Shards of the Shattered Pact: Seowyn's Crossing

Ghost Goes Home - Part 2

When she made camp on the road back, Ghost wondered if she’d done the right thing bypassing Seowyn’s Crossing. It would’ve been nice to see some familiar faces, but at the same time she didn’t feel up to explaining her unexpected appearance in the Crossing by herself. Particularly to Tristan’s mother and grandfather at the Tarry. Even though she believed she was doing the right thing, she still couldn’t help feeling that she was letting the other Firewasps down by leaving when they were about to go another mission. The young shifter poked a stick at her campfire irritably. Why do things like this have to be so hard?

A couple of days later the manse that had been granted to the Fire Wasps came into view. She noticed some visible improvements in the surrounding estate. New lands freshly cultivated. New fences marking off grazing areas and holding pens. A handful of peasants cutting trees suitable for making building timbers. The estate gave off an air of thriving activity and reassuring contentment.

As she neared the manse, a couple of peasants working the grounds looked up. One of them seemed to recognize her and hurried off into the mansion. A moment later the peasant returned, followed by a tall, stern-looking bearded man more formally dressed and bearing a staff of authority. When he saw whom the peasant was pointing to, his expression became one of surprise.

“Mistress Ghost? We… we did not know you were coming.” The steward – Kaius Greenglen – glanced quickly up the road she had come by. “Are the other Fire Wasps with you?”

“No, Kaius,” Ghost said, shaking her head. "The others are engaged elsewhere. I am here on my own accord, and… " she shrugged every so slightly “…I fear I am just passing through. Please let Corran know that I’ll be needing Nightwind. And that I’ll be taking him with me.”

“Very good, Mistress Ghost,” Kaius said, bowing his head in acknowledgement. “I’ll attend to it at once. Will you be needing your rooms readied?”

“No, I won’t be staying that long. Just have the cook prepare something. I’m quite famished.” The young shifter grimaced as she added “And I would love a break from my own cooking.”

“Very good, Mistress,” Kaius said again. The steward turned to the peasant who had informed him to Ghost’s arrival and sent him back into the manse to alert the cook. He then turned back to Ghost, as if suddenly remembering something. “Mistress, will you be wanting to see the other shifters, now that you’re here?”

“The kids?” Ghost asked, frowning in puzzlement. She’d thought they would be with Arun and the others in the Mistwood, far up in the Mistwood near the border with Gristamere. “They’re here?”

“No, Mistress,” Kaius said, shaking his head. “Not your foundlings. The other shifters.” The steward looked surprised when it was apparent that Ghost had no idea what he was talking about. “A group of them showed up here about three months ago. The one who seemed to be in charge was fairly old and seemed to have some affliction of the eyes, depending on one of the younger ones to guide him about. One of the others was a female with what I took to be three children, two girls and a boy. And there was one other, a young male, not quite an adult, I think.” Kaius frowned in thought. “Though he was with them, he seemed… apart somehow. A different look, not a family member. And he had an edginess to him, an almost wild air, always looking about like he didn’t trust us and was worried we might trouble the others in some way.”

“Anyway, they said that they’d come to see ‘The Ghost’.” Kaius shrugged at Ghost’s look. “I assume that they meant you, mistress. I explained that you were not currently here, but they seemed relieved that they’d come to the right place. I offered to let them stay on the estate, but they said they’d prefer the forest. We almost never see them, but once every week or so, one of the younger ones shows up and asks if ‘The Ghost’ has returned.” The steward looked to the young shifter for some sign of confirmation but found none. “You know nothing of this, mistress?”

“No, I don’t,” Ghost replied. “But I think I’d best find out why they’re here. And what they want.” She frowned in thought for a moment, then asked “When the younger ones come to inquire, do they always emerge from the same part of the forest?”

“Yes, mistress,” Kaius said, turning and pointing to the northwest. “They always seem to appear from where the forest edges the fallow lands.”

Ghost studied the boundary the steward was pointing to, her curiosity clearly piqued. “Most likely they’re not too far in, since it seems they want to keep close enough to send a younger one out now and then.” She grimaced as she looked back to Kaius. “Tell the cook to hold off on the hot meal for now. I’ll be back by nightfall, or morning at the latest. And then I’ll be ready to eat a horse.”

And then she took off, heading for the forest edge at a steady lope, her senses keen and alert, feeling eager for the first time in days. It was, she thought, thanking the totems, just what she needed.

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Ghost Goes Home - Part 1

Ghost stepped up to the teleportation portal Shaper had opened for her, willing herself not to look back. “I’m not gonna cry, I’m not gonna cry,” she muttered, closing her eyes as she stepped into the shimmering circle, “I’m not gonna—”

The sudden feeling of disorientation fell over her, the strange feeling of movement without moving, and the world around her disappeared in a swirl…

…and then reappeared but with different surroundings. It took Ghost a moment to orient herself, but the scent of the place already had her on guard. It was Hallowir’s Watch alright, but not the way she’d last seen it. Or smelled it. The stink of something – or rather a whole lot of somethings – was so palapable she could taste it, even though she was trying very hard not to. Instinctively, she drew her kukris and slipped into a defensive crouch as she surveyed the crumbling remnants of stone walls around her.

The ruins of Hallowir’s Watch had been deserted the last time she’d been here, made so deliberately by the Fire Wasps. But now it was clearly not. In addition to the stench, there was a rising clamour of sounds around her in the ruins. Strange sounds, almost like voices but without words. A cacaphony of noises that seemed made up of a hundred sources that didn’t belong together. Water running over rocks, leaves rustling, clops of shod horses on cobbled streets, tower bells clanging, mud sucking at travelers’ feet, the voice of a street vendor repeatedly hawking “Pies! Pies for sale!” and other noises she could only guess at.

Suddenly figures began to emerge from the ruins, coming out of the shadows. Human-like in shape, wearing ill-fitting tunics and hoods, but with birdlike beaked faces and taloned feet. And arms with hands, some holding daggers and short swords, others grasping clubs and rocks. The cacaphony of noises grew louder and more threatening as the creatures drew closer, apparently mimicking random sounds they’d heard at some point. They seemed cautious, probably taken aback by her sudden appearance in the middle of what was apparently now their lair. But she knew their caution would diminish as their numbers grew.

Kenku. She’d never actually encountered them before, but knew of their mostly ill reputation as thieves and cutthroats. Ghost smiled as she drew her kukris, a feeling of pleasant relief coming over her. Unlike so many things in her recent experience, this was a simple problem. No complexities, no nuances or politics to fret over. She was a ranger, and these creatures did not belong here. And truth be told, she was itching for a fight.

“Leave now,” the young shifter shouted, loud enough for her voice to reach even into the remotest recesses of the ruins. “Leave now, all of you. And do not return.”

The Kenku only glared back and made even more noise. One, armed with an orcish sword, started circling to her right, shouting at her with the sound of a roaring fire. Another, the one shouting “Pies! Pies for sale!” and wielding a dagger and a club, began circling to her left.

Well, I did try, Ghost thought with grim amusement as she launched herself slashing away into the clamouring throng closing in on her. Instinctively she reached out to Shaper over the mind-link… but the mind-link wasn’t there because Shaper wasn’t there. Her next instinct was to look for Tilly to join up so they could flank the Kenku… but Tilly wasn’t there either. Other realizations began to hit her as she fought, carving her way through the snrieking wall of malevolent bird-creatures around her. There would be no ranged attacks of flaming spheres or eldritch blasts because Tristan wasn’t there. No summoned beasts from Rubicus, no inspiring songs from Naali. And, she suddenly realized when one Kenku managed to get beneath her guard to stab her in the leg before she severed its head in savage retaliation, there would be no Natharios to heal her. She was, in every way that mattered, truly on her own now.

A wave of mindless fury at the surrounding Kenku overcame her, and she forced her way even further into their midst, hacking and slashing at every bird-creature in reach with near blinding speed. Shifting into full feral mode, Ghost snarled with extended fangs, clashing her kukris together, sending a wave of freezing cold all around her. She readied herself for another horde-breaking charge but the Kenku were already backing away in terror, disappearing through gaps in the ruined walls, cawing out as they fled, a combination of snarls followed by the clang of frost-blade on frost-blade. The sound faded as the Kenku abandoned the keep, fleeing into the surrounding woods, but she could still make it out.

Snarl-clang. Snarl-clang.
It was, she realized, their name for her now.
She liked it.

The skirmish over, Ghost paused to assess the stab wound in her leg. Fortunately it was a minor wound, light enough for her very limited healing skill to deal with. But it was a reminder of the fact that she only had her own resources to call on now. No more looking to Natharios or anyone else to patch her up in a fight. Which meant no more being reckless, no more taking chances.

Right, she thought with a snort. Like that’s going to happen. The young shifter made a mental note as she stood up again: stock up on healing potions at first opportunity. But she had one thing left to do though before she headed out….

Mounting the last ugly beak-faced Kenku head on the last sharpened spike, Ghost stepped back to inspect her handiwork. Truth be told, she could’ve used a few more heads. But with one spiked head every fifteen faces ringing Hallowir’s Watch, the message would probably be clear enough. At least to any Kenku who might be thinking of moving in again.

That done, Ghost took to the road heading away from the watch, her thoughts already on the fork she would soon enough come to. Right would eventually take her into Seowyn’s Crossing. Left would take her north around it.

Only at the last minute with the fork right in front of her did she decide.

She went left.

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Siblings

When Ghost was a young girl, she used to retreat into the highest branches of the tallest tree she could find when she wanted to think. With no trees currently available, she chose now to retreat to the highest perch she could find in the ship’s rigging. It didn’t hurt that the gentle swaying of the ship beneath her reminded her of the way the trees would sway when the mountain winds would blow through them. She stared out at the harbor where the reflected moonlight rippled across the water’s surface. With a little effort, she could imagine it was snow and that she was back in the high mountains looking out over Three Rivers village. Looking out over home. When she was still Squirrel and Asha was… Asha.

. . .

Squirrel tensed, gripping the practice half-spear tightly with both hands, her eyes on the older shifter girl, watching her face and body for any hint of what to expect. But the other girl was calm, her face so blank she almost seemed bored, her body seemingly relaxed as she held her own half-spear at the ready. The younger girl feinted left, but then darted right, aiming a nasty swipe at her opponent’s leg as she moved to get past. But the older girl neatly side-stepped, parried and then whirled the butt-end of her half-spear around, slamming it into Squirrel’s chest so hard that the smaller girl was knocked flat on her back and left gasping for breath where she lay on the ground. Another step and flick and the younger girl felt her half-spear fly up out of her grip to be neatly caught by the other girl.

“That’s three, Squirrel,” Asha said, tossing the half-spear back to her sibling after a moment. “We’re done.”

“Again!” the younger girl demanded, scrambling to her feet with as much dignity as she could manage. Which wasn’t much.

“No,” Asha said simply, turning to head back to the village.

“Again!” Squirrel shouted, running to get in front of her sibling, wincing from all the places she was now hurting in but determined not to let the older girl go. “I can do it!”

“You’ve had three chances,” Asha said, holding up three fingers for emphasis. “That’s two more than Mother would’ve given you. You didn’t get past me once. So you don’t get to go. That was the deal.”

“It’s not fair!” the younger shifter protested, stamping her foot angrily. “You’re bigger! And your arms are longer! And—”

“And if you’re face to face with an orc or a hobgoblin…” Asha said, suddenly advancing on Squirrel with spear raised and eyes intent “…and you’re the only thing between them and the village, is that what you’re going to do?” She leaned down until their faces were even and her spear-point was pricking the center of the younger girl’s leather training gear. “Tell them it’s not fair?” The older girl snorted derisively and shoved Squirrel back to fall on her butt once again. “Good luck with that.”

“Well, how’m I supposed to get better if you won’t let me scout with you?” Squirrel grumbled, climbing to her feet, more warily this time.

“Scout?” Asha favored her with an incredulous look as she put the two practice spears away. “You’re not even in training yet. You’re nine, Squirrel.”

“You started when you were twelve!”

“Nine is not twelve.”

“I’m the biggest girl my age!” Squirrel protested, drawing herself up to her full height, even though it still left her a full head-and-a-half shorter than her sister. “And bigger than most of the boys. And faster, too! And a better climber! And—”

“And still nine,” Asha shot back, clearly annoyed. The older girl took a moment to breathe deeply, then looked back at her sister in exasperation. “Mother was hoping that you’d end up with some of Father’s calmness of spirit. Instead, you’ve turned out like…” she wave a hand indicating the totality of her younger sibling “…like you!”

Squirrel screamed in her full pre-adolescent fury as she launched herself at Asha, but the older girl simply grabbed her around the waist with a practiced arm and held the outraged youngster squirming and struggling against her side. Squirrel struggling even more when she saw Asha was carrying her towards the Still Waters river, but to her surprise, instead of throwing her in Asha just set her down at the water’s edge and then sat down beside her.

“Look,” Asha said, nudging her forward to where they could see their reflections side by side in the water’s mirror-like surface. Squirrel scowled but did as she was told. “People have always said that I looked like you when I was your age. And that you look like me at that age.” And it was true, Squirrel had to admit. The family resemblance was striking. Even with the five years difference in age, with Asha being taller and more filled out and mature, it was there for everyone to see.

“It’s all there, Squirrel,” Asha said, nodding at the two images. “You’re going to be taller. And bigger. And stronger. Everything I’ve got, you’re going to get. Just give it some time.”

“Everything?” Squirrel’s shifter features wrinkled up in exaggerated distaste. “You mean I’m gonna get your moon-face, your ugly muskrat coloring, and your enormous bu— Owww!” she yelped when Asha slugged her painfully in the arm. The younger girl retaliated at once, but only yelped again when she slammed her fist ineffectually into Asha’s tautly muscled arm. “No fair!”

Asha laughed and threw an arm around Squirrel’s shoulders, pulling the younger girl close. “Hugs ’n slugs, Squirrel,” she said genially, ruffling her ears and neck with rough affection. “It’s family. Just accept it.”

. . .

“Hugs ’n slugs, Asha,” Ghost murmured, her eyes on the harbor and her words drifting away on the night’s wind. She shivered at a sudden chill even though the night was warm. “Always.”

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Troubling dreams

“Asha!”

Ghost awoke, suddenly, like all the other times. Heart pounding, eyes wide, arm stretched out in the darkness, reaching, reaching for….

Asha.

Shivering, Ghost sat up, pulling her bedding up around her. It had been the same every night since she’d experienced the vision. At least, that’s what she thought it was, what it had felt like. It had been so clear, so real. So heart-achingly real. She was on a high pinnacle, looking out over a vast panorama. On one side, a shifter woman, her face grim but her eyes dull as she pulled on her fighting gear. Asha. An older Asha than Ghost had known, but Asha nonetheless. There was a weariness about her that was at odds with the older sister she remembered, the Asha itching to prove herself, insisting to their mother that she was ready to do more. Ghost watched as this Asha drew on a pair of gladiatorial gauntlets with sharp steel blades extending from them like claws. She drew the straps tight and tested the fit, methodically doing practice strikes one glove against the other. But there was no eagerness in her eyes, only a kind of weary resignation, an indifference to living or dying but knowing that the habit of surviving meant that this was just one more fight to get through. One more night in the pits before the roaring crowds of on-lookers shouting incoherently amid their drinking and betting, waiting for the first blood to be shed.

At the same time though, the other side of the pinnacle looked down upon a different scene: her fellow Fire Wasps beset by a horde of minotaurs, hostile and menacing, eyes blood red, as unlike Eustace as the underdark was to day. The battle was a desperate one, and though Kidalis, Eustace, Tilly, Tristan and The Shaper were all fighting valiantly, it was clear that, without Ghost, things would go against the Fire Wasps in a very bad way.

Then the moment came as on the one side Asha readied herself to leap into the fight pit while on the other the Fire Wasps braced for the minotaurs final assault. And Ghost, feeling as if she was being ripped in two, had to choose. There was no way to run to both, it was one or the other. And it was now. “Stay alive!” she cried urgently to Asha as she drew her kukris and bolted to where the Fire Wasps were to join the fray. “I’m coming! Please, just stay alive!”

And then the vision had ended and she was back with the others.

Ghost couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d been compelled to make a choice, but she didn’t understand why. Visions were supposed to be omens, portents, glimpses of possible futures, or at least that had been her understanding of them. A choice made in a vision didn’t mean anything, did it?

She’d thought about it afterwards, in her private moments, and she knew why she’d made the choice she did. Asha was Asha. Even though ten years had passed, and Ghost’s memories were from back when she’d still been the shifter girl known as Squirrel, Asha was Asha. Brave. Strong. Fierce like their mother. And for all that they fussed and fought with each other, Squirrel would put her older sister up against any of the other young shifters in their village. And Asha had survived, all this time. In the beginning, it had only been a suspicion, but after hearing of a pit fighter called “the White Cat” from a stranger who’d visited the island, she’d dared to hope. And with the answer she’d gotten from the seer she’d dared to believe. Asha had survived. And in the fight pit, it would be Asha against a single foe. And Ghost would still bet on Asha to be the one to prevail. Ultimately, it was her companions who needed her more. They were faced with greater numbers and the fight was already going against them. It was a battle decision, the kind she’d had to make many times, with no time for anything but instinct. And thus she’d chosen.

But ever since the vision, Ghost had been having the same dream. It started the same as the vision, but in her dreams, it was Asha she reached for, Asha whose name she called out as she awoke in the darkness, arm outstretched but fingers closing on empty air. Had she made a mistake before, during the vision? And if so, did it matter? Reluctantly, Ghost lay down once again, trying to will herself back to sleep. Stay alive, sister, she willed into the darkness. I’m coming. Snow Leopard watch over you until we meet, but stay alive. Stay alive.

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A letter given to a Summerland-bound ship, to be delivered to The Minstrel's Tarry, Seowyn's Crossing

Dear Arun, Jariel and Vondyr,
(and Fish, Twixt and Tween too, if you are reading this),

It’s been a while since I last wrote. I hope my occasional letters reach you. I think of all of you often and I hope this letter finds you well. (And well-behaved, you younger three!)

Where to begin? We joined up a while back with a dwarven merchant named Darberik Fivebraids in a port called Sigurth’s Climb. He had three ships heading more or less in the direction we wanted to go. Kind of unusual ships. Made out of stone but still able to float. Some kind of magic. The ships were the Forgeworthy, the White Gull and Cassada’s Vigil. We were traveling on Cassada’s Vigil. Which was a good thing because the White Gull ended up getting sunk in a battle with some pirates (they call them Sea Barons around here) led by this one really ugly pirate named Gar Shatterkeel. We went out after the pirates that attacked us later though, found their lair and pretty much cleaned them out. It wasn’t as simple as I’m making it sound though. For one thing, it was actually us allied with Darberik and his crew and with some allies he (or rather his friend, who’s now the high mucky-muck in these parts, managed to find for us, against the pirates and their allies, which included orcs, sahuagins and some undead, including some kind of undead wizard or priest or somesuch. Main-thing is he was bad news, whatever he was. More on that later. Oh, we also ended up with some divine help courtesy of Eustace being apparently held in high regard by Shandalene and by a dragon named Lazaranthios. I don’t know who managed to get him to fight on our side but it was definitely good having him there.

It was still a pretty tough fight. Tougher than I thought it would be. The Firewasps emerged okay, but our side had its losses, including a guy named Thongal Brekwold whom I’d gotten to think well of. Strange. We met earlier on back in another port when he and his sister tried to pick a fight with me. Why am I the one everyone’s always trying to pick a fight with? It’s never Kidalis or Eustace or Tristan or Shaper. It’s always me. I mean, it’s not like I go around looking for a fight. Is it?

Anyway, we did win the battle and cleaned out that entire pirate’s nest. And captured their biggest ship, Olhydra’s Fury. We letting Darberik have it to help continue his voyage since he lost one of his three ships. We’re probably going to rename it. I think The Wasps’ Nest would the best name, but Eustace wants to call it Shandalene’s Blessing or something like that.

Did see something pretty amazing in the first fight though. Eustace has this spell that allows him to manipulate water. A lot of water. I mean, enough to float a ship in. Or strand one dead in its tracks, along with any sharks or other monsters that happened to be around. That much water. Had never seen him do anything like that before, so maybe it’s something he just recently learned how to do. Anyway, it was pretty awesome and really made a big difference in the battle. This from the guy who was heaving his guts from seasickness when we first started out. Weird, huh?

Which kind of brings me to something that’s been bothering me lately. I’m not sure how to put it but… it seems like most of the other Fire Wasps are getting a lot better at what they do than I am. It’s amazing to watch them in action. Kidalis is like a force of nature and can call on the land itself to attack or ensnare foes. Eustace, besides being formidable physically, seems to have more and more god-given powers, not only to heal (he really does make the difference in almost every fight we’re in when it comes to keeping us up and fighting), it’s like he can banish enemies to gods-know-where and call on divine light to drive back the worst things we face. And he can even get direct aid from Shandalene sometimes, which he did in our battle against Shatterkeel. Shaper can use some kind of mental powers to possess our enemies and make them fight each other as well as call on some elemental powers that let him shape parts of himself to his will. Tristan is still pretty quiet, but his spells have grown more devastating and he’s far and away our best distance fighter. And, much as it really chafes me to admit it, Tilly is now like a weapon-wielding ball of fury in a battle, a blur of attacks that never seems to slow down, let alone stop, switching back and forth between weapons with scarcely a pause and with some kind of gift that turns what first seems like a miss into a deadly strike. I mean, I try to do my part. I never hold back and I always to to be up front in a battle. But I just feel like I’m not keeping up with the rest of my companions. That said, I do feel that I’m where I’m supposed to be though. I have found two – possibly three – survivors from my village that I never would’ve found if I had not been with the Fire Wasps.

I might also be reacting to something that happened in the battle. The undead cleric or sorcerer I mentioned before at one point did something to me in the battle. Something I’d never experienced before. It was like part of my very life force was suddenly taken from me, leaving me weakened in a way I can’t even describe. You know me. I’m not afraid of any foe with a weapon I can see or of any wound a weapon might inflict. This was different. For that moment, for the first time I can remember, I knew fear. I recovered later, once the battle was over. But the memory of that moment stays with me.

Oh, our eventual destination is Estwald for the big festival that’ll be held there. Just so you’ll know where to send a letter. After that we’ll be heading east to that island I told you about where someone saw a shifter woman that looked a lot like me fighting in the fighter pits. She is known as White Cat. I know that the chances that this might be Asha are slim, but I have to check it out. I’ve been given a number of clues that Asha might still be alive. And if so, I have to find her. No matter what.

Speaking of shifters, how are Fish, Twixt and Tween doing? I hope that they are well and that they are learning everything you have to teach them. Has Fish earned a new name yet? I know he didn’t like his childhood name much and was wanting a new one. And he is at the right age for it. But remind him that ‘Ghost’ is already taken, in case he’s showing any signs of forgetting. The last I recall, he’d chosen the whip as the weapon he wanted to learn. Not the choice I’d have made, but it’s best to let him find his own path for that. I know he’s stubborn, wilful, and sometimes shows poor judgement, but I’m hoping he’ll still listen to you at least some of the time.

And no, Vondyr, I’m not admitting a damn thing! I do hope that Tween will be able to learn more from you though. I’m convinced he has some kind of gift similar to yours. From what he told me, Snow Leopard appeared to him in his dreams, telling him that I’d be coming. For someone who was not born a member of my tribe, this is most unusual.

As for Twixt, I don’t know which way she’ll go. In spite of her being younger than Fish, she seems more level-headed and less reckless. Has she picked a weapon to train with yet, Jariel? I think she will prove to be stronger and more resilient than she looks. The bow might appeal to her nature more than the blade, I think, but I’m sure you will find what suits her best.

I know it was a lot I’ve asked you all for, looking after these three kids for me. If you ever are in need for them, or for yourselves, I left instructions with our manor at Seowyn’s Crossing to give you whatever you need from funds I have there.

I miss you all terribly. I hope Snow Leopard and whatever spirits or gods might be near will always look down upon you kindly. Will write again when I can.

Hugs & slugs,

Ghost

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The banked results.

Kidalis waltzes into the Giant’s Downfall after spending nearly half the day at the bankers guild with some extremely happy bankers. He comes up the table just after the midday meal and drops a small pouch in front of Tristan, Tilly, Ghost, and Shaper. “There is 100 platinum in those pouches for you. I have changed all of our excessive amounts of copper and silver into gold and platinum for the party fund and changed all of our various gems and works of art for gems that may, in a pinch, be used for some of our more powerful spells.”

Kidalis turns to brother Eustace, “You, my friend, have always refused the splitting of our finds, so I simply had your share turned into more gems. Please, if you wish for some coin, do let me know. You know you have more than earned it.”

The young noble sits down and orders a bowl of the soup and a glass of wine and watches everyone’s reactions to the coins put before them.

Ghost stared at the pouches after Kidalis’s announcement, then opens hers and up-ends it on the table, the platinum pieces falling into a small silvery pile. She pokes through the pile looking hopeful, but finally stops and looks up at Kidalis with a disappointed pout. “You didn’t leave me any gems? Not even one of those tiny little garnets???” The young shifter slumped grumpily in her chair, her arms folded across her chest. “It’s ‘cause I’m not girly enough, isn’t it?”

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The first 4 sessions
The first in a series of posts to remind us all of "The Story So Far"

The Summer of Youth

A group of children of the town of Seowyn’s Crossing meet up and become friends during the Midsummer festival. They are:
- Brom Furrow: a 10 year old boy of Kalrentai descent. His family’s farm is on the northern outskirts of town, but he dreams of being an Adventurer instead of a farmer.
- Eustace: an 11 year old Minotaur who has been brought up in the smaller, older church of Shandalene as opposed to the grander Temple of The Twelve across the river. He is the ward of Abbot Justan, whp has raised him almost as a son.
- Ghost: a 10 year old Shifter with snow leopard markings. She survived the destruction of her village, Three Rivers, when goblins attacked and has been raised by a group of elves – Arun Longstrider, Calthis Brightbow, Jariel Bladestorm, and Vondyr Spirittongue.
- Kidalis Havengard: a Summerling son of a minor noble family who has come to the Crossing to foster with Sardan Greenfields, the Baron of Silver Falls.
- Tristan Holdfast: a cloudy-headed 12-year old half-elven boy who is the grandson of Talbot Holdfast, the keeper of the Minstrel’s Tarry, one of the finest taverns in Summerlund. He was often distracted by the voices in his head, promising things, trying to get his attention.

Over the course of the day, they meet and become friends, especially when faced by Isaak Ketteran, the son of the local miller, who is very much a bully. Kidalis meets Alinora Greenfields, the niece of the Baron, who seems faintly amused or intrigued by him. Talbot offers the children 1 silver coin each for every Fire Wasp they catch, and, inspired by this, Brom starts calling them the Fire Wasps. They talk about their dreams of fortune and glory, and Brom shows them his special hideaway: the Castle of the Old Ones. This becomes a special place of their childhoods.

The Spring Time Faire

Three years later, the Fire Wasps are joined by Tilly Thistleshanks, a young Halfling boy whose father was killed by Limba, a legendary “gator” that terrorizes the river-faring halflings of Dalenshire. They meet Elswara Wellheart, Kidalis’ beautiful cousin, whom Brom develops a crush on and secretly dreams of marrying. She and her adventuring company, the Sword Watch, are preparing to set out on their first adventure.

They are invited to visit a caravan of Vistani that Brom’s father has allowed to camp on their land. Their ancient Tiefling seer, Adra Saleesha, gives them many fortunes, but, disturbingly, refuses to divulge much to Brom, seeming upset by something she sees.
Following the faire, Elswara visited Kidalis one more time with ancient gold coins, suggesting that her group was on the verge of a big score. But then she disappeared and was not seen again.

The Dead of Winter

As the Fire Wasps entered their adolescences, each found that much was expected of them. When Baron Sardan set out on a winter board hunt, he left Kidalis in charge as bailiff to run festivities through the New Year feast. Brom was being trained by Captain Holloway Larkwell of the town guard, and he was still intending to become an adventurer. Eustace was keenly aware of Abbot Justan’s failing health and was picking up more of the Abbot’s duties to help him. Tristan was keenly aware that he was failing to make significant progress in his magical studies under the Eladrin Wizard, Benethir Talvarison. Tilly was aware that halflings were worrying about Limba, and he was finding both romance with Henna Brambleberry and terror with Henna’s ancient relative, Granmere Odetta. Ghost had been experiencing rivalry with Calthis’ cousin Shale Brightbow, but he was suddenly gone off on his rite of passage.

When a guard was murdered, and goblins broke into the baronial manor at Road’s End, the group pursued them, finding that they had invaded the Castle of the Old Ones. A battle ensued, and Brom and Tristan were brutally cut down. Tristan suddenly heard the voices in his head hit a resolve that, if he died, they would be lost, and they granted him power as a Warlock. Brom, however, lacked the adventurer’s gift of Pneuma, and he perished in the battle. The goblins were cowed when a collection of green crystals in the Castle manifested into humanoid form and fought alongside the Fire Wasps, and the young adventurers were victorious. They puzzled over the crystals, which did not move, and mourned Brom, returning him to his family to be buried.

Baron Sardan was slain during the hunt, and Kidalis was sent away, as Gyzzel Markrand, the Baron’s Reeve, did not have the authority to have a fosterling. Abbot Justan died before spring, and Abbot Jacoby took over instead, to Eustace’s dismay. Ghost had to travel away with the elven band, and Tilly returned to Dalenshire with his family. Tristan worked with Benethir, trying to harness the strange powers he had unlocked.

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A brief sending, back and forth, Ghost and Arun

From Ghost to Arun, with Shaper casting the ritual:

“Arun. Firewasps going on journey.
Three shifter kids need training while gone.
Letter at Tarry will explain. Please come.
Please please please please please? Ghost.”

Reply from Arun to Ghost:

“Ghost. Will come soon as can.
Hope Firewasps have safe journey.
But when you return,
We will have a long talk.
All our love. Arun.”

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A letter written to go with a caravan but left at the Tarry

Dear Arun, Jariel and Vondyr,

I hope this letter reaches you. I’m sending it in care of a merchant caravan that is going to be passing through your patrol area and hoping that they’ll cross paths with you. If they don’t meet you, I told them to leave it at the trading post at the northern road, which I know you guys sometimes stop at.

So much to tell you! The last time I wrote you, it was a long letter from the Faewyld, but I don’t know if you reached you because as you know time sometimes gets weird whenever you cross from our realm to that one. And sometimes it gets really weird as I found, which I’ll be telling you about shortly.

We ended up defeating Limba, Tilly’s nemesis, which I already wrote you about. But after that we were kind of stuck in the Faewyld for a while and ended up having a few adventures there. We finally ended up making our way out by going through the Underdark where a border exists between the two realms. Lots of things happened. We freed some slaves which turned out to include a family of nobles from our realm, Baron Undersee and his wife and son, and some others, all of whom we brought back with us. And Eustace took out a temple to some dark entity and consecrated it to Shandalene.

Eventually we got back to our realm, and to the Crossing, only to find out some spell had made people unable to recognize us for a while. We found that was because of Tarkantus, who we found had taken over our manse. Hmmm. I don’t remember if I told you about that or not, but we have a manse now, courtesy of Baron Greenfield in gratitude for our services. But anyway, we had to take out Tarkantus and his pet Beholder, which was a pretty hairy fight that took us back to the Castle of the Old Ones where we found this secret chamber we’d never even known about. Kidalis and Eustace think that there’s some history there that we need to find out about because too many nasty people seem interested in it for it to be mere coincidence.

Oh, and just to let you know, we’re all fine. Kidalis is becoming even better at just holding up large numbers of foes and keeping them unable to move about while the rest of us pound on them. Wish his love life was going better though. He’s got some serious noble-ish aspirations going on for Baron Greenfield’s daughter, Elanora, but the Baroness isn’t keen on the idea at all and the Baron’s trying to tell him, nicely, that he needs to look elsewhere, Elanora’s got obligations, blah-blah-blah. Seriously, I do not understand these noble types. My mother fought off all rivals with knife and claws before the whole tribe to get my father. Simple, clear and final. Shifter ways are better.

Eustace seems to be growing more powerful as a healer and as a caster of radiant magics. I can’t count the number of times he’s stood between the Fire Wasps and defeat or disaster. He lost some magic armor that he had for reasons that had to do with saints and such, but in truth he doesn’t seem to need it much anymore. Tristan seems to have to have come to some kind of terms with one of the voices in his head. Evidently he’d reached a point where it was time for him to make some kind of choice and he opted for the voice he calls The General. Who it seems was some direct ancestor of Baron Greenfield and who may have been the one who founded Seowyn’s Crossing and who walked with the legendary bear. Don’t know exactly because Tristan doesn’t talk about it much, and mostly we just get bits and pieces of it when he’s distracted and talking to himself. Which he does less of now though since he only has one voice in his head. Most of the time, anyways. I think the others are still there but are just keeping quiet for now.

Shaper is still something of a mystery. Of all of us, he seems the least changed. Or maybe the changes are simply not visible to us, what with his being made of crystals and all. That and his powers are so different from any of ours. Psionics, I think they’re called. We did learn from the fight with Tarkantus that there definitely is some connection between him and Brom, though its nature still remains a mystery. Tilly is still infuriating at times, but dammit he’s just so damned good at what he does. His biggest asset is his unpredictability. Even I can’t guess what he’ll do at times, and we’ve been companions for a long time now. He’s on the top of his world now, having defeated Limba and captured the creature’s essence in a bottle which he gave to his Grandmere Odetta.

Want a scary thought? Grandmere Odetta has a house full of bottles just like the one Limba’s imprisoned in. Dozens and dozens of bottles, different sizes and shapes and colors, all hanging from strings all around her. And each one with its own Limba-type inside. Reminds me to be careful not to get on her bad side. My mother did not raise me to end up in a bottle dangling from a string in some Halfling hut.

But anyway, I need to tell you about something important. We kind of picked up a few things while we were in the Faewyld. I already mentioned the Undersees and their fellows who’d been enslaved. And Eustace ended up bringing back an actual behemoth, which ended up being called Bessie of all things. Well, I ended up with three shifter children. No, not that way! They were three little street thieves who stole something from me, and I ended up having to chase them down – more than once – to get it back. Which I finally did. Only to discover that one of them, the oldest one, was not only a member of my tribe, but was someone from my village. Which is where things get really strange. This boy was just a little older than me – maybe six months or a year – when the goblins attacked and destroyed my village. Like me, he escaped by diving into the river. But his branch of the river took him through a portal into the Faewyld, and for him, only two years went by while for me it was ten. So now he’s only twelve but I’m twenty. Weird, huh?

So anyway, I couldn’t just leave him there. And if I took him, I had to take the other two, even though they weren’t of my tribe, or even of our realm – Faewyld shifters, born ‘n bred. But Fish – that’s the older boy’s name – refused to go without them, so it was all or none. Anyway, I wasn’t going to just leave any of them. I know it sounds strange, but I think I was meant to go there and meant to find them. At least from what Twixt – he’s the younger boy – says.

I ended up sending them home the long way, which would take more time but was much less dangerous than taking them down into the Underdark with us. We actually got back months before they did. They finally showed up here a few weeks ago and are now living with us at the manse. I have to admit that I’m only now realizing the full weight of responsibility that I’ve taken on (Yes, I know I should’ve thought of that first, but I was not gonna leave them there, no matter what, okay?). And that I may end up needing your help with some things, which I’ll get to in a bit. But I need to tell you about them first, so that you’ll have some idea of them.

Fish, the boy from my village, is the oldest. He’s light-skinned with the pattern of the Snow Leopard clan like I have, and seems to be about twelve now. And he is a handful. There are times when I feel like throttling him. He’s impulsive, never thinking about the consequences of his actions. He’s also headstrong as hell and would argue with a fence post, especially if it means admitting he was wrong. On the plus side he’s tenacious, fiercely loyal and protective of the younger two shifter children he ended up taking under his wing. But I just can’t seem to get through to him! It’s like he has to fight me on every little thing. I don’t understand how we can have so much in common but be so different.

Twixt and Tween are the younger two. They’re twins – Twixt is the boy and Tween the girl. They are darker skinned, more of a woodish brown, and have distinctly different markings from Fish, but are clearly brother and sister. They look to be between nine and ten years old. It’s easy to see how they got their names – they’re really good at moving through crowds. Slipping between people as if they were standing still, diving through narrow spaces that would give a cat pause, or dashing under carts and horses while they’re still moving. Definitely some serious street survival skills there.

Tween is actually the one I should mention first as she’s the more outgoing of the two. I think you’d like Tween. Unlike Fish, she’s more level-headed and practical, and she at least tries to think things through. She’s also very clever. Too damned clever at times. It was her tricks that not only allowed Fish to steal from me but also got him free later on when I’d managed to catch him, getting me into trouble with half the town, from angry barbarians and angry dwarven merchants to outraged priests and monks and finally the town guard. When I didn’t do anything! Honest!

Twixt is the quiet one. He follows his sister’s lead and after her he follows Fish’s lead. Even when he knows he’s doing something wrong. Which he tries to apologize for even as he’s doing it. But there’s something special about him. I think he’s like you, Vondyr. He seems to have some affinity for the spirit realm. After he finally realized that I wasn’t going to beat him or his sister for robbing me – and after I’d made sure they had enough food for the first time they could remember – he told me about seeing “a strange cat” in his dreams. A big one, one that was white with odd markings he’d never seen before. The cat, he said, seemed to be telling him that someone was coming to find them, and that they needed to be found. He’s too young to remember anything of his tribe, being orphaned with no memories of even his parents, but I’ll wager anything that whatever tribe it was, their spirit totem was not Snow Leopard. So like I said, I don’t think this was just coincidence.

All this has gotten me to think about some things that have been stirring around inside me for a while now. Ever since that adventure at my old village – or what was left of it – up in the north, actually. I feel like I have some things that I’ve been neglecting. There were some rumors I’d heard that there might be other survivors somewhere – people seeing or hearing about shifters that resembled the Snow Leopard clan. And then there was not finding Asha’s body among the others at the village. I keep wondering if she survived somehow. If she did – if any of them did – I felt I needed to find them one day and bring them all back together.

And that’s the thing, you see. I found Fish. Far, far away – in another realm in fact – but alive and definitely a Snow Leopard like myself. And as you’ve always reminded me, where’s there’s one, there might be others. And now, again seeming more than coincidence, no sooner am I back than I come across someone who’s seen another shifter like myself, far away, across the sea in fact, a land called Ministal. A female pit fighter called the White Cat.

I need to go track down these rumors – the ones from the north and this new one from across the sea. More and more I feel this. And it seems like an opportunity to do so may be coming up soon for one or both of these. Which kind of leads me to a couple of things I need to ask of you.

The first one’s not a big deal – just that if any of you should hear any new rumors about any shifters who look like Snow Leopard’s, let me know. I know you probably would anyway, but I just wanted to make sure you know.

The second is a bit more to ask. I need to think of what to do with the kids. I’ve thought of taking them with me, but given the dangers we seem to run into every time we go anywhere, I’m thinking that might be not a good idea. But at the same time, I don’t want to leave them alone. The staff at the manse will look after their basic needs, but they need more than that. A lot more. These kids have been on their own for too long. They need family. They need guidance. And training. And to feel like they’re part of something. I’ve been doing what I can, trying to familiarize them with their shifter heritage, tribal legends and such, but if I leave them behind to go searching for others I won’t be able to do that for them.

And then there’s the fact that because of the way they’ve had to live, they’re more street kids than anything else. Fish remembers some of his skills from when he was younger, but Twixt and Tween don’t even have that. I think it would be good for them to spend some time in the forest, out in the wild, with people who know everything there is to know about that sort of life. People I can trust to teach them what they need to know, and who know something about shifters. People I can trust with their lives, because I learned to trust them with mine.

I know it’s a lot to ask, and I’ll understand if you can’t do it. You have your own lives and responsibilities after all. But if you can take them under your wings for a while, you’d really be helping a lot. And giving them experience which will shape them and prepare them for the road ahead, what ever may come. I don’t know yet how long I might be gone. Some months certainly, but I’m thinking less than a year. With luck I’ll be back before winter so you won’t have to winter with them (though even that would be good for them, I’m thinking).

Anyway, please let me know if this might be possible or not. And any advice you might have. I’m rather new at this taking-on-kids stuff. But you guys seemed to know what you were doing. Even if I didn’t always think so at the time. (Hoping you won’t remember some of that too much!).

Miss you all lots!

Hugs ’n slugs,

Ghost

PS – If and when you do meet the kids, if Fish tries to tell you his name is Ghost, box his ears or give his nose a good flick. That’s my name! He has to find his own.

PPS – Change in plan! I’m going to leave this letter for you at the Tarry. Shaper pointed out to me that I could – and should – simply use his ability to ‘send’ you a short message because this letter might take weeks or longer to reach you. Sorry again for asking so much on such short notice. I owe you guys so much. Hope one day I can pay you back somehow.

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Ghost's nightmare

Ghost tossed and turned restlessly on her pallet, her sleeping face troubled by some nightmare she was apparently having…

The otherworldly creatures were all around them, fearsome unnatural things, some huge and looming, some short and fanged with dangerous-looking talons, and all of them deadly. Particularly the one that appeared to be a wizard of some evil fashion.

And it was all going horribly wrong. For her.

Despite her throwing herself fully into the fight, Ghost felt like she was plowing her way through mud, dazed and confused, every strike of hers either coming up short or being deflected while around her the battle moved with disturbing frenzy. Kidalis had six of their attackers tied up, his powers of nature pulling them in and holding them down for the others to strike. Eustace was bellowing and laying on with his scythe, cutting a path through the enemy. Shaper glowed green fire and lashed out with his dimension-warping powers, ripping pieces out of the foe left and right. Even Tristan seemed to be holding his own, casting curses and eldritch blasts into the fray with devastating effect.

But worst of all, Tilly was racking up not only the most kills but the most important ones as well, first one of the bigger creatures falling to his sharash, then one of the smaller but equally fierce ones, and then the wizard-leader himself, taken down by a sneaky halfling move where Tilly’s shortsword leaped into his hand and he backstabbed the shrieking thing and smirked as it fell.

Frustrated, Ghost directed her fury at the big creature that kept slamming her into insensibility with its huge arms, thowing everything she had at the thing, marking it for certain death, determined to get at least one major kill in before the battle was over. But just as she finally had the thing bloodied and ready to fall, it suddenly exploded into a gigantic spray of ichor, drenching her from head to foot with its putrid otherworldly ickiness. Stunned, blinking, Ghost saw an apologetic-looking Tristan standing on the other side with what looked like a small fruit-knife in his hand. “Sorry,” the half-elf mumbled, “but you looked like you really needed the help.”

“Noooo!” Ghost wailed her frustration as things rapidly went downhill. Shaper gestured with his pinky finger and a creature flew apart into bloody fragments. Kidalis yawned and a horde of shrubs ripped the legs and arms from another. Tilly suddenly went down, felled by a desperate attack from one of the bigger creatures, only to be immediately revived by Eustace so that he could not only leap up and cut the big one down but also take out two others as his singing blade went cutting through all of them in a massive cleave. And Ghost – kill-less – could only stand and watch.

“Why are they getting all the kills? Tilly gets the most and the leader to boot? And Tristan gets the one that should’ve been mine?” Ghost slashed at the empty air in her frustration. “It’s not right. It’s not fair!”

“Yeah,” a voice from out of nowhere responded. “But then they’re good at this.”

Ghost looked around, but saw no one. She did however spot a single creature left standing. Desperate, she howled and charged the thing… only to see a bloody horn suddenly piercing outward from its chest just as she reached it. The creature’s eyes rolled up as it fell, revealing an ugly stinking goat on the other side, eyeing her with smug contempt, the remains of the creature dripping from its single horn.

“Nyaaaaggghhh!” Ghost howled, spirit-leaping as she awoke, her kukris instinctively drawn and lashing out… as she fell from above the inn, her blades slashing and smashing her way through not only the inn’s roof but the floor of the room she’d been sleeping in, sending her to the main room below where she crash-landed on a table of very startled dwarven merchants, prompting Tilly, who was sitting at a nearby table, to look over. “Ah swear Ghost,” the halfling sighed, shaking his head, “we cain’t take yew anywhere!”

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