“Boy, this thing is block to bits, you sure this is the place?” – Bearded man with a built of a bear was standing at the foot of stairs, watching the younger lad getting up.
“I’m sure! I’m more than sure! This is it!” – Young man, with map in hands, pushed his glasses upward the bridge of his nose, happily looking at the entrance of the old place.
“This, this is..” – The man with a large backpack, few bags and a water can in hands finally reached the two. – “This is like a damn curse, than looking for the wealth of old Emperor. Why did I even agree to go?”
The man sat on a rock, with bags hanging from his shoulders. He was wiping sweat off his forehead.
“May I remind ya, that this whole thing was your plan to begin with?” – Bear-like man pulled out pipe, filling it with the tabbacco.
“Heggerd, pains to admit my own flaws.” – The man sitting on the rock let out.
“Master Filligan, it was your idea to bring all those things along.” – Heggerd stroked his beard, then smoked the pipe with a smirk.
Filligan hung his head for a moment, then raised it, as he glared tiredly at companion.
“It’s so amazing! I’ve only heard the stories! This is amazing! The myths being real! Can you believe it? The place where the mighty Emperor held the rituals with the mighty mages to bless the lands!” – Young man was happily going back and forth, as his excitement was overfilling.
“This kid sure sees no such thing as tiredness.” – Heggerd let out.
“Being the brightest kid in academy, Kewel is a wise asset to team.” – Filligan drank the water from flask.
“Your old arse is exploiting the kid. But what cut he’ll get from this thing ain’t my business. As long as mine is well cut.” – Heggerd whistled, Kewel looked back at him. – “We’re camping here for a bit!”
“Coming!” – Kewel went back to the other two.
Filligan put down the bags, then stretched out, bones cracking all around.
“Uff, mate, are you sure you’re in your 40s? You sound like my old man, though he’s around 89 now.” – Heggerd spoke, as he was taking out some food from his bag.
“He’s not old! His work is mainly with the sciences, so there’s a lot of sitting and not so much physical action.” – Kewel began explaining.
“Ah, the science roach. Got it.” – Heggerd cut the talk short.
Filligan looked at Heggerd.
“Guess being bear is not only in the looks.” – Filligan threw.
“Don’t be so harsh on self, maybe you’re more of a cricket, than a roach, with all that crackling.” – Heggerd, grimaced at Filligan.
“Gentlemen, let’s be civil. We’re still to figure out a way to get in the place.” – Kewel cut in.
“Explosives can do the trick.” – Heggerd said, as he put the dried meat in his mouth. – “Explosives never let ya down.”
Filligan rolled eyes, letting out a sigh.
“As well as take the rest of the place become a rubble.” – Filligan scratched his head. – “Oh gods…”
“Prayers won’t help, cricket.” – Heggerd laughed.
“You seem like you get along well, somehow.” – Kewels brows knit as he observed the two.

Filligan had the pot boiling with stew, as he mixed it with spoon, checking the taste every so often, adding ingredients, so all is well. Heggerd set up the tent, then went out for a bit and brought back a fat bird with him, so to add some meat to stew that’s all nice and fresh. Kewel was checking the maps and writings for thousandth time.
“Cricket, make sure to add some of this goodness.” – Heggerd handed Filligan plucked and cleaned bird.
“Ah, the forest bear at his finest.” – Replied Filligan, as he took the bird.
“It’s alright lassie, but that flirting won’t cut it with me. You’re not my type.” – Heggerd went to check on Kewel.
“I think I’ve figured the layout better, so I’m calculating how to use explosives to not trigger the fall of structure around.” – Kewel looked up at Heggerd, as latter stood like a mountain next to him.
“Good kid.” – Heggerd let out and pat Kewel on the head.
“I’m not a kid! I have a fionce! I am an adult!” – Kewel protested.
“Ahaha!” – Heggerd was amused. – “Having a lassie ain’t the show to tell that you’re adult.”
“Having a pair of balls is not a tell either.” – Filligan said.
“Oh look at the magnanimous cricket! And what does tell what an adult is? A house? Work? Maybe all them jewels?” – Heggerd laughed.
“Tolerance for bullshit, as one to count.” – Filligan replied straight faced.
“Ahaha!” – Heggerd laughed hard. – “What’s the other thing then?” – He asked, wiping tears of laughter.
“The ability to make balanced decisions in the limited time provided.” – Filligan replied.
“Ah look at that! The cricket has some point there.” – Heggerd laughed.
“I feel insulted here…” – Kewel let out.
“Ah, my boy, don’t be upset! You’ll learn.” – Heggerd smacked Kewel on the shoulder. – “Is the food ready, my dear?” – Heggerd called out as he looked at Filligan.
“Who’s hitting on who now? I’m not marrying you, old man! And the food needs another half hour, you bear brain.” – Filligan spoke back.

Once the night set in, the camp was calm. The bugs were not even near, seemed like whole life around went too silent. Heggerd set up some magical traps around their perimeter. Filligan and Kewel napped, as Heggerd was taking first watch.
The silence was too odd for Heggerd, he got used to the endless buzz around, as the work is all about the adventures, the home is all the buzz with wife and kids, so this silence was too odd for him. But something else bothered the man – even though it was their first time in this land, the nature always makes some sound. This here – was too dead. Fire was crackling, as the wood burned, but that was the sole sound.
“Ah, how cute.” – Sweet calm voice of a lady spoke next to Heggerd.
He grabbed his large dagger and held in hand, turning round to see who it was. He was stopped in his tracks to see a see-through lady, standing on the other side of the camp fire.
“Ah, my apologies, did I scare you?” – She cutely covered her mouth, surprisingly looking at Heggerd.
“La-ads? How about some waking up now? Would help a bunch!” – Heggerd called out to the other men in the camp.
Filligan barely opened eyed, squinting at Heggerd.
“What?” – Filligan said, then looked at Heggerd, then where he was looking at. Sudden surprise and he was fully awake, now shaking Kewel who slept next to him.
“Mmm, mum, five more minutes.” – Kewel let out with a grunt.
“Wake up kid!” – Filligan smacked the kid, waking him up harshly.
“What?” – Kewel opened eyes, as he sat up next to Filligan. Latter only pointed at the ghostly lady.
“What a commotion..” – Lady said with a sigh.
“Who are ya?” – Heggerd asked.
She looked at them, then looked at the entrance up the stairs.
“I’m the keeper of this sanctuary.” – She calmly stated. – “It seems like you lot are trespassing here. Well, about to do so. So I’m out here to sort this out before it comes to something worse.”

“Ah! The keeper! I read of you!” – Kewel regained his excitement. – “I’ve read that there’s the magical being that guards the place, yet none that went here encountered the keeper in a nice way..” – Kewel tailed off, his excitement dying down.
“Ou, so you’ve known of me and yet you came here.” – She sat down near fire.
“What do you want?” – Heggerd grovelled.
“Just that you don’t make mess and leave this place in peace.” – She calmly replied, eyeing Heggerd.
Heggerd put away the dagger, then took out his pipe.
“Lassie, when was the last time you ate? You’re not even skin and bones.” – Heggerd smoked.
“Oh!” – Lady looked up with a smile. – “Oh that was around seven centuries ago. Ah, it was so nice to have a feast back in the days. Eh… In this form there’s none of that.”
“What? No more run to enjoy? No stew? No pies? That’s horrid!” – Heggerd let out.
The other two sitting men were too stunned to speak.
“What’s your name, lassie? I feel bad that you can’t eat. Do you even like, have something that is nurturing? Coz this seems like a horrid diet you have there. Being all ghost. Tough!” – Heggerd let out, one brow raised, as he pointed at her with his pipe.
She laughed hard.
“Oh my! In all time being here, not one was so concerned with my diet!” – She laughed out loud.
Heggerd smiled to that. Filligan got up and walked to sit next to Heggerd. Kewel was still looking at the unfolding scene before him. Too unable to do anything.
“Lassie, do you even have a way to feed ya? Otherwise as a father, I’d be concerned with my daughter being this thin, ya need some meat on them bones. Is there a way to feed you some stew at least?” – Heggerd pointed at the pot that was near the fire.
Lady, still smiling, looked at the pot.
“No ways I can think of.” – She said.
“Pardon, what was your name again?” – Filligan politely asked.
“Astrid.” – She let out.
“Astrid… Astrid?!” – Heggerd jumped. – “Oh gods of old! Just like my youngest daughter! Now I MUST have you fed well, this is a treachery otherwise!” – Heggerd went to get a clean bowl with a spoon.
All the ones around were observing Heggerd, too surprised to react.
Heggerd opened the pot, then got half bowl of stew and walked to the lady.
“Now my dear, can you hold the bowl?” – Heggerd asked.
“I ah… I’m not sure…” – Astrid replied.
“Come on then, let’s try.” – Heggerd said, as he was placing the bowl in her hands.
The bowl touched the hand of Astrid and stayed there, the spoon was placed in her other hand. She was amazed that she could actually hold anything.
“Ah! Good lassie! Now come on, make this papa proud and have a spoon full. Ah?” – Heggerd smiled as he watched Astrid.
She slowly put the spoon in bowl, picked a spoon full, then raised the food to her mouth, opened it and actually placed the food in her mouth. Her eyes lit, as she could taste the stew. Hungrily she began eating it, one spoon full after another.
“Ei-ei, no need to rush, my wee baby, there’s plenty more. We’ll get them meat on them bones, my sweet child.” – Heggerd placed his hand on Astrids back, tapping it softly. Her eyes watered.
“Uhum” – She let out, as she began crying.
“It’s alright baby, it’s alright. Papa will take care of ya.” – Heggerd pet Astrid, as she ate.

After all the food was cleaned up by Astrid – the ghostly appearance changed into a humanly “skin and bones” way. She was no longer see through. Her long light dress was wrapping her softly, her features more prominent.
Heggerd placed his blanket over Astrid, wrapping her up, as she fell asleep after eating whole lot. Heggerd pat her softly on the shoulder, as he smoked his pipe.

“Heggerd, if I may…” – Filligan drank the rum he brought along, as he watched whole show before him. – “What just happened?”
Kewel held the second cup of rum in hands, wondering the same thing.
Heggerd shrugged, then looked at Astrid, then at them.
“A kid. A hungry little lassie. Guess shall take her in, as she is like my Astrid at home. Poor child. This papa will do well to raise her well.” – Heggerd replied.
“I’m not hallucinating, right?” – Filligan turned to Kewel.
“Nup.” – Kewel shook his head.
“That bear man just adopted a sanctuary keeper as a daughter.” – Filligan continued, as he looked at Kewel.
“Uhum.” – Kewel nodded.
“A keeper of sanctuary that’s over few good thousands of years old.” – Filligan went on.
Kewel nodded.
“As his own child.” – Filligan kept at it.
“Aha.” – Kewel nodded.
“I can’t even…” – Filligan let out, as he downed his rum.
“Yup.” – Said Kewel, downing his glass and holding out cup for more rum.

picture from: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/703756184145602/