Chapter the Fourth: Hills Shrouded In FogOn the way to Shrouded Hills, I heard noises coming towards us through the forest. Thinking we were being set upon yet again by more assassins I drew my dagger and crouched low to the ground, my eyes hunting for the oncoming assailants. The noises grew louder as they approached and they were accompanied by a deep, vicious grunting. The noises made sense, then. Only an orcish assassin could be this loud.
Then it sprang from the bushes nearby and nearly tackled poor Virgil! If I hadn't been so frightened I would've laughed. It was no orc, nor an assassin - it was a bear! I hadn't fought many bears before, but bears could be stabbed just as well as any man, provided you were willing to get close enough.
Virgil brought out that clumsy old staff of his and began swinging away uselessly. I was glad he was trying to help, but the bear was just shaking off his blows. Slowly, I crept behind the bear and flipped my dagger around to improve my striking strength. When the bear lurched forward to attack Virgil once again, I struck. My blade flashed through the air in an instant, piercing the bear's side just in front of his back right leg. It growled ferociously and turned at me, but I was already gone, behind it once more. I struck it again and again until it finally slumped to the ground, lifeless. I felt a pang of guilt at killing an animal, but it did attack us first. Better guilty than dead.
The rest of the trip to Shrouded Hills was uneventful. Things seemed to be looking up for a change. Even my annoying little dress seemed to be stretching and tearing in just the right places so that it wasn't nearly as unbearably restrictive as it was before. I was starting to like the damned thing. I made a note to sew it up in Shrouded Hills so I wouldn't look quite so much like street trash. Even if I was street trash, I didn't want to look it.
Upon our arrival in Shrouded Hills Virgil directed me to the inn where Joachim was staying.
I was nervous, staring at the door to the inn. I had found a nice, quiet place to rest for the first time since my departure from Caladon and yet instead of resting I was willingly meeting with a half-crazed loon that might just as soon try to kill me as worship me. Virgil took the lead and I grudgingly followed. He lead me into the inn and down the hallway to the last door on the left. I stopped dead in my tracks when I reached the door. I smelled blood.
Don't you see, Virgil? Joachim isn't who you think he is.... I felt pity for Virgil. There could be no doubt now that Joachim was a killer, but Virgil seemed to have so much respect for him. I wondered how he would take it once the initial shock wore off. Giving him his space, I explored the room a bit further. On the far side I found a note lying conspicuously on the ground. If I'd traipse across the countryside merely for the sake of my curiosity I couldn't very well resist reading a little note. It was even more tempting than locked doors, but not by much.
Hm. So that's his excuse. I didn't like how much he seemed to know about me despite my never having met him. It unnerved me; made me feel like he was just around the corner, watching me.
It's possible, I suppose, but isn't it also possible that Joachim killed them to make us think that? It wasn't worth asking him. Given the two choices I knew which one he'd favor already, and even if I thought I could convince him otherwise I didn't want to shatter his hopes. As long as I continued to avoid meeting with this Joachim for as long as possible it wouldn't do me any harm to play along and Virgil would be happier for it I was sure. I almost envied him... he could remain hopeful because he was naive. It made me long for naivete. I chose my words carefully, trying not to upset him again. "It looks that way. Tell me Virgil... who exactly is this Joachim?"
Now I was starting to get interested. I've been meaning to ask you about yourself anyway. I didn't want to force him to face painful memories, but perhaps I didn't give him enough credit. Could it be that he chose to be this naive? "What do you mean, 'down on your luck'? What had happened?" If we had as much in common as I was beginning to suspect, I might be able to learn something from Virgil after all.
Fair enough, Virgil. I suppose if you asked me the same thing I wouldn't tell you just yet either. It could wait. "Alright, Virgil. Perhaps we'll talk more of this later..." Virgil didn't respond. He seemed lost in thoughts, and I couldn't blame him. I had already suspected, but it was then that I knew for sure we had something closely in common.
It looked to me like we both needed a good rest so I headed back to the innkeeper. "Greetings, good sir." He gave me a friendly smile as any good innkeeper always will, whether they like you or not.
"What can I help you with?" he asked cheerfully.
I tried to be polite, but direct. "I would like a room for the night."
The innkeeper was pleasantly polite as well, "Oh, but of course, madam. That will be 25 gold coins, please."
It was nice dealing with folk that weren't trying to stab me before I could stab them. "Here you are," I quickly counted out 25 coins from my purse and placed them in his hand. My funds were rapidly dwindling and I resolved to do something about them soon.
The innkeeper counted the coins once again to be sure then smiled again.
It was obviously a memorized speech, but at the moment I didn't much care.
Virgil and I retired to the room for some much needed rest. The two of us lied awake on separate beds, facing away from each other, unable to sleep due to the myriad of thoughts racing through our minds. It was a long night.