We went to meet the next party in a park. It almost seemed weird to have artificial nature inside a city when there was a lot of real nature outside the city… except outside the city there were also monsters. Not exactly the best place to go for a picnic. Not that the area near the city was particularly dangerous, but there was enough chance of problems that you wouldn’t go without some precautions.
I had expected the park to have grass… but that wasn’t the case. Why would it have grass anyway? The grass that grew naturally was long and unpleasant, unlike the highly cultivated grass back on Earth. Even on Earth, grass was almost sharp and only served to cover up dirt and spread easily. It could also bear being stepped on repeatedly. Instead, the park was just a small copse of trees and bushes. There was a little bit of groundcover in the form of clovers and some volunteer patches of grass, but there were paths worn through all of it.
If I hadn’t already known why we were coming here, it would have quickly become obvious. When I saw the wolf, I almost drew my club… but we were in the city, and I knew it would be here. It was big, though not significantly bigger than any of the other wolves I had seen. It was still tall enough that it could press its nose into my sternum without leaning up… and it was probably about as long as I was tall. The wolf had grey fur, except for large patches of white around its paws. “Hello!” From behind the wolf waved a woman… who was the biggest reason I wasn’t getting ready to fight the wolf. She had her hand on the wolf’s head, petting it… and the wolf had the expression of a happy dog, wagging tail included.
Kantrilla approached first, “Hello! I’m Kantrilla, and this is Llyr. I presume you’re Halette?”
“That’s right. This is Socks… and this is Kasner.” Out from behind the wolf stepped a tiny little man. Unlike the dwarf earlier, who had been pretty much my size, I could legitimately call this person tiny. Short would have been correct in a way, though I suspected he was rather average height… for a halfling.
“Greetings!” The little man held his arms out wide, the sleeves of his robes hanging down… almost making him seem bigger. “I am Kasner, sorcerer extraordinaire!”
Perhaps it would have been more impressive if he were taller… but he was small enough to have been completely obscured behind the wolf. Then there was one more thing… his hair was all standing on end, sticking out in all directions.
“Greetings. I’m Llyr.” I looked around, “Wasn’t there supposed to be one more of you?”
Halette nodded, “That’s right, Alhorn seems to be a bit late. Here, we should introduce you to Socks, so she knows you’re alright.” Socks wasn’t a particularly fearsome name for a wolf… but of the three here, I would bet on her being the victor in single combat. Halette was pretty much a normal size for a woman, which sadly meant she was taller than me… but I had some doubts about her ability to beat the wolf in a fight. Of course, that was when weapons and armor weren’t involved. “Go on Socks, greet them!”
Socks stepped forward, and I held out the back of my hand for her to sniff. She did so, then stepped forward and licked my face. I almost jumped away, but I just had to remind myself she was just a big, fluffy dog. At least, under the control of a Beast Tamer. Sure, dogs were all descended from wolves, but they had most of the wild traits bred out of them. Tame wolves weren’t quite the same, but one could expect better from one raised by a Beast Tamer… probably. Well, Socks would have to be very obedient or she wouldn’t have been allowed to stay in the city, Beast Tamer or not. Her tongue was both rough and wet on my face, and her breath kind of stunk… but that was just the way things were. I patted her on the head, which was only just below mine.
It was Kantrilla’s turn next, but she was hiding behind me- as well as she could given our relative sizes. Halette shook her head, “It’s okay, Socks is perfectly safe. Just stick out your hand like he did to let her get to know your scent.”
Kantrilla nodded, “O-okay.” She stepped out from behind me and stuck out her hand. Socks sniffed it, then licked her hand. Kantrilla giggled, “That feels weird!” I hadn’t thought it would be particularly new… but I supposed people keeping dogs as pets was not as common here. They were mostly used as work animals, guarding fields and flocks. I saw Socks step slightly closer to Kantrilla and tilt her head up, but she couldn’t reach Kantrilla’s face. Perhaps I was just reading into things, but I thought I saw the desire to jump up on her and lick her face conflicting with her training. Socks settles for nuzzling her head into Kantrilla’s side.
Then I heard the sound of boots impacting on the dirt, and saw a skinny man running over. He skidded to a halt next to us, panting and resting his hands on his knees, “I’m sorry… *huff* *huff* I’m not too late, am I? I hope it’s okay…” he looked around nervously. One thing that stuck out to me was his ears. Normally, I don’t notice ears on people. Big, small, oddly shaped… they mostly get forgotten. However, that was only human ears. These ears were pointed at the end… in the style of an elf. Later I found out that he was only half elf, but having seen neither me making that mistake wasn’t unreasonable.
I shook my head, “It’s alright, we just got here. I’m Llyr.” I stretched out my hand.
He actually had caught his breath very quickly, and his grip was firm… and stronger than expected. It wasn’t like shaking hands with a Barbarian or anything, but I could tell he was stronger than his looks let on. Well, that was his elven ancestry asserting itself.
After all the introductions were made, we had the required discussions. I was pleased that I also wouldn’t mind joining this group, because it meant we had more than one option… and that most of the people in Ekralas seems decent, contrary to our initial experience.