Two days had passed since the battle with the Orb Weavers. The little group had encountered a few stragglers, including a mother carrying eggs, but had little other trouble. All in all, they now had eighteen chunks of Orb Weaver Chitin, a good pile of Essence, more silk strands than Kahari could count, and twelve vials of venom. A good haul, and when it was turned in, more money than Kahari had ever seen at once. Of course the Association would take it’s twenty percent as it had been an open quest, but the rest would be divided among the party after group supplies were purchased, and lodging arranged.
In those two days Kahari had learned that martial techniques were rather simple to activate. Just thinking the name of the technique could do it, and once he was registered he could assign steps to activate it without doing even that much. The three he had were simple, but they were in most people’s first gains, at least among the martial classes, though Nissa also had Piercing Thrust. The Shield Bash was a knockback attack with low damage, Haft Slam was basically the same but with a short stun instead. Piercing Thrust was much more immediately useful. It increased attack damage by 50%, and reduced target armor by 20% on impact. Supposedly it went up to Piercing Thrust V, with piercing thrust advancing to the next tier every twenty levels. So Piercing Thrust (Level 20) would advance into Piercing Thrust II (Level 1).
Kahari’s train of thought was interrupted when he bumped into Bedora who had stopped walking. Bouncing off the wall of muscle, he looked up to see what was going on.
“A tent village? Perfect, we can get fresh supplies, and see what’s going on since we’ve been out of contact.”
Kahari looked around the Amazon, and his eyes widened at the multicolored tents and wagons pitched in a large clearing next to the road. He could see even more dipping into the forest, hammocks strung up between trees, and so on. He knew this group, it was a nomadic group of Beastkin, mostly red and brown furred Foxkin, though rumor had it some true Kitsune lived among them.
“I know them! This is Sok Village, they pass through Seras in spring, buy up our cider, and generally trade with us before moving south to the bigger city.”
Nissa smiled and happily trotted over to a Foxkin man leaning against a tree, keeping a watchful eye on the road, a simple broadsword at his hip, and shield on his back. His eyes passed over the trio, before he waved to let them know they were allowed into the camp. His eyes followed Nissa as she moved deeper in, apparently never seeing a camp like this before, but more out of mistrust than anything else. Fairies had a stronger trickster reputation than Foxkin did, though Kitsune proper were even more infamous in this manner. As Kahari moved to step past him, he put a hand on his shoulder, turning him to get a good look.
“Kahari? What are you doing this far from Seras?”
Kahari blinked, surprised by the question. The surprise faded quickly, of course they hadn’t heard. They tended to cross through the forest directly instead of following the road. Kahari lowered his eyes, and spoke quietly.
“Seras is...it was attacked. A lot of good people are dead, and more have been dragged away in chains. R-”
“What?! Come with me, Elder Robun and the others will want to hear about this.”
“I-wait! What about my friends?”
“Right, I’ll have some of the other guards fetch them. You can wait in Robun’s tent.”
The guard stepped away from the tree, and gestured for Kahari to follow him. Kahari fell into step behind him. Looking around the camp as they moved, Kahari could see many familiar faces, and some new ones. He even spotted a big Bearkin man quietly whittling away on a branch, watching over a group of kids playing with a ball. The village had grown since he’d last seen it, he counted at least a dozen new adults, though plenty of people were in their tents, wagons, or deeper into the forest.
Stepping from the clearing into the forest itself, Kahari could see one of the large tent pavilions that the more important members of the village all used. They passed this one by and moved deeper in, shadows growing thicker as the trees gradually grew taller, and older. It didn’t take long for them to approach the rich red tent, two guards standing at attention in front of it. They blocked the path, and looked at the guard escorting Kahari.
“News from Seras, and two travelling adventures, Silver Class.”
“Where are they?”
“Being fetched, Kahari here was with them.”
“Robun is currently away, Kahari can wait in the tent. We’ll let the other two in when they arrive. Return to your post.”
The guard with Kahari saluted, and turned away. Kahari was confused, he hadn’t seen the man signal for Bedora or Nissa to be gathered at all. Still, the two guards moved so he could go inside. Passing through the tent flap, Kahari shuffled inside and froze for a second, the ground was covered in fine rugs, the furniture looked to mostly be made from Purpleheart, a wood rarely seen in these parts, and there was several chests, and many scrolls scattered about. Kahari kneeled down on a more plain rug, waiting for his companions and Robun.
He didn’t have to wait long as a surly looking Nissa, and an annoyed looking Bedora arrived. Bedora had Nissa tucked under her arm, and dumped the fairy onto the rug next to Kahari, before sitting down herself. Kahari let himself chuckle at this, but otherwise the trio waited silently. After about ten minutes, an older grey haired Foxkin man stepped into the tent, followed by two older women and three younger men. Kahari recognized one of them as Sok’s alchemist, his potions were one of the big sources of money for the little group. Finally a short Kitsune woman pushed her way into the tent, only a little taller than Nissa, but carrying an air of authority that the fairy usually lacked.
Once the seven were seated on the more ornate rug, the Kitsune on Robun’s left, and one of the older men on his right, apparently an order of importance in the village, Robun spoke.
“Kahari my boy, what brings you so far from your town? I’ve heard the bare details from the guard, but I want the full story.”
Kahari raised his head, and responded in kind, his voice a little weak as the emotions were still hard to handle.
“Seras was attacked, over two hundred people died including...including Ranori. About thirty more were taken prisoner, my home was...destroyed entirely.”
Robun rubbed his chin as Kahari spoke, and sighed.
“What brings you out here, with these two?”
“Aiyoko and Tanaya were among the prisoners. I’m trying to get them back. Bedora-”
Kahari gestured to the Amazon first.
“-and Nissa here are Adventurers that were already pursuing a party of the people responsible, they can give you more details.”
The old man looked between the pair, before speaking to Bedora.
“Bedora, what else can you tell us? The people of Seras are dear to us.”
Bedora sighed and looked down before bringing her crimson eyes up to look at the assembled village council.
“It was the Night Talons.”
“No?! In Altesia? They must be getting bold if they’re striking this far south.”
Bedora nodded, not happy to be interrupted but the exasperation was to be expected.
“They’ve escalated attacks, and even assaulted Association property and guards directly. Nissa and myself are training Kahari, and are one of many parties that will be assembling in Ixul before heading to Fota where we’ve found their headquarters. The Association itself has stepped in, and is funding the quest, they want to put an end to the problem.”
“What are they after?”
“We don’t know exactly, but we do know that it’s a big blood ritual. The leyline they’re tapping is active in spring, so we have some time, but not much.”
“Unknown. He’s never used a lot of blood magic, and nothing points directly at him. That said, we wouldn’t put it past him to try and destabilize Fota and the republic built around it. He’s had his eyes on that coastline for decades, but his armies keep failing to take it.”
“Could it be Fota trying to push back and retake the land they did lose in the last war back?”
“Possibly, right now we’re just trying to stop it. Finding out why can come afterwards. I don’t even have all the information, the operation is led by the Ruby Class Warlord Zatitus, he knows the most.”
“This is troubling news, if they’re striking in Altesia a village like this is extremely vulnerable.”
“Agreed, I think it’d be best if you stayed in Ixul for a while, or head back south to Seras, they’d appreciate the extra hands, especially the guards.”
Robun raised a hand, requesting silence as he sat deep in thought. After several minutes, he turned to the Kitsune sitting next to him. Seemed it was time for him to ask opinions from his council.
“Jun, what do you think.”
The woman sighed and scratched her head, she was obviously the youngest in the group, but still held a position of much importance.
“Everyone will get restless if they’re stuck in one place for too long. Most of us travel because we want to, we enjoy it. Still, the threat is too big to ignore, we’re an easy target for ambush, and if they hit a town as big as Seras, they could take all of us. If we must settle somewhere until the issue is resolved, Seras might be the best case for us. We have guards, healers, a smith, several woodcarvers. We can help them recover, and make sure everything is ready for when the Association brings their people back.”
Kahari stared at the floor as the various other council members chimed in on what they thought they should do. In the end a vote was held, Robun abstaining to not influence the vote. Four to two in favor of settling in Seras till spring, with the two preferring Ixul because of the safety it provided with the big branch of the Association there. Robun nodded, and looked at the trio waiting patiently for his decision.
“Seras it is. We will leave in a few days, we stopped here to rest and we shall finish that rest. I know you three must be in a rush to get to Ixul, but I’m offering you a guard job. Stick around till we’re ready to leave, and in exchange we’ll give you some basic supplies, and some Crowns. Just having a pair of Silver class Adventurers with us will deter any smaller threats in the area.”
Nissa and Bedora looked at each other, then after a moment, with a gesture that Kahari should join them, started whispering amongst themselves. Nissa started.
“I don’t like it, we need to get Ixul as soon as we can. Still, we can’t just...leave them to their fate. Night Talon is still around, and they’re right, they’re small enough their entire group could get taken.”
Bedora scratched her head and sighed. She didn’t like this, any of it. The whole situation had gotten out of hand the moment the Night Talon guild had cut their ties to the Association. That was when they started kidnapping people instead of going through the barely legal channels of using criminals sentenced to execution.
“If we stay, we need a bit more than just supplies and a bit of money. Kahari needs more experience and fast, delaying here means we lose some of that time.”
Kahari was shocked that they actually cared for his training, he was so sure he was a burden to them. He hid his shock, remaining silent for a moment before offering his own thoughts.
“Could have them teach me a bit more basic magic. I’m much further behind in that due to limited supplies than anything else.”
Nissa contemplated this, closing her eyes as she tried to weigh the risk to everything from staying here. After a few moments she opened her eyes, and nodded.
“Sounds good to me, gives you some practice and a bit more flexibility.”
She turned her attention to the council, speaking for her group as a whole.
“If you throw in a low tier spell for each day we stick around here to teach Kahari we’ll do it.”
Robun considered this for a moment before nodding.
“Alright, Jun will teach him, one spell a day so...three spells. He can practice them however you two like, we’ll teach him the spell after breakfast each day you’re here. We’ll need some Orb Weaver Venom to cover the copies, we have no magical ink right now but a decent stock of Silverwood paper.”
“We just cleared a nest, so that won’t be a problem.”
“It’s settled then, we’ll teach him the first spell tomorrow. There’s a space on the south western end of camp you can set up in. Otherwise, feel free to wander our little temporary home, and do what you wanna do. You three are dismissed, I have preparations I must attend to.”
Nissa said before the trio got to their feet, and left the tent in short order. As they left they could hear Jun, slightly playfully, complaining about having to teach Kahari. Nissa smiled at this, glad that the village leaders were trying not to let things weigh too heavily on them. Kahari had a smile on his face, his home would be alright. Guilt of leaving them all behind had been weighing heavily on him since he’d left. Now he could send Sok to them with his wishes, with his prayers. He didn’t know which god or goddess could hear him right now, but he hoped they would offer some protection to the people left behind.
Kahari breathed the forest air deeply, the chilly air filling his lungs. He took the lead, knowing how Sok arranged it’s tents, to show Nissa and Bedora where Robun had given them permission to set up. It was at the edge of the camp near the road. He likely wanted them there so that if something happened roadside they could respond quickly. Robun’s first concern was always Sok after all, even if he wanted to help Kahari and Seras. Still, the fact that he was spending time to help Seras pulled some of the weight off Kahari’s shoulders. Once they got to where Robun had said they could set up, they found a collection of three small, plain tents waiting for them. He’d sent word ahead to have it ready for them, so they didn’t have to sleep in just bedrolls. There was a little freshly dug fire pit, and a few waterskins. No food, but that’s because Sok villagers ate as a group in the center of camp. Looks like the three were invited to join them, though it wasn’t time for that yet.
“Kahari? Why’d they help us so quickly?”
Kahari turned to Nissa, seeming a little confused. He didn’t know why, he thought it was only natural for friends to help friends, but they were from a different part of the world. Maybe things were harder there, this area was much more peaceful than most, the mountains shielding them from most problems.
“Seras often took anyone that couldn’t travel anymore, be it to recover or just in general. The Herbalist that runs the healers hut in town was one such person. She grew too sick to travel, and by the time she recovered, she’d decided to stay in Seras.”
“So you help them, they help you kinda thing?”
“It’s what friends are for. We’ve donated supplies, and they’ve healed some of our sick before.”
Nissa disappeared into her tent while Bedora was pleasantly surprised that the village had had a tent that even fit her. Kahari chuckled at Nissa’s reaction and shrugged his bag off his back, ducking into his own tent, and found that there was a thin straw mattress waiting for him. Seemed Sok was giving them a little comfort, what it could afford to spare anyway. He put his bag down, and looked up at the little lamp hanging from the tent pole, it was magical so he didn’t mess with it. Stepping back outside still wearing his armor and carrying his weapons, he looked around. There was a small stack of firewood and tinder next to it, though he’d have to gather more as that wouldn’t last all three days.
“Bedora, I’m going to go mingle with the people here, been awhile since I’ve seen some of these people, I have friends among them.”
Bedora poked her head out of her tent and nodded. She didn’t seem to mind as much this time, with it not being just the three of them at the moment she could spare him.
“Alright, we’ll join you in a bit, Nissa is going to set up her wards, and I’m going to take this chance to make a list of the supplies we need. Mind if I go through your bag to have a complete picture of what we have left?”
“Go ahead, just don’t forget that the village has a communal supper, so if you want something different you’ll have to actually join us.”
“Yeah yeah, I’ll keep it in mind.”
Kahari turned away from their little section of the camp, and walked away at a leisurely pace. Even if he had to keep his equipment with him, he could enjoy the company of the group, talk to his friends among them, and try to let his worries melt away. Even if it was only for a few days, a little relief would do him good. He hummed softly as he wove between the trees. On the other end of camp, he was blissfully unaware of Amber eyes watching the villagers work, a wicked smile in the dark.