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Tientrich soared high above Fort Rannick, its sole tower only occasionally visible below the druid as he was buffeted about among the heaving stormclouds. Winds tore at the cloudlike bird-form he had himself adopted, his choice of an elemental body rather than that of a true bird reflecting his need for greater skill in flight, out of respect for the power of the natural forces that toyed with him up here. His own actinic eyes reflected the arcs of lightning that danced among the thunderheads as rain lashed about him. Twitch could easily believe that the spirits of storm, the particular totems of his own belief that sat among the many respected by his Shoanti people, could reside up here. And it was in hope of their guidance that the druid had ascended into the night sky, for the druid had come here to think.

The day’s trip to the place marked as Zatanna’s doom had started him thinking, initially about the sorcerer Jon, but later about his companions in general.

During the trip back to the Fort, Jon was clearly distressed. And the druid was forced to admit to himself that he really had no idea why. Clearly the place, or more accurately the name ‘Zatanna’, held great meaning for the sorcerer. His demeanour had changed quickly from one of apprehensive optimism to one of frustration, even anger, on Twitch’s report that the grave lay empty. Hence the druid’s confusion; his experience with people, limited though it was outside of Shoanti lands or the circles of the druids, had always been that they were happy to cling to the slightest hope of an important person in their life still being alive, and tended to rail at the “unfairness” of death. A flawed approach, obviously, as life and death were a constant cycle that would always be. Should always be, the druid corrected himself, considering their recent encounter with the wraiths on the outskirts of the Ashwood. Yet here Jon’s reaction seemed the complete opposite of what one would expect. So, was this “Zatanna” in fact an enemy? He remembered Jon mentioning the name once as the reason for some search of his; it seemed a long way to travel to hold on to a grudge. Either way, Tientrich was beginning to wonder whether he should have lied and told the sorcerer that there was, indeed, a body below that lonely tombstone to set his mind at ease. He told himself his concern was largely the sorcerers ability to focus on his spellcasting (a distracted sorcerer did not seem a wise thing to have around during combat), but was no longer sure that this was all there was to his concern for the man.

And in thinking on this, he began to consider what he knew of his other companions. He had, of course, kept himself apart from most of them, some may say aloof, not through any disregard for their abilities, but rather his own awkwardness around “civilised” people, and his assumption that he would have little in common with any of them. And yet, having spent most of the last week among them rather than scouting overhead as had been his wont, he was beginning to be surprised by some of what he had learned.

There was of course the already considered mystery of Jon, but more surprising to him was Marius’ obvious passion for cartography. Why, had he suspected that his own geographical interests were shared by the city-dweller they could have had many an enthusiastic conversation about terrain, cartographical techniques, and any other number of related topics to while away their days of travel.

He had begun to wonder what he may have learned about his other companions by now, had he made the effort to do so. Krolmn, of course, was a constant source of information about himself, gnomes in general, and pretty much any other topic anyone could raise. However, given the gnome’s penchant for mischief it was difficult to know how seriously to take any of this. Indeed, Krolmn’s efforts to keep them all safely on the trails during the passage through Sanos forest had been the most seriously dedicated to a cause the druid had seen him, barring perhaps when he was hunting goblins. And while in Tientrich’s case such concern had been unwarranted (such natural environments holding no concern for the druid, in this case some type of forest-spirit even granting him a boon!), still it had been a both surprising and welcome period of sobriety for the gnome.

And speaking (well, thinking) of surprising and welcome sobriety, Belor had revealed a different side to that with which the druid was accustomed during the journey. He was familiar with Belor the warrior, and respected him greatly. Familiar he was too with Belor the gambler, who he had little respect for; and Belor the womaniser, who seemed to evoke envy in some and distaste in others, while Twitch saw this behaviour as nothing other than natural. But the joking, farmboy Belor he had experienced during the ride he had not known before.

He was beginning to feel that, although he and his recent companions had been through much adversity together, they were still very much coexisting as separate entities rather than truly working together. Certainly he had very much been pursuing his own agendas outside of those times when they had been working together directly. Of course, his return to Thistletop to deal with the bunyip and interrogate Malfeshnekor had been early after their meeting, and he was understandably reluctant to put trust in people he had just met. His purchase of the farmland had been on a whim, and both that and his dealings with the farmers focused on restoring the Whisperwood, a goal which he had not felt would interest his companions at all. The reincarnation of Shaela involved druidic rites that were to remain sacred, and he would not compromise that (though she had done quite a good job of destroying the secrecy around that herself since her reappearance in Sandpoint), but his plot to overthrow the werewolf pack leader he certainly could have shared with them. He hadn’t even told any of them of the dream that was his true reason for coming east. Again, he had not thought any of them would be interested. But the more he thought about it, the more it occurred to him that these were really just all excuses for maintaining his distance. After all, once Krolmn had become aware of his purchase of the farm he had been quite keen to participate (even contributing some of the cost of its restoration), yet still Twitch had done nothing to include the gnome in his future plans.

And why keep them at bay? Because they were not of his people, not Shoanti? As the sorceress Deeliah had pointed out, though in jest, Tientrich himself was not presently regarded as a man of the Shoanti, having not returned to his clan to receive his tattoo to complete his rite of passage. He could blame his Shoanti upbringing- certainly his clan, the Tamiier-Quah, were among the less friendly toward outsiders (and being Shoanti, that was saying a lot), but he had not felt the need to distance himself from the druids when he had arrive at Mierani Forest. Was it their failure to understand the natural environment that was so important to him, he thought as lightning crashed around him. But no, while they would not understand the depth it held for him, everyone knew and respected the basics of life; an old mother dies, a new mother cries, a baby opens its eyes. And he could hardly pretend anymore that he was truly apart from the people of Sandpoint; heck, at times he now even thought of himself as “Twitch”, a name he had initially found derogatory and insulting. Though of course he would never admit it, nor introduce himself as such; druids did, after all, have a certain aura around their reputation that he needed to maintain.

Perhaps, then, it was just that coming from diverse backgrounds, with no prior shared upbringing or belief, he found trust difficult to come by. But surely by now their shared goals could have brought them together, had they all been willing.

The fort below provided a good example. He knew little of any of its occupants so far, but they were certainly a diverse range of individuals, and trust in one another and each others’ abilities would be imperative when out on patrol in ogre-infested woods. And while obviously not all went smoothly at all times- Deeliah clearly was not entirely happy with her lot, and happy to express it- it obviously worked well for the most part. He would speak to his brother druid Heron, he decided, to find out how he came to build such trust and understanding with his companions here, and continued to practice his own beliefs at the same time. Perhaps he would have advice that Twitch could adopt to better integrate with his own companions. And while he was at it, he may consider asking the Halfling to speak to Summer; she knew little about being a Halfling, he suspected, and Heron was someone he could confide in without releasing any druidic secrets to the outside world.

Twitch decided it was time to come down from the clouds, and descended to the tower, resuming his own form once on the ground. This was, perhaps, a metaphor for how he needed to being living his own life, he thought as the wind whipped his hair around his face (well, half his face anyway). Too much time with holding himself above everyone, both literally and figuratively, had done nothing to advance his cause of companionship. He would in future keep his feet on the ground more often. He had clearly become carried away with his abilities as he gained them, and become further removed from everyone around him. He began to see the danger of such actions, and perhaps why most people thought of druids as arrogant, meddling busybodies; it was far too easy to simply use one’s abilities to create change rather than to plan with others to do the same.

Krolmn was a good example; he had been equally busy around Sandpoint, but had acted in conjunction with important personages of the region rather than on his own. Perhaps it was an example that he should, at least in part, adopt.

And speaking of the gnome, it was probably time they sat down together and discussed each of their goals for the farmland around his dwelling; likely there was enough in common that they could work well together on shared enterprises. And maybe it was time to start speaking to the others as well. Surely they were sick of living at the Rusty Dragon, despite the generous hospitality of its proprietor. There was certainly plenty of space should they wish their own dwellings.

 Perhaps Belor would be keen to use his farming skills on the land for a change. Or if not that, he may be more interested in giving input into the brewery idea the druid had been toying with, bringing a mixture of Shoanti brews and those infused with some of the various rare plants he grew to the people of the region. Perhaps involving someone with such a love of liquor in the running of a brewery was less than wise, but his input could be valuable. And if things went well, perhaps he could in time create a small tavern or inn where weary travellers could rest away from the sights and smells of civilisation. He of course knew little of running such things, but Marius seemed quite competent with finances, and perhaps would be keen to put such skills to use. He had, after all, done a good job on the cell door Tientrich had installed.

Jon, he was not so sure of. He could not see any of these things appealing to the sorcerer. And, he had to admit, those dealing in the arcane were anathema to his own kind, and trust was a little harder to come by. But perhaps it was time to involve him in research into Malfeshnekor, and more specifically how to banish the creature. After all, Twitch was having little success himself, and was struggling among his other pursuits to find time to dedicate toward it. He was concerned that his lack of action on this would come back to haunt him. Sure, the barghest seemed unlikely to be freed from its prison now after thousands of years, but something about it was niggling at him.

When an opportunity arose, he would speak to the sorcerer and seek his opinion.

As it turned out, that opportunity came far sooner than he would have expected.

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