Dust billowed around me as I leapt into the light of the gorge. Coughing and spluttering, I lay there on the ground next to the dwarf. Sitting up, I looked around and saw that everyone had made it out of the cave uninjured.

I back flipped onto my feet and raised my fists into the air. “Wwwooooooooooo!” I shouted, and leapt around in triumph. Last time I had felt that much excitement was when I won in Game Ball against the Zadash Owlbears. “Yes! That was amazing!”

“Just remember, the reward’s fer us three,” he said, wagging his finger between himself, the tabaxi, and the bard.

“Quiet down, ye dolt!” the dwarf grumbled. Gracefully executing a back handspring over the dwarf, I slapped him on the shoulder, then bounded away in a couple more flips. I heard him growl at me, but I was too busy grabbing Fred’s arm and holding it above our heads to care.

“Dwarf! You should have seen yourself in there,” I said, somersaulting over to Jerry. “Those goblins didn’t stand a chance!” Punching the tabaxi in the arm, I said to him, “That thing you did with the daggers! That was really cool!”

“Eh. Ye didn’t do half bad yerself. Now settle down, and let’s get out of here,” said the dwarf. Complimenting him seemed to dull the edge of his attitude.

I fell into step at the dwarf’s side. “Really though. That was a lot of fun. Thank you for letting me help.”

“Aye!” the dwarf agreed, then scowled at me sideways. “Just remember, the reward’s fer us three,” he said, wagging his finger between himself, the tabaxi, and the bard.

“Yes, of course,” I responded, patted the dust off of my leathers. “Do you guys always do this sort of thing?”

Fred stepped closer. “Yes, we’ve been taking odd jobs here and there. Are you an adventurer? You can join us if you like,” he said, then continued, “I’ve got a rope. Do you have a rope?”

Once again taken aback by the odd questions, I began to answer, but the dwarf interrupted. “I didn’t say he could join us!” The musician started to protest.

“He’s not bad with a bow,” Jerry spoke up. He didn’t normally say much, and his accent was very unfamiliar.

“Bah, fine,” the dwarf acquiesced.

“Awesome!” I said, and then asked, “So, what’s the next job?”

“We’ll pick it up in Nicodranas,” the dwarf replied, his tone indicating that I should know the answer to such a simple question.

I responded with a smile. The dwarf’s belligerence wasn’t going to get me down. Meeting this group was a godsend for me. Having someone to talk to and staying busy helped me keep my mind off of Lucien and gave me a sense of belonging, even though the dwarf didn’t seem to trust me. That said, I sensed a grudging respect coming from him after our battle with the goblins.

We still had a full day of travel before we would arrive in Nicodranas, so I spent that time telling my new acquaintances stories from Trostenwald. I told them practically everything about me except for my flings, Lucien, and the trouble I was in. No need to get anyone caught up in that nightmare. 

Fred started talking next, and I learned that he didn’t know who his parents were, and that he was looking for them. He had been adopted, and as soon as he turned of age, he left home to become a traveling musician. Then he fell into the various stories and adventures in his past that had led him to meet Jerry and the dwarf. Apparently, the dwarf didn’t even share his name with these two.

Jerry’s story was short, and incomplete. He suffered from amnesia and had no idea where he came from, who his parents were, or even what a tabaxi was.

I found his story heart wrenching. How could one go through life without knowing his past? For me, my past was everything. It had shaped the foundation of my life and sculpted me into who I grew up to be. “I’m very sorry, Jerry, I don’t know how you can cope with that,” I said to him, clapping him on his shoulder. His response was a shrug, so I let it be.

“What about you, dwarf? You have a story to tell?” I asked. 

“No,” came the reply. 

“Are you serious?” I asked. “Surely, there’s something worth telling.”

“Aye, I’m serious. Now shut up!” he said, while raising his hand up to stop our forward march.

That’s when I noticed he was staring at the tall grass on the side of the road, his axe out and his stance ready.

I nocked an arrow and readied myself for danger. The grass parted, and a massive shape leapt at us, a blur of muscle and claws.

~ Michael C. Sahd, author of The Unfettered Child and Assassin Marked

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