Chapter 2, Scene 1
"I'd advise you to leave well enough alone." Gremmer Helos shrugged, and handed a tray to Siya. She walked around the table, depositing mugs of ale in front of Khory and Elena's places, and mulled cider for Kieran and Nia; she paused and tried her most flirtatious smile for the young man, letting her fingers brush against his as she handed him his mug.
He smiled at her, but it was an absent smile, and she almost ground her teeth in frustration. It certainly didn't help that the strange young woman who had followed him in was watching her, barely concealing her curiousity. Ignoring Nia, Siya swept back to her place by the bar, trying not to pout, and listening to the conversation with half an ear.
"We don't mean to cause trouble, we're just curious." Elena smiled faintly, and took a sip of ale. "I was just wondering about that Shasti thing. Your stableboy talked for a while..."
"Jin talks too much for his own good." Helos turned to the counter, wiping at it halfheartedly. "The Shasti doesn't like to be bothered. It's better for everyone if we just do what it says and let it stay out of our way." He stopped, looking up at the travellers. "When this whole thing started, three years back, someone tried to send a message out to Immaculates down in Terrinus. They turned up dead. Trust me; stay out of this." He sighed, looking down at the bar. "The sacrifices aren't so bad. We'll survive."
Kieran looked up, his expression set. In the light filtering in through the windows, his face was outlined, giving it a golden-seeming glow. "Well, maybe someone needs to talk to it. Spirits shouldn't do that sort of thing."
"And what are you, a roving thaumaturge?" Siya glared at her father, who took another swipe at the bar. "Four people can't just meander into town and solve this sort of problem." He looked up, taking all four in; Khory's curious face, Elena looking firm, Kieran with his set jaw and Nia uncertain. "We don't need any more trouble around here."
Khory pushed back his chair and stood with a shrug, downing his ale. "Fair enough. If you don't mind, I'll see about replenishing our supplies." Nodding to everyone, he strolled outside. Siya watched him walking out for a moment, and then turned her attention back to Kieran, who was looking at the table intently. For a few minutes, the room fell silent. Siya watched as Kieran stared thoughtfully down at his drink, sipping occasionally, but mostly just holding it and thinking. She then glanced towards the others, who seemed equally caught up in their own worlds. Finally, however, Kieran slammed his drink down on the table, and everyone turned to stare at him.
"This isn't right. A Shasti is a bog spirit; it shouldn't be all the way up in the mountains." He looked around Elena and Nia. "I think I need to check this out." His jaw was set, and his eyes glowed with resolve. Siya almost swooned, before bringing herself under control. Her father was not as impressed.
"I'm not going to help you, boy. You think you're some all-fired Exalt can handle these things, you can go and die. But you will, and I'm not bringing trouble onto my house."
Elena nodded solemnly. "Nor would we expect you to." She looked to Kieran. "That thing you've been working on... think it works?"
Kieran nodded, and then paused. "I haven't actually, um, tested it..." He shrugged. "We'll find out. Nia, you should probably wait here." Nia nodded slowly, glancing around a bit worriedly, and took another sip of her cider. The bartender shook his head, sighing, and Elena and Kieran walked out of the bar. For a moment, Siya waffled, as her father looked at the door, and then she quietly set down the tray and slipped into the kitchen.
"Going somewhere, honey?" Her mother was cooking eggs, and the smell wafted through the kitchen. Siya forced a smile onto her face.
"Just out for a few minutes, Momma. Be back later." Before her mother could question more, she slipped out the back door.
Outside, the sun was shining brightly. Siya looked up and down the street, and spotted Kieran and Elena walking northwards, towards the forest. She hurried towards them, just in time to catch Elena slipping something metallic under her jacket. She waved an arm, with a shout. "Excuse me!"
The two turned in surprise. After a moment, Kieran spoke; Siya was mildly surprised at the way that he had taken charge, but impressed. "We know it's dangerous. We can handle it."
"You'll be wandering through the woods alone. I know the area; I can be a guide." She continued into the silence, resolutely. "There are a lot of ravines, lakes, and pits around. You'll want someone who knows the area."
"It'll be dangerous." Elena's tone was as neutral as though she was talking about the weather. "We have no idea how bad it is; we could all die."
"Someone has to do something!" Siya waved an arm around. "This town is being bled dry, bit by bit, and no one cares enough to help. You're the first ones who have." She looked at the pair, and brought herself under control. "Anyway, can't you use the help?"
After a moment, Kieran nodded. "Alright, but when we get to where this thing lives, you stay behind. I don't want you in any more trouble than needed."
As he spoke, Khory ambled up the street, with a pack slung over one shoulder. "I'm ready to go when you are." He smiled at Siya. "Hello, little lady."
Siya waved, smiling tentatively, and Kieran nodded to the group. "Alright, let's get a move on. With any luck, we can resolve this by mid-afternoon and be back before dinner." Smiling, the group strolled out of the village heading northwards.
It was less than fifteen minutes later when the Dragon-Bloods rode into town.