“Well…that’s certainly more busy than I thought it would be. Maybe only a couple of us should go inside,” Derrin suggested as he stared at the tavern.
“Good plan. Why don’t you and Briss go inside and find out about this job. Thom and I can stay out here and watch the animals. Plus, we can think of a way for us to get down to the Wood of Sharp Teeth. Yeah, we can go it alone, but I think we might be able to travel with the circus. They’re heading south anyway and this way it’d be cheaper for us. All we’d probably have to do is help out with set up and some odd jobs as payment for the food and shelter they’d be providing us with,” I proposed, looking around the three of them.
“Yeah, good thinking, Aly!” Briss said and she nodded enthusiastically, but that probably had more to do with that fact that she got to spend more time with the Drow than it being a more convenient way for us to travel.
Derrin and Briss fought their way into the Helm and Cloak while Thom and I stayed outside with the newly acquainted Edgar and Todd. We watched them play fetch together for a while until a familiar face started walking towards us.
“Oh, hey Grelda!” I said, smiling at the woman as she approached us. She looked a lot better than the last time I had seen her, but she still had her trusty wine flask tied to her belt. “How did you know to find us here?”
“Derrin mentioned something about this place this morning. I’m sorry I couldn’t join you, I had…other business to take care of,” she replied coyly. “Are Briss and Derrin inside?”
“Yeah, we thought we’d stay out here with these two instead of trying to make our way into that,” Thom explained, gesturing to the highly over populated Helm and Cloak. “But I think we should probably go and talk to the circus. It’d be more productive than just waiting around here.”
“Why do you need to speak to the circus? Oh, don’t worry, I’ll get Derrin to explain it to me when I find him and Briss. you two run off and talk to the circus now. I’ll let the other two know where you are,” she replied and then began to make her way inside. A street performer began to approach us, playing his lute and clearly wanting money. Thom and I rolled our eyes before walking away with Todd and Edgar, and heading to the circus.
Lugbat was milling around the front of the main tent, chatting to various different people when we arrived. He smiled at me and waved as I walked past him. Returning the smile, I gestured at Thom, silently asking if he was okay to come in too. Lugbat nodded and then held up a finger before finishing his conversation with the woman and walking over to us.
“Is this one of your friends that you’re traveling with?” he asked, leaning forward and shaking Thom’s hand.
“Yes, this is Thom,” I replied as Edgar flew down and landed on my shoulder. “Actually, sir. I have a favour to ask. I know you offered me a position here and I declined, however, my friends and I will also be traveling south at some point and I was wondering if we could all travel with you? There’s only five of us and we’ll do whatever work you need us to!”
Lugbat looked Thom and I over before nodding and saying, “Of course you can. There’s always room for you here, Alyona, and your friends too! Why don’t you go and talk to Thildance, see if he’ll still mentor you. Plus, it’ll be beneficial for you to show Thom around if you’ll all be around with us for a while.” Nodding and barely able to contain the smile on my face, I nodded and waved at him before dragging Thom towards the circle of caravans and then straight to Thildance’s. I knocked on his door, eagerly bouncing on my toes just like I had the night of the circus and when he swung open the door, he looked very surprised to see me. But before he said anything to me, his eyes darted straight towards Thom.
He frowned slightly before saying, “It’s really good to see you Alyona, but – and I don’t mean to be rude – why is your friend dressed as a man?” My head turned back and forth between him and Thom, who looked shocked and a little bit scared. He met my gaze and I stared at him, wide eyed and more than a little bit confused. “Oh…” Thildance interupted, clearly seeing that neither of us had anticipated this moment or that I didn’t actually know that Thom was a woman, apparently.
Thom looked around us, desperately searching for something, before saying, “Griffins. There are griffins over there. I’m going to look at them. Right now. Talk to you later Alyona.” I had never seen someone leave a conversation so quickly and with so little eye contact. He…or I suppose she, walked straight towards Peith’s (the griffin tamer) caravan and began to pet the griffin’s, leaving me with Thildance.
“Well, that was a very strange encounter. Not one I thought I’d be having today,” Thildance said, staring in the direction Thom had walked. “Anyway, what brought you both here today?”
“Ummm,” I tried to reply. Honestly, I was still very thrown off by the beginning of this conversation and I don’t think I had really processed much of what I had just been told. “Well, I just spoke to Lugbat. We’re actually going to be travelling with you down to Nashkel and I was wondering if I could still learn some stuff from you?”
“That’s brilliant! Of course you can and there’s not time like the present. Go ahead and show me the ritual I taught you earlier.”
We jumped straight into some more training, but all the time I was perfecting the language ritual, I couldn’t help but think about the Thom revelation. There really was a lot we didn’t know about each other, despite the fact we had been travelling together for a while now. We really needed to have a conversation sometime soon about all of this.
After a couple of hours doing more training with Thildance, we left his caravan and everyone began to gather around the circle that we had been in this morning and eat some lunch. The other performers seemed very surprised to see me again, but Lugbat and Thildance happily explained the circumstances and they all seemed excited at the fact that our little group would be joining them. We all sat and chatted very much like this morning, except Thom came and sat down next to me and began eating lunch with us. I introduced her to the rest of the performers and everyone started getting to know her, but she already seemed to be pretty friendly with Peith. However, during the entire time Thom studiously avoided making eye contact with me, no matter how often I tried to catch her gaze so I could send her a ‘you have a lot of explaining to do’ look.
The explaining happened soon after we had left and told them all we’d probably start staying with them some time soon. As soon as we were out of sight from the performers and staff, Thom stopped, let down her hair and then began to take off her armour. She gave a sigh of relief before finally looking at me and giving a sheepish smile.
“Sooo, I should probably start with the fact that my name isn’t Thom – it’s Theresa,” she began and we both carried on walking. She had her armour gathered in her arms and I could feel her eyes on me, waiting for me to say something. I merely noded, which prompted her to continue. “Thom is my brother’s name. I…well, I used his name so I could get into the army and fight in the war. They wouldn’t let me before – just because I’m a woman, which I wasn’t going to stand for.” I couldn’t help but nod in agreement at that bit. “Then, circumstances changed. I had to go home, but there wasn’t a home to go to. I swore I’d find who did it and tried to rejoin my squadron, but they were gone and then I met you. You’d first seen me wearing my armour, being Thom and there really wasn’t a way I could not be him without arising more suspicion. Then we joined up with Grelda, Derrin and Briss and I was too far in to reveal this now. I mean, Grelda already knows. She knew from the beginning. We’re both elfs, she was always going to know. But the other two don’t. I’d prefer it to stay that way.” As she finished her little speech, I met her stare and gave her a small smile and nodded. There were still a lot of things she hadn’t quite clarified, but I had a feeling that would all probably come with good time. Plus, I had no right to pry into her personal life and ask she reveal all when I hadn’t done the same. Albeit, no one had asked why I had wanted to come to Baldur’s Gate or apparently wanted to know anything about my family, but still – I hadn’t willingly given up the information.
“I won’t tell anyone, Theresa. I promise.” Smiling at her properly, I reached forward and squeezed her shoulder gently. “You know, when we get back to the Three Kegs, I can plait your hair for you. It’ll be easier for you to keep up that way, under your helmet.” The woman smiled at me before nodding slowly.
As we walked back to the Three Kegs, we stayed in a comfortable silence. It was nice to see Theresa so relaxed; the sight was quite foreign to me. But she probably hadn’t taken off her armour in a while – probably since we had joined up with Derrin, Grelda and Briss.This was probably like a breath of fresh air for her.
Walking into the tavern, we saw grelda sitting in the corner accompanied by a surly looking man. His hair was dark and his smile was getting increasingly more flirtatious as he leant in to talk to Grelda. Theresa and I shared a glance before returning to the booth that she and Derrin had occupied last night. As Theresa put her armour down in the seat next to her, I made her turn to the side so I could begin plaiting her hair. I did two simple braids and then pinned them to the top of her head, like the milkmaids did back home. As I finished pinning the second one up, Grelda’s giggling accompanied by a man’s chuckle resonated throughout the tavern. My head shot up and I saw Grelda lead the man up the stairs, presumably to her bedroom.
“Ummm, can I sleep in your room tonight?” Theresa asked. “I think Grelda’s going to be very busy tonight.”
“Of course you can,” I replied and then made to stand up to head to the bar. “Fancy a drink? This round’s on me. You shouldn’t probably put your armour back on too. We don’t know when the other two will be back if Grelda’s already here.”
We had been drinking and chatting for about ten minutes before Derrin and Briss ran in, looking out of breath, very flustered and were carrying something bundled in cloth. They stared at the corner where Grelda and the man had been previously situated before looking at us.
“Where’s the guy that was in that corner?” Derrin asked.
“The ruggedly handsome man with very attractive features,” clarified Briss, leaning on our table.
“Grelda took him upstairs,” Thom said and waggled her eyebrows at the other two.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t bother her if I were you. She’s very busy right now,” I added and smirked at them.
“Well she’s going to have to not we busy because we need to talk to him.” As Derrin finished his sentence, he turned on his heel and began to make his way to the stairs, quickly followed by Briss, who shouldn’t have even been in the tavern right then, but it seemed that the barkeep didn’t even notice. “You two need to come with us, as well. We don’t have much time to explain. this needs to be quick.”
Sharing a confused, slightly startled glance, Thom and I gathered our bags before following Derrin and Briss up the stairs, heading straight towards Thom and Grelda’s room. The noises coming from there made it very clear what they were doing, but Derrin stepped forward and knocked on the door anyway. Silence followed before a very annoyed Grelda shouted, “What do you want?!”
“The job’s done!” Derrin called through the door and then began to usher us all into his room before Thom or I could ask what the hell was going on. “We warned Remy’s cousin about the assassination attempt. He’s going to meet us down in Nashkel the night of the circus’ first performance there. So, we can still do that job for him in the Woods of Sharp Teeth before we see him again. I’m assuming we are travelling with the circus?” I nodded at the pause in Derrin’s little monologue before he carried on. “Great, so after we told him to get out of here, we went down to the morgue and got a head.” Derrin paused again, taking a deep breath before gesturing to the clothed bundle in Briss’ hand. “It doesn’t look anything like Remi’s cousin right now. That’s where you come in Alyona.” Briss placed the cloth bundle on Derrin’s table and unwrapped it, revealing the head of a corpse as promised.
I stared at the bodiless face and pursed my lips before nodding and saying, “Yeah, I can give him a moustache.” I tried not to dwell too much on the fact that this was a dead man’s head in front of me and did what I had to do.
Once the head looked sufficiently enough like Remi’s cousin, I wrapped it up in the cloth again and made to hand it to Briss, but then Grelda’s door opened and we could all hear the two of them talking for a little while before the man clearly said, “Tell your friends I’ll be in the alley a couple of streets over, in the direction of the Wide. Write to me, Grelda.” His footsteps sounded throughout the silence and as soon as he was clear of the stairs, we all sprung into action.
Derrin, Briss and I ran after the man as Thom blacked Grelda’s path and I assumed told her what was going down. We jogged down the street, dodging past people as we ran and looking into alleyways trying to spot the man. I tried to keep the head as protected as I could and not knock it against things as we jogged, but luckily the third alleyway we looked into had a tall figure standing in the shadows. All three of us came to a stop and slowly approached him.
“We have the proof,” Derrin stated and gestured to me with is hand. The man stepped forward and I got a better look at him. He was, indeed, very handsome. Go Grelda. He nodded at the parcel in my hands and Briss walked over to me and began to unwrap it. The man winced and frowned heavily as he stared at the detached, moustached head before he nodded and reached into his bag.
“Here you go. Here’s the money,” he said and handed the coin pouch over to Derrin. “I’m going to go now. I won’t be seeing you.” With that, he turned on heel and walked until he disappeared around the corner.
Derrin counted through the money in the coin purse, gave Briss and I fourty gold each and took the same for himself before handing the pouch to me and saying, “Give Thom and Grelda their share when you get back to the tavern. I think Briss and I should probably reattach the head to its body.”
“Yeah, good plan,” I replied as I hand the head to Briss and took the coin pouch from Derrin. Quickly, I waved my hand over the stranger’s head, making him once again look like himself before sending Derrin and Briss on their way. My walk back to the Three Kegs was quick and happy. I really was quite glad we’d managed to avoid assassinating someone and actually bypass Remi’s cousin being assassinated all together, but somehow still managed to get paid for it. It was good work on Derrin and Briss’ part, but maybe conning an assassin wasn’t the best. But what was done was done.
Entering the Three Kegs, I saw Thom and Grelda talking to some people by the bar and quickly made my way over to them and gave their share of the money before I forgot. They introduced me to the people they were drinking with and we all stayed there with them for half an hour, just talking and drinking. I’m pretty sure Thom was trying to hit on one of the girls, but she didn’t seem to be getting very far before Derrin and Briss returned. Derrin nodded at me and began to head up the stairs as I followed him and everyone else did the same. We all walked into Derrin’s room and he shut the door before he started speaking.
“So, I’m thinking we travel with the circus until we reach Beregost he suggested and sat down on his bed. “There’s a guy there who’ll be able to do something with that Ankheg armour in the corner and it’s close to the Wood of Sharp Teeth. We do the job for Remi’s cousin and then catch up with the circus as they reach Nashkel. When we get there, we’ll send Edgar to Remi’s cousin, whose name we should really have gotten, or he’ll send a message to the circus and we’ll have a meeting place and time. Sound good to all of you guys?” No appeared to have any qualms as we all nodded at Derrin’s proposal.
“If that’s all,” I said and began moving towards the door. “I’m going to go to bed. We’ve only got these room for another night and then we’ll be camping out with the circus. Better a good night’s sleep before we’re sleeping on the ground again.” We all retired to our rooms after that, getting ready for a long day of moving our belongings and finding out what working for the circus would mean exactly.
The next week passed very quickly and the majority of the time, we were all at the circus grounds. Well, apart from Grelda who spent the week training with the Flaming Fist, surprisingly. For some reason she had decided to try and join up and was now, technically, one of them. So as the rest of us helped the circus set up every night, sell some tickets and look after the animals, Grelda was bonding with her fellow soldiers and not drinking. That was probably the biggest shock of all. Thildance had also taught me another ritual that would allow me to prevent eavesdropping in a room or small area. It took me a bit longer to learn, but after about two days I had it down. I also took to performing in the Wide during our free time and would even perform for the people in the queue for tickets, much like the acrobats had when Briss and I came to watch the show that very first night.
All in all, the week had been quite calm and uneventful. Even leaving Baldur’s Gate wasn’t as hectic or stressful as I imagined it would when you’re traveling with a large number of performers with animals and a lot of equipment. But then came night fall and the peace was most definitely disturbed.
The rest of the circus were sleeping peacefully in their tents or caravans. The five of us had set up a small campfire close to the forest edge – quite far away from the main circus camp, so we could talk and laugh as loud as we wanted without waking anyone up. Edgar was perched on my shoulder, occasionally We must have been talking for about twenty minutes before the sound of rustling came from the tree line.
“Guys,” Thom said, standing up and beginning to slowly back away. “I don’t want to alarm you, but there are fire beetles over there. Two of them. I think we should put out the fire and go.” Quickly, Derrin lept forward and made to stomp out the fire, but he stopped as he was about to, staring off in the opposite direction of the fire beetles. On our other side a behemoth that was beginning to make its way towards us. There wasn’t enough light around for us all to see what was going properly, so I clicked my fingers in front of Edgar, making him glow and sent him to sit up in a near by tree. We could all now see a lot better and it was very clear that we weren’t going to be able to run away from this one.
Grelda moved forward first, running towards the behemoth and attempted to cast Astral Condemnation at it, but it didn’t hit. Quickly, I cast my guardian blades (a spell I had only really just learnt, but now was as good a time as any to see how it would fair) and thrust my hands out in front of me, casting Nightmare Eruption straight at it. The behemoth staggered back slightly and screeched before shaking its head and moving towards me. Derrin tried to slice it with his axe, but the metal simply bounced off its skin. Behind me, I heard the sound of Briss screaming in pain and as I turned to see one of the fire beetles spitting acid on to her, the behemoth hit me.
It only glanced me, but it was enough to make me stagger back and almost fall over. As I gathered my balance, my guardian blades moved from my perimetre and sliced into behemoth, making it screech again. The behemoth ran away, this time heading for Grelda. I made to move towards her, but Derrin pushed me back and nodded towards Thom and Briss who were holding off the fire beetles. I watched as Thom ran forward and stabbed the beetle that spit acid at Briss and he then dodged out of the way of the other that tried to spit fire at him. It then turned to get me, but I side stepped out of the way and watched as my guardian blades dealt with the threat. When they finished slicing into it, I waved my hand and set a Magic Missile in its direction, knocking it back and causing it to start bleeding externally. From the corner of my eye I saw Briss throw a dagger straight into the head of the fire beetle that had attacked her and it fell, crumpled to the ground. Thom then jumped out in front of me and lodged her sword into only left, killing it before throwing it to the side.
The three of us took a moment before turning around and seeing Derrin and Grelda fighting a huge behemoth, and they weren’t doing terribly. Grelda was throwing fire at it as I ran forward and raised my right hand. Mumbling the incantation, a parade of lightning fell of the sky, hitting the behemoth, toasting it with each strike. When the lightning stopped, Derrin moved towards it and stabbed it with his sword before slicing it with his axe. He had enough force to pierce through the scales this time and the behemoth roared with pain as it lolled from side to side. Thom then ran forward to join the fight and lodged her sword straight into its side before the behemoth turned and clamped its jaw around her arm. She screamed out in pain as Grelda continued to throw more fire at the creature. While I watched her Sacred Flame land and burn the behemoth, I something that I had been working on and only really had enough power to do maybe once every so often. But there was any time to call for him, now was it.
Taking a step forward and a very deep breath, I clenched my fists and tapped into my magic before saying, “Oh Sir Cadogan!” I could see the others giving me a very strange look as they continued to try and fend off this behemoth. “I could really use your help right now.” A thick cloud of smoke appeared next to me and as it swirled, it grew taller until it was at least two heads taller than me. It grew more condensed and then began to take humanoid form. Armour became more clear and so did a face and arms before suddenly the smoke became flames.
“All alright, Alyona? What seems to be the problem?” asked the man of fire, or Sir Cadogan as he usually was referred to.
“Well, there’s behemoth over there..” I replied, gesturing to the rather hard to miss monster that was thrashing around, trying to lash out at my friends.
“Right. Of course. I’m on it!” Sir Cadogan replied as he glided over to the monster and began stabbing at it with his weapons, which were also made of fire.
I smiled and then cast another Magic Missile in the direction of the behemoth, but as I did, Derrin stepped in front of me and it hit him in the back of the head. I screamed out of sheer shock and ran over to him as he fell to the ground. He was already pretty beaten up, but now blood was starting to trickle from his nose and I began to panic. Luckily Briss’ aim was still on point as she managed to land a couple of daggers into the beast. It also looked pretty beaten up and seemed to be on its last legs.
Grelda moved over to Thom and healed her arm before rushing over to where I was knelt with Derrin. As grelda began to heal him, Sir Cadogan jumped and floated above the behemoth before striking a blow to the creature’s head. As it thrashed around, disoriented and injured, I threw my hands out in front of me and cast Nightmare Eruption at it. It roared even louder and blood began to seep from its eyes as it charged towards me. Its sense of direction seemed to be very askew as it only clipped my side, knocking me backwards slightly. But the slight glance was enough to set off my Guardian Blades which promptly planted themselves into its chest.
Sir Cadogan glided over to us as I reached down and helped Derrin up. Grelda had patched everyone up okay, but he looked like he was still in pain.
“All okay now, Aly?” Sir Cadogan asked as he put his sword back in its sheath.
“Yeah, I think we’re good. Thank you, grandpa Charles,” I replied as Derrin put his arm over my shoulders so I could take some of his weight. We were definitely going to have to talk about that later. I felt so bad.
“Right-o! Call me whenever you need me, Alyona. Don’t be a stranger!” Sir Cadogan said before bowing and then disappearing into thin air.
“So that fire warrior is you grandfather?” Derrin asked while he stared at the space Sir Cadogan had previously been occupying.
“Technically he’s my great-great-great-great grandfather,” I replied as we waited for Thom, Grelda and Briss to finish clearing up our camp fire. “He was a knight in silver and was blessed by a fire warrior during one of their expeditions, so now I can summon him to help me as a fire warrior. It’s a pretty good deal. Well, kind of. He’s essentially another one of my illusions, but having the family connection is nice. The stories my father and my b- my uncle Bailey tell about him are brilliant.”
Thom, Grelda and Briss made their way back over to us as I called down Edgar from his tree and removed the light spell from him. We all made our way back to the circus camp, a little bruised and very tired.