Maldore awoke early the next morning, determined to get started with the search. He was surprised to see that the Traveler was already up, tending to a small fire. Nearby, his younger siblings and Hilyan were still resting, the young Namican deciding it was best not to disturb them. He approached the Traveler.
"I'd expect you to have needed more sleep than that."
"Your assumption wouldn't be unreasonable. But some of us eventually learn to get our rest while still inspecting clues."
Maldore squinted. "Uhh, you're not still asleep then, are you?"
"No. But I was last night. And if you ever decide to try out that skill, just be warned that it makes it difficult to distinguish between reality and dreams for a while."
"Thanks for your concern, I guess."
"I'm a bit more worried about Hilyan."
Maldore stooped down next to the squatting Traveler. "And why would that be? Those berries she ate wouldn't have side effects you didn't mention yet, do they?"
"Not unless they make someone conveniently forget essential details."
Maldore snorted. "You found something else here, didn't you?"
"No. But she said some things that did disturb me... for instance, if her mother, your aunt, forced her to learn how to make the mushroom paste stuff, who was it for, then? Younger siblings? Cousins? One doesn't ingrain a skill that well unless they either get an awful lot of practice or have something else force it. And she doesn't strike me as having had that kind of parenting."
Maldore shrugged. "So?"
"So... where are those siblings or cousins? Who is taking care of them?"
Maldore looked toward Hilyan. "I'm sure someone is."
The Traveler pursed his lips. "Do consider what I've told you. I do hope my suspicions are wrong."
Maldore snapped his head back. "What suspicions?"
"Understand that I'm not attempting to sow any distrust among you. It's obvious she needs you as much as your sister needs her. But... I worry that she may be in league with the one who left those perfect tracks."
"Well... there is the possibility that your uncle... aye, the tracks are from a larger male... either happened to get lucky with tasting the cakes, or knew to avoid them altogether. If that's the case..."
"I think you are wrong." Maldore stood. "I don't know why you've come when you did, and why you're even thinking about all this intrigue. I still don't even know what you are."
"I am Namican, just like you."
Maldore shook his head. "You look it, but you don't talk it. Nor do you have any known relation to our family. You're too young to be a second generation, and you're obviously not first. Did you have parents here? If so, why do you show no concern for them?"
The Traveler stood, placing a paw on Maldore's shoulder. "Lad... the truth is stranger than fiction, unfortunately."
"I'm a being who is living through a fifth lifetime, born to parents who at this time are now on another world. I was gifted to change form, and sometimes location, near death. I have no control over what I become or where I go, but a certain friend who does know told me to seek the Gol'e. No, I cannot tell you what they are, I don't even know myself. But I knew you were one of what I was looking for."
Maldore blinked. "So... You found me. But what about our parents?"
"My friend told me what happened. At least, that they had gone missing and that all their children were waiting."
Maldore shook his head. "You're right. Whatever you perceive as the truth certainly is stranger than your idea of fiction."
"Before you go... I could take you to see this friend. Then you'll know for yourself."
Maldore inhaled slowly. "And just where is this... friend?"