding with orcs is natural?"

"Orcs used to be elves, you know," Perah-Perah pointed out, "they were just corrupted by evil or mad forces in a time before anyone remembers. So that compatibility remained intact."

"Fine, what about Succubuses?"


"Succubuses. Female demons, meant to lure men to corruption and damnation. They can breed with men. I've heard of men who would give their right nu... their eternal soul to sleep with one."

"Even the Gods are said to have had mortal children," added Victoria, "In the old songs, anyway. Besides, dwarves and humans can't have children, does that mean it's not natural for dwarf to fall in love with anyone else?"

Perah-Perah didn't have an answer and said instead, "It still seems wrong."

Victoria nodded her understanding, and started to strum a melody while she talked, "It's a shape thing. If something looks humanoid, its okay, but a dragon is a big lizard, and regardless of its intelligence, the way it thinks, or ability to look otherwise, it still seems like a big lizard."


"Then I'd say if it was bestial for anyone it would be the dragon. Many of the older ones were far more intelligent than us. To them a relationship with a mere humanoid would be like one of us shagging a sheep! But I doubt you would want to see it that way, would you?" she strummed a high note to mimic her question, but Perah-Perah had no answer besides another, "Hmph!"

"Then it's just one of those things, right? You either accept it, or you don't. I'd say there's no reason for anyone to get worked up about it."

"But..." began Rosileen.

Victoria raised an eyebrow and continued to play, upping the tempo a little, "Are you going to tell a Gassail worshiper to smarten up and start worshiping Salias?"

"No, that wouldn't be tolerant. That's what Dralgism would teach."

"Exactly," she said, strumming the last cord, letting the note die in the air. There was a pause, and the pause lasted long enough that everyone took it for the status quo. Without another word, the debate ended. Victoria leaned back on the ground, and noticed Soo looking at her with a slightly stunned expression, impressed with her finesse in bringing things to an end, "Once you've settled several hundred drunken barroom arguments about religion and philosophy, you get used to it." She'd never say, however, that the real secret was the music.

The next day they reached Dreet Proper, which lay along the Dreet coastline.

Long ago Gassenti had been a mere territory of an ancient empire from across the ocean called Murhn. Among the many things they did to screw up the island was divide it into its present boundaries, based on resources and projected uses rather than practical things like mountains and rivers. These boundaries had caused territorial squabbles that existed to the modern day.

Another source of confusion was the capital city. The capital and county each used the same name, which people adapted to by always referring to the capital as "Proper".

As Perah-Perah and the others rode into Dreet Proper, it was impossible to miss the great castle near its center, not because it was so big, but because of the two massive trees that grew on either side of it. The canopy of the trees were higher than the castle itself.

Rosileen was in awe, "How did they do that? They're so big! "Magic," Perah-Perah answered simply, but even she was impressed.

Victoria leaned over to Rosileen, and pointed to a branch, "Look closer."

She did, and saw that on each of the trees one massive branch actually extended into the castle, and that higher up towards the canopy there were platforms and buildings.

"The trees are part of the castle?"

Victoria nodded, "It was grown to symbolize the merging of the elvish and human peoples, back when Lord Darl was alive."

"Of course, most of the nobility is elvish now," said Perah-Perah, "but why waste a good metaphor?"

The rest of the city was made up of wooden or stone buildings, but none were more than three stories in height. There was a certain craftsmanship in the local architecture, much fancier than Scry, and much more of it; a sign that the local elvish carvers and engravers were being given a steady income.

Against reason, it was expanding, too. Besides being virtually immortal, elves were notoriously slow reproducers, leading many scholars to believe humans would simply out-breed them in the long run. And though the county of Dreet was mostly elvish, the population at Dreet Proper was growing. So much so that the city walls were currently being extended by workers on the south end. Perah-Perah suspected it was an increase in half-elves that accounted for part of it.

They passed by the marketplace, where people were politely haggling over all manner of goods. This differed greatly from haggling in Scry, where Perah-Perah noticed the only politeness you got came after you bought something, before that it was war.

In the distance they could see the harbor, with many a tall ship in its port. Though they had been invaded several times from across the ocean, the people of Gassenti had little interest in trying to return the favor, and so had few ships capable of making such a voyage. The ships in port were cargo carriers, practical, and not intended to sail out of sight of land.

The large, magically grown oaks loomed in front of them, ten times larger than any decent oak should be. These trees could easily get a lecture from any local plant related god about not knowing its place in nature. Looking straight up at them from below gave an uneasy feeling of reverse vertigo, as if you would get sucked up into them if you weren't careful.

The castle beside them was no less impressive, however. It was ten stories high, made of white polished stone, with six towers, three on each side. The original design had been human, but over the years more and more elvish design had been added.

The entire front walls had been engraved with the shape of two giant trees, like those which flanked it. On the trunks of the etched trees were many old elvish runes, with words of peace and wisdom scrolled along up into the branches. If one saw the castle at night, these runes would glow softly, as would the entire outline of the carved trees.

Nari was not allowed beyond the city gates, but the guards had kennels and stables available for him. He wasn't the only giant wolf there, either. Two others sat mournfully awaiting their masters.

Perah-Perah scratched him behind his big ears, and straightened his silver bow before closing the gate, "Don't worry, it won't be too long, hopefully."

The ladies rode up to the front gate of the great castle, where your standard unwelcoming welcome party did their best not to welcome them. Perah-Perah handed them the scroll from her father, which they scrutinized. Then, in the usual grudging way of guards who have been outwitted at a game of chess because they couldn't "go fish" for more pieces, stood aside.

Inside there were two other guards, whose job it was to escort the ladies within the castle. They weren't quite as menacing, but didn't exactly give them a tour, either.

Despite the elegance and beauty of the decor, with fine engravings and murals, there was a kind of stark, efficient air about the castle. Perhaps even cold. Perah-Perah found it hard to feel at home here, but perhaps that was the point, she wasn't supposed to.

As they passed more of this artwork, beautiful yet cold and unwelcoming, Perah-Perah almost longed for her father's tackiness. Almost. The problems here were easier to fix, she felt, unlike her father's (which required a fireball or two, something beyond her means at this time).

As they were led to the throne room, the situation didn't get any better. Checkerboard black and white marble with white pillars on either side of a marble staircase, with only a white carpet leading up to it. The thrones themselves were also white marble. The Lord's was empty, but Lady Lassailia sat upon the other, and sat waiting for them to be brought before her. Considering the size of the room, this took a while.

They stopped short of the steps, and Perah-Perah noticed the guards were still standing next to them. One of them brought the scroll to Lassailia, and she gently waved them both to leave. She examined the scroll carefully.

"I see..." she said, almost to herself. Her voice, though beautiful, seemed equally cold, "So how is my good friend Nydassa?"

Good friend, when did this happen? Perah-Perah thought, and saw an equal hidden shock in her sister's expression. Her father was known and respected in his legal front operation, but the rulers of Gassenti knew who and what he was, and it seemed out of place to be given this burden of friendship. Something was up.

"My father is well, Lady Lassailia. He wishes me to-"

"-Excuse me, Miss? Miss Lady Ma'am?" it could only be Soo.

Many people say they don't suffer fools gladly, Lady Lassailia on the other hand didn't suffer them at all. She made them suffer. "You will address me as 'Lady Lassailia' or 'My Lady', young child, or you will not address me at all," she said sternly.

Soo suddenly felt somewhat smaller than usual, "Yes, My Lady, ma'am."

"Good. Now, what is so important that you had to interrupt your companion to tell me?"

"I was just wondering if you actually lived here?"

Lassailia's expression went from puzzled to baffled. Such questions were simply not asked, not in polite society, and certainly not to the leader of such a large region! If there was any chance of taking this as a joke, it quickly faded.

Soo blundered on, "It's just the elves I know would never want to live here."

"Child, you will not speak to me again unless I speak to you first. Is that understood?"

Soo opened her mouth, stopped herself in time, and nodded.

"Now, to business. You were saying, Ms. Nydassa?"

Ah-ha, business. Things suddenly became a little more clear.

"My father is well, My Lady," said Perah-Perah, "he sends his warmest regards."

"Indeed? You must return them when you see him next."

"I certainly shall."

"I understand your father is going to be hosting an exhibition this summer. I am curious to see it."

"Yes, My Lady. I'm sure he would be honored by your presence."

The polite banter was slightly annoying, it said nothing yet pretended to say much. Still, she felt like she could easily get used to it. It went on for a short time before the Lady's tone changed.

"Do you have something for me?" she suddenly asked.

Perah-Perah put on the theatrics, casting her head down, "I am sorry to say that we do not. Our mission was fraught with peril, and orcs which we believe came from Halffarthing."

"Orcs? In my land?"

"Yes, I am afraid so. Though we came close to the prize, they escaped with it. Somehow they knew of it before or at the same time as we did."

Lassailia stood from her chair, atop the stairs she towered over them, "How many were there?"

"A dozen, My Lady," Perah-Perah said, almost enjoying the stilted formal tones, "we slew all but one who-"

"Slew?" Lassailia cut in, "Did you say slew?"

"Yes, My Lady."

Lassailia stood from her marble chair. It was not the urgent leap of someone in a state of panic, nor the slow lazy rise of one who didn't care for 'these petty affairs'. She stood with grace, but it was all business.

"Who killed first?"

"My lady, they injured and bound a fellow elf,"

"Who killed first?"

"They kidnaped the child and were going to kill her."

"I ask you one last time, who killed who first?"

Perah-Perah knew where this was going, and didn't like it one bit. At the time it had seemed the right thing to do, people in her organization killed all the time when people were in the way. But lying here could only lead to more trouble.

"We did, My Lady."

"This is unfortunate," she said, walking down the few steps to the marble floor, "but you are from Scry so it may not matter. You are not under my rule, but I had hoped as a fellow elf you would have showed better discretion."

Perah-Perah's voice went cold, "They were in our way, My Lady."

Lady Lassailia allowed herself a icy smile, "Of course. I understand your Syndicate has a certain way of handling matters. But when your father and I discussed this, we were quite clear that things were to be done by the rules, and those include MY rules. I have no wish to see my fellow elves die because a feud was needlessly started," she emphasized 'needlessly' as if the need was not that far away in any case. Perah-Perah's fists clenched.

"We apologize, My Lady," Asyra cut in, noticing her sister was not maintaining her temper as well as she should and probably shouldn't say anything for the next couple of minutes, "However, we were not the people intended to carry out the mission, and have not been fully trained. When it was apparent the orcs were after the same artifact, we had to stand in as best we could."

Lassailia seemed to think about this, then seemed in an instant to ponder several different options and weigh them all carefully, the sisters were left with the impression than not all of the options were entirely favorable, "Yes, the letter did mention something like that, when your other agents signed it over to you. I think I will be able to avoid a diplomatic incident with Halffarthing should anything arise. Now, I would like you to tell me your entire story, leave no details out. I will then see in what way I can help you."

What struck Perah-Perah most when telling the story was how Lassailia's interest suddenly peaked when they mentioned Lysander, and the shock and sorrow in her eyes when she reached the point of his death. When she finished, Lassailia didn't speak for what felt like several minutes. She fought to maintain her composure, and eventually won.

"Lysander was... an old friend. It saddens me to hear of his passing."

"If it helps at all, My Lady" Perah-Perah said, "he went down fighting."

Lassailia turned her head away from them, "I'm sure you mean that as a comfort, but if you knew why he retired to the country you might not think so. He probably went with you out of a sense of wounded pride, that and his unwillingness to see those at the beginning of their lives come to the end so quickly," she sighed, a great weight put on her shoulders.

"This orc woman, do you know her name?"

Perah-Perah couldn't remember, "No, My Lady."

Soo raised her hand. Lassailia ignored her. Soo waved her hand. Lassailia still tried to ignore her. Soo jumped up and down and waved her hand saying "Oh! Oh!" Finally, Lady Lassailia gave in.

"What is it, child?"

"I know her name."

"What is it?"

"It's Sephilith, My Lord-"

"Lady!" Rosileen sharply whispered with a prod in her ribs.

"-Lady. When she wasn't around some of her people referred to her as 'The Fast Hunter.'"

Lassailia stared at the teenager appraisingly, "And you saw her face, too, I suspect."

"Yes, ma'-er Lady!"

"Very well. Perah-Perah and Asyra, stand before me," they did so. "Your father wishes me to be responsible for the next step of your mission. Though I am sure he would like you returned home safe and sound at this time, I am afraid the situation is too serious, and time is too short. I wish for you to make your way to Halffarthing Proper and find this 'Fast Hunter' named Sephilith. Her name is known to me, and I believe she is part of the Thieves Guild there.

"I wish for you to take the child with you, as she is the only one who can truly identify this orc-woman. Find her, and retrieve the book."

"Yes, My Lady."

"And then kill her."

For one tense moment, nobody spoke. Nobody was sure they heard her correctly, after the fuss she made about politics earlier.

"Excuse me?" said Perah-Perah, her patience wearing thin, "After everything you just-"

"The same reasons the last incident will be forgotten here will be forgotten there. You are outsiders on matters of your own."

"We are not assassins. It may be unavoidable, we may have to kill her in order to return the book, but I have no intention of going out of my way to do so!"

Lassailia's voice was as impassive as ever, "I see. Very well, but know I would consider her death to be a personal favor, regardless of how it comes about. It shouldn't be hard for her to be 'in the way' as you so tactfully put it. I hope we are clear on the matter."

"Yes,_My Lady," all too clear, thought Perah-Perah.

It was too late in the day to make their start, they were promised provisions and allowed to stay within Lassailia's keep for the night, but Perah-Perah had a bad feeling about taking her up on the matter. Or more accurately put, she just didn't want to. Something about the whole situation was off. This mission was supposed to be secret, yet the orcs and Lady Lassailia already knew of it. Something didn't add up.

But for the night, this didn't matter, what mattered was finding a warm bed and some hot food, and Victoria claimed to know exactly where to go.

"The Drunken Dwarf?"

Asyra sighed, "At least it isn't the Vomiting Ogre, that's down the street."

Perah-Perah's eyes narrowed, and probed Victoria for details, "Are you sure this is where we should stay?"

"Well, it has been a while, I admit. But the prices were as good as the food."

It wasn't until they walked through the door that they realized what a noncommittal answer the last part was.

Some bars have dart boards, The Drunken Dwarf had dwarf boards. The object was to toss a dwarf as close to the bullseye as possible. The dwarves wore a helmet with a spike in the top, and if the helmet stayed in, it was a valid shot.

The dwarves forced to participate in this did so reluctantly. It was the only way the barkeep allowed them to work off unpaid bar tabs. Some less dignified dwarves saw it as a way to get free drinks.

The five women gathered around a single table, Perah-Perah ordered whatever scraps of meat they had lying around for her to give Nari later. Asyra nudged her sister, directing her gaze towards a man sitting in the corner table, seeming to fiddle with a silver coin.

"Look familiar?" she asked.

Perah-Perah looked closer, without trying to attract attention, and noticed the coin was blank save for a large 'V' engraved on one side.

"Vedit?" she whispered, "Here?" Vedit was the official and largely unknown name for what everyone else referred to as the 'criminal underground' or the 'Thieves Guild'.

"Why not? They have agents in every city. My concern is if this one is following us or not."

"This Fast Hunter is part of that Guild, so it is possible... what do you think we should do? Pump him for information?"

"I'm not sure how much pumping we could do," said Asyra hesitantly. "We aren't exactly feared or respected, let alone skilled."

"A length of rope, some butcher's blood and Nari tied to a very frayed rope could change all that."

Asyra eyes glanced briefly back, someone had come to the thief's table and laid down his own coin, a gold one. As they talked they rotated their coins one way or the other. The sisters had been told this was part of the code, which not only helped weed out impostors, but made eavesdropping far less effective. Soon, both men stood, shook hands, and departed.

"Probably nothing, after all," said Asyra.

Perah-Perah humphed, "I still think he might know something."

Asyra noticed their numbers at the table were diminishing, "Where's Soo?"

The sound of a glass window shattering.

"Bets?" said Perah-Perah.

"Even she isn't that stupid," said Asyra.

"One gold coin?"

"You're on."

They went over to the broken window and saw a figure stirring to stand up. It moaned for a moment, a very definite female moan.

"I didn't see any other women in the bar, sis. Pay up."

"Pay up for what?" said Soo, from behind.

Perah-Perah was shocked, "Then who-?" she looked back outside, and saw the figure pick up her staff, and walk back inside the bar with a limp.

"ROSILEEN?" the sisters said together.

Aside from a couple of cuts and bruises, she seemed fine. "Some stupid drunk lummox thought I was a dwarf, and that the dwarf board was on the other wall."

Soo was smiling, "I kicked him in the groin and took his coin purse before the bouncer threw him out," she said helpfully.

Asyra held out her hand, and Perah-Perah reluctantly placed a gold coin in it.

Later that night, Victoria took Soo out to some all night equipment shops. Soo was woefully underequiped for any lengthy journey, and much like Rosileen, Victoria was beginning to feel responsible for her.

After hitting one such store, and were halfway to the next, Victoria noticed she could only hear one set of footfalls. She looked behind her, but Soo was still there, making no noise at all with her feet.

They kept walking, and Victoria entered the next equipment shop.

"Now this place makes the best rope in Dreet. Not the timid weak stuff you get most places. This is real elvin-" she looked around, but Soo was nowhere to be found.

"Soo? Soo-oo?" she called, looking back outside the door. She looked in some nearby alleyways, looked for footprints, but the road too hard packed. She found nothing.

News of Soo's disappearance was met with mixed reaction. Rosileen somehow felt that she failed someone she considered under her care, while Asyra and Perah-Perah wondered if this was just the careless erratic behavior of a child, or something worse. Perhaps news of their quest had already spread, and there was talk of leaving early that night. In the end, however, it was deemed that a good night's rest was more important than possibly overreacting to the situation.

Rosileen and Victoria, however, took to the streets, but came back a couple hours later without the slightest glimmer of hope. _Dreet Proper was far too vast a city. Soo was gone.

"But Mommmmm!"

Soo obediently followed behind her parents. They were beyond the city gates now, traveling on foot on the old Murhn highway until they were out of sight of civilization.

"Not another word, you incorrigible child, until we get you back home. Then you can explain to the Elder what you've done!" "But the others need me, they're going to get into a lot of trouble!"

"All the better that we found you now," her father said, his stern face like granite and his eyes like little daggers. They had put up with much from such a head strong and compulsive child, and after dealing with her vowed never to have another. But she was their child, and they loved her no matter how crazy she made them. Besides, in one year she would be considered an adult by the Elders, and would no longer be their problem.

"You don't understand," Soo pleaded, "They are doing something important, something about a long lost journal and a-"

"That's ENOUGH," said her mother, in a tone that indicated that it was, indeed, enough. Soo remained silent, knowing it was in her own best interests to do so.

They went off of the highway, and traveled for another hour into the night. They set up a small camp and Soo suggested having something to drink before going to sleep.

A day and a half later, Soo's parents woke up with a throbbing headache.

"Dammit, that child is cunning," said her father after searching the area, "I can't even find any tracks."

"I think she used my own potion against me," said her mother, "I always keep a vial of Long Sleep on me for emergencies."

"How long have we been unconscious?"

"A day, maybe two."

"It's a wonder we weren't eaten alive by something."

"I doubt Soo would have known, but I add an herb which masks the scent of the person."

Soo's father smiled, "Now I remember why I married you, you always think ahead. What I don't remember is why we decided to have a child! I wanted a giant wolf, but you said-"

She cut him off, having heard this argument a dozen times, "Should we go after her?"

"What could we possibly do? She's possibly two days ahead of us, and is determined not to come home. We should go back, inform the Elder and let her live with her own decision."

Soo's mother sighed, "I suppose you're right. But I do hope she is all right."

"All right? She just took out two Rangers without a single blow. I'd be more worried about her enemies!"

Perah-Perah and the others were half a day out of Dreet Proper heading South on the old Murhn highway when they heard something.

"Hoofbeats," said Asyra. Her sister nodded. There was nothing unusual about that, this was one of the main roads, 'built in days of yore' that connected the counties to one another. Lone travelers and caravans passed by all the time. But travel to Halffarthing was limited at best between Dreet and Halffarthing, due to their political and racial differences. Orcs and Elves have never got along.

Also, these hoofbeats were quick. Either the rider was in a hurry to his destination, he was trying to catch up, or he was running away from something.

The four women pulled over to the side of the road and kept one hand on their weapons, just in case. The figure waved his hand as he approached.

"Wait a minute..." said Perah-Perah, squinting her eyes, "That's Soo!"

Soo slowed to a trot as she caught up, "Sorry I'm late, I was unavoidably detained. After all, Miss Lassailia wanted me to tag along, right?"

Everyone groaned a little in agreement. Only Rosileen smiled warmly, though part of her was still reaching for her staff.

As they continued riding to Halffarthing, Victoria noticed something different. "Is that the horse you came to Dreet on, Soo?"

"Uh... sure!"

The Stone Mountains (quite a redundant name) should have been the natural boundary of Halffarthing, but were not. Technically the border extended nearly a hundred kilometers north of them at one point, and gradually met up with them as you traveled westward.

The five travelers, now weary with their hurried pace, tried to find shelter among the mountain walls. Darkness was fast approaching, and the sky threatened rain.

Along the mountain wall they found an opening, big enough for themselves and some of their horses. Rosileen mule, Ben, Victoria's horse, Muse, and Soo's horse, Borrowed (Soo said a horse's name should reflect what it is), had to stay outside.

No sooner had they made themselves comfortable than lightening struck, and the rain started coming down. Victoria struck up a small fire for warmth, but it did little for their spirits; the cave they were in smelled of the dead.

Victoria tried to lighten the mood with a song:

"There once were two brothers from over the sea. They fled Murhn's Emperor to see Gassenti. They pledged their lives and souls to the King, Though both of them wore the traitor's ring.

"When the old King died Faustus took hold of Gassenti's fate, both weak and the bold Though the brothers they said they served the King King Faustus knew they wore the traitor's ring.

"Faustus played the brothers against one another with a Philter of Love and a traitorous lover They both did fall for her when she did sing They fought despite wearing the traitor's ring.

"Thadamat slew his brother by destroying his keep and the crater it left was two miles deep But there was no rejoicing, for then came the King who destroyed forever the traitor's ring.

But alas, poor King Faustus, he acted too late, the Black Ships were coming to fulfill their fate. As the line of Kings ended there was no one to sing, of Ethorod or Thadamat or the traitor's ring."

"I haven't heard that one before," said Rosileen, who had been to many of Victoria's concerts, "Is it new?"

"No, it's actually one of my first. I've always meant to polish it up, though. But you know how it is. A song or story gets stuck in your head and you can't change it for the life of you."

Perah-Perah leaned back behind the fire, "Sounds pretty vague to me. If I didn't study history I would have no idea what you were talking about. Still, it's pretty good."

"Most songs are like that, really. Unless the songs are meant to carry news, like the old Troubadours used to do. Two of the songs I learned as a kid were originally about the news in Rechmond for a week: two weddings, a barn burned down, and gold was found in a new shaft."

"Well, it's better than the Bremore song."

"I never wrote that one. It's as old as Bremore himself, and it didn't translate well. I have to memorize the popular songs, too, you know."

"What's the traitor's ring?" Soo asked suddenly.

Victoria stirred the dying embers, "The brothers Ethorod and Thadamat were planted here by the Emperor of Murhn to gather false trust and then betray the King when Murhn attacked. Even Faustus' half sister was involved indirectly."

Soo was puzzled. This wasn't like the history she was taught at all. She wondered for a moment whose version was right, but stuck by her training. Deny everything. "Ah, that makes sense."

On the first watch as everyone slept, Soo heard something outside. A growl, followed by two more. She knew enough about horses to know they didn't growl, and enough about wolves to know it wasn't a wolf like growl. But a growl generally meant one of three things: something was hungry, something was threatening, or both.

Starving mountain goblins definitely fell into the latter.

A very horse-like whinny alerted the others, but Soo was already in action. She drew her long sword and charged outside, slicing the first goblin she saw in two. Perah-Perah and her sister followed, hurling magic missiles at anything that moved and didn't recognize. Victoria and Rosileen pulled up the rear, only to find even more of the little buggers climbing down the rock face, trying to flank them.

"Look out!" Rosileen yelled as one crept down behind her friend. With a long sweep, she brought her staff around and crushed the goblin's skull, then swung the staff back so it rested under her arm for a brief moment before lashing out again, tripping two others. Seemingly without effort the staff continued upward, over her head, then crashed down on one while Victoria finished off the other with her crossbow.

"Damn... you are good with that thing!" said Victoria reloading.

"Only as good as Salias wills it."

The others made short work of the braver goblins, and the rest retreated back to their own cave, which appeared to be not a hundred yards from the one they were staying at. The hole appeared freshly burrowed, or had been blocked and reopened again recently.

Soo pulled her sword from the last remaining goblin and wiped the blood on the rags it wore. She had barely worked up a sweat. Though they had both done their profession proudly, Asyra and Perah-Perah had to admit that both Soo and Rosileen were proving to be far more useful than either had expected.

When things had settled down, Nari came out of the cave and yawned. Apparently he had slept through the battle.

"We should do something about that cave exit," said Perah-Perah, "Block it up or cave it in."

Victoria shook her head, "Unless you've learned some tricks more powerful than those magic missiles, I don't think we can. We should move on."

It was then that they noticed some of the horses were missing. "Damn," Victoria muttered, "They got Muse, and I think Borrowed can now be renamed Eaten."

"Ben!" cried out Rosileen, searching frantically for her faithful mule. The sister's horses had been kept inside the cave with them, and as such had been kept from harm.

"He's gone, Rosileen," consoled Victoria, "we have to get moving."

Rosileen eyes watered a little, "Poor Ben."

Perah-Perah led her horse out of the cave, "Unfortunately, we'll have to walk until we reach a town with supplies and fresh horses. Even if we double up, one of you would still be walking."

Rosileen looked to the wolf, "I could ride-"

"No, you couldn't."

They broke camp and continued down the mountains. Twilight was upon them, and in the distance could be seen the faint outline of a village.

"We should be there by noon," said Victoria, "I've passed by there before, it's name is-"

Perah-Perah hushed her, "I hear something. Up ahead."

Leaving the horses behind, Perah-Perah and Soo scouted up ahead to see what threat awaited them. They could see a thorny leafy bush shaking, quivering and stopping, then shake, quiver and stop again. A distinct munching sound could be heard.

Perah-Perah sighed in relief, it was unlikely to be a predator. She looked closer and saw in the twilight the shadowy form of a mule, quietly chewing on the leafy bush, oblivious to the existence of horse-eating mountain goblins.

Soo led the mule back to an ecstatic Rosileen, who spent several minutes of nonsensical baby-talk admonishing Ben for making her worry. With Victoria and Soo now doubling up with the sisters, the five of them made their way towards the town before them.

"What's the name of that town again?" asked Perah-Perah.