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Star Crossed Chapter 3

Chapter 3: The Journey Begins

(Music “Love Awakening” Kitz Playlist)
21 Love Awakening.wma

The journey begins

It had been many weeks since Kitz left the village of Wyvernwood behind. He had set off to explore the world and become a great hero. One day he planned to come home wizened from his experiences to impress and win the heart of Pearl, his heart’s desire. Thoughts of her smile made his mind dance, and his feet would usually follow no matter what he was doing at the time. Despite the fact that he was only twelve years old, he was certain this was his calling, and he had never felt so strongly about anything or anyone else.

To Kitz, life in the past few weeks had become an endless daydream of flighty romance and wondrous exploration. He did miss people back home a great deal especially his big sister Rhianah, his big brother Kurzit despite his mean nature, and Ms. Rose the flower lady too. He always hoped that they wouldn’t worry about him too much.

He knew that the great willow would watch over him in the end and that they would one day all be back together again. ‘After all,' he always thought to himself when in doubt ‘With love as my guide, I can never be lost.' Nothing ever seemed to dampen Kitz's spirits for long. When the rains pelted him all day and left him cold and alone to sleep in a mud filled hole, Kitz would only look forward to finding a river, lake, or pond to take a swim in the next day.

On the darkest and scariest of nights, Kitz would imagine himself as a hunting cat stalking and chasing away great evils. He would trudge fearlessly along as if on evil’s trail every second. When he was hungry and could find little to eat, he made due with roots and grubs like actual foxes would and imagined all the strange new foods he would learn about and get to eat in his travels. Even the aches and pains of constant travel in the wilds only made him think even more of being warm and cozy cuddled up softly to Pearl’s soft embrace by firelight.

He traveled by day trotting along through the endless woods in fox form ever watchful for possible dangers or something that he hadn’t seen before. He had reasoned that traveling around as a fox was safer as he could hide in smaller places. He was harder to see in the day, and because he liked walking around on four legs rather than two. He was already very well versed at traveling through the woods before this trip because he had made the trip to Ms. Rose’s cottage two or three times per week for over six years.

He had met Ms. Rose one day on the edge of the village when he was only five years old. She had been picking flowers looking for a flower that was perfect when he found her. She had offered him a shiny silver ring for his ear to make him prettier like the flowers if he would help her find the flower she was looking for. He had accepted her offer always being on the lookout for pretty things especially flowers and rings.

Somewhere along the way during his early explorations watching the others in his village, he had learned that rings and flowers were both symbols of love because couples exchanged them when they fell in love. For this reason, Kitz was determined to gather as many of these things as he could; so that he could spread love to everyone he met. ‘Surely, that would be heroic,' he often thought.

Back at the village he had developed a habit of placing flowers on the bodies of dead things where ever they were found. Many of the townsfolk thought it was strange, but he had always reasoned that even the dead deserved love and always pointed out how people would put flowers and usually a marker over the grave of a buried loved one.
Many claimed that little Kitz hadn’t quite understood that those flowers were more for the grieving than the dead.

To Kitz however, the flowers were to remind the dead that they were loved by someone no matter what happened to them in life. Since he also believed everything deserved to be loved, some of Kitz’s younger days were very busy with the constant search for flowers during meal times.

He had found Ms. Rose’s perfect flower for her growing on a cliff side near a large waterfall just north of Wyvernwood only about a week later. She had come to the cliff side, and he remembered spending all day with Ms. Rose plotting and scheming on how to get that one little flower. In the end, she had tied a rope to little Kitz in fox form and lowered him down to the small dirt ledge so that he could dig it up and carry it back up when she pulled him back up with the rope. After that day, Ms. Rose had become one of Kitz’s favorite playmates. He had determined that she was an old woman but had the heart of a child. It was Ms. Rose that first inspired him to learn magic and of the great willow that watches over all things everywhere, living and dead.

During his early youth, he had kept his many adventures and explorations searching the forests, doing strange errands, and keeping all the really weird games he played for Ms. Rose a secret from the others. He knew that they would just get mad at him for wandering off alone too much if he told anyone. The way he saw it, the elders always told people that dangers were always waiting beyond the valley of Wyvernwood, but in the valley it was safe. Rose’s cottage was on the edge of the valley but still inside, so Kitz always felt safe going there and not once did anything bad ever happen to him during any of his trips there and back.

The stories he heard from the shamans of his village used to scare him a lot and for a long time he never ever wanted to leave the valley because he was too afraid. Now, though, thanks to Kurzit’s inspiration he didn’t feel afraid at all. He felt lucky for having a bigger brother like Kurzit and had long since forgiven him for all the mean stuff he always did.

He knew there was a constant danger, but he had trained a lot, and he asked Ms. Rose a lot of questions about the deep wilds for months before. Now, with his heart guiding him and the blessings of the great willow at his back, he wasn’t afraid of anything. As it had been for most of his journey so far every hour or so he would stop to admire a pretty scene, or pick and admire a new flower, or to investigate a strange smell that he didn’t recognize. Sometimes he would find that his curiosity got him into trouble other times it led him to find interesting things. Either way, so far it had been nothing that he couldn’t handle.

He had seen tracks that belonged to strange creatures now and then since leaving the valley, so far he had been wise enough to avoid the animals themselves. He had decided that he was going to seek out the humans of the southern forests and that they would be the first ones he would introduce himself to. Ms. Rose had often spoken highly of them but said that many of them often lead very hard lives in places nothing like Wyvernwood. Since life there was nothing like life in Wyvernwood, Kitz couldn’t think of a better place to start helping people.

Kitz had been searching for weeks so far hoping to come across a road eventually. He knew that if he followed the road south once he found it then he would eventually reach a human village or city. He had already decided that he would be careful about who he chose to meet once he was there. He had heard tales from the Shamans, Rose, and even Kurzit of how dangerous, savage, and sometimes very untrustworthy humans from the south could be. He also had decided that it would be much better if he stayed in his fox form while he was around others as well.

Kitz had learned from Rose about creatures that sometimes resemble Hengeiyokai called lycanthropes. She had also told him that lycanthropes are viewed by many humans as cursed evil bloodthirsty monsters. Kitz very much didn’t want to be mistaken for one of those, though according to Rose the silver earring in his right ear would be a give away that he was no lycanthrope to those who were well studied. Kitz didn’t really want to count on meeting only well-studied humans either.

It was just a bit after midday and Kitz was trotting along in fox form continuing his exploration. He had just gotten done catching, cooking, and eating a few fish from a small creek for lunch. He had used a net he brought from the village. He had many things that he brought with him or found by now to help him out. Most of his things, not to mention all the flowers he had collected and magically preserved along the way were in his backpack. Thanks to the magic of the Hengeiyokai shape-shifting his things seemed to become a part of him when he took his fox form. This, of course, meant he had to take his normal form to access any of his things or to put new things in his pack. So far this hadn’t been a problem for him.

He was traveling roughly east along a small creek when he saw ahead of him what he had been looking for so long. It was a twenty-foot wide trail completely bereft of trees and vines and a small old stone bridge that rose a few feet up over the creek. From the illustrations, he had seen in books this was what a human road looked like. Excitement rose up within him as he knew that he must be getting close. He crossed the bridge in the direction he had determined from the sun to be south then and ducked back into the forest on the other side to follow the road southward. He was determined to follow it until he found people and once he found them, he knew just what to do.

Kitz traveled for many days and nights after that passing by many campsites that looked like humans used them from time to time. He passed over a few more small bridges like the first he had seen and once a large hanging rope bridge that went over a really pretty chasm with a waterfall. He had enjoyed standing on it listening to the water and feeling the wet breeze as well as the gentle rocking the bridge did seemingly at all times for a few hours before moving on. Finally, after nine days of following the road his search paid off somewhat. It was only a small camp of humans, but he had found them.

He first found them during the middle of the night, and most of them were asleep in their tents. They had five horses tied to a few trees on the edge of their camp next to an empty bedroll. After circling the camp about a dozen times trying to remain unseen and watching the one human that was still awake. After a short time, he found him. A heavy set but short and hairy man that looked like he could lift fifty of Kitz and carried a mean looking hammer. After hearing the man grumble and growl a lot,

Kitz had decided that approaching him wasn’t the best idea. Kitz was very tempted by the warmth of the low burning fire in the middle of the camp but finally decided that he didn’t want to be mistaken for breakfast. So Kitz set off into the woods to find a safe place to rest for the night. He knew that he would have to learn about these humans before he would know how to make friends.

The next morning, he woke up early as the sun was rising and went hunting. After a scant breakfast of field mice and a few wild onions, he ran back to the spot where the camp had been to find it gone. The fire pit was still smoking lightly, but there was no trace of the people. The only thing he found were six sets of strange tracks leading off to the south. Kitz identified them after thinking for a few minutes as horse tracks and began to follow them now knowing which way they were going. Kitz ran for a few hours that morning before finally catching up with them. They were all riding along on their horses, and Kitz realized he would have his work cut out for him learning about them, but he was determined. So he ran as fast as he could in a wide circle around them stopping a few minutes later well in front of them to rest.

He would then quickly find a good spot to hide as close to the edge of the path as he could find and he would bed down and wait for them to pass him. After they did, he would race ahead of them to do it all over again. Each time he did this he worked hard to remember things he heard them say or things he saw them do. Thankfully, they all spoke a language that Kitz knew as the market language except the short hairy one that didn’t seem to speak anything but odd grunts and other such sometimes stinky bodily sounds. Despite this, the others seemed to respond to him as though he was talking somehow. Kitz once again was determined to figure this out.

Of the five of them he had learned that they were traveling from a place called Solanthus towards a place called Crossroads. They were apparently hoping to help people there with a problem they were having with Giants. Kitz knew about giants and knew that they were big trouble. He believed that this little group could handle it, especially with his help. The one Kitz had studied first was the female in the group. For seemingly no reason at all, Kitz found himself unable to shake warm thoughts when he looked at her. She was a pretty blonde haired human girl of probably no more than twenty years of age named Minara. She carried a short blade and wore clothes that reminded him of an entertainer. Kitz had confirmed his suspicions when he found that she could sing quite nicely and sometimes played the flute around the fire at night as well.

The second traveler was a young man with red hair who wore red robes and spoke in very scholarly tones. He was called Thane and Kitz knew from watching him that he was a wizard. The others always regarded him cautiously and usually seemed to take anything he said as some threat no matter how nice it sounded. Kitz was not too sure about him. He didn’t seem very friendly at all. It wasn’t until Kitz heard that he specialized in the magic of destruction that Kitz realized why he was with them. It seemed that he was a hireling of someone this group knew in Solanthus and had been sent to protect them.

Next there was a short, skinny man with short brown hair that he had come to know as an elf according to the others. His name was Amaroth, He carried a bow made of black colored wood and a quiver of arrows with griffon feathers on their ends and wore light leather armor most of the days. He was usually quiet, polite, and observant. He was also usually the one to take good care of the group’s five horses and seemed to be protective of animals a bit more than the others. Amaroth had gone hunting on the second day, and Kitz had secretly tagged along. Kitz didn’t like the idea of killing animals but figured that food was food and that nature and the willow would provide. Kitz had noticed, with a warm understanding that he seemed to hover around the Minara a lot and often talked more when she was nearby. Kitz had already noticed the twinkle in Amaroth’s eyes when she smiled his direction.

The Fourth of the group was the short, smelly man that he heard Thane call a “Blasted Dwarf.” Kitz had heard of dwarves before, but according to many in Wyvernwood they were cave devils bent on stealing treasure, mining, and as best as he could figure out from people's descriptions summoning evil spirits too. This dwarf didn’t look like much of a cave devil to Kitz, and so Kitz dismissed the stories he had heard about the dwarves. The dwarf’s name was Grumble, and he talked just like his name sounded. In incoherent grunts and a mix of other bodily sounds that didn’t appear to Kitz to be a language at all. Yet, the others understood him as though he was speaking. It took Kitz until the third day of watching them to realize that in fact, Grumble was speaking the market language, just very poorly and with some sort of really difficult to understand accent. Kitz knew it would take some time for him to understand Grumble, but despite the bad smells coming from him he decided that he would keep trying.

The last traveler was a stern, tough, and muscular older looking man with tan skin and long brown hair. He carried two giant swords on his back that were so large to Kitz that he had trouble picturing the man holding one let alone both. His name was “Drake Dragonheart” and according to Minara’s teasing the name fit as he had dragon blood in his family lineage. When Kitz had first heard about this, he had found himself very interested in the idea as Minara teased Drake about “Having a great great grandmother that got a bit more than she bargained for in her dragon-guarded castle.” At first Kitz hadn’t understood what she truly meant but after an hour or so of jokes and crude gestures by the others at Drake's expense Kitz was left hiding in the brush with his mouth hanging open and a comical look of mixed horror, disbelief, and disgust.

Kitz really didn’t fully understand the intricacies of procreation as no one in the village had ever described it to him. He had asked Rhianah a few times, but she had always changed the subject quickly when he had. He was explained to about how flowers and pollination worked by Ms. Rose, however, and thus had ever since had a basic idea of the rest. After listening for two hours of this group going on and joking about Drake’s family tree, Kitz felt that he understood all that he needed to know and much more about the first step in the process of reproduction.

He had to admit to himself that he was a bit concerned, confused, and a slight bit curious about some of the descriptions they gave as well. Kitz had no clue how one's tongue was supposed to be involved in the whole thing, but he overheard Minara laughing a lot about some special kiss. The more they talked, the more confused he became.

Despite himself, Kitz couldn’t help but watch them carry on still fascinated by the new things he heard and by their jovial natures as well. He continued to learn about the group each day, noting what each of them liked and disliked and noting that they were all in a better mood after they drank from the barrel Grumble often carried around on his back. In each of them except Thane, he saw warmth and compassion of some sort. He noticed that even Thane seemed to have some good traits, though he was very careful not to let any of them be seen.

He admired Minara from time to time when he appeared to notice no on else looking. He also one cold night on his watch covered Grumble up after the dwarf had gone to sleep without a blanket. He did other subtle things as well though Kitz did notice that not once did he do anything for Amaroth.

Kitz continued to spy and learn more each and every day for many hours at a time. Each night he always hid, watched, and listened to them when they camped as well often for as long as he could. By the end of the fourth day between the constant running to keep up and ahead of their horses, to stay up late to listen to them at night, constantly staying hidden, finding food for himself, and digging burrows that were safe to sleep in at night, little Kitz was all tuckered out. He stepped out of his little burrow on the fifth morning about an hour before sunrise to find that his paws ached, his legs were simply too sore to go on much longer, and his stomach grumbled and growled for a full meal. He knew he would have to start using his magic to help him along if he was going to continue at this pace. He also felt that it was about time to meet his new friends. He had already learned a lot about them over the last four days. He thought they were very nice people so far, but he knew that he should be careful still just in case.

The question he was left with now was how best to go about it. He had observed that none of them spoke of having kept pets in the past. Kitz thought that the easiest way to follow them and make friends would be to become a pet of sorts and act as a normal animal would. Another thought he had was to befriend Amaroth, who obviously liked animals and who Kitz knew believed in animal spirits. Kitz had overheard Amaroth speaking with Minara on the first night. He had been trying to explain to her how faith in the gods was not the only kind of faith from which to draw magical power. He mentioned a belief that his tribe had about the spirit folk and about kind spirits sometimes guiding lost travelers to safety.

After considering it for a few moments and walking to drink from a nearby pond he had found the night before, Kitz made his decision. He decided that he would do a little of both of his ideas. He didn’t want to be seen as a pet because he knew they might try to keep him and lock him up in a cage if they liked him enough. He also didn’t want them to see him as a forest spirit since he knew that the others might be superstitious about such things and think it was bad luck or something silly. So Kitz decided that he would play the most obvious role of all, a nearly starving animal. He mused through tired eyes that this way he would only have to deceive them about half of what he was. His eyes drifted down to the clear water as he leaned over the pond then to see his reflection He almost jumped at the sight of himself, when he did. He looked ragged, and his fur was dirty and unkempt. He could make out his ribs on his side, and it was clear that the past two months of travel and poor diet were taking its toll. The sight scared him slightly, and he immediately turned and walked off to begin the hastily thrown together plan he had just now made upon seeing his reflection.

A few minutes later Kitz trotted up to the camp to see the group just now starting to wake. Drake was busy packing away the tents and other supplies. Grumble was drinking from his special mug again and appeared to be fixing something made of leather sitting by the fire pit. Thane and Minara were sitting across from Grumble, noses buried in their spell books, likely preparing their spells for the days travel. Amaroth was on the far edge of the camp brushing, feeding, and tending to the horses as he usually did. Kitz looked and smelled around taking a little more risk of being seen than normal. After a few moments, he found what he was looking for. He saw Drake packing away a large folded bag that contained a large supply of dried meats and jerky. Kitz sighed inwardly as the bag was secured to one of the horses and then he continued to look around. After a few more minutes of unsuccessful scouting for food, Thane's voice rang out coarse and loud as he suddenly put his book down.

“Alright! My fellow fools and trail goers my studies are complete, and I am ready to go. Get a move on everyone.”

Thane stood up then and began to secure his book carefully into a small pack that he wore on his back. Minara looked up at him then rolling her eyes and seeming bored like she had been waiting for quite some time for that to happen. She reached over with her own book and hit Thane hard in the shin as he stood nearby. The resounding pop of book on leg was loud and echoed through the forest making Kitz jump slightly in surprise.
 
“Ouch! What!? What was that for?!” Thane looked down in dark accusation at Minara, who stood up as she packed her own book away and looked to Thane.

“That, was for calling the rest of us trail goers.” She paused in her words then as her features took on a slight motherly pout, then as she finished her sentence in mocking tones with a gentle patting on Thanes right shoulder.

“And Thane, go easy on yourself. There is no reason to be calling yourself names, despite the truth.”

With the ending of her statement, she smiled brightly. Then came Grumble’s laughter bellowing a second later from the bottom of his upturned mug as he drank. Thane Sneered as Amaroth shook his head nearby pretending to ignore the exchange.

“Well Minara, I don’t know what you call foolery but charging off to fight a horde of angry giants seems to match up nicely. I am most definitely a fool for agreeing to this.” Thane spoke as he turned to regard his companions.

“You and me both Thane.” The words came with a grunt and were in Drake’s slightly deeper and somewhat regal voice as he walked past the two of them carrying a large bag of supplies to be divided among the horses.

Once Drake got to the horses, Amaroth turned to him and spoke out to all of them. “Now, now you two, morning packing is no time for flirting, we all have a long day ahead of us, so we probably shouldn’t start it with a lengthy argument.”

“How about a short one?” Thane’s response was immediate.

Amaroth finished filling the saddlebags with gear from Drake’s bag, as Grumble walked over hefting the leather saddle he had been fixing and placing it on Minara’s horse. She nodded to him with her bright-eyed smile, and he grumbled off something that ended with the word “lass” then he smiled and walked away to untie his own horse.

“No, Thane I don’t think even a small argument is in order this morning, Not with us reaching Crossroads today, let's try to save the hard stuff for the tavern tonight,” Drake said as he secured his saddle and mounted his horse.

Amaroth did the same after offering Minara, a hand that she took to help her onto her horse.

“Crossroads at last!” Minara’s voice was full of energy as she yelled.

Thane shook his head muttering to himself as he was the last to climb onto his horse. “Well, at least I’ll be rid of this filth for a few days.” Thane's words were emphasized by an angry motion towards the world around him.

All of the others looked at Thane then and shook their heads at once which only got a discouraged sigh from Thane. After that, they set off with Amaroth leading the way down the path. From where Kitz was hidden in the brush he sighed and stood. He twirled in a circle for a moment and made a few strange but quiet yelps as he seemed to dance. After a few seconds of this his fur stood up as though he had just had a bath and a gentle white light surrounded him for a moment before fading. Kitz knew that the spell he had cast would only help get rid of his fatigue, but had also heard that the group was only one more day from their destination. This, he knew meant that he would have to work fast. After taking a few deep breaths, Kitz once again dashed off to catch up with the group and their fast horses.

Kitz always struggled to keep up with them that day and by midday he had already used nearly all of his magic trying to keep fatigue at bay. About an hour ago, he had heard Drake mention something about making one more stop for a few hours before they reached town. Amaroth, Minara, and Drake had been talking most of the trip, and Kitz had learned that they intended to stop and do a little hunting a few hours from town. That sounded very good to Kitz as he had not even thought of eating that morning and was beginning to feel sick to his stomach.
 
Just as they said, they would they stopped about three hours later and Amaroth immediately gathered his bow and arrows and stalked off into the forests as the others sat by a few rocks, spoke and ate. Kitz immediately set off after Amaroth. Amaroth stalked the forest examining the ground or seeming to feel trees for about half an hour before bedding down at the edge of a rock face. Kitz stayed nearby but unseen. After only another hour, a group of wild deer walked by right under him near the rock face. Kitz was amazed that he seemed to know right where the animals would step, even taking aim at a spot before the animal got there. When the time was right, Amaroth let loose an arrow, and the largest of the deer in the group fell with a single shot. Amaroth immediately jumped up and walked over to his kill where he said a quick prayer and began to carve the beast up taking a few sheets of leather and a bag from his pack. Kitz watched as his mouth watered, but he resisted the urge until the right moment.

In this case, that was after Amaroth appeared done with his work and was getting ready to heft the meat he had just collected back to the others. When Amaroth was getting ready to depart the area carrying three large leather bound sacks full of meat on his back, Kitz skulked off into the woods a few hundred feet in the direction of the others and laid down. After a few minutes, Amaroth emerged from the wall of brush nearby carrying the bags on his back muttering something about lazy city folk when he saw a little red fox lying on the ground in front of him. To his trained eye, the animal appeared emaciated, though he could tell right away that it was breathing. He set down his bags as Kitz faked being asleep. Amaroth stopped a few feet away then and kneeled down.

“Hey there little guy, you don’t look to good…” Kitz heard him well but did nothing to react yet.

A moment later Amaroth stepped forward another few steps and reached carefully to touch the small animal. As soon as he did, Kitz jumped up with a panicked bark and ran a few feet away before turning and puffing out his fur, showing teeth, and curling in his best imitation of a threatened wild fox. Amaroth immediately backed away staying low to the ground as he did.

“Hey, it's ok…I’m a friend…Say you look hungry.”

Through supreme force of will, Kitz resisted the urge to nod eagerly and only stayed half laid down and still seeming aggressive a few feet away. Seeing this, Amaroth kept backing up until he got to the bag where he slowly stepped behind it and opened it. He took out his boot knife and cut a rather large chunk of the deer meat off and lightly held it out towards the fox. Kitz was unable to hold back an expectant look then as he caught himself smiling at the meat. He hoped that Amaroth wouldn’t catch the subtleties of a fox smiling. He didn’t appear to as he stepped forward a few more steps and slowly placed the meat on the ground a few feet from Kitz before backing away to wait to see what the fox did. Kitz tried to fake being feral as best as he could once again and crept forward slowly. When he was close enough, he snatched the meat in his jaws before quickly backing away with it and starting to chew on the edges.

Amaroth nodded seeing the quickness in the animal’s step before standing and speaking again. “There you go, you're still quick, you’ll be ok. You're just down on your luck is all.”

Amaroth then stood, picked back up the bags and walked around where Kitz sat now blissfully tasting the meat. When Amaroth was gone, Kitz waited for a few minutes before changing into his humanoid form and taking the meat off into the woods with him. After a short walk, he immediately began to gather and pile a few small sticks and pieces of dry wood together quickly clearing leaves with his feet as he did. He kneeled next to the pile and cast his last magic to make fire and soon he had a small but sustainable fire.

Over the next hour, Kitz sliced a bit of the meat off and ate it hungrily raw then spat the rest and cooked it. When the deer steak was done enough, he ate it hungrily. Then shortly afterward he cleaned up and now feeling a bit better with some real food in his stomach he took his fox form and once again ran to try and catch up with the group.

He was able to catch them about 4 hours later on the path. It was almost dark when he walked up behind them on the path. The second part of his plan he knew would be easier, now he just had to convince Amaroth that the hungry fox was following him home. So Kitz stayed on the edge of the path just in sight if they were looking but still with the appearance of trying to stay hidden. It got dark, and they continued into the night. He heard Drake say that they were only another hour or so from town, so there was no point in stopping for the night. As Kitz followed them, he slowly began to creep closer to them until he was silently walking only about twenty feet behind them, yet still they didn’t seem to notice. Finally, now seeing why they didn’t usually travel at night, Kitz deliberately stomped on a small stick as he walked.

A small but clear cracking noise echoed through the woods, and all five of the riders turned to look. Amaroth stopped the horses with a short and low whistle, as the group appeared to be on alert. All of them were obviously looking for something larger and looked right past him as he stood there. After a moment, the silence was broken by a strange rumble of words from Grumble. All Kitz could recognize were the words “There” and “Little.” The last word in the line sounded like it could have been “Drink” as Grumble held out his mug down towards the ground and poured a small bit out. Kitz had no clue what to think, but the others immediately saw what the dwarf was pointing at and somehow appeared to understand him as usual.

“Very well done people…Got spooked by a fox! Brave adventurers, we are indeed” Thane’s sarcastic tones rang out in the night drawing mean looks from Minara and Grumble. Minara spoke in disgusted tones then obviously not in the greatest of moods.

“Shut up Thane! Your commentary is about as worthless as your instincts! What if it had been orcs sneaking up on us?” Thane opened his mouth then to speak, but Drake beat him to it as he turned his horse to trot up to stand in front of the others looking at Kitz.

“Then we would have offered to keep Thane if they would let us go…” Thane glared at him as the others shared a chuckle.

“Har Har…very nice, I’ll remember that when next it comes time to save you all,” was all Thane said.

Amaroth, who had gotten off his horse by this time, walked around the others to see the little fox. Kitz did his best to look scared and submissive as Amaroth stepped forward and kneeled again and spoke softly.

“Well hello there? Hmm, you come back for more?”

Minara chuckled and spoke with an amused tone. “It looks like you made a friend Amaroth.”

Amaroth Nodded. “Yeah, it seems that way. Hmm, it does look like the same one.” Amaroth began to scratch at his chin at the peculiar animal.

Thane’s voice butted in again then, “Is it sick?”

“No,” Amaroth responded. “He’s just not been eating well I think.”

Drake sighed at Amaroth’s words and turned his horse back around as he spoke. “Well, you know what they say, If you feed it again, it’ll just keep coming back. Shoo it off and let's be going, we're almost there.”

Kitz barely resisted shooting Drake a mean look as he spoke. Then Minara did it for him then giving Drake a very mean look before dismounting and walking to kneel next to Amaroth.

“That’s barbaric Drake, see him. He’s scared. Let’s feed him.” Amaroth raised an eyebrow at Minara’s suddenly excited girlish tone and nodded. He stood up as Grumble said something. The word “baby” was understood.

“You could be right. It might be a young one. He is a little bit small, and it would explain why he doesn’t seem to be able to hunt for himself.” Amaroth replied thoughtfully just as he stopped by Grumble’s saddlebags and fished out a few strips of the meat he had prepared earlier.

Kitz found himself mildly insulted by Amaroth’s insinuation and thought to himself about the irony of having kept up with horses, creatures 100 times his size for a number of days only to be assumed to be unable to fend for himself. Kitz let the thoughts go figuring that the humans didn’t know any better. Amaroth turned around then to see Minara only a few feet away with a hand outstretched towards the fox speaking gently.

“C’mon,C’mon, here little guy, I won’t hurt you.” Amaroth walked towards her slowly and talked gently being careful not to make any sudden movements, as Thane and Drake began to ride slowly off continuing down the trail.

“Careful Minara, don’t get bit. Wild anim…” Amaroth stopped his sentence then as the little fox slowly crept forward towards Minara and laid down on its belly under Minara’s hand.

Kitz had been trying to look afraid of the people until he had seen Minara kneel down and reach for him. Kitz had not known what came over him, but he had crept up to her hand without hesitation. He only hoped the apparently sudden trust that he couldn’t help but show the pretty lady wouldn’t ruin his disguise. Amaroth watched with a raised eyebrow once again then as Minara slowly lowered her hand and began to pet the little fox. As she did, it seemed to relax and scooted on its belly to cozy up against her leg now closer within her reach.

“Leave it to a woman, I guess. Well, at least he’s got good taste.” Amaroth spoke quietly with a smile, as he knelt next to Minara and her new pet to set down a few small strips of meat. Kitz immediately began to gnaw on the meat, as Minara continued to pet him.

Minara, who seemed to be overjoyed at the unexpectedly friendly fox, spoke in curious tones then. “Amaroth? Do you think he could have belonged to someone? A pet that maybe got lost?”

Amaroth nodded, “It sure looks like it. I’ve never seen a wild fox react that well to anything other than the beauty of a wood nymph. You wouldn’t happen to be part wood nymph would you?” Amaroth put on his best smile looking at Minara as he finished his sentence.

“Not that I know of,” came her quick reply as Grumble could be heard mumbling something in apparent annoyance, as he on his horse walked away to catch up with the other two who were now a ways down the dark path. Amaroth only glanced back at Grumble as he departed then looked back at Minara quickly responding with a sly smile.

“Well you could have fooled me,” Minara looked at him a bit surprised then and smiled brightly as Amaroth stood looking down at her and Kitz while reaching for Minara’s hand. As Amaroth’s hand got close to Minara’s, Kitz growled slightly, and Amaroth pulled his hand away.

Amaroth spoke then with an annoyed look on his face, “Come on, we should take him with us. I bet if we go he’ll follow.”

Minara only shook her head then and picked Kitz and his piece of meat up in her arms speaking as if to Kitz then sounding something like a young mother with a new baby, “And leave you to walk back here all alone? No. We're not gonna do that are we? I bet you do tricks and everything! Be cute. Good boy!”

Minara looked to Amaroth with a sly smile then as she stood up with the still eating Kitz. She noted that his face wore a mask of hidden annoyance. Remembering well Amaroth’s wood nymph comment a moment before, she gave Amaroth a wink and smiled a bright-eyed bardic grin as she walked back to her horse. Amaroth having noted the wink smiled as well and followed her. He helped her up onto her horse as she carried their new pet before remounting his horse. The two of them then began to ride their horses to catch up with the group. Amaroth regarded the curious little fox snuggled against Minara’s stomach and legs as they rode. He was a woodsman, and he found himself thinking a few times that Kitz wasn’t just a hungry little fox and that he had a thing for ladies.

Amaroth, after a while, did dismiss the thoughts thinking to himself that the fox’s former owner must have been a woman. Perhaps that, he thought is why it had reacted so negatively towards him even after, it was he who had found and fed the little beast in the first place.

Kitz, who liked how this had turned out and was now in Minara’s lap securely, being held onto the back of a horse with a gentle female hand across his back had decided that Minara’s idea would work even better than his own. His new guise would be that of a lost pet. This way he knew that they might not react so strangely to him if he chose to be social and he knew that he could help them out a little too since pets often knew tricks. Other than that, to Kitz riding a horse for a change instead of racing tirelessly to keep up with one was a welcome change indeed. Being warm and snug in the lap of a pretty lady didn’t hurt at all either.

So Kitz rode with the group for another hour before they arrived at the small town of Crossroads. Kitz kept up his act as a lost and now newly adopted pet as best he could as the group went to the local tavern to relax and eventually get rooms to rest for the night. During the late dinner, Kitz had stayed mostly still in between Amaroth and Minara as people did what he could only describe as human stuff reveling late into the night. Minara eventually got up on the stage in front of everyone and sang beautiful songs and danced in a way that made Kitz wag his tail and stare from where he lay on a nearby table a bit more than he thought he should have. He imagined her with a bushy tail and cute little ears and was very pleased with what he saw.

During it all, he noticed with amusement that Amaroth had he possessed a tail would have likely been wagging his too. After a few hours of this when Grumble finally fell over a table in the barroom apparently asleep and the others took it as a sign to get some rest Kitz ended up on a pillow next to Minara’s head as she slept. After his first day with the humans, he wasn’t sure, but he found himself wondering if they were any worse off than his people after all. He thought about it for a few moments before exhaustion overtook him and he found blissful dreams of the heroics he would one day soon do and of his beloved Pearl lying near him as she peacefully slept.

Crossroads

It had been almost a week since their arrival in the town of Crossroads, and Kitz found himself still wasting no time at all in making as many friends as he could. He had made friends with Amaroth very easily by leading Minara, as she played with him to where Amaroth was sitting and pretending to be tired many times. After he did this, Amaroth and her usually began to talk and once Kitz noticed with the warm and happy feelings he always got in his stomach that they even kissed once after he did this. Amaroth had only given him a raised eyebrow followed by a smile and a gentle pat on the head on that particular evening. After that, however, Kitz noticed that Amaroth would always make sure Kitz was given food or attention whenever he seemed wanting.

Drake had been hard to get to know as he usually shooed Kitz off when he got to nearby. But after a few tries, he had found a way to get Drake to like him by accident. He had decided to mimic what the others did when they ate and had sat at the table when they ordered dinner. For some reason that was beyond Kitz, Drake seemed to be very amused with this. As Kitz would peak barely over the table looking around at everyone pretending to be trained to do so, Drake had begun to tell jokes about the dinner table fox. In the end, the group had actually ordered him his own plate of food and Minara had tied a napkin around his neck just like the one Grumble wore.

Grumble was the easiest to make friends with despite the fact that he couldn’t understand a word he said. Kitz had walked up to him while he was drinking at the bar since he seemed to do little else. Kitz had pretended to be interested in the drink he always held and after a few attempts at feigning thirst by Kitz. Grumble had gotten a small cup and poured some of his drink into it. Kitz had reluctantly tried to drink it and had swallowed a whole mouthful before almost choking on it. He ended up licking tables, windows, and anything else he could to get the horrible burning taste from his mouth. Afterward though, he did note the strange tingling he felt over his whole body. Kitz did like that feeling and a few times since then he had come back for more. This seemed to make Grumble happy, he noticed.

The hardest to get to like him was Thane. He did manage to get to Thane as well, though only in secret. Kitz had overheard on a few occasions Thane speaking of collecting certain things from the woods for components to his magic spells. Kitz knew well of spell components, and more than once had happened upon a component that Thane needed in his daily wanderings. Once when Thane needed a sparrow’s feather, Kitz had gone and hunted for a few hours until he found a sparrow. He had used a minor magic to kill it and had brought the dead bird back to the group as a gift that night at dinner time. Another was the legs of a grasshopper and for that one Kitz just happened to chase a few grasshoppers into the inn one night.

One night, Thane got an idea and tried to cast a spell on Kitz after dinner. At first Kitz was worried but when he didn’t feel any different afterward he figured it was ok. After this, Thane cast another spell and images started to appear in front of Kitz. Thane had said the word “Fetch” then as the image became that of a pretty but tiny blue flower. Kitz then realized that Thane thought that he had charmed him and was now trying to compel him with magic to get components he needed. It worked for Kitz, so Kitz played along even having fun sometimes pretending to be a dumb fox sometimes and bringing back the wrong thing by mistake. Searching for things for Thane became Kitz’s favorite chore over the week and despite the lack of thanks from Thane, Kitz was happy to help.

All in all, things were going pretty well, and Kitz was learning fast about the world outside his home. Everyday Kitz would wander the town, adventure, and do everything in his power to secretly help as many people as he could in the guise of the lost pet he had come to be. During this time many very unusual situations arose, and new unforeseen problems presented themselves for Kitz to solve. Kitz began to learn even faster about humans and about how to help them. When the group had arrived at Crossroads, they thought that Kitz was a lost pet, but after a few days they reasoned that he had belonged to some wizard since he seemed so smart. Kitz always kept them guessing and would soak up as much attention as he could.

It wasn’t just those in the group, though, he made friends with as many of the townsfolk as he could, and his favorite friends were children who would play with him tirelessly and a few lovers that he had helped get through a rough fight. For some, he would secretly write anonymous notes to try and help them with their problems. Some he even talked to claiming to be a forest spirit here to answer their prayers. He would help them with their problem and then ask them to keep him a secret. So far all of the ones that he spoke to had not told anyone.

On the sixth day, his group had met with an old man in the center of the town and it was during this meeting that Kitz first heard what this group was supposed to be doing and of what heroics he could help with. It was a grim meeting, and the old man spoke of many giants living to the east of the town in and beyond the mountains there. These giants had been raiding farms and killing merchants for months, and now they had begun to move closer to town. The man, who was clearly a leader of the people here feared that soon the town would be attacked and that the people would be in danger. He wanted this group, who were apparently well known in the western lands to journey out and attack the giants. By the end of the meeting, the entire group was grim and worried. Kitz was as well, but after his eventful week in Crossroads he knew that whatever was to come that the great willow would watch over him, so he wasn’t scared. He decided then and there that he would use his magic in secret if he had too in order to help this group rid the people of the giants.

The group had a meeting that night to discuss how to go about the task that they had been given or if they even should. It was a daunting task to many of them, Kitz could tell. Amaroth and Minara wanted to help the people here, but Thane and Drake believed that this wasn’t a worthy effort since the people of this town could barely afford to pay them for the supplies it took to journey here. Kitz couldn’t tell what Grumble thought of the whole thing except to say that it wasn’t worth skipping a drink over. They argued for hours as he sat quietly in the corner pretending to sleep or wandered about the room curiously pretending to be oblivious to the seriousness in the atmosphere. After many hours and the better part of the seventh day, the group decided that they would go reasoning that the giants may have treasures that would make the whole thing worth it.

After the last meeting on the seventh day, everyone split up and went in all directions shopping for supplies and re-gear themselves for this task. Not wanting to risk being left behind, Kitz followed Minara that day. She went to many stores that day as well as a few street vendors and bought various things. Kitz quickly noticed that she didn’t seem as jovial as she had in the previous days that he had known her. After a few hours of this, she walked to a farmhouse outside of the town where she found an old farmer working in a field of wheat. There she had given Kitz some of the meat from the tavern that had been his favorite before stepping off to the side and walking with the farmer. To Kitz it was obvious that she wanted privacy, so he stayed back a small distance from them, only keeping her in sight.

A few minutes later both she and the old man came back. She smiled and picked Kitz up and carried him into the old man’s farmhouse. Once inside, she set him down on the table and opened a bag of meats from the tavern and set it down in front of him. She smiled and told him that she didn’t think it was safe to go with her and that she would come back to check on him when she could. Kitz realized right away that he had done too good of a job, making friends and that she was trying to leave him behind. He whined a little and moved next to her hand wherever she moved it, but it was no use. She told him to stay here and that this old man, Mr. Winters would try and find whoever it was that he belonged to. He did his best to stop himself from doing something that would give him away though he wanted to very badly. Afterward, she left despite Kitz’s whines and complaints. Mr. Winter’s came in then, and Kitz was made comfortable despite his obvious distress.

To Kitz, this was just a minor setback, he already knew when the group was leaving and had overheard what path it was that they were taking. He decided to rest and play along with it until tomorrow when he would follow his new friends in secret whether they wanted him to or not. Early the next morning, well before sunrise and under a light rain, Kitz left the farmstead of Mr. Winters, as easily as opening a door with a magical hand. From there, he headed to the east path out of the town of Crossroads and waited off to the side of the path in some underbrush. He knew that he would recognize the group when they came by, and he also knew that following them had been easy the first time. He believed that following them a second time now after a week of resting and more importantly being fed very well would be even easier. So he sat and watched.

A few hours after sunrise, it was still raining when he saw a group of five on horses covered in rain-hoods emerge from the town gate. They were obviously his group, as they passed by Kitz even heard Grumbles unintelligible words from the rear of the line. Kitz also noted that Amaroth and Minara were both riding the same horse and wrapped in the same rain-hood. Kitz smiled inwardly at the new lovers that he knew he had helped along in discovering one another. After a moment of thought, he fell in line trotting along in the woods a few feet off to the right of the path and about 60 feet behind them. He did his best to remain out of their sight as he wanted to help them but didn’t want them to worry about him in what was already guaranteed to be a dangerous, exciting, and heroic trip.

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