Once again we attempt to make camp in one of the clearings of the brambles as Lenata summons food & water with her magic and Melchior pulls out his pipe.
“You’ve been holding out on me, mister!” I joke as I sit down next to him and work on starting a small fire. After an hour we agree on shifts and take turns on getting some sleep before we look for the next token.
It’s around 3rd watch that I feel her boot nudging me in the side. “Get up, Kenari! I’m hearing some weird noises out in the brambles,” Lenata whispers urgently.
Thanks to that ring I found so long ago now I’ve never really needed that much sleep or food anymore… so it didn’t take much before I was sitting up and listening to the noises on the wind.
“Strange… it’s like a thumping noise…” I mutter.
“Not like that heartbeat from the pyramid I hope,” says Lenata with a shudder.
“No, thank the gods… this is more like… like a rabbit thumping on a log, maybe? Hey… do you think it could be Brambleson? He did run away after that duel with Vedis, after all.”
“I hope that’s all it is,” she whispers.
“Well whatever it is, I’m taking it as a sign that we should move on,” I reply as I get up and we proceed to wake the others.
“Hey, do you hear voices?” Melchior asks as he stands at the edge of the clearing.
I walk up to Melchior and give a listen… and indeed, there is some indistinct muttering in the distance. “Why don’t you guys finish picking up camp and I’ll go check it out?” I offer as I strap on my claws.
“Be careful,” he replies with a nod and a hand on my shoulder before re-joining the others.
I crouch low and make my way through the brambles and bushes until I hear the mumbled voices becoming more distinct. Hmm… from the tone it sounds like they are arguing over something?
I decide to take a peek, hoping that their own argument will keep them too busy to notice little old me. Peering through the bushes ahead I can make out a clearing filled with tarnished angel statues and white marble ruins almost reminiscent of the kinds I saw on Nova Roma… but the owners of the voices are something totally new.
To the side of the ruins seems to be an abandoned orchard of pear trees, and underneath one of them is a rather agitated unicorn with a pear on the tip of his horn. “Nyah-nyah, you can’t have the pear!” it calls out to a frustrated little goblin who seems to be trying to take the pear for his own.
Well, that doesn’t look too dangerous at the moment… I’ll head back and tell the others so we can check it out together. At the very least, maybe we can get some fresh rations! Although… who knows what would happen if we ate story fruit… with our luck we’d get cursed and have to stay here six months out of the year.
I quietly make my way back to the others, who have now finished packing up camp. “Strangest thing over there,” I say as I gesture with my thumb over my shoulder. “There’s some unicorn playing Keep-a-Way with a goblin!”
Waitaminute…unicorn… I think there’s a card for that! I reach into my sash and flip through my cards and lo and behold, there it is… a picture of a Unicorn with a pear on its horn. Well that settles it for me, anyway.
“Might as well check it out,” Ef Utan declares as he adjusts the straps on his swords. “Maybe it will lead us to the next token.”
“Unicorns… I thought they only appeared to virgins?” Vedis wondered aloud.
“Apparently the stories were wrong,” I snort as we make our way back to the clearing to find that the unicorn and the goblin are still at it over the pear. I concentrate and play the Unicorn card in my hand before joining the others, and can just notice the subtle shimmer of energy that falls over it before disappearing.
“You can’t have a pear… only the Goblins can take them,” the unicorn says in a huff as Vedis tries to take one of the pears from the tree, but can’t seem to grab it.
“But why?” she asks in frustration.
“Because only the Goblins can take them!” it replies simply.
“That must be the way the story is written,” says Lenata.
“Pears aside…” Ef Utan begins as he gets the unicorns attention away from the grasping goblin, “what’s that way past those marble columns?”
The unicorn looks towards the columns and shudders. “Nothing that way but unhappy endings…”
“Why unhappy?” Lenata asks the unicorn gently.
“Because that’s where she wrote her stories… before they ate her,” it replies forlornly.
Melchior groans in frustration and steps forward. “Look, horse …. I don’t give a hoot about your fruit… I just want to know if the Black Nib is that way or not.”
The unicorn trots backwards a few steps and neighs. “Yes, yes…. it’s there with her writing desk! Now just leave me alone!”
Suddenly the goblin makes its move and leaps up to grab the pear from the tip of the unicorns horn while it was distracted. “Aha! That’s what you get for stealing it from me in the first place!” it cries before it runs off with the unicorn chasing after.
“Well, so much for that then,” Vedis mutters as we continue past the orchard and through the crumbling columns. A shiver runs down my spine as the air turns chilly… but Lenata seems bothered for other reasons.
“I don’t like it here,” she whispers as she runs her hands up and down her arms to warm herself.
Once we move through the columns to the clearing beyond, I begin to see why. Rusty red stains upon an ancient stone dais are all that is left of whatever horrific act the unicorn spoke of. Rusty red stains of blood… and a fine wooden writing desk off in a corner, slightly hidden by the numerous columns.
My curiousity gets the better of me and I quickly move to the desk to search it for the Black Nib, while the others search around. It isn’t till Lenata pulls out the token from around her neck that a tall gaunt hag-like creature steps out from behind one of the pillars and gestures at us… well Lenata… well… actually… the token around her neck if you ask me.