Telkarnith poked at the campfire, and set some stew on to cook. Winder rubbed his hands together and warmed them over the fire. It was well into spring, but still chilly this high into the mountains. At least they weren't sitting in snow.
"We should take care not to disturb this place," Donna said. "Aurora Core is a sacred place."
Telkarnith thought she had a point. He could feel something about the place himself, although he couldn't place just what it was. There were some strange rock formations about their campsite, and the cliffs concealed caves dotting about here and there.
"Say, where'd Helkhar go?" Winder asked.
"I think he went off to hunt down some dinner," Telkarnith said.
Off in the distance, he heard a voice cry out, and he jerked his head over to the direction from which it came. It sounded as though it had come from a cave entrance not far from their camp.
"Did Helkhar find somebody hiding out here?" Winder wondered.
"I'll check it out," Telkarnith said. "You two stay here and watch the camp."
Keeping his sword close to hand, Telkarnith headed over to the cave entrance. Even without explicitly looking for it, he could feel something strange about the place. The spirit world felt very close, all around him, as though the barriers between it and the physical world were paper-thin in this place.
There was light from inside the cavern, an eerie, unnatural light. Faint images coalesced around him briefly then faded out of existence. Then, in the back of the cavern, he saw three openings as of tunnels leading off, but all that could be seen in them was a glowing haze filled with ever-shifting flashes of images. Faces. Battles. Animals. People. He could not make any sense of them.
In the center of the cavern, there was a young man, a boy really, perhaps thirteen or fourteen at the most, completely naked and on all fours. Telkarnith frowned in concern and approached the boy curiously, checking to see if he was hurt.
"Are you alright?" Telkarnith asked softly, going over to squat down next to him. The boy had black hair that looked as though it had never seen a comb, and his green eyes had something of a feral look to them. Perhaps he was a feral child who made his home out here, Telkarnith thought.
The boy jumped a little, startled, and looked back at him over his shoulder. "Ah... ah... ah... I don't know," he said staggeringly.
"What's your name?"
The boy looked at him for a long moment before saying, "It's me... Helkhar."
Telkarnith stared. "Helkhar? But..."
"I'm a wolf," the boy finished.
"I don't know." The boy looked away and stared off toward the misty images. "I just wandered in here, and I saw stuff, and something happened."
Telkarnith asked, "Can you change back?"
"Maybe." He closed his eyes, shaking a little, then grew much larger and sprouted silvery-white fur again.
"So... you're a... werewolf?" Telkarnith said.
"I am?" Helkhar said. "What's a... a werewolf?"
"A man who can turn into a wolf," Telkarnith said. "Or a wolf who can turn into a man, as the case may be."
"So, is that a good thing or a bad thing?" Helkhar wondered. "I'm a wolf, what would I need to become a man for?"
Telkarnith shrugged. "There are many benefits to having thumbs and being overlooked by two-legs. For example, getting into places that a wolf might have difficulty with? Like, say, the kitchen?"
Helkhar looked thoughtful for a moment. "Point." After a moment, the wolf shifted form back into a boy again. "This is still very weird, though."
"It's alright," Telkarnith said. "We can help. Two-legs ways can be very confusing at times, but such as it is."
"I think I'd rather be just a wolf," Helkhar grumbled, looking down at himself and staring at his hands for a long moment.
"But that was not the fate the spirits had in mind for you, apparently," Telkarnith said.
Helkhar gazed off into the mist again and said distantly, "You're right, of course. You're right." He tried to stand up unsteadily, windmilled his arms for a moment and almost fell.
Telkarnith caught him. "Careful there."
"How do you manage to walk like that without tipping over?" Helkhar wondered.
"It takes some practice," Telkarnith said. "Come on, let's get you some clothes. I've got some extras in my bags you can wear. They'll be a bit big for you, though." He wasn't sure if Helkhar understood what he meant, but he went to lead him back to camp regardless.
"Why can't I just go on all fours?" Helkhar asked.
"You can reach things higher up on two legs, and you can see over things."
Stumbling and clambering awkwardly, Helkhar followed Telkarnith down to the campsite. Winder glanced up as they approached, and when he saw them, reached over to cover Donna's eyes.
"Hey, what?" Donna said. "Do you mind?" She slapped his hands away, and looked over, and blushed a little. "Who is this?"
"It's a long story," Telkarnith said.
"I'm Helkhar. I'm a werewolf."
Winder laughed. "Leave it to a wolf to cut to the chase."
"A werewolf?" Donna said with a touch of alarm.
"Is there a problem with that?" Telkarnith said, going over to pull some clothes out of his pack. "I'll have to admit that I was never quite certain whether or not shapeshifters were even real from what your father said to me."
"Oh, they're real, alright," Donna said. "But I'd suggest not letting anyone else find out about this. There are still those who honestly blame the Changers for the Fall of Albrynnia and will try to kill any that they come across."
"I thought that was just a myth," Telkarnith said. "Hmm, these will do. Here, Helkhar, let's get these on you."
"Huh? What's wrong with the way I am?"
Winder smirked and said, "I imagine people would look at you kind of funny if you started prancing around town in the buff."
"It's not a myth," Donna said, stomping her foot. "This is serious, boys!"
Telkarnith tried to help a confused Helkhar get dressed. "Alright, we'll keep it a secret, then," he said. "I wasn't exactly planning on hanging a sign on him or anything."
"He's going to need to learn to pass as a human," Donna said.
"I look like a human, don't I?" Helkhar said, poking his head out of the arm-hole of the tunic.
"This is going to take a lot of work," Donna said.
Telkarnith said, "Look on it this way, Helkhar. What would you think if someone looked like a wolf, but their behavior was all wrong? They couldn't hold their ears or tail properly, their posture was all wrong--"
"They freaked out when anyone tried to sniff their butt," Winder added helpfully.
"Right," Telkarnith said with a smirk.
"I see your point," Helkhar said. "Well, I don't want to have to be left behind when you guys go into a city or anything. I saw how the people in Wishingsdale reacted, and they knew Telkarnith. So I'll learn to be human, I suppose."
Port Fins was a bustling seaside city, situated at the mouth of a minor river at the northern end of the valley of Tanivalis. Almost everyone in the city seemed to wear gloves, and their group wound up standing out almost as much as they would have had they come in with a giant wolf at their side. The people around them were on edge, and Telkarnith couldn't help but notice that everyone was staring at them despite pretending not to be.
"Where do we even begin for something like this?" Winder muttered as they strolled through the streets.
"This was your idea to begin with, allow me to remind you, dear uncle," Donna said. "Or did you just come up with yet another excuse to avoid your wife for months at a time?"
Telkarnith chuckled softly and refrained from comment, instead gesturing to them to follow as he ducked inside a tavern, with a sign hanging over the doorway labeled "Morn's Inn". It was a well enough kept place, and the bartender was a bald man wearing leather gloves.
"What'll it be?" said the barkeep.
"Have you any cherry mead, by chance?" Telkarnith asked.
"We don't have any of that fancy elvish stuff here," the barkeep replied, turning aside to spit distastefully.
"Alright, then, whatever sort of wine you've got."
The others took seats at the bar and ordered their own drinks. Helkhar somewhat awkwardly said, "I'll take some of whatever he's having," and pointed to Telkarnith.
Telkarnith took a sip of his wine. Not the best, but passable. "So barkeep, tell me, what's been happening in town of late?"
"Outsiders asking too many questions and not drinking enough," Morn said, looking pointedly at them. "This is a bar."
Helkhar sniffed suspiciously at his drink and glanced aside at the others. He tentatively took a sip of it, and made a very interesting face. Telkarnith smirked at him and said, "Oh, come on, it's not that bad."
"Hey," Winder said. "I thought bars were supposed to be the number one place to get rumors and hearsay, some of which might actually have some foundation in reality!"
The barkeep snorted. "I hear rumor that Tanivalis doesn't trust outsiders. You want your hearsay? Get it from someone else." He glanced over toward the side door, where a young blonde woman, about fifteen years old, stood. "There's my sister. Maybe she'll feel like entertaining you. I have work to do."
"What is it?" the woman said, approaching the bar and brushing off her blue dress.
"Nosy customers," Morn said, lowering his voice. "I have errands to run, Alisha. See if you can keep 'em drinking at least." She nodded, and he went off.
"Hello there," the woman said, leaning against the bar with yellow-gloved hands. "My name is Alisha Brewer, and I'll be your entertainment for the evening. Unless you stare at my breasts, and then I will slap you across the head."
"Why?" Helkhar asked. "Is there something wrong with them?"
Alisha smacked him upside the head. "Any other smartass comments?"
"What?" Helkhar said innocently in confusion.
"So, you folks come a long way to get here?" Alisha said conversationally. "You look like a selection of all corners of the world. What brings you together to Port Fins?"
"We've been hearing rumors of unrest about Port Fins," Telkarnith said. "And rumblings from Unar, about strange things happening that nobody can explain, wild tales of monsters, and the like. We're trying to find out if there's any truth to it all, and what's really going on."
"I see," Alisha says. "So, you've been travelling for a while. I bet you'd be up for some good, fresh homestyle cooking, wouldn't you? We can do your dinner right here at Morn's Inn, with our fine selection of breads, meats, and vegetables."
Helkhar perked up at the suggestion. "Food?" He pushed aside his half-finished glass of wine. "That sounds good. What have you got in the way of meat?"
Telkarnith sighed quietly to himself. Not only had she failed to answer his question, she'd succeeded in distracting Helkhar.
"Fresh from the butcher regularly, we have beef, mutton, ham, chicken, and fish, prepared in any way you like it," Alisha said. "We have sausage and steaks, as well as bacon and eggs, if you care to have a little breakfast with your dinner. What'll it be?"
"Ooh," Helkhar said. "Yes, please. I'll have some."
"Some of which?" Alisha asked.
Helkhar looked at her in confusion. "Everything you mentioned?"
Alisha stared at him for a moment and said, "Right, sure thing. Slim!" she called back, going over to poke her head into the kitchen door. "We've got a hungry barbarian out here, wants some of all the meat in the house."
Donna put in mildly, "I'll have a salad."
"And one salad!" Alisha added, and went back to where the group was seated.
"You know," Winder said lightly. "It's not healthy to eat just meat. You've gotta get your veggies in there somewhere. The spirits like a proper balance, or something."
Helkhar snorted softly. "But, meat!"
Telkarnith smirked at them and turned to Alisha, and said, "So, is there anything you can tell me about what's been happening on Unar?"
"Nope, not a clue," Alisha said. "Would you like anything, or were you just planning on nursing your drink and not bothering getting a refill? I'd certainly hope one of you is planning on paying for all this, too."
"Yes, of course," Telkarnith said, pulling out his fat coin purse and jingling it to show that he did have money.
"Good. I'd hate to have to break your kneecaps over dinner." She smiled sweetly.
Momentarily, a highly obese man came out of the kitchen bearing a dainty salad. "Your salad," he said, placing it on the bar. "The meat's cooking."
"Thanks, Slim," Donna said with a smirk, pulling it over in front of her.
"Cooking?" Helkhar said, looking disappointed. The man went back into the kitchen.
Winder kicked him under the bar. "Your cook delivers the food himself?" he said.
"We're a bit short-staffed today," Alisha said. "What with that business going down at the shore. Thankfully we also don't have many customers because of it at the moment, either."
"What's going on at the shore?" Telkarnith asked.
Alisha sighed. "It started out as a shipping protest and somehow turned into a fish festival. I think most of those involved don't remember why it started anyway. They just like any excuse to party, eat, and drink. But I imagine when they sober up, they'll get annoyed about the tariffs Unar has imposed again."
"What did Unar do?"
"They imposed tariffs on all imported goods heading into their country," Alisha said with a smirk. "You come looking for monsters and magic, all that's going on here is complaints over shipping tariffs. And a protest that turned into a party as if trying to say that we don't need Unar. Nothing else."
Slim's voice called unintelligibly from the kitchen, and Alisha headed in. The two of them returned momentarily with armloads of plates stacked with delicious-smelling meats of various sorts. Helkhar literally drooled on the bar as they arranged the plates in front of him.
"Are you going to eat all that?" Winder said with a smirk.
"Hell yes," Helkhar said, grabbing a steak with both hands and chomping into it.
"Helkhar, silverware?" Telkarnith said, holding up a fork.
"Aw," Helkhar said. "Do I have to?"
Alisha smirked. "It's okay. You wouldn't be the first barbarian to walk in these doors and not know the first thing about table manners. The same can be said about many of those who would think themselves civilized. But as we say in Port Fins, 'Dirty gloves, dirty mind'."
While Helkhar happily gorged himself, Alisha tallied up a bill for Telkarnith, who counted out the coins and passed them over to her, along with a healthy tip. "I think we'll want rooms for the night, also," Telkarnith added.
"Sure thing," Alisha said, adding that to the tally.
Winder reached over and quietly snatched a chicken leg from one of the plates on the bar and started gnawing on it.
Helkhar snapped, "Hey, that's mine!" He bared his teeth at Winder.
"What?" Winder said. "You can always order more if you're somehow still hungry after all that."
"I can?" Helkhar said.
"Don't give him any ideas," Telkarnith said with a smirk.
"Point," Winder said. "We don't want to have to end up rolling him down the street later."
Telkarnith groaned and rolled over, clenching his eyes shut against the morning light streaming in through the window. Finally, with a sigh, he opened his eyes and pulled himself out of bed. The others were still asleep, except Donna who wasn't in the room. It was too early to want to wake up again from a comfortable bed after all the travelling they'd done, but he didn't think he was going to get anymore sleep at the moment. Something was nagging at the edges of his senses.
He found Donna down near the bottom of the stairs, and when she heard him she held up a hand to be quiet. There were voices from the common room, and he cautiously peered about to see three guards questioning the fat cook.
"It was horrible," Slim said. "It was like some wild animal just tore her apart. Why would anyone do something like this?"
"It certainly wasn't one of us," the guard captain said. "No tepper would do something like this. Have you any guests at your inn who might have motivation or opportunity for murder?"
"I don't know," Slim said. "We've got a group of four in, odd travellers from all over the place. One of them put away half a dozen plates of meat last night and still looked hungry. A barbarian from Doralis, unless I missed my guess."
"Cannibalism isn't unheard of among the barbarians. Do you think he might have wanted to eat her?"
Slim looked pale. "I-- I don't know. There were-- there were pieces of her missing. Maybe someone took some bits back for a snack but didn't have time to finish the meal..." He looked as though he were about to vomit.
"That will be all for the moment, sir. We will have to take in these guests for questioning. Please try to remain calm, and be certain to inform the proprietor of the inn of the situation when he shows up."
"I-- I don't know if I want to have to do that," Slim said. "He's her brother."
Donna pulled Telkarnith up the stairs and back into their room. "What are we going to do?" she whispered.
"I don't know. Of course Helkhar didn't do anything, but how are we to prove that?"
Donna shook her head. "He left the room for a while last night. I don't know where he went. Came back a few hours later."
"You were awake?" Telkarnith murmured.
"On and off. Had trouble sleeping. Nightmares."
"Helkhar wouldn't do something like that."
"You know that and I know that," Donna whispered. "But if they find out what he really is, he's done for. Bad enough that they think he's a cannibalistic barbarian. Let's wake the others."
The two of them roused Winder and Helkhar. Winder muttered, "Ugh, is it morning already?"
Telkarnith nodded. "Yes, and there's trouble. There'll be guards knocking on our door any moment now."
Helkhar looked confused. "Why? What happened?" His genuine confusion and guileless innocence was all Telkarnith needed to see to dispel even the slightest doubt that he could have murdered the poor woman.
"We're suspected in a crime." Telkarnith sighed, and murmured, "It'll look even worse if we refuse or try to flee, though."
There was a knock at the door. "Open up, in the name of Port Fins. This is the city guard."
Telkarnith went over and opened the door. "Is there a problem?" he asked.
The captain glanced about the room, his eyes lingering for a long moment on Helkhar, and said, "I'm Captain Justinian of the Port Fins City Guard. I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you folks a few questions."
"Yes, of course," Telkarnith said.
"You there," Justinian said, looking to Helkhar. "Take a seat here." He pulled up a chair. "What's your name?"
"Helkhar," he said, awkwardly sitting in front of the guards and looking very confused and nervous. "What's going on here?"
"I'll ask the questions here," Justinian said. "Where were you last night?"
"In this room, and I went outside for a bit," Helkhar said.
"Why did you go outside?"
"I couldn't sleep," Helkhar said. "Something was bothering me. Something smelled funny. The shadows were moving in the wrong way. But I couldn't figure out what it was, so I came back here."
"Something smelled funny?" said one of the other guards.
Helkhar nodded. "Yeah. Like the smell of old blood in stagnant water."
"Right then," Captain Justinian said. "What time was this, approximately?"
"I went out just after the white moon rose. I got back before the green moon set," Helkhar said.
"What did you think of Alisha Brewer?"
Helkhar raised an eyebrow. "She seemed nice enough. I only just met her yesterday. Why?"
"I'm asking the questions here," Justinian repeated. "Are you from Doralis?"
"Do you belong to one of the barbarian tribes there?"
"I was raised among the Rhondar," Helkhar replied.
"You weren't born a Rhondar?"
"I was an orphan. My mother was killed by Calickans when I was a baby. They took me in and raised me as their own." He was obviously nervous about this line of questioning.
"Do the Rhondar regularly practice cannibalism?"
Helkhar looked surprised. "No, of course not. The Rhondar are good people. The spirits say eating your own kind is bad, very bad."
"Have you ever considered trying it out?"
Helkhar looked disgusted. "No! That's disgusting. I wouldn't dare do anything to anger the spirits like that."
"Have you ever killed a person before?"
"Yes," Helkhar said, nodding. "I killed the Calickan chief. The one who murdered my mother."
"Did it feel good?"
"Hell yes it did. He was a monster and deserved it."
"Would you ever kill someone again?"
"If I had reason to," Helkhar said.
"Have you ever killed a living being for food?"
"Of course," Helkhar said. "I go hunting all the time."
"Very well," Justinian said. "I think we're done here for the moment. Thank you for your cooperation." She nodded to the other guards and said, "Let's go." Before leaving the room, however, she said, "You're required to stay in town until the investigation is finished as potential witnesses. If you attempt to flee before then, you will be construed guilty. I'll ask that the rest of you come in to the keep for individual questioning later as well. Good day." The guards left the room.
Helkhar stared at the door as they left. "That was weird," he said. "Did I do good?"
"I don't know," Telkarnith said. "I don't like the sort of questions they were asking."
"So what's going on here? What happened?" Winder wondered.
"Alisha Brewer was murdered last night," Donna said. "We overheard them questioning the cook downstairs. She looked as though she were ripped apart by a wild animal and possibly half eaten."
"Wait a minute," Winder said. "This was in the city?"
"I'd assume so," Telkarnith said.
Helkhar frowned. "Poor Alisha. She was nice. She brought me food. We should find whoever killed her and avenge her. Her brother didn't really seem the fighting sort."
Donna said, "No ordinary wild animal would come into a big city just to kill someone like that. I'm betting that it was most likely someone in the city, and probably still in the city."
"What do you think it could have been?" Telkarnith asked, lowering his voice. "Do you think that there could be another shapeshifter in the city and we just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?"
Helkhar thought about it for a moment, then shook his head. "I don't know. It smelled wrong. I'd think I would recognize a shapeshifter if I smelled one, even with this pathetic human nose. Whatever this was, it smelled two weeks dead. Not an animal of any sort I'd want to run into, if it's an animal at all."
They rested a bit more, trying to get some sleep again after the less than restful night, before going to head downstairs. The small common room was empty except for Morn, who was poking through some things under the bar.
Morn looked up at them as they came in. "You," he said flatly. "I hope you're not expecting breakfast after that."
"Well--" Helkhar started, but a kick from Winder cut him off.
"No, we were hoping on doing some investigating of our own," Telkarnith said.
"You should leave that to the guards," Morn said. "You've done enough damage around here. None of it will bring my baby sister back, though. I want you lot out of my inn and out of my sight, you hear?"
"Yes, sir," Telkarnith said, inclining his head toward the man. "I'm sorry about your loss."
"Yeah, sure you are," Morn muttered as they headed out of the inn.
Telkarnith sighed heavily and slouched into a chair. "Still nothing."
Donna paced back and forth nervously about the room at the Silver Spoon Inn. "We've been at this for a week now. It's like chasing shadows. Just when we think we're getting somewhere, it turns out all we have in our hands is air."
"And to make matters worse," Telkarnith added, "the people have already practically convicted Helkhar through rumor alone, thanks to lack of a better target."
"I don't get it," Helkhar said. "Why would they think I'd do something like that, anyway? She was a nice lady."
"Fear of strangers," Donna said. "Fear of the unknown."
Winder snorted softly. "If I feared the unknown, I'd be constantly jumping at everything."
There was a knock on the door, and Winder jumped involuntarily. Smirking at him, Telkarnith went over to answer it. Captain Justinian stood outside, with more guards waiting in the hallway. Oddly, Telkarnith noticed that the guards all had sprigs of some plant tucked into their collars.
"Is there something we can do for you, sir?" Telkarnith said with utmost politeness.
"I'm afraid that we're going to need to ask you some more questions," Captain Justinian said, stepping into the room, guards moving in protectively behind him.
"What?" Helkhar said, looking at them in confusion and sudden nervousness. "You know I didn't do it."
"New evidence has come to light," Justinian said, looking a bit smug. "Namely, we sent someone to Shal Rhon to ask about a certain foundling named Helkhar. I'm sure you would imagine that we found what they said to be very interesting."
Helkhar yiped. With a swift move and a flash of silver, Justinian stabbed Helkhar in the torso. With a cry of pain and surprise, Helkhar leapt back. There wasn't any blood, though. Justinian had stabbed him with a spoon.
"I was hoping that would be more effective," Justinian muttered. "It was the only silver we could find on short notice."
"That smarts!" Helkhar said, rubbing his chest.
"Leave him alone," Telkarnith said, stepping in front of Helkhar, hand on his sword hilt. "He didn't do it!"
"You're collaberating with and protecting a werewolf," Justinian said. "You're as guilty as he is. You are all under arrest."
Telkarnith drew his sword. "Then count me as resisting arrest."
"Tel--" Winder said, quickly moving out of the way.
"Very well," Justinian said, drawing his sword, the rest of the guards following suit.
"No..." Helkhar said, his voice turning into a growl as he shifted form. Not to the snow wolf form Telkarnith was accustomed to, however. This time, Helkhar changed into a large and powerful wolf-man.
With a wordless snarl, Helkhar swiped and snapped at the guards. They retaliated with sword strikes, and Justinian continued to try to smack the werewolf with the silver spoon. Telkarnith fought as well, though he wasn't really trying to hurt the guards. The last thing they needed was actual blood on their hands. While the guards were focused on Telkarnith and Helkhar, Winder snuck up behind them and knocked them upside the heads.
Helkhar couldn't be calmed down until the guards were no longer in any position to be attacking them, however. He shifted back into human form to survey his handiwork. It was a bloody scene, and Helkhar had taken a few wounds of his own during the fighting.
Donna, who had hidden behind a chair during the fight, came up to check on them with a healer's eye. "Three dead, dear spirits," Donna murmured. "Two gravely wounded. The captain may survive, with some healing."
"They would have killed us," Helkhar said.
Telkarnith sighed, wiping off his sword before putting it away. "Nevertheless, we've just killed innocent people who were trying to uphold the law, for the sake of defending ourselves. We're going to need to get out of town, fast, and hope that word of this doesn't spread."
"Hah," Winder said. "They'll probably know about this in Hrackston by tomorrow morning!"
"Let me heal him," Donna said. "Let me make sure there isn't anymore blood on our hands than there need be."
Telkarnith nodded reluctantly, and assisted Donna with the healing. Every second they spent on it seemed agonizing, as if any moment now, someone would come up to check on the guards and find out what had happened.
"Winder, grab that spoon for me, would you?" Helkhar said.
Winder reached over to pick up the silver spoon, and said, "What do you want this thing for?"
"A trophy." He poked at some of the sore spots on his body, and added, "And a reminder."
Outside in the hallway, they heard a woman shriek, and footsteps rapidly retreating to the staircase.
"Past time to be gone," Telkarnith said.
"This is as much as we can do here," Donna said. "Let's go."
There were the sounds of angry and panicked voices coming from downstairs, and it sounded as though some of them were coming upstairs. "The window," Winder suggested.
As the others headed to make an escape out the window, Telkarnith shut the door and shoved a table in front of it to slow down any possible pursuit. Carefully, the four of them scrambled down to the ground floor.
Donna winced and said, "Ow, I think I twisted my ankle coming down."
Helkhar shifted into a snow wolf and said, "Climb on. I'll carry you to safety."
Telkarnith helped her onto Helkhar's back. "Hold on tight."
Donna clung to Helkhar as the wolf set off at a run for the edge of town. The sky was rapidly growing dark, and sounds of a peasant riot forming could be heard behind them. Telkarnith and Winder raced after them, pursued by an angry mob brandishing torches.
It was fully night by the time they lost the mob in the forest. They had long since lost track of where Helkhar and Donna had made off to. At least, with Helkhar to protect her, he could be certain that Donna was at least safe.
"Let's head for Aurora Core," Telkarnith suggested. "They might have headed back there."
"I have a feeling we're not going to be getting much sleep tonight," Winder commented.
Sure enough, when they arrived back at Aurora Core several days later, they found Donna and Helkhar already there waiting for them. Donna was cutting bits of meat into a pot of stew that already smelled delicious to Telkarnith's hungry nose. They had run out of their food reserves three days previous, and had been forced to spend time foraging for food.
"Telkarnith!" Donna said. "You made it!"
Helkhar ran up and hugged Telkarnith. His wounds had already fully healed up as if he had never been hurt, except for a few round spots that were still a little reddish, probably where he had been hit with the spoon.
"Winder," Helkhar said. "Did you bring my spoon?"
Winder chuckled softly and said, "Right here, kid." He pulled out the silver spoon. "Your trophy of war."