I’d never left the dungeon before, and it took me a moment to adjust to sunlight. I’d only ever experienced the light of torches or the arcane glow some sorcerers could summon for illumination. Sunlight felt different, it felt warm.
We hadn’t found much in the way of loot in the dungeon. There was a small pouch of gems, a smattering of coins and some old equipment that I knew had belonged to the parties who’d explored the dungeon before. My former master enjoyed the finer things, but his skill in conjuration meant he had no need to carry much wealth and his raw power had made him feel that enchanted objects were beneath him. Still, in spite of the lack of loot everyone was in high spirits.
We stood a short way from the dungeon’s entrance as Kyren climbed a nearby tree to recover the travel gear she’d hidden there earlier. The sight surprised me, but searching Sevald’s memories I recalled she was a quarter wood elf. Still, the image of a holy woman bounding up a tree in white robes took some adjustment.
“Entden’s just a day and half away right?” I asked. Sevald’s voice had been deep and fine. I took a moment to be grateful that it was the one I would be stuck with.
“Aye, we’ll likely travel a bit before making camp for the night. Even if we’ve cleared the dungeon for now, all sorts of beasties tend to gather around them. Best not to tempt fate.” Stone’s words mirrored my own thinking. I’d been awakened more than once to roust goblins that had assumed my master’s dungeon was free real estate. Monsters in general are drawn to certain places. I was still feeling a pull to return to the dungeon myself.
Three traveling bags thumped on the ground next to me, followed by Kyren who had already secured hers over her shoulder.
“Thank you,” I grabbed Sevald’s bag. It contained a week's travel rations, a bedroll, some travelling clothes, a holy symbol of Dur and some etchings which I sincerely doubted Dur would have approved of. Sevald had been travelling alone until he’d reached Entden, hard to blame him for a little self care.
Hrig took her small pack and belted it over her waist. It was the smallest of them, from what I’d seen of her so far I assumed she preferred to live off the land when she could. Stone added the small amount of loot we’d collected to his own bag.
“Try not to ‘lose’ any of the loot this time, Stone. I’ve taken notice of how often your purse seems heavier than mine.”
“You wound me Hrig. You really think I’d ever steal from my companions? I only carry the valuables because I get the best prices from the merchants. Besides, if I ever ‘lose’ anything the additional coin I earn you by my haggling more than makes up for it.” Hrig grunted in response and Kyren rolled her eyes before leading the way back to the trail that led to town.
By their tone I could tell the argument was a familiar one. I’d had very little interaction with others, but between the four adventurers I’d eaten, I found that the nuances of people’s speech and movement weren’t too difficult to discern with a moment’s effort. Luckily Sevald had been quiet when travelling with my new companions, so they wouldn’t be expecting me to talk too much. I realized that at this point I'd actually spoken more to them then he had. That makes them more my companions than they ever were his.
We stopped along the trail a little before sundown and made camp. We laid out our bedrolls and Hrig left to see if she could find a rabbit or two to attempt a stew. Kyren set water to boil and Stone brought out the gems he’d recovered from my dead master’s tunic and looked at them with a small magnifying lens. He seemed pleased with their grade.
I took out Sevald’s symbol of Dur and pretended to pray. This was where things could go wrong. I didn’t eat, well not anything my comrades would approve of, and when I don’t take off my helmet to eat or my armor to sleep they would certainly get suspicious. Sevald had changed out of his armor on the night he’d spent with the party and hadn’t even worn a helmet until he’d found me. I could simply not address it and keep the armor on, but both Hrig and Stone didn’t seem the type to let that go without comment.
If they saw through my ruse it was quite possible that I would be able to defeat them. Kyren was out of spells, Hrig had lost a lot of blood and Stone wasn’t too strong in a straight up fight. I wasn’t tired, I didn’t think I was capable of it and I was at least as strong as Hrig, though I’d never had occasion to test myself to my limits. With the element of surprise and a little brutality I could be free of them, collect the reward from the village and be on my way.
I didn’t want that though. I wanted to be an adventurer and travel with my newfound party. Wanting was new for me, and I'd prefer not to feel the disappointment of not satisfying it.
I searched the essences I’d collected, trying to think out a solution when I realized it was already in my hands. I looked down at the symbol of Dur, god of order, balance and fidelity.
“Kyren... Would you do me the honor of bearing witness to a sacred vow?” She looked up from the boiling water that was now swirling with wild onions and chopped mushrooms.
“Of course. I’m obligated to, in fact. Stone, can you watch the pot for me?” He nodded and took her place. She approached me, gave a quick prayer in elvish and nodded for me to start.
“As penance for feeling the temptation to kill my comrades, I take a vow of penance in the name of Dur. I shall not be seen outside of my armor until the weight of my sin is less than that of my armor.” I felt satisfied for a moment, that should give me the cover I needed. Then something unexpected happened. The symbol of Dur started glowing. Then Kyren’s eyes began glowing and she spoke in a voice that was not her own.
“Your oath in the name of Dur is witnessed by the servant of Sidi, and accepted.” for a moment the entire camp was bathed in holy light, then it was gone.
That concerned me greatly.
“That was a true godly pact. Those are rare.” said Kyren, predicting my question before I asked it. “Gods hear bargains all the time. ‘If my crop yield is good I’ll never drink again, I’d give my soul for ten bars of gold, I’d kill to get rid of this headache’. These words are usually spoken jokingly or desperately, but sometimes a god will answer and bind them to it. Looks like yours was just answered by Dur.”
“Well, I suppose I’m honored… though surprised.” being locked into a pact by a god I wasn’t even aware of until I ate one of his devout followers was definitely surprising.
“Well, the gods are fickle and often motivated by whimsy, though Dur doesn’t seem the type to usually indulge in that, he must be keeping an eye on you.” Her words sent a shiver through the steel of my back. A god of order and balance watching a monster masquerading as a man seemed unlikely to end well.
“Y’know I made a godly pact once.” Stone said, looking up from the soup pot he was still stirring dutifully for Kyren. “I was lost in a deep forest near my hometown. I’d not seen a landmark I’d recognized for two days and rain had been falling on me constantly. At one point, when I was feeling particularly desperate I said I’d give my left nut for a mug of ale and a warm chair. I thought I heard someone laughing and went towards the sound. After walking just a short while longer I came upon a town that neighbored my own. A barmaid took pity on me and gave me a blanket, a corner table and a tall glass of ale. When the rain cleared she offered to guide me back home since she was headed that way anyway. I went to help her saddle her mule when it startled and kicked me square in the jewels. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced. You can guess what the kick cost me… Anyway, during my long recovery the barmaid took a liking to me and that’s how I met my first wife. That’s also why I only have daughters. Everyone knows that boys come from the left one.”
I felt something bubbling up in my breastplate. I tried to hold it in, but before I knew it the strangest sound was coming from my faceplate. Holding it down only seemed to make it worse. I was laughing, I realized. The sensation was new to me, but I found I rather liked it. After a moment I recovered, then laughed some more, recovered again and just I thought I was done I had a final fit. Stone was looking pleased that he’d elicited such a reaction and even Kyren had a small smile though she was doing her best to hide it. I found that the laughter had tremendously relieved my concern for my new godly pact. Whatever it may bring, it was surely worth it for the new experiences I’d be having.
Just then Hrig emerged into the camp with three fat rabbits dangling from her hand.
“I heard your laughter from a league away, what was so funny?” she asked.
“Stone was just telling Sevald the story of how he met his first wife.” responded Kyren.
“Ah, from when the Dwarven trickster Jeiri supposedly played matchmaker? I’ve heard better.”
“It always kills in the taverns Hrig.” Stone’s voice was filled with indignation.
“Exactly, it’s the kind of story that amuses drunks, that isn’t really a mark in its favor.” She sighed, “I just realized that with Sevald travelling with us, Stone will have an excuse to tell all of his stories again…” her and Kyrens expressions grew grave as Stone’s eyes started twinkling.
After bluffing my way through a bowl of rabbit stew by gently spooning it into my faceplate and absorbing it the way I had the corpses that had worn my armor, I took the first watch. I didn’t sleep or tire, so it made the most sense to me, and my companions were too tired to argue over it. ‘Eating’ had been interesting. I don’t have a mouth, but I could taste the soup in the same way I could see without eyes, smell without a nose and hear without ears. I could tell from the lives I’d absorbed that my senses were in some ways keener than theirs had been. I could sense things within a field around myself that let me tell what was going on behind me and even around corners. I could even taste the soup that was left in the pot if I focused hard enough. It was going to take awhile to get used to. I hadn’t ever explored what I was capable of before, as I’d never needed to. I’d only existed to follow my master’s script, this was the longest I’d ever even been awake.
After two hours I woke Hrig to let her take watch. I could’ve done it the entire time, but it was best to maintain the illusion that I slept. I lay there, listening to the sounds of owls, and each of my companions taking their turns at watch until I felt the sun start to shine down onto my armor.