Chapter 1 | Unlikely Acquaintances

The paladin looked around the campfire, and wondered exactly how he found himself in such strange company.

To his left, two outlanders jovially bickered — well, the barbarian, at least, was jovial, but Liam suspected he was several horns deep at this point. The other outlander was more stoic, his expressions shrouded behind an amber beard, and he glanced frequently around him, squinting into the darkness, looking for signs and omens in the night sky.

Liam was mildly curious how a dwarf raised by wolves and a man disdainful of them had become acquaintances. He supposed it was a matter of time before outlanders crossed paths in these forests, and it was easier to keep the peace.

He squirmed impatiently and leaned back against the log. Liam lived every night reaching toward morning. Life was easier in the light, all of its shadowy corners exposed. He felt uneasy in the cimmerian forest, surrounded by strangers.

He could still leave; the forest was quiet now.

He glanced at Akra, asleep near the fire, her legs outstretched and her hands twitching in her sleep as if she was grasping the hilt of a greatsword. Her wrists moved like she was swinging at monsters in a dream. For anyone else, dreaming of monsters meant nightmares, but he knew enough about his dragonborn companion to know that Akra was probably enjoying her dream of combat, carnage spraying onto her chainmail, miscellaneous body parts falling around her feet.

Liam sighed, and resigned himself to a restless night. Upon daybreak they could depart, and perhaps the ranger could lead them back to the main road.

Across the fire, a woman in an opulent brocade vest stared moodily into the flames. A heavy, jagged amethyst hung from a long gold chain around her neck, and it caught the light, illuminated in the firelight like a tiny moon.

The halfling strumming his lute beside her had told them that she was a warlock named Amira, and she had balled her hands into fists, visibly annoyed that he had shared this detail without her consent.

Amira’s sulking expression made Liam’s skin prickle. He knew enough about warlocks to know that they dabbled in darkness, and it emanated from her like a constant shadow. It represented everything he stood against: demonic mysticism that poked holes in the morality of the universe. Those who tore open those holes put everyone at risk.

Liam was surrounded by unlikely duos — two conflicting outlanders, and a warlock with a tiny bard in tow. The bard had introduced himself as Hoben Yaro, and bowed before them all with a flourish of his hand, grasping his feathered hat. Hoben had regaled them all with a fanciful story of espionage and combat, claiming to have conquered a dragon, among other questionable pursuits. Akra had been highly entertained by this alleged encounter, but had let the halfling continue without questioning his story. Nevertheless, she kept an eyebrow cocked in good-hearted skepticism.

Amira, on the other hand, could barely stop herself from emoting as Hoben wove his tale, sighing and rolling her eyes at various details. The paladin had never seen someone roll their eyes so much. The warlock’s eyes were like two black marbles that rolled around in their sockets without the bidding of their owner.

She glanced up from the fire and caught the paladin staring, and glowered at him.

Liam returned the look.

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