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Chapter 3: A Recipe for Mutiny-Part 1


It was easy traveling for Loran and Keereth going back through the lightly wooded trails that wound their way north of the abbey to Praidus, but already Loran felt that Alistair would not soon be used to the rigors of travel. His pace was expectedly slower than the accomplished travelers, but his relative inattentiveness is what worried Loran. The priest could not tell his feet from a tree root, as he displayed several times when a long root – or fallen branch, or loose stone, or patch of tall grass – occasionally tripped up the man, causing him to mumble half apologetically to the environment, as though it was his fault. He once caught Keereth eyeing the poor scholar like he would be the dragon’s next pouncing victim if he stumbled over an obvious obstacle one more time.

Loran let it all pass in a generous gesture of good faith. He did not have the heart to fault Alistair his inexperience, as he could remember easily that his feet once made as much noise, his eyes were as blind to the road, and his legs once lagged behind his fellows. The scholar would end up doing what he did best; he would learn. Of that, Loran was most certain.

After one day of such traveling, Loran decided to give him some advice on the subtleties of traveling while they rested for the night. He did not know how to approach the situation lightly, so he just came right out and told him the truth.

“You need to keep your eyes on the road, friend,” Loran told him while they supped.

Alistair shrugged. “I guess I tripped a few times today.”

“Seventeen,” Keereth mumbled, curled up next to the fire.

“It’s not that you tripped,” Loran explained. “Even Kee trips now and then.”

“Really?” Alistair said slyly, looking at Keereth, who conveniently seemed to have fallen asleep.

“The point is that you might not have if you had paid attention to what the road is telling you. This might become a dangerous road by the end, so learn how to read the road while you have the quiet to read.”

“I thought you didn’t want me to read,” Alistair joked.

“Not that book, not while you’re walking,” Loran smiled. “You already have trouble keeping your eyes where they should be.”

“You’re basically saying to watch my step,” Alistair said. “I do keep my eyes on where my feet are going.”

Loran nodded, saying “That’s a good start, but you need to see the steps after the next one, as far ahead as you can see.”

Alistair stroked his chin. “I see now, you’re saying it’s more like a thesis than a story.”

It was Loran’s turn to shrug. “I suppose.”

“Well, it is, you see!” he leaned forward, his eyes brightening. “In a story you wouldn’t want to read ahead, you stay where you are in the moment. But for a thesis, you want to know what it’s all going to be about, so the introduction lets you know what to look forward to.” He spread his hands, looking for Loran’s understanding.

“I … suppose that’s one way to look at it,” the traveler responded, not sure if ever actually read a thesis. “But the first part is important too. You have to be aware of your path and your immediate surroundings as well. It’s not hard really, but it takes some getting used to.”

The scholar nodded, understanding reflected in his features. “Very well, tomorrow I will follow your lead in all things of the path.” He stood up and stretched. “Shall we rest now?”

“Yes, let’s rest,” Loran said. “I’ll keep watch a little while, and then wake Kee to do the rest.”

“Splendid,” Alistair said sleepily, already laid out on his bedroll. Soon, Loran could hear his breathing even out, almost keeping the same time as the dragon by the fire.

In the quiet of night, with nothing but the crackle of the campfire, Loran kept his vigil, but his mind was anything but quiet. It was clear that Alistair was willing to listen to him, if only to learn more, but Loran worried about the others he was to meet. If Klask wanted him to take adventurers on this journey, would they listen to him as easily? Loran knew adventurers could be free spirited and strong willed. Maybe they were mercenaries, only coming under promise of treasure. There was nothing Loran could promise them that he could be sure of, and if he lied he would be lucky if all they did was take his tongue. Even worse, when they found this Orygos, what stopped one from deciding to use it for themselves?

Loran found his eyes had traveled up from the fire to the sky, as though the answers might lay in the stars. His gaze flitted between celestial sparks, and though his heart was troubled, he could tell that his weather would be fair tomorrow, all tells spoke of easy traveling. He could at least have that. They were less than a day out of Praidus, and secrecy and silence were still on his side.

He rubbed his eyes, weary as they were; it seemed as though the stars were moving in the sky. When he brought his gaze back to the heavens, he could still sense something out of place. There, to the northwest … was that star moving?

Yes! Not a streaking light, as a shooting star, but slowly tracking across the sky, a light drifted eastward, as though rushing to meet the sun before it rose.

“Stars nice?” Keereth yawned, drawing Loran’s eyes away. The little dragon was just standing up, his tail sticking up as he stretched.

Loran looked back up, but to his dismay, the moving star was gone. “A little restless, it seems.”

Keereth sniffed. “You tired, need sleep. I watch.”

Loran nodded. Giving Keereth one last pat, he moved to his bedroll and laid down, closing his eyes and letting the stars dance where they may in his dreams.


The next day proved to be far smoother. Alistair’s missteps were fewer, Loran noticed, as they reached Praidus in the warm, clear afternoon. The town was one of Loran’s favorites; it was always busy since it sat on a crossroad that connected the main road out of Harkenal to the Airy Road, a major trade route that connected all the territories on the continent, but the town was small and the residents were few but friendly, most of them were from families that had been there generations. It meant there was always something going on; something new to see in town, but the heart of Praidus was its welcoming people. They were the townsfolk that ran the crossroads, and there was likely someone here knew your name.

“Loran, is that you?” called a voice from across the street. Loran had just come to the market square, which was winding down for the afternoon, heading for the Gray Horizon tavern. He turned to the voice and grinned, seeing a sweet old woman in a bonnet and shawl, slightly bent from age with an old crooked cane, waving to him in recognition.

“Hello, Kimelle!” Loran greeted, waving back and crossing the street with Keereth right behind him. Alistair followed.

“It has been a while young man,” she said, her voice strong despite her apparent frailty. “You and your little beastie were missed these past months.”

“I know, I haven’t received an assignment since the expedition to the valley,” he said.

“Which you promised you’d come to tell me about!” she chastised. “My word, I worried about you. But you did see the elves?”

Loran nodded. “And I’ll tell you all about them in time, but for now I have pressing business. I need to be out of town by tonight, after a meeting at the Horizon.”

She studied him shrewdly. “You younglings are always rushing about. Well, my bakery will be open, with a meat pie hot and waiting for Keereth when you get there.” She noticed the quiet Alistair in the back, and pointed him out. “Who is your new friend? Another Harker?”

“Oh, this is Alistair, a scholar from the temple to the south,” Loran said. He turned to Alistair. “Alistair, this is Kimelle, a friend of my family for many years.”

Alistair nodded and bowed shortly. “Illuminations to you, ma’am.”

She smiled at his politeness. “It’s good to meet you, Brother Alistair. You must come with Loran when he returns, and have a sweet roll or two.”

Alistair seemed to find that immensely agreeable. “Most certainly, ma’am. I wouldn’t miss it.”

“Well, I shall not keep you long, but be careful at the tavern,” she warned Loran. “There’s been a dangerous looking one at the Horizon these past few nights. One of the snakefolk from the desert.”

“A Shayath, you mean?” Alistair asked.

Kimelle nodded. “He leaves town before market in the morning comes back near to dusk, not saying a word to anyone. I see him from my window every day. Some young punks tried to oust him the other day, but I heard he beat them to a man, even bit one.”

Loran nodded his understanding. “Do you know what he’s here for?”

“Says he’s waiting for someone, Marthan tells me. We haven’t had an adventurer this dangerous in town for a good long time.” Kimelle smiled. “But you’ll be fine, I know it. It’s not all bad company either, there’s a new bard there as well, a short one but he plays very well.”

“Oh, fantastic!” Alistair said. “I would love to hear him play. What instrument does he favor? Lute, lyre, guitar, pipe?”

Kimelle chuckled, a hearty sound for an older woman. “Hand drums, actually. He calls them bongos.”


There was no sound but the mumble of the crowd and the clink of glasses inside the tavern as Loran, Keereth, and Alistair entered. The full tap room was typical of the old inn and tavern, as local workers and business owners relaxed and mingled with the weary travelers and adventurers that were staying only for the night. Loran had worked for several summers at the Gray Horizon, earning just enough coin to go out and seek his fortune before he learned of the Harkers in Harkenal.

“Charming,” Alistair said, crinkling his nose at some unpleasant odor. “We aren’t staying the evening are we?”

“No,” Loran said, only half listening as he scanned the crowd. He saw no sign of the Shayath that Kimelle had mentioned. He motioned for Alistair to follow and ventured over to the island bar in the middle of the taproom, where a lanky, cheerful bartender passed out mugs of ale.

“Welcome to the Gray Horizon, what can I …” the man started, and then noticed who sat on the stool in front of him, grinning. “Well color me green and call me a goblin! Loran!” the man grinned back, clapping him on the shoulder. “Welcome indeed! How fares work with the guild?”

“It brings me here, so it can’t be all bad,” Loran said, then motioned to his new friend. “This is Alistair, who agreed to accompany me on this new journey.”

“Illuminations to you, sir,” Alistair said, smiling despite his watering eyes.

“Well met, sir priest,” the man returned. “They call me Fendival, I run the bar here at the Horizon. I got Loran his start in the city, you know.”

“Fendival was the one who recommended I join the Harkers,” Loran explained. “He thought it was better than me wandering the roads to the next job.”

“Food!” Keereth said, jumping up to put his paws on the counter.

Fendival shook his head. “Only if you’re paying, Kee.”

Keereth growled ominously.

“Now, if I gave every dragon that came through food ‘cause he growled at me I’d be in a sore state,” Fendival chuckled.

Keereth looked pleadingly at Loran, who sighed. “Sure, we’ll have some food before we leave.” Keereth giggled happily, removing his paws from the counter.

“If I may be so bold,” Alistair asked, “Why is it that no one seems to be … surprised by the little dragon following you around?”

“Praidus is my home away from home,” Loran said. “The people here all know me. And when I brought Kee back with me last year, they all took to him like he was my child.”

“And this is Praidus,” Fendival said. “We might be a small town, but there’s not much in all of Arkyneth that we haven’t seen already, and dragons are not so rare in these parts.”

Alistair nodded, but Loran had the distinct impression that he was still curious about something.

Deciding the priest curiosity could wait, the traveler turned back to Fendival. “I was told by Grandmaster Klask that there would be someone waiting for me, but I’m slightly behind schedule. Has anyone asked for me by name in the past few days?”

Fendival stroked his pointed chin in thought, then his eyes went wide. “There was someone who mentioned looking for a Harker, two actually. One is gone, he’ll be back in a few hours. The other should be somewhere in the taproom.” The tall bartender scanned the room, then pointed to the far corner near the stairs. “There he is, he’s the little guy. He must be playing cards again.”

“Thanks, Fen,” Loran said, already moving to meet one of the mystery adventurers.

A small crowd surrounded the corner table that Fendival had pointed out, seemingly entranced by what was going on at this table. The rest of the taproom twittered and howled as taverns do, but this little corner was quiet. Loran nudged himself tactfully through the crowd, to see what this congregation was so fixed on.

At the table sat a large man with an intense scowl on his face -- Loran thought him to be a porter for one of the local merchant houses – across from a diminutive figure with white hair and eyes alive with magic and deep with age. Loran was sure that if the smaller one, who he guessed to be a gnome, wanted to look the other in the eye, he would need to stand on his chair. Both had a hand of cards, and a considerable amount of coins sat in the middle of the table.

“Your call,” the bigger player rumbled.

After a moment of thought, the gnome spoke, in a lyrical yet businesslike voice. “You see, that may be difficult. More difficult than most of the things I’ve ever done.”

“Don’t care, make your call,” the other said.

“But you see,” the smaller one leaned forward in his seat, “That’s just it. I don’t want to.”

“Do you forfeit?” the big man said, almost hopefully.

“That would cause the game to end,” the gnome grinned.

“Then play your hand.”

“In doing so I ruin the game.”

“Look, either forfeit or play the game.”

“It seems to me that playing the game is almost worse than forfeit,” the gnome told him.

The larger man screwed up his face in confusion.

“If I show you my hand, you know whether you win or lose,” he explained. “For me, though the outcome of the game has no effect on the experience; as such, I don’t care if I win or lose. By coveting not the end result, but the game itself, I have truly won this game.”

“So what?” the large man said, becoming angry.

“No matter what, I win, but you need to know what these cards were to have enjoyed this experience. If I shuffle my hand back into the deck now, you will ultimately lose. You will never know how this game ended for you. So you need to ask yourself now what has meant more, the game or the ending?”

“Just play your hand!” the large man demanded.

The gnome sighed. “If that’s all it means to you, then you really do lose.”

He revealed his hand. A perfect hand.

The other man threw his cards on the table in disgust, and the crowd applauded and cheered. The short gnome did finally stand up on his seat, and bowed politely. The large man stormed off angrily, pushing through the crowd.

“Which one do we talk with?” Alistair asked, pointing to the angry man. “What if he’s the one Sir Klask asked to go with you?”

“I doubt he’d hire a porter for me,” Loran responded, his eyes firmly on the beaming gnome. “He seems much more the sort that the Loremaster would be friends with.”

“I thank you all for your attention, and remind you that my performance tonight will be at the same time as usual, and don’t forget the tip!” the gnome said jovially to the crowd as it dispersed. Loran waited for the gnome to become isolated once more, and approached him.

“That was quite the display, the mark of a great performer,” Loran said.

The gnome acknowledged him with a nod. “Thank you, my boy. Now if you’ll excuse me, there is an ale that awaits my attention, and some business that I need to wait for.”

“You’ll wait no longer,” Loran said to him, and the gnome gave him a curious look. “You must be the one that the Loremaster asked to see me.”

The gnome shook his head. “I am to meet a Harker, but it is not you. I was given a good description of what to expect, and I am not satisfied. He did say someone might try to fool me.”

Loran was at a loss for words. “What … what did he say?”

“It isn’t your concern,” the gnome said. “I know exactly what I’m …” He stopped mid sentence as Keereth jumped up into the opposite seat, sniffing the deck of cards on the table.

“You were saying?” Loran retorted, knowing that he was not the Harker that the Loremaster had described.

“Well, that makes you Loran, and this fine fellow must be Keereth,” the gnome said, jovial once more. “You are rather late, you know.”

“My bad,” Keereth said unapolgetically.

“Let’s just say that I found myself at the southern temple first,” Loran said, and gestured to Alistair. “This is Alistair, he will also be traveling with us.”

“Illuminations, sir,” the priest said.

“Luditation to you as well, holy man,” the gnome responded. “I hope you have more to offer than sermons and hymns.”

“He is an expert in all the lore we’ll need,” Loran said quickly, diffusing the scholar’s coming retort. The last thing the traveler wanted was a conflict so early in to the quest.

“Right, right,” the gnome said, his jovial smile returning. “I was only having some fun.” He sat back down and invited his new friends to do the same.

“So, do you have a name?” Alistair asked, somewhat irritated.

The gnome paused, perplexed, then chuckled. “Oh, I’m sorry about that. I’m known pretty well where I’m from, and where I’m from they know me as Zook.”

“Well met, Zook.” Loran extended his hand across the table. “On behalf of the Harkers, I thank you for considering this offer.”

“Not at all,” Zook said. “Your Loremaster was most generous in his offer to have me simply listen to you today, but I admit that I would have listened just for the asking, and for me to turn down money is quite something.”

“In good time,” Loran said. “I was told that there would be another adventurer here that would join us. We should wait before having this discussion when we’re all here, and have it somewhere private.”

“Fair enough,” Zook said. “I think I know who it is you might be waiting for, and he should be here soon.”

“How do you know?” Alistair asked.

Zook thought a moment. “Let’s just say that someone like him doesn’t keep near small towns like this one unless they have a damn good reason.”

Alistair became unsettled. “Do you think he’s a criminal?”

Zook took a sip of ale. “Not necessarily. Take it from me; you don’t need to be a criminal to be dangerous.”

Alistair leaned back, decidedly finished asking questions.

“We should get some food while we have the time,” Loran said to the priest.

Loran called over Fendival, who gladly brought the lunch soup and a loaf of bread for the two men and a plate of sliced meat for Keereth. For a long while, the four ate and chatted amicably. Zook explained that he was an arcanist of sorts, and asked Loran what his skills entailed.

“I’m your map, I suppose,” Loran shrugged. “I’m not really an adventurer, just an explorer and scripter.”

“And you’ve never seen the business end of a blade pointed at you either, I suppose,” Zook said to Alistair, who shrugged.

“I do have combat training, I’ve just never had to use it before,” Alistair explained.

“Let’s hope you do not, then,” Zook sighed, and took a deep swig off his ale. He motioned to Keereth. “And you’re too young to be of much help. We’ll be lucky if you even pay attention long enough to notice we’re at the mercy of a band of orcs.”

Keereth remained strangely silent for a moment, then turned to the door and said, “Smells like blood.”

His sudden proclamation prompted the group to turn to the door he faced. The taproom was mostly empty now that the lunch rush was over; the only other people present were the staff and Fendival. The door started to open slowly, as one opens in a nightmare.

From behind the door emerged a strange sight. A coppery skinned snake with a scaly, humanoid torso and the flat, broad head of a serpent pushed past the doorframe. His chest was covered by an animal pelt, and a belt held up a similar pelt that covered below his waist, as well as a pair of He carried what at first seemed to be an oversized bird with a pair of huge black wings, but when Loran looked again he saw that those wings belonged to a man, who seemed to be unconscious.

“Vorshek!” Fendival shouted. “What is the meaning of this?”

“Still your tongue. I found this poor fool in a crater to the east,” the snake explained, his voice deep and resonant, and heavily accented, not the raspy hiss Loran had imagined the snakefolk spoke with. “I thought you might want him, as he seems human enough.”

“He has wings, though,” Alistair blurted thoughtlessly before slapping a hand over his mouth.

“What’s a pair of wings to you?” The snake-man said, his viper-like features twisted in to what seemed to be a grin. “You humans will take anything as long as it has two legs.”

Alistair looked somewhat offended, but this time wisely kept silent.

Loran looked to Keereth, who continued to stare intently at the shayath. His little violet eyes absorbed every detail about the serpentine man, and he kept his head down, as though in the presence of a predator.

“Take the poor sod to a room,” Fendival said, grabbing his keys and flinging one at the shayath, who deftly caught it in midair. Wordlessly, he slithered toward the downstairs bunks.

Fendival turned toward Loran’s group and looked at Alistair. “You would do well to not upset that one. He’s easily provoked. Why, the first night he was here, a couple of local boys tried to oust him. He tricked them into attacking first and now one has a pair of holes in his shoulder, if you take my meaning.” He brought up two fingers and curved them down like fangs.

Alistair nodded, turning several shades paler. Zook shook his head.

“What is he doing here?” Loran asked.

“Until today, he was doing us a favor by catching game to pay his rent,” Fendival explained. “Now, he’s your problem, I’m afraid.”

“What? Why is he my …” Loran’s voice slipped away from him, caught in his throat. “You’re not serious.”

“He asked for you by name, even knew there was a dragon with you. The sooner you get him out of here the better though. I’m tired of worrying about another brawl like that one.”

“He’s the other we were waiting for?” Alistair practically shouted.

“Violent, uncouth, and a sore loser,” Zook said. “He is Vorshek Malastith, of the Firedust Clan. As far as I can tell, your Loremaster learned of his arrival in these lands and met him here, sometime before I arrived. He agreed to meet with you, but he seems to have his own agenda.”

Loran sighed. This was exactly the scenario he feared, a dangerous, unpredictable adventurer that he could not control was hired by his Loremaster. Things were about to become far more difficult to steer toward the Orygos.

Here is your chance to decide the fate of the Treasure Hunters. Loran, Alistair, and Keereth are about to head to the Gray Horizons Tavern to meet the other two adventurers that Loremaster Klask has hired. But someone else will happen to be at the bar, and they just might be interested in the activities of our little band.




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Treasure Hunters is a copyright of darkfiregraphics.com and Tyler Clapp, All rights reserved. November 12, 2010