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Half-Truths and Deception

Ryjah followed her mentor, Thornstaff, down the path. They were hunting the Bandits of the Cult of the Blackest Night and it was rumored that the band was currently attacking the travelers in this area. As soon as Thornstaff nocked an arrow to his bow, Ryjah knew that they had found them and unsheathed her shortsword. Thornstaffs leopard companion growled as the bandits sprang from their hiding places alongside the road and charged, swords raised. Beside her, the Wood Elf Druid let fly with his bow with deadly accuracy, dropping seven men before they were too close for long-range weapons and then Thornstaff was shapeshifting like mad, ripping into a man as a tiger then diving through the bandits as a lizard to attack them again as a bear.
The Leopard worked with Ryjah to protect her as Thornstaff was well able to protect himself. Even though Ryjah was a competent fighter, she had never had to fight so many at once before and she was grateful for the help. Ryjah glimpsed an important-looking caster leading the fight from behind. He was aiming for the leopard so she rather hastily moved away from her. Ryjah decided that it was time to do some casting of her own. Only an apprentice Druid, she couldn’t do much but she hoped it would have to be enough. Vines sprang from the ground and entangled bandits, trapping them where they stood even as they tried to move forward. A small storm formed above them and hit some of the bandits with lightning strikes, including the caster as she was trying to get a better idea of where he was. Ryjah grinned, even though he was shifting, Thornstaff had managed to summon and control a storm. But she was too late and the caster finished his spell which hit the leopard just as her vines entangled him.
The leopard turned and attacked Thornstaff as the few remaining bandits turned towards their leader shouting “Retreat! Retreat to the Shard!” “To the Shard! Retreat!”
Thornstaff hit the Shard with another lightning blast that dropped him. But she knew that it wouldn't have been enough to kill him and more likely would have just rendered him unconscious. Growling nearby told her that even though the bandits of the Blackest Night and their Shard were retreating, there was still a leopard to take care of. The leopard was rolling on the ground with a panther in a clawing, biting, mass of cat.
“The Shard person got her with a spell,” Ryjah told the panther. She didn’t know if that was helpful to her mentor in any way or if he had even heard her, but it seemed like it was the best she could do.
“Hey!” someone shouted from the roadside. “Hey! You there! Girl! Are you going to help me anytime soon?”
There was a bound man on the roadside. As soon as she saw him Ryjah ran over and began to untie his bonds. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were here or I would have come sooner.”
The man's attitude changed in the blink of an eye. “Never mind that, Missie, I’m Master Kalishan the greatest bard of all Mellaidor. I was on my way to retrieve an ancient artifact before those horrid men captured me.”
Ryjah grinned behind his back as she untied the last knot. Every bard that she had ever met said that and never just once, the part about the artifact intrigued her though. “Maybe I could convince Master Thornstaff to let us accompany you in case any more bandits cross your path. That is if you don’t mind.”
She was mildly surprised to hear herself make such an offer since she had just made acquaintance with the man and Thornstahh would undoubtedly want to finish off the bandits. Kalishan seemed to expect it and instantly sprang to his feet beaming. “Not at all! Let us go talk to Master Thornstaff. I take it that you are his apprentice?”
“Druid apprentice, Ryjah, at your service.” Ryjah gave a mock bow and laughed but it quickly faded when she heard a crack of bone and saw the panther dropping the body of the leopard before transforming back into Thornstaff.
“Master Thornstaff? Are you alright?” Ryjah called, leaving Kalishan to stand by her mentor.
“She was beyond reason. We will need to hurry if we want to catch up to the bandits.” Thornstaffs said in a cold voice before she could say anything.
Ryjah knew better than to press the matter. At least, when it came to the leopard. “The bandits captured a bard by the name of Kalishan on his way to retrieve an ancient artifact.”
Thornstaff eyed at her for a moment then said: “You want to go with him.”
Ryjah gave a helpless shrug. “It sounds exciting.”
“We’ll see about that.” Thornstaff turned to face the bard. “Master Kalishan, my apprentice tells me that you were captured by the bandits.”
Kalishan nodded vigorously. “That is true, Master Thornstaff, I have even composed a song about it. Would you like to hear it?” The bard didn’t even wait to hear the answer to his question before looking around. “Now where did that villain get to? He stole my harp and made horrible odes to the Blackest Night with it. He was so odious!" Kalishan chortled at his joke but when neither Thornstaff or Ryjah reacted, he cleared his throat and continued. "Oh well then, I shall have to go unaccompanied. That is no fit way for a skilled bard to perform though, I hope you appreciate the indignity I am suffering for you.”
“Feel free not to,” Thornstaff muttered and Ryjah snickered under her breath as Kalishan was clearly going to perform and without much care for his dignity, despite what he had said, or if he had a willing audience. Kalishan sang with vigor and at a rapid pace.

"It was a dark night as I walked the forest
Suddenly attacked by the Nights adoring worshippers
The Cult of the Blackest Night!
Armed only with my rapier and ready wit, I was undaunted
Three I sent home weeping
They were wounded to the heart by my words
Seven fell, full of holes that wept red tears
Ahh for the might of the great Kalishan!
The rogues knew they could not hope to defeat
The mightiest bard of all Melliador
Their forces were halved by my words alone
Before they had to resort to trickery
Overpowered at last they took me down
Alas for the mighty Kalishan
But this is no badge of shame for Kalishan
Only for the Cult of Blackest Night!
For I stole their pride and name to be trod on Mellaidor’s ground at last!”


Ryjah wondered what he meant by that last line as he certainly hadn’t done so and was surprised to find herself liking the bard more and more and wanting to please him. She heard Thornstaff scoffing as he muttered to her. "Modest, isn't he?"
Ryjah had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing as Kalishan finished with a grand bow and watched them suspiciously. Probably wondering why they weren't applauding him. "Every word of it is true, I tell ye!"
Thornstaff was skeptical but all he said was: “Never said otherwise. Ryjah said that you were looking for an artifact before you were captured…”
“Ah, yes I was. There is a rather mysterious temple made a long time ago-”
“On whose timeline?” Thornstaff interrupted.
“Durned Elves and their never-ending lives, let me think… several hundred years maybe? The tales aren't very specific, you know. As I was saying a mysterious temple made long ago is the home to an ancient artifact: a magical music pipe of great power.” Kalishan stopped speaking, he was in such awe of this magic pipe that Ryjah couldn’t help laughing.
One could almost see the incredulity dripping off of Thornstaff as he retorted. “You want to find a pipe? I mean, seriously, a pipe? If you want a magic pipe so bad, get some enchanters and give them a pipe.”
Kalishan snorted. “I don’t want just any magic pipe. I want the magic pipe in the temple that never spends a single day in the same place."
Ryjah noticed Thornstaffs expression and realized that he wasn’t interested in any pipe not even one in a moving temple and would probably have them leave to go chase after the bandits instead. “Please, Master Thornstaff, if it’s just a pipe then there’s no harm in helping Kalishan fetch it. It’ll be fun.” Thornstaff scowled.
“Please?” Ryjah begged she was desperately curious to find out what a magic pipe could do.
"We have to catch up to the bandits. We've wasted enough time with this fool already." Thornstaff snapped
Kalishan bristled at that "Now who do you think you're-"
Ryjah cut him off before he could finish saying "There are only a few of the bandits left and they're on the run. They've had a good head start by now..." She trailed off as Thornstaff hesitated with a glance at his leopard.
She glanced at Kalishan in confusion and was surprised to see his look of concentration as he stared at Thornstaff, mumbling. "The pipe won't take us long and we have nothing pressing to do. We could find the bandits afterward." Ryjah finished then had to work hard to banish her look of disbelief as Thornstaff gave a reluctant nod, she hadn't expected to change his mind.
“Where’s the temple?” Ryjah asked before he could change his mind again.
“It should be at the valley of Garredhen,” Kalishan replied promptly. He didn't look surprised at all.
“How did you know where the temple would be if it moves every day?” Thornstaff asked, seeming to come back to himself and narrowing his eyes in suspicion.
“It travels in a pattern or, at least, it should, if the tales are true.”
“We are putting a lot of faith in tales then,” Thornstaff muttered. “The faster we get going the faster we can get back to doing what's important. Do you have a horse?”
"How would I have a horse? You just rescued me from bandits!" Kalishan said.
Thornstaff grumbled, "Then you had better be able to ride bareback." and grudgingly became a horse. Ryjah snickered as she explained to the confused bard that he would have to ride the horse bareback.

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Author
Hir i-Chorvath
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7 min read
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