Grace made it back to Christine’s home while still under the cover of night while Shadow the blink dog trailed behind her. She opened the door silently and slipped inside. Grace looked around and made sure the rest of the group was still asleep. She let out a small sigh of relief as she went back to her bedroll and laid down, pretending to be asleep. Shadow; meanwhile, walked over to Riffen, who was asleep in the chair, and sniffed at his hand.
Riffen stirred a bit and patted the dog.
“Good boy,” He mumbled before going back to bed.
Grace laid there still thinking about the Dwarvish man she had met in the temple. He knew so much about her. He read her like she was an open book. She didn’t like people who could see through her visage. She spent so much time making people think she was unsuspecting or someone to actively avoid. The way he spoke about her. She was running. She always thought she was running toward Frost Haven, but that also meant she was running away from Sandpile.
Grace readjusted the large, fleece blanket and pulled it up to her chin.
And what was that last bit about being a hero? That she would have to stand her ground and answer the call. Did he mean that she should return to Sandpile? Face what she had been fearing? Yeah right. She’d be basically turning herself in. She would be thrown in prison or killed or who knows what. That wasn’t going to happen.
“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Grace mumbed under her breath.
“What was that?”
Grace froze for a second, before she rolled over and saw Juniper looking over at her.
“Hmmm?” Grace feigned ignorance.
“I thought you said something,” Juniper said.
“No. Well, I was just talking to myself,” Grace said.
“Was it about him?” Juniper asked as she looked over at Riffen.
The Prince was still asleep in the chair and Shadow had curled up in his lap. HIs injuries were slowly healing and he no longer looked like he was on the edge of death. An eye patch covered his right eye, but most of the bruising had faded and only a few, small scars remained.
It was at this moment, Grace realized she was staring at Riffen’s face and she turned away.
“No it wasn’t about him,” Grace said as she looked back at Juniper.
“Alright,” Juniper said. “I just hope whatever is going on between you can be worked through.”
“I’m fine,” Grace said a little too loud.
She stood up as the rest of the group began to rouse.
“What’s happening?” Sightyme yawned.
“I’m going to go help make breakfast or something,” Grace said as she stormed off toward the kitchen
Juniper looked at Riffen and Sigthyme and gave a shrug.
“Isn’t it too early to start our daily arguments?” Sigthyme asked.
“I didn’t mean to upset her,” Juniper replied. “ I just brought up…”
“Me?” Riffen finished the sentence.
“What is going on between you two anyway? I didn’t want to pry, but it’s hard not to notice things are a bit tense,” Sigthyme said.
Sigthyme sighed and sat up fully in the chair.
“To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what happened. I’m still trying to figure it out,” RIffen said. “But apparently it was something I did back in Xylon.I was catching up with Lillian and spending time with her a lot and I think Grace was jealous or didn’t trust Lillian or something like that.”
“She did tell me something about how you two barely had any time together since Lillian was always around,” Juniper said.
“A classic lover’s spat,” Sigthyme said.
“It’s not…we’re not,” RIffen said.
“Yeah, yeah. Just friends,” Sigthyme said, waving away Riffen’s words.
“Right,” Riffen said. “But I don’t think that’s all of it. Something else happened. The day before we left, Grace and I were talking in my room and she started to open up about her past. She told me that she used to sleep on the street in a town called Sandpile.”
“Think I heard of that place. Coastal city. Beautiful beaches. Bit of a tourist trap,” Sigthyme said.
“Well Grace lived there and she was a part of this thieving group. They stole in order to survive. Then…”
Riffen’s words trailed off.
“Then?” JUniper asked.
“I’m not sure,” Riffen said. “I asked her why she left Sandpile and that’s when Grace started acting strange. She tightened up and she looked scared like she had seen a ghost. I didn’t mean to press her about it, but I must have said something. She just bolted from my room.”
Riffen shook his head.
“I tried to apologize for whatever I did, but I just made it worse,” Riffen said.
“Look, I’m sure she is just going through something,” Sigthyme said. “We all have our secrets to keep. You just pried a little and it freaked her out.”
“Do we all have secrets?” Riffen asked. “I thought we were starting to trust each other in this group.”
“Emphasis on starting,” Sigthyme said. “I like you guys plenty, but that doesn’t mean I’ve opened up about my entire life. Some things are better left private.”
“Yeah I don’t need to know about all the stuff that goes on with you in private,” Juniper said.
“Oh come on, I’m not that kind of Bard,” SIgthyme protested.
“Lillian told me that as soon as you saw her in Bishop, you hit on her,” Riffen said.
“I’m flirtatious, sure, but I only have a moderate number of tales from the bedroom,” Sigthyme said.
“What’s moderate?” Juniper asked.
“How did we even get on this subject? I thought we were talking about Grace,” Sigthyme said.
“Well I think that we need to get some of these so-called secrets out in the open,” Riffen said. “And I know this is coming from the guy who didn’t tell you all that I am a Prince. But we have to start trusting one another.”
Both Sigthyme and Juniper gave a nod as they failed to meet Riffen’s gaze.
Riffen looked over at Tak who had been sitting near the door, just listening to the conversation.
“What about you, Tak? Any secrets you want to share with the group?” Riffen asked.
“Tak cursed,” Tak said. “Darkness.”
“Right. That tattoo marking you have on you. That’s some sort of curse, right?” Juniper said.
“And it has the power to unleash powerful magic, you can’t control. We saw that back at the Titan’s League.”
“Leviathan. Dagner,” Tak said. “Left home. Never return.”
“Tak told me he was a part of a clan of Goliaths not too far from Bishop, up in the mountains. But after this magic manifested itself, he was banished from the clan,” Sigthme said.
“If you learn to control this power, could you return home?” Riffen asked.
“Never return,” Tak repeated. “Last words told by tribe elders.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, big guy,” Riffen said. “Hopefully you’ll learn how to control the magic and you’ll be able to return.”
“Cursed. Never return,” Tak said as he hung his head.
At that, the group fell silent.
“Way to go, Riffen,” Sigthyme said. “This is what sharing gets us.”
“I didn’t mean…”
“Relax. We know you meant well,’ Sigthyme said. “And I think you are right. If we all have curses or whatever haunting us, we need to know about it. We can’t fight it all alone.”
“Exactly,” Riffen said.
“But if you think i’m going to share, then you are sadly mistaken. I’m going to go check on breakfast,” Sigthyme said with a laugh.
“Breakfast!” Tak said, his expression changing to joy.
“That could have gone worse,” Juniper said, patting Riffen on the arm.
“Right,” Riffen said with a slight smile.
“Now let’s go get some food,” Juniper said, helping Riffen to his feet.
The group stood, packed into Christine’s kitchen and ate breakfast. The whole time the group was mostly quiet, but the air was filled with Chloe telling story after story about her and the local boys running around and getting into trouble.
“Kids. They get into all sorts of trouble,” Christine said, shaking her head.
“Reminds me of myself when I was little,” Grace said.
“Oh, you are still little,” Christine said. “You all are.”
“Not little,” Tak said.
“Well you might be pretty tall, but you are all so young. So much life ahead of you,” Christine said. “And this adventuring business is so dangerous.”
“No need to worry about us,” Sigthyme said. “We can take care of ourselves.”
“Still, I think of you all and pray to the gods for your safety,” Christine said.
Sigthyme gave a polite smile, knowing that no one in the group was very religious, but he appreciated the thought behind it.
As they finished up the meal, there was a knock on the front door. Instantly, Shadow stood up and the hair on the back of his neck began to rise.
“It’s ok,” Riffen said, patting him on the head.
The rest of the group seemed a bit on edge, but Christine just stood up.
“I’ll get it,” She said as she strolled over to the door.
She was gone for a brief moment and returned holding a small scroll in her hands.
“One of the local boys was at the door. He handed me this and told me to hand it to the pretty elf with the bow and arrow. I’m guessing he means you,” Christine said, handing the scroll to Juniper.
“Thanks,” Juniper said.
“What does it say?” Grace asked.
“Let me open it,” Juniper said as she opened up the scroll and read to herself.
We need to talk. Meet me on the edge of the woods, just North of the town.
Bring your friends and the dragon.
Header Photo Credit to Petti Fog on Tumblr