"Master Tellerick... Awaken! We have..." Skaran crinkled his nose. "Master Tellerick?" Tellerick broke wind as he moaned awake.
"Eh? What is it Skaran?"
"Oh my Goddess Master Tellerick! What have you been eating?" Skaran held his paws tightly over his nose.
Tellerick sniffed. "Whooh! Was that me? Very sorry Skaran. My insides are not used to all that rich campfire food."
The others looked on. "I guess I should sleep down-wind from the rest of you eh?"
"Now I know why there's so much undead in these mountains." Sniggered Kralla.
"Well, that's one way to turn them..." Said Barnabas.
The smell came first, and tickled evilly at Barnabas's sensitive nose. Acrid and rotting, as Barnabas came to, it also woke Skaran the pack-rat...
"You smell that?" Hissed Skaran. His whiskers, shivering glass in the moonlight. Barnabas took a deeper sniff and his eyes shot wide open. He quickly covered his muzzle with his hands, leaned into the bushes behind him and threw up as quietly as possible. "I'll take that as a yes then." Skaran quickly rose, and trod silently over to Kralla. "Mistress Kralla! Wake! We have company!"
"Company, mistress. Fairly bad company I'd say..."
As they walked, Tellerick guided his charge in the creation of soap bubbles from nothing. They floated on the breeze, little balls of glistening colour.
Kralla, Skaran and Barnabas trailed behind the pair.
"So... Barnabas... Your, er, tail..."
"It's a skin condition!" He moaned. "Everyone thinks I've got mange!"
Kralla, fiddled with her hat. "Sorry, I had to ask..."
Barnabas sighed. "I wish it was a bushier brush..." He reached into a pocket and brought out a small jar. "I have cream for it! Master Tamryn said it will go away in a few weeks. It's not really my fault."
The morning dew clung to the grass, glistening in the early morning sun. Kralla was busy re-lighting the fire with the wood gathered by Skaran. Soon the smells of a hearty breakfast filled the air.
Tellerick beckoned to William who'd just finished packing his backpack.
"What do you know of the elements boy?"
"Fire, water, air and earth?"
"Your father teach you that?" Said Tellerick, resisting the urge to hold his head in his hands.
Tellerick sighed heavily. "Kralla was right. I need to teach you some basics, and sooner rather than later. Right. This is important..."
Kralla poked at the fire with a stick. Embers floated up in the convection currents, dancing with the fireflies that winked in and out of existence in the warm summer night. "So when are you going to start teaching young William, Master Tellerick?"
"I am. Well, patience at the moment."
"All you've done is teach him some basic travelling skills. That's not magic."
"No. They are life lessons that he's going to need."
"If he has the power you say he has, he's going to need some way to defend himself. Don't you think?"
"Well... You do have a point."
Barnabas looked uncomfortable as he hefted his heavy backpack onto his shoulders.
"I don't like this master..."
"Oh stop whining boy!" Said Tamryn, before messily blowing his nose again. "You'll be fine! Kralla here is more than capable, and so is master Tellerick. You're just going for spiritual support. Nothing more."
"If you say so master."
"Now; you've refilled your flask with holy water?"
"I've got a big one, a bag of small ones and my book, master."
"Good. Now put this in your bag as well." He handed Barnabas a small bone wrapped in feathers.
Tamryn pulled the towel from his head. "Boy, you need to be out in the field at some point. I can't think of anyone better than Kralla here to be out there with you."
"But Master! The church..."
"Pah! Most of those old fogies haven't been out of the monastary in fifty years! Let alone go down to the village once in a while, or go out preaching. You're young, you've had training. Now it's time to get your feet wet."
"But master, there are rumours of..."
"Poppycock and balderdash boy! If there's undead in those mountains, I'll eat my..."
"Barnabas! Get your mangy tail in here! And where's my top up!" Shouted Tamryn, before collapsing in a fit of coughing and finally blowing his nose as noisily as possible.
A young fox walked in brandishing a steaming, and very alcoholic smelling bowl. "Your refill master Tamryn..." Barnabas stopped at the towering site of Kralla. "Er…"
"Stop goggling boy!" Tamryn slurped at his fresh drink, before draping a towel over his head. "Kralla, this here is Barnabas. Barnabas, this is Kralla, you're going with her into the mountains for a bit."
Barnabas' mouth dropped open. "But master! I'm not allowed!"
"I'm not going!" Sniffed Tamryn, before blowing his nose. "I've got a cold."
"But..? We need you!" Implored Kralla. "You're the best! As far as I know, those mountains are crawling with undead." She shivered violently. "You know they creep me out!"
"Kralla, you're a big lass. You should get a grip." Tamryn sipped his hot toddy.
"Take the boy if you must. I'm getting too old for this crap anyway. Why do you think I live here at the monastery? Practice? No. It's nice, quiet and above all, hallowed ground. Not a skeleton, or zombie in sight!"
"Yes, Master Tellerick. He's a honey badger to be clear. I'm surprised at you Tellerick. I never pegged you as discriminatory. The sundering of species wasn't our fault you know."
"I know. Please accept my apologies. I am a grumpy old man."
Kralla playfully punched him in the arm. "Apology accepted. Best keep the grump to yourself old man. Don't go teaching the boy bad habits."
"I trust that you will put me straight if I do that Kralla. I'll need you to take care of the boy if anything happens as well... Return him to his father..."
Kralla and Master Tellerick strode next to each other on the road to Tallra's Pike. Tellerick kept glancing up at the tigress, an expression of vague amusement on his face.
"Is there something wrong Master Tellerick? Is there something on my face?"
"No. I'm sorry Kralla. It's not often I travel, let alone with a tigress wearing a hat."
She adjusted the huge, floppy, summer hat a little. "It keeps the sun off. White fur means sunburn, as much as no fur."
Tellerick smiled. "Fair point. About our new colleague...."
"Ah," She nodded. "Yes. Tamryn is an old, old friend."
The morning was cool and fresh as Master Tellerick, and William, entered the courtyard after a travellers breakfast. Kralla was growling at a pack rat over prices.
"Good morning mistress Whitesnow."
"Ah, Master Tellerick. I'm just negotiating some additional help. This is Skaran." The rat nodded at them politely. "He will be joining us with some extra supplies"
"All part of my Services Master Tellerick. There will also be an old friend of mine joining us along the way. A Paladin."
"I'm sorry Master Tellerick, but the undead really give me the heeby jeebies." She shivered violently.
"So master Tellerick. Your papers are signed, sealed and in order. Where are we going, and when?" Kralla daintily slurped at her beer.
"Tomorrow morning. We're going to the oracle in the mountain."
Kralla frowned. "You do know that there's been reports of undead up there recently? I read in the guild newsletter about an attack on a village in the foothills." Tellerick sighed, and nodded heavily.
"Yes. I saw that this morning when we came into town. However, the oracle is well protected where it is. We are going straight there and back. So it should be quick'n easy."
Kralla sat back down after pulling across two, human sized, chairs. "Your contract isn't open ended master Tellerick." She said, before sipping from her beer.
"You are... A little expensive."
"That's the guild. Don't worry about any extended durations. Shit happens, and I'm a professional. As long as the basics are sorted, that's the important thing. Anything above what you've paid already is at my discretion, not the guild's."
Tellerick relaxed. "That is good to know madame."
"Please!" She smiled. "You have to call me Kralla. I prefer to be on first-name terms. I'm not a fan of titles.
Kralla Whitesnow stood up, and handed back the mage's papers.
"Nice to meet you Master Tellerick." She smiled, showing her enormous canines, and raised a paw-hand to shake. Tellerick was suddenly reminded what it was like to be a child in a grown-ups world as his hand was engulfed in a claw laden paw.
"And who might you be kitling?" She knelt down on, one knee, to look at the boy; although it didn't make her seem any less intimidating.
"My name is William."
"Hello. I'm Kralla Whitesnow. Are you coming with us then?"
"Yes Ma'am. I am."
Tellerick suddenly understood why his new hire was just so expensive as they turned the corner to see the fireplace.
A high backed chair had been turned towards the fire, and a pair of huge, black and white, hind paws were dominating the footrest. A gallon tankard sat on the table next to the chair. And the tip of a striped tail twitched idly from the side.
"Who's askin'?" Growled the ten foot warrior tigress.
Tellerick presented his papers, and watched as they disappeared into the giant paws. She delicately read through. "You paid travel insurance as well?"
The boy sipped his water, as Tellerick finished his pint. "I really should visit the pub more often."
"Father comes here a lot."
"Oh, does he now? I shan't ask how he can afford it. Come, boy. Let's find our new colleague. The rep said she was by the big fireplace." The boy looked around. "It's round the back boy. Come on!" Tellerick picked up his bag, as the boy hastily drank the rest of his water.
The tables and chairs, in the other bar, were much, bigger than where they had been sitting. And for very good reason too.
Tellerick grudgingly paid the rep for two weeks, and signed the hiring document that also required additional payment should it take longer than usual. Then there was travel insurance on top of that, even though the rep thought whoever might attack would regret it.
His copy of the documents in hand, he walked over to the boy who was waiting patiently by a table.
Tellerick sat, and took a heavy swig of his ale. "This is proving to be an expensive trip. Prices have gone up so much since I last left the cottage." He lifted his tankard. "Even this!"
The adventurers guild rep looked up at Tellerick over the top of his half-moon glasses. "And what can I do for you today master Tellerick?"
"I need a guard to travel to see the Oracle." The rep sighed heavily. "Guild payment in full, up front."
"Guild policy changed last week from payment-on-delivery." Tellerick sighed, and reached for his money pouch.
"The only guild member available at the moment is Madam Whitesnow. She's by the big fireplace. She's a gold a day." Tellerick glowered at him.
"Is she good?"
"Yes sir. Of course she is."
The tavern went quiet as master Tellerick strode imperiously in through the door. Followed by a shy boy, who quietly closed the door behind them.
"Get me a pint of Gribbley's boy. I need to talk to the guild rep." He pointed at the thin representative sitting quietly in one corner, holding a book and looking mildly bored.
The boy approached the bar, and clambered up a stool after propping his backpack against it. He pulled his hood back. "Master Tellerick would like a pint of Gribbley's please."
The barkeep looked at him. "I heard." He started pulling the pint.