With one goblin raid behind her, and with the threat of another looming over Sandpoint, Thia felt the need for some archery practice to keep her skills sharp. Finding a vacant archery range in the town — set up as part of the festival's entertainment, and not yet taken down — Thia readied her bow and began to work, loosing arrow after arrow at her target.
As the arrows flew, Thia mentally reviewed all the information that she and her new friends had just received from Shalelu. The elf's depth of knowledge of the goblins had been impressive indeed, but had just reinforced Thia's fears that Sandpoint was still in trouble. The goblin tribes were not renowned for their boldness, and between the goblin captive's talk of "the longshanks", the mysterious theft of Father Tobyn's remains, and now Shalelu's news that the tribes seemed to be operating towards an unknown common purpose, Thia sensed a growing danger. Her journey to Magnimar was going to have to wait.
Thia frowned to herself as her latest shot thudded into the outermost ring of the target. A strike, yes, but not a good one - she was distracted and needed to refocus. She was at least pleased that the alchemical treatment she'd applied to her arrows was still holding up - not a single one had broken yet.
It wasn't just the looming goblin threat that had lessened Thia's concentration; she was still discomforted from meeting Shalelu. Thia still felt that same familiar fear every time she encountered an elf, that nagging sense that they must be looking down on her, judging her for her half-elven heritage. She hadn't seen any outward sign that Shalelu saw her that way, but the doubt was still there. Crying Leaf was years behind her now, however the treatment she'd received from the elves was not.
Thia nocked another arrow, drew, and loosed once more - this time striking six inches or so from the centre of the target. "Better," she thought, "but still room for improvement".
Shalelu yawned as she stepped out of the merchant's shop. She could feel the exertions of the last couple of days catching up with her. Her usual routine would allow her a couple of days of rest, but the situation with the local goblins meant a quick turnaround was needed this time.
At least the town seemed to be in good hands. Those "Heroes of Sandpoint," as the locals had taken to calling them, seemed to have been pretty effective at dealing with the goblin attack. With them supporting the town guard, any further incursions should be fought off with ease.
In the background, Shalelu could hear the thud of arrows hitting a target. Looking around she could see the young ranger "hero" practising at one of the ranges set up for the festival. If she remembered correctly, the ranger was called Thia, and certainly had some elven blood in her.
Quietly approaching, Shalelu studied her form as a series of arrows were notched and loosed into the target. Her skill with the bow was obvious, and interestingly her arrows seemed a lot more durable than Shalelu's own.
As Thia paused to notch another arrow, Shalelu coughed lightly to attract her attention.
"You may want to adjust your footing a little. Your stance is good, but when in a fight, it's good to have a bit more spring in your legs. May I join you for a bit?" Shalelu asked companionably.
Thia didn't need to turn to recognise the voice - it was Shalelu. She felt a flicker of irritation at the intrusion, and immediately suppressed it - the advice itself wasn't unwelcome, but it grated to yet again have her shortcomings detailed by an elf. The harsh lessons of her time among elves were not easily forgotten, and although Shalelu's tone was friendly, Thia could not help but look for an insult concealed beneath the advice.
Thia turned her head slightly in Shalelu's direction and nodded in acceptance. She wasn't fully comfortable practicing alongside Shalelu, but it would be impolite to refuse - and all the more undiplomatic given the ranger's clear importance to the town.
As Shalelu stepped forward and prepared for her own practice, Thia adjusted her stance, took aim, and loosed another arrow. Rather than wait for Shalelu to point out what she'd done wrong this time, Thia decided to direct the conversation elsewhere.
"I must thank you again for all the information you have shared with us regarding the goblin threat," said Thia, as she selected another arrow. "From all we have heard, this town has owed its safety to you many times over, and it is clear why. Such depth of knowledge of the tribes must have taken years to gather. I'm curious, though - why Sandpoint? What first brought you here?"
Taking up a spot next to Thia, Shaleu deftly slipped her bow from her back and started stringing it.
"Lets just say, I'm not so much of a people person. I much prefer to spend my time in the wilds, but you have to resupply sometimes. I can get what I need here, and the townsfolk are welcoming. Plus the surrounding area is a little more interesting than the Mierani Forest, and it's all pointy ears in Crying Leaf. Not that I have anything against my fellow elves, just I like to see a bit more variety around!"
Shaleu selected an arrow from her quiver, notched it and lets it fly at the target next to Thia's. It landed a small distance from the centre, not a showy shot.
"When I first came here, the guard didn't have a handle on the goblin tribes. They could repel an attack, but didn't have the resources to scout and be proactive. I saw an opportunity to be helpful, and started providing information as well as "pest control" when needed".
She smoothly retrieved another arrow and sent it down the range to land close to her previous arrow. She moved confidently, and it was obvious she is well practiced.
"Next thing I know I'm the town's unofficial guardian! Although I am glad you and your friends have agreed to help. I've not seen the tribes act like this, and while individually they aren't a threat, there are a lot of them around. Hopefully I can get to the root of it before things get worse."
Her third arrow landed near the other two, forming a tight cluster - or would have done, had it not immediately shattered on impact. Shalelu cursed softly in Elven.
The news that Shalelu had come from Crying Leaf gave Thia pause. Although she had assumed Shalelu had originally come to Sandpoint from elsewhere, due to her lack of obvious roots in the town, it hadn't occurred to Thia that the elf may have previously lived in the exact same village as her - the same village that Thia had effectively been forced to leave.
While she processed this information, Thia seized on the distraction of Shalelu's broken arrow. Pulling a fresh arrow from her own quiver, she took a couple of steps towards Shalelu, holding the arrow out for display.
"I may be able to offer you a solution," she began. "I've picked up some alchemical knowledge over the past year or so, with the help of a friend - and we've been able to develop a treatment for my own arrows that makes them highly durable."
Shalelu accepted the offered arrow and inspected it closely, noticing the thin coating along the arrow's shaft.
"They're not impervious to everything, obviously," she continued, "but it's been a while since I've had any breakages. Perhaps I could treat your own arrows in the same way? It takes some time though - I won't be able to do it before you leave."
While Shalelu thoughtfully turned the arrow in her hands, Thia quietly pondered Shalelu's origins. Thia had left Crying Leaf due to the villagers' disdain for her half-elven background - would Shalelu share that disdain? Shalelu had clearly spent much time in the company of humans, so perhaps her perspective on other races was different.
Shalelu inspected the arrow with a critical eye. The coating was thin, adding very little weight to the arrow, and the arrowhead was still nice and sharp.
"These are very nicely done" she said to Thia, "I would be honoured if you could prepare some for me."
"Last time I fought the bugbear Bruthazmus, I used a whole quiver of arrows, and I think I was only able to recover a quarter of them. Although, a number of them did leave stuck into him. Watch out for him, he really hates Elves, and won't care about your parentage. He'll see your ears and that'll be enough."
She handed the arrow back to Thia and started to gather up her own bow and quiver.
"Has been good to talk, but I'd better get back out there. Who knows what those goblins are up to. Look after yourself, we should grab a drink when I'm back, if you are still around. It's nice to have another ranger about to talk with."
With that, she headed off towards the Rusty Dragon.
Thia watched, relieved and intrigued, as Shalelu headed for the inn. This encounter had not been at all what she had expected. Since her mother died, Thia's interactions with elves had been characterised by their mistrust and contempt; in contrast, Shalelu had been welcoming and even respectful.
Immediately after the town hall meeting about the goblin threat, Thia hadn't even so much as entertained the notion of anything more than a cooly-civil professional relationship with Shalelu - at best. Now, there seemed to be the inkling of a friendship forming.
With a slight shake of her head at this unexpected development, Thia turned back to her archery target, and thoughtfully took aim.