An Orc is an Orc

Riana dropped to the ground so quickly that her long platinum hair hung in the air for an instant allowing the razor sharp blade to shear off several inches of her thick tresses before gravity could pull them out of the way. She threw her weight to the right, twisting her svelte frame around as she rolled away from the heavy boot that was now moving swiftly toward her head.

“Kat! Now!” She hollered as she rolled clear of the orc.

Stepping out from behind the large tree she had been hiding behind, Katrina’s long, tapered elven ears swept back in concentration as she uttered the spell and a gout of flames lanced from her extended hand and thrust into the orc’s chest.

The orc yelped in pain, dropping its weapon to the ground and beating furiously at its chest to try and squelch the flames.

Riana threw her leg out and, pivoting on her other foot, swung herself around in an arc, kicking her outstretched leg into the back of the orc’s legs, driving the creature to the ground with a solid thump. As it landed on it’s back, Riana kipped up to her feet and turned around to face the creature with a smirk on her lips. Chanting an incantation and pointing at the creature as a bolt of lightning arced from her finger to the orc, causing it to convulse wildly as muscle spasms wracked its body and cooked its tissues.

Katrina made her way over to Riana’s side and the twins stood and looked down on the dead orc with a note of satisfaction. Drawing her dwarven dagger, Riana knelt down next to the corpse and unceremoniously sliced off it’s left ear. Wiping the blade of her dagger on its fur-lined tunic, she re-sheathed the weapon and stuffed the ear into a ratty leather sack hanging from her belt.

“Does he have any coin on him?” Katrina asked cheerfully.

Riana sifted through the orc’s belt pouches until she found a few copper disks which she passed to her sister. “Not much. They aren’t really even worth going after.”

“It’s all worth it.” Katrina said simply as she deposited the coins in her own coin purse, fat with the copper disks. “They all add up Ree.”

“Yeah, whatever.” Riana said as she stood up from the orc and uttered an incantation that caused the orc’s body to burst into flames. “Would be nice if we knew a spell that could do this to a live orc.” She said half to herself.

“That would make it tough to collect their ears for the guard.”

Riana ran her hands through her long, platinum tresses, playing with the severed ends and sighing as she inspected the difference in length from one side of her head to the other. Her long, tapered ears cocked back in disgust as she ‘tsked’ and let the ends drop back against her thick magus robes. “I’m going to have to cut my hair.”

“Serves you right, getting that close to the thing.” Katrina admonished her.

“You don’t understand Kat, I LIKE being that close to the fight. I think I am going to get a sword.” Riana inspected the handle of her dagger as she spoke, reminiscing about their encounter with goblins in the city’s aqueducts that had resulted in the awarding of the blade.

Katrina made a sour face at her sister as she deposited her coin purse in her belt pouch. “Whatever works for you Ree, but it just seems so… barbaric…” She drew a finger across her temple, securing a few stray locks of hair behind her ear.

“I wonder how much a good sword costs…” Riana mumbled under her breath as she stood up and moved toward her sister. Looking toward Katrina she half smiled as she raised her voice to a more conversational level, “So, where to now?”

Katrina removed a small, worn piece of parchment from a fold in her robe and unrolled it. Inspecting the document for  a moment, she looked up at the surrounding trees repeatedly as if trying to get her bearings. Finally she pointed roughly North and said, “It looks as though their camp is in this direction, that’s where we should probably start our search.”

Riana looked off in  the direction her sister was pointing, her violet eyes focusing on the stand of trees that was the most likely location for a clan of orcs to conceal themselves in. “Probably in those trees somewhere.”

Katrina nodded her agreement as the twins set off in unison, taking long strides with their slender, athletic legs. As they fell into stride, Katrina pulled her spell book from her robes and began leafing through its thick, parchment pages absently.

“You’re going to trip over something and kill yourself, you know that right?” Riana poked at Katrina.

“Not likely. I have my big sister to watch out for me.” katrina replied absently as she flipped another page with a raised eyebrow.

“What do you mean big? I’m only like…” Riana counted off a couple of fingers and quirked her brow, “two minutes older than you!”

“Whatever.” Katrina said curtly, “At any rate, if I trip and hurt myself  mom will hold you just as accountable as me for it. So I have every confidence that you will look after me. Besides, it wouldn’t hurt you to re-memorize some spells either. You must have used up half your lot by now.” She continued flipping the pages of the thick tome with interest as she spoke.

Riana turned and cast her sister a disparaging look before returning her gaze to the ground ahead of them. “In point of fact, I still have yet to use a single one today. You’ve been doing all of the spell casting up to this point.”

Without missing a beat Katrina replied, “Yeah, I THOUGHT I was having to work a little hard today. Now that I know I have been picking up your slack it makes more sense.”

Riana ignored her sister’s words as they moved closer to the stand of trees that they thought contained the orcs in question. “So, these orcs made off with the farmer’s daughter? What do you think they are doing with some little human girl?

“Not sure. Maybe they mean to eat her or force her to smelt iron ore for their weapons or something. At any rate, she isn’t ‘little’ per se, she is sixteen years old.”

“Kat, we’re nearly eighteen years old and everyone still calls us younglings. How could a seventeen year old not be ‘little’?”

“Because she’s human Ree. She’s lived nearly a third of her life already. Things work a little differently in their culture.” Katrina finally snapped her spell book shut and slipped it back into the fold in her robes she had retrieved it from earlier.

Riana gaped at her, marveling at how she could find the hidden pocket again and again without any effort at all. “That’s another thing. These robes have got to go.”

“Go where?” Katrina asked absently as she focused her golden eyes on the approaching trees, her ears perked up and focused on the same destination.

“Away.” Riana said half-heartedly. “I can’t hardly move in them, and once I DO get going the hem and sleeves are always swishing about, throwing off my balance.”

Katrina was still only half listening to her sister as they moved steadily toward the trees, now looming large in front of them. “You should just tell mom that you don’t want to study at the academy any longer.” She was still scrutinizing the trees as she spoke.

“It’s not that I don’t want to stop studying there. I just…” She struggled to find the words but they wouldn’t come. “Something isn’t quite right about the way they do things… for me at least.”

“Well I still think you should just tell mom. I am sure she will be receptive to whatever you have to say. She IS your mother after all.” She stopped moving as she finished the statement, throwing her arm out and stopping Riana abruptly as well.

“What the he…”

“Shhhhh…” Katrina hissed, pressing her finger to her lips as she crouched down low and peered intently into the trees that were now no more than twenty feet from them.

Riana crouched down next to her and peered into the trees as well, searching for any sign of what had spooked her sister. Finally she saw it, something moving so slowly that it took a few long moments to make sure that it really was in motion. It was about the size of a human man, bent down double and creeping along the forest floor on all fours.

“You see it?” Riana whispered.

“Yeah.” Katrina whispered back. “What’s the plan?”

“Snare it?” Riana offered.

“If it is an orc it will start screaming for help, I don’t think we are equipped to handle a horde of them.”

“Well then attacking it is certainly out of the question. How about we invite it to tea, we could slip it a poisoned draught.” Riana replied sarcastically.

“Not necessarily out of the question.” Katrina ignored the comment. “I can stun it, then you can put some of your new skills to the test, take it down quietly.”

“Are we sure it’s an orc? Could be some big lizard or something…”

“Are you afraid to go over there and stab it?”

“No!” Riana balked at her sisters accusation, almost letting her voice get away from her as she half stood up with her hand on her dagger.

“Calm down Ree. It’s an orc, just listen to it.”

“Fine. You stun it. I’ll go… take care of it….” Riana slipped her dagger out of its sheath and uttered an invisibility incantation, vanishing from sight instantly as the last syllable was uttered.

Katrina grinned widely as she watched her sister vanish. She knew Riana wanted more than the spells they taught at the academy, that was why she had been sneaking out of her counter-spell classes in order to sneak out of the academy and study martial arts and weapons with an instructor that lived in the village near the academy. She just wasn’t sure if she was quite prepared for the reality of the path she was on the verge of choosing. She herself had had to stab something once. A goblin that had invaded their home in Rathalon not too long ago. She had done it to save Riana from what would have been a fatal blow to the head. There had been no question of right or wrong, no moral dilemma. But still, she had stabbed it with her own hands on her own knife, and killed it in the same action.

She knew that it was technically no different than killing something with a lightning bolt, or a fire ball. But somehow doing it by physical means made the act so much more poignant, more visceral, more… she searched for the word to describe it, when it hit her she knew instantly why she had had trouble finding it. It felt like murder. It lacked that detachment that the range of a good spell allowed her. She hoped with all her heart that Riana was prepared to deal with that. And she knew they were both about to find out. Calmly she focused her mind on the form of the orc, having waited long enough for Riana to get near the thing, she focused her mind on the flow of magic and uttered the stunning incantation.

The orc suddenly stood up as though it had been yanked roughly by its jerkin. It’s pale green skin still blending in with the foliage around it, but the creature was obviously not aware of what was going on as it stared off into the open field outside its protective cover, its beady red eyes as blank as the victim of a master hypnotist.

Suddenly Riana’s lithe form appeared in front of the creature, her dagger held at the ready in her right hand, and her left hand guarding her face in case the beast tried to attack her. She hesitated for a moment, considering the magnitude of what she was about to do. True she had slashed at things with her knife. She had even callously sliced off dead orc’s ears in order to turn them in for the bounty with the Rathalon guard, but she still had yet to actually kill anything with a weapon such as this. She had been hiding behind her sister. Pretending that it would not be a major event for her. But here she was, standing in front of her target, a human life hanging in the balance The law was on her side, she had every reason in the world to strike the creature down and yet she hesitated.

Finally the decision was made for her as the orc’s eyes began to clear. Slowly it began to become aware of its surroundings and when it saw her its eyes widened with rage and its mouth began to open, air drawing into its lungs as it prepared to bellow some fierce war cry to call aid from its friends.

Riana acted instantly lunging forward with all the strength and speed she could muster, she slipped the thin blade of the dagger through the orc’s leather jerkin, between two if its ribs and drove the blade to the hilt in its lung. Her vision blurred and her world went silent as the training took over. She stepped into the orc’s stance, placing her right foot behind its right and drove her right hand upward into its chin. When the orc recoiled from the blow to its chin, it made as if to stagger backward but tripped over her leg and fell ungracefully on its back, choking and gasping for air with a sick gurgle as blood filled its lungs.

Riana looked down on the orc as it gasped and sputtered, reaching up to her with both arms as if she were some angel that had come to whisk it away to the afterlife. Suddenly the gravity of the situation slammed in on her mind and she shuddered. Dropping to her knees next to the dying orc she wrapped her arms around herself and squeezed as she looked at the orc, its red eyes filled with panic.

“You have to finish it Riana. Stop its suffering.” Katrina spoke quietly as she moved up to them and looked down on the orc and her sister.

Tentatively, Riana reached out and wrapped her hand around the handle of her dagger and gave it a small tug. When the blade didn’t budge she looked up at her sister questioningly.

“Pull it out.” Was all Katrina said.

Looking back to the orc, Riana wrapped her other hand around the first and yanked the dagger out of the orc’s chest along with a spray of blood. She stared at the scarlet liquid as it pooled on the tip of the blade and then dripped off.

“Now finish him Riana. Stop him suffering.”

Slowly Riana moved the slender blade to the orc’s throat and then closed her eyes as she pressed down and drew the blade across its skin. It was over in seconds after that.

“I didn’t think it would be like that.” Riana said as she looked at the blood on her hands doubtfully.

“When lives are on the line, we have to do what we have to do. It was him or you Riana. Just like with the goblin.”

Riana looked up at Katrina, her violet eyes clouding. “Kat, I had no idea. I’m so sorry…”

Katrina knelt down next to Riana and wrapped an arm around her sister’s shoulders. “It’s alright Riana. I learned something that day. I learned that people are put in these situations every single day. Situations where life and death are decided and that all we can do is fight for what we believe to be right, and never succumb to the killing spirit.”

Riana looked up at her sister, eyes wet with tears. “What is the killing spirit?”

“Some people, some times, will kill because they can. Not because they have to. That is the killing spirit. This is what it means to be a warrior Riana. I know you will be alright, and I know you will be great fighter. This is just a small hurdle, but always keep it in the back of your head that one day you will have to choose. You will have to make the decision as to whether someone else lives or dies by your hand, someone who may not need to die. And while I have no doubt in my mind that you will always walk the path of good, that path sometimes becomes blurred. The killing spirit will cloud your mind and dull your senses. You must learn to control it. You must learn to make the correct decision.”

Riana looked up at her sister’s face as she wiped a tear from her eye. She was surprised to see Katrina’s eyes glazed over and staring off into space as she spoke. “Kat?” She sniffled with concern.

Katrina turned her head and looked down at Riana, her expression still vacant, but she smiled comfortingly and gently ran her hand down the side of Riana’s face like their mother did when she was comforting them. “I love you Riana. I will always love you.”

Riana jerked herself out of Katrina’s arms, picking herself up suddenly and getting her feet under her, she spun around a looked at Katrina. “Kat, what’s going on? Are you ok?”

Katrina  shook her head, almost violently as if she was trying to clear it, then looked up at Riana searchingly, her eyes sharp and clear now. “Ree? What happened?” She looked around herself, at the orc, and then back up at her sister. “How did I get over here? I was back there, casting the stun spell one moment, then…” She cast her eyes around again, looking for some explanation.

Riana looked at her sister somewhat fearfully. “I don’t know Kat, you were talking about some kind of  spirit and calling me Riana. It was like you were someone else entirely. Are you ok?”

Katrina shook her head again and looked at her hands, fingers spread wide as though she was expecting to see someone else’s hands there. “I don’t know… I think so…”

“Are you ok to go on?” Riana asked tentatively.

Katrina looked back up at her sister, her ears perking up a bit, “Yeah. Let’s get this done and then we can think about it.”

Riana offered her sister a comforting look before retrieving her dagger and turning to face into the stand of trees. “Ok then. Let’s get on with it.”

Together they forged ahead into the forest, dodging the occasional branch or tree root while trying to keep their noise down. They knew the place was home to a clan of orcs, not only because of the fact that they had just encountered one, but also because the human that had offered to pay them to rescue his daughter from the orcs had said that he had managed to track the beasts as far as these trees before he had lost his nerve to continue and decided to hire some adventurers to assist him with his issue.

The girls had quickly jumped at the chance to be of assistance, never even asking what he would be offering as compensation. Their family, while not wealthy, was not hurting for money. They lived in one of the more affluent areas of the capital city of Rathalon and their mother managed to keep them from wanting much, either by providing, or by gently pointing out the difference between needing and wanting (sometimes with a very stern scolding, accompanied by fire and brimstone for effect).

They enjoyed doing odd jobs for people around the city more to be of assistance than to scrape together any form of money, although the money they did make was always put to good use in the local clothing and trinket shops.

But in this instance the need of the simple farmer was too much to ignore. The money, or whatever he offered them, was of little import to them. Their primary concern from the beginning had been the safety of the young girl, now in the hands of the beastly orcs that had dragged her into this forest.

Not twenty minutes later they began to hear the signs of a camp of some sort up ahead. They slowed their pace in order to keep from making too much noise and crept through the underbrush at a snail’s pace until they could see the simple camp through the cover of the trees.

In a large clearing ahead of them the orcs had erected a dozen or so tents, some of them shored up around the base with low rock walls indicating that they had been here long enough to start building more permanent structures. There were a few rickety wooden towers standing at odd intervals around the perimeter and throughout the tiny town, each tower bearing a medium sized orc with a bow and arrows, standing constant vigil against encroachers from outside.

“What’s the plan?” Riana whispered in a whisper so quiet that only Katrina’s keen elven hearing could detect it at even their close range.

“Not sure. Where do you think they might have taken her?” Katrina whispered back in similar fashion.

Together they scrutinized each and every visible structure in the camp. Finally their eyes settled on a small tent at nearly the same instant. It was barely larger than a one room cabin, with a low wall of stones built up around its perimeter and a smallish orc standing in front of the entrance flap with a rusty axe of some kind held at the ready in his hand.

“There.“They said at once.

“It’s the only guarded tent.” Katrina followed up.

“Yeah, but how do we get in there?” Riana wondered quietly as she scrutinized the tent. It was close to the edge of the clearing, but far enough in that there was at minimum, one other tent they would have to pass in order to get to it, but its entrance was facing into the center of the settlement, meaning they wouldn’t be able to stay on the forest side of the tent and still gain entrance.

“Do you see any mages or shaman in there?” Katrina asked as she went over the clearing again, searching for signs of magic users.

Riana swept her eyes over the tents one more time, finally responding, “No. Do you?”

“No.” Katrina replied as she looked back at her sister. “Which means it is unlikely that any of them can see the invisible.” She grinned slightly.

“Oh!” Riana quietly exclaimed. She had completely forgotten about the invisibility enchantment they had been taught the week at the academy. Quietly she sat down and withdrew her spell book from her pouch and gently unwrapped it from the soft leather she kept it in. GEntly she laid the pristine book in her lap on top of the leather cover and began silently leafing though the immaculate pages of perfectly formed letters.

Katrina sighed slightly as she sat down next to her sister and slipped her own, extremely well used spell book out of her robes and into her own lap. By contrast, her book bore smashed corners and warped pages of thick parchment that were smudged with hand prints, set forever in various magical, indelible inks. Her own hand writing, while easily legible, was anything but pristine. It bore the mark of one who wrote for a living, keeping it legible but using the absolute minimum number of pen strokes to make the letters.

A moment later they were creeping through the trees at the edge of the clearing, hand-in-hand, heading toward the guarded tent with baited breath. As they circumnavigated the settlement, they stopped abruptly on numerous occasions, thinking they had been seen by a sentry or passing orc, only to be completely ignored as the creature continued on its way calmly. Finally they slipped between the guards as a sudden change in the direction of the breeze caused the flap of the tent to open briefly.

Once inside the tent they immediately saw their quarry. On a bed of furs and pillows lay a striking, blond, human woman, her eyes closed and features relaxed serenely in sleep. Silently the twins crept forward until they were sure they were alone in the tent, then dismissed their invisibility enchantments with a gesture.

“Told you it would work.” Katrina whispered in Riana’s ear with a proud smile on her face.

“I never said it wouldn’t.” Riana whispered back indignantly, then gestured toward the sleeping girl. “Should we wake her?”

Katrina looked at the woman as well then nodded slightly. “Our invisibility won’t work on other people yet, so we’ll have to do something with her. We should have picked up a portal ring before we left Rathalon.”

“That would have been entirely too sensible.” Riana made a sour face as she glanced around the small space for inspiration. “I say we just cut a hole in the back of the tent and make a run for it. Straight to the trees. If we can keep it quiet we may make it without even being spotted.”

Katrina scowled. “That is a pretty big if. And it won’t be just us we have to keep track of.”

“I know. I am open to suggestions if you have any.”

Katrina made as if to reply, going so far as to raise her finger in the air and open her mouth before being cut off by a strange voice that, although it was a whisper, seemed like a harsh shout in the quiet space of the tent.

“Who are you?”

The twins both swiveled their heads around slowly to look at the girl on the bed, looking at them with her soft, blue eyes. She was still laying in the same position, inspecting them both with quiet, unassuming eyes.

“Riana and Katrina Thorindal.” Katrina replied quietly.

“Your father sent us here to rescue you.” Riana finished.

Suddenly the girl’s face soured and she pulled the heavy furs she was laying under up to her ears and gripped them tightly from beneath. “I’m not going anywhere! He wants to stop me from being with Gunthil!”

The twins looked to one another for a moment, ears splaying out in confusion, before they turned back to the girl on the bed, staring at the top of her head, which was the only portion of her still visible beneath the mountain of furs.

“Who is Gunthil?” They asked in unison.

“Gunthil is the most incredible man I have ever met! He is big and strong, and sensitive, and caring, and he loves me!”  She nearly sat up as she whispered harshly at them, then suddenly flopped back down on the bed and curled up under the pile of furs again when she realized she had moved.

“And Gunthil is… around here somewhere?” Katrina asked doubtfully, looking around the tent.

“Dispatching orcs maybe?” Riana shrugged.

Suddenly an indignant squeak issued forth from the pile of furs as the girl sat bolt upright and seemed to barely refrain herself from lunging at Riana bodily. “How DARE you?!” She shouted.

The ruckus instantly caused a commotion outside the tent as the orc guards snapped to attention and wheeled around toward the flap that was their only protection from the horde outside the tent.

“Crap! We’ve been ratted out here!” Riana cursed under her breath.

Katrina spun around toward the door and called out an incantation that caused a large mound of earth to rise up in front of the flap keeping the orcs from coming through the flimsy door. “That ought to hold them for about… three seconds.” She said sarcastically.

“Then we need to be gone in two.” Riana replied. “You. Let’s go.” She said to the blond girl as she drew her dagger and made her way to the back of the tent.

“I’m not going with you! I’m staying here!” The girl shouted at them. “You can’t make me go!”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Riana hissed as she wheeled around and struck the girl in the side of the head with the butt of her dagger. The blow landed true and knocked her out instantly, her body slumping to the bed in a heap.

“Great. Now we have to carry her.” Katrina said sarcastically as she watched the girl crumple.

“Get the tent open!” Riana admonished her as she sheathed her dagger and roughly picked up the girl across her shoulders.

Katrina dove to the back of the tent with her own dagger drawn and quickly sliced a large hole in the thick fabric. As soon as it fell open she stuck her head through to check the area and, finding it clear, slipped through with Riana hot on her heels.

The pair ran flat-out until their muscles felt as if they were about to burst into flames. It was nearly a full minute before the sounds of pursuit rang out behind them, and even then it seemed to be going in no particular direction, but they didn’t stop their mad dash for the open space of the farm lands surrounding Rathalon until they were half way through a field of corn stalks taller than they were.

Finally they tumbled to the ground amidst the corn stalks. Laying in a heap and panting as quietly as they could.

The sound of something approaching recklessly through the corn stalks brought them around again in just enough time to draw their daggers and stand up, back to back in preparation for battle. When the farmer burst through the screen of corn surrounding them and suddenly filled the tiny clearing to overflowing, Riana almost slashed viciously across his chest with her narrow blade before she realized who he was.

“Oh gods! You found her! Oh thank you!” He was on his knees cradling the blond girl to his chest as he blubbered. “I didn’t think you would be able to steal her away from those brutes, but you did it! You did get her away! Oh thank you so much!”

“Yeah.” Riana began.

“About that.” Katrina continued.

The man looked up at them as they spoke. The look on his face suggested he might know what they were about to say.

“She didn’t seem to want to leave.” They both said in unison.

“I was afraid of that.” He replied as he hugged her form to him more tightly. Finally she began to rouse from her forcibly induced unconscious state. “That beast has turned her mind against me. He has brainwashed her into thinking he loves her.”

“He DOES love me daddy. It isn’t a trick.” She said weakly as she began to realize what was going on around her.

“No honey. He wants you for something. But it isn’t love. I’ve never heard of an orc loving a human, not ever.”

“But he told me he loves me daddy. He took me to his home and introduced me to his family. They all welcomed me with open arms and gave me my own tent with a fluffy, soft bed and warm blankets. They get me whatever I want to eat and take good care of me there.”

The twins stood there and stared at the girl with their golden and violet eyes wide, ears spread out in disbelief.

“Whelp, that’s a new one on me….” Katrina said.

“Yeah, never heard that one before.” Riana echoed.

Just then a large, green-skinned, tusk-toothed creature stepped tentatively into the ever-shrinking clearing in the corn stalks. His huge chest almost squishing the twins up against the well-muscled farmer on their other side. He narrowed his glossy red eyes at the assembled group and then looked down at the young girl who’s face began to glow brightly at the sight of him.

The farmer stood bolt upright, pushing out his chest toward the orc and looking around for an army that he hoped would suddenly appear to assist him. Finding himself army-less, he settled for a stern glare at the creature instead.

“Gunthil!” The girl exclaimed, scrambling to her feet and forcing them all to suck in their chests and stomachs to make space for another standing body. Her father looked somewhat shriveled then, having lost his one good posture for intimidating the orc.

“I come for my Galatea.” The orc said in broken common tongue.

“You can’t have her!” The farmer said resolutely, his eyes betraying his fear and defeat to anyone who cared to look.

“Daddy, I want to go with him!” Galatea stomped her foot as she spoke, leveling an icy glare at her father.

“I forbid it!” He shouted back at her.

“Gunthil love Galatea.” The orc interjected simply.

“And I’m old enough to make my own decision!” Galatea added with a triumphant nod of her head, arms folded across her chest.

“I won’t have it! I love you too much to loose you to those creatures!” The farmer protested weakly.

“It’s my choice daddy. Gunthil and I are in love and you can’t stop that!”

“Well I don’t approve one bit!”

The twins simply looked back and forth between each party as they spoke in turn, their eyes roving around the scene as if they were watching some horrific comedy unfolding on stage, unable to cope with the contents, yet unable to avert their eyes.

The farmer stared at his daughter, unable to come up with the words that would convince her of the danger she was willingly walking into. Or maybe she did know and was just unwilling to admit that she might actually be at risk in some way. He sighed heavily as his shoulders drooped in defeat.

Galatea grinned with joy at the action and began hopping from foot to foot with excitement.

“Um…” Riana interrupted the scene with a raised finger.

“Can we, maybe…” Katrina added.

“We DID bring her to you, as per our arrangement…” Riana said tentatively.

“And we’d like to conclude our business before this gets all weepy…” Katrina continued.

“Or tragic…” Riana said under her breath.

“Or whatever.” Katrina said a little louder to cover up her sister’s negative response.

The trio stared at them blankly for a long moment before the farmer dumbly slipped a small pouch out of his pocket and handed it to Riana, who instantly slipped it into a fold in her robes and bowed slightly to the man.

“Thank you. And now if I might say so, you should all sit down and talk this out. If you are going to be family, you should learn to talk to one another. Sooner rather than later too, a lot of damage can be done by letting this sort of thing just fester.

Katrina looked at her sister with a strange quirk to her eyebrow before smiling at the others in the clearing and offering a shallow curtsey to them. “Aye, thank you, and she is right. Although I am not sure where she got that from. You all should talk this out.”

The farmer looked at his daughter who was now hugging the orc tightly, her cheek pressed into his chest and his arms wrapped around her shoulders protectively.

“Maybe…” the farmer said quietly. “Would you be willing to… come to my home… and talk?” He asked sheepishly of the orc.

Gunthil nodded slightly and the trio made their way out of the clearing, heading toward the farm house.

“Ok, that was odd…” Katrina sighed as soon as they were out of ear-shot.

“No doubt.” Riana agreed as she pulled the small pouch out of her robes and upended it into her open palm. A tiny shower of silver coins rolled out into her hand and she quickly divided them into two piles and handed half to her sister who slipped them into her own coin purse.

“So, you think they’ll be ok?” Katrina asked as she tied her coin purse closed.

“No.” Riana said flatly as she did the same. “I think we should tell the guards to check that farm house out on our way back into the city.”

Katrina tossed a worried look over her shoulder as they moved off through the corn in the opposite direction the trio had taken.