houses to their carts looked both functional and made with care.
Da’san guided them to the largest structure in sight and the only building made completely from stone. A sign above the front door depicted a man sleeping in a bed beneath white-painted words that named the place The Traveler’s Rest. A young boy took their horses, and they went inside taking seats at an empty table. The common area was clean and well kept, as was the girl who came and took their drink orders, returning quickly with a round of finely crafted wooden mugs.
“So what now?” Cribble asked.
“We need to find someone to guide us into Teriken,” Jaxom replied. “Da’san, do you know anyone?”
“There are many who hunt in the forest, but I do not know of any who go far enough to spend the night within its borders,” the priest said.
“Then we’ll have to ask around,” Jerup said.
Jaxom hoped that they could find someone soon as they could not afford to spend a lot of time looking. The thought of searching the forest without a guide filled him with anxiety, especially since he still wasn’t sure what he was looking for. “We’ll split up and ask around. Cribble, take Da’san and ask the hunters he knows. See if any are up to the task. Jerup, see that we have enough supplies for a long journey.” Jaxom handed him several gold coins. Jerup stood and went to talk to the innkeeper.
“What will you be doing?” Cribble asked.
“Brenin and I will also be looking for a guide. With any luck, one of us will be successful,” Jaxom said.
Cribble nodded and downed his ale in a swallow before getting to his feet and placing a hand on Da’san shoulder, indicating he was ready to go.
“Where do we start?” Brenin asked as the two other men left.
“We passed fur traders on our way here. We can ask around for names of their suppliers.”
After visiting several fur traders and the hunters they recommended, the companions had found none willing to guide them. Many warned them away, reminding them that even the men who hunted in the forest never went deeper than a couple of miles. Local legends told of forgotten cities and towns deep within the forest, and every so often, treasure seekers would risk the danger in hopes of becoming rich. The myths had attracted many people over the centuries since the Mage Wars, luring them with the promise of wealth. One old trader had whispered that the forest was once home to a powerful nation, and when it fell, the mages of that time cursed the land so that none would ever claim what was theirs. Of those who had tried to explore the forest over the years, only one man had returned, stumbling into town half-mad and jabbering about being hunted. The survivor claimed the forest’s inhabitants could not be killed, that they could take wounds that would stop any mortal and not die. The more Jaxom heard, the less he wanted to enter the forest, risking not only his life but the lives of those with him.
The sun had already set when Brenin and he returned to the Traveler’s Rest to find the other three men enjoying the evening meal. Joining them, Jaxom waved over the serving girl and ordered for himself and Brenin.
“I hope you fared better than we did. Da’san’s knowledge of the locals leaves much to want,” Cribble said around a mouthful of meat.
Da’san stared at the Captain with a look of disdain, whether it was in response to his comment or his table manners, Jaxom couldn’t tell. “I told you that it has been two years since I was last here. In that time, I did not spend my time asking people how they earn their living.”
“What did you do, then?” Cribble asked, taking a swallow from his mug.
“I worked towards bringing them to the grace of my goddess,” Da’san said.
“From the lack of temples and shrines, I can see that you really won them over,” Cribble said.
“The people here are… hardy. The general feeling was that they had survived this long without Sarinsha and did