"Ameiko told me I'd find you here," came a familiar voice from the doorway.
Thia looked up from the workbench in the small back-room of the Rusty Dragon, where she'd been carefully stitching together pieces of leather for her new armor. Four days had passed since Grim's burial at sea, just off Sandpoint's coast. Thia had spent much of that time here, distracting herself with work. Ameiko, the innkeeper, had been kind enough to offer the room when Thia had enquired about suitable workspaces - it perhaps wasn't ideal, but it was both free and convenient.
"Shalelu," greeted Thia, standing and smiling. "It is good to see you well. How long have you been back?".
Thia's smile was genuine. When not working on her craft, Thia had spent much of the past few days deep in thought - and had started to realise both that friends were few and far between, and that they could be lost at a moment's notice. While Thia's history with elves was not a good one, Shalelu had been nothing but respectful to her - and Thia had concluded that there was little wisdom to be found in keeping Shalelu at arm's length, over wrongs that she had played no part in.
"Only an hour or so," replied the elf. "I've just returned from the town hall, giving my report to the mayor and Belor. They have filled me in on the events at Thistletop - I am so sorry for the loss of your friend."
Thia's smile faded. After a brief pause, she reached down beneath the workbench, pulling out a quiver of alchemically-treated arrows. She handed the quiver to Shalelu.
"Here are your arrows, as promised," she said, changing the subject. "The coatings have fully cured - you can use them straight away if you like".
Shalelu accepted the quiver, briefly glancing over the arrows before looking back at Thia.
"Thank you. I am confident of your workmanship, and grateful for your generosity, but Thia... I did not come here for arrows. How are you? Ameiko fears that you have been somewhat withdrawn since your return, and your friends are also growing concerned."
"I'm fine, really," replied Thia. She had to admit though that she had indeed been withdrawn - since the burial, she'd spent more time with Nyx, the young wolf rescued from the Thistletop goblins, than with anyone else. "It's just... it's been a lot to process. We've saved Sandpoint, stopped Nualia's machinations, slain Malfeshnekor - and yet it all feels so hollow."
Shalelu listened, and gave a gentle nod of understanding.
"It is a high price that has been paid, for certain. Grim's sacrifice, though, was a noble one - as you yourself said, you saved Sandpoint. If Nualia had succeeded in freeing Malfeshnekor, and launched a fresh assault - the town may very well now be lying in ruins. You must of course mourn the loss - but remember also the fearlessness that defined him, and the enormous impact he has made. Both on you and your companions, and on Sandpoint and its townsfolk."
Thia folded her arms and fought back tears, before recovering enough to nod in gratitude.
"Was he buried here, in Sandpoint?" asked Shalelu.
Thia shook her head.
"No. He came from a family of seafarers, so Ntombi suggested we return him to the sea. We thought it was appropriate. There's a memorial stone in the cathedral's grounds, though - the mayor was very kind."
"I would be grateful if you could accompany me there, Thia," requested Shalelu. "I would like to pay my respects to your friend. Sandpoint owes him a great debt."
Shalelu knelt by the monument, whispering an almost-inaudible prayer to Desna. Standing, she laid a hand on the stone, a stout obelisk of granite with its subject's name engraved upon it.
"Rest well, Grimalakt Grimtideson," she spoke softly. "May Sandpoint guard your memory, as you guarded her."
Shalelu turned to face Thia, standing quietly a few feet away, arms folded. At her side was Nyx - eyes bright and watchful, tongue tasting the afternoon's autumn breeze.
"You knew him long?" asked Shalelu. "Forgive me - recent events have given me little opportunity to learn much of your group, beyond what was necessary to deal with the threats at hand."
"Not long at all," admitted Thia. "We met on the day of the Swallowtail Festival, when the goblins attacked. Same with Rui, though Ntombi and I had briefly met the day before."
"Your bond with your companions is a strong one, for such a short time," observed Shalelu.
"Yes. I hadn't even known them for a fortnight, and hadn't realised how close we'd actually become in that time - but when Grim died, right in front of us... I haven't felt pain like that since back in Crying Leaf, when my mother was killed."
Shalelu looked up sharply, staring directly at Thia.
"What happened?", she asked.
Thia frowned and closed her eyes, as she recalled the painful events.
"She was killed while out on patrol, deep within the forest. A griffon attacked her troop out of nowhere, leaving no survivors. When they were found, only an examination of their remains gave any insight as to what had happened. It was never established what made the griffon attack, although the assumption was that something had driven it from its usual territory. I stayed in Crying Leaf for a while after that, but... with my mother gone, it was never going to work, and I left before the year was out."
Shalelu's eyes grew a little distant, reliving her own memories while Thia recounted hers. She breathed deeply, seemingly coming to a decision.
"It would appear, Thia, that you and I have far more in common than either of us realised."
Thia opened her eyes and looked quizzically at Shalelu, waiting for her to continue.
"I too am from Crying Leaf, as I mentioned before. What's more, though, I also lost my mother - under similar circumstances to your own. She was killed by a green dragon, in a direct attack on the village."
Thia's eyes widened in surprise.
"My mother told me the tale of that attack, when I was a child. It was before I was born, but she was part of the defence. So many lives were lost that day."
"My mother's among them, yes," said Shalelu. "I would soon end up leaving Crying Leaf as a result of my loss, just as you later would after yours. I suspect I may have an idea of what caused you to leave, but please - tell your own tale."
"I didn't have a great deal of choice in the matter, truth be told," began Thia. She cast a look over one shoulder and then the other before continuing, making sure the conversation was not overheard before she continued. "My mother was a Lantern Bearer," she explained. "That afforded her a certain amount of respect within the village, and though I didn't realise it at the time, I suppose some of that respect must have carried over to me, as her daughter. Once she was gone, though, that evaporated, and suddenly I found myself an outsider - a half-elf, and an all too human-looking one at that. It was very quickly apparent that there was little reason for me to stay."
"I feared as much," sighed Shalelu. "My kin are... not always welcoming to others. My stepfather was human, and that was not well looked-upon either. My years here, though, among the humans and dwarfs and halflings, have shown me how wrong they are on that front. I am sorry for your loss, Thia, and for the treatment shown to you by my kin."
"Thank you. You yourself have shown me only kindness and respect, and I appreciate that."
The two stood in quiet contemplation of the memorial for several minutes, before Shalelu reached out and grasped Thia's shoulder.
"Come, Thia. We have honored Grim as a warrior, and Sandpoint's saviour - I suggest we now return to the Rusty Dragon and honor him as your friend. Ameiko has a lot of beer, and I'm sure Grim would like nothing more than for us to help her get rid of it."
Thia smiled and nodded in agreement, and turned. Nyx stood and stretched, sensing they were leaving, and the three headed back towards the Rusty Dragon.
"Another round for us, please, Ameiko!" called Thia, raising her empty mug high to help attract the innkeeper's attention above the evening hubbub. Ameiko looked over and nodded, flashing a broad grin.
"Coming right up, Thia!" she called back.
"I'm not entirely sure this is wise," protested Shalelu half-heartedly. "I was planning on leaving again early tomorrow."
"Come on, this was your idea!" pointed out Thia. "Besides, surely you don't have to dash off again so soon. Stay another day at least. I don't think we're in danger of another goblin attack, not now the Thistletops are dealt with."
"It's not an attack on Sandpoint I'm worried about. You're right on that front. With the Thistletop tribe in tatters and Nualia's influence gone, I have very little fear of the goblins remaining united enough or brave enough to mount any kind of assault on the town."
"I'll drink to that," said Thia, raising her mug towards her mouth, then frowning as she discovered it still empty. Ameiko was a good host, but apparently not a magician.
"The goblins may still pose a threat to the outlying farms, though," Shalelu continued, "and I'm concerned about the likelihood of a power struggle. With the Thistletops out of the equation, the other tribes are each bound to want to prove their dominance."
"To prove they're the top dog, you mean," said Thia, before giggling. "See, it's funny because goblins hate dogs."
"Well, at least I know you've been paying attention," sighed Shalelu, smiling despite herself.
"Two more ales, as requested," said Ameiko, placing fresh mugs on the table with a clunk. She shot a bemused look at the giggling Thia, then placed a hand on Shalelu's shoulder and grinned. "I don't know what you've said to her, my friend, but it's good to see Thia out of that workroom."
"I merely suggested having a few drinks, to celebrate Grim's life," said Shalelu, before casting a doubtful look at the fresh mug. "Although I wasn't made aware that this would involve drinking Grim's weight in beer. I don't like my chances of getting away early tomorrow."
"There's no need to get away at all, if you ask me," pointed out Ameiko. "I've seen so little of you recently - stay another day. You know you're always welcome, and we need to catch up properly."
"See? I told you!" cried Thia loudly, earning disapproving frowns from a nearby pair of the inn's older, grumpier patrons. "That's two of us now, you're outnumbered!"
"Very well, I give in," said Shalelu, lifting her palms in mock defeat. "You have both made a compelling case, and I will stay an extra day."
"Thank you!" said Thia, grinning. "That's all we wanted!"
"Well, it looks like I have both of you to thank," said Ameiko. "Shalelu for coaxing Thia out of the workroom, and Thia for persuading Shalelu to stay here a little longer". She scooped up the two empty mugs, and headed back to the bar.
As Shalelu and Thia continued to talk and laugh, Ameiko glanced back at them from the bar. Unnoticed by either, she smiled to herself, and wondered.