Katilyne the Black let out a broad yawn and shuffled her feet. Guard duty on a caravan run down the Zebulon Pike was usually good for some surprises: bandit raids, owlbear attacks, fey trickery. But this trip had been quiet all the way. In another day, they would all be back in Mereover, and she would be back at the Hay Bales listening to another wild story from Dannell.
I wonder what she will have to tell me this time, Kat thought. Perhaps she will say she stole Warden Ismort’s pants again. Or maybe this time she will have swiped the booze of the Lord General himself. Kat snorted. That one was easy enough to believe; the man often could be found sleeping near the town well, and he usually had a wineskin with him. On second thought though, those skins were rarely anything but empty. So perhaps stealing his wine might be a fine trick indeed.
Katilyne stretched her arms, lifted her halberd, and set out on a walk about the perimeter of the camp. Dannell’s most recent story was the wildest. The halfling claimed that the baron himself had sought her out, trying to recruit her for his “honor guard.” Kat grinned. Dani was well and truly drunk when she had told Kat that story. Her friend had adopted a comical stage whisper in recounting the tale, drawing the attention of all those around them. But with this tale her friend had gone too far. The baron’s honor guard! Ha. How many lords have a red-headed lunatic halfling thief as a bodyguard? It sounded like something out of a children’s story.
Katilyne continued her walk around the camp. The fires at her back created strange shadows, but she had been doing this for long enough to see clear in the night. There was no movement on the road, save for some birds roosting in the trees off to her left.
When Kat later repeated Dannell’s latest tale to Zhang, the woman had only nodded with a smile. Both of them were used to her wild stories. If only this one were true. Working for the baron and his council would probably be profitable and it would keep Dani out of Ismort’s cells. Kat felt like the young halfling had been growing more reckless of late, and it was only a matter of time before that bastard of a warden had her in chains.
“How goes the watch?”
In a second, Kat’s halberd stood inches from the stranger’s throat. If he felt worried, the man showed no sign of it, leaning nonchalantly against a tree.
“Identify yourself,” Kat growled. He appeared unarmed, but she doubted anyone would wander the Pike without some way to defend themselves.
“Why, I am just a weary traveler, Katilyne the Black. I hoped to find comfort by your fire.” The man made no move, but his eyes locked onto hers. In the tree above them, she could hear the rustling of birds.
“You have found your way this far, stranger. I suggest you find yourself a little bit farther down the road. We have no room for mysterious figures who appear out of the dark in the middle of the night.” She made no move forward or back but kept her pole arm inches from his chest.
“You are wise to be cautious on the Zebulon Pike, warrior. Have you heard how the road got its name?”
“Named after a foolish thief eaten by a dragon, I hear. And don’t change the subject. You best be moving along.”
The man laughed, a warm laugh, strong and clear. The birds above seemed to grow restless at the noise.
“As in most stories, that one contains both truth and fiction. I have heard many such stories of young adventurers. What stories will they tell about you, Katilyne the Black? Will you remain a caravan guard, always a bit player in the great stories of our age? Or perhaps you hope to be something more? A hero, perhaps?”
“That’s the second time you’ve used my name, stranger, and it grows no sweeter with use. Take your stories and move on, lest I forget to keep the baron’s peace and end your annoying chatter for good.”
The figure stood silent. The moment stretched on and on, but Kat did not move from her position, and the halberd’s edge stayed aimed at the man’s heart.
“You are a hard woman, Katilyne. And a fine warrior, from what my birds tell me. I have need of people like you. But please stop pointing that thing at me, it makes me nervous.” The man made an odd gesture, as if shooing her halberd away.
“I’ll move this edge when you move along, or give me some better reason not to spill your guts, sir.” This one unsettled her. Something about the way he sat so still. He seemed . . . familiar.
Out of the dark, a whispering sound rose, like a dozen voices all around her. Shadowy figures emerged from the night, forming a circle around her. They seemed oddly flat and their edges fluttered in the light of the distant campfire. The sounds rose to angry mutters. Katilyne took a step back and prepared to defend herself.
“That’s better,” the man in front of her said. He stepped away from his tree. “Now put that thing away so we can talk.” He motioned at her halberd.
Katilyne eyed the dark forms around her, her heart thudding heavily in her chest.
“What are these foul things?” she hissed, looking from one dark figure to the next.
“Just my shadows. Some men only have one shadow, but I find it convenient to keep at least a dozen around at all times.” Something in the man’s voice soothed her, despite her fear. He took another step forward and waved his hand dismissively. The shadow creatures faded away into the night. Kat stared hard at the man’s face but saw only the hint of a smile in the dark.
“Who are you, shadow man?” she asked, as she moved her halberd up and away from him.
“I’m the man that will make you a legend,” he said, snapping his fingers. Light bloomed from his palm, and Kat saw Baron Ravenswing himself standing before her. There was a long moment of silence. Katilyne frowned and scratched her head.
“What?” the baron asked. “What troubles you, my dear?”
“Is your Warden Ismort missing his pants then?” she asked. She had some apologizing to do to her best friend.