Itís a nice night out, Iíll give it that much. Merv, Corian and Daxter have already vanished. Goodness knows where theyíve gone Ė to rest presumably.
Xenith is just ahead of me, still clutching that wine bottle damn him. Iíd been looking forward to finishing that off. Itís a sad day when someone has faster hands than I, Garret would be disappointed in me, Iím sure. Itís probably just as well he isnít here to see me now. Vampires. I shudder.
Xenith is turning the wine bottle over and over in his hands, but not drinking from it. All of a sudden, Iím rather glad I donít have the bottle. Something tells me drinking from that now wouldnít be a good idea. Besides, we have to head off to find the vampires tomorrow! If ever a situation called for a clear head, itís this one.
The things I get myself intoÖ itís all KetíThullís fault.
Speak of the devil Ėerr, half-orc. KetíThull is just ahead of me, in the centre of the courtyard. He has his head back and heís staring up at the sky. I wonder what heís looking at. And Ė is he talking? I can see his lips are moving, but Iím too far away to really hear him. Who on earth could he be talking to? Unless itís not someone on earth. That makes me grin.
Heís stopped now, and has walked into the inn. I donít know what makes me do it, curiosity, or just a certain mischievousness, but I march myself up to the same spot he stood in and tip my head backwards. The stars are up there. Theyíre very pretty, but thatís about it.
The sound of a door shutting echoes around the courtyard. The door to the inn is swinging gently shut, and I can see outlines of people within the building. Suddenly I would very much like to be inside. Besides, I have a bone to pick with KetíThull. He got me into this mess.
Heís at the counter, asking for the room the mayor has arranged for him. The poor innkeeper doesnít look like they quite know what to do with such a well-mannered half-orc. I know exactly how they feel.
The others appear to have vanished. Good. I can pick my bone in private.
I march up to the counter and lean against it, standing far enough away that I donít have to crane my head too much to look at KetíThullís face. Heís so tall.
"You know, I should never have listened to you." I look up into his face, but he is wearing that stoic, un-expression that annoys me so much. How am I supposed to tell what someone is thinking if they wonít show it on their face? I twitch my shoulders just thinking about it. Listening to KetíThull got me in this situation Ė with vampires.
"What I should have done, was run when I got the chance. Vampires..." I shudder again Ė just the thought of undead gives me the creeps. Iím never going to get to sleep tonight. What I am going to get is a massive crick in my neck from standing here staring up at him.
"And why do you have to be so damn tall?!"
He looks a little startled at that, then, still with that annoying un-expression on his face, he answers me.
"Because," he replies, "my mother and father had a fight to have custody over me when I was just a child. In fact, my father grabbed my hands, and my mother disagreed, grabbing my legs, and they just pulled... They pulled so hard that my length increased... A little."
ďVery funny.Ē I say it flatly. My expression must be speaking volumes. I certainly hope it is. He stops speaking and peers into my face, then he laughs aloud Ė itís a surprisingly cheerful sound.
"Heheh, not true my dear," he says smiling. "I was just joking. Must be my orcish heritage what made me like I am: A tall half-human, half-orc with a short life, but an early maturehood. And more importantly, a selfless servant of good."
My dearÖ my goodness it makes me want to kick him in the shins again. The way I did when we first met. Still, I suppose it isnít his fault. Heís not to know how much that particular endearment Ė doesnít endear me. I hate being called Ďdearí. Just because Iím short. One of these days, Iím going to find someone with a potion of Enlarge Person, and Iím going to drink the whole thing. Then Iím going to find all those people whoíve ever called me Ďdearí and stomp all over them.
Now that I think about it, Daxter is a wizard. I wonder if he can cast it?
The sound of tapping on the countertop draws my attention back to my companion. He is speaking again.
"Yes, vampires are dangerous abominations, servants of evil. You could run if you wish, young Lyra," he says gently. "But you didn't. You're here, with us. You just proved to me that you can choose the best, between a life of accomplishment, and a life of regret - running away from your problems, eternally."
I manage not to laugh in his face. Me? Choose the best? I havenít chosen since the day I fled my home. Since the day my mother was taken from me. A life of regret? He doesnít know what the word means. Of running away? I donít run away. I havenít run away from a job my entire life.
Armour jingles as KetíThull removes his sheathed sword from his back and sits down on a nearby bench. I watch in seething silence as he rests the weapon across his knees. I hate to think how much it weighs.
"I personally prefer to accomplish things, my dear," he continues, smiling. "A life of regret means having a long life of no true accomplishments. You may call me crazy, but I think stopping this undead is a small contribution to a peaceful world."
I open my mouth to retort, only to close it again. I didnít think Iíd called him crazy, though heíd clearly taken it that way. No, that wasnít what had me pausing. What it was, was the memory of another voice, of another time. Calling me crazy. Garret.
Like it was yesterday, I could hear his voice in my memories. Insisting that I was crazy for leaving. That it could be sorted out. That I didnít have to leave. Didnít have to run. The words still sting. And it makes me think. Jobs were never my problems. Jobs were easy. Jobs were fun. No, my problemsÖ those were different. Those were insurmountable. At least, thatís how Iíd always viewed them. Now, with KetíThullís and Garretís words playing chase in my mind, I start to wonder if perhaps they were right. Perhaps I have made a career out of running from my problems. But still. Vampires.
I moved over to stand in front of him, planting my hands on my hips to cover my sudden discomfort. Itís much easier to talk when I donít have to crane my neck to look at him.
"Perhaps," I say finally, itís a generic word, it should cover me nicely. "I still think I only agreed to come with you because you're big enough to squash me." I grin at him, I know heís sensitive about being teased, and I do want him to realise Iím only joking.
"Anyway,Ē I add. ďI have plenty of 'true accomplishments'. I just don't think they'd be what you would consider very accomplished.Ē Thatís the gods own truth. I donít think my Ďaccomplishmentsí would loom very large in a paladinís view of the world.
ďI don't know if you're crazy, but I do think you're the strangest paladin I've ever met. And I don't mean because of your race."
Heís quite quiet, thinking I guess. Finally, he wraps his hand around the hilt of his sword Ė that thing is quite a monster.
"Fear not. For I'll protect you as long as you stay close."
I canít help but laugh at that, heís always so serious. I know he means well, but Iím not sure he realises why Iím not likely to ever stick too close to him. Iím laughing as I answer him.
"I don't think I'd care to stick too close to you though, you're too big a target!"
He is serious though. Itís Ė strange to me. Iím not used to anyone other than Garret caring about my safety; and Iím certainly not used to a paladin caring about my safety. Wanting to grab me and lock me up Ďfor my own wellbeing and the safety of othersí Ė sure. But actually caring? Never. I realise Iím staring at his hand, as it rests on the hilt of his sword. Impulsively, I reach out and place my hand over his.
"You're a good man Ket'Thull" I say, suddenly serious myself. There is something very kind in his eyes. I think I like this man. I lean forward and kiss his check.
What the hell? What on earth did I do that for? KetíThull looks surprised, and I donít blame him. I donít know why I did that either. Abruptly I pull back and walk away, my spine tense and my head held rigidly high. That was stupid, but itís too late to change it now.
Behind me, I can hear the clink of armour as KetíThull stands up, and the solid thud of his footsteps. Iím so tense I just about jump out of my skin when he puts his hand on my shoulder. Thankfully, heís taken the gauntlet off, I bruise easily.
"You're a good girl too, Lyra," he replies, smiling slightly. "Heroineous' blessings be upon you, my dear."
Shut up! The vehemence of my internal voice surprises even me. The gods and I have a Ė tenuous relationship at best, but my inner voice knows this isnít the time to get into a religious argument. KetíThull has gone past me now, and is approaching the stairs where Daxter is waiting.
"It's time to rest, young Lyra," he says. "Tomorrow we'll be having an eventful trip..."
I tip my head back to look up at him Ė why does he have to be so tall? Oh, how I miss Garret. I give him a quick smile and mumble
ďGoodnightĒ I donít trust myself to say anything else. Iíve already put my foot in it once. Daxter is waiting on the stairs, but I dodge around him and go flying up them, shaking my head as I go. Iím not sure whether Iím doing it to discourage KetíThull from following me (though I can hear Daxter chuckling behind me, so I assume heís inadvertently run interference for me), or if Iím trying to tell myself to stop being an idiot.
I throw myself onto the bed Ė oh a bed! and kick off my shoes, the bag has already been dumped on the floor. All I really want to do is sleep, and itís been a long time since I got to sleep in a bed.
I curl up under the blankets and lie there, wondering why Iím not automatically falling asleep. Unconsciously I reach under the pillow, and promptly realise why Iím so restless. Leaning over I grab the straps of my haversack Ė handy little thing. I asked about them once, apparently, so the story goes, some mage by the name of Heward created them. Must have been a bit of a weakling. Still, theyíre useful.
Rummaging around in that with one hand, my other reaches towards my boot. I pull both hands free at the same time. One holds the small whistle I kept from the guild, the other has my dagger. I tuck both of them underneath the pillow, and curl up on my side, one had wrapped around the whistle. I have slept like this ever since they took my mother. Itís not comfortable, but at least now I can sleep.