Our party journeyed out of the underground tunnels with the people we saved: Hebo’s farmer, an old woman from some far away town, a young boy, a young man from Vagrant’s Rest down south, and a young woman from Oakshade. Our group was not sure what to do with these people. They all come from different parts of Caladmein and we could not return them all to their towns. While we debated, we came upon our rope that led us out of the hole. Ezio, Hebo, and I climbed up first. Our horses and Spoink were still there with our cart, but there was a campfire nearby.
We approached the campfire and found a traveling cleric, a tabaxi called Eclipse. She said she was journeying across the countryside, found our beasts by the cave, and decided to keep watch over them. Ezio was immediately distrustful, but Hebo and I could not see any reason to doubt the cleric. She helped us bring up our group and let us join her in her camp for the night. Hebo, Petra, and Luna offered to cook for the people. I began infusing my magic into Oromis’s axe and Luna’s trident. Ezio took the first watch.
While most of our nights had been largely uneventful, something strange happened while we slept. In the distance, Ezio saw what he believes to be a simurgh. Simurghs, he explained the next morning, are a sign of good luck or correct choices, but seeing a simurgh far away from a desert might be something else. Ezio had briefly attempted to follow it but lost it at the tree line nearer to the mountains. He did, however, find a rainbow-colored feather.
At sunrise, we had decided to take all of the people to Oakshade and ask Exatorus for advice. Eclipse offered to travel with us. On the journey, Hebo and the farmer discussed the ruins of his farm. While clearly discouraged, he thought it would be best to remain in Oakshade for a time before he returned to the farm and tried to rebuild it. At Oakshade, Hebo went with the farmer and the people we rescued and got them all rooms at the inn.
The rest of the party visited Exatorus. The wizard was delighted to see us, but perhaps that was only because he wanted to study the creature that attacked the farm. When we informed him that it was a Drider, his demeanor very suddenly changed to a mix of fear and anger. He was very pleased to hear that we slew the Drider and her Kraul, and offered to pay us a small wage for our efforts. He suggested we inform the authorities in town, members of The Exchange, and let them deal with the people we saved. Exatorus also informed us that the twin daggers we found in the Kraul tunnels were magically powered. I gave them to Ezio since he is the only one of our group that uses daggers.
Exatorus gave us charge to find the simurgh and bring it to him, offering to pay handsomely if we could capture it. We returned to town to rest for the night. Hebo, Petra, and Luna went to the inn to perform again, and Eclipse offered to join the song. Oromis again returned to his home. Ezio and I watched the horses at the stable. During the night, I took some of the leather parts I was keeping in my bag and began to create armor for Luna.
The Exchange would ensure that the people we saved would all return to their residences, so our group was making ready to follow the trail of the Simurgh Ezio saw. We honestly did not expect Hebo to join us, but Hebo returned to our group on Spoink, saying that the farmer suggested he join us. For the first time, I noticed that Hebo was carrying a strange chest with him. Eclipse offered to help, too, as she was headed for the mountains and enjoyed our company.
In this moment, I questioned to myself: Why is this group traveling together? We completed our mission: the farmer is safe. Exatorus hired us all, obviously, but is there some other motivation each of us has? After we track down the simurgh, what next? Will our group continue traveling together?
The journey towards the mountains was relatively uneventful. Hebo sang songs for us during our journey. We constantly scanned the skies for any sign of the simurgh. Around midday, we came upon the tree line. This forest was overly dense, enough that our horses and cart couldn’t make it through the thicket. We left them hidden and journeyed on foot. Interestingly, while we were tying up the horses, Petra went ahead to ask any of the woodland animals if they could help us find the simurgh. The bird she spoke to was perhaps not intelligent enough. Petra claimed that it pointed us further in, but no one believed her. It was a bird, and it was stupid.
We continued on whatever path we could find through the forest and the rocky landscape that marked the beginning of the mountains until the sun began to set. We needed cover for the night. Oromis noticed a nearby cliff with a cave. It would provide good shelter for the night so long as it was unoccupied. Ezio ventured in first and saw the paw of some creature. Looking back, we now regret our decisions in this moment. Ezio explained to us what he saw and, admittedly, our group too quickly assumed this was the simurgh. We moved to the cave. Oromis, Hebo, and I remained outside while Ezio, Petra, Luna, and Eclipse went inside. Perhaps one of them could talk to it?
I do not know what exactly happened in that cave, but I heard a roar and shouting from my comrades. I raced inside and put myself against a wall where Ezio was hiding. I readied my thunder cannon. From my hiding spot, I saw Eclipse cast a hasty spell and run away. Then I saw the source of the roar we had heard: a Chimera. The demonic cross-breed bore down towards my companions. Ezio and I fired our weapons. The chimera was shaken by our attacks, but not enough. Its heads lashed out, and we all heard the cracking noise of Luna’s teleportation spell. She suddenly appeared near Eclipse and her trident was glistening with Chimera blood.
The encounter with the Chimera will be, I believe, in our minds forever. In this moment, Oromis and Hebo entered the cave. Oromis’s javelin missed and the Chimera’s heads roared again. Hebo blinded it with a spell. The Chimera’s reaction was a fire breath from its dragon head. Oromis and Ezio were greatly injured. But Hebo…
It happened so fast.
I felt rage. We all did. Hebo’s death fueled us. We attacked relentlessly. Luna’s spell wracked it with pain and it fell back. Petra’s spell of ice slowed its movement. Ezio and I shot at it again. Oromis, burned as he was, picked up his axe and screamed something in his dwarf language. He charged the Chimera. Each of its heads fell to the ground.
And then… No one moved. No one breathed. We could only look at Hebo’s small form. Our friend.
Why did I not protect him? I should have done something. But I did not… I did not… It happened again.
Luna moved to Hebo. She said she still heard Hebo’s music. That does not make sense. The dead make no noise. And yet I could hear it too. We all could hear it. The music came from the chest that Hebo carried. It sounded like one of the tunes that Hebo would hum. Luna opened the box and the cave was dimly lit by a tiny glowing crystal. Something told her to touch it to Hebo. The crystal shattered and cast a cloud of shimmers over Hebo’s body.
And Hebo took a breath.