Season 1.0: Town Life

Episode 1: A wet hero appears

Isabelle Ming felt like a drowned rat. Torrential downpours have a tendency to do that to people. She sneezed, wondering why she didn't leave her job. Not the guarding-a-meaningless-merchant-who-happens-to-be-traveling-through-a-war-zone job, but the I'm-a-hero-let's-go-defeat-evil job. Had she known about the rain and the low pay and the scars and the injuries that still ached in cold weather she would have . . . well, she would have done the exact same thing, but damn it, that didn't make it fun.

She glared ahead through the trees lining the forest path, idly wondering if the merchant was lost or just doing a very good impression of it. They were over two and a half hours late arriving at the village that was their next destination. Some of that was due to a sick horse that was slowing them down; apparently it belonged to someone in the village and the merchant didn't want to abandon it. Isabelle sneezed and winced at the first hints of stress and sinus headaches. At least they would be staying in an inn overnight when—if—they reached the village.

It took another hour to get to the village. The onset of evening had rapidly sapped what light was left in the overcast sky, and only the appearance of a torch-bearing guide from the village had convinced the merchant to finish the journey. Isabelle was impressed; not many people had the bravery to travel much distance through the woods at night even under normal conditions, and conditions were most definitely not normal.

The so-called "Southern Rebellion"—that was a polite way of saying "the insane Black Jong and those misfits of his"—had pressed north into this area, and his press gangs were already out "recruiting" every stray traveler that they could find. Still, the merchants had managed to avoid them. So much for the first half of the journey. Isabelle let her mind drift away from thoughts of work and looked around at the village. The darkness had reduced everything to shades of black and grey, but a good deal could still be seen.

Episode 2: Tall, blond, and handsome

The merchants were busy securing their wagons alongside an inn that fronted the forest path. Isabelle was surprised that the town had enough visitors to support an inn. Clearly the tavern on the ground floor was a lively place, but its customers would most likely be locals and therefore not in need of a room. The village didn't look so large that it would be hard for even a drunk man or woman to find their way home, especially given the rather unique architecture.

The architecture was something like a patchwork quilt; everything was sown together into one village, but the pieces were odd and rarely matched. A stone tower (Stone? Where did they get stone in this area?) rose up from what was likely the town square. Near it was a quiet country cottage, and next to that rose a low mound with a door in the front. There was even a manse off to one side of the other houses. Between that and the inn lay three row houses, and all across the village could be seen other such strange architecture.

Isabelle decided to abandon her self-guided tour in favor of the warmth and light of the inn's tavern. She pushed open the door on the right and stepped inside, only to be confronted by a scene nearly as strange as the one she had just left. Inside was a variety of people unusual for all but the most cosmopolitan trade centers: A dwarf, three shady characters, and a clean-cut man with shoulder-length blond hair sat at the bar along the right wall. On Isabelle's left could be found a drunk man juggling more knives than she could count easily, two very old men with staves, and a boy perhaps seven years of age. Further back was a table at which sat, among others, a female bard with a steel mandolin. The crowd in the mostly-full room numbered perhaps two dozen, of which half or more were decidedly odd.

The blond man at the bar, who was closest to the door, rose to greet Isabelle. "Welcome to our village. May I take your cloak?"

Startled, Isabelle took off her dripping cloak and handed it to the man.

He grinned, gestured for her to follow him, and walked to the far side of the bar. "The cloak rack's back here. A wet cloak may be uncomfortable, but some of our residents refuse to take them off unless they've had a chance to parade about first." He hung up her cloak. "You can put your sword here too, if you want."

Isabelle looked at the four swords already sitting underneath the cloak rack and decided that this wasn't an ordinary village.

Episode 3: South Seas red

Getting drunk would have been easy, but Isabelle didn't want to. The merchants wouldn't be leaving until the day after next, but she didn't want her employers to see her either drunk or hung-over. In addition, getting drunk in a strange town, especially one as odd as this, was never a good idea. Still, she was cold, wet, and tired, and people might answer a few of her questions if she acted social. She sat on the nearest barstool and waited for the bartender to notice her.

The bartender, a huge aproned man with a shaved head and bulging muscles, arrived within seconds. "What'll you have?"

"What're you serving?"

"Name it," he challenged.

"South Seas red."

The bartender walked a bit to his left and bent down to reach underneath the bar. When he straightened up he was holding a bottle of wine. "On the house," he said, placing it in front of her.


The bartender put down a glass for the wine and pulled a small knife from his apron. "Why not?" He shrugged and used the knife to remove the bottle's cork.

Isabelle wasn't about to argue with free wine, so she changed the subject. "Quite an odd crowd you have here."

"In what way?"

"It's just that it's a little cosmopolitan for a small village in the middle of the woods."

"Well, we were founded by some immigrants looking for a quiet place to live out their lives, and word got around. There's very few native citizens here."

"I see," said Isabelle. "Well, then—"

"AHEM!" A new voice from the front door interrupted her. "If I may have you attention please? I represent Black Jong and his army, and we were thinking that anyone who has the spare time to be out drinking on a weeknight such as this would make a great soldier. Now we'd be happiest if you all volunteered, but there are other methods if we need them."

The room went silent as people considered the meaning of this pronouncement, and Isabelle leaned forward to get a clear view of the door. In front of it stood a large, scarred man, and visible in the doorway behind him was another of the same type. Well, thought Isabelle, this promises to be interesting.

Episode 4: Bar fight!

Without moving, the blond man sitting at the bar by the door quietly asked, "Who's on watch tonight?"

"The triplets," said the bartender. "You're not on for another week."

"Good." The blond turned to face the man in front of the door. "I'd go away if I were you; you won't find a man between fourteen and forty in this town."

Isabelle blinked and looked around. She had been so fixated on everyone's differences that she had failed to notice their one commonality: With the exception of a couple of children, everyone in the room was in the last third of their reasonable lifespan. A few of the older men were even past sixty if appearances were to be believed. Isabelle, at thirty-seven, was the third youngest person in the room. It was a new experience for her, and she wasn't sure that she liked it.

"You seem active enough for army life." The man's right hand moved towards a billy club at his waist. "Why don't you volunteer and save us the trouble of recruiting you?"

There was a loud slam as a huge warhammer dropped onto the bar. "Why don't you stop threatening my customers?"

Both Isabelle and the press-gang boss stared at the massive weapon. What, thought Isabelle, is this town full of ex-legionnaires or something? No, the Imperial Legions don't use warhammers. . . .

The scarred man raised his left hand, snapped, and pointed at the bartender. There was the snap of a crossbow and a thump outside one of the windows. The scarred man looked around, confused.

"Sounds like the triplets took out one of your men. You'd better not try that again," said the blond man.

"How about I break your neck instead?" The boss started forward.

The room momentarily filled with the sounds of wood and steel, and the scarred man stopped in his tracks less than an arm's reach from the blond. In the second it had taken him to take two steps, a dozen or more weapons had been produced about the room, the bartender had stepped up to the end of the bar with his warhammer, the knife-juggling man had leapt in front of the second man in the doorway, one of the two old men by the door had begun chanting something that sounded suspiciously like magic, and the other had stuck his staff between the scarred man's legs.

The blond glanced around before looking back at his attacker. "How about you go away? We're not going to make it easy for you to recruit us."

The press-gang boss growled as he straightened up and turned towards the door. He strode out of it quickly, forcing both the knife-wielding man and the other scarred man to the side as he went. A moment later the knife-man closed the door.

"He's going to be trouble."

"Kill him."

"He'll just get more troops and attack if he reports back."

The blond man looked around. "Any objections?"

"I wish we had the time to put this t' the town council, but I s'pose it can't be helped."

Someone grunted.

The bartender was now facing the room, and Isabelle saw that his warhammer was surrounded by a faint blue glow. "Well, that constitutes a quorum. Jack, if you would . . . ?"

The man with the knives nodded. "He'll be dead by midnight." He slipped out into the night.

Isabelle looked down at her drink and decided to order something stronger.

Episode 5: The truth

Isabelle was staring at the untouched brandy in front of her when the blond man sat down to her right. She looked over at him; he had his left sleeve pulled up to reveal a spring sheath, into which he was sliding a poniard. He finished, pulled his sleeve down, and looked at her.

"I bet you've got some questions now."

"If you know what I'm thinking, why don't you just answer them?"

"Touché. You've heard the 'three stages of life' theory?"

"Sure. It may seem odd for a caravan guard, but I went to university."

"With the exception of a few tradesmen, everyone here is either in their first or last stage of life. 'Fourteen to forty' wasn't quite accurate, but it conveyed the right idea. A lot of us are tired of our old lives and would rather that we didn't have to deal with people asking annoying questions; that why we're here. I would advise you to respect that."

"Okay. But that would be a lot easier if I knew who people were without having to ask."

He stared at her silently for a moment. "Alright, here's the deal: I'll tell you whatever it is that you want to know about somebody . . . if you know who they are. I may tell you some of the less-known people simply because they deserve more recognition than the bards give them, but other than that . . ." He picked up the drink that the bartender had dropped off for him and took a sip. "Well, perhaps I'm being too harsh. After all, both the bartender and I already know who you are, so I'll give you two freebies in return. What'll it be?"

She grinned with an expression that she normally reserved for scaring off petty thieves. "That's easy: you and the bartender."

Episode 6: Arthur

The blond man took another sip of his drink and began. "I'm Arthur. I was born to the Captain of the Silver Order of Avallonis and his wife, a paladin of The Order of White. To the surprise of absolutely no-one, I became a squire at age eleven, was enrolled into the military at age thirteen, and completed my training at age fifteen, whereupon I was placed with the third frontier strike force of the Imperial Army. I served there for five years, earning one medal for bravery during the opening skirmishes of the Second Expansion War. I was transferred to the first special operations division when war was declared, underwent another year of training, and spent the remaining three years of the war on deep-penetration raids. When the war ended I had gotten a few more awards and had just turned twenty-four. They transferred me to the Royal Guard from the Imperial Army and made me a captain. It took me six years to make lieutenant general, at which point I was placed into the Silver Order. Five years there made me their Captain, and I spent one disastrous year in that position before retiring and coming here to live. That was three years ago; I am now thirty-eight."

Episode 7: Maximilian

"The bartender's name is Maximilian. He was the military governor of a small 'republic' controlled by the Empire. Their land was liberated by the resistance forces in the Second Expansion War when they invaded the Empire. My team was sent in on a deep-penetration raid to extract him and the rest of the command staff from his besieged capitol. Turned out things were worse than we knew; the enemy had already taken the capitol, and Max had been holding them off from inside the Government Building. They kicked in the doors at about the time that we blew through the west town gate. When we got to the building, we found this lug in military field plate with a huge blue warhammer and no helmet holding off an assault squad at the bottom of the stairs to the third floor. He'd ordered the rest of the staff to bar themselves in an upstairs room and was trying to take down as many of the enemy as possible before he forced them to kill him; there was an execution order out for him, and he felt that it was more honorable to die fighting for his people than to be captured and executed. He was hoping that after they had killed him they would be satisfied and let the rest of the staff surrender peacefully.

"We had entered via a third-floor window and had already found the rest of the staff, so they were being evacuated when we arrived at the staircase. Several guys from the team provided cover while I explained the situation to Max and convinced him to fall back; we slowly yielded the stairs until I got word that everyone was out of the building. (This was late in the war, and I had been made a sergeant.) I sounded the retreat, and we all got out of there alive somehow. Max went on to be temporarily named a captain in the Imperial Guard and placed in charge of a company of irregulars formed from similarly disenfranchised troops; they called it 'The Lost Soldiers' Brigade' and won quite a bit of fame and praise. Afterwards, though, he was blamed for not having controlled one of his commanders well enough, resulting in his province's support for the invaders. Public opinion was turned against him by one of his political rivals, and he retired here after spending several years on the border cleaning up raiders on his own."

Episode 8: A little explanation

Isabelle nodded. "That's an interesting story, but it would make more sense if I knew all of the military terms that you used. I was raised in the capitol, but my family's foreign, and I only studied foreign economics before I dropped out of university; the last time someone explained the Empire's military structure to me was when I was twelve."

"Oh. Sorry about that; I was career military, and I tend to forget that not everyone knows what I'm talking about. What are you short on?"

"The different divisions you were talking about. I can guess most of them based on the names, but that doesn't mean that I'm right."

"Hmm. Let's see . . . The frontier strike force is a rapid-reaction and surgical strike force; the third one happens to have the southern section of the Empire's eastern border as its operational area. Err . . . maybe that's too technical as well. The frontier strike force was there to respond to attacks quickly and to make quick, precise attacks on threats that were just on the other side of the border. The special operations division did similar strikes but with fewer people and in more dangerous situations, often well behind enemy lines; the first division covers the entire south-east portion of the Imperial territory. The Imperial Army is the Empire's offensive force; the Royal Guard is an elite defensive force that protects Avallonis itself as well as being the Emperor's personal army as King of Avallonis. The Imperial Guard is a defensive force that protects the Empire's lands that aren't Avallonis. When I say 'Avallonis' I mean the kingdom that started the Empire, not the Imperium Avallonis. The Silver Order of Avallonis is a group of roughly two-dozen irregulars who are all outstanding in battle and are charged with defending Avallonis and the Empire. The Gold Order, by comparison, is a group of varying size, generally twelve to twenty-four, charged with attacking enemy forces. There's a bit of a rivalry between the two. Anything else you're missing?"

"Nope. In fact, I'm not sure why I listened to all that in the first place. Still, it served to pass the time." She glanced at the darkened windows. "I think that I'll be going to bed now; I'd hate to miss the excitement tomorrow."

"What excitement?"

"In a town with this population, I'm sure they'll find something."

Episode 9: When the going gets tough . . .

Isabelle Ming woke up after what seemed like an eternity. It was, however, only a few hours past dawn the next morning. She rolled out of bed, the reflexive twisting in midair to land in a crouch helping to wake her up. She grabbed her armour and sword and put it on as she walked down the stairs and out of the inn. Silent Thunder, the caravan's night guard, sat on one of the wagons sharpening his sword.

The quiet guard in black looked up as she passed by. "We had some visitors last night."

"What do you mean?"

"Wolves, mostly with glowing green eyes. Someone'd possessed them."

"Possessed? Were they scouting us?"

"I suppose so. Can you think of anything else to do with half-a-dozen possessed wolves?"

"Did they attack?"

"What do you think I'm sharpening nicks out of my sword for?" There was a moment of silence. "The residents have called a town meeting. They want you to be there; better head on up to the town hall."


The guard didn't reply.

Isabelle carefully made her way towards the center of town. She wasn't the only one heading in that direction, and rather than searching for the town hall she simply followed a nondescript man of advancing years. The hall, a very simple but large one-room stone building, was surprisingly full. The town's residents seemed much more ordinary by daylight; most were just men and women in merchant-class clothing. Arthur was there and appeared to be in charge, much to his annoyance.

Arthur spotted Isabelle and pointed a swift, strict finger first at her and then at one of the chairs behind him. A fat man in rather fine clothes seated up at the front rose and addressed the assemblage.

"Now now, I know that it's rather early—or late—for some of you, but you all decided to join this society, and meetings are the price that you pay for that. We've got a problem; Arthur is going to fill you in on the details."

Arthur bowed to the townspeople as Isabelle and the fat man both sat down in empty seats at the front of the audience. "Last night, as some of you know, we had a little visit from one of Black Jong's press gangs. We ran them off and sent Jack Knifeman and the Triplets out to eliminate them, but the gang scattered and our four couldn't keep track of them all. Less than four hours later, we had six wolves under some sort of foreign influence checking out the town. The caravan's night guard single-handedly killed four of them and drove the other two off before Jack and the Triplets returned. I think that it's safe to say that we've been scouted; people know that we're here and that we're a threat." Arthur paused as a jumble of comments and exclamations surged forth. "There's more. We've got more information on outside affairs now that the caravan's arrived, and it's not good. Black Jong's army has already begun taking over the southeast corner of this forest. Elsewhere, the Imperial Guard is digging in and preparing fortifications; the Imperial Army launched a counterattack but has been forced to retreat to the Guard lines. Several of the best heroes left to the Empire have tried facing the army or some part of it and died fighting. Now that the Black Army knows that we're here, we aren't going to be left alone, and the Imperial forces aren't going to save us either. We have a problem."

Episode 10: . . . the tough get going.

A rough looking character near the front of the group stood up. He was appeared to be in his early forties, had several scars, and was missing his right ear. He glanced about at the people around him, then spoke.

"I'd like to say something."

Arthur nodded. "Go ahead."

"I'm not a very big fan of the Empire. Neither are a lot of people here. But I don't think that any of us would really like to see Black Jong in charge. Now maybe that's not going to happen, but there'll be a whole lot of blood and destruction before this whole mess is over. People are going to die. Now Black Jong's people are threatening us. They're invading our forest. They've got people working for them that can control wolves and take out Imperial heroes. Maybe not anyone as good as us, but we're not there anymore. We're here. And maybe we shouldn't be. Now I'll admit that a lot of us aren't in any shape to go running about with swords anymore, but some of us are. And people need us. People are going to suffer if we don't do something. A lot of us became heroes to stop that. Now we're trading our peace for others' pain. But I'm not going to sit here and let it happen, and neither are some of you I'll wager. I'm going to do something about it. Who wants to join me?"

Arthur cut off the first couple of volunteers. "I should like to point out a few things: First, we have several children in this town. Most of them are too young to go adventuring, but I can think of a couple that aren't. Now it's the parent's decision whether they go or not, but it would be a great time to get them trained in the family business, so to speak. Second, the caravan guards are both active adventurers—" Isabelle started; she hadn't realized that Silent Thunder was a hero as well. "—and can be sent out on this mission if they accept. Thirdly and finally, a lot of us have abilities such as information-gathering that have little to do with age and physical ability. Why don't you all go home and think it over for the next few hours? We'll hold a meeting for all of the volunteers at the tavern a couple of hours past noon. Anyone who's got an idea or a plan can present it then." He glanced over at the fat man who had opened the meeting.

The fat man rose and waved a hand. "Meeting adjourned." He then returned to his seat and the crowd began to disperse.

Episode 11: Grave matters, part I

Isabelle Ming spent several hours roaming the town. She wasn't good at talking to random townsfolk, and the local tradesmen such as the smith were all either busy or not in. After a while she stumbled across the town cemetery—it covered a small hill near the trees—and stared in awe and bafflement at the tombstones and mausoleums. A few graves had swords either sticking straight out of the ground or thrust into the headstones. One mausoleum was chained shut while another, the largest in the cemetery, stood open. The names carved into the granite slabs and sculptures dotting the earth were often legendary, and Isabelle spent more time remembering stories than she did walking amongst them.

Eventually Isabelle grew curious about the open mausoleum and decided to look inside. She entered it cautiously. Just inside the doors was an inscription carved into the stone floor:

          Here lies love;
          Here lies honor;
          Here lies memory;
          Here lies friendship;
          Here lies good cheer.
          Here lies empty graves.

Someone spoke behind her. "The tomb of those presumed dead or whose bodies were unrecoverable."

Isabelle spun around, her reflexes working faster than her thoughts; she recognized Arthur even as she realized that the mausoleum was distorting his voice.

"I dropped by to visit an old friend. Come on, I'll tell you about him."

Episode 12: Grave matters, part II

Isabelle followed Arthur across the cemetery to a grave marked by a small stone post with a yellow scarf wrapped about it. A momentary gust from the south made the scarf flap.

Arthur looked down at the earth in front of the post, then up at the scarf. "Well, Toji, it's been a while. It looks like there's going to be one last hurrah for some of us. I wish that you could be here; your talents would have really helped us out. Write a celestial poem for us, okay? And pray that I won't be joining you just yet." He paused and looked around at the graveyard. "There are too many of us here already. Be well, Toji." He turned and began walking back towards the village as the scarf waved goodbye in the wind.

Episode 13: Toji

Isabelle hurried to catch up with Arthur's fast stride. "That was Toji the yellow scarf, right?"

There was a momentary hitch in Arthur's step. "You know him?"

"He grew up not too far north of where I was born. I heard the basic story, but nobody knows what became of him."

"Here's the short form. Some of this you'll know already, but I don't know how much.

"Toji was sent to the Imperial Capitol as a diplomatic guest. Presumably his poetic and musical skills were meant to impress the Emperor. They did, for a while, and Toji was even granted his own member of the Imperial Courtesans as his partner. Unfortunately, the Emperor before the current one was very violent and suspicious. He took offense at something that Toji had sung and had Toji's courtesan, who like all Imperial Courtesans was an Imperial spy as well, present the command for suicide to him. The command is a yellow scarf. Reportedly, the spy was in love with him and fled the capitol after leaving the scarf on their pillow. Toji awoke and was so angry at being given the scarf that rather than kill himself, he put it on and swore to kill the Emperor instead. He was discovered by the Imperial guards, fled the capitol, and spent the rest of his life either trying to kill the Emperor or killing other unjust rulers.

"The Emperor died at an unrelated assassin's hand several years before Toji died here in town. The courtesan still lives here, and she has Toji's silver harp hanging on her wall."

Episode 14: Gathering storm

Arthur excused himself, saying that he had to get a few things organized at his house before that afternoon's meeting began. Isabelle went back to her room and spent the time before the meeting in the sort of quiet thought that usually occupied her as she rode guard for a caravan. When it was time for the meeting, she went down to the tavern and blinked in astonishment.

The room was comfortably crowded with an even stranger assortment of people than had occupied it the previous night. This was only part of what amazed Isabelle. The other part was the nagging feeling she had that the room had not been quite that large the last time she was in it. She had no way of knowing for certain, since she hadn't bothered counting tables or making any similar measurements, but she couldn't shake the feeling that its size had subtly grown to accommodate the crowd. She took a seat at the end of the bar by the stairs and took a better look at the people gathered there.

Max, the bartender, stood behind the bar with his arms crossed. His warhammer lay on the bar before him. To either side of him stood a guard wearing a breastplate and longsword. Two similar guards sat at the bar in front of the first two, and another two stood by the door. Arthur was at the end of the bar by the door, writing something on a small slate tablet that he had with him. The only other person sitting at the bar was a very beautiful lady of indeterminate age who had long black hair falling down past her waist. She seemed relaxed, but her eyes kept flitting over the crowd assembled before her.

The crowd sitting at the tavern's tables contained some familiar faces but many unfamiliar ones. Isabelle recognized the large man who had run the town meeting that morning, "Jack Knifeman," the two old men with staves from the night before, the dwarf from the night before, and a couple of the shady characters. There was even a figure in black sleeping in the shadows of the rafters towards the back of the room, but Isabelle couldn't see it well enough to tell if it was the other caravan guard or not.

The door opened and one of the more normal-looking male patrons from the previous night entered, pursued by the two women that he had been sitting with. One of them was waving her steel mandolin at him threateningly. The other trailed behind them, grinning as she watched. They claimed their previous table, and the bard snuggled up to the man, who put his arm around her. Isabelle blinked and looked away.

Arthur spoke up. "Looks like everyone's here; let's get this party started."

Episode 15: Casting call

Arthur moved to the front of the room. "First let's get an idea of how many people are here for what purpose. Could everyone interested in going adventuring move to my right and everyone here to offer advice move to my left? We can't plan anything if we don't know what we've got."

There was a brief shuffling of bodies, and when it was over there were a dozen or more people to Arthur's right. They included, Isabelle was startled to note, the three traders in charge of her caravan. The figure in black was now in the rafters over that group, although he or she was apparently still asleep. To Arthur's left was an equally large group with several of its members hidden in preternaturally dark shadows. There were also a number of people scattered about the room who hadn't moved to either side.

Arthur looked around and made a few notes on his slate. "Well, then. I'll be going out, as will Max and his boys here. Those are our mobile forces; who's got a plan?"

A dwarf sitting on the right shrugged. "Let's just charge Black Jong and kill him."

Arthur glared at the dwarf. "It's not that easy."

From the shadows on the left came an old, dry voice: "What's the immediate threat?"

Another voice in the shadows answered, "They know we're here. They're going to come after us."

Max nodded. "The south-east corner of the forest has been occupied by the rebel forces. We're in their way, and they know that we've got some powerful people here. They're not going to go easy on us."

"Then let's take out the local forces," the dry voice replied. "I'm sure some of us can delay them long enough for the others to knock down their command structure."

Arthur took a seat on one of the barstools. "The local forces are a supply division harvesting wood. It's a good group to hit."

"Hah!" The largest of the three caravan traders looked amused. "We all know how valuable supplies are, don't we?"

A man on the left, dressed in a plain black tabard over soft brown leather, asked "And are you going to be supplying us for free this time?"

"Of course not. We'll be charging you our normal rates, plus a wartime surcharge, plus interest. But we have a very convenient payment plan, plus our valued customer discount, plus we'll be making available some of our class-A stock."

"Hooray. So who's going to defend the town while you're all out doing this?"

An old man in faded scholar's robes spoke up from the left. "You and I are, of course. Along with everyone else who's remaining behind. I think that we can arrange some interesting . . . surprises for anyone who decides to show up here. I'd just prefer that we not have to deal with the entire army at once."

There were a few murmurs of agreement.

Arthur turned to the group that was to go adventuring. "So who's doing what?"

Max stepped closer to the bar. "You and I are the military experts here; we should do the main assault." He glanced over at Isabelle. "Want to come along, Miss Ming?"

Isabelle started. "I'm still under contract, remember?"

"Yes," said one of the traders, "you are. Arthur, Maximilian, I hereby appoint you honorary members of our caravan for the duration of hostilities. Isabelle, I'm assigning you to their protection. Any questions?"

"This wasn't in my contract."

"No, it wasn't. How's an extra five-thousand sound?"

"Uh . . . OK."

"Done. Gentlemen, you may continue."

Arthur nodded. "Can we get your other guy as well?"

"I don't see why not."

"Will he agree to it?"

"If we pay him he will."

Arthur laughed. "Good enough for me. Anyone else want to come?"

The first trader shook his head. "We'll do our usual job of traveling around, gathering information, getting supplies, rallying the people, and assassinating random antagonists."

The bard with the steel mandolin spoke up. "We'll wander around and find out what's going on. I can let some bards know to cover this."

"Thanks," said Max.

A teenage boy sitting with the right-hand group tilted his head to the side. "And what do you want me to do?"

"I think that it's time to teach you the family trade, kid," drawled Arthur. "You've been sitting here in this town for too long."

A girl, perhaps a year or two younger than the boy, leaned forwards. "I'd like to come, too."

Arthur blinked. "Well, I guess that would work." He looked past her to a pair of adults. "Is that OK with you two?"

The parents nodded.

"Well then. That makes quite a party; are the rest of you going to volunteer as well?"

The dwarf shook his head. "I think that the rest of us will be content just to harry them a little. You can have the fun of sneaking into the middle of the opposing army."

"Gee, thanks."

"You're welcome," the dwarf said solemnly.

That being settled, the meeting adjourned.

Episode 16: Parting gifts

Eleven of the twelve people who would be the primary strike force in the oncoming battle gathered at the front of the tavern. Thunder, the caravan's night guard, was presumably off sleeping somewhere.

Arthur waited for everyone to find a seat before speaking. "Introductions would probably be useful, given that one of our members isn't from here, but there are a few people who have business to take care of first." He nodded to a dwarf waiting outside of the group; Isabelle recognized him as the town smith.

The dwarf picked up a sheathed sword and mid-sized shield from the table next to him and strode over to the boy. "Since your family's all either dead or using their stuff, I thought that I'd make a couple of things for you." He handed over the equipment without ceremony and headed for the girl. "You'll find out most of what I did for you in a minute, but let me give you these now." He unslung a tube that he had been wearing on his back and opened one end of it. He upended it over the table next to the girl, and six golden arrows fell out. "Half-a-dozen phoenix arrows, since I know that your mother used the last of hers during the Fall Revolution."

There were several gasps. Arthur demanded "When did you learn how to make phoenix arrows?"

The dwarf looked at him and grinned. "I know a lot of things that you don't, sonny boy." He made his way over to the tavern door and left whistling.

Arthur shook his head. "I thought that the last person who knew how to make those died five-hundred years ago."

"I know," said a woman, entering the group. "But I always thought that the little guy knew more than he was telling."

Isabelle looked at the woman and decided that she must be the girl's mother. She had a longbow slung over one shoulder and a quiver over the other.

"You're going to need some equipment if you're going to go adventuring," the woman said to her daughter. "Your practice bow is nice, but it's not a combat model. Use this." She unslung the bow from her shoulder and handed it to the girl. Steel guard-plates on the front shone like new, and gold inlay ran along the entire length of the bow. "I had the smith refurbish and refit it. Looks rather better than the day I got it, actually."

The girl looked stunned. "But mother, your bow . . ."

"It's okay. Your father and I will still watch over you from afar, but I can't wield a bow like I once did. We want you to have that chance now." She removed her quiver and handed that to the girl as well. "And one thing from your father. . . ." She pulled a silver dagger from her belt and laid it next to the arrows. "Use them well." She left, joining a quietly sniffling man along the way.

Arthur looked around; the tavern was now empty of everyone but the eleven adventurers. "Well then. Let's get started with introductions, shall we?"

Episode 17: Plainstone special

Arthur glanced around at the group before starting. "All of you know Max. The six with him were sent by former members of the Lost Soldiers' Brigade, some of his friends. All of you know me; I don't like to run things, but I hate to see someone else screw them up."

He waved a hand at Isabelle. "Isabelle here is a freelance hero generally and a caravan guard currently. I'm told that she's very dependable."

Isabelle looked at him, suspicious. She hadn't told him that.

"She's originally from northeast of here. Our missing member is Silent Thunder, the night guard and generally mysterious swordsman. If you see a man in black sleeping somewhere, it's probably him. If you don't see the man in black, it's definitely him."

Arthur turned his attention to the boy sitting across from him. "The young man is Percy. He's not related to me, but he was engaged to my ward before she died and I took him in when his parents were killed. There's more to that story, but I'll leave it up to him to tell it if and when he wants to. I figure that it's time to teach him the family trade." Arthur glanced at the equipment sitting by Percy. "Would you mind if I looked at that sword?"

The boy handed it over silently.

"Thank you. Let's see. . . ." Arthur examined the entire sword carefully. It was a very plain, even austere, sword, devoid of all ornamentation and markings. "I thought so. It's a Plainstone special, the smith's own invention. Magical armour won't do any extra good against this. The shield is probably the same." He handed the sword back. "Would you like to introduce yourself?"

Percy stood. He was of average height and build, though clearly young, with short black hair and simple clothes. "My name is Percival, Percy for short. I'm sixteen. My parents knew Arthur and Arthur's brother. I was engaged to Arthur's niece at birth. Now I'm here." He paused for a moment, thinking. "That's about it." He sat down again.

Arthur nodded and looked at the last person in the room, the girl. "I'm afraid that I don't know much about you except for your name: Orlaith, daughter of Ceara of the Bow and Fintan the White Flame."

The girl nodded and rose. She was barely over five feet tall, with long red hair in a braid. Her movements were full of energy, and her short sleeves revealed strong arms. "My name is Orlaith. I'm fifteen years old and was born here in town after my parents retired. I'd like to carry on my parents' tradition of defending the Empire and helping those in need; I'd also like to see the world that I've heard so many stories about but never seen." She bowed and sat down.

Arthur checked off something on his slate. "That's that, then. Next up: Making this official."

Isabelle wondered what he meant by that.

Episode 18: We go to war

Arthur looked at Max. "Could I have those papers back now?"

Max nodded and carried several scrolls plus writing and sealing implements over to Arthur. After handing them over, the huge barkeep remained standing behind his unusually serious-looking friend.

Arthur straightened up in his chair, unrolled the first scroll, and signed and sealed it at the bottom of the text. Then he stood and pronounced his charge:

"By the power invested in me by the Emperor and the virtue of my former office, and in light of the current military situation, I hereby declare an Imperial military emergency. I furthermore recall myself to active duty as a Commander in the Imperial Guard, command branch, for the duration of this crisis, and I hereby assume command of the military forces and defense of this town." He paused and glanced down before turning to face Max. "Baron Maximilian Carlota, by virtue of my authority as a Commander in the Imperial Guard and your oath of fealty to the Emperor, I hereby recall you to active service in the Imperial Guard as a Captain in the command branch for the duration of this crisis and place you under my command." Arthur turned back to face the rest of the group. "To the six men-at-arms gathered here today: By virtue of my rank and your oaths of fealty to the Emperor, I hereby command your military service in the Imperial Guard for the duration of this crisis and place you under Maximilian's command. To the others gathered here today and to the one known as Silent Thunder: By virtue of my rank and authority here, I hereby press you into military service in the Imperial Guard for the duration of this crisis and place you under my command."

He paused and switched gears. "I hereby form the Imperial Guard, command branch, special unit number twenty-seven, codename Campion. It shall consist of two teams. Team number one shall be considered irregulars and shall consist of myself, Isabelle, Percy, Orlaith, and Thunder. My lieutenant is Max, who shall head team number two. Team number two shall be considered heavy foot and consist of the six men-at-arms gathered here. Maximilian, please appoint a sergeant from among your men to be your lieutenant. Should both we and they become incapacitated, the command authority shall rest with the second team." Arthur finished speaking and sat down in his chair, seemingly exhausted. After a moment he reached for the scrolls again and began to write out his orders.

Episode 19: Filler episode

Isabelle blinked and looked around at her equally surprised companions. "What was that for?"

Arthur looked up from his writing. "I can hardly condone random bands of people running around with weapons making war on anyone that they consider to be 'evil.' After all, if I did that then I'd have to accept Black Jong as well. This gives us the legal and moral justification to make war on behalf of the empire." He looked down again and continued writing. After a few minutes he finished and sealed the scroll, handing it off to Max when he was done. "Why don't we go see what the caravan's selling? They've always got strange, fun stuff in the class-A section."

Isabelle shrugged and rose to follow him out the door. She didn't know what he was talking about, but given the strange events so far she was willing to believe anything.

Outside was a small crowd. The traders were displaying a range of ordinary weapons, mainly swords and bows, but few people were paying attention and none of thom were buying. The head trader looked up as the group exited the tavern. "Ah. Now we can start." He waved a hand to one of the caravan's two handlers. The handler nodded and followed the third trader, a quiet, furtive man, to a point a short ways down the road. They stopped in the middle of the dirt path. The handler peered around suspiciously, as if he expected to be ambushed twenty feet from the nearest cover and fifty feet from the nearest person. The trader spread his arms and began chanting.

A thin blue line appeared vertically in front of the trader, running from the ground to four or five feet above his head. It widened into a sheet like a card being slowly turned from edgeways to broadside. Out of the flat blue expanse came riding a brace of horses and a tall covered wagon driven by a huge humaniform creature. The man—or so it seemed at first—was at least seven feet tall, although it was hard to judge while he was sitting down. He wore no shirt or hat and seemed devoid of hair. Around each wrist was a thin, gold band, too small to slide either up or off. His skin started out as a dark dirt brown, but quickly shifted to grey and black before sliding to brown again. The wagon rolled to a stop a little ways from the crowd. The blue gate snapped shut. Isabelle wondered why the hell the caravan needed her as a guard.

Episode 20: Class-A stock

Once the portal had vanished, the crowd surged closer to the newly-arrived wagon. Even the previously uninterested bystanders seemed eager to learn what it held. Arthur had disappeared, so Isabelle joined the crowd next to the wagon, as did Percy and Orlaith.

The trader who had opened the gate returned around the end of the wagon. He motioned for the crowd to join him, and the mass shifted towards him even as he enforced a ten-foot clearance from the wagon. When all was prepared, he whistled.

The shutters above the wagon's tailgate were slammed open by huge black hands with gold cuffs, likely those of the driver. The tailgate was likewise kicked open, unfolding to form a ramp. The interior of the wagon was as black as fine velvet.

"And now," called out the merchant, "a selected, limited release of T.P., M.M., and G.C. Incorporated's class-A stock."

There were great cheers at this pronouncement.

"Joseph, will you bring forth item number two-forty-one?"

After moment, the driver emerged from the wagon. His bare feet slammed into the metal-backed ramp, drawing attention to the thin gold bonds around his ankles. Over his shoulder was a small ballista. He got to the bottom of the ramp and set up the weapon, then stood back as his skin shaded from pitch black to a slightly mottled grey.

"We have here the famed ballista 'Thousand-Killer.' It's said that, when fired battle, it guarantees its side a thousand kills. That's limited by the number of enemy left, obviously, and no-one's ever confirmed the rumor, so we'll start the bidding at five-thousand before discounts, deals, fees, and surcharges. Do I hear five-thousand?"

A few hands went up.

"Got five. Six, anyone?"

There was a brief muttering amongst the crowd before a short figure of some sort emerged. It was three feet tall or so, humanoid, and bundled up so tightly in fur-trimmed leather that nothing more could be seen. Even the gap between its high leather collar and low helmet, a gap that exposed only it's eyes, was covered by a thick, black veil. The figure looked up at the trader. "Six."

"Got six; any seven?"

One of the first bidders raised his hand again.

"Seven up. Eight?" He looked back at the creature (or whatever it was).

The figure opened its mouth, but it was interrupted by the arrival of another. This one had dark green-red skin and was wearing only leather shoes and a hide loincloth. "Eight!" his voice crackled.

Before the trader could react, a voice in the back of the crowd thundered "TEN!!!" at a truly Stentorian volume. The sound-stunned crowd moved aside to reveal a third of these strange beings. He was a foot taller than the others, had light yellow-green skin, and wore steel-soled boots, leather briefs, and a steel helmet.

The trader started at the shout but quickly regained his composure.

"Going once? Going twice?"

"Eight," the bundled figure stated with icy determination. "Our bid is eight; I hold the purse-strings."

The trader sighed, rolled his eyes, and continued the bidding. "The triplets bid eight; do I hear nine?" He looked at the rival bidder, who shook his head. "Sold to the triplets for eight-thousand! Now if you'll just see my associate over there about payment . . ." He pointed off to the side where another trader stood waiting.

The bundled figure nodded and went over to the ballista. Reaching out with his left hand, he picked up the six-foot-long weapon and flipped it over so that it rested on his shoulder. He marched off towards the second trader as his brothers raced ahead of him.

"Joseph, bring out item two-thirty-six!" He paused while Joseph did just that. Item two-thirty-six turned out to be a solid-steel crossbow with an odd-looking grip on the underframe. "Solid-steel pump-action crossbow; fires solid-steel bolts, ten of which are included in the purchase price. Two-hundred-pound draw. Do I hear one-thousand?"

Only one person, a tall man with an eyepatch over his left eye, bid.

"Sold for one-thousand to the man with the eyepatch! Please see my associate for ammo details." He waved the customer in the direction of the second trader and continued with the auction. "Joseph, may we have three-thirty-six?"

Joseph complied, bringing out a long, dark-lacquered piece of wood similar to a walking stick or Silent Thunder's unusual sword. It was bound with fine red cord in a number of decorative or possibly mystical designs.

"Sorry, folks, but this one's already reserved." The trader set it aside.

The auction continued like this for most of the afternoon. Magical, famous, or otherwise special armor and weapons were brought out of the wagon and sold or leased to the townspeople. Isabelle didn't buy anything. When it was over, Arthur stopped by to tell her that she should meet with the other adventurers at the town hall.

Episode 21: Buying Thunder

To Isabelle, the town hall seemed a lot smaller the second time around. Once nearly everyone was there, however, it was clear how little space they took up. Even Max's footmen standing in a flying wedge formation behind him didn't fill much space. Orlaith and Percy sat at opposite ends of the same bench, eyeing each other suspiciously. Stretched out between them was the sleeping Thunder. Isabelle chose a seat up front.

After a moment, Arthur emerged from a small door in the front wall, near the podium. A second man followed him out, still wearing the black tabard and brown leather armor that he had worn at the meeting. Arthur threw the long, black reserve item from the caravan at the sleeping Silent Thunder.

Thunder's hand shot up and caught it. "What's this?" he asked sleepily.

"Your pay for accepting this mission."

"I don't recall accepting any mission."

"Look at the sword."

Thunder did so. After a moment he sat up and looked at it more closely. "Oh . . . my . . . god . . . Is this what I think it is?"

"If you're thinking that it's Soulless Shadow then you're right."

"And I get to keep this?"

"You get to use it for exactly one year starting today, if you accept this mission."

"Hmm. If I don't get to keep the sword then I want five-hundred-thousand when this is over."

Isabelle blinked. She was only getting 1% of that fee. Maybe it was time to re-negotiate her contract.

"A quarter of a million, final."

"Oh, all right. I might as well."

"Good; now pay attention."

Episode 22: Saint George Avallonis

Arthur gestured at the man in the black tabard. "This is our town minister. I thought that it would be appropriate if he said a few words prior to our going out; it's something of a tradition in this town."

The minister stepped forward and bowed. "This town hall serves as the local church, unless it's the other way around. There isn't much agreement on that. In any case, the people here worship in so many ways that we decided to keep this space as neutral as possible with one exception." He pointed to a huge painting hung some ways up the front wall. "Not even the atheists can object to that." The painting depicted a battleship of the largest size. It was somehow flying through the clouds towards the setting sun, and two dragons flanked it. Along the top of the painting were the faces of five men and two women, all of them benevolently looking out at he viewer. "The unofficial god of heroes and champions: Saint George Avallonis. He's an actual person; he and his six companions were last seen sailing off towards the dragon isles five-hundred years ago. That he will return in another five-hundred years is just wishful thinking, I'm afraid, but with a hero you never know. He's not really a god, but he was considered to be the epitome of heroism; praying to him has never been known to hurt."

Episode 23: No atheists in foxholes

The minister paused to give everyone a moment in which to contemplate the painting. Silent Thunder took the opportunity to unbind and examine his new sword. The minister continued. "I am told that you will be leaving tomorrow morning, so allow me to pronounce the blessing now." He cleared his throat. "Saint George, where-ever you may be, these twelve heroes are setting forth as you once did to defend the empire that you once championed. Watch over them and protect both them and your empire. I ask this as a devoted champion f your ideals; may peace and justice reign." The minister looked around at them. "Well, that's it. I have to go make plans for the town's defense; Arthur, it's your show." He left by the rear doors.

Arthur nodded. "You heard the man: We leave at dawn. Everyone go home and pack; we'll meet at the tavern in the morning. If anything happens during the night, get over to the tavern and wait for me. We may have to leave in a hurry. Thunder, wake up. You're on guard duty." Arthur left the same way that he had entered.

Isabelle went back to her room and waited.

Episode 24: "Anything happens"

Isabelle woke to the dark of the night but not to its silence. A song, not loud but somehow pervasive, had interrupted her sleep. The man, the man, the armed man . . . She rolled out of bed and pushed open the shutters on her window. A light flashed repeatedly at her from the tower rising above the town. The mysterious voice sang as Isabelle pulled on her armor and buckled her swordbelt, sang of an armed man who was coming and commanded those who heard it to arm themselves. Isabelle did so, stuffing her remaining personal items into her pack and running out of the door to her room. She headed for the stairs, intent on helping with whatever was going on.

Two shadowy forms flanking the front door to the bar were Max's men; Isabelle had seen them preparing to keep guard the previous evening. When she approached, one of them pointed past her and whispered "Back door."

Isabelle nodded and left, dropping her pack on the bar. The back door turned out to be behind the staircase, obscured from view. Isabelle slipped out of it and into a dark grey night.

She was clearly not the only one concerned by the mysterious song. Shadowy figures crouched alongside many of the buildings, looking around. One of them tried moving out into the open and two arrows missed him by inches, striking the ground. The arrows had come from the direction of the road, and their angle of impact suggested that the archers were up in trees. The villager dove back into the doorway that he had been hiding in.

A few seconds later, the song stopped.

Isabelle carefully made her way along the left-hand wall of the tavern and peered around the corner. The caravan wagons were there, but there was no sign of Thunder. Before Isabelle could decide what to do next, something bright flashed out of the trees across the road and flew into the covered wagon. A wordless roar issued from inside. A silver-rimmed silhouette stormed out, its only identification the gold bands around its wrists and ankles. The inhuman guard raised its right arm to the side, palm open to the sky. It clenched its hand and suddenly it was holding a javelin. As it cocked its arm for a throw, two more arrows shot out and hit it in the chest, glancing off. It's arm blurred and a white flash shot into the trees, the crack of exploding wood answering in place of thunder. The guard smoothly returned its arm to the position for summoning another javelin.

Isabelle turned away and walked back to the tavern door.

Episode 25: Light rain

A light rain began to fall, and someone unleashed the hounds.

Isabelle heard a sudden barking, somehow deeper and more threatening than she had ever imagined that a dog could be. A howl convinced her that these were no ordinary animals; she could feel the feral intelligence in it. Then one of them bounded around the right-hand corner of the tavern.

A wolf with glowing red eyes paused for a moment, growling at her. It leapt just as she drew her sword, a steel cavalry saber that she had bought from a retired soldier. Her slash caught it across the face, knocking its jaws away from her throat, but the impact of its body knocked her to the ground. She rolled out from under it, sending it in the other direction. She rose into a three-point crouch, her left hand pressed against the ground, even as the wolf did the same, preparing for another leap. A movement to her right caught her eye. She shifted position slightly and realized with a shock that another wolf had been approaching her from behind. Of course, she cursed herself, they're pack animals. This is how they always work. Isabelle slowly rose to her feet and began backing up.

A bright flash somewhere behind Isabelle and to her left was accompanied by a loud crack of tangible sound; lightning had struck somewhere very nearby. The wolf facing Isabelle flinched. Isabelle leapt. She skidded to a stop beside the wolf as her saber opened up its side, eviscerating it. She spun to face the second wolf.

The second wolf had its own problems. It jumped at a large figure carrying a glowing warhammer; Max swung with both hands and hit the wolf in the ribs. For a moment, the hammer flared blue so brightly that it left an afterimage in Isabelle's vision. A loud cracking could be heard, and the wolf bounced off of the wall of the tavern a few feet to the left of Isabelle. Before Max could recover from the swing, yet another wolf leapt at him from his left. Max's left hand let go of the hammer and shot out, grabbing the wolf by the throat. He threw it to the ground as he turned, and his hammer followed it down to split its skull. Isabelle looked away.

Max nodded at her as he passed by, entering his tavern through the back door. His four men not already inside followed him shortly. One of them stopped long enough to tell Isabelle, "We'll guard the door from the inside. Go see if the others need help." She nodded and ran towards the town square.

A trio passed her going in the other direction; Isabelle noticed that the bard's steel mandolin had grown a steel spike on the base and was dripping blood. The triplets came into view a moment later. The one that had bought the ballista had it over his right shoulder, his left hand steadying it and his right holding a cord that lead to the trigger. The tall one was sparking where raindrops hit him, and his helmet was blackened. The third steamed, raindrops sizzling and jumping off of his skin. They shot bolts off into the trees whenever one of the archers there gave away their position by attacking. Near the town square, Isabelle found her first human attackers.

Three bulky men with swords and shields faced Orlaith and a man whom Isabelle recognized as her father. Two more attackers lay still on the ground. Orlaith had dropped her bow and stood with a short sword instead.

Isabelle yelled "Hey!" and began to sprint towards them.

One of the attackers took a quick glance at Isabelle. A moment later, the three of them went for Orlaith and her dad.

Orlaith's father swung his longsword viciously at the attackers, roaring as he did so. White flame burst forth from the sword as it met the opponent's weapon; the attacker staggered backwards, dropping his shattered sword. Orlaith parried one of her two attackers, and an arrow gored the third. Isabelle glanced further along the road and spotted Orlaith's mom holding her own bow. The remaining attackers fled.

Fintan the White Flame called to Isabelle. "Get Orlaith to the tavern. Ceara and I will deal with the others here."

Isabelle nodded, and Orlaith grabbed her bow before running over.

"C'mon," Orlaith said. "The others are probably there already."

They left for the tavern at a slow jog.

Episode 26: Into the night by moonlight

Everyone was waiting in the tavern for Isabelle and Orlaith when they arrived. Arthur nodded at Isabelle when she entered, then glanced around at the others. "Everyone ready?"

There were nods of assent.

"Good. Obviously the enemy has better transportation than we expected; I suspect magic. We're leaving immediately so that the magi here can shut down all access to and from the outside world. As for us, the merchants have readied their wagons so that we can join with them for a short ways before splitting off. Hopefully the enemy will lose track of us. We're headed for the supply camp at the southeast corner of the forest in order to take out their boss and disrupt the supply train. Any questions?"

There was a scratching at the front door and a meow.

Arthur glanced towards the door and nodded, and one of Max's men opened the door just far enough to let in a beam of moonlight (Moonlight? But it was still overcast and raining. . . .) and a silver-furred cat.

The cat jumped up onto the bar and strode down to a point halfway along it, watching the gathering watching it. It sat down facing them, and a shimmer of moonlight later there sat a beautiful woman wearing a sleek, silver dress. Her hair shone like the moon now instead of being night black, but Isabelle still recognized her from the afternoon meeting at the tavern. The lady spoke: "Hullo, Arthur, Maximilian."

Arthur nodded. "Hullo, Em. Come to see us off?"

"If I may." She looked enquiringly at Max.

Max snapped to attention and inclined his head. "The bar is yours, my Lady."

"Thank you." She smiled for a moment, bathing the room in a soft, silver glow. Then she slid down from the bar, turned to face it, and lifted a pair of trays that had not been there a moment before. She turned and offered the silver goblets thereon to the assembled adventurers. "Drink up!"

They each took a goblet and did so. The ambrosia was smooth and silver, much like everything else having to do with that mysterious Lady. It had no taste, yet tasted more wonderful than anything that Isabelle had ever drunk before. It was also highly invigorating. As she put her empty goblet down, Isabelle glanced once at the strange hostess. When she looked back in front of her, the goblet was gone.

The Lady smiled. "May luck be with you."

Arthur looked at her sidelong. "I'm sure you will." He rose and grabbed his pack. "C'mon, people, we've got a war to win!"

They all grabbed their equipment and slipped out into the night.

End of Season 1.0