Written by the EM Team
“Er…Sorry, I was lost in my thoughts. Are you Ter-Val of the Royal City?”
“Ter-Val is this one’s name, yes. This one is to be your guide to the road that leads to the sick camp, but no further. It is good that you are armed…the area is not without its dangers. It is this one’s great sorrow that this one cannot escort you into the city, but this one has strict orders from Queen Zhah.”
Dupre gave Ter-Val a curt nod as he gestured ahead. “Let’s get going then. The sooner I can see this healer the sooner I can lay my suspicions to rest.”
No further conversation was needed between the two soldiers. The noise of armor, footsteps, and wings were the only thing to punctuate their journey until they had reached the road leading to the camp. Ter-Val paused as he prepared to head back to the Royal City,
“You will find the camp further along this road; the sliths and wolves sometimes wander along it, it would be wise to keep your sword at the ready. This one apologizes once again for this one’s inability to escort you further.”
Dupre waved it away, and gave the gargoyle a smile. “It is a soldier’s job to follow orders, and I could no more hold you any ill will than I would expect of my men who follow their orders. Go with no worries.”
The sound of the fading wingbeats of the returning gargoyle was eclipsed by one that Dupre was far more familiar with as he drew his sword. It shouldn’t take long to reach the camp, regardless of what might lie in his path.
“Sir Dupre! Sir Dupre!”
The knight turned, glancing around at the voice, before recalling to whom it belonged and looking down. He knelt and sheathed his weapon, blade slick with the oil of the leather wolves he’d slain along the way, and held a hand out for Sherry to alight on.
“I thought I had told you it was merely Dupre to you.” His smile was broad under his mustache. The little mouse tittered in his hand as she waggled her whiskers at him.
“I never thought I’d see you out here! I thought you returned to Felucca after the battle in Ver Lor Reg?” Dupre stood, and adopted a slightly weary look as he replied.
“There were many tasks that had to be taken care of…and they have taken me to many places. I wonder then, if you were not here to see me, if you too are here to see this strange healer?” The camp was just now beginning to come into view and the stark fence rose grimly amidst the landscape.
“Yes! I heard him speak but I was driven away by one of the angry gargoyles who thought I was a plague spreader!” Sherry squeaked angrily as they entered the camp.
“Well I’ll not let them besmirch your shining reputation farther, Sherry. But if I’m not mistaken, this is the very fellow before us.”
Despite their conversation and the noise of Dupre’s armor, the robed figure before them made no effort to turn or regard them at all. He was evidently hard at work before them, mixing together two of the vials of the cure. Dupre remained silent as he watched the man work, his hands deftly working amidst the vials and beakers and flasks set before him. The manipulation of the chemicals was clearly delicate, and for fear of interrupting him at a crucial step, he allowed him to continue unabated until he set it aside. Slowly, the man turned, his cowl keeping his face covered, and he spoke.
“If you have cures to give to me, I will take them gladly.”
Dupre, upon hearing the healer’s voice, reacted in an instant. His stance dropped and the sound of well oiled metal against leather served as his initial response, followed by the shrill squeak of Sherry as she leapt to the ground.
“I know not what foul magic has brought you back, abomination, nor what vile purpose you are serving here…but I will send you back to the depths of the tomb where you belong.”
The healer quickly held his hands out to his side, showing each with a bag of reagents. Even as Dupre tensed, the healer’s action was to drop both bags upon the ground, and slowly turn to face Dupre, keeping his hands out and empty.
“I do so often remember the disparaging way you would speak of me, Sir Dupre, but I hardly imagined you thought me an abomination.” Dupre kept his stance ready as the healer slowly moved his hands up so as not to alarm the alert knight, and pulled back the hood of his shroud to reveal a face that Dupre recognized well. The last time he’d seen this face, though, it had been partially consumed by the clockwork monstrosities of Exodus and with eyes that burned with hatred and resentment. The healer before Dupre looked to him, and the eyes held none of that utter contempt that he had felt in the presence of the thing that lay in Blackthorn’s tomb. Instead, they seemed only intrigued, curious, and if he wasn’t mistaken…just slightly grateful. Still, Dupre wasn’t ready to discount him as a threat. The two were locked in this stalemate for long moments before a small, shrill voice cut through the tension in the air.
“Dupre! Let’s try and talk about this first! It’s obvious he’s not the one you think he is!” Sherry rose up on her hind legs as she spoke, her hands clasped in a very realistic approximation of a human’s pleading. Dupre curled his lip, his bushy mustache twitching slightly as a scowl appeared on his face…but he slowly moved out of his stance, and let his sword drift down, until he let the tip rest in the soft blades of grass by his plate-armored feet. Clasping both hands around the hilt, he stood to his full height and stared at the man, never taking his eyes away for even an instant.
“It’s obvious he’s exactly who I think he is…but he may not be all that I think he is, either. So talk, Lord Blackthorn. How came you to be in this state?” Lord Blackthorn let his hands slowly come down as he was no longer in any seeming danger, and Dupre’s scowl deepened as a gleam of amusement entered into Lord Blackthorn’s eyes.
“That, Sir Dupre, is a very long tale, and one which I am doubtful you would believe. Still, I have no reservations against sharing it with you both…but I would have one request of you, Sir Dupre.”
“And what might that be, Blackthorn?” Dupre kept his gazed fixed.
Lord Blackthorn’s face lit up slyly with a grin. “I know you are particular to discussions being had with a drink, but I would much prefer it if we do it over a game of chess. If you’ll just step inside, I happen to have a board with me…” He gestured for Sherry and Sir Dupre to join him, and together they headed towards the small buildings dotting the encampment.