Juneau had finished packing the last of his belongings and looked at the now empty room in front of him. A desk which once held notes and research and some beakers for potions was now completely barren. The bed which once held his stuffed animal was now just a matress. The drawers he put his clothing in and held some of his potions ingredients in suddenly looked like giant chasms without anything in them. He just felt empty. He’d had a few final words with Zeyke about some interesting matters the night before and cleared up an incredibly huge misconception, before ultimately saying goodbye to the last Crusader he would see in a while. He sighed and brought grab as much of his belongings as he could to bring out to the carriage.
That was three days ago now and it’s already felt like an eternity to him. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, he was bored not having to deal with being Commander. It was a challenge he’d come to accept, even if he wasn’t that good at it. The carriage hit a rock and jostled around some, making the Half-Halfling bump his head on the side. He moaned a little in pain and rubbed the spot. This is the worst pain I’m going to be in for a while…The thought almost made him want to forget his mother and go back to the Crusaders, but Healer Pomoday said it was pretty serious. He couldn’t just abandon his mother.
The mountains of Jarlsjalfi were proving difficult to navigate. In two days, he was only halfway to the Kasinthian border. He had considered avoiding the country after his latest exploits in the country and the problems it’s now causing and going through Ko’ebbe instead. He’d be going through mountains no matter what. But he’d settled on the most direct route instead. At least this way he could pass by the sea. Still, he thought, it might be best if I don’t stop by any towns til I get to Bree. I think I have enough food to last me.
He resigned himself to looking out the window once more. Same rocks. Same mountains. This was proving to be a boring trip.
Once again it has been another boring day. Nothing but mountains and the occasional stop for food and the relieving of one’s bowels. Bowels. That’s a weird word, thought the quarterling.
He found himself lost in thought for most of the day. It occurred to him after talking with Zeyke that he was one of, if not the, last of the original Crusaders to leave the group. He and Lisette had been the only only one’s fully associated with them for the longest time. Sure, Nella and Ch’taia would drop in to lend support at times, but they had their own responisibilities outside the Crusaders. It also dawned on him that he didn’t quite know what Nella was doing with her life anymore. Juneau mad a mental note to remedy that and added her to the now growing list of people that he would have to visit after his mother’s illness was taken care of. Of course, that’s if he can’t return to the Crusaders…
A sigh escaped his lips as his mind tried to understand that for the umpteenth time. He was not required to return to the Crusaders after this. He couldn’t decided if that meant he was free from, fired from, or abandoning the Crusaders. He’d given the past four years of his life to the group and he can’t say he didn’t have anything to show for it. His hand subconsciously slipped into his pocket and felt the metallic slab in it. Proof that he could lead a group of soldiers and defend a world. Or at least the southern half of it anyway. The Paladins were changing their ways from what it seemed, The NEA was disbanded. The world wasn’t perfect. There were still many things wrong with it, as he’d seen with Nightmist, Twitch, and even his own men. That last thought seemed redundent since Twitch was once one of his men, but still. Things were on a better path. Hopefully they’d remain that way, but one could never be too sure. The Crusaders themselves weren’t exactly being looked after by the best man…or even a good man. Elder Cupboard was more destructive than he was good any day of the week. He’s incredibly contradictory, hypocritical, and a liar. Heaven forbid he’d actually got Lisette incarcerated…
…Oh! Lisette! She doesn’t know I left! He pulled some parchment, ink, and a quill out of his back pack and started writing:
To her Royal Highness, the Queen of Bawerstrom,
Now that the formalities are out of the way, Hi Lisette! Dang has it been awhile since we’ve been able to talk. Before I start talking about myself, I’d love to hear how you’re doing. I’m currently sitting in a horseless carriage, bored and in the company of no one but my thoughts. They’re not to happy. How has Bawerstrom been faring since the rebellion a month ago? And how have you been dealing with it?
About why I’m writing…I just wanted to keep you up to date with the state of affairs with the Crusaders. Not that I’ll be able to do that anymore…anyway…we recently returned from Okime, Where We met Yue again. Two more, uh…possessors, was it?…were taking over the city and we managed to stop them. And then Opium got smuggled out of the country…by our own men. You would think when border control was stopping to inspect us, they would have taken the hint. But no, they took it anyway. We eventually got it taken care of. Some admitted to it, some required a truth potion, but the most surprising thing was that Vigil dropped unconscious after taking a truth potion. When he came to, he admitted that would happen to him anytime a truth potion or Mind Control was used on him. Sound familiar? He’s currently under house arrest until a trial can be set for him. I’ve also placed our more recent recruit, Cassie Mcreil, under suspension. After the mission to Jarlsjalfi, she became highly hostile to me, her commander, defied orders and placed us in danger, all due to Twitch being placed in mental evaluation. I should also let you know that after our most recent excursion to Kasinthia, the Paladin Order has decided to re-evaluate their decisions on Blood Magic. I even got to atone for my past transgressions with the late Sarenuian ambassador. But I won’t bore you with those details.
There is one more thing…my mother has apparently taken very ill and I’ve been asked to come help with the treatment. i’ve been given a temporary leave of two months…but…I’m not required to come back…and depending on how bad her illness is, I don’t think I will be. as I write this to you, I’m effectively no longer a Crusader. It hurts a little to say that that’s now a part of my past.
Anyway, it’s fairly late and I should be wrapping this up. I look forward to your response soon. Take care, Queeny!
He folded the letter and whistled out the window, an owl appearing shortly after. “Birch, take this letter to the Queen of Bawerstrom. She’s located in the capital city of Zanthera, in the castle. Make haste.” He remembers something else before the owl leaves. “And don’t stop to talk to any lady birds!”
“Really, Sir, it’s not like I try to do it. They come to me. Most of the time.” The owl chuckled a little then flew away with the letter. By now it had gotten very dark out so the Halfling decided to pull over. Sleep would be good for him right now.
The moon was already high when Juneau stopped his carriage for the night. It was a cold night, but the wind wasn’t blowing very hard, so it was a pleasant cold. It was also nice to see trees again. He’d made great time getting through the moutains and managed to get into Kasinthia and be at the Breean border by night fall. Only a day and a half’s trip back and I’ll be home, thought the halfling. That was another thing that had been weighing on Juneau’s mind lately: home. It’s someplace he hadn’t been since the summer. How much had it changed since he was last there? He was always terrible at keeping up with family, and now that his mother was sick, he feels like he’s lost touch with her if someone had to be sent to get him. He also wondered what would happen to his mother’s shop. he expected it to be closed, but “Sew You Know” was the one of three tailoring shops in town. People would still be able to get clothes, but no business meant more money in there pockets and none in his mother’s.
Maybe I’m just being a worry-wart. Juneau shook his head and looked at his winged companion. “What do you think, Birch? You think I’m worrying too much?”
“I think you’re so caught up in yourself that you can’t even notice that I’m having my own troubles, thank you!” With that, the owl turned it’s head 180 degrees to look away. That was an unusual reaction for Birch. He was haughty and sometime arrogant, but never so tempermental. “Um…I suppose that I haven’t payed much attention to you lately…what’s wrong? You’re normally not so moody.”
“Well…if you must know, I was delivering your letter, just as you told me to, when this beautiful creature happened to fly by me. She was graceful, with a broad wingspan, and such a-” He paused when he saw the Quarterling giving him an annoyed look. “What? I didn’t stop! I tried to talk to her as we were moving, but she just out right snubbed me! Really, how could any bird just leave a majestic bird such as I…” Juneau sighed and tried to tone out the pile of feathers squawking at him. Maybe learning Sylvan was a mistake…
His thoughts were interrupted by a quiet sound, like something small falling. He started looking around, suddenly feeling like he wasn’t alone out in the woods. “Birch did you hear something?”
“Don’t you know it’s rude to interrupt a gentleman’s story? Now, I was saying-”
“Birch, shush!” This time the bird took the hint and closed it’s beak. Silence. That’s all that could be heard. The one to break the silence was the one who thought it disturbed in the first place. “Hello?” Juneau called out into the woods. “Is anybody there?” No reply was heard. Just silence.
Juneau scratched his head and tried to look deeper into the woods. What was that then? I could have sworn…He turned back to the campfire and sat back down when something glinted out of the corner of his eye. his head turned quickly at what caused the gleam to see……some glass bead tied to string. “Oh, that’s what it was! it must have slipped out of my packet.” Juneau ran the beads through his hand, thinking back to earlier that day.
He was a few hours from the Kasinthian border when he happened across a small human family and their supply carriage. It seemed that one of the wheels on it had fallen off and some of their food had luggage had spilled out. He couldn’t just let them stay like that, so he’d pulled over and offered his assistance to the family. It turned out the family was actually from Okime and they were on their way back home from trading with in Kasinthia’s capital city. It took a while, but the carriage was ready to move out again after about an hour’s work.
“Thank you for your help, Halfling. We are most grateful for your aid,” the patriarch said in an accent only an Okimean could muster. “It was nothing really. We used to have this problem all the time when i traveled with my uncle. You should probably get going now. You’ll want to cover as much distance as you can befoe night fall.”
“Surely there is some way we can repay you,” The man said, shifting though a bag. “perhaps some wine, or a new coat?”
“That’s kind of you, but that’s not necessary. Your safe passage is all the payment I need.” It took a little more reinforcement to get that through to the Okimean father, but eventually, he sighed and bid the Halfling farewell. The family started moving away down the road, when suddenly the son of the family ran back and tugged at Juneau’s sleeve. “Hey mister,” He said. “I know you said you didn’t want anything, but here.” He produced a string of glass beads of many colors all tied together with string. “It’s a bracelet. You were nice, so I thought you should have it.”
“Oh…th-that’s oky, you don’t have to-”
“Take it! You helped us, so you should get something too!”
The quarterling smiled at the simple view this child had and couldn’t help but smile and accept the gift. “Alright…thank you very much. Now run along. You don’t want your parents worriying about you.”
The little boy left after that, leaving Juneau alone again on that road.
The beads felt cool to the touch in his hand, a smile stretching on his face again. Something he loved: simple acts of kindness. Simple gestures. Simple gratitude. He couldn’t help but realize just how warped things like “simple” and “normal had become in his life. Returning home would be a good thing for him for sure. He stared at the beads a little longer before pocketing them once more and slipping into his sleeping bag. Tomorrow he would be back in Bree. The thought comforted him as he drifted off to sleep, the stars the last thing he saw in the sky as he his eyes closed for the night.
It’s been a sadly boring day for the once General as he looks up at the night sky. He hasn’t received any word back from Lisette yet, he’s still not near town yet, and there hasn’t even been a breeze to rustle the trees around. Birch was no where to be found. He was probably out hunting, though for which craving, he wasn’t sure. He had finished the last of the food for the journey a little while ago. There was nothing around.
Juneau sided and decided on what he would do. He pulled a needle out from his back pack, then bit his lip and pricked his finger. Some blood oozed out of his hand as he channeled his magic into it, the blood slowly rising and swirling in the air. Looking at it in the flickering light of the fire, he could understand how people thought this art was creepy. The usually crimson color had washed out to an almost black, the droplets separating and combining at a molasses pace. The first time he did this, He couldn’t keep it up long without feeling his stomach get queazy. Now, it was just a small fascination to him. He’d learned to make a game of it in a way. He forced the blood to congeal into a ring, then pushed to stand in front of a tree 2o ft. away. He looked at the size of the ring one more time, then frowned and shrunk the ring some. it was now the size of about an apple. Satisfied with this, the halfling stood up already forming a Blood Lance. he raised his arm, aiming the shot carefully, his arm shaking a little from the lack of blood in it. BLOOD LANCE! The sanguinistic lance shot forward, grazing the ring, but still managing to get it inside. He stared at his shot for a bit, a small smirk on on his face. “…Still need a little practice…but not bad.”
He started to feel a little woozy from the blood he’d lost and let both of them go, the ring and lance liquifying and splattering to the ground. For some reason he winced some at the noise. Another reason he could understand why people found Blood magic creepy. He always found the sound of blood spatter disturbing, no matter how many times he heard it.
He sighed and got his sleeping bag ready, knowing he was done for the night. He gave a whistle out to Birch, but the quarterling knew he’d have returned by morning. He thought for a moment about seeing his mother again as he looked up at the moon, then slowly drifted off to sleep, worry and comfort mixing in his mind as he does.
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