When Alithana first called out for the caravan to stop, Gregor knew it would be bad. When she explained that the reason for the stop was because ahead was an enemy, someone sent after her by the elves, Gregor grew tense. Then, being told to keep the caravan back and prevent anyone else from helping, as if they’d merely be in the way, was painful to hear. However reluctantly, he kept his mouth shut and nodded his head as she strode away down the road. Gregor turned away and climbed down from the wagon to inform the rest of the equally-tense caravaners of the situation. Those on horseback drew their swords, but Gregor had them stay near the wagons, saying to be ready to rush forward if the situation changed.

The figure that stepped out from the woods about 200 yards down the road was dressed in bright white clothing, seemingly reflecting the sunlight and making it difficult to see him clearly. Everyone with the caravan was anxious, and some were visibly angry about standing by during this, unable to help. They heard the sound of a bowshot and the fighting began, but from this distance it was just a flurry of motion and blurs. One of the riders called out impatiently, "Should we really just sit here!?"

Gregor was angry at the situation, but he wasn’t stupid. He responded just as loudly, "You'll just get in the way! We can only hope for the best..." After several long seconds of watching the fighting and growing more restless, suddenly the fighting stopped. It was as if the opponent had been disarmed, and several of the others seemed to have thought the same, as they let out quick cheers of victory and looked ready to gallop forward in celebration. The tension in the air had lessened greatly, a few even starting to chuckle to themselves as if the situation was totally under control.

But they were wrong. Moments later the distant sound of a bowshot was heard again and there was another flurry of activity. Another second and the next thing Gregor realized, his ears were ringing, his vision was blinded, and he had nearly fallen off the wagon as his sense of balance tried to tell him the world was swimming around him. What felt like a sudden gust of wind shoved him back into his seat and knocked the breath out of him. Dazed and confused, he clasped his head between his arms for what felt like an eternity before he began to regain his bearings.

Painfully opening his eyes and trying to look around, everyone seemed to have been affected as well, and the horses were obviously panicked as the wagon had been pulled off to one side of the road, and several of the horse riders were knocked completely to the ground. He took hold of the reins again to calm the horses and keep them under control as the others started to pick themselves up off the ground and prevent their own horses from scampering off into the woods. Looking down toward where the fight had been happening, there was nobody. The road was empty, and eerily quiet.

Gregor turned to one of those that didn't fall off their horse, but was still trying to calm the animal down. “Get down there and find out what just happened!” His voice contained a mixture of anger and fear, and the rider hesitated slightly before nodding and beginning to gallop down the road. He was followed a few seconds later by the others on horseback, and Gregor started the wagon to follow them. After getting only a few dozen yards, a figure steps onto the road. It takes a moment for his vision to focus, but judging by the fact that the visage of the man was shining Gregor could only assume it was the enemy.

The stranger only took a few steps to the edge of the road before stopping. The riders were now at full gallop and racing toward the scene, though Gregor assumed they had the same doubts about whether they’d be rushing to their deaths. Whatever had caused the explosion which dazed them all, even 200 yards away from the fight, had not been enough to stop him, and he remained still, standing at the edge of the road as the riders arrived halfway. Behind the enemy, a bright light appeared, as if a mirror was reflecting the sun’s light toward him. Striding forward from this mirror, a horse came and approached the figure.

Except it was ethereal and translucent, as if it had just materialized from air. The stranger mounted the horse and with no hesitation began riding off into the trees to the south. Gregor knew that this meant one of two things; either the man was retreating, or he had completed his goal and cared nothing about the rest of them. Considering he was the only thing the caravanners could see moving on the road, Gregor assumed the latter and urged the horses to pull the wagon faster. The riders were nearly there, and when they arrived a few seconds later they slowed the horses and looked around, particularly in the direction of where the stranger had just ridden off in. They began hurriedly dismounting and moving to the edges of the road. Words were being exchanged, but there was still forty yards until the wagons would reach them. Something Gregor and the others could hear, though, was a sudden, piercing scream coming from within the forest, easily more than a hundred yards beyond the treeline, and in the direction of where the ghastly horse had been headed.

The scream was bloodcurdling, and continued for several seconds before being totally cut-off, leaving an eerie silence. It was unnerving not only to Gregor and the others, but even spooked the horses. Momentarily stunned by the suddenness of it, he eventually got the horses calmed down and continued forward. He could tell that Jorba in the second wagon was having a little more difficulty keeping up, but got them under control shortly after. He could hear a few of those behind him gasping and exclaiming about it, but he was more interesting in regrouping before worrying about possibilities.

The remaining yards passed quickly, and he started slowing the horses. Now that they had arrived, he spotted Jothal slumped against a tree off to the right, with Ash beside him. He seemed to be conscious, a good sign, but was breathing hard. On the left, Alithana was similarly slumped against a tree, but didn’t seem to be moving. He immediately started climbing down to the ground, and called out to the riders, “What happened? What was that scream?”

Two of the riders had been next to Jothal and were now jogging over to explain, “Jothal thinks there must be something else out there as well. He says the elf was weak, so it sounds like something finished him off out there…”

“What do you mean, ‘something else’?” After pausing to see the man just shaking his head cluelessly, he continued, “Whatever, just make sure no one leaves the road and keep watch, we’ll deal with the wounded first.” He turned toward where Alithana was against the base of a tree, and Elda was already kneeling next to her. As he approached, he asked, “How is she?”

Elda didn’t respond for several seconds, but finally turned to face him. “Alive. Let’s get her into the wagon so I can figure out the rest…” Gregor motioned toward two of the men to do so, and Elda responded quickly, “Keep her back and neck as flat as possible! No sudden motions.” As they did so, Gregor noticed Trailo helping Jothal as he shuffled toward the wagons, looking unsteady on his feet. He went to assist.

Jothal did his best to assure Gregor that he wasn’t dropping dead quite yet, though Gregor could tell he was still a bit shaken up from the entire situation. Gregor nodded, “We should probably continue for a bit. Whatever is in the woods to cause that scream is probably something we want to avoid... But it's already nearly dusk, so there's not much time before nightfall.” Gregor was relieved that both Jothal and Alithana were alive, but now they would have wounded to attend to, and it was only at the end of the first day since leaving Nalvo… Triln was still five days away. Should they press forward or turn back?

Alithana had made it sound like time was important, and they needed to reach Triln quickly. However, should they expect more elves to come after them, or were they now in the clear in terms of that? And what about that thing in the woods that finished the enemy off? Why was it so close by but still had not appeared at the road? It was too optimistic to think the elf and it had killed each other off, so did this mean they were being stalked by someone, or by a group? Keeping up with wagons on the road while being in the woods, and staying unnoticed the entire time, would truly be a feat, but nothing else made sense either.

It was already evening. They’d go another few miles to put a little distance between them and whatever is in the woods, and make camp. They can figure out what to do once they make camp. After laying Jothal down in the wagon, Gregor asks some of the riders about Alithana’s staff. After searching for a few minutes, they were unable to find any signs of it in the area. It was simply gone, not even splinters of it were able to be found. Gregor didn’t want to waste any more time since something was in the woods, so they’d need to move on.

He called out for everyone to climb in and that they were going to continue forward until nightfall. The atmosphere was tense around everyone now, and Gregor made sure the riders were highly alert just in case. They set off at a fast trot down the road.

A few minutes later, Elda lets him know that Alithana seems to have a few fractured or broken ribs, but other than that seems fine. She says that she’ll take a look at Jothal after they make camp, which they do after another fifteen minutes or so, leaving them only a few minutes of light left. “We'll make camp here, but no fires, and we'll have two men on watch at all times.” A brief cold meal is had in the near-darkness, and Gregor then learns that Jothal is in similar position, mostly a few broken ribs. They’d both be unable to fight for a while. Gregor got Elda and a few of the men together to decide what to do.

The meeting was quick and to the point, but the uncertainty was obvious is everyone’s voices. Jorba’s perspective sealed the deal, though. Turning back would give the enemies after Alithana more time to figure out what happened in the fight, and that means that using this road would never be safe anymore. Their only hope was to rush forward before they realize anything happened, or turn back and forget ever being involved with Alithana in the first place. Gregor’s son Bogart, however, raised some doubts. “Why are we doing this? Why are we risking our lives like this? We don’t have to do this, you know…”

“She didn’t have to help us when we were ambushed by bandits near Foabur, either, but she did. She made a simple request: get her to Triln. We agreed, as thanks for her saving us. If that’s not enough reason, I don’t know what is,” Jorba said, and after a brief pause continued, “She told us before leaving Foabur that if we faced an elf opponent to let her handle it, and somehow it worked out. The fighting was her job, and now the transportation is ours.”

Gregor put a hand on Bogart’s shoulder and led him away from the others before talking, “If you’re worried, then take Seraphi and a horse and ride back to Nalvo in the morning. No one will think any less of you for ensuring your daughter’s safety.” Bogart said nothing, just shrugged off Gregor’s hand and headed toward the wagons to get some sleep. The others soon followed suit and got a few hours of rest before it was their turn at watch.

Tranan was striding forward through the doors of the two-story manor that was the home of Burnett Anders, the only son of Mark Anders, and the only relative of Mark that Tranan had any knowledge of. He knew little of Burnett, merely of their relation and that he was present in Triln at the time when Mark was accused of the conspiracy to assassinate Lord Davben. Tranan hoped he might have information about what really happened, and whether it might lead to the truth.

He entered into the main foyer of the manor, a large and decorated room. The wealth of his family was obvious. The Anders family were not ordinary citizens of Gellantara, that much was certain. It seemed that the statement from the barkeeper about them controlling much of the trade and half of the harbor had some merit. A servant led Tranan to a sitting room, and he sat on one of the obviously expensive couches near the center of the spacious room. He was not accustomed to such wealth, and he was a little uncomfortable as he waited for the door to open once again. It took only a few moments for it to do so.

The person that entered was a young man with a rather light build, but not quite scrawny. His clothes seemed to match the decoration of the house, and he had the obvious demeanor of someone who had authority. Burnett had certainly been raised his entire life to be able to deal with merchants and nobles alike, and Tranan was expecting to see a look of determination and strength in the man’s eyes, demanding the respect of anyone around. However, they were instead reddened from mourning. He still held his composure, though, despite the circumstances, and the same servant from earlier announced his entrance into the room. Tranan wasn’t sure how Burnett was viewing his sudden arrival here, whether he took it as an offense that someone from Triln would dare set foot here or if he assumed that it was to pay respects to the man that had been killed in this very building.

In truth, Tranan had neither of these intentions. He had always lived his life as a scholar, digging for knowledge, researching and experimenting to learn all that he could about magic and auras, and today he was simply on a quest to find a different sort of information. He had long been uncertain about the validity of many of the claims made about what happened two years ago. It wasn’t a topic which had interested him that much, as it had nothing to do with him, magic, or the Guild, but some things never quite fit together, and while he was in Gellantara his scholarly mind wouldn’t let him put the opportunity to waste. After the normal pleasantries and introductions, Burnett spoke first with a simple question, “Are you really an archmage?”

The shift away from formalities helped Tranan to relax a bit. “Please don’t ask me for a magic trick, but yes. The reason I’m in Gellantara, however, is entirely separate from this situation, but I think I might have information about your father’s murderer--” The gaze from Burnett shifted completely, turning serious but also with a hint of desperation, stopping Tranan mid-sentence. After the brief hesitation, he cleared his throat and continued, “I may have some information that could help with finding out the whereabouts of the murderer.”

Burnett’s gaze remained serious, “The Guard have a description of the coward, but haven’t been successful in their searches so far. If you know anything that might help, please, speak.”

Tranan again cleared his throat and explained Darvyn’s theory that the man was a member of Teir, and about the encounter at the inn the previous day. After letting that sink in briefly, Tranan continued, “There may be a connection between what happened two years ago and the murder. If you don’t mind, can you tell me what truly happened then, when your father was first accused of conspiring to murder Lord Davben?”

Burnett was silent for several seconds, and wasn’t making eye contact with Tranan. Finally, without looking up, he spoke. “We were in Triln to negotiate an agreement to increase trade between our two cities in exchange for a halt to construction on Trannyth’s harbor. I only attended a few of the discussions, but it seemed like things were going well, and my father was confident that an agreement would be reached. That was when the assassination attempt happened. We weren’t given any details at the time, but the negotiations were put on hold until the investigation was done. We eventually heard that it was a success and the hideout was found, but things didn’t quiet down after that, only getting worse. They were looking for who had hired or funded the assassins, and several noble houses were at odds with each other, trying to play it to their advantage. I can only assume they figured we’d be the perfect scapegoats.”

Burnett paused momentarily to take a breath and sighed slightly; Tranan figured that the sigh was because he had told this story dozens of times. “The first I heard of it was when I overheard some young nobles gossiping and claiming that the culprit was likely my father, going on and on about him having every reason to do it. I approached and spoke up in defense of my father, saying the accuser obviously knew nothing about myself or my father if he was making such egregious claims. I guess it had hurt his pride, as he challenged me to a duel at sundown, boasting in front of his friends. At dusk, we gathered in a clearing in the city, and a crowd surrounded us, cheering and probably taking bets. The only scenery aside from the many faces of those watching was a lone, gnarled old tree. I didn’t fight, though. Jon championed for me, striding forward to face the scion. The crowd knew who Jon was, and for a moment it seemed the noble was about to back down, but the crowd was too large and he was more afraid of being laughed at for backing down than of being humiliated in a fight by Jon.” Burnett paused for a moment. As he continued he started shaking his head slowly, “The fight didn’t even last ten seconds. Somehow, Jon’s sword sliced through the noble’s blade as if it were butter, and the momentum carried it through the boy’s shoulder, right down to his heart. The duel wasn’t to-the-death, it was merely a contest of disarming. The noble crumpled to the ground dead as the crowd gasped and screamed.”

Tranan had heard of this. Jon Archadian, the famed tournament champion, slaying Allan Raimbaud mercilessly. This is the first time Tranan had heard it from someone who had actually witnessed the fight, though, and the visualizations he had were strong. Burnett, however, wasn’t done speaking. “I still remember the look on Jon’s face. He was more surprised than anyone. He looked at me, his eyes wide, and then turned toward the tree, holding his gaze there for a while before finally striding toward my father and I. The crowd reeled back away from him as he walked. Jon didn’t waste any time, and within the hour, before word could even spread of the fight, we were on the road for Gellantara. We asked Jon about the fight, about what happened. All he said was that he lost control somehow. Jon was an incredible fighter, and was always composed afterward no matter what, except that one time. I could tell he was shaken up. He didn’t stay with us after that, though. He said he needed time to search for some answers, and we parted ways a day out of Triln. I haven’t seen Jon since. After we got back here, we heard about the demands for us to be given over as suspects and learned that we had truly become scapegoats. Our fellow Gellantarans believed us, obviously, but there seemed to be no reconciliation with Triln. Finally, after a few months we gave up and decided to focus our efforts elsewhere. Since then, we haven’t involved ourselves with anything to do with Triln. We heard Teir was all but wiped out, but I see no reason why a lone surviving member would decide to target us…”

Tranan leaned back and mulled over this information. It was good to hear the other perspective, and it shed some light on a few things. Jon Archadian hadn’t been seen for the last two years, not even by Burnett who was apparently close friends with him. “That young noble was Allan Raimbaud, part of one of the largest noble houses in Triln. His death, combined with the sudden fleeing of yourself and your father, is what led to many people assuming that the accusation must be true. Maybe it was his friends he had been gossiping with before the fight, but nonetheless it managed to be taken as the truth. This helps narrow down the possibilities, though; perhaps the Raimaud family hired this assassin to get revenge on you and your father for Allan’s death? What exactly happened the night before last?”

“Well, we had a guest over, some official from Meridia to the north, I believe his name was Aldrich; he and my father were discussing terms for some agreement, but I don’t know any details. The assassin snuck in through a balcony near to my bedroom. He approached behind me and knocked me unconscious before I realized someone was there. My father and Aldrich came to see what was happening, and a fight broke out. Aldrich was stabbed in the shoulder after trying to defend my father, and the assassin fled through the same balcony after murdering my father. The guards arrived too late, and Aldrich hurriedly told them to chase down the fleeing assassin. They failed, of course, and now all we have is the description of the murderer’s appearance: blackened leather clothes with a hood making it hard to see his face, long black hair. Not a lot to go on.”

“He knocked you out? I guess that ruins the possibility of the Raimauds being involved, as they would also want you killed. Whoever it was, they specifically targeted your father and cared not about you or your guest. Can you think of any other enemies your father may have had? A trade competitor, perhaps?”

“That’s what the guards have been investigating, for the most part. My father preferred to make friends rather than enemies, but I don’t doubt a few have disdain for his success. I was told they were looking into numerous possibilities throughout the city, but so far there doesn’t seem to be any connection that they’ve been able to find.”

Tranan thought back to what he had heard from a barkeep the previous day. “What of the duke? I heard a rumor that perhaps your father was getting too influential within the city…” He stopped talking. Burnett’s face showed utter surprise at this.

Tranan began regretting that he had even brought it up or gave credence to such a rumor. However, after a moment of hesitation Burnett actually replied. “At first, Duke Betan and my father were close friends, and they worked together well. My father’s support was crucial for Betan to take his place as duke last year. I’m not sure what happened, exactly, but the next thing I knew my father didn’t want to discuss anything to do with him. I don’t believe the duke would do anything like this, though. Every time I’ve met him he was only concerned about what was best for the city. He’s not some petty, power-hungry tyrant that kills anyone who disagrees with him.”

Tranan raised his hand before Burnett continued any more. “I meant nothing by it, just some stupid rumor I heard from someone that was probably drunk. As I said earlier, my purpose for being in Gellantara is separate from this, and I am unfortunately short on time. I’m sorry if all I’ve done is raise more questions and uncertainties so far; my companions and I will be returning to the city in about a month, and perhaps we can continue speaking at that time. I hope by then the guards will have found and captured the assassin.”

Burnett seemed a bit distraught, but nodded. “Of course, of course. It was truly an honor to meet you, Archmage Tranan. When you return, I look forward to being able to speak at length, on a multitude of topics.” The normal pleasantries followed suit, and Tranan eventually walked outside and met back with Darvyn.

“Find any answers in there?” the knight asked Tranan. He had been waiting impatiently outside, leaning against a masonry wall. His voice sounded a little irritated.

“For the most part, just more questions.” He recounted what had been talked about as they walked down the streets, toward the inn.

Darvyn nodded as they approached the building they were staying at, “We should be cautious until we leave the city; I’ll have someone on watch downstairs around the clock. I suggest you urge your students to stay indoors as well.”

The following morning, everyone gathered their equipment and prepared the horses, setting off toward the western gate to the city. The boat docks for the river are separated from the harbors, and are located a bit outside the city walls. Tranan led the group to where he had spoken with the Rivermaster two days before, but as they approached he was a bit unnerved. Even moreso than when they first came into the city, the number of soldiers and guards was unusually high. He turned to the group and told them to wait as he asked what was happening. It seemed as if the city was preparing for a battle.

The Rivermaster was preoccupied, but Tranan managed to get him to stop for a moment and explain what was happening, after which Tranan quickly returned to others to inform them of the development. “Bad news, a large force of bandits has been signed near Tarmikos, seemingly preparing to attack the town itself. Gellantara is sending troops to assist.” He pauses and looks around the group while scratching his chin, “We don’t have to go to Tarmikos specifically, really just heading a bit north toward Droverson would suffice for what we need--”

Shalak speaks up, his rough voice thick with confidence, “I ain’t scared of a few bandits… If anything it’d be fun, better than sitting around and twiddling our thumbs like we did yesterday.”

Darvyn turned to him, slowly shaking his head, “We aren't here as soldiers, we are here as escorts. You heard Lord Davben before we left, we need to finish what we set out to do and report back quickly.” He turned back to face Tranan, “If between here and Droverson is good enough for what you need, we should do that.”

Tranan pauses for a moment in thought. Tarmikos would be preferable for what they needed to do, but being under threat of a possible attack, or worse yet being in the midst of a battle, would be far worse than dealing with a different location. Nodding, he replied to Darvyn, “It should work well enough.”

Holland stepped forward to speak up, “Defending the town is important, we can't just sit back as they potentially get slaughtered. We're knights. After the town is safe we can continue with the mission.”

Cypha, the female knight, nodded to this and added quickly, “The town should be helped.” Tranan grew a bit tense. A division between the knights was not what he needed to deal with right now.

Darvyn turned around and looked at Cypha, Holland, and Shalak. “If we go there, we could be in the middle of a battle.” He motions toward some of the mages, “We wouldn't be able to guarantee their safety. We have a mission, and that is protection.”

Belkas spoke, “How about we split up? The area north of Gellantara should be clear of bandits, you won't need all six of us to keep babysitting them.”

“Wanting to abandon your posts?” Odran scoffed, looking at Belkas like he was crazy, “You volunteered for this mission, your duty is clear. From the looks of these docks, Gellantara is sending enough men to Tarmikos that us few wouldn't be any help anyways.”

Shalak chuckled for a moment, “What I volunteered for was going to Tarmikos!”

Holland seemed to be uncertain, “Well, there are a lot of guards that Gellantara seems to be sending, maybe it is best we trust that they will defend the town well enough?”

Shalak shakes his head, “That's exactly why it'd be fine to go to Tarmikos! With this many troops any bandit pack would be repelled easily, and the mages would be as safe as anywhere else.” Odran took a step toward Shalak, and it seemed that a fight might break out.

Cypha stepped between them, looking Shalak in the eyes, “We are on a mission to protect the mages, not to defend a town against bandits. Tarmikos can handle it, we must stay focused on our task.”

Realizing the tense situation, Belkas relented. “Well, I guess the majority are for staying away from Tarmikos. Let's get a move on, then.”

Seeing that he no longer had any support, Shalak just grumbled under his breath, but was still loud enough that Tranan could hear what he said. “Bunch of cowards if you ask me...” Darvyn promptly elbowed him in the shoulder and told him to shut up. For now, things had been resolved, but this entire conversation made it clear to Tranan that this group of knights were volunteers without a clear leader, and he hoped this wouldn’t lead to any other issues before they returned to Triln.

However, for now Tranan was satisfied that an agreement could be reached. “Then we'll go and load the wagons. We'll just head a bit north to get away from any prying eyes and then get down to business.” Turning away from the amassed troops on the docks, they returned to the city to adjust the preparations to suit a land trip instead of one by riverboat. Heading out of the northern gate and crossing a bridge, they could see the crowded ferry in the distance working its way upstream, toward Tarmikos to the west, loaded with troops. They continued north, leaving whatever would happen in Tarmikos up to them and instead focusing on their own task…