Dawn was beginning to break behind the Helltowne Mountains to the east. Gorm was already up and had caught a deer for breakfast. The aromatic smell of it sizzling over the campfire made even the troubling events of last night seem dim by comparison.
Gottschalk rose and stretched in the cold morning air. A moment of panic came over him though and he glanced over at their untrustworthy companion. With some relief, he saw that she was lying there, still asleep, her blue-dyed hair and partially-crippled body covered by blankets.
“She was attacked by goblins last night. She snuck off down the path.”
The large barbarian raised an eyebrow, intrigued by Gottschalk’s statement, but didn’t take his attention off the finishing venison.
“Though she didn’t seem to mind, or at least, became infuriated when I tried to rescue her.”
At that, Gorm finally turned to Gottschalk and nodded. “Women get in-furry-rated over everything!”
Esservassa stirred under her blankets then; both men wondered if she had heard them.
Seeing that she lay still again, Gottschalk continued: “She’s dangerous! Her insane cult beliefs will be the death of us all! Why do you insist on keeping her with us?”
Gorm looked at Gottschalk and then adjusted his carefully styled mullet for a moment as he considered his response.
“Me knew her when she was nice, Gott-chalk.”
Gottschalk glared at the barbarian, aghast that he would put them both at risk over such a simple sentiment. Yes, Gorm still insisted on calling her by her pre-cult name. And yes, she, like all cultists, was probably far kinder before falling for such Fell Beliefs, but that didn’t change the fact that she would now willingly let goblins defile her and then gladly lead them to camp to cut Gorm and Gottschalk’s throats.
But suddenly, their attention was drawn to the woods to the southwest: some branches had snapped.
Only a moment after Gorm had grabbed his great axe and Gottschalk his miner’s pick, a group of men entered their campsite. They were all dressed in uniform: four in grey with caps, two in blue with helms and light armor, and one in black with a peaked hat. They were Maurians!
“Ho, there!” said their captain in black. “We smelled your roast game and had to come see.”
Gottschalk didn’t know what to make of it. True, the Maurians had helped him, Gorm, and their allies slaughter a goblin tribe in the Vallee two nights ago, but he still didn’t trust them completely. Like all in Dinglesfuhr, he had been taught to be ashamed of his people’s ‘Amaranthine Past’ which the Maurians actually seemed to espouse in the current day.
Both men lowered their weapons and smiled nervously. For his part, Gorm subtly dropped a blanket over the still-motionless Esservassa, covering her obviously cult-associated blue-dyed hair. The Maurians seemed too taken by the venison to notice: it did look and smell mouth-watering.
Gorm turned to them and nodded. “Sure, you can have some! Anyone who fight goblins is friend of ours!”
The Maurians smiled wide and put down their gear. To Gottschalk’s surprise and relief, they didn’t begin chastising him and Gorm about their level of human purity, nor their level of political devotion. He had been taught to believe that all Maurians were insane Human Supremacists, that they were vicious servants to their Maurian Leader and would submit any innocent that they encountered to a cruel and callous death.
Not only did they not fulfil those stereotypes, but they even produced enough field ware and rations to turn Gorm’s simple roast deer into a nearly-refined breakfast!
As they ate, both groups chatted about recent events in the Vale. Their captain, Schnitt, even related how a Great Tower had shot up from the mountains near Helltowne yesterday afternoon. Gottschalk could remember the sinister, red light he had seen then. It seemed that the machinations of the red dwarves were not finished though.
After another half hour of eating and chat, the Maurians got up and thanked their hosts for the deer. And though Gottschalk was already beginning to realize that the Maurians weren’t the Ultimate Evil-Doers that his tutors had made them out to be, he was surprised when they not only cleaned up the meal, but left them additional rations and supplies, as well.
As they departed, Captain Schnitt spoke again. “We’ll be making a raid into northern Dinglesfuhr in a few hours. We’d be honored if you’d accompany us in helping to liberate your kinsfolk.”
Gottschalk turned to Gorm cautiously and nodded slowly. “Perhaps, we’ll have to see...”
“Understood,” said Schnitt. “We’ll be near the Wilterbergrade.”
He and his men then saluted and left.
Gottschalk and Gorm breathed a sigh of relief.
“I thought they might arrest us! I’d always heard that...”
“For what?” interrupted Gorm. “Me worried they would find Kalla!”
Both looked down at Esservassa. Her stiffness and lack of breathing showed that she was now only pretending to sleep.
“How long have you been awake?” challenged Gottschalk.
Esservassa leapt up and unfurled her blue-dyed hair. It had become knotted and frayed overnight, giving it the appearance of being molded.
Both men sighed, knowing that she would now look even more unpleasant as she launched into a diatribe.
“Breakfast with AMARANTHINISTS!?” She nearly drooled, she was so enraged.
“They seem nice to me...” offered Gorm.
“Nice? Nice! NICE!? You must be Amaranthine yourself! Did you check? Didn’t they poison your food? Those Maurians are Notorious Poisoners! By all that’s Rainbow, I can’t believe that you actually sat and ate with them!”
“We might even help them free more Dingle-furry-ones at Wilbur-grade.”
“Fine! Let us go and kill those Maurian Scum instead! Then we can take 100 Amaranthine Scalps!”
Gorm only shook his mulleted head at her. Barber-barbarians such as he considered any talk of scalping to be in bad form.
Esservassa turned to Gottschalk then.
He shrugged. “What else were we to do? They aren’t the enemy anyway! It was the goblins that destroyed Dinglesfuhr, not the Maurians. And they were let in by people like you!”
Enraged, Esservassa lunged at Gottschalk, nearly knocking the man over. She now had a wine bottle in her hand, one she had ironically grabbed that the Maurians had left behind. She swung it at him with full force, beseeching her fell cult’s master that it would dash out his Amaranthine brains.
But Gorm, though large, was quick. He snatched her weapon before it could strike his friend and pushed her back.
“You would Strike a Womyn? You have no honor!” She appeared truly outraged despite the obvious hypocrisy of her claim.
“You attack him first, silly! You not know difference?”
“But he is AMARANTHINE! You are all AMARANTHINE!” Esservassa’s face went ashen white.
Despite her fury, Gottschalk got up again. “Why don’t you and your lunatic cult slake your wrath on the goblins? They kill humans with glee. Isn’t that ‘Amaranthine’ enough for you?”
To that, Esservassa had no reply.