Part 24: EpilogueEpilogue
On a quiet day, along an unassuming stretch of road in Western Terrinoth, there sits an unassuming wooden bench left just to one side. From the small rise, it commands a respectable view of Eventide forest for any weary traveler that might choose to rest a moment. Unless that traveler is a horse.
One such horse grazes contentedly on the roadside grass nearby, a gentle spring breeze ruffling his mane. The respite is welcome, for while the beast is particularly strong-backed, it takes a lot of work to haul two riders around all day.
Resting comfortably in the saddle above is Athtar, untouched by time as is typical of his people. The same weathered travel clothes and battered mail, the same well-tended sword hanging from his belt.
By contrast, the second, shorter rider tucked under his chin has changed her style considerably. Deepmind has traded her concealing traveler's cloak and baggy coat for a comfortable riding outfit. Her hair has been combed back and cleared of knots, and while she still carries an above-average number of knives, they've at least been tastefully decorated.
They hyrrinx's nose twitches. "They're here."
A few moments later, the sound of horse hooves approaching causes their shared mount to raise its head, curiosity piqued. Two more riders appear on a pair of horses, reining in close to Athtar and Deepmind as though they'd raced the last of the distance.
Aria beams at the pair, pulling up alongside in order to embrace both her old friends at once. Minar, for his part, simply smiles and nods a greeting while Athtar and Deepmind are squashed in Aria's grip. "It's sooooo good to see you two!" she exclaims. "How long has it been?"
"Too long," Deepmind concurs, slowly extricating herself from the vicelike hug. "We weren't even sure you'd come, if I remember Minar's feelings on Dragonholt."
"I've made an exception for the reunion," says Minar, smirking. He nods toward their shared horse. "You still don't know how to ride, huh?"
Athtar furrows his brow, puzzled. "I've tried to teach her several times before, but it never seems to take."
Deepmind cranes upward and kisses Athtar on the neck. "Yeah, a real mystery," she says, winking.
Aria giggles before giving her reins a light tug, setting off down the road toward Eventide Forest. "Come on, I think I remember the way."
"At least riding'll speed things up this time," adds Minar. "Should be there for lunch."
The road through Eventide Forest is wider and easier to travel than they remember, despite the snow and churned mud of spring that clings to it. The old ford has been replaced by a new bridge, which is marked at either end with a small shrine to the spirits.
Captain Braxton overtakes the riders on the road, reining in her horse and circling around to smile upon them. "It's good to see you," she says. "Go on ahead to the Swan; the others are meeting there. I need to report back to her ladyship first."
Mal greets them as they arrive at the Swan, gravely telling the adventurers that they are expected and that his father has set aside a table for them. He escorts the four there and even pulls out a chair for each of them before his childish dignity evaporates and he races giggling from the room. Sapphire is already seated alongside Urist, smiling at them over a mug of cider. "It's good to be back here," she says. "I like what Jasper's done with the place."
The old dwarf alchemist, seemingly having not aged a day, gets to his feet to embrace his old comrades. "I arrived only a few days ago myself," he explains. "Thought I would go on ahead and enjoy a little extra time off from the city."
Sapphire makes a confused noise. "I thought you just rode in a few hours ago?"
"Did I?" Urist replies, genuinely surprised. He looks into his pipe and frowns. "I really must check the freshness on my stock."
The group chats happily, catching up, as Celyse and Braxton arrive. Urk and Grisbeck arrive together to loud and general commotion.
"URK SORRY FOR LATE ARRIVAL," she explains, grinning. "AS KNIGHT OF EVESMOORE, URK HAVE MANY DUTIES TO ATTEND."
"She overslept," Grisbeck translates.
"BEING WELL-RESTED ONE OF URK'S DUTIES."
"And where is Penny?" asks Sapphire. "I'd hoped to see her."
"At school in Highcrest," beams Grisbeck.
"FIRST DWARF GIRL ACCEPTED, TOO," adds Urk.
"I hope my recommendation was helpful," says Celyse. "I wouldn't blame you if you decided to disavow it, not after that business with the goblins."
"She'd never have been ready f'r the school there without yer tutelage, miss," Grisbeck assures her.
"URK ENJOYED GOBLIN-BRAWLING ANYWAY."
Braxton frowns, surveying the table. "Where are-"
She is interrupted as a whirlwind of frentic energy erupts through the door and a young orc girl races across the room to tackle her. "Momma!" she shouts. "You're back from your trip!"
Mariam comes puffing after, her hair in disarray and still wearing her stained shop apron. "Are all orc children like this?" she asks. "Or just mine?"
"All of us," says Braxton, smiling as broadly as she did on her wedding day. She lifts the girl up to rest at her hip and turns her toward the gathered adventurers and Sapphire. "Max," she says. "I'd like you to meet some good friends of mine."
Mariam appears at Max's other side, reaching up to place a hand on her back as the younger orc stares around the room with enormous dark eyes.
"Hello," she says after a pause. "It's nice to meet you." The adventurers and their friends chorus back a round of greetings and introductions.
"Finally," says Mariam with a grin. "The whole family is back together." Her glances seem to include the entire assembly, and a relaxed mood settles across the room.
Braxton leans down to kiss her wife. "Always good to see you, Madam Wildheart," she says.
"Likewise, Captain Wildheart." Mariam blushes and settles down in her chair. "Let's eat!"
They talk, and eat, and laugh, and reminisce, and eventually the sun sets. Soon, Braxton, Mariam and Max walk back toward the apothecary shop.
Urist watches them go from a contented repose in a lounge chair. "Something tells me that, in their shop or elsewhere, they will live happily together to the end of their days,"
"That might work for them," Aria complains. "I'm not ready for a 'happily ever after' just yet. I'm still young!" Minar snorts, and Aria reflexively punches him on the shoulder. "Young-ish!"
Urk grins in her familiar, knowing way. "URK HEAR RUMORS SPLIG THE GOBLIN KING CAUSING TROUBLE NEAR OLD BRIGHTMAUL SILVER MINE AGAIN. COULD MAYBE INVESTIGATE."
There's a sound of metal scraping as Athtar half-draws his sword from his scabbard, checking the edge, before nodding with satisfaction. "I suppose we have time. It could be dangerous, though."
Deepmind idly tosses a dagger in the air before catching it again and returning it to a concealed sheath. "Unless Splig's found a pissed-off dragon or a couple undead wolves to back him up, we should be able to manage."
"Just so long as Urist actually lets us use some of the potions he's always hogging," adds Minar.
Urist protests, Aria begins playing a tune on her well-worn violin, and in the familiar old common room of the Swan inn, our band of adventurers start drawing up plans for their next great adventure.
The campaign is complete
"That's it?" says Max, frowning. The orc woman squints into the shadows as the shrouded figure finishes his story.
"Seems a bit tidy," concurs the dwarf to her side. She finishes making a note in her journal before closing it up. "Rochelle becomes Countess, Count Leone doesn't make a fuss, the bandits are never seen again, and everything goes back to normal."
The gnome nods hurriedly. "Good point, Penny. What about the Belmonts? Didn't anyone follow up on their involvement?"
"That's the story as it happened," states the hooded man. "If there were any hard feelings or fallout after the fact, I wasn't there for them. Now." The man brings his gloved hands together. "What I'm curious about is what three young adventurers from Dragonholt County are doing all the way across Terrinoth to bother an old man in his retirement for a story."
The three look uneasily to one another for a moment, before Max nods to the gnomish man. "Tell him, Mal."
"There's trouble in Allerfeldt again," he begins, cautiously. "Leone is dead. The new Countess Belmont is taking issue with Rostum's arrangement with the other two counties. The Countess Fairfax is worried the whole thing could boil over."
"Rochelle wouldn't be afraid to get her hands dirty," says the old man. "What does this have to do with me?"
"Rochelle didn't send us," says Penny, narrowing her eyes at the dark cloaked outline. "Phillip asked us to find you - if you were still alive. He thinks you could help mediate between the two sides because of your... personal history. If you're willing."
The hooded figure leans forward, letting the light of the dimming candle illuminate his face at last. An old man whose black hair has turned to grey and then white stares back, with two shining green eyes. A long scar runs down one side of his face, framing a macabre smile.
"For my family?" says Kyric. "Anything."