The Hero of Legend

Chapter 36: Fortress of Despair

The journey from Hauksness to Cantlin was not an easy one. Cantlin was a very isolated city. It stood in the mountains on the southern end of Alefgard. To reach Cantlin one had to walk through the hills at the foot of the mountain and work upward through forests in the shadow of the mountains. After crossing a river the travelers would climb upwards to find the city perched upon a large hill. If the four could take their ship it would have made the trip a bit shorter but it was too dangerous due to the cold waters. Instead, the heroes would make an eight-day trek to reach Cantlin.

"I did some reading on Cantlin," declared Suzanne. "Cantlin is quite isolated from the rest of Alefgard. Indeed, Cantlin is not considered to be under the sovereignty of Tantegel Castle.

"Really?" asked Alice. "But couldn't mages who have already made the journey teleport to and from easily?"

"That accounts for a very small amount of the people," answered Suzanne. "And it grows even smaller. The road to Cantlin has always been dangerous. The path is filled with treacherous climbing and monsters. And the people of Cantlin can be inhospitable at times, especially to officials of Tantegel. They want to stay isolated from the rest of Alefgard. They've fought wars against Tantegel to establish their own sovereignty as a city-state."

"I'm sure the Archfiend had no problem with that," noted Thomas darkly.

The group traveled through the hills and over the first river they had to cross. On the fifth day of their trip they made it out of a forest into some plains. It was there they met some opposition. Ahead of the group some distance were two trolls. But unlike the trolls of the Necrogond these trolls had green skin and were noticeably bigger. Each one had a massive club in his hand.

"Are those what I think they are?" asked Ron.

"I'm afraid so," answered Thomas. "And they look tougher than the trolls we fought in the Necrogond."

"They look like the troll that impersonated the king of Samanao," said Suzanne. She noticed that Alice had become a bit pale. Alice had almost died in their confrontation with the false king. "Are you okay, Alice?"

"I-I'm fine," she managed to answer. "They haven't noticed us yet. Can we sneak around them?"

"I say we attack while we have the element of surprise," said Ron.

"Ron has a point," said Suzanne. "If we try to sneak away they might see us anyway. However, our experience with trolls suggests that they are not very fast. Even with their longer legs we could outrun them as long as we get around them before they see us. We will have to take a long path around, however."

The four decided to avoid the trolls. They kept their distance and walked a very wide circle around their foes. The trolls were not being very attentive; they appeared to be in the middle of some idle conversation and did not so much as glance over their shoulders. The group was almost directly in front of the trolls when they were finally spotted.

The trolls decided to give chase. They were faster than the trolls from the Necrogond. Although they were still not great runners their long legs helped them to begin gaining on the heroes. However, the group had a large lead on the trolls. They were making up minimal ground on the four and the chase would have lasted a few minutes. Showing the same laziness as the trolls of the Necrogond, the green trolls decided to give up running after only a minute. The group continued running a bit longer to be sure the trolls would not change their minds again.

However, the four's escape was short lived. A few hours later they saw another pair of trolls. These trolls saw the group right away and wasted little time running after them.

"We're not getting away this time," declared Ron.

"The one in Samanao was bad enough," complained Alice.

"Don't panic," said Suzanne. "We have a better idea of their capabilities this time. For one, they have no way of hitting us from range. Alice, get Ron and me ready for fighting them up close. Meanwhile, the rest of us will hit them as they run." The four had been spotted in a flat portion of the plains; although the trolls were charging after them there was still some distance between the two groups.

Alice cast a spell on Ron, increasing his strength. Rather than charge in and meet the two trolls on his own, Ron followed Suzanne's orders and waited for them to come to him. He used his sword to let loose an explosion on the two trolls. Suzanne and Thomas followed suit with a magical storm: Thomas called a whirlwind upon the trolls and Suzanne hit one with lightning.

The trolls suffered wounds but, as had been the case with the false king, their wounds began mending almost as soon as they were made. Alice increased Suzanne's strength as Suzanne and Ron went forward to meet the trolls. Suzanne ran at the troll that she had zapped. The troll had superior reach and swung its club down at her. Suzanne made a sidestep, dodging the worst of it, though she still took a big hit to her side by one of the spikes on the troll's club.

It was not enough to slow Suzanne down and the creature had extended itself too far in its attack. Suzanne targeted the troll's heart. Seeing its peril, the troll tried to swipe at Suzanne with its other hand. Suzanne dodged the attack though it did succeed in preventing the killing blow. Instead, she made a leaping slash starting at the troll's ribcage. With her enhanced strength her sword sliced through the troll's skin with ease, causing a lot of its blood to spill.

Ron tried a daring maneuver. Ron knew from past experience that the trolls were not very skilled in tactics and teamwork. He decided to take advantage of that. He ran between the two trolls and faked a jump up at the one Suzanne was not focusing on. That troll took the bait and swung its club down. However, Ron had held up on his jump and managed to get out of the way. Thus, the other troll hit its wounded friend in the head. The wounded troll was spun around by the blow and Ron had an open shot at its back. He leapt up and plunged his sword in, finishing the troll off.

Alice hung back and cast another spell. A large river of flame with waves of flame bouncing up and down hit the living troll. Thomas ran forward to engage the troll. The troll now saw three targets all lined up next to it. It seized the opportunity and tried to smash all three with a wide strike of its club. However, it was a calculated maneuver on the part of the heroes. Thomas was ready to halt his momentum and jump back.

Suzanne and Ron also had moves ready. Ron rolled forward to the small gap formed by the troll's arm and the ground. He jumped upward, slashing the troll's side as he ascended. At the same time, Suzanne readied her shield. With Ron slashing the troll's arm, it howled in pain and could not put as much force behind its strikes. The Shield of Heroes did the rest. Not only was Suzanne unharmed but the troll lost its grasp on the club due to the pain and impact. Without thinking, it desperately started grabbing for its lost club. Suzanne took advantage of the opportunity to decapitate the troll. Suzanne and Ron made sure to inflict a few more wounds on the trolls' bodies to make sure they would not self-heal their way back into combat.

"Well look at this!" exclaimed Ron. "That went a lot better than our fight in Samanao! Took on two of these things and barely even broke a sweat!"

"Don't get too cocky," cautioned Thomas. "A mistake is still costly against these trolls. And if they ever learned proper tactics and teamwork they would make for a tough fight indeed."

"Are you alright, Alice?" asked Suzanne.

"Yeah," replied Alice. "They don't seem so bad now that we got such an easy win against them."

"Good job, everyone," congratulated Suzanne. "But like Tom said, don't get cocky. We had a few things work out for us in this fight. But if we mess up or if they get the jump on us it won't be anywhere near as easy. We need to stay vigilant."

Cantlin was indeed an impressive fortress. The city sat on top or a large hill with only one pass up. The fortress walls looked strong and its defenses stout. There were even signs that additional construction was underway to make further improvements to the walls. Curiously enough, as the group approached they saw nobody working on the construction. There were even tools lying around that looked like they had been left there for quite some time.

The four arrived in Cantlin at the beginning of the new year. In the upper world, the new year was a cause for celebration. Most shops would close, festivals were had, and the people would spend the night celebrating. The group arrived in Cantlin to find most of the shops had closed and yet the people were not celebrating.

"What kind of celebration is this?" asked Ron. "Do they know what day it is?"

"They may not have the same calendar as we do," suggested Suzanne.

"No, I took a look at it. It seems they do use the same calendar," said Alice. "Alefgard is populated with people who fell here from our world or who have descended from such people. They took our calendar and established it here. I read a bit about it in the library at Tantegel. However, I found no evidence that they actually celebrate the day as we do."

"Do they celebrate any day?" asked Thomas. "I think the Archfiend would turn any day of celebration into one of blood and death."

"That does make sense," said Suzanne. "But then why are the shops closed? They certainly aren't celebrating; the people here look as gloomy as everywhere else we've visited."

Ron decided to take their questions to a nearby guard. "Excuse me, sir," he greeted. "Do you know why all the shops are closed today?"

The guard gave Ron and the other three a look before responding. "I can see you must still be new to this world. You must be new to Cantlin as well. It must have been a hard journey for you and your companions. Or did you find a wizard to transport you here?"

"We made the journey from Hauksness," answered Ron.

"I'm sorry to hear that," said the guard. "If you made the trip seeking safety then I'm afraid your journey was wasted. The fortress of Cantlin is indeed marvelous; we would survive many attacks that would topple Tantegel. However, our might is still nothing compared to the power of the Master. Should he wish, he could destroy us in a night."

"That's some way to speak of your city!" said Ron. "Zoma may be powerful but these are some impressive battlements you have here. With some good fighters on the walls you could hold his forces at bay for a time."

"You'd best stop that kind of talk right away, sir!" warned the guard. "Our walls mean nothing to the Master! We thought as you did only a month ago. Did you see the construction on the way in? We intended to build a city that could stand up to the Master. Then he showed us what these walls mean to it."

"What do you mean?" asked Ron.

"Our mayor was murdered a month ago," explained the guard. "He was the one that started the project of strengthening the city. We knew the Master would be after him. He was placed under heavy guard at all times. If this city could only keep on person safe, it was him. And yet one day we found his body thrown from the walls. His murderers gloated and began to fly away. We only managed to take down one of them before they escaped."

"Since then," the guard continued, "the people have despaired too much to work. The construction was stopped the next day. The workers saw no point in continuing. The rest of the people followed suit. Most of the shops have not been open in a month. Most people now hide within their homes, wondering when the Master will see fit to reduce the city to rubble."

"I'm sorry to hear all that," said Suzanne, joining the conversation. "Yet something could be learned from your mayor's death. The monsters likely used magic to sneak past your defenses. If you added a squad of spellcasters to your builders they could enchant the walls to prevent such magic from sneaking past in the future."

"And the Master would find some other way to get past our defenses," replied the guard. "You have not been here long. You must not have accepted what it's like to live in this world yet. Every project we undertake is doomed to failure. The Master's power is absolute. To even try is to invite tragedy on those that undertake the effort. We are fortunate that it was only the mayor who was slain."

The heroes realized that they were unlikely to convince the guard. They took their leave of him after that. The group continued their exploration of the city. They found the only shops that were open were those that were crucial for day-to-day life, like shops like sold food. And even in those cases, most of the owners wanted to close up and hide in their homes all day but an order from the constable kept them open. Many of the owners openly complained about this arrangement and declared that, at any sign of trouble, they would defy the constable and close shop.

Furthermore, because most people had not been working for a month the city's economy was hitting rough times. Many people no longer had the money for food. To keep a wave of starvation and crime from breaking out the constable had ordered food stores to give some of their food away at no cost. This further contributed to their malcontent. Many buildings were already falling into disrepair and had been looted. Store owners were no longer checking on their buildings and law enforcement did not have the manpower to watch the whole city at all times.

Even with all this, most people that were seen out of their homes had been kicked out due to not being able to pay rent. Talking with some people, it seemed as though there would be many more without a roof over their head except that landlords had fallen into this depression just like everyone else. Thus, landlords were often not bothering to collect rent or punish delinquent payments.

"This city is being crushed by its depression," said Thomas.

"I thought things were bad in the other cities we've been to," commented Alice. "But at least those cities could still function! What's going to happen if the people stay like this for a long time?"

"Cantlin praises its isolation but it could be that is what's dooming it here," theorized Suzanne. "In the other cities, they trade and travel amongst each other. Even though they're far from happy, getting goods from other settlements and seeing other people persevering despite their troubles may be what keeps them going. But Cantlin is getting no help."

"We have to do something," declared Ron. "It won't be much but I can play my flute to try and cheer up some people."

"Ron, don't!" cautioned Thomas. "You know what happened in Hauksness. The people of Alefgard are afraid to be happy. If you try to cheer them up we'll only get kicked out again."

"So what?" asked Ron. "Who cares if we get kicked out if we get these people to live their lives again? A small price to pay!"

"We need to gather information!" persisted Thomas. "Cantlin will offer a perspective we can't find anywhere else. They are cut off from the rest of Alefgard. That means there could be clues here that cannot be found anywhere else!"

"I don't care about your information!" argued Ron. "Information won't help these people!"

"Calm down, both of you!" ordered Suzanne. "Ron, check out the local pubs and hang-out places. See if there's any activity there. Hold off on your flute until we can assess the situation better. Tom, start looking at the libraries. If we have to worry about being cut off from information here we may as well start gathering it now."

Ron and Thomas left, both obviously still angry. Suzanne and Alice proceeded with their exploration of Cantlin. Towards the center of town they found an open park area. The park was located inside a large building. Even though there was a roof over the park the area had many different plants. There was grass on the ground and even tall trees that reached to the roof of the building.

"I still don't understand how plants grow in this world," commented Alice. "There's not even any windows here. Not that that would matter, given the perpetual darkness outside."

"It's weird," said Suzanne. "This area should be marvelous and beautiful. Yet all these trees seem to give a feeling of foreboding more than anything."

"And there's almost nobody here either," pointed out Alice.

"I really can't blame them," said Suzanne. "There is something about these trees that make me uneasy."

The two found a large double door at the south end of the area. The door was unlocked and the two went through. Right inside the next room were not trees but a dangerous, trapped floor that threw up sparks.

"Why would this be here?" wondered Alice.

"Perhaps instead of locking the door they put this here. Rather extravagant," said Suzanne. "I'm curious what's here. Could you get us over this?"

Alice obliged. Her levitation spell kept the two safe from the floor. The room was not very big. They walked around a wall to find a small area on the other side. A tiny section of floor was not trapped and in that section stood an old man. The old man wore long, yellow robes. There was not a trace of hair on his head, not even a beard. He seemed to be in the middle of deep meditation.

"Is this man a prisoner?" whispered Alice.

"I don't know. This is nothing like any prison I've seen," answered Suzanne. "All the man would need to escape is the spell you just cast. Though it is rare to find one who can cast that spell."

"It's really weird," said Alice. "Why cover the floor in such a dangerous trap but not even put a lock on the door? And how does he get food?"

"I am not a prisoner here," spoke up the man. "I stay in this room to keep from being disturbed."

Suzanne and Alice were startled by the man's voice. "We're sorry to have disturbed you," apologized Suzanne. "We'll leave now."

"Oh no, stay," said the man. "It is people like you that I have been waiting to see."

"People like us?" asked Suzanne. "How do you know who we are?"

"I don't," answered the man. "But you carry power with you. Young lady, may I see the shield you carry?"

Suzanne had the Shield of Heroes covered up. "Why would you want to see my shield?"

"I sense power rolling off of it," explained the man. "You need not fear. I will not tell the townspeople what you carry."

Suzanne took out the Shield of Heroes. She allowed the man to examine it. The man was in awe of what he held.

"At last, this must be the Shield of Heroes!" he exclaimed. "Such a hopeful sight in these dark times! And I sense great power and vitality in you; things that are lost in a city such as Cantlin. In you I see the potential to challenge the Master!"

"Thank you for your kind words," said Suzanne. "But is it wise of you to speak of such things? It seems many that would dare speak in such a way make themselves a target for the monsters."

"Believe me, it is not lightly I say what I do," answered the man. "And do not allow your heads to swell. I sense potential but you are a long ways away from being able to challenge such might. Indeed, I often wonder if it is even possible. But you have the shield and that is a start."

"Unfortunately there is little that an old man like me can do for you," continued the man. "But if you do mean to challenge the Master then the day will come when you must storm Charlock Castle. You will need three items to reach the Archfiend's island: the Stones of Sunlight, the Staff of Rain, and the Sacred Amulet."

"How do you know this, sir?" asked Suzanne.

"It was not a simple sleep you saw me in just now," replied the man. "These days I spend most of my time in meditation, looking for visions of how the defeat the Master. I am not very skilled at divination but I find it better to struggle for vague images then to mope in depression like the rest of this city."

"Forgive me, sir," said Suzanne, "but if, by your own admission, you are not skilled at divination then how do you know these visions are relevant?"

The old man sighed. "I suppose you are right to question them. I can't say much to convince you of the importance of these items. But in all my visions I have never been as sure as I am about these three items. I am sure they must be important and sure they lead to that dreadful island!"

"Thank you for your help, kind sir," said Suzanne. "We shall be sure not to dismiss your visions."

Eventually Suzanne and Alice went to find Ron and Thomas. Thomas was easy enough to find, dutifully studying in one of Cantlin's libraries. The library they found him in was in disarray. Clearly it had been some time since a librarian had come to work. Fortunately, any thieves that had come through seemed to have had little interest in books; the library was still well stocked.

However, they had much more trouble finding Ron. They searched for him in the local bars but were unable to locate him. After some time, Suzanne and Thomas decided to find an inn to stay in for the night while Alice continued the search.

Fortunately for the group, the inns were among the businesses that were mandated to stay open. As they entered an inn they were greeted with a cheery welcome sign, "You may stay but no guarantee is made for your protection." The price for the inn was extremely high and there were guards posted at the inn to ensure that only those who paid would gain admittance. This explained why those that had been left on the streets were unable to simply stay at the inn.

As soon as Suzanne and Thomas found a room they heard some loud shrieks coming from nearby. They grabbed their weapons and went to investigate. The shrieks were coming from one of the neighboring rooms. Suzanne knocked and waited a moment before busting into the room.

The shrieks were coming from a pregnant woman lying on the bed. She appeared to be going into labor. Around here was a group of people; presumably her family. They looked shocked and afraid as the two armed people burst in. Suzanne and Thomas did a quick look around the room to ensure there was no true threat and then put their weapons away.

"We're sorry to disturb you, we thought you were being attacked," explained Suzanne. The woman and her family were still to shocked and afraid to answer. "Do you need some help getting her to a healing house?"

"We were afraid to move her!" answered one family member. As if to explain why, the pregnant woman gave another scream of pain.

"She's right," said Thomas. "It would not be wise to move her now. If there are no healers present would you allow me to assist in the delivery?"

A man stepped between Thomas and the pregnant woman. This man was possibly the woman's husband. "How do we know we can trust you?"

"Please, sir. If you do not trust me then please take my weapon," answered Thomas. "Keep it pointed at me to ensure I do this woman no ill."

The man thought it over for a bit. The pregnant woman gave another yell. "Okay. Give me your weapon slowly. And your friend will have to stay in the hall. Any funny motions from her and I'll have your head."

Suzanne retreated into the hall. Thomas carefully unbuckled his sword and gave it to the man. Then he went to work. He began by casting spells on the woman to decrease the pain she felt. Meanwhile, some more people were coming from around the inn to investigate the source of the noise. Some had their weapons out, like Suzanne and Thomas had. Suzanne told all newcomers of what was going on and demanded all those that were armed to put away their weapons.

It took some time but eventually the baby was delivered. Thomas smiled and put the baby girl into the arms of her mother. However, he was surprised to find that the woman did not appear happy. Indeed, there was not a smile to be seen among her and her family. When the mother held her child she immediately burst into tears. They were not tears of joy.

"What's wrong?" asked Thomas.

"Oh to be born in a world such as this!" wailed the mother. "My poor child! My daughter is newly born! She has done nothing wrong to deserve this!"

The mother's family began to weep as well. The newborn girl was crying as well, though of course she could not know the source of her family's distress. Some of the bystanders in the hallway began to wail too. Suzanne and Thomas could only look on with concern on a scene that should have been filled with happiness that was instead the picture of sadness.

It seemed like the only one not crying was the man Thomas had given his sword to. Instead of crying he was looking sullenly at the ground. Thomas, standing next to him, could just barely hear him murmuring, "My daughter doesn't deserve this. My daughter doesn't deserve this." He kept repeating that phrase for a time.

Thomas saw the man's gaze go to the sword in his hand. His mantra was altered now, "My daughter doesn't deserve the misery of this world. She doesn't deserve the suffering that awaits her." Thomas had a sickening feeling he knew what the man was thinking of. He looked to Suzanne in the hallway to see if he could signal her without alerting the man. Unfortunately, she was trying to console the people in the hallway and did not notice Thomas.

The man raised the sword and began to walk towards the mother and child. Thomas blocked his path.

"Step aside!" commanded the man.

"Sir, you don't want to do this!" pleaded Thomas. "This world may be filled with darkness but your daughter still has a chance! She can still lead a happy life!"

"I see the tan on your skin," retorted the man. "You haven't been here long. You don't yet know what it's like. The only chance she has is to become yet another toy of the Master's. Just like the rest of us. I will not have it. She deserves better!"

Shouting came from everyone now. Many of the people in the room yelled at the man to come to his senses and stop his madness. However, there were some that actually agreed with the man. They screamed back that the man was doing his daughter a favor. Thomas took a glance back at the mother and child.

"I'll distract him! You escape with your child!" said Thomas. The mother sat motionless, tears streaming down her face. Thomas wondered if she had not heard him or, even worse, if she was considering the man's words.

The man was made livid by Thomas' command. He swung the sword with all his might at Thomas. Thankfully, the man did not appear to be very skilled with the blade and Thomas was still wearing his armor. Thomas was able to dodge to the side and the sword glanced harmlessly off his armor.

Now fighting was breaking out all over the scene. The people that agreed with the man were rushing to try and help him. Fortunately, the people that disagreed with him went to Thomas's aid. However, now punches were being thrown. Thomas took a glance at Suzanne in the hallway. She was holding back two men who were trying to lunge into the room, likely to knock Thomas aside.

Then beautiful music was heard in the inn. Somehow, it was heard above the shouts, weeping, and sounds of fighting. A song about life and hope was being sung. The wonderful song had a calming effect on everyone around. The fighting stopped. All threats to the life of the newborn girl were gone. Even the crying was halted.

The song was being sung by a bard in the hallway. He was playing a well-crafted silver harp. The bard was wearing bright green colors. He looked to be only a bit older than the heroes.

The bard ended up putting on an impromptu concert. After some time he moved down to the inn's lobby, followed by everyone that had been gathered for the birth, including the mother and newborn. The bard had ended all sign of confrontation. He sang and played his harp for hours. Finally, at long last his performance ended. The crowd dispersed and there was still no hostility among them. Suzanne and Thomas approached the bard.

"You saved the day, sir," congratulated Suzanne. "You saved that child's life."

The bard sighed. "I fear that in the long run I have done more harm than good."

"Please, sir, let us have no more of such depressing talk," said Suzanne. "There is still hope for that child and her whole family despite their lives in this world."

"I don't refer to their lives in Alefgard, though that is bad enough," replied the bard. "Misfortune seems to follow me wherever I go. Indeed, I would have begun performing sooner but my past has made me afraid to perform."

"We have heard that those that bring hope to the people are often targeted," said Suzanne. "Has that happened to you?"

"I'm afraid so," answered the bard. "And not just me but any who are around when I perform. Do you see this silver harp of mine?"

"Yes," answered Suzanne. "It is quite beautiful."

"Ah, but if only you could see my first harp," said the bard. "This harp is not made of real silver. It has been fashioned to look that way. But my first harp was remarkable. Made of real silver and enchanted to produce beautiful music. Its enchantment could even affect its volume such that people a mile away could hear its music yet it would not be too loud for those that were near me."

"What happened to your first harp?" asked Suzanne.

"It was cursed by a servant of the Master," answered the bard. "Due to the curse monsters were drawn to its music. I could not perform without monsters converging on my location, endangering all who were near to me. I had to abandon it where I used to live."

"Where did you used to live?" asked Suzanne.

"On the northwest side of Alefgard. I could show you better on a map." Suzanne took out a map and the bard described where he used to live.

"Because of my music my parents were driven from the home that belonged to my family for generations," lamented the bard. "I buried my harp in the vault behind the house, fled, and never looked back."

"I'm sorry to hear that," said Suzanne. "But you have a great talent, sir. You did a great thing here tonight. And I think you could continue to bring hope to people. The people of Cantlin need you. We've been here only a short time and we see the depression felt by the people. This city needs a hero like you."

The bard sighed. "I will give it some thought. It feels good to bring happiness to people again."

"By the way, I don't think we introduced ourselves," said Suzanne. "I am Suzanne and this is my friend Thomas. What is your name?"

"Garin," replied the bard. "A pleasure to meet you, Suzanne. Thank you for your kind words."

After that Suzanne and Thomas finally decided to sleep for the night. They found that Ron and Alice had come to the room while they were distracted by Garin's performance and were already asleep. Unfortunately the argument was not quite over; it was renewed the next morning.

"Well, Tom, we heard what happened yesterday," said Ron. "It sounds like music saved the day. Now do you realize how much these people need hope?"

"I never said that music, bards, and hope weren't needed," replied Thomas. "I said we need to be careful. We have a different job than that. Garin is a bard. He can put on performances and that is how he benefits the people. But we can't afford to be thrown out of all these cities while we search for information on our quest."

"It sounds like you're ready to sacrifice Garin!" accused Ron. "Just let him become the target, right? As long as it's not us!"

"That's not what I'm saying at all and you know it!" replied Thomas.

"Knock it off!" cut in Suzanne. "Look, this is a difficult situation for all of us. We're not used to seeing such hopelessness. You both have valid points. That's why we need to weigh every situation. Ron, if you had been there last night if would have been right of you to play your music. However, we should not have you put up a performance unless it's absolutely needed. Tom's right too, we can't risk getting thrown out of every city."

Suzanne's words silenced Ron and Thomas. But Suzanne could tell that Ron and Thomas had not forgiven each other. Sometime later Alice approached Suzanne when neither Ron nor Thomas was around.

"You should have seen Ron last night," said Alice. "I found him at the fight ring. Would you believe they have one in this depressing city? Took me all day to find it. I saw him there and started yelling at him. It made me mad that instead of gathering info like you told him to he was goofing off at the fight ring."

"I thought we'd bicker for a bit, like we usually do," continued Alice. "He didn't say anything. Didn't argue at all. Not a word. I just watched him for a while. I watched him watch the fights. I watched him bet. You know how he usually gets at a fight ring: all excited and into it. Not last night. He wasn't excited at all. He was too mad to be excited. I know it sounds weird but it was like he was too mad to get mad at me for yelling at him. I've never seen him like that before."

Suzanne did not reply. She began to worry that the depression of Alefgard was affecting the four of them as well.

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