Two years later
Mathuin found his pupil in the same glade they had met in.
Ah, I wasn’t the only person with a sudden thought this morning.
“Faolan,” Mathuin called, “how does the day find you?” His pupil turned, pulling off the grey-green hood of the cloak he wore.
“Mathuin,” Faolan punctured the name with a bark, “the day finds me well, now that you have found me.”
“No, I’ve been lying the entire time. I hate your guts. We need to talk,” Faolan replied. He looked annoyed, then bemused.
“Great, you’re rubbing off on me. Now I’m starting to jump around with subjects in conversation,” the younger druid said as he pulled his staff off of the ground.
Mathuin smiled. “I follow you fine, and agree. It is—" The older druid stopped mid-sentence and spun around, facing the edge of the glade.
“What?” Faolan asked, starting to scan the ring of trees himself.
“Danger. Something’s coming – trying to be sneaky."
The druids stood back-to-back as three lizardmen, brandishing arms, appeared around the glade. They walked slowly, having the pair of druids encircled, as the morning sun glistened on their scales and shown off their various martial armaments. Faoloan addressed the one with an axe.
“Drop the axe and back the hell off or you will get hurt.”
He only got what he had to assume was a raspy laugh in reply.
“Don’t bother. This is not their place. We must keep the balance – we hunt,” Mathuin said, before Faolan felt the primal power of his mentor shape shifting into a bear. The trademark roar followed, Faolan still shivered a bit when he heard it.
The lizardman with the axe took a hesitant step back and to the side, no longer so sure of the odds. Faolan sprung into action, darting toward the space between the axeman and his friend, a lizardman that favored the mace. He made a quick motion with his free hand, causing a swarm of thorns to materialize around him and explode outward in all directions.
The lizardmen hissed in pain as the thorns stabbed past their defenses and armor. Faolan felt the ground shake – Mathuin must have charged the remaining lizardman. Faolan shape shifted himself into a sleek panther, growling menacingly. The axeman charged during the shapeshift. Faolan was ready for him – he leapt back from the downward cut, and countered by slashing at the lizardman’s leg. His claws drew blood.
The lizardman tried to hop away, but his leg failed him and he dropped to one knee. Faolan charged – this time bloodying his fangs with the blood of the lizardman’s throat. The last one screeched a fowl curse in no language Faolan understood. It charged from behind the panther. Faolan tied to spin around, but knew he’d never make it in time to evade the next blow. The druid braced himself for the worst.
A massive bear slammed into the side of the onrushing lizardman, throwing the bipedal creature into the ground. The lizardman sprung back up and rushed the bear with his axe yet again. This time, the bear accepted the cut and wrapped its massive forepaws around the lizardman in a savage hug.
Then the bear heaved backward and Faolan heard a sharp series of cracks. The bear roared again and dropped a limp corpse – Mathuin had broken the lizard’s back.
The pair of druids quickly became human again. Mathuin was already reaching in his herb pouch before he was even done with the transformation. Faolan rushed to his mentor’s side.
“How bad is it?”
Mathuin exposed the cut to the air. “Ha. It’s just a flesh wound. I’ve been cut far worse.” The old druid pulled out a salve from his herb bag and started dressing the cut. Faolan watched with a sort of morbid curiosity.
“This decides it,” Mathuin said as he hunted in his bag for a bandage.
“Decides what?” Faolan asked.
“You. You’re leaving the forest. Tonight.”
Mathuin gave his student an annoyed look. “You’re deafer than a worm sometimes. I said—“
Faolan shook his head. “No, no I heard you. I was surprised. Why tonight?”
The older druid stood, his wound bandaged, before saying, “Because, lizardmen have never entered this forest before. Something must be very wrong for any of them to come this way. It speaks of ill signs and portents. And they tried to kill us.”
“I love how the whole, ‘they tried to murder us’ is an afterthought to you,” Faolan replied. “To be honest, Mathuin, when I awoke this morning—“
“I know. I had the same feeling. The spirits have decided- it is time you leave here. And this mystery also must be solved. You will leave tonight for the nearest lizardmen tribe, which if I’m not mistaken, is the Dusk Thunder.”
Faolan threw up his hands. “You’re sending me out alone against a tribe of them? I refuse.”
Mathuin gave his pupil a tired look. “Not to fight,” he said, pulling out a small stone knife from another inexorable pocket.
“The circle needs you to talk to them… negotiate. Find out what happened here – why lizardmen came into the Direwood and from which tribe they came from. You’ll need this – the members of the Dusk Thunder are not so keen on other races.”
“Slow down, Mathuin. How do you know what the circle wants for me? I haven’t seen a single other member since I started here.”
“I speak with the authority of the circle. You know we don’t meet very often – each member has the ability to decide courses of action for the group as a whole.”
“Mathuin, think. I’m not ready for this. This is a big assignment. You should go.”
The older druid chuckled. “You chatter like a monkey when you’re afraid. Be calm, Faolan. You are a druid. The spirits are with you – I can tell. They will not let you fall astray in this.”
Faolan gulped. “Give me one more night then. I need time to get my things in order.”
The older druid cocked an eyebrow. “What things?”
Faolan inhaled to make an argument, then seemed to realize he had no idea what to say and let it out in a woosh. He turned away from his mentor, his shoulders slumped, and gave off a rather dog-like whimper.
“You’re right. You’re right. It’s just if I go back out there, away from the woods… someone might recognize me. Bring back a lot of memories I’d rather stayed dead,” Faolan said.
Mathuin put an arm around his pupil’s shoulder, “Deny it.”
Faolan stiffened in surprise, “What? Aren’t you supposed to give me some kind of sagely wisdom like ‘accept the past’?”
The older druid smiled, “Why would I tell you that, if you already knew it? One more thing – the lizardmen – they speak Draconic. You’ll need a translator. There is a keep nearby – The Keep on the Borderlands also called the Kendal Keep. Head there first.”
Faolan nodded quietly. Mathuin turned his pupil to face him.
“Be not afraid, Faolan. The spirits are with you.”
“They said the same thing about Orelia too.”
“But we are different. You do not serve the Primal Spirits, Faolan. They have a vested interest in you as well. And this is their home too.”
Faolan nodded. “I know. I’ll go tonight. Thank you, Mathuin, for everything.” Faolan held out his hand. His mentor grabbed it, and yanked it forward, bringing the young druid into a hug.