...Continuation...

Valley Of The Dragon Gods
By: Hensbane


Part Seven

In an hour Hellbore was ready to enter the dining room of the Red Gryphon Inn ready for a hot meal and perhaps a chance to talk with Karl Strange again she wanted to ask him about the strange beasts she fought outside the inn, of course she would leave out the fact that she fought them off and killed at least one of them and certainly not as a bear.

All thoughts of such a conversation vanished form Hellbore's mind as she entered the dining room and her eyes beheld the massive platters of food that were being placed on each long table. Hellbore saw that the Red Gryphon Inn served their meals en-family instead of individual service and except for the stronger libations huge ewers of ice-cold milk and fruit juice were placed on each and every table. The beers and ales were served in pewter tankards but the wines and hard liquors were served in glass or ceramic steins. Hellbore smiled to herself at the sight and thought about how careful Karl Strange was with his guests, pewter when filled with acidic wines could caused poisoning to the blood stream and possible death to the drinker.

Hellbore looked around the dining-room but did not see Karl sitting anywhere so she chose a table area close to a wall where she could observe the other guests as she ate her meal and she would not have to worry about anything creeping up behind her back while she enjoyed her food. Hellbore's stomach rumbled and groaned in complaint as it responded to the wonderful fragrances assailing the sensitive olfactory nerves picked up and delivered the message to the brain that the eyes had beheld a sumptuous feast, even the mouth area was already watering in anticipation of the coming feast.

Hellbore chose a spot across from two older men to sit down, a large ceramic plate, more like a platter, was already in place as was a smaller plate for the bread. Five platters filled with loaves of hot fragrant bread awaited the diners as did brown ceramic pots of fresh butter and jams. Black-rye bread, loaves of fairy bread in spiral braids to pull apart, sourdough breads twisted in fancy shapes there were even the flat tortilla breads of both flour and corn waiting to be tasted. Hellbore reached first for the black-rye bread because it reminded her of home. The rich molasses of the bread spread quickly across her taste buds nearly bringing unwanted tears to her eyes as she thought of her homeland and her mother's kitchen. She had barely finished off the slice of black bread when an entire cauldron of soup was placed on the table. The rich thick broth was filled with shredded vegetables and beef, it was one that her mother called pepper-pot soup and it went greedily down Hellbore’s throat. Once more Hellbore had to fight off the urge to shed tears at this table of strangers in memory of her long dead family.

The next course was platters of meats and steaming hot pastas and vegetables. A leg of lamb, a whole ham, a large lion-cut rib roast of beef and three types of poultry lay before the dinners of each table. Hellbore sampled every platter though she returned to the one of rare beef twice Hellbore chose to drink the fruit juice instead of the headier wine or ale with her meal for she wanted to have a clear head the next day in case she needed to go hunting her quarry.

When all the tables had been cleared of the courses of the main meal then platters of cakes and pies were brought forward for the diners to enjoy. Apple, cherry and blackberry pies with the juices still bubbling out of the fancy pierced pie crusts and pumpkin pies began the feasts along with crockery bowls filled with honey sweetened whipped cream, there were two cakes added to the tempting treats, one of chocolate in seven layers filled with coconut and pecans and a peach cobbler so large Hellbore was hard put to lift it up to help herself to the treat.

Karl Strange joined the diners after the final course and once the tables were cleaned again.

"Ladies and gentlemen, and I use that term loosely, I welcome you all the pleasures of the Red Gryphon Inn. We have gambling for those who feel the pull of the cards and the kiss of lady luck, we have music those who believe that their feet are blessed by the gods in dancing or just listening enjoyment. If you want or need anything else please ask my staff to help you." Karl bowed to the applauding crowd and began walking over to the area where he had spied Hellbore when he entered the room.

"Good evening! I hope that your meal was everything that you enjoyed." Karl smiled in Hellbore’s direction.

"Any more enjoyable and I would have had to be rolled from this room on a cart." Hellbore gave him her warmest smile.

Karl looked Hellbore over closely and shook his head in denial for he saw a slender well-muscled woman now standing before him. He doubted that she would ever show an ounce of fat no matter how often she ate.

Hellbore privately thought that for one of the first times in her long life she was happy that she was a were-creature for she usually burned off most of what she consumed in a day every time she shifted forms, if she were merely normal with her love of food she would have run to fat long ago, not to mention dead long since; Hellbore was over two hundred years old.

Karl and Hellbore talked long into the night until a jaw-breaking yawn of exhaustion came across Hellbore. The two bid each other goodnight with the promise of meeting in the kitchen the next morning to have breakfast with the staff. Hellbore could not have known that this gesture of Karl Strange’s would set her apart from the other guests staying at the Red Gryphon Inn as it was tantamount to taking one home to meet ones parents in the other lands.

The first days at the Red Gryphon Inn passed quickly for Hellbore, Karl escorting her everywhere about the Talos Valley. They visited the Trencherons first, Hellbore laughing as the horse-lizard beasts pranced before Karl, their massive horned heads tossing up divots of grass as the bowed their heads toward him.

The farms aligned with the Inn for trade and protection in times of danger were the next stops for the two budding friends. Karl told her of the four types of sheep raised on three farms, one breed strictly for meat, as its wool was too short and wiry to spin into thread but the flesh of this beast was sweet not gamy as sheep can sometimes be, so it was a highly prized export to the other countries in the Phantom Realm. The other three types of sheep were for wool breeding only as their flesh was extremely gamy and thick with greasy tallow, though when these beasts had reached an age beyond wool bearing years it was slaughtered and the fat rendered down to tallow for use in making candles, the meat was sold to the dwarves who loved the mutton from these older beasts. The shearing sheds were neat and clean, all the scissors and cutters shown brightly with not a speck of rust to mar the blades.

"Joseph, may I introduce Hellbore Reid. She is staying at the inn for a few weeks." Karl said to a tall willowy man with a shock of blond hair that reminded Hellbore of thatch used for roofing materials in Ducat, her once hometown.

"Welcome, miss. Do you like sheep?" Joseph inquired politely, not knowing what else to say to the red-haired female Karl had brought to the ranch especially since Karl never had brought any strangers before this except for buyers for meat and wool products.

"I like what they produce to be sure, for I have often used the leather from the beasts in making boots and shoes for men and women to wear and saddles for children to use. But I know nothing of the husbandry that it takes to raise the creatures." Hellbore stated as she pointed to the pens were the creatures were currently enjoying grain from long toughs. "I would like to praise your care and upkeep of your sheds, your equipment is in perfect condition and that is a rarity in most cases. I noticed coming up to your place that there were hundreds of sheep on your property and still all your pens and buildings are clean and neat. I bow to your expert care." So saying Hellbore bowed her head to the gangly man with the now red face.

"Well, um. Um. Um." Joseph stuttered and blushed a deeper red than before and he shuffled his feet uncomfortably.

"Now, Hellbore, don’t you go and make Joseph embarrassed. He is unused to high praise from beautiful women even his wife scolds him constantly to keep his head from getting to large with pride." Karl laughed as he patted Joseph's shoulder. It was an old game between the two men; for once Joseph had ridden with Karl in the wars and had retired here in the Talos Valley after the defeat of Karnak Rood. Joseph had been an arms maker for Karl's patrols and constantly repairing or building new weapons to defeat the enemies they had faced together when under service to the various kings and queens that had hired them as mercenaries. Now Joseph used his skill in creating new tools for use on his sheep farm and his brother, Kevin was the blacksmith to the Red Gryphon Inn.

The next stop that first morning was at the chandlers. Here all the candles used at the Inn were made. The smell of melting wax stung their nostrils as the two people entered a well-lit building as clean and shiny as the farm had been. The largest wagons Hellbore had ever seen were piled high with white mounds of raw fat awaiting to being rendered down into a liquid from where it would then be handed off to the tint and scent groups for candle making.

Hellbore and Karl watched as teenaged lads used huge trident-forks to throw the slabs of lard onto a platform alongside a huge cast-iron vat suspended over a roaring hot fire by a pair of thick chains on along iron pole so the pot could be moved and dumped when the processors were ready to pass the melted fat onto the candle makers and another pot could be put in its place.

"Don’t you worry about the boys falling into the pot, Karl?" Hellbore watched as one lad seemingly slipped on the jiggling piles of fat.

"No, look below the wagon and you will see that the platform the fat is being transferred onto extends beyond the pot and not that close to the fire so if one of the lads gets careless, and they have before, they get a good bruising not a permanent scarring or loss of life. It took Sven and Stephen a good six months of trial and error to get the positioning just right before we allowed the lads to work in here." Karl pointed out the positioning as he spoke to Hellbore.

Indeed he was right the boys were safe from the fire if not from their own carelessness and from what Hellbore had observed, these lads were very careful where they put their feet as they worked also they took their work very seriously for there was no pushing or shoving going on during the unloading process. Once they had safely dismounted an empty wagon and while waiting for the next the lads did engage in some friendly teasing and pushing to relive the tension from the workday.

"Are all of the farms and operation centers in the valley like this? I mean even with all the raw products going through here there is no filth nor grime in the area." Hellbore remarked as she looked around the different areas.

"We live in a world of magic and magical creatures that would love to destroy anything that tempts them so we choose not to give them any easy targets. Besides, the different craftsmen in the valley trade all over the Phantom Realm and have to compete with all the other groups participating in the same type of trade, we choose to have ours remarked on as some of the best to be found in this world. Its good for business." Karl nodded his head at the two blond haired men who ran the operations of the chandler shop.

In a building next door to the chandlers buildings was yet another shop consisting of three small buildings. Karl explained that these were the soap-makers property. Three large meaty looking men ran the place along with what seemed like a mired of older children and teenagers. Hellbore lost count of the numbers as they came and went quickly about their business. Zebadaha, Bruce and Maximilian, just Max to his friends and coworkers, ran both the soap-making shop and the perfumery. The perfumery supplied all the scented oils for the chandlers and soap-makers for their products besides selling the scents to be worn by both men and women in the Phantom Realm. Flowers piled into huge wooden crates lined the entrance to the processing room of the perfumery the red and gold; greens and yellows, purple and blues were early enough to dazzle the senses with their riotous colors and smells. The flowers were separated form their stems on a table manned by young girls who put the petals into buckets where strong lads carried the buckets away to another area. The petals were placed in a crushing machine and then into vats of olive or whale oil to steep for a month or two until the oil became infused with the desired scents. The scented oil was then put into ceramic containers and sealed with cork lids or wax stoppers. Some of the new perfumed oils went over the chandlers and some to the soap-makers while the finest products were carried into a small building where they were put into fancy glass and ceramic bottles for sale for humans or other beings to wear.

The soap-makers were busy keeping the pots of imperfect lard from the chandler house moving into the area where the liquid grease was poured through a fine cheesecloth netting over another pan of ashes gleaned from fire-pits and fireplaces in the area. This leaching process produced the lye used in the soap making process. The excess lye was sold to housekeepers for cleaning the wooden floors of houses and stables to retard the growth of unwanted infestations of lice and ticks and bedbugs. Hellbore had to wrinkle her nose as they passed the vats that collected the urine from the chamber pots found in every house and room at the inn. It was in these fragrant pots that the urine aged until it was a dark yellow in color and the ammonia was the strongest for the making the fusion of lye.

Hellbore was grateful to be back in the fresh air as they left the malodorous area of aging urine.

"I am glad I do not have to endure that everyday as those workers must have to do." She commented to Karl as he led her over to the house where the finished soap was being scented and poured into molds for shaping.

"Most do not have to be around it for long so it provides no immediate problems for the workers besides we do keep the area very well ventilated. It is in the process of making the lye that the greatest dangers lay Those fumes can suffocate anyone who might be allergic to them besides rendering severe burns to unprotected flesh, though the smell is much easier to bear." Karl remarked as they moved onto the molding room.

The first sight that met Hellbore’s eyes were rows and rows of long tables with little children lining both sides where they were rubbing a brownish oil inside molds made from ceramics, woods and metals. Karl showed her the branding irons that would be used to mark these soap products with the Gryphon marking that would label them from the Talos Valley when they were sold in the far ranging countries of their world.

Hellbore picked up one eight-mold tray and looked carefully at the carvings embedded in each design. She saw dragons in flight; gryphons sitting on their golden nests, fairies in flight and birds of nearly every description mark the molds and pleasing to the eyes. Flowers of such design that Hellbore could not identify marked other molds until she was dizzy from the looking at the varied patterns mark on the molds.

Karl laughed when she remarked on her amazement and led her into the room where the grayish-white liquid soap was being tinted and perfumed. There she watched as fifty older girls and boys busied themselves with jars of scents and dyes, carefully adding an exact amount into the large crockery holding the newly made soap then using great wooden paddles to mix the additions in and then she watched as others ladled the readied soaps into the molds. When this process was finished each tray of molds was taken from the preparations tables and placed on four-wheeled dollies then taken into a cold room where the soaps would set up hard. In the last room Karl took her into another room where the carefully molded and now hardened soap was removed and once the soaps were freed from the molds and examined for flaws, those in perfect condition were branded and wrapped in a thin white gauze material and put into wooden boxes for sale outside the valley, while others were put in other containers for trade with the Red Gryphon Inn.

"I am impressed, Karl. But with so much magic available why do your people use the manual skills and mechanical devices?"

"Because not all those who live here in the Talos Valley are magical beings but mere mortals and they need to feel that they have worth in our world. People need to feel that what they create with their hands is just as important as what a magician can do with magic. I have found that everyone profits when mind and imagination are combined with magic." Karl explained quite proudly as he gazed upon the workers.

"You have not found that they are jealous of your magical abilities?" Hellbore wondered. Karl had talked about his own magical powers the day before when they had been out walking.

"No, because when a magician dies so does his magic, but these people and what they create and develop lives on long after they have become dust." Karl smiled down at Hellbore.

"Wise, yes very wise. They do not rely on your magic for their livelihood." Hellbore nodded her head as she thought about the power of his words for hadn't her own father been a normal human who used his imagination and mind to create and develop new leather products and tools to sell. Nearly all of the Vinkin people were normal with few who knew the ancient arts of magic and so with their own hands and minds they built powerful ships that sailed the seas and goods that were renown throughout the Phantom Realm.

Dora was serving supper by the time Karl and Hellbore returned to the Red Gryphon Inn as the Inn followed the old tradition of supper at high noon and dinner was a lighter fare in the evening if you could ever call the meals served by Dora of the Red Gryphon Inn lighter fare.

After the meal was finished Karl and Hellbore parted after making promises to meet again at the dinnertime. Karl retired to his office to go over his accounting books with his newly trained accountants, a pair of lads Karl had taught himself.

Hellbore had been intent on retiring to her rooms for a bath and a quick nap before the evening began but she heard a conversation that stopped her in her tracks.

"Did Hans tell you about the bodies we found on the other side of this valley?" A chubby man with a florid face asked the gangly thatch haired man before him at a table outside the inn.

"All Hans said was that they had been killed not what happened to them."

"Well, I tell you they was torn apart! I have never seen such destruction done to a body and there was babies too! Oh it was so ugly I nearly lost my breakfast as I helped ta load them onto that cart." The fat man a said as he shuddered at the memory of the mornings work and his face was sweating at the memory.

"Here let me buy you another ale to slake your throat as you tell me more of those details." The thin man said as he signaled a bar maid to bring another round to the table.

"Gentlemen, let me buy you both a pitcher of brew. It is an honor to buy a round for such a brave man and his friend." Hellbore spoke in a deep voice as she approached the table where they were sitting.

"Now miss this is no tale that one of your kind should be ah hearing," The fat man stuttered out as his manners were strained between wanting the pitcher of ale and his learning about the gentler sex not being subjected to the horrors of the world.

"Now don't let my sex put a damper on your story, I am a hunter from the eastern country and I have been seeking something special to hunt. Something like the creature or creatures you may be talking about." Hellbore put on her best warrior expression as she stared at the two men. She even used an old ploy that Lars had once used when wanting to impress someone of the lower classes but still a goodly soul. She drew out her boot-knife and began to pare at her fingernails as her right leg crossed over her left at the knee.

Both men stared at Hellbore in silence until the sweat dampened icy pewter pitcher of ale was placed on the table along with an extra mug for drinking. Hellbore poured herself an icy mug full and the offered to pour for the two men. They nodded their assent and then quickly downed the contents and they drank in silence until Hellbore signaled for another pitcher of brew.

"Now gentlemen please tell me of this strange killing that occurred outside the valley." Hellbore looked each man in the eye and there was no smile on her face to soften her appearance so she looked to them like one of the ancient female warriors they had heard tell about from their fathers.

"Well, Josh Abrams be the one to find them first and it was he that put out the alarm. Men from Cabra and Fartham came first then the men from Shagtown. The victims were strangers to all of us so we knew not who to contact with the news of their deaths. There was a man, we assumed the father of the group and a woman and then we found the children, all five of them. It be the saddest sight these sorry old eyes have ever beheld, I swear it." The fat man spoke in a whisper so as not to draw attention to himself or the tale he was telling.

"Was it a mere robbery?" Hellbore pumped the man for more information.

"Nay, lassie, for we found a small pouch of gold coins lying alongside the man not even touched. This was different from any outlaw attack, these people were slaughtered and parts of them were eaten." The fat man paled as he recalled the horrific scene of carnage he had beheld that morning.

"Eaten? Do you think it was wild dogs or wolves?" Hellbore carefully chose her words so as not to arouse unwanted suspicion about the information she wanted from these two men. She maintained a huntress air of interest as she mentally marked every item of interest about the possible werewolf attack though she would not tell these men of her suspicions.

Satisfied that she had heard all that these men had to tell, Hellbore rose from the table on the outside porch of the Red Gryphon Inn and thanked the men for their time and the interesting conversation by ordering them up another pitcher of ale.

Hellbore returned to her room to change for the supper meal she would have with Karl Strange. She took special pains with her appearance even to calling in a maid to help her with her waist length red hair. Tonight she would wear it in the traditional style of her people, the Vinkins. The maid brushed her hair to a radiant sheen with two boar bristle brushes and caught it high on the back of Hellbore’s head then she began creating a four stand braid that would lay in a lattice pattern down Hellbore’s back. When the braid had been completed and tied off with a green silk ribbon, Zeta flowers were placed in the braid and along the crown of Hellbore’s head, creating a clove flavored scent to cover her.

Hellbore paid the maid six silver gilders and prepared to dress for the coming evening. This night she chose a hip length green leather coat and tight brogans and a pristine white silk poets shirt, around her waist she wore a three-inch wide belt decorated with large jewel-like objects that disguised an array of weapons she never went without. Even the long jeweled pins holding the flowers in her hair were deadly enough to be considered weapons for just one of them could kill a man or beast if run through their heart. Hellbore looked once more into her mirror and when satisfied with the woman she saw there she proceeded down the long stairway to the dining room.

Karl was standing outside the dining room welcoming guests when she appeared before him.

"My dear, you are even more beautiful tonight than earlier today, if that is possible." Karl smiled at her and offered her his hand to escort her into the room where a table near the back wall was waiting for them. Karl remembered that she was a warrior and having been one himself he chose a wall seat where no one could come up behind them.

On the table a bowl of fresh fruits and trays of hot breads waited for their pleasure and Karl had ordered a bottle of dark burgundy wine to be decanted and ready for them. He pulled out Hellbore’s chair for her and then sat down next to her at the table.

"Do you always treat your guests so well?" Hellbore asked as she took a sip of the wine.

"I make it a habit of treating all my guests well, but not this well, I don't know why but I feel as though we have known each other forever and for the first time in many years I am comfortable with a woman." Karl answered as he raised his glass in a salute to her.

"I am flattered, Karl Strange. It has been far too long since I have enjoyed the company of a man, you have made me feel at home here at the Red Gryphon Inn." Hellbore raised her glass to the tall man who had confounded her with feelings she had thought long dead.

"That is what I had hoped to achieve. I want you to stay here for a long time, Hellbore. I know it sounds foolish but these past days have flown in your company and I don't want it to end." Karl looked deeply into Hellbore's eyes a hunger burned there for her to see.

Hellbore sighed deeply before answering, then she took his right hand and said, "I have to leave here in the morning." She saw the startled expression on his face and quickly added, "I will be back as soon as I can. But I have duties to fulfill and I cannot allow myself the pleasures of life until my task is finished."

"When will you be back and more to the point why do you have to leave when I have just found you?"

"Let me tell you a story about myself." Hellbore began and ended the conversation nearly three hours later when much to her surprise they had finished dinner also. She had held onto Karl's hands for the last part of the talk where she told him, "I have traveled alone with none to mark my passage in this world and no one to morn my death when it comes upon me. I have peered into the windows of houses and watched as men and women held each other in passionate desire and need then I walked away knowing that there was no longer anyone to share my dreams and hopes nor dry my tears or calm my fears when the dark red blossoms of death creep across the ground. I was named Verkaylac by my own people and shunned by them when I stood before them asking for help. But I am no eater of the flesh of men but I am Vengeance for those who can no longer raise that cry." Tears shimmered in Hellbore’s yellow-green eyes as she remembered all her family and friends dead and the specters haunting the copse of trees in the woods of this very valley and the little ghost girl, Zeta.

"I understand and I give to you the blessings of the Dhruids and pray that you will find your way back here again, Hellbore Reid." Karl spoke with a voice filled with regret as he kissed her fingertips while he wanted to hold her forever.

Hellbore wanted nothing more than to forget the gais she had placed upon herself and wrap herself in Karl's strong arms and let him sweep away her pain forever. So it was with deep regret she answered slowly, "When you hear the dragons bugle on the highest peaks of these strange mountains and the wolves give voice across the verdant fields know that I am coming back to this place to stay, Karl, this place that has brought be happiness and peace."

"Then before this evening has ended, will you dance with me?" Karl rose from his seat and extended a hand to her just as he signaled to the musicians for a waltz tune.

The rest of that night passed in a blur of magic as the two lonely people danced oblivious to the crowd that had gathered in a circle around them to watch. Each measure around the floor seemed to bind their hearts even tighter to each other, though neither would give in to the emotions until the time was right for both of them and that would not be until Hellbore chose to return to this land, but it was enough for now and Hellbore felt safe for the first time in over two hundred years.

The sun was sending blazing fingers over the eastern side of the Fyrestorm Mountains before the dancers would let go of each other and the musicians could finally go home to rest.

"Karl, I do not understand what is happening to me, but I cannot stop until I have fulfilled my promise to my family and friends. So I shall go pack now and prepare to leave the Talos Valley. I shall dream of this night and it shall keep me company as I hunt." Hellbore rose up on the balls of her feet and hugged Karl closer to her and then kissed his cheek.

Karl could feel her tears as they coursed down her cheeks but did not comment on them for he too felt like crying out in anguish at the thought of her leaving him so soon after finding her. He held her tightly wrapped in his arms there on the dance floor as he breathed in the spicy clove scent of the flowers pinned in her hair. This was how he would remember her until she returned to him.

"Now there is a sight to warm this old heart, yes it does indeed!" Dora chirped out as she came into the dining room to see to the cleaning from the night before.

"Dora, Hellbore has to leave us for a while and I want a full pack provided for her readied in the next two hours." Karl told his cook as he continued to hold onto Hellbore.

"NO! Say you are jesting Master Karl. She must not leave here not now." Dora responded to the order for the provisions.

"She has duties to perform before she can come back to us, so we must ensure that she will want to come back here for your fine food and the comforts of our establishment." Karl was hard pressed to keep his tone light and airy for both Hellbore and the cook but more so for himself. He made himself a silent vow that if she did not return he would go after her and drag her back to him.

Hellbore was packed and ready to depart in less than two hours for Karl had offered to hold onto certain of her possessions that would only slow her down as she hunted. She looked into the tall mirror in her room and almost didn't recognize herself reflected there in the glass. Her face was flushed with happiness and the tight lines normally framing her mouth had vanished. She had never felt this way before not even with Lars so she had no way to compare this feeling to, for she knew not what love was, not the love of a woman for a man. Hellbore shrugged the feeling off as she pulled the straps of her rucksack tighter against her shoulders and left the room to head downstairs.

Hellbore bid everyone she had met a farewell and then kissed Karl on the cheek once more and started on her long journey down the rutted track of the Great Lir's Highway not looking back once lest she give in to her emotions and never leave this valley again. But she had a gais placed on her and that had to be fulfilled before she could rest and find happiness for herself. The voices of the dead now echoed in her ears calling for her to avenge them and that is the path she would follow until she could return here or until she was dead.

Hellbore traveled during the night in the form of a great reddish brown owl, returning to her human form when the sun began cresting over the eastern peaks of the Fyrestorm Mountains. It had taken her three days to traverse the distance of six hundred miles to the other end of the Talos Valley from the Red Gryphon Inn where her heart wanted to be right at that moment but something drew her on toward the unknown toward her destiny.

Hellbore could see the opening at the other end of the Talos Valley through a heavily wooded forest where the highway cut through the dense growth of trees and she began the last five miles of her journey away on foot from Karl Strange and the promise of love and a real home again. Hellbore's heart and mind were so preoccupied with thoughts of what might be if and when she returned to the Talos Valley nearly ran into a stranger coming into the valley from the direction she had to go. The man was walking with his head down so she could not see is face clearly but she felt a sense of familiarity about this stranger, Hellbore felt that she should know him but as she turned to speak to him he simply vanished from her sight. Hellbore puzzled by this turn of events put her rucksack and the leather sack of supplies Dora had supplied her on the side of the road and shifted form to that of a fast flying kestrel and flew up and over the surrounding trees to see if she could see the stranger again. She found him still walking on the highway but now he was beyond the forest and in the open. She flew low to see if this was indeed the same man she had seen on the other side of the forest but when she came close to him the man looked up and raised a hand to stop her and she felt the power in that gesture and the kestrel that she was flew off without coming close to the man. The keen eyesight of the kestrel did see something before it was forced off, a glowing stone hanging from around the stranger's neck barely hidden by the cloak he wore, a Scribal cloak that covered the stranger from his head to the top of his boots and the cloak had silver runes inscribed along the edges covering the head, wrists and the wide bottom. The runes seemed alive to the kestrel as they looked like they were in motion as the stranger walked on down the highway not ever even once looking up toward the sky to see if the hunting bird had obeyed his command to fly off.

The kestrel banked her flight back toward where Hellbore's supplies were waiting for her but she did hear something in her head, she could not be certain if the words were actually heard by her keen kestrel ears or only in her mind.

"Fare you well, shapeshifter, we shall meet again when the time is right."

The kestrel then felt suddenly alone as she continued her flight back toward the area beyond the forest where she would change back into her human form. Hellbore did not allow her mind to dwell on the words for she had beasts to find and slay, there were innocent souls crying out for vengeance and that was the name she would go by until her gees was paid and she could once more live free. Vengeance!