Shift World I Book III Chapter 7
by Christopher W. Gamsby
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Triled lead a squad of four through houses that lined the road from the Arid Desert into the heart of the Crossroads. The wolf leather he wore and canine ears pressed into his dragon fire helmet gave him his name, The Wolf. Triled's easy to remember appearance enticed people to follow, not his leadership skills.
On the approach from the Lush Forest, trees blocked the line of sight almost all the way into the entrance. However, an infiltrator could be seen for miles approaching the Clay Gate. Triled, Silkurm, Tairent, and Woolim sneaked with a sense of apprehension despite not actually knowing if a Fury waited to attack. Triled put his back on a wall, and the group lined the house's interior next to him.
The Wolf leaned toward an exit and watched outside. "I don't see anything."
A sense of relief befell the group. Tairent, a young woman barely in her twenties addressed Triled. "Does that mean they aren't here?" Her somber tone belied the plucky youth that once defined her whole character.
Triled spoke plainly. "I wish I could say that, but I have no idea. They might be nearby commanding the elements, or chasing Ban in the Lush Forest, or maybe somewhere else."
Disappointment flared in Tairent's eyes. An elderly gentleman shrugged a scruffy eyebrow as he reproached Timore. "You couldn't have lied at least a little bit to make us feel better?"
"Well, no, maybe? You know we are here to scout the Furies and see if anyone returned to the compound yet. Why would we need to scout if we already knew?"
Woolim lowered his eyebrow. "I guess you are right, but still..."
Triled shrugged. "You lived here your whole life, Woolim? Where would you hide if you didn't want to be found, but still wanted to know everything that happened within the city?"
The old man smirked. "I'm not sure such a place exists. Not somewhere specific, I guess. I'd stay in these old houses or in the stores near the Crossroads' center. Though, if they took everything from the stores, maybe there is no point..."
A flash of recognition showed on Silkurm's face. "What about the Inn?" Silkurm was Woolim's grandson and inherited his stern, impenetrable demeanor.
Triled moved his attention to the younger man. "The inn? Why the inn?"
"The inn is three stories tall. You could probably see most movement in the Crossroads perched up there."
"Only in the center. I guess you could see well toward the Creeping Ice since they cleared those buildings. What do you think? Should we go there?" His companions nodded, and he created the optimal route in his mind. "Fine. Follow me, and we'll head there. Remember, we're just trying to find out how many of these Furies are out here. Don't fight if you can avoid it."
His companions nodded, and he peeled off of the building's side. Ashes, dirt, and grass had been smeared into Triled's stained travel cloak to create an irregular pattern. The improvised camouflage hid the group while still but didn't offer much subterfuge while moving, which exposed the armor underneath. The entire group wore the same garments in an effort to hide themselves.
Underneath, Tairent only wore a set of sunshine steel chainmail with a matching helm. Silkurm had a steel cuirass, and solid woolen armor covered his legs and arms. His grandfather had a similar outfit, but he only wore a gambeson since age made carrying such heavy metal an immense burden. Triled arrived at the next house and threw his back on the outer wall. The group followed and lined next to him in well-choreographed movements.
They lowered their hoods and blended into the background. Triled lifted his head and surveyed the upcoming skyline before skulking in the inn's direction. While traveling, sand rustled at his feet and blew down the road. Triled turned to face a torrent of swirling, cutting sand and lowered his hood to protect his eyes.
The group barreled down the road, abandoning the concern to not be spotted. They rushed toward the inn sitting just in the distance. At the rate the wind approached, they wouldn't make it before being overtaken. Triled ducked into a nearby house that had stayed mostly intact. He slammed the door after the last follower entered. The wind continued up the street, rustling the house's shutters and door. Tairent addressed Triled. "Did it see us?"
"I don't know, but we're calling this mission off. Once we're alone, we need to head to the tunnels. I think the closest one is past that inn."
The outer walls shook, and smoke poured in through gaps in the panels. The occupants dropped to the floor to avoid inhaling acrid smoke. Slats shook down the wall's length. Then, the room fell into an eerie silence only broken by a drip dribbling from the ceiling.
Silkurm placed his hand under the falling water, and a droplet splashed on his skin. He ground it between his fingers, "This water feels too slimy to be real. It's making my skin tingle." He didn't notice that the roof bowed in from water accumulation. Triled pushed away Silkurm, as the roof shattered, and water flooded into the house. The liquid homed in on Silkurm's hand, seized his wrist, and spread up his arm.
Triled pulled the man's uncovered arm, but the water dragged along with the body instead of the captured limb popping free. The man pushed away from The Wolf as the liquid sucked him in. Triled fell, staring at his friend who was drowning while standing in the middle of a house. Air bubbles escaped Silkurm' s lungs, drifting up and out of the water. Skin melted away, exposing the flesh underneath. Woolim picked up Triled, and pulled him toward the exit.
Triled remembered himself and returned to his feet. The Wolf removed his sword and thrust it toward the Fury, but the liquid parted as the fire steel stabbed his friend's heart. Triled pulled the sword free and followed his companions outside.
As they entered the street, a flame combusted on the alley's far side. It scorched the buildings' siding and lurched toward onlookers who fled toward the alley's other side. The heat increased, sucking the water and energy from the runners. Woolim collapsed just as they breached the alleyway. Unfortunately, the alley emptied into an open cul de sac encircled by storefronts. Triled looked back, "Hurry! We need to get out!"
The flames caught the elderly man and encircled his body. Tairent ran toward the fallen elder, but just as she approached, the inn collapsed into a burned pile of debris. Burning wood pinned the man's leg, and he screamed as the heat seared his nerve endings. Tairent grabbed his hand and pulled, but his screams only intensified.
He pushed her away, "Just go! Leave me!"
Fire consumed his upper body, but the woman reached for his hand again. The flames seared her skin, and she recoiled with a scream. Trilled dragged her from the alley. On the main street, the couple could avoid ambushes by fire or water Furies, but running in the open gave away their position. So, they skulked around the main road toward the nearby inn's three-story spire. As they approached, they ducked inside and hid behind a wall. Triled prowled to the window and peeked toward a nearby alley.
"It's over there." The woman followed his eyes to a grate resting at the mouth of an alley that connected the inn to a nearby business. "We have to make sure that we aren't followed. It's better we die than let the Furies know about the tunnels."
The woman swallowed, turned her gaze to the grate, and looked back to Triled. "I don't want to die like Woolim or Silkurm. Promise me that, you won't let the water or fire have me."
Triled didn't want her to suffer at the Furies' hands but didn't want to kill her. He reluctantly agreed, and Tairent sighed in relief. "What's your idea?"
"Well, it's not a very good plan, but I think we should just walk to the grate and wait."
"If one of those things is following us, they'll get us while we wait in the alley. With nothing following us, we can just go in after a few minutes."
"That isn't a very good plan..."
"Right now, our only choice is to decide where we wait to die."
The woman scowled but reluctantly agreed. The pair sneaked out of the tavern's rear and tip-toed to the alley's mouth. After entering the lane, the pair rounded back and waited behind mounds of stacked trash. Cloth rags from the tailor shop, food from the inn's kitchen, wood shavings, and miscellaneous animal parts left over from the leather-worker created a disgusting mosaic at the alley's mouth. Before the world fell into chaos, carts aperiodically rounded the Crossroads to clean up these sludge piles. The Furies must have attacked before workers could clean out an already overdue route.
Trilled collapsed under the stress and sat against a nearside building. He looked up the alley for signs of moving water, fire, or wind. He addressed Tairent. "Do you think this is pointless?"
"I guess—this whole thing. Everything we tried has failed. We don't even know how they control the elements. We're looking for a puddle moving up the road, but it might not work that way."
Tairent stopped looking over the trash mounds and turned to Triled.
"I think the choice to fight or not never existed. The only real choice was when to die. In that sense, we did everything we could."
Triled's back began feeling hot on the wall, and his face sunk. "Oh, no." Triled threw himself forward just before the wood ignited and fire spread.
The flame leaped and combusted nearby piles of trash. Tairent screamed and rolled. The flames encircled the pair and closed in. The Wolf drew his blade and waited. Tairent pleaded, "Forget what I said before. We need to fight! We need to stop them at any cost!"
Although happy that he wouldn't need to kill another comrade, Triled likely couldn't fight on anyway. Triled hardened his resolve and swung his sword toward the fire. The flames parted around the incoming steel. Surprised, Triled grabbed Tairent's hand. "We only have one chance to live."
Trilled slashed toward the flames, and they parted just enough for him to dive for the tunnel's hatch and throw it open. To his surprise, Nort the Paladin sprung from the opening and reached for the spreading fire. As his hand closed in, the flames molded into a person's shape. Nort clutched the stranger's wrist and screamed as his exposed hand burned. The Fury flailed as its flesh burned away. Triled stabbed at the solidifying flames with a steel short-sword that snapped in the creature. Nort released his bloodied hand, and the Fury stumbled through the alleyway.
The man's burning body smoldered until the flames only left skeletal remains. All his facial features had melted away, and the remains looked inhuman. Clutching his burned hand, Nort shouted over to Tairent and Triled. "Get in; before any other ones come!"
Nort hustled down the stairs, followed by the two harried warriors. Triled shut the grate just as the whole alleyway shook. Wind ripped through the road, blowing out the dust that used to be the dead Fury. Metal shards melted into the road's stone became the only signs of a struggle. The wind picked up in a howling rage that disappeared over the horizon.
Nort the Paladin, Triled the Wolf, and Tairent limped up the hallway nursing wounds. Triled rubbed the pain from his thighs while Nort grabbed his wrist and occasionally winced at the second-degree burns on his palm and fingers. Tairent wiped tears that welled up. The group approached an intersection in the underground tunnel system. Nort, Triled, and Tairent tensed at the sound of footsteps racing up the tunnel, and Nort took point to intercept the incoming person.
Ban passed Nort, and jumped onto Triled, wrapping her arms around his neck. He winced at the sudden pain but relaxed into a smile as it subsided. They held more firmly as Nort and Tairent exchanged awkward glances. The moment lingered for several minutes, and the pair broke away, allowing the group to continue up the darkened hall.
Ban took in the group's condition, and her joy transformed into awkward stammering. "Wh-what happened?"
Triled cracked a nervous smile. "We were ambushed on the way back."
"The tunnels are coming along nicely, but there is still a gap between the Crossroad's center and the outer realms. We had no choice but to traverse on the surface when we move between regions. We were trying to find a safe route and figure out the Furies' movements, when..."
"We were worried that the Furies might be active near the construction sites, and it's true." Tairent looked downtrodden.
Triled tried changing the mood. "Did you learn anything about the Furies at The Whitecoat's compound?"
"Yes. The most important being that they are in the elements they control."
Triled nodded, only half understanding Nort's meaning. "That's how the one died? But why?"
"When I touch one in the elements, it dies."
Ban addressed the question. "Remember how metal breaks around him. And those other rumors we heard. Well, that happened to the Furies when he touches them. They break."
"We did just discover a problem, though." Nort held up his hand and showed the burns along the surface.
Ban frowned. "What happened there?"
"It was a fire Fury. I touched the flames, and my hand started burning along with the body. I guess it makes sense. If I touch a water Fury, I get wet. We are going to have to think of a way around this."
Triled nodded. "I don't know if this is my imagination or not, but I don't think they like metal."
Ban glanced at Nort and turned back to Triled. "Why do you say that?"
"When I tried stabbing the flames, it circled around the blade. If it couldn't hurt them, it would have just let it move through."
Ban thought for a moment. "That makes a lot of sense. At the Hunter's Quarry, they lined the keep with metal shavings to keep the Furies away. But it didn't matter..."
"It's worse than we imagined. They just turned the whole keep into monsters. They don't seem to care what happens to this world's people. This fight is even more life and death than we imagined."
"Monsters?" Triled still looked troubled by the death of his friends, and now the talk of monsters deflated him further.
Ban placed her hand on Triled's shoulder. "I know this is difficult to hear, but I don't think there can be a peaceful reconciliation."
The group discussed while walking, but the tunnels branched off, and Triled interceded when Nort began to take the left fork. "We need to take this tunnel."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. We based these tunnels off of the Crossroads. Many of the paths only circle back, but if you know the direction you are walking, you always know to go left or right. We are moving into the center, so we always turn right."
"It's really that easy? Do you know how many times I walked in circles and had to go back to the surface in the last few days?"
"Not surprising. After the first time you get turned around, it's incredibly difficult to know which way you're walking."
The group continued into the Crossroads's heart, and smells of roasting rabbits wafted from cooking fires in an open space between tunnels. Nort, Triled, Ban, and Tairent entered the space where a barking Huskie joined the group.
Huskie bound toward Triled, with its tail wagging. Huskie barked and nipped toward the wolf leather on The Wolf's arms. Huskie sniffed the animal skin, and the tail wagging increased. The dog turned its attention to Nort, who clasped his injury. Huskie inspected the seared flesh and licked at the skin as it whimpered. Nort pulled his hand away to avoid getting a strange infection. Huskie slunk away, whining.
The group approached a campfire where a cook prepared dinner. The worker sliced chunks from a rabbit's flanks and haunches and slid the meat onto clay plates staged with vegetables and starches. The cook handed a plate to each person as they sat on nearby logs. Nort gingerly put a metal fork on the ground, trying not to fracture it and started eating with his bare right hand. Huskie licked at the fork, and the group largely ignored him.
The various companions tried to start a conversation between bites, but each person gave up after stammering out an awkward question. Nort finally thought of a topic that could take their minds off of the current perils. "I know we were never that close, even considering we both trained with The Whitecoat, but how did you two happen?" Nort pointed between Ban and Triled.
Ban lowered her plate. "Hmmm... Well, you kept coming and going in this world, so I guess it isn't much of a surprise you wouldn't notice. Or, at least, months for us must have felt like days for you. We actually met during negotiations..."
A member of Korg the Whitecoat's entourage stood before the group pontificating on the virtues of centralizing the profits from cross-world trade. Trading in Triled's world was quaint compared to the negotiations that took place in the Shift World. Triled, Birn, Jara, and Jorn sat on one side of a table in the back of a simple warehouse in the Crossroads. They sipped tea from plain wooden cups while Korg, Ban, Nort, and another associate nodded along as their ally finished his speech. "...so as you can see if we keep the lion's share of profits, we can establish more warehouses, and those generate goods for the locals."
Four hours of this kind of talk. Four hours! The dulling monotony weighed on Triled, and he stopped caring about the nuts and bolts of their trade deal a long time ago. Jara rose to speak, "We can understand why you feel that way, but you must admit that it hasn't come to pass. Each shifter that begins to trade will bring goods back to their community. The riches aren't distributed based on warehouses or hubs. It's based on the workers' hearts. Centralizing the profits is slow and clunky and doesn't ensure those who need the materials receive them!"
Jorn and Birn nodded while Korg stared at the tabletop in deep reflection. Triled tried to ease his boredom by glancing around. Still, the bolts of fabric lying in the northern corner didn't help him escape the apathy. The wardrobes and cabinets sitting next to the sewing tables didn't hold his interest any more than the chairs that workers used. His gaze drifted to the negotiation partners. Korg's typically jovial features turned toward deep contemplation, which actually made him more uninteresting than usual. Nort's dumbfounded expression belied that he didn't understand the arguments. Filt looked to be daydreaming about taking over the talks and emerging a hero, or he could have just been thinking about dinner.
The Whitecoat rose. "I understand what you mean, but don't make it sound as though we hoard everything for ourselves! Most of the goods we trade for go right back into the community! The wood builds houses! The steel goes to farmers or leather workers. This recent increase in shifters means we should centralize more; get a grip on the flow of goods before someone else rises and takes it themselves."
Triled's gaze fell on Ban for the first time since negotiations began, his heart skipped every other beat. He met her for the first time during secret talks with The Strange Man. He had been rambling on about worlds getting destroyed or something, but Triled only thought about her. Now, she just glanced around the room as he had a moment ago. His mind wondered how closely her thoughts might have been mirroring his.
Jorn stood. "Our people are not like yours! We are just grateful to have food and want to spread that to everyone!"
Filt rose to speak. "People are not a monolith, Sunflower. Everyone might be happy for food and wood now, but there will eventually be someone who grew up with these luxuries who won't be satisfied. They will want more for themselves and will centralize the economy. They might not be as benevolent as The Whitecoat."
The debates continued as Ban and Triled's attention faded in and out of the discussions. As the junior members of each party, no one anticipated them to contribute much, and they hadn't. The initial negotiations had gone smoothly, with people quickly agreeing on living together in communities in the Shift World. Triled wished the current talks went that smoothly, but clearly, people held more rigid opinions on affairs affecting their world.
The negotiations eventually ended with minor concessions from The Whitecoat's side, but the status quo maintained mostly intact. The locals agreed to only conduct business with The Whitecoat and The Bog Djinn. The Whitecoat conceded to increase the shifter's access from 7% of the earnings to 10%.
The parties met in the Crossroad's tavern to celebrate the successful negotiations. The Whitecoat and The Sunflower competed at throwing knives at a giant painted board that The Whitecoat introduced to the world. Unlike in The Whitecoat's world, most taverns in Triled's world didn't have a throwing board since playing games was an unthinkable waste of precious metal. The Whitecoat thrashed Jorn, and the man's conceit flared at each defeat.
Filt and Nort watched the throwing board with passing disinterest as they sipped ale imported from the Shift World. Occasionally they commented on the state of the ongoing game, but both seemed more interested in starting conversations with nearby tables and fluttering between different groups though neither had yet to do it. Birn and Jara sat in the corner drinking while flirting. Usually, they maintained some decorum around their children, but since none of them attended the negotiations, they let loose.
Ban sat quietly near the end of the bar, looking around occasionally and then returning to a half-full mug of tea. Triled decided to break away from Birn and Jara's awkward company and approached her. "Is it OK if I join you?"
Ban sat a little straighter in surprise and nodded. "Please do!"
Triled laughed and sat in an open seat. He looked into Ban's eyes and then back to his drink and took a quick sip. Ban went to talk, but she shied away and returned to her tea. Triled stumbled out a question. "What are you drinking?"
"Uhhhh.... tea?" Triled nodded and took another sip. Ban sighed, "I really have no idea what to do."
"I mean at places like this in the Shift World."
"What do you mean in the Shift World?"
"Oh. Sorry. I mean, in this world. It's just so different than in my world. Like, I don't understand the rules of what you do in taverns here."
Triled raised an eyebrow at the strange comment. "You just talk! Grab a drink and move from group to group and chat. Not really much to it, I guess. At least in the Creeping Ice. I guess in the Crossroads, you have a weird mix of all three regions. I hear in the Lush Forest that taverns only serve food, and you eat and leave. I've even heard that in the Arid Desert, everything is outside. You sit under the stars, and food and drink are served from stalls."
"I bet that's really pretty. I guess that's why I'm not the only one that seems out of place." Ban pointed to Filt who sat uncomfortably staring at his drink. Triled nodded.
"Yes. He's from the Lush Forest. I think he expects to leave any second, but the people he came with are lingering."
"All three regions here are very different than in my home town."
"Oh? Why do you say that?"
"In the Wyvern's Cove, you start the evening drinking, and when music starts, you dance for the rest of the night."
"Dance? We only do that here for ceremonies."
"I guess that's why everyone's so bad at it..." Ban giggled at her own joke, and Triled cracked a wry smile.
"Is that why you're so uncomfortable here? You would normally be dancing around?" Ban nodded, and Triled continued, "Well, it's a beautiful night. Why don't we go for a walk or something? We can get on our feet and move around a little bit."
Ban stood and reached her hand for Triled's.
A few months later, Ban had still lived in the Crossroads and occasionally stopped by Birn and Jara's warehouse to visit Triled. He worked in the compound's main structure, where he exchanged bolts of fabric for boxes of metal goods. Triled lugged a wagon carrying a miniature chest filled with steel daggers down a ramp into the warehouse's basement. The wagon's wheels rumbled as he strained to keep the thing from barreling down at full speed.
Sweat beaded on Triled's face as he reached the lowest level. The wagon glided to a gentle stop. Ban followed after she no longer heard the cart moving. Triled greeted her with a smile. "What are you doing here?"
Ban hugged Triled but pulled away as her hand squished into a sweat-soaked cotton shirt. "Ewwwww. I just decided to take a break from packing and came to see you."
Triled unlatched the miniature chest and pulled out a dagger. "Are you excited to go?"
Triled handed a worker the dagger who loaded it into a cart in the tunnels that ran underneath the compound.
Ban frowned. "How could I be? What even is there in the Creeping Ice?"
Triled chuckled. "You know Timore, his family, and I are from the Creeping Ice. I can assure you, it isn't that bad. Once you get used to the cold, at least."
"I hate the cold! Why can't I stay here?"
A voice echoed from the tunnel under Triled. "Helllllloooooo Bannnnnnnn."
"Hello, Timore." Barks rang from in the tunnel as well. "Hello, Huskie."
Timore's hands continued to reach from the tunnel and retrieve metal pieces from Triled. Triled looked back to Ban. "I will get to see you while you are there!"
"Of course! Birn and Jara really do think it's important that we bring wealth back to our homes. I go back there every few months to give out wood and metal. It should be fine!"
"I just hope that I'll learn whatever The Whitecoat wants to teach me quickly."
"Enjoy your time there! For you, this will barely be a blink of the eye,"
Ban frowned, and Triled realized his mistake. "I'm glad to see this doesn't bother you at all."
Triled frowned and tried to think of a way around the subject. "It's not that it doesn't bother me, it's just there isn't anything we can do about it, right?"
"I guess that's easy for you to say. I'm going to have to watch everyone else age while I stay the same. It will be worse with you... You'll age both here and the Shift World. In thirty years, you could be gone, and I'll have another 200 to linger on."
Triled held her hands and looked into her eyes. "If it ever comes to that, we will think of something. I'm sure of it. Either we live in the other world, or maybe just find some way to remember me, everything will be alright."
Ban turned from him and wiped away the start of a tear. Triled pulled her closer. "I know this isn't just about us, but that's why you're going to the Creeping Ice, to learn about this world." Triled thought of a quick way to change the subject. "The first thing you should do when you arrive at Seal's Pond is check out the heated springs. You can't swim in them, but they are nice to look at!"
Ban giggled. "Ok. This isn't over, but I'll keep that in mind."
Over time, Ban and Triled worked in the Creeping Ice and the Crossroads, respectively. They wrote to each other by giving letters to merchants traveling between isolated villages dotting permafrost in the Creeping Ice. Eventually the travelers moved on to the Crossroads with her letters. Triled visited Ban while he brought his profits to his home village and its neighboring communities.
Blizzards had worn him out on the last trip as his small caravan trudged through knee-high drifts. After the trip, he pushed open the door to the village's stone tavern and inn. He practically fell inside, followed by his traveling companions. The Wolf wiped snow from a pair of wolf fur bracers as he approached the innkeeper. The portly man warmed his upper body on a small hardwood fire near the main counter.
Triled approached. "Good day."
"Ah, Triled! Very nice to see you, Wolf. As you could probably guess by your journey, we've gone through much of your last delivery! I hope you have the same as last time."
"Yes. Of Course. Where should I stack the wood?"
The man pointed to half of a cord of chopped hardwood that lined the far wall. The innkeeper burned two full cords in a matter of weeks. Although Triled obtained wood from the Shift World cheaply, he felt a little concerned that his people forgot the strict conservation habits required to survive in the deadly climate. The barkeep waved for Triled's attention. "Here are the keys to your rooms."
Triled nodded and picked up the keys for himself and two companions. The Wolf waved as he mosied to the wood stack and watched for Ban around the hall. When he couldn't find her, he sighed and went to work. He transferred goods from the Shift World to his world in a gap between tables. Knee-high stacks of chopped wood appeared at his feet. The caravan workers picked up handfuls of lumber and added the pieces to the cords along the wall.
Five minutes of transferring later, Triled estimated that he brought enough wood to refill the inn's stacks. He went to join his companions when a crying Ban surprised him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. A confused, stammering Triled greeted her.
"I... Uh... I'm glad to see you too, but why..."
"He's dead, Triled!"
"Who's dead? What're you talking about?"
"The Whitecoat is dead! Haven't you heard???"
"What? When did this happen,"
"At a festival. They said that..."
"What did they say?"
"They said that Jorn killed him with someone named The Mandrake."
"How's that possible?"
"Not sure." Tears flowed down Ban's face hard enough to moisten Triled's coat. "He died during some festival. The Mandrake killed a Royal Envoy, and then The Whitecoat fought him in response. In the middle of the scuffle, The Sunflower killed him. Some kind of shifter sickness."
"If we talk to Jorn...maybe he will clear it all up."
Ban shook her head as she cleared tears away from darkened cheeks. "Korg's apprentice from the other world killed him."
"That Karp lady?"
"I guess so. I never met her. I only ever worked with Korg at the Village of the Bog Djinn, and only a few times."
"When was the last time you went back to that village? The one he died at." Triled led Ban to a nearby table and sat her at an empty seat. He knelt on one knee to be closer to her level and held her hand.
She thought of an answer. "I'm not sure. I guess it would be six months, maybe? I mostly only spend time in my home town near the Wyvern's Cove. Korg usually keeps his life between worlds separate, which was fine by me. The only way I could get some vacation time." Ban tried to force a smile, but it faded back into a frown.
Triled's awkward smile matched Ban's somber tone. He picked his words carefully. "I've got an awful feeling about this. While I was in the Shift World, we came across a village that Timore destroyed. He said something about attacks in the Crossroads. We tried to clean up what happened, but that horrific scene..."
"What do you think's happening?"
"I don't know, but we will have to go back to the Crossroads to investigate."
"I don't want to be alone out there. What if something's going to happen?"
Triled took her hand and pulled her close. "You won't be alone. I will be there with you. I'll stay with you through everything, and when the world has settled down, let's stay together forever."