Chapter 14 – Chari’s Best Behavior

Tenth of Learning 1142

Ressssen sat near the campfire. As a reptile, she could move and function at different temperatures but usually became more sluggish at night at this time of year. There were mechanisms to compensate for extreme temperatures, but they all burned mana. There was no need to do so at this time. It was better to hang on to her magic reserves for spell casting, should it become necessary.

Actually, they had yet to see any real cold this year, but the memory of other nights kept Ressssen close to the fire in anticipation of what was to come. It was still early in the fall, and it had remained warm until now, but the weather in these parts could change very quickly.


She turned her attention from the flames to her team members, faces bathed in flickering shadows. The team provided a different type of warmth, just as necessary to her well-being. Each individual was known to her in some ways, yet completely unknown in others. That they all had secrets, she had no doubt, but snake lords were a perceptive folk, and Ressssen was perceptive even for her kind. Yet she didn’t try to learn more than the others were willing to offer. She respected privacy. Still, she did manage to glean some information here and there, probably more than most assumed.

Garne hid his good-natured spirit behind a solid wall of apathy and antisocial behavior. He was gruff, unwelcoming, unlikable… a lie told loudly to keep people at arm’s length. He had a good heart. He cared about people but never showed it. Ressssen knew it had something to do with his last team, but she didn’t pry.

Borin was like most of his people. He was the Misfit’s healer. This was a natural role for salads, sentient plants that were less of a race and more of a biological oddity. She knew that certain plants saturated with certain types of magic for long periods of time became sentient and with enough magic became mobile, imitating the forms of the first sentient creatures they found themselves exposed to. Should a sentient creature camp near a growing salad, it would start to take on its form. Some attempts have been made to farm salads, with varying degrees of success. But Salads exposed to residual healing magic seemed to be most viable, and thus it was natural that many of them became healers. Many of the few that existed. Ressssen knew she was lucky to have one, and that other teams were jealous when they saw him. He’d received several offers from other teams, all of which he rejected. Why Borin had chosen to remain with the Misfits she didn’t know, but she suspected it was due to the diverse nature of the group. Borin was infinitely curious about all sorts of things, so having multiple races to observe made this particular team a good choice for the salad.

Striker was Striker. Dependable, flirty, driven by her sexual appetites, and unable to see her own value. Ressssen had no real clue what she had gone through in her life, but somewhere in her past, the girl had been abused. Someone had hurt her badly. Until she came to terms with it, she would remain as she was. It didn’t affect the Misfits however, and so it was none of her business.

And then there was Dreek. Phase Shifters weren’t uncommon, but they did not commonly become adventurers. They didn’t trust most people, and most didn’t trust them. As she understood it, phase shifters lived in two worlds, and this was only one of them. When they entered the other, they shifted “out of phase” with this one and became intangible. Ressssen had asked about the other world, but Dreek couldn’t or wouldn’t describe it. Dreek did his job and didn’t really interact with the rest of them, unless someone else initiated it. If she had to pick a single word to describe him, she’d say he was professional. As team leader, Ressssen appreciated it, considering the instabilities of the others.

The team was strong, and Ressssen was happy with them all. She was less happy with Merck Vanderoth. The man had changed, that much was clear. Not only changed, but changed classes. He wasn’t like a different person, he literally was a different person. No one on the team had ever heard of that happening, and Ressssen wasn’t sure it had ever happened before. And yet he believed he had a solution to the undead problem, a thing of incalculable value. Getting to the capitol was only the first leg of the journey, and she was impatient to get on with it. But Merck Vanderoth was an unknown quantity, and that always scared her.

The day’s travel had been uneventful, and she was looking forward to an uneventful night, but they’d keep watch anyway, of course.

The two humans sat together with Borin beside them. Ressssen sat on the opposite side of the campfire, closer to its flames than the humans, basking in its warmth. Dreek was on patrol around the edges of the circle, in a different place each time she saw him. Merck sat by himself, silent, staring into the fire.

She thought about waiting to talk to him, indeed, she didn’t want to interrupt her private thoughts to start a conversation, but there were things she wanted to know, so she stood and moved to where the priest sat, absently trying to get the last piece of meat from a rabbit bone.

“It is time to talk, Priest.”

“Call me Merck, please. I know that our first meeting gives you no reason to trust me, so I don’t ask for your trust, but I have been Merck my whole life. I have only been a Priest for a few days. It may be what I am now, but it is not who I am…yet at least. I am a new man. I don’t know myself much better than you do right now.”

Ressssen nodded. “As you say, Merck. I wish to know more about what happened to you.”

Merck nodded as if he had been expecting this conversation. “There are things I can tell you, and things I can not. This is not my choice, but the will of my god. I do not even know how I know what I can and can’t say, but I do know.”

“Let usssss ssstart with an easssy thing, then. You were a Swindler, and now you are not. Do you know how that happened?”

He considered the rabbit bone, as if the answer to the question were etched in tiny letters along its length. Then he flung it into the fire and spoke.

“No. I lost my class and with it all my skills. I assume it was taken by my new god, but I don’t know for sure. I have reason to suspect my old god, Tharin, was displeased with me. The old me wouldn’t have understood the reasons, but I can see it now as clearly as I see the fire before me. I was addicted to sizzle. It was all that mattered to me. A man can not have two masters. I believe that Tharin saw that he was no longer my first concern. I am ashamed that I acted so, for the God of Thieves saved me. I do not wish to elaborate further on that however.”

“Then I will ask no more. Tell me of your new god.”

Merck looked uncomfortable. “I am ashamed to say that I probably know almost as little as you do. I will attempt to serve him better than I did Tharin, for he has given me a second chance. Not many people get a second chance. Even fewer sizzle addicts. I do not take lightly what my god has done for me. But he has only asked one thing of me.”

“To find a boy.”

“Yes. He showed me the boy and told me to find him, and so I shall. I don’t know how, or why, but I do know that it has something to do with ending the undead threat. I only wish I knew where to start.”

“How was the boy dressed?”

“Richly. He’s a noble, or royalty. I can describe him. The problem is that I was high on sizzle when I saw him, and he was glowing and ghostly, so I didn’t get that much detail. I would know him if I saw him.”

“He had an accent?”

“I don’t know. My god spoke through him, so it was my god’s voice I heard. At least I assume that is the case. No boy could have a voice like the voice I heard.”

Ressssen nodded. “There are far fewer wealthy people than there are poor people, so there are fewer people you’d have to see in each area. I have thought about this and I will ask the Adventurer’s Guild to allow us to continue to accompany you. If they allow it, we will go from place to place, protecting you, and you will meet with nobles and royalty.”

“That doesn’t sound like it will be easy.”

Ressssen chuckled, a sinister sound from the mouth of a serpent lord, emerging much like a stuttering hiss. “It will be. Once the nobility hears of a chance to end the undead threat, they’ll be lined up to see you. Even the Misfits of Karmenon would not be able to keep them away. The problem won’t be getting you in to see nobility, it will be holding them off so you can see them in an organized fashion. We will move from town to town until we find the boy for whom you search.”

“It can’t be that easy. Nothing is that easy.”

They were words spoken with such conviction that Ressssen could almost feel the pain and hopelessness of the Priest’s life within them.

“There will be challenges,” she agreed. “I just don’t think they will be the same challenges you are expecting to face. It is a valuable life lesson. The difficulty you are prepared for will not harm you. The difficulty you are unprepared for is the one that will take you down.”

“Wise words.”

“They are not mine. It is a transssslation of an old sssserpent lord saying. Rest now. We still have at least another day of travel, and it may not be as uneventful as this one has been.”


Eleventh of Learning 1142

Chari woke up to a light tapping on her bedroom door. She opened it, bleary eyed, completely exhausted from the last four days of training. The physical training was hard enough, but the constant mental bombardment had taken its toll on all of them, except perhaps Kalutu. She wondered what his deal was. No one should be able to keep that schedule and still have a spring to his step.

She opened the door just a crack and before she could protest, Dahr pushed his way in and motioned for her to close it. Bemused she did.

“What is it, Dahr?”

She tried, with mixed success she thought, to keep the irritation out of her voice. She needed sleep…a lot more sleep.

“You need to come with me. I have to show you something.”

Chari groaned, but took another look at the young prince and realized that he was nervous, perhaps even scared. She sighed, pulled on a robe and followed him from the room. She had thought there would be guards, but they were nowhere to be seen. In fact, during the walk to the princes’ quarters, they saw no one, as if only Chari and Dahr existed in the world. The thought sent a shiver down her spine. Chari chided herself for her foolishness but couldn’t shake the feeling that the world she had woken to was different from the one she had fallen asleep in.

She kept her thoughts to herself. Dahr was already nervous, and she didn’t want to add her nonsense to whatever was on his mind. She wondered if she’d be able to sleep when she finally returned to her room, but it didn’t seem likely.

Dahr took her back to his room. He led her past a watchful Kalutu who said nothing, though the were-owl followed when they entered Dahr’s bedroom.

It was the first time she had seen Dahr’s sleeping chamber, but there wasn’t much to it. It was a lot less messy than she’d imagined it would be, having seen the quarters of other young men back in Melar. He may have been a prince, but this was still a servant’s quarters. A bed, a good quality chest of drawers, but no different from the quarters of most personal servants she’d seen. It didn’t seem like Dahr had many possessions. He would probably move to bigger rooms at some point, when Leata got around to arranging it. With everything else going on, it wasn’t likely her biggest priority.

“Dahr what is this about?”

“Earlier tonight, I was lying in bed, exhausted. I was aching and tired and thought I would sleep right away but I didn’t. I hurt too much.”

Chari nodded, understanding the issue. But Dahr wasn’t finished.

“I was thinking about how hard the training was, and how slow the progress was, when I had a thought. What we really needed to do was train in the Other Realm. No one knows how to train me and Eric, but the gods must, right? Maybe they can help us level faster.”

Chari thought about it a second, but shook her head. “The gods told your father to train us. They didn’t say anything about the Other Realm. I doubt Veloran would give us the potions if we asked for them, but I think even asking for them would be a mistake.”

Dahr looked uncomfortable. He gestured to an open wooden crate on the floor by the far wall of the room. Chari walked over to it, an uncomfortable feeling beginning to form in the pit of her stomach. She looked down but already knew what she’d see.

“Dahr, where did you get this?”

“I went to sleep and had a dream. In the dream I snuck out of the castle, and into the temple. People didn’t see me. I just carried it out and brought it here.”

“Dahr! You can get in a lot of trouble. For one thing, you shouldn’t be wandering alone at night.” She turned to look at Kalutu. “Didn’t you try to stop him?”

Kalutu looked down as he answered. “I didn’t see him, Your Highness. His door never opened, and I heard no sound. I had no idea he was gone. Which is really odd, because I always know where my masters are. Always.”

“It’s not his fault. I walked through the wall.”

She turned back to the young prince. “You did what!”

“I walked through the wall. I didn’t think anything of it, it was just a dream. But clearly, George wants us to do this.”

“Can you do it again now?”

“Walk through the wall? I doubt it. I don’t think I have skills. I can do what I need when I need to, but I can’t do it again later. When I summoned Kalutu, I didn’t cast a spell. I was just walking along with Eric, and I felt like he was doing all the work and facing all the danger, and I needed to help out too. And then Kalutu appeared. Well, fell out of the sky.”

“No skills, but you can do what needs to be done. That sounds powerful but chancy. I have a solid set of skills I can depend on, but they’re all the skills I have. That’s so strange.”

“I think it’s cool.”

“That it is. So, why wake me and not Eric?”

Dahr smiled. “Because he’s Eric. What do you think he’ll do when he finds out I broke into a Temple of Sheba and stole a box of potions?”

Chari nodded. “That’s pretty smart. So you want me to break it to him, do you?”

Dahr looked hopeful. Chari sighed.

“Fine. Let’s go wake him. But mark my words, this is going to come back to haunt us.”

Dahr shook his head. “We need faster training, and I don’t know how long we can keep up the pace we’re going. At least now we can train while we sleep.”

“You know it’s not going to be that easy.”

Dahr shrugged. “Are you finding what we’re doing now easy?”

Chari didn’t have an answer. She motioned for Dahr to follow and went to wake Eric. It was going to be a long day.


“He did what!”

Eric’s face paled, but his jaw was set in a position of displeasure. Chari had seen that exact expression on her father’s face often enough to know what was about to happen. She forestalled it with a single finger, held up in front of her.

Eric looked like he was about to raise his voice, but he stopped and waited. Chari knew if she said the right thing now she could diffuse the situation. Normally, when dealing with her father, she didn’t try, happy to allow whatever misdeeds she’d been about to add to her father’s continually growing cache of gray hair. Eric, however, was a different story.

“It’s not as bad as it seems. Don’t you think Sheba knows what goes on in her temple? If she didn’t want us to have it, we wouldn’t have it.”

Eric opened his mouth and closed it again. “It seems like this excuse for bad behavior is coming up increasingly often. Sheba’s willing something doesn’t absolve us from behaving properly.”

Chari smiled sweetly. “So it’s not important to follow Sheba’s will?”

“I didn’t say that!”

“You implied it. Sheba wants us to have these potions or we wouldn’t have them, it really is that simple. You need to learn to relax.”

“Dahr just broke into a temple!”

“I prefer to see at as Dahr was invited into a temple and given a gift to take back with him. Some would say not accepting a gift from your goddess is bad behavior, wouldn’t you say?”

“This is ridiculous. How can you defend him?”

“Because we’re in danger and need to be trained. We’re progressing too slowly. I haven’t leveled, have you?”

“No. Today is the Day of the Dead, and we started training on,” he paused to do the math, “when was it, the Day of the Lesser Gods. So, this is only the fifth day.”

“Exactly. Normal methods of leveling aren’t working out. Sheba must realize this so she’s stacking the deck in our favor. Why is that a bad thing?”

Eric started to reply but hesitated. “I’m never going to win an argument with you, am I?”

Chari grinned. “Of course not. You’re a man.”

Eric groaned but then embraced her. “We’ll go through our normal training today and then take the potion when we sleep. We can do it here in the anteroom. Kalutu can keep watch.”

Chari nodded. “I’ll go tell Dahr. He’ll be relieved you’re not angry.”

“I didn’t say I wasn’t angry.”

“I know. I did. Deal with it.”

And she was gone. As the door closed, Prince Eric shook his head and wondered what his life would be like after they were married, when Princess Chari would no longer be on her best behavior.


Forward to Chapter 15 – The Other Other Realm

Return to Chapter 13 – Memories of Battle



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