After the sky had lightened enough for reading, the rest of Niero's early-morning shift passed swiftly enough in poring over his scrolls and updating his diary. The others began to pick themselves up soon after, the more martially inclined being the first and the aristocrats and Gelik being last.

The mood in the camp was subdued after the night's events. Gelik in particular had not taken well to a dead goat suddenly crashing into their campfire in the dead of night. Sujiu had tried to pass it off as a stroke of luck – a free delivery of food – but the bard was having none of it. His faintheartedness was strongly failing to impress anyone in the group, not that anyone was feeling particularly inspired to challenge his assessment of the jungle island as the 'dreariest and most disturbing locale for an adventure this side of Brevoy.'

Wherever Brevoy was.

Still, most of the others, who themselves were not strictly enthusiastic over their prospects, had at least resigned themselves to focusing on the positive. The liveliness of the camp picked up to its usual, modest morning bustle, with Sujiu and Mogashi consulting with Jask and Sasha about their supplies and scouting plans and Malje striving to make it seem like every suggestion they decided on was done on her sole authority. There was a promise of normalcy in the air.

Normalcy for Smuggler's Shiv.

Perhaps there would be some more oversized beasts that were underscared of people. Perhaps they would manage to harvest some tropical diseases from the jungle.

Or maybe they would meet some more cannibals.

Inwardly, Niero threatened to wax poetic about the ardency of his dislike of the island. May it rot in hell and disappear off the face of the world.

After he was off it.


When the band of scourging rangers of untameable jungles that was their scouting party returned to camp very late that day, having met oversized animals and ghouls and cannibals and more, Niero was waiting – just waiting for some sorry soul to ask him how his day had been.

No one did. Such was life.

Of course, it did spare him the indignity of a whiny diatribe he could not have quelled. Mogashi had almost been killed – twice – and still looked like something that you would not feed even to starving hogs. Compared to their Mwangi guide, Niero knew he had it easy, but he managed to be only distantly appreciative for the fact. In his opinion, he was badly enough off to warrant a good, raging spiel.

Instead of a good, raging spiel, Niero settled for a brief, cool shower, courtesy of Malje. One of these days the half-elf would realize that Niero irked her off for the express purpose of procuring said showers. It sure beat stooping to ask for favors.

Munching on python-kebab and drying too slowly in the tropical night air, Niero spotted Aerys, recently cured of the worst of her withdrawal problems, sitting off to the side at the edge of the firelight with a quill and a scroll. He did not recall them being part of the gear he had salvaged from the Jenivere with Mogashi and Sujiu.

To himself, Niero silently prayed that this new turn of events was a viable and sustainable substitute to the previous practice of libation the group had been forced to engage in in order to keep the woman moderately cooperative.

Niero marched up to her and, by way of greeting, snapped off an impromptu salute somewhere between an act of reverent obeisance and a crassly suggestive gesture. One worked with what life armed one with.

"Whatcha doin'?"

Aerys looked up and eyed him over neutrally, which was an improvement in itself. Then, after a moment, "Writing." She turned back to her scroll.

"A diary, is it? Is it drained-of-blood monkeys time in there yet, or are ya startin' off from the start, with the shipwreck an' all?"

"No diary. Just something I work on now and then, on and off... Poems."


"Oh? Didn't know ya had an artistic streak." She made no response to that, so after a moment Niero followed up with, "Can I see 'em? That is – if they're not personal?"

Aerys looked at him with an only mildly threatening glare for a moment. Just when Niero had begun to wonder about the phrasing of her imminent refusal, she shrugged. "Sure." And she held out the scroll.

Niero took it, went to sit down closer to the fire, and began to read.


A one who past their closest weakness sees

Need not possess a strength to equal those

Who govern all the planes the way they please;

Endeavor spiting odds more courage shows

Than confronting Pharasma's fate, reserved

For every mortal victim that defies

To persevere and stave off all deserved

Requitals and rewards the gods devise.

Attend, though, not to sacrifice resolve

For easy resolution, favoring

Evasion over fortitude to wield;

For all our hardest lessons do involve

Both tragedy and triumph: savoring

To hurt, to fail, to lose – yet never yield.