Donaar sat in front of a hastily made fire. “So, Krakust, you want information on other realms. Why?”
A couple of ice-hares had been skewered and was cooking over the fire. Krakust filled two tin cups with snow and ice then set them next to the fire to melt the ice. “I want to explore. Not much chance to do that here in Domhan.”
“Yet here you are!” Donaar threw his arms wide. “Exploring!”
Krakust chuckled. “Yeah. I suppose I am.” He took a sip from the slightly melted ice. “Well, it’s better than nothing. I suppose Sorley wasn’t wrong.”
“Wrong about what?” Donaar pulled a hare off the fire. “I prefer mine a little raw…if you don’t mind.”
“No, go ahead. Not like I haven’t seen it before.” Krakust patted Evryn’s head. She growled softly and returned to eating her raw hare. “He said something about not being enemies when next we met.
“Ah, interesting.” With a swift motion Donaar peeled the skin off the ice hare and started eating. The bones cracked under the strength of his powerful jaws. He ate them along with the meat.
Krakust pulled out his compass and focused on it. One of the needles began spinning then stopped, pointing northward. “Well, they’re still heading north. I wonder if they’re above ground yet?” He pulled his hare off the fire and skinned it. He tossed a few of the organs over to Evryn and stared eating. “Could use some seasoning.”
“Still north?” Donaar was picking his teeth with one of the bone fragments.
“A little to the east as well, but mostly north.”
“Maybe they’re going to come up at the hot springs.” Donaar stood up and stretched. “It would feel pretty good to take a quick soak in there after all this snow.”
Krakust nodded. “That it would. Where is it from here?”
Donaar pointed. “About that direction.”
“Good. That’s not far out of the way.”
– – –
Sorley and Ember walked at the back of the group. The dwarves had recommended assigning roles for when they left the tunnel.
Helena would lead because she knew more about the layout of southern Domhan than the dwarves. Lukren would keep his eyes open for any game. Lourek would keep his eyes open for threats and scout ahead.
Sorley was stuck with bringing up the rear. If anyone started to lag behind he was supposed to get them moving again, but his main job was keeping an eye out for any dangers coming from behind.
“Okay, we’re finally above ground.” Helena stretched and looked around. “Ah, the south-eastern forest.” Evergreen trees and small bushes covered the land. I don’t know any elven settlements here. I’m from the north-western forest.”
“You can navigate here though, right?” Lourek asked. “If not, we need to figure out which way is north and just go that way.”
“No, I can navigate.” Helena pointed to her left. “North is that way.”
Sorley looked where she was pointing and saw a standing stone. “What’s that?”
“Ah, nature marker.” Helena walked toward it. “Commonly known as standing stones.” She brushed some moss off the stone. “I don’t know this language.”
“Let me look.” Sorley approached the stone and saw it was covered in flowing script. “I can’t read it. Seems familiar, though.” He pulled out his grimoire. “Is there more under the rest of the moss?”
Helena shrugged and used a fire spell to burn off the rest of the moss. “There.”
Sorley opened his grimoire and turned to a page near the center. “Ah, here. The language in here isn’t complete, but I think this says something like warm, this says stream or pool, and this says west.” He pointed at three words. “This seems to be a directional marker.”
“There’s supposed to be a natural hot spring somewhere in this forest. I could do with a warm bath.” Helena pointed west. “Well, it’s that way. Let’s go.”
“Sounds good to me.” Sorley glanced at the dwarves. “Well, that sound good to you two?”
“Sure.” Lukren shrugged. “It’s not much of a detour, we need to go west anyway.”
Lourek motioned to Helena. “Well, let’s go then. Lead the way.”
– – –
Karkust watched as Donaar jumped straight into the steaming hot water. He shook his head at the dragonkin. “Does it feel good?”
“Feels great!” Donaar dove under the water then surfaced suddenly, spraying hot spring water everywhere.
Evryn ran past Krakust, jumped high, and splashed into the water. She barked happily.
“Ok, you two. I’ll keep watch.” Krakust started walking around the pool. “Just let me know when you want to swap.”
The sound of voices echoed over the snow and water. Krakust motioned to Donaar and Evryn. “Keep it down,” he said softly. “Do you hear that?”
Donaar cocked his head to the side. “I hear something, yes. You check it out. I’ll join you shortly.”
“No, don’t worry. I’ll just scout it out.” Krakust started walking toward the noise.
Shaking his head Donaar swam towards the edge of the hot spring pool. “Come on, Evryn. Let’s follow him.” He looked up and saw Evryn already on the shore, shaking the water off. “Ah, you are loyal. Aren’t you, girl?”
Evryn snorted softly and started following Krakust’s footsteps.
– – –
“Look, the hot springs!” Lukren and Lourek took off running and stripped off their clothing as they went. They jumped into the first pool they came to.
Sorley shook his head and turned to say something to Helena. She was facing the forest with her arms crossed. “Well, they aren’t very gentlemanly when it comes to hot springs, are they?”
“No, most certainly not.” Helena sighed. “Are they in the water yet?”
“Yup. Do you want to do a perimeter watch with me? I don’t feel like going in while they’re in there.”
“Sure, but if we find a secluded pool I’m staying there.”
Sorley nodded. “Fair.” He motioned towards the collection of pools. “After you.”
Orby manifested out of Helena and started floating next to Ember. It looked like they were having a mental conversation.
“So,” Sorley asked, “what are you planning to do once we cross the plains to your tribe? If it’s called a tribe.”
“It’s a tribe I suppose.” Helena shrugged. “I want to talk to my grandmother if she’s still there. Tell her about your vision. Try to rally the elves.”
Sorley nodded. “Makes sense. What will you do after the war?” He paused for a moment. “After we deal with that darkfall rend, of course.”
“Well, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll think of something after that.” Helena sighed. “Originally, when I was freed I wanted to go right home and stay there forever. Now I’m talking about starting a war and repairing the very fabric of Domhan. It’s a big change.”
Sorley jumped over a small stream of water crossing between two pools. “I’ve always wanted to live in a large city. That may be because I grew up in the woods with just my parents and Ember. Never really seen a town, let alone a city.”
Helena smiled. “I’ve thought of that before too, but there aren’t any here in the South Reaches, and nobody goes above the mushroom forest, at least not that come back.” She shrugged. “That could mean they found what they were looking for, or that could mean they died in the mushroom forest. Nobody knows.”
“What’s the mushroom forest?” Sorley asked.
“Exactly what it sounds like, a forest of mushrooms. There’s no trees, just really tall mushrooms.”
“Ok, I sup-“ a loud crack cut off Sorley. He whirled in the direction the noise had come from and grabbed his grimoire from his side. “What was that?”
Krakust stepped out from behind a nearby snowdrift. “A stupid twig under the snow, that’s what.”
The ice wolf appeared next to Krakust, and a weird lizard man walked around to stand on Krakust’s other side.
“I take it you know these two, then?” He approached, hand outstretched. “I’m Donaar ‘Shield-Biter’ Thruuvth. Knight of the Order of Defenders. Last known survivor of the Night of Gore.”
“Helena Dabaerosh, apprentice dracomage.” Helena did an ornate bow. “It is nice to see not all the dragonkin died off in the Night of Gore. Though my tribe calls it the Rending.” She shook Donaar’s hand then motioned to Sorley. “This is Sorley Aelfson, warlock.”
Sorley too shook the dragonkin’s hand. “Pleased to make you acquaintance. This is my familiar, Ember.” He motioned at the red fox and light elemental standing next to him. “Oh, and the light elemental is Helena’s…uh…familiar?”
“That’s right.” Helena nodded. “Orby is also a familiar, though maybe not in the same way.”
Krakust cleared his throat. “Ahem.”
“Yes?” Sorley asked. “Is there something you want to say?”
“Sorry’s not good enough. You tried to kill us.” Scales started to appear on Helena’s arm.
Calm, calm. He’s not hostile. Orby comforted Helena. He’s with a Defender Knight. He must’ve done something to gain his trust.
“Stand down, he’s not attacking.” Sorley put himself between Helena and Krakust. I know you were enslaved to him and I expect you resent that, but please stay calm. For my sake if nothing else.”
“Fine.” Helena’s arm returned to normal. “Orby brought up a good point.” She turned back to Donaar. “How did you two meet?”
“He saved me from dying in the snow. I had been ambushed and left to die. They took my outer armor but left my sword. They probably weren’t worthy to wield it. If you know of my order you know what that means.”
“What?” Sorley looked at the sword. “Looks like a regular sword to me.”
Donaar smiled and removed the sword from its scabbard. “Here, try to hold it.”
“No, don’t.” Helena put her hand on Donaar’s shoulder. “He doesn’t know anything about your group.”
“Well, he’ll learn now, if he wants.” Donaar held the blade out, hilt first. “Well?”
Shrugging Sorley grabbed onto the hilt. “He lifted the blade and looked at the runes along it. “Hmm. Interesting runes. Never seen them before.”
Helena looked wide-eyed at the sword in Sorley’s grip. “How?”
“He would make a good knight, if he weren’t already a warlock.” Donaar nodded.
“Oi!” Lukren yelled out from behind Helena and Sorley. “What’s that beast doing here?” He was wearing only his underclothes, his armor back by the hot spring pool.
“Calm down.” Krakust unbelted his dagger and tossed it on the ground. “I mean no harm.”
“Very well.” Lukren turned to the dragonkin. “By the blade you carry I assume you’re a knight.”
“Yes, Donaar ‘Shield Biter’ Thruuvth at your acquaintance.” Donaar did a slight bow.
“Ok, if you aren’t hostile then you can help.” Lukren motioned back to where he had come from. “A huge serpent showed up and swallowed Lourek!” “What?!” Helena and Sorley said in tandem, then turned and started running back toward the pool. Donaar and Lukren were close behind. Krakust paused a moment to gather his dagger and belt from the ground then followed with Evryn.