Chapter 8: Reckonings

Naomi startles a little and gives Thistle a confused look, blinking rapidly. "Ah, e-excuse me? I did not say kill. I... I said stop. Surely there is some way..." Her voice trails off as she looks at the others, from Thistle to Colin and Narnae, resolute in their course, to Rhyoick in silent observation and Kyle, lost in his own thoughts. Naomi fidgets uncomfortably on the branch seat, the berry she had been picking at crushed absently between her fingers.

"I... I have no right command death." Her gaze drops and her shoulders tighten.

Thistle looks to Narnae, no judgment on his face, but a look of concern still. With a hand, he gestures to their group.

"Your army has answered your call to arms."

"All except you," Narnae replies without looking up. "I command no one, but will aid anyone whose purpose aligns with mine, and accept it from those who wish to give it. Everyone else has spoken, but what of you, Tistlelandalon? What is your decision?"

The Elf shifts his weight, soft leathers creaking slightly from the movement.

"You would have me break my vow. I swore to lead you all to safety. There is no safe haven where we return. If this is your course, I would not sit idly by. I needed to know if your heart was set to this. Betty warns us that the darkness is maligned, and yet even the horrors of the night fear us. If that is so... "

Thistle moves beyond the silk wrappings, looking around the grim forest.

"Then let us show the darkness what it rightly fears."

"Your vow to lead us to safety did not also ensure that we would remain there." Narnae looks at him then. "In leading us here, you have fulfilled your vow, for we were able to sleep through the night with more surety that we would all wake than if we had camped in the wilderness or returned to the village. It may not be the haven you envisaged, but it is a place where we may all return, if the need is great."

Setting her bow to one side, she packs away the beeswax and rag where it will be safe for the next use and stands up ready to depart. "For my part, I consider your vow fulfilled. You owe me no debt to lead me further, even if I would choose to follow while my destination lies elsewhere."

Collin had remained quiet, listening, waiting. "There may be no safe place here. From the sounds of it the mist is a cruel, unforgiving area, at least what we have seen of it so far. Safety is not for one that would aspire to knighthood. I cannot stand by and do nothing. I release you from your vow if you feel you have not already kept your end of any promise."

“If the weight of your promise now grows heavy as a burden” Kyle speaks up quietly, having re-emerged from whatever dark labyrinth his memories and thoughts had taken him to “I also consider your vow fulfilled, and release you from it.”

The petite Halfling looks up at Thistle, his green eyes wary yet also shining with determination. “We have few leads on the Baron. Perhaps tackling the hound might provide insights or opportunities to learn more about this man?” While he speaks, the cleric scratches Arco behind the floppy ears.

A rare half-smile creases Thistle's lips.

"Killing a man is twice easier than hunting a beast that can rend wood with its' claws, and then disappear into mist and rumour. You would test my skills on the hunt. If your hound could catch the scent, we may yet follow its' trail when there is no trail to follow."

Thistle looks to Narnae, then to Naomi.

"If we can find no sign of the hound's passing, then we may need you and Colin to pass the gates of Willowmere once more, and learn what whispers pass the lips of the scared denizens within."

Naomi nods tensely, recalling her earlier excursion into the town. It would probably be better for Colin to go, since her appearance was regrettably distinctive and her magical abilities were surely now known after the encounter in the woods and the inn, but if need be she would not shy from the duty.

Pace crawls into her lap and stretches with satisfaction. A single blue and grey down feather is caught in his whiskers and he smugly pushes his head into her empty hands, demanding attention and praise. Naomi pats him absently as she considers their options.

"We need some kind of safe place to stay--as safe as it can be--if we are going to undertake a series of investigations that may take days. This village is too far from Willowmere and we are not welcome beyond today anyway. Perhaps we could set up a semi-permanent camp in the pine forest, near the, uh, where the spider folks... lived? They struck me as territorial in nature, I doubt they shared their hunting ground with others of their kind willingly, and the townsfolk must surely know of and avoid a danger so close to their homes. If we could borrow some tent materials and a few hammocks from the elves we might set up a fairly safe base of operations, at least until we find somewhere better."

Pace complains with a low mrowl and butts her hand with his head, impatient with the lackluster enthusiasm of his petting and breaking her train of thought. She smiles faintly and gathers her familiar against her chest and shoulder, scratching him until he purrs.

"But I agree that solving the problem of the hound is more pressing than the Baron. Of the two, the hound is a greater immediate danger, and probably the easier one to solve while we gather more information on the latter."

Collin nodded, "That is a very good idea. We need a base to operate from if we are going to go in search of that hound again. It has already proven time consuming. We need food and water and shelter at the very least. Much of which can be obtained from the town, but at some risk."


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