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Max_Writer

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition: Redcap's Rampage Session One Part 1 - Investigation

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Monday, October 17, 2016

(After playing the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition scenario “Redcap’s Rampage” by Christopher Perkins from Dungeon Adventures #54 Sunday from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. with Kyle Matheson, Adam Frager, Collin Townsend, Ashton LeBlanc, Hannah Gambino, Aaron Scott, and.)

Arthelion the Enlightened had escaped the orcs with the others but had gotten separated from the them on the 7th of Fireseek, 592 Common Year. He had gone looking for shelter and found a cave nearby, spending the night there. The next day, he traveled south in hope of returning to Nyrond and had come upon thick woods as the hills began to taper out. He soon found a small village.

He wandered down a rough road through the village in the evening of the 8th of Fireseek. Dark Clouds loomed menacingly over the grim, rain-drenched hamlet. The settlement was little more than a cluster of weather-worn cottages surrounded on all sides by solemn, densely-wooded hills. Rivers of mud flowed between the wood-frame houses, which seemed unfriendly, as if they were unwilling to relinquish some dreadful secret. They also shared one other odd similarity. Flickering in the window of each tenement was a scowling pumpkin, its innards carved out and filed with candlelight. The shutters inside the windows were closed.

He walked with a staff he’d ripped from a tree in the woods on the way. He was passing another road coming into the village from the east when he saw a man wearing dark clothing and a cloak walking into town. A hood covered most of the man’s face. He had a short bow on his back as well as a backpack. A long sword was on one side of his hip while a dagger was on the other. He wore many pouches on his belt.

The half-elf ranger priest Blackwood saw the mage as well. The other man wore dirty robes and was almost as tall as he was. He had shoulder-length brown hair. His robes and wizard’s hat were colorful and he carried a staff. He shivered in the cold.

Arthelion fled to the nearby rain-drenched, single-story structure with few windows, adjoining stables, and a large, weather-worn crest painted on the front wall depicting a green dragon, its wings unfolded, clutching an ale tankard with two fearsome claws. He grabbed the front door but it was locked or barred. He could hear voices inside.

“Oh my gods!” was screamed from inside. “It must be out there! It’s out there! Help us, adventurers!”

Blackwood followed him at a slower pace.

* * *

“My friends will help you,” Leon Chamberlyn had said to Tarmak and Elriya earlier. “I sense evil outside!”

He had handed over the gold they had found to Tarmak and left the Dragon’s Flagon Inn with Arya close behind to keep an eye on the man.

When the door of the Dragon’s Flagon Inn had rattled a short time later, Laird Yanek had cried out in alarm for Elriya, the Halfling thief, and Tarmak, the human priest, to do something. Tarmak went to the door while Elriya hid in the shadows in the corner near the entrance. As he pulled back the bolt, Laird Yanek cried out in alarm. Tarmak cracked the door open.

Arthelion was surprised to recognize Tarmak, the priest he’d been imprisoned with and had lost track of the day before.

“Oh, thank goodness,” he said. “Can I come in and have a room and some food, please?”

“Very funny,” Tarmak said. “You don’t recognize me?”

“Who?”

“Let him in or close the door!” Laird Yanek cried.

“Oh my gosh,” Tarmak said.

“It’ll get in!” Laird Yanek said. “The curse will get in!”

“Just … come on in,” Tarmak said.

“Thank the gods,” Arthelion said. “I’m freezing.”

The chamber Tarmak admitted him to was cozy, perhaps 20 feet wide and deep, with a pair of windows on one side around a small fireplace where two yellow dogs lounged. A black cat sat on the mantle and haughtily looked over the place. A dozen of the commoners, former slaves of the orcs, sat at the four circular tables in the room. The place was lit by lanterns suspended from the rafters. A large ale barrel stood in one corner near two doors in the wall, the open one obviously leading to cluttered kitchen. Two more doors stood on the wall to the right and a hallway near them led into the darkness, probably to the stables attached to the building. A dark-haired dwarf in a leather apron stood near the ale barrel. A pretty blonde woman stood near him. A portly man with short brown hair and a well-trimmed beard sat at one of the tables, a chain of office of some kind around his neck.

Arthelion crossed the room to the dwarf in the leather apron. He greeted him in dwarvish.

“Oh!” the dwarf replied, surprised. “You’re the second person tonight who’s spoken dwarvish to me! That’s great!”

“Who’s the first?” Arthelion asked.

“Uh …” he said, looking around the room.

“Liar!” Arthelion said.

“What?” the dwarf said, glaring at the man. “What did you say?”

“Can I have some food please?”

“I misheard something you said. I’ll need you to repeat what you said.”

“I mumble a lot.”

“What did you say?”

“I said … ‘Howdy doody.’”

The dwarf glared at him.

“All right …” he slowly said. “You have any money?”

“I do not,” Arthelion said.

“How are you going to pay for your food?”

“I can dance.”

“Don’t really need dancers.”

“You don’t think you need dancers.”

“Look, I got a lot of these people who were slaves of the orcs─”

Tarmak walked over and put down a gold coin on the ale cask, hoping the dwarf would just give Arthelion some food to shut him up.

“Oh … that’s … you’re going to have change coming,” the dwarf said.

“Thank you, Tarmak,” Arthelion said.

“What do you want?” the dwarf asked. “You want stew? We got stew.”

Arthelion had smelled the stew and after being a slave of orcs for almost a week, his mouth watered at the prospect of solid food with taste.

“And ale,” the dwarf said.

“Yeah, I’ll take one of both, please,” Arthelion said.

“All right,” the dwarf said.

“Thank you,” Arthelion said.

The dwarf took out several coins from one of the pockets on his robe. Arthelion held out his hand for the change. Tarmak just shrugged and the dwarf gave the mage the coins. The dwarf brought the mage a bowl of stew and a tankard of ale.

“Is there more of this?” Arthelion asked Tarmak.

Someone rattled the front door to the inn again and then knocked.

“Oh no!” Laird Yanek cried. “It’s here again! Oh my gods!”

He looked at Tarmak, who crossed the room, staff at ready, and pulled back the bolt to open the door. He found himself facing a man in a dark cloak who appeared to be heavily armed. He wore a holy symbol around his neck that Tarmak recognized as the symbol of Ehlonna, the nature goddess.

Blackwood found himself facing a very average-looking man with sun bleached brown hair who wore a holy symbol around his neck as well.

“Is the inn open?” he asked, his voice raspy.

“Yes, it is,” Tarmak said. “Are you a follower of Ehlonna?”

“Yes,” Blackwood said.

He shouldered his way into the room and went to the corner.

“Greetings traveler!” the dwarf said. “Are you hungry or thirsty?”

“Dinner, please,” Blackwood said.

“You want ale too?”

“Yes.”

“All right.”

He got the man a bowl of stew and a mug of ale, telling him that two tankards were five copper and one was three. Blackwood ordered two and the dwarf got him another mug and charged him for the food and drink.

* * *

When Rome, Helius Wik, and the female dwarf warrior Noiree Fragginth had left the others during their first escape attempt on the 3rd of Fireseek, they had followed Rome to a secret panel in the wall and slipped through. Orc reinforcements had charged past the entrance to the horrible temple and they had quietly followed them, slipping up the ramp leading outside and into the cold where they fled.

Noiree had soon parted from the other two. She didn’t feel like she needed them and that she’d be able to do things better on her own. She had survived in the wilderness until she found her way south into a forest. She soon found the tiny town and eventually found her way to what she thought was the village inn.

She listened at the door and heard people talking quietly within. There were quite a few voices but they only spoke lightly. It was raining and she was soaked almost through to the skin. She tried to open the door but found it locked.

* * *

Tarmak heard the door rattle once again.

“Oh no, it’s here!” Laird Yanek cried out. “It’s at the door! It’s at the door! The curse! The curse is here!”

“Just leave it unlocked,” Arthelion said.

“We don’t want it to come in! Are you mad?”

“Why not?”

“It’ll kill us like it killed the others!”

“Well, it’s not going to kill me.”

“It’ll kill somebody!”

“Who?”

“It’ll kill somebody!”

“Who do you think it would kill?”

“What?”

Tarmak, meanwhile, went to the door and opened it up. He recognized the dwarf Noiree Fragginth. She was wearing the orc armor she’d stolen. She was solid and had brown hair, orange on top, tied in a pony tail. She carried a battle axe in one hand and a hammer in the other.

Tarmak let her in.

“Noiree, you made it out!” a voice came out of the shadows.

Arthelion laughed.

“I thought you were dead!” he said.

“Can you believe that idiot made it out?” the voice from the shadows said in dwarvish.

Noiree chuckled.

“I heard that!” Arthelion said, also in dwarvish.

* * *

The kobold rogue Kilb Bronzescale had separated himself from the others during their escape attempt on the 7th of Fireseek. He was certain the orcs would capture the commoners and the others but figured he could escape in the commotion. He was right, at least about his escaping. He managed to get out of the Scar during the entire fiasco and then headed south, towards the country of Nyrond.

He found his way to the very same village with its dark, locked-up houses and its sinister jack-o-lanterns. It was lightly raining and very, very cold. He carried only a spear he’d taken from one of the orcs. He had killed whatever he could to survive and was very hungry.

He scouted around the village, trying to find an empty house. He had found the inn and heard many people within. He looked at some of the houses on the south side of town. At the first house he had fled from barking dogs within the building that had obviously heard him without. He went to another nearby house that had a half-keg mounted above the door with some words he couldn’t read underneath it. It looked occupied.

He moved to another house, this one with a porch and a jack-o-lantern glaring from one of the front windows. It looked dark an empty. He listened but didn’t hear anything in the place. He tried the front door but found it locked. The orcs still had his lock picks and the shutters were on the inside of the glass windows.

He started to go door-to-door, looking at the houses. He soon realized there were people in most of them. He could either hear people within or see a jack-o-lantern in the window outside of the glass. He grabbed one of the jack-o-lanterns and ran into the woods. He lifted the lid of the jack-o-lantern and took out the candle, carefully putting it aside where the rain wouldn’t put out the flame. Then he ate the pumpkin, finding the lid that had been scorched by the candle the tastiest.

* * *

Arthelion went over to the nervous Laird Yanek and stood in front of him.

“Would my dancing cheer you up, sir?” he asked.

“What?” Laird Yanek said. “No no no no no. This adventurer and─”

Arthelion started dancing.

“The paladin said they would help us out and this is his man,” Laird Yanek said, gesturing to Tarmak. “This is one of his companions. They’re going to save us from the curse. The curse that’s on the village.”

“I know of them,” Arthelion said, still dancing. “But watch me, okay?”

“What?”

“Just watch.”

Arthelion danced as the confused laird watched.

Noiree, meanwhile, had gone to the dwarf innkeeper and gotten a bowl of stew and a mug of ale with the gold coin Tarmak tossed to her.

“What happened to you?” the dwarf asked her.

She signaled him to wait a moment as she ate the delicious stew and drank the heavenly ale, the best food and drink she’d had in the months since she’d been captured by the orcs.

By the end of some five minutes, Arthelion was dripping in sweat. He stopped and Noiree applauded. The dwarf innkeeper and the barmaid looked a little confused.

“That was very nice,” Laird Yanek said confusedly.

“Do you feel better?” Arthelion asked.

“No. I don’t feel any better.”

“How do you … how do you not feel better after see that?”

“Because I’m scared! My village is under a curse. There’s a terrible, murderous thing loose and it’s been killing people and they said they would help! They said they would help the village!”

“How do you think it would react if it saw me dance?”

“I don’t know what it is!”

“You don’t know what it is.”

“I don’t know what it is but it’s killed three people in their sleep in the last two days.”

“Does it have a soul, because obviously you don’t! You didn’t enjoy that at all.”

“What?”

The man seemed completely befuddled by the entire conversation. Arthelion wandered to the keg and got another mug of ale from the innkeeper. He drank it quickly down. Then he returned to the laird.

“I will help you with this … curse that you speak of,” he said. “But I require financial gain and a goat.”

“I … don’t think we have any goats in the town,” Laird Yanek said.

“Then I can’t help you.”

“But I could pay you if you’ll help.”

“Can you lead me to someone who can sell me a goat?”

“The tradesmen might know where you can get one.”

“Have you ever seen a goat?”

“Yeah, I’ve seen a goat. I know what a goat is.”

“Where should I go to get one?”

“You won’t be able to find one in this town. You’d have to go to one of the other towns around here. But I’m not sure which one would have a goat.”

“Could you send a messenger to get me a goat?”

“Sure. As part of the payment, if you help me solve my problem, I’ll do my best to help you find a goat. How about that?”

“A strong goat?”

“What are we doing here?” Noiree interjected.

“There’s a curse on the village,” Laird Yanek told her. “There’s a keep to the north of here. There were goblin problems a few months ago. I decided to pay to have it renovated and we brought in some stonemasons. Some of the people from town helped. But then strange things started happening and … like sabotage. People would find nails stuck up that they would step on or wooden scaffolding would fall on people. It was - it was quite terrible. Then some adventurers came and took care of the goblins that were up in the Flinty Hills so we didn’t have to worry about it anymore. So, even though I wanted to finish it, the villagers thought it was cursed. So, everyone just stopped worrying about the keep. But then, over the last few days, the … there have been three murders. They had their throats slit and weird, strange words were written on the walls that don’t make any sense at all and … something has been somehow getting into locked and closed buildings and killing and leaving these messages that don’t make any sense and … I-I-I asked and the paladin said he said he would help us. And the other said they needed a good night’s sleep. And then you folks arrived. And … any help you can give us would be greatly appreciated.”

He seemed nervous and was sweating profusely.

“Do you know anybody who would want to stop the keep from being renovated?” Elriya said, stepping out of the shadows.

She was a Halfling who wore dark clothing and a mask that covered the bottom half of her face. Her hooded cloak covered her head though her bright blue eyes were visible. She was armed with a dagger and had a grappling hook on her belt.

“No, not particularly,” Laird Yanek said. “Some people didn’t care one way or another but it would have been a place to go if the village got attacked. We could run to the keep and be safe there. It’s not very big, but it’s big enough to hold all the villagers for at least a short period of time until whatever threat was gone. It’s two miles to the north.”

“I require parchment and paper,” Arthelion said. “And I will need to talk to you further about the victims.”

“Well, can I bring it in the morning because I don’t want to have to go back to my house and then come back here,” Laird Yanek said. “I’m getting ready to go home. I’m getting ready to lock my doors and go hide under my bed.”

“Do you even care?”

“I do! I do!”

“I’m trying to solve this.”

“Can you do it tonight?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, the villagers are all locked in their homes. They’re not going to come out at night.”

“Why not?”

“Because the monster … whatever it is will kill them.”

“No,” Noiree said.

“You want me to walk you back to your house and we can talk there?” Arthelion said.

“If you wish,” Laird Yanek said. “But I wouldn’t wish upon any of you to walk alone at night. I’m scared to go.”

“Let’s do it.”

“No, I’m not going to walk. I’m going to run. I’ll be running, not walking.”

“I can run.”

“If you want to go with me, you can.”

“I’ll go with you too,” Tarmak said.

“What about all these people?” the innkeeper asked Tarmak.

He needed money to keep all of the people under the roof. There were 12 commoners who seemed happy to see Arthelion when they saw him. He requested they sing his praises and they did, but it was awful. Of the 12, two were children, a little boy and a little girl, while the other 10 were adults. They all started telling the story of the heroic adventurers saving them from the orcs. They spoke of Arthelion leading them out of the orc lair while the others fought bravely to kill their pursuers.

While they talked, Elriya talked to the innkeeper. She learned there were two rooms, each with two beds, in the inn. He was willing, for a silver piece a night, for anyone who wanted to sleep on the floor of the common room. Each of the rooms were two silver pieces for each bed for the night.

Arthelion, hearing the conversation, put his arm around the little boy.

“I think the kids have earned a bed tonight,” he said.

“Uh … no,” Noiree said. “They should be grateful they’re out.”

“Just decide who’s sleeping where,” the innkeeper said.

He pointed to the dark corner where Blackwood leaned against the wall.

“Is he with you?” he asked.

“No,” Tarmak said.

The innkeeper approached Blackwood and asked if he wanted a room. He looked at the others and saw most of them wore no armor and carried no weapons but wore torn and ragged clothing. Even the adventurers wore rugged clothing and armor, for the most part.

“What do you think about all this?” Arthelion suddenly asked the shadowy figure. “Is the mayor crazy?”

“I just got here,” Blackwood said.

“I’m not crazy,” Laird Yanek said.

“So, you haven’t heard of the curse either?” Arthelion said.

“Ten seconds ago, when he was talking about it,” Blackwood said.

“I’m not crazy!” Laird Yanek exclaimed. “People have died! Three people are dead!”

“They can have the room,” Blackwood said to the innkeeper.

“If you want to sleep on the floor in here or if you want to sleep in stables, it’s a silver,” the innkeeper said. “How about that?”

“We’re having a sleepover at the mayor’s house if you want to come,” Arthelion said.

“What?” Laird Yanek said.

“Huh?”

“What?”

“Huh?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Nothing.”

“No, nobody’s sleeping in my house! I’m locking my doors and I’m barring my windows and hiding under my bed!”

“Exactly.”

“Not with you!”

“Wait. You’re hiding under the bed.”

“You’re not sleeping in my bed.”

Laird Yanek stood up.

“I will get you parchment and quill tomorrow,” he said.

“I thought we were running to your house together!” Arthelion said.

“Not if you’re staying. You could be the killer for all I know!”

“But mayor, he’s a wizard,” Tarmak said. “He could protect you.”

“Please. No!” Laird Yanek said. “I don’t need a dancing wizard in my house.”

He ran to the door.

“Everyone needs a dancing wizard in their house!” Arthelion yelled as the man ran out the door, leaving it open.

* * *

Outside, Kilb saw a man run out of the inn and flee up the road. He heard someone yelling out the door as the man fled. Then a Halfling in a mask peeked out before closing the door.

* * *

Blackwood finished his ale after the altercation with the laird and then headed outside. Elriya went and locked the door once again.

Noiree asked who owned the dogs.

“Those are ours,” the dwarf innkeeper said. “Well, they’re their own but … they stay here.”

“This your cat too?” Noiree asked.

“Yep,” the dwarf said.

The woman told her the dogs were Winkin and Blinkin and the cat was Nod.

“If we save your village, can I have your dogs?” Noiree asked.

“Oh no,” the dwarf said. “No no no.”

“Why?”

“Because they’re our dogs! They’re family.”

“What if I find gold?”

“What do you mean?”

“Can I buy your dogs?”

“They’re not for sale!”

She gave the dogs her bowl to lick anyway.

“Can I teach your cat a trick?” Arthelion asked.

“What?” the innkeeper said.

“Can …” Arthelion asked again, this time in dwarvish. “Can I teach your cat a trick?”

“What are you talking about? You can’t teach cats tricks!?!”

“I can, actually.”

“Are you going to hurt him?”

“No. It’s just going to be a trick.”

“I don’t care.”

“What’s the trick?” Noiree asked.

Arthelion began working on training the cat but realized it would probably take weeks to really teach the animal to do a trick. He was also only proficient with training a goat so he trained the cat as if it was a goat.

Tarmak paid the innkeeper for all of them to spend the night, giving the two rooms to the commoners who were in the worst shape. It was hard to decide who, actually, because they were all so weary from their enslavement.

* * *

Blackwood examined the ground carefully, first trying to figure out where the laird went and finding his tracks. He followed them to a house on up the road. Three steps led up to the front door of the well-kept house. Mounted on the door was a brass plaque etched with the words “Donovan Yanek, Laird of Luskwald.” A sinister jack-o-lantern peeked through the front window of the residence with wicked, candlelit eyes.

He set to work casing out the entire town and looking for other footprints and the like. It was intensely cold so he cast a spell upon himself to ward off the freezing weather for some time. He took that time to search but didn’t find anything in his general searching of the tiny town.

* * *

Kilb crept back to the inn and tried to open the exterior doors that appeared to lead to the attached stable. They wouldn’t move and he guessed they were barred from within. There were a couple of large doors in the sloped roof above the main ones as well, probably for bringing hay into the loft. He crept around the place and noticed an outhouse behind the building. There were also a couple of back doors to the inn but they proved locked and bolted as well.

He used his spear as a pick in the frozen ground and started the long, arduous process of digging his way under the stable wall. After an hour, he had dug a nasty little hole that was just enough for him to slide into the stables. He was able to get the spear in with a little more work. His candle had burned out by then.

He found himself in a chilly stable. Directly across from the stall he came out in was a door that looked like it led into the inn. He crept out and found a wide area that ran the length of the room with stalls for horses on the side opposite the smaller door. All of them were empty. A ladder hung on the interior wall near the doors that led outside. It led up to a loft with several bales of hay. A bar was over the doors above as well.

He pulled a good deal of hay down into the stall on the end and made a nest, burying himself in it and going to sleep.

* * *

Everyone in the inn bedded down as best they could within an hour of Blackwood leaving the building. Arthelion had been trying to train the cat without any luck though he felt it was going well.

“You’re my cat now,” Arthelion said, petting the cat before bedding down.

“What’re you talking about?” the dwarven innkeeper, who Arthelion had made sure was close by, said.

“Huh?”

“Don’t take the cat out of here.”

“Can I sleep with the cat?”

“The cat sleeps where he wants.”

“You wanna sleep with me, don’t you?”

As he bedded down and the dwarf and woman opened another door and headed in and the cat jumped down from where he was and followed them into the room along with the two dogs.

“I knew it,” Arthelion muttered.

They bedded down and, about a half hour later, another knock came at the door.

“You wanna flip for it?” Arthelion said to Tarmak, who he noticed also woke up.

“No, I got it,” Tarmak said, getting up.

“I win,” Arthelion said.

Tarmak opened the door to find Blackwood standing out in the rain.

“Tell the innkeeper I’d like to sleep in the stables,” Blackwood said, figuring Tarmak was the doorman and giving him a silver coin.

Tarmak said he would. He went back to the door he’d seen the dwarf and the woman disappear into and knocked.

“Who is it?” the dwarf’s voice came. “What do you want?”

“The … traveler that came earlier wants to sleep in the stables,” Tarmak said.

The door opened.

“He gave me a silver to give you,” Tarmak said.

“What?” the dwarf said.

“To sleep in the stable.”

“Him?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Did you lock the front door? Bolt the front door so the curse doesn’t get us.”

He closed the door and Tarmak returned to the front door and bolted it. Blackwood noticed a narrow hallway and headed down the corridor. He found a locked and bolted door and another door with bolt and latch that proved unlocked and open. It led to the stable and he heard heavy breathing coming from one of the stalls. It sounded like a child. He just figured someone else was sleeping there so ignored it, going up into the hay loft and making himself comfortable with his winter blanket.

* * *

The rain had stopped in the early morning hours and the sky was clear on the 9th of Fireseek, 592 Common Year. It remained cold though promised to be at least above freezing that day.

The innkeeper was up and about fairly early that next morning. He reheated the leftover stew and the innkeeper added some scrambled eggs to the mix.

“Is that all you know how to make?” Arthelion asked the dwarf when he got his breakfast.

“I know how to make other things,” the dwarf said.

“Can you? Please?”

“I’m not just not going to make it today.”

“Oh.”

“Maybe for dinner.”

“Oh! Nice.”

“This is leftovers anyway.”

“I knew it.”

He asked the dwarf where the laird’s house was and the dwarf game him instructions on how to get there, telling him what the house looked like as well. When he asked if he could get stew to go, the dwarf told him if he planned to get stew for the laird, he didn’t have to as the man ate all his meals at the inn.

“Shouldn’t he be here by now?” Arthelion asked.

“Maybe,” the dwarf said.

Arthelion left the inn but it was frigidly cold. He went back inside and asked the dwarf if he had a coat he could borrow. The dwarf didn’t. He asked if his wife had a coat he could borrow.

“No,” the dwarf said. “Leave my wife alone.”

“Where can we buy clothes and such?” Elriya asked.

“There’s a provisioner,” the dwarf said.

He gave them instructions on how to get to Dalagar’s Provisions, which was around the curve of the road on the right. Tarmak asked if he sold boots and the innkeeper wasn’t sure.

Everyone else ate and enjoyed the stew.

“So, what’s the deal with the gold?” Arthelion asked Tarmak.

“I don’t know, it’s just what the paladin brought with him and left with us,” Tarmak said.

“That paladin … I still have his shoes on.”

Tarmak took out the pouch of gold and talked of dividing it up. Elriya wasn’t sure they should divide it up as they still had to provide for the villagers they’d rescued. She pointed out that he’d kept the gems though.

They saw the woman who worked at the inn go up a back hallway and open up a door.

* * *

Blackwood and Kilb were both awoken by a woman’s voice.

“All right, c’mon, wake up!” she cried into the stable. “Time for breakfast!”

Then they heard a door close again. Kilb lay very still.

Up in the loft, Blackwood got up and got his things together, climbing down to the ground floor and going into the inn.

* * *

“So, Tarmak, can I have some gold so I can go get supplies for this … new adventure that … we have been … called to do?” Arthelion asked.

“We can all go together,” Elriya said.

“I need money,” Arthelion said, hand still extended.

Tarmak thought on that a moment and then took out five gold coins.

“Holy shit!” Arthelion yelled.

He ran out the front door.

“I knew that would get rid of him,” Tarmak said.

Cold wind blew in.

“Born in a barn,” Elriya said, closing the door.

Blackwood also headed out to look around the town.

Elriya suggested buying provisions for the former slaves and Tarmak noted he needed shoes. They headed out of the inn as well.

Noiree asked the dwarf innkeeper about her stronghold: Thorzak.

“That … that place, I heard … I heard … no … that place is just a story,” he said.

“No,” she replied.

“There used to be a place up in the mountains on the other side of the Flinty Hills. But that was years ago, a generation ago, and they were destroyed by humanoids, weren’t they?”

“That’s where I’m from.”

“No!”

“Yeah. That’s why I asked.”

“Ah … well … really?”

“Yeah.”

“They’re still alive?”

“They were given tribute to the goblins to─”

“What!?!”

“─keep ‘em off us.”

“Oh … that’s … that goes against the grain!”

“Uh-huh. It was a tough situation.”

“Well, I’d heard they’d been wiped out years ago. A generation ago.”

“Huh-uh.”

“Huh. That’s what I heard.”

“What direction would I go for that area?”

“That I don’t know. I don’t know much about navigation. I’m not a navigator. I haven’t been out of this town in 30 years.”

“Okay. That’s okay.”

“Sorry.”

“Thank you anyway.”

“Oh, you’re welcome.”

She also learned his name was Coryston Dalnor and that he was married to the human woman named Penelope.

* * *

The village store was a dark and foreboding structure, even though lanterns hung on either side of the entrance. A sign that read “Dalagar’s Provisions” swung gently above the portal. There were no windows in the front of the building though Arthelion had seen one on the side as he’d run up. Smoke came out of the chimney towards the back of the structure as well. When he tried the front door, he found it locked. He banged on the door.

“Who is it?” a terrified man’s voice came from within. “Who’s there?”

“I’ve come to spend gold at your establishment,” Arthelion called through the door. “Let me in!”

There was confused mumbling from within and then he heard the bolt pulled back on the door. It opened into a dim chamber. The man was average-looking and the room was large. Shelves lined with sacks and jars of foodstuffs occupied most of the room though there was room enough for a long counter along the south wall.

“What can I help you with sir?” the man asked. “This town is dangerous. Are you passing through?”

“I hope to be, yes,” Arthelion said.

“Haven’t you heard?”

“What? Haven’t you?”

“Assassins are stalking Luskwald, using the village as a training ground to hone their evil skills. Haven’t you heard that?”

“Yeah. Yeah yeah.”

“It’s terribly dangerous!”

“Yeah, your mayor was telling me that last night.”

“Well, it’s terribly dangerous here.”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m trying to buy some stuff from you. Are we going to get on with it or what?”

There was another knock at the front door. The man jumped almost up into the air with fright.

“It’s them!” he said. “The assassins!”

“Yeah, don’t let ‘em in!” Arthelion said.

“Who is it?” the provisioner asked. “Who’s there? Are you assassins?”

“Probably,” Arthelion said.

“Travelers who came into town last night,” Tarmak said. “Looking for provisions.”

“That’s what an assassin would say!” Arthelion said.

“That’s what an assassin would say!” the provisioner said.

“Is that wizard in there with you?” Tarmak said.

“Wait, are you a wizard?” the provisioner asked Arthelion.

“No, I’m an assassin,” Arthelion said with a laugh.

“What?” the man said.

“He’s an idiot!” Elriya called. “Don’t listen to him.”

The man seemed confused and walked away from Arthelion, suddenly untrusting.

“You have gold?” he asked the mage.

“Yes,” Arthelion said.

“Let’s see it!”

Arthelion held out the coins.

“I’m rich,” he said.

The man unbolted the door and looked out at the man and the Halfling girl. Tarmak held out a couple of gold coins.

“All right,” the man said. “Come in, come in. My gods, people. What’s wrong with you?”

It was chilly in the room and Arthelion shivered. There was clothing to buy. There was only one pair of boots and Dalagar told them the cobbler in town made the best shoes in all the land. There were only four cloaks so there was not enough for the commoners. Arthelion purchased clothing as he was freezing and needed something to protect himself from the elements.

“What kind of store is this?” Arthelion asked when he saw the lack of stock.

“It - it - it’s my store,” the man said.

“Do you not expect a lot of travelers?”

“There aren’t a lot of travelers along this road. And they usually already own cloaks.”

“Well … some of us … don’t.”

“Well, I’m sorry, sir.”

“Do you have a goat?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Is there a seamstress in town?” Elriya asked.

“There’s a mender,” the man said. “Ylandra Morgyr.”

He told them she was just next door to the north. When Tarmak asked about the cobbler, he gave him instructions to his house and said his name was Otto Bellinek.

“Who are you people?” he asked. “Why are you even here?”

“We escaped from some orcs,” Elriya said. “They enslaved us.”

“Oh no!” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“Have you ever been enslaved by an orc?” Arthelion asked.

“No,” he said.

“Do you want to?”

“No. What’s wrong with him?”

They continued making purchases. Arthelion bought a cloak, backpack, food, and a torch. The others bought what they could for the former slaves.

* * *

Kilb shimmied out of the hole to the barn and then gathered leaves and covered the hole with them. He tried to keep out of sight. He occasionally saw the others walking around the town. He recognized the average-looking priest and spotted Arthelion and Noiree, whom he also recognized.

* * *

Blackwood continued looking over the town but didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. He got a general layout of the village and learned which houses were also shops of some kind. He noticed the building with the wagon out front had people outside talking. An old, horse-drawn cart sat in the front yard of the residence, its wheels mired in the mud. The house itself was a proud testament to its builder, standing against the elements without the slightest sign of wear. A candlelit jack-o-lantern sneered through one window. The people seemed very disturbed. He wandered close and eavesdropped, trying not to be too obvious.

Apparently, something had been in the man’s house the night before and called out in strange, unintelligible words. None of the family had gotten any sleep, not Ezekiel Devek, his wife Jezebel, or their son Zandor. Devek said it was just like the other houses where people were murdered and he was afraid he was next. There were strange noises from inside the house. Something was moving inside the house. They heard creaking floorboards and a baby crying at one point. Blackwood figured the man was the town carpenter and the whole family was shaken by what happened. They were afraid of what was going to happen that night.

“It will be just like Ezner,” Devek said. “Or Karn and Bryne. I’m scared. I’m really scared.”

Blackwood kept his distance and, when people dispersed and departed, he looked around the house for tracks of some kind. Though the rain had been coming down most of the morning, he found strange tracks that appeared to be tiny footprints. They were impossibly small, however, and indicated someone who couldn’t have been more than a couple of feet tall. He tried to follow where they went but they were soon lost in the mud. Now that he knew what to look for, he found more tracks all over the village.

* * *

Elriya and Tarmak went down the road to the cobbler’s house, which seemed especially grim, perhaps the result of its dark wood frame. A boot-shaped sign swung listlessly above the front door. Tarmak knocked.

“Who is it?” a voice called from within. “Who’s there?”

“I’m a traveler that came in yesterday evening and brought a group of slaves with me,” Tarmak said. “I need to get boots for all of them if possible.”

“Oh dear, oh dear,” the man said.

The cobbler let them in and showed them the shoes and boots he had in the shop. He told them he was a hardworking cobbler but he tailored his shoes to fit the wearers. However, when he quoted them the price of the shoes, it was a fair and average amount.

He had 18 pairs of shoes in the shop but he was loathe to sell them as he considered them cast-off shoes that didn’t fit their wearers. He was willing to sell them to the two though he seemed quite upset about doing so. When Elriya suggested the peasants come to the place to try on the shoes, he said he would, but noted it would take at least several days to make each pair of shoes. The price was the same either way.

“I don’t know how long we’re going to be here,” Tarmak said. “We’ll take what you have.”

“Yes, how long are you going to be here?” Otto Bellinek, the cobbler, asked. “Luskwald is dangerous right now. Haven’t you heard?”

He lowered his voice and spoke more confidentially.

“Hazel Glaghorn is a witch,” he said. “Her ‘House of Spirits’ is precisely that! She is responsible for the evil that plagues Luskwald!”

“Where is she at?” Elriya asked.

He told them she lived up the road to the north, just past the provisions store but on the left side of the road.

* * *

Noiree petted the dogs that morning and thought about hunting though she didn’t have any kind of ranged weapons. She headed out, eventually, to catch up with the others. She saw a few of the villagers out and about. Laird Yanek walked up to her.

“There you are!” he said. “Aren’t you one of the ones who’s going to help us?”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Well what have you found out? Anything?”

“I haven’t. I know other people are out.”

“Well, Ezner Mourne, the glazier, was the first one who died.”

He described where the glazier lived in a long house on the north side of the village.

“The other two were Karn Ironstar and Bryn Bellowforge,” he said.

He noted they lived right across the road from the glazier.

“I don’t know if there’s anything there you might find to aid in your investigation or not …” he said.

He also noted the keep was two miles up the road that led north out of town. He related that he heard Ezekiel Devek and his family had been terrorized the night before by something that was in their house, running around and crying like a baby.

“That’s what I’ve heard,” he said. “It’s terrifying.”

“How much?” Kilb said, stepping from behind a tree to stand next to Noiree.

“What the!?!” Laird Yanek cried out. “Ah! It’s a kobold!”

“He’s okay,” Noiree said.

“Protect me!” Laird Yanek said.

“He’s okay.

“What!?!”

“He’s not that bad.”

“But it’s a kobold! He’s going to murder me!”

“He’s not going to touch you. If he does, I’ll smash him.”

“You know him!?!”

“I’ll smash him.”

“Do you know him?”

“Yeah, kind of.”

“Really?”

“I know of him.”

“Oh … all right.”

“How much will you pay us?” Kilb asked.

“Well … uh … I-I-I … I …we … the village does have some money,” Laird Yanek said, completely flustered. “I’d be willing to pay. I have some garnets. I have a garnet. It’s worth a hundred gold pieces, that I could pay to your party. Is he with those others too, the Halfling and the Tarmar? Tarmark? And that wizard?”

“I don’t know,” Noiree said. “Have you talked to anybody else?”

“No,” he said. “Everyone just seems to have left.”

“We could just go look for them because that’s what I planned to do anyway,” she said.

“I know where the loudmouth is,” Kilb said. “I saw him─”

“Is that what you want?” Laird Yanek said. “One of the garnets. I mean the garnet.”

“Yeah, sure,” Kilb said. “Sounds good.”

“Once you find the thing and stop whatever’s going on, that’s what I’ll pay you,” Laird Yanek said.

“You better,” Kilb said.

“Let’s go look for the others,” Noiree said. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” he called, watching them as they walked away. “You’re welcome.”

They found Blackwood. Kilb pointed to the man.

“That guy’s been sneaking around town,” he said to Noiree.

“Hey, what’re you doing over there?” Noiree called to the man.

Blackwood looked closely at the kobold. He had bronze-colored scales, stood about three and a half feet tall, and had purple eyes. He walked with a spear that was almost twice as tall as he was and wore some dirty, ragged clothing.

“What are you doing with a kobold?” Blackwood said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kilb said.

“Come here,” she said to him.

Blackwood walked over to the two.

“What’ve you found?” she asked. “You seem like you’re looking around.”

When he got close, Kilb noticed the man actually had pointed ears like an elf though he looked more like a man. He thought the man was a half-elf. The high cheekbones and the finer skin also gave it away.

“Elves can’t keep themselves out of anything,” the kobold said under his breath.

Blackwood just barely heard it. Noiree didn’t know what the kobold meant.

“I’m simply looking into the disturbance of the village,” Blackwood said.

They discussed the family that was terrorized. Noiree said the laird had told her about the disturbance at a house. Blackwood noted the carpenter’s family was disturbed.

“Is this … kobold … under your watch?” he asked.

“I don’t watch him,” Noiree said. “But he’s been nothing but friendly to me.”

Kilb just glared at the half-elf.

“That’s good,” Blackwood said, glaring back.

“So, you said you looked at the house,” Noiree said. “Did you see anything? I was just about to go over there with the kobold.”

“I have a name,” Kilb said.

“Hm,” Noiree said. “So?”

“Maybe, but I need to get more information first,” Blackwood said. “What have you learned?”

“Uh …” Noiree said.

“Just what the mayor told us,” Kilb said.

They talked about what they’d learned and shared all of the information they had so far. Kilb noticed most of the strange things had happened on the northern part of the town.

“So, you two are interested in solving this?” Blackwood asked.

They saw Tarmak and Elriya come down the road, their arms filled with shoes as they headed for the inn. Arthelion also walked down the road and walked over to them while the others went to the inn with the shoes.

“We need to check out the houses,” Kilb said. “I need you to come with me so no one attacks me.”

“Kobolds are unusual in human towns,” Blackwood said.

“Yeah,” the kobold replied.

“So, is he the reason this curse is happening?” Arthelion said, looking at Kilb.

“I swear to Norebo …” Kilb cursed.

“How did you get out of the orc caves?”

“After you all left me down there, I was able to find my way out myself.”

“Okay, whatever,” Noiree said. “We’re─”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Arthelion said. “We were just having a conversation.”

“Regardless, we need to talk about what we’re doing right now,” she said. “We need to gather up the other two or … what do we want to do there?”

“Yeah, if they want to, yeah,” Arthelion said. “Is he with us now? What’s going on here?”

He gestured at Blackwood.

“Are you?” Noiree said.

Arthelion looked at the man for the first time and noticed he was a half-elf.

“I’ll meet you back at the Dragon’s Flagon Inn around lunch,” Blackwood said.

“Okay,” Noiree said.

The man strode off.

The other three headed around the south side of town where the road circled around to the north with the intention of going to the house that had been attacked the night before. As they passed the inn, Elriya and Tarmak, who had distributed the shoes to the commoners in their care, came out of the building. They both recognized Kilb. Noiree told them everything they’d learned and what their plan was. The other two joined them and they headed to the house on the north side of town.

When they arrived at the house, Tarmak said he was going to check on something and headed off, leaving the gold with Elriya.

“How do you know about who got terrorized last night?” Arthelion asked.

“The laird told us,” Noiree said.

“You saw the laird? Where is he?”

“I don’t know. He walked off after we talked to him. I mean, I’m holding him as prisoner.”

“You are?”

She laughed at the mage.

They reached the residence where the old horse-drawn cart sat. They talked to the people inside and learned it was the house of Ezekiel Devek, who lived there with his wife Jezebel and their youngest son, Zandor, who was about six or seven years old.

“What’s with these faces cut into these squash?” Kilb asked.

“What?” Devek said. “Is that a kobold?”

After that confusion was cleared up, he told the group they were supposed to ward off evil spirits.

“Well, it didn’t work, huh?” Arthelion said.

“All right, ignore him, please,” Noiree said.

“Well, it might’ve worked,” Elriya said. “They didn’t get eaten.”

“I suppose,” Devek said. “You know, someone or something deliberately sabotaged our effort to rebuild the fallen keep. Whatever dwells there does not like intruders. My oldest son, Voltan, was crushed beneath a collapsed scaffolding while helping to repair the ruined keep. We’ve been mourning his death ever since. For weeks!

“I want to leave this village but I can’t afford to buy horses to pull my cart. To pull this cart here.”

He gestured towards the cart. Then he told them someone was moving around the house and at one point they heard a baby crying the night before. He also said there was a weird noise like a howling coming from the chimney. The horror had terrorized them all night long. He looked very tired. He also asked if they knew where he could buy some horses cheap.

Noiree suggested staying in the house that night to see what happened but Elriya pointed out the attacks had been in different houses every night.

“That is true,” Noiree said.

“It sounds like we need to go to the fallen keep,” Arthelion said.

“That’s where it seems to stem from,” Elriya said. “It is on this side of town.”

“If you stop it, we’d be eternally grateful,” Devek said.

“How much?” Kilb said.

“I can’t even afford horses …” Devek said.

“I mean …” Kilb said.

“Mayor’s pay you,” Noiree said.

“If you have any wagon wheels that need repaired, I’ll fix ‘em for free,” Devek said.

“Clothes are fine,” Kilb said.

“Can you take the peasants with you?” Elriya said.

“Just get the peasants to carry their stuff,” Kilb said. “Just make them a bunch of pack mules.”

“You’re slaves again,” Arthelion said.

“But not to orcs,” Kilb said.

“Stepping up!” Arthelion said.

Just then Elriya remembered she had Kilb’s bow and arrows back at the inn.

“Do we just want to head for the keep then?” Noiree said. “Or do we want to do something tonight?”

“We have to meet our mysterious elf friend at the inn at lunchtime,” Arthelion said. “Also, I want to eat lunch.”

“That doesn’t sound like a bad idea,” Kilb said.

“I still need to go buy clothes for the peasants,” Elriya said.

“I want to talk to your son,” Arthelion said to Devek.

The man allowed him to talk to Zandor. The child was still very scared and told the wizard he’d been terrified all night long, waking often to the sounds of someone moving around the house, a baby crying, and a noise from the chimney. When Arthelion asked the boy if he saw anything, he said he didn’t. He only heard someone move around and scratching noises. The parents couldn’t corroborate that information.

Noiree was confused as to why no one had died in the house.

“Maybe they were just paranoid,” Elriya said.

“Maybe it was the face gourd,” Kilb said.

The house did have a pumpkin. Kilb remembered taking the pumpkin from the house with the half-keg mounted over the door across town the night before.

* * *

Blackwood arrived at the Glazier’s house but found the front and back doors of the long house both locked. He broke down the back door to find himself in a kitchen and living area. Every piece of furniture in the room had been knocked over, pulled down, or smashed to bits. He saw another door towards the front of the house and looked around the room carefully. He found tiny footprints next to a spilled bag of flour. He was unsure if it was a single set of prints moving back and forth or several little people.

The door led to a display room, the floor of which was covered with broken glass. The walls were lined with wooden display shelves, several of which had been knocked over. Only a few glasses and dishes remained unbroken amidst the thousands of shattered pieces. A bloodstain was under one of the fallen shelves. Two other doors led into the house and the front door was in the corner.

He went to the nearest of two doors and found a bedroom. The room’s contents were in utter disarray. Many personal belongings lay scattered on the floor including a spilled pouch of silver coins. Written in blood on the side of the dresser was “GIVHAT MINE KEEP OUT” in a rough script.

The last room was a glassworks. In the corner was a metal stove used for heating and molding glass.

He searched the house thoroughly but found nothing else of interest.

* * *

Arthelion left the house and went across the road to the house with a solid, well-kept porch embellishing the front. The windows had all been shuttered. There, he met Doland Mirklar, a carpenter and roofer lately turned the town’s coffin builder and gravedigger. He lived there with two orphaned apprentices, Angus and Timmel. He told Arthelion he thought the ruined keep was haunted by ghosts of slain goblins.

“Have you ever been to the fallen keep?” Arthelion asked.

“I did,” Mirklar said.

He also noted his two apprentices had worked at the keep before the renovations were abandoned. Angus put his foot through a nail jutting out of the floor and Timmel had a chunk of rock dropped on his head. Arthelion wanted to talk to them and found both boys were frightened and thought the keep was haunted. Timmel thought it a mistake to rebuild it and thought anyone who stepped foot within it was cursed for life.

“Who was the main builder?” Arthelion asked. “Who is the person who decided this was going to be the job?”

“The laird,” Angus told him. “He decided to rebuild it several months ago so the villagers would have a place of safety if the area was invaded by goblins.”

* * *

Elriya want to the mender on the other side of town. Her house stood between Dalagar’s Provisions and the laird’s house. Pounded into the front lawn of the property was a handsomely carved wooden sign with the words “Village Mender—Open All Hours” painted on it. The house was missing a few shingles and shutters.

She met Ylandra Morgyr, an average-looking young woman whom she learned lived alone. She was very skeptical of rumors concerning “evil spirits” and feared the village was beset by a crazed lunatic. She was also not a seamstress but a healer, “mending” people. One of the smaller rooms in the house was used as a hospital, complete with a patient’s bed and a locked medicine cabinet. By mender, they meant healer.

She apologized when she found out Elriya was trying to get clothing, noting people made their own clothing in the town. When Elriya asked where she could get fabric, the woman suggested the traders’ guild. Elriya thanked her and headed across town.

* * *

Noiree and Kilb went over to the workman’s house where the second set of murders had taken place. They found the long house had front and back doors that were both locked. They crept to the back door and Noiree put her shoulder to it. It was solid but she quickly broke it down. She found herself in a large den. A fireplace was on one wall and all the walls were covered with hunting trophies. Scattered across the floor were a deck of cards, silver and copper coins, and other miscellaneous items. Another door led to the interior of the house.

Noiree quickly gathered the silver and copper coins.

“You’re messing up the evidence,” Kilb said.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Noiree said. “You’re not going to get any?”

“No. This is a crime scene.”

“Oh, they’re all mine then. I have no money. I have no shame. This place is dead.”

Typical dwarf, Kilb thought.

She gathered up the coins and pocketed them. Kilb peeked into the interior door while she did so and saw a narrow kitchen. A broken table lay in the center of the room. Various jars and food sacks lay broken and empty on the floor, their contents creating a multicolored carpet. Two doors were on the wall opposite the front door.

Kilb went into the room and opened the door closest to him. A blood-soaked, dwarf-sized bed rested against one wall of the room. Next to the bed lay an overturned wooden chest, its contents scattered across the floor: pieces of leather armor, a torn hunter’s cap, an emptied wineskin, a pair of bearskin gloves, six iron spearheads, and a spilled sack of copper coins. A small table had also been overturned, along with the lantern that once stood upon it. The room smelled of the spilled oil. On the headboard of the bed were words Kilb couldn’t read.

Noiree arrived at the room a few moments later.

“There’s more coins over there if you want them,” Kilb said to the dwarf.

“All right, bud,” she replied.

“Can you read?”

“No.”

They went to the last bedroom. It contained a blood-soaked bed, an overturned trunk, and a bearskin rug. The straw stuffing inside the mattress had been strewn across the floor along with the contents of the trunk: pieces of hide armor, two wooden candlesticks, a pouch, a heavy crossbow, and several broken bolts. Noiree picked up the heavy crossbow. All of the bolts were, unfortunately, broken.

Kilb noticed the straw pulled out of the mattress and wondered why the mattress in the other room hadn’t been damaged.

* * *

Arthelion went to the next house. A rain-filled birdbath stood on the front lawn of the well-tended residence. A sign suspended above the door read “Eregauld’s Pottery & Clayworks.” A clay, candlelit pumpkin peered through every glass pane. He knocked and talked to the village clayworker, Lorna Eregauld, who refused to open the door. She was willing to talk through the door but sounded terrified.

“I want to know why they haven’t killed you yet,” he called.

“Go away!” she cried out. “Leave me alone! No!”

“Did you know the Deveks?”

“Leave me alone! Leave me alone! Go away! Go away!”

“I’ve come here to buy pots!”

“Go away! Just go away!”

He went around to the back door and found it locked as well. When he tried the latch, he hear a noise from inside the house and something hit the back door. The tip of a crossbow bolt protruded out of the door.

“I’m reloading!” the woman within screamed. “Get away from my house!”

“You’re no fun,” Arthelion called.

He left, heading for the inn.

* * *

Elriya was heading for the trader’s hall when she ran into Arthelion going the same way. He did not seem happy to see the Halfling girl.

The walls of the building were in desperate need of paint, yet the structure itself seemed to have weathered the passage of time. Above the main door hung a sign that read “Luskwald Traders’ Guild.” The guild actually consisted of two buildings: the trade-hall and an adjoining stable sealed by a pair of heavy wooden doors.

They found the front door locked and Elriya knocked.

“Who is it?” a man’s voice came from within. “Who’s there?”

“I’m here to trade,” she said. “I need some cloth.”

With a grunt, the man within opened the door. Arthelion abandoned dealing with the Traders’ Guild altogether and went back to the inn.

Elriya met Skaldar Larimil and Vaxalt Larimil, the two traders of the village. Skaldar was a large, friendly man. His brother was heftier and shorter. Skaldar was willing to sell some cheap fabric and for a cost of two gold coins, she was able to get enough to at least give makeshift cloaks to all of the commoners and former slaves.

* * *

When Blackwood got to the other murder house, he found the back door broken open and went inside. He heard a floorboard creak and thought someone was in the house. He put his hands on his weapons.

Both Noiree and Kilb, in the kitchen, heard someone enter the house. They readied their weapons. The two heard footsteps heading towards them. Noiree picked up broken table leg and then asked Kilb where she should throw it. Then she flung it into the next room.

Blackwood saw the table leg land on the ground. He moved to one side so he could see into the doorway. He saw Noiree alone in the kitchen of the house.

“It’s the guy we talked to earlier,” she said.

Kilb peaked out.

“Oh, it’s rogue man,” the kobold said. “Or cloak guy. Whichever sounds better.”

“Cripes man, I was going to hurt you,” Noiree said to Blackwood.

“Yeah,” Kilb said. “With that table leg.”

Blackwood raised his eyebrows.

“Have you found anything?” he asked.

“Yeah … we, well - apparently they were after something, but we don’t know what,” Kilb said. “Because they’ve torn apart the mattress looking for something. I think.”

Blackwood started looking around for footprints in the house but didn’t find any. However, in the bedroom with the torn up mattress he found a candlestick with two very small, bloody handprints.

“Oh! Can you read?” Kilb asked.

He pointed out writing on the headboard.

“Tell us what it says,” Noiree said.

“Please,” Kilb said.

“Please.”

Blackwood looked at the words.

“We’re both very stupid,” Noiree said.

“Speak for yourself, all right?” Kilb said.

The blood spelled out the words “GIVHAT ORKIL.”

“I don’t think whoever wrote this … knows how to write well,” Blackwood said. “‘Give hot or kill?’”

“Wait, what did you say?” Kilb said.

“I think they were trying to say ‘Get out or kill,’” Blackwood said. “‘Give hot or kill?’ I also saw something similar in one of the other houses. It said … ‘Give out mine keep out.’ So …”

“Well, I’m out of ideas,” Noiree said.

“Sounds like the keep … is there a name for that place?”

“I don’t know,” Kilb said.

“Are any of you familiar with these handprints?” Blackwood said.

He showed them the candlestick.

“I’ve seen footprints around town of the same size,” Blackwood said.

They searched the house. The pouch with silver coins falling out proved to have some gemstones in it as well. Kilb realized the blue quartz was worth 20 gold coins and thought the moss agate, though small, exceptionally fine and probably worth about 1,000 gold coins.

“This is pretty good stuff,” Kilb said. “In case anyone’s wondering. At least this is.”

* * *

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