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."