“Idiot,” the girl standing before Azoloth and Trinsic said. After the battle, both men had pulled themselves up off the ground. Azoloth had made it to the altar first, while Trinsic was still looking down at his chest. Cutting her free, she had climbed down from the altar, addressing them both but looking at Trinsic.

“Wha?” Trinisc asked.

“You. Are. An. idiot,” the girl replied, She was very nonplussed at being rescued in the midst of a Druidic ritual obviously meant to end her life.

“What are ya on about? We saved your life and your going to stand there insulting me?” 

“Enough,” Azoloth cut in, “after all she is right, you are an idiot. I am Azoloth and the idiot over there is Trinsic.”

“You may call my Y’smir,” She replied.

Azoloth chuckled to himself as Trinsic fumed at the insult and stomped away. The two friends often traded jibs in less serious times to relieve the stress. The fact the girl had helped him actually get under Trinsic’s normally thick hide just made it funnier than usual. 

“Are you alright?” Azoloth inquired.

“I am fine, but you’re both still idiots. How are you going to come into a Druidic circle and not expect him to know as soon as you cross the boundary?”

“The what?” Azoloth asked, clearly puzzled. His forehead crinkled as he thought. He had read of magical circles before, but never about the caster being able to sense if they were crossed. “I didn’t see any circle”

“Then you were not looking close enough, don’t they teach Knights to handle Druids?”

“Wait a second, how did you know I was a Knight?”

“Oh, it’s obvious. Who else would be foolhardy enough to charge into a Druidic circle during a ritual?” The shy smile softened the chiding she gave him, though. “Not that I am complaining, mind you.”

“Alright then,” Azoloth said, taken aback a bit. “So how did you come to be captured by a Druid?”

“I was not captured by him. I was his apprentice and was supposed to be accompanying him to set up a new enclave in the Roanwood. We were supposed to leave the ways of blood magic behind and find a better path. Looks like he just wanted to expand his own power outside of the council’s vigilant eyes.”

“Wait, set up a new gathering. The Queen would have kittens if a Druidic circle showed up in the Roanwood”

“The Queen, what happened to the King?” She asked, clearly surprised.

“Murdered likely by the Queen or the Demon she serves”

“Ah, then I be guessing you two are fugitives. That explains why your armor bears no insignia or rank. Knights of the land fleeing from the Crown”

“Squires actually, Sir Gregory was killed when they took the keep.”

“You have my sympathies,” She said, and he saw the compassion in her eyes as she spoke. “I suppose with Castor dead at your hands after his betrayal, and your own flight at another betrayal, I can be honest with you. We came here supposedly to set up a new enclave. You see, some of us have long held the belief that blood magic alone is evil. You realize there was a time when the Druids were not feared but looked to as the tenders of the natural world. However, these days to speak such in my homelands is heresy of the greatest magnitude. In fact, it can make you a very central participant in one of their dark rituals. I had believed Castor like myself, tired of only blood and death, and wished to see a return to the ways of life. He spoke of setting up a new enclave here using the pure nature magic of old. I did not believe anyone would notice us so far out in the wild lands, so I agreed. It is well known most avoid the wild lands as much as they can.”

“I see, well we had best set up camp here and rest before we head out. You are welcome to join us if you like.”

“Going to slay yourself a Demon are you?” Y’smir asked with a smile. It was fairly obvious what would a Knight do. 

“If we can, yes.”

“I think I will tag along for now, who knows what the future holds for any of us.”

With that, they began to set up the camp. Trinisc wanted the camp in the woods miles from this accursed spot. Y’smir objected, stating that she had business to attend to here and that the two of them would also aid the Kingdom of Senguine. Trinsic was not for this at all. He was rather bitter still regarding what had befallen him. Azoloth overrode him though, insisting that they were still Squires in service of the land and her people. They had a duty to serve, even if the crown wished them dead.

Y’smir began a ritual to cleanse the grove. The ritual was like no Druidic ritual Azoloth had ever read about. There was no blood, no death, only the rhythmic changing from her and the scent of the burning herbs both men carried in her wake. As they moved around the circle, the air cleared of the weight it still held. The dark magics impregnating the grove, fading away to nothingness. As the moon set in the distance and the sun rose, the air did not seem heavy. Though the green light cast its pallor upon the land, it brought none of the usual pressure. 

“You see,” Y’smir said, “Druids did not always follow the path of blood and death. Once we followed nature in all her beauty, both good and evil. When the darkening happened, we leaned more and more towards the darkside of our arts. Those dark powers protected us and our lands, they kept the Demons out. I do not know if we could have survived without those powers. Yet to me survival seems a small price for all that we have lost. The old ways of the true Druids are all but forgotten. Some like my mother and her mother before her kept them hidden and passed them down. Yet each generation they grew fewer and fewer. I believe it is time for us to leave this dark road, it is time for a renewal.”

“How far do you think you will follow us?” Azoloth asked as he watched her, a rare smile playing upon his lips now. Y’smir was full of life and joy? Even after all that had happened, she brimmed with optimism about what the world could be, not dwelling on what it was.

“I do not know yet. I cannot go back to my Emberwood. I would love to set up my own Enclave and pass what I know down to a new generation. Yet it is dangerous to be alone in the wilds. I think I will follow you for now, see where you lead me. Maybe this is the world sending me a message that I am needed elsewhere before I can see my own desires fulfilled.”

“I hope you decide to stay-” Azoloth started to say.

“Just wait one bloody moment,” Trinsic cut in. “You don’t know her, for all we know she could be some Night Blade spy sent by the Demons.”

“Why you little…” Y’smir seemed beside herself with rage at the suggestion she might be a pawn of the Demon Lords. The Night Blades were some of the darkest hearted assassins and spies who served the Demon Lords directly.

“Enough,” Azoloth cut in once more, putting an end to their bickering. “Arguing amongst ourselves will do us no good. Nor will it to second guess the motives of everyone we meet. They had no way to know we would be here, we did not even know. Besides, Y’smir’s magic seems much different from any I have heard attributed to the Demon Lords or their servants. What would the Demon Lords even gain from targeting two nobodies like us? Also, the crown is searching for two squires if they are even still searching at all. They are not searching for two young men traveling with a young lady. She will help provide us some cover.”

Trinsic merely grumbled, and Y’smir flashed a shining smile at Azoloth. 

“Just for that I will cook you a meal you won’t soon forget.” and with that they settled in for the evening.

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