"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.
There was a hint of rain in the air as the two walked further into town.
"Where are we going now?" Asked the boy, as the hustle and bustle increased around them.
"First, to a tavern."
"You want to drink?"
"A swift pint won't go amiss, I will admit. But we have another purpose."
The boy looked up at the mage quizzically. "We do?"
"Aye boy. We need a guide, and a guard. We will do well if we get both in one."
"But I thought..."
"I told you boy. The mountains are a very, very, dangerous place to be."
The boy stood outside the shop as a newly minted traveller beneath a, shin length, waxed cape. Behind him, his backpack gave him the appearance of a hunchback, while the hood flopped down over his face so he could only see the floor from its dark recess.
"It's heavy" He grumbled.
The mage stood next to him. "It will get heavier boy. But also lighter. Travelling is never a comfortable business."
"Isn't there a train?"
"Not into the mountains boy! Good grief, it's dangerous up there! There is one to the foothills though, you will be glad to know of."
"Ah, master Tellerick. What can we do for you today?"
"I need a new set of camping gear for this one. Boots, mat, tent..."
"Clothes..." Whispered the boy.
"Oh, and clothes. And a waterproof cape."
"Going on a long trip master Tellerick?" Asked the shop owner as he busied himself with gathering what was immediately to hand.
"Off to see the Oracle on the slopes of Milloran mountain. We'll be gone for some time."
"Oh? Will anyone be taking on your duties while you are away?"
"Master Omui will be in attendance. If you need anything please talk to him."
"It's been a while since I've had an apprentice boy. I'm not getting any younger, but even I need some guidance." The boy looked quizzically at him. "We need to go on a short journey, and consult the Oracle."
"The Neutron Oracle. It's two days journey into the mountains. I'd prefer to stay down here on the coast, but I think we need to go. The mountain air is not good on these old bones of mine, but it's far better on my lungs."
"I don't have any travel clothes."
"Then let's go shopping boy, and spend some money."
The boy sat before the old man, and presented him with a simple wooden toy. A dog. The old man took it, and peered closely at it.
"You took this?"
The boy shook his head. "Made it."
"Hmm..." Rumbled the old man. "There is a price that must be paid when using magic. Especially powerful creation magics. How long did you sleep?"
"Two days." The boy replied.
"I must admit to being impressed boy. Making something, even this small, would knock me out for the best part of a week. You do need training. You'll stay here with me now."
"Magic I hear you say? You do understand what it is don't you?"
The boy shook his head.
"Hmm... Magic is how the Universe works. It is, at its simplest, the manipulation of reality." The old man stood. "One moment there is no staff in my hand... the next?" The air pinched together, leaving behind a tall staff of white ash. "There is a staff. But you must already know some of this, even if you do not have the words to explain it. Otherwise you would not be before me. Your father sent you to me did he not?"