Gabriel rode silently first passing through Aericinth, where no sign of Father Meinos had been seen, but life had begun to return to normal, despite the few deaths that had occurred.  While there, he inquired as to the whereabouts of the farm that Sarin’s family had said they owned, deciding to make a special stop to check in on them.  From there, he headed north and as the sun began its descent, caught site of the farm which had been described to him as belonging to James and Tera.

As he approached the modest farmhouse, he called out to the family, and was greeted by James, who looked considerably better than he had the last time the two had crossed paths.

“Well met Master Gabriel.  How went the hunt?”

“The hunt went well, it is good to see that you recovered.  How are Tera and her parents?”

“They are well, would you care to join us for supper?”

Gabriel agreed and went inside where he found Tera, Carra and Philippe sitting down at a table, a small roasted bird sitting in between them along with some carrots and potatoes.

Gabriel was offered a seat by Tera, while Philippe eyed him suspiciously.  After the food had been passed around, Sarin’s father broke the silence.

“Are you here to take James from us as well?”

“No sir I am not here to recruit anyone, but he should report his survival to the temple in Aericinth, they may be able to use him.”

“But we can use him right here.”  Philippe protested.

“Enough!,” Tera slammed her fist on the table.  “Have you heard from my brother?”

“I saw him recently, yes.”

“And?” Carra spoke for the first time since Gabriel had arrived.

“We fought together.  He was alive and well when I left.  He told me to give his love to all of you, and that he would come visit when the Plague had passed.”

“Did he say where he was staying?”  the two women said almost simultaneously.

"A small group of hamlets a few days from here.  He did not give me any names, I am sorry.”

“Well thank you,” Tera’s smile was wide, despite the glare that her father was giving her.

Gabriel finished his meal, thanked the family for the food and the service of their son, and took his leave, wanting to put another hours travel behind him.

The hour ride turned into two hours before Gabriel found himself a suitable spot to camp.  As he was laying out his bedroll against the shelter of a small outcrop of rocks, Gabriel spied some day old tracks, much like the ones Lear had pointed out to him before.  Gabriel grabbed his sword and went to investigate by stonelight, but lost the trail in a nearby stream, the clear waters bed strewn with rocks.  Gabriel returned to his camp and fell into an uneasy sleep, his sword lying nearby.  He awoke twice during the night, after some creature snapped a branch or the wind stirred the nearby trees.  Both time he had bolted up, and sword in hand again, had investigated the area surrounding the camp, but had not found any signs of disturbance.

As the sun rose the next morning, Gabriel broke camp, and while he was gathering his belongings, again found a set of werewolf prints, this set though he did not remember from the night before.

Disturbed, Gabriel followed the tracks and ended up back at the same stream, losing the trail again in the water.

Disappointed in his search, Gabriel mounted his horse and continued north.  After another three hours, he passed through the silent town.  Even Drisbin’s incessant hammering was silent.  This caused Gabriel enough concern that he opted to stop by the smithy, only to find the furnace out and the smith absent.

Worried, Gabriel stopped by Clarice’s as well, only to find that she was not present either.

Fear overtook the young man and he rode hard to the temple, where the stable boy came out to take his horse.  At least the temple is still operating he thought.

Running into the main foyer, Gabriel almost knocked over Cailin, who was talking to Drisbin.

“Gabriel, we were just talking about you.”  Cailin said, smiling.

“Or the lack of you.”  Drisbin said with a laugh.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, now that you aren’t here to care for their equipment, they do not have anyone of the right age to do so, and we were discussing terms on me taking over that maintenance.”  Drisbin spoke while Cailin nodded in agreement.  “How has your sword treated you?”

Gabriel withdrew his blade, still in pristine condition.

“Have you even used it?” He winked at Cailin, who just continued grinning.

In response, Gabriel pulled out his Necklace and showed off the seven fangs he had collected.  “Yes,” his voice dropped a few decibels, “I have had need to use it.”

“You ought to go see Master Lear, he will be happy to see you.”  Cailin said, turning back to resume his business with Drisbin.

Gabriel found Lear in the armory, sharpening a blade.  “Ah, Gabriel, nice to see you whole.”  The older man rose and clasped the young Paladin in a bear hug.  “How are you?”

“I am fine Master Lear, and you?”

“Fine considering.  Luckily the Plague has not made it here yet.”

What about Clarice, she was not at her shop?”

“She is working here repairing some of the saddles.  She must have been inside the stable when you came by.  She is fine.”

“And Father Meinos?”

“I am sorry, but he has not been found.  The men I left in Aericinth returned last night.  He appears to be lost.”

Gabriel hung his head.  “Do you think he would come here?”  He thought about the footprints he had found.  If it had been a werewolf, why had it not attacked?

“Who knows.”

“What do you know about the Rianna Gordann stories Master Lear?”

“Probably the same things you have heard.  Father Meinos was looking into the legends though, so you may find more in the Rectory.”

“May I look through his belongings?”

“Sure, but after you tell me about what you have seen and found.”

Gabriel spent the next three hours retelling his fight with the werewolf in Rianna’s temple, and the finding of the shackled beast there, as well as his encounters with both Sarin and Renault, and the condition in which Renault was, at least mentally.  Lear had many questions, and Gabriel answered them as best ho could, but spent the entire conversation looking for ways to end it so he could go look through Father Meinos’ notes on the subject of the Curse.

The story finally told, Gabriel said farewell and darted to the Rectory, its door standing wide open.  Expecting to find Benedis, Gabriel called out, and after getting no response, went inside.

The End

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