Table of Contents
Setting - A paradise they found beyond the Windswept Plains...
The 200 miles per hour winds gnaw everything away on the Windswept Plains...
We travel east to the Windswept Plains, where the frightfully high speed winds that savagely rip apart everything save the hardiest vegetation. A large group of slaves revolted and trekked their way through the Plains with the help of an eccentric but powerful weather wizard, Sammy Mistrain. When they reached a yet to be inhabited coastal area, they formed their own country and named it after the friendly wizard. There was much diplomatic friction between Mistrain and their former country of Vostry, but a talented orator from Mistrain (a proud leader of a plains tribe which was wiped out by Vostry’s army long ago) managed to convince the entirety of the Vostry’s High Council that while Vostry would certainly be able to wipe out the new country, it would little to gain by doing so, and therefore they should simply leave them be. Mistrain was formally recognized by Vostry soon after.
In three generations, Mistrain expanded rapidly. New towns sprang up left and right. One of them was the town of Sleum, which is currently undergoing a population boom due to a silver mine that was recently discovered. It is known as an adventurer’s haven, due to wealth of jobs and successful get-rich-quick schemes there. The town is located somewhat interior from the coastal areas, and a sizable amount of forestation surrounds the town. Because this side of the Plains was not settled by civilized folks, (though intelligent monsters did exist here), there was generally very little worry about large scale goblin raids or orc tribe attacks. Adventurers were hired to deal with the lone monsters encountered below ground.
By the time Greed (Male Human Fighter 1 with a scythe) arrived at the scene, it was over. Half the guards were sprawled around as dismembered corpses, and the wounded were strewn all over clearing. Four out of the five carts were overturned, with their wheels busted. Greed sighed and walked up to one of the guards, who was warily looking back at him.
"What happened here? I haven't heard of any large scale monster attacks on this side of the Plains." Greed asked.
"I don't... I don't know..." the guard stammered, "huge lizardfolk and alligators. They came from the waterline..." The guard pointed with shaking hands at the nearby lake.
I knew free silver sounded too good to be true, Greed thought as he was directed to their captain, a dwarf wounded in the guts.
"So you're the captain around here?" Greed asked the dwarf.
"Aye. Name's Durbat Irongut." the dwarf nodded while taking shallow breaths. He didn't want his gut wound to open up more. "You... look like you're half competent with a blade, which means you are not one of the... boys I hired for guard duty." cough cough "We... were ambushed... by six lizardfolk and four alligators. I... the lizardfolk were unnaturally big. Gigantic. I... think they were using magic." cough cough
Greed rubbed his temples in annoyance. The dream of get rich and get out will have to wait another day.
"Say... you don't know how use one of these, do you?" Irongut asked, holding up a wand of cure light wounds. "Our only cleric got crunched into two and we have no one else who can use this thing-."
"Captain." An extravagantly dressed gentleman with his mustache thickened to four plump tendrils emerged from the only upright cart. His name tag identified him as Romo Scatterstrings, the merchant representative who hired the guards. "I should have known that your company consisted of untrained farmer boys. Your men are incompetent cowards."
He's not wrong, thought Greed, as Irongut argued with Romo. The guards looked too shocked, too young, to have had any real combat experience. It looked like the recent surge in demand for guard duties pushed the guild to hire just about anyone from the outlying villages. Greed shook his head.
If the lizardfolk were using magic, then now would be the best time to track them down, when their magic was expended. If only he had a bit of help...! Greed grumbled as he watched a red hooded man with a small stature arrive, carrying piggyback a young woman dressed in cleric's garbs.
Irongut paused his argument and murmured, "Color me surprised. I didn't think they had a cleric to spare." and then stumbled forward to the arrivals.
"You missed out on an ambush, boy!" cough cough "I'm guessing you didn't scout the waterline." Durbat admonished their scout while coughing.
"I... wasn't expecting an aquatic assault.", said the red hooded man as he dropped the woman off his back, "I scanned the surface for boats, but I didn't look under the water.... But enough of that, I sprinted to the town and brought back a cleric."
"Lorie." The woman presented her holy symbol. She was a follower of Luna, the calm and gentle deity of the moon. "Now, who is injured?"
"Thank you for coming out here, lass. We... got half a dozen boys bleeding out in the dirt over there. If you could use this-" Irongut held up his wand, "-then we should be okay."
"You... can keep the wand." Irongut added after a pause, "It's nearly empty and I don't have enough money to pay for the healing anyway."
Irongut looked around for his lieutenant, a lean man named Russet, for damage report. It seemed that they manage to drive off the lizardfolk before they were able to get their hands on the merchandise, as none of it was reported missing. One of the clerks on the caravan was a magic user, and she was busy mending the wheels to get the carts moving again.
"Cap'n," Russet whispered, "I think this was a planned ambush, not a generic banditry. I haven't heard of anything organized living near Sleum, lizardfolk or otherwise!" Russet lowered his voice even more. "I think someone has given the lizardfolk our route and hired them to ambush us. Normal bandits don't use magic, and by Neptune, those lizardfolk were using magic. Heck, what kind of bandits don't steal anything? I will bet my grandpa's hat that this was a merc job."
It was fishy. Greed agreed silently while listening in.
"Mmmm," Irongut grunted, "Discussing it here won't get us anywhere. Let's get these crates hauled into the town safely and then we can talk later when we have a roof over our head."
"Captain," Greed sauntered over, "now that the lizards have used up their magic, this would be the best time to go track them down. I would like a hand from few of your men if you won't mind."
Irongut paused. They were less than half an hour from Sleum, and additional ambushes seemed unlikely. Irongut nodded in assent and announced to the whole caravan, "Double pay if you follow this gentleman and aid him in tracking down those lizards who ambushed us!"
One of the guards unstrapped his helmet and let the sweat pour out. He was a short, balding, middle-aged man with ill-fitting uniform.
"Double pay you say?" he said as he lit a cigar and strolled towards Greed, "Name's Glock."
Greed was unimpressed. This old man didn't even have a weapon.
"I'm not sure if I want a farmer who can't even use a weapon?" Greed expressed.
Glock guffawed. "Says the fancy boy with an oversized farming tool."
"I can show you what this farming tool can do if ya like..." Greed answered back.
"...double pay," The red hooded man muttered, "...with double pay this would be my last job..." He nervously approached Greed, and without looking at him in the eye, volunteered. "My name is Ashen. I... I'm in."
"Wait a minute," Lorie finished healing the last of the wounded and shuffled over, "you guys can't be going to fight lizardfolk? May I ask why we seek vengeance?"
"So it doesn't happen again, miss." Glock puffed his cigar casually into Greed's face. "Plus, I get to be paid double."
"The moon shines brightly on the night of a full moon, yet sometimes it too dims, and if we face dark nights, it would be unwise to rush into danger." Lorie frowned, "Those guards, their wounds were no joke."
"You mean the farmers who don't know how to use a weapon?" said Greed while still facing Glock, "I've been in brawls way more scary than a few lizards."
"Then I'll... I'll come with you!" exclaimed Lorie, "I'd feel awful if I went back and one of you got hurt."
"Suit yourself." shrugged Greed as he set out to track along the waterline.
Luanna the sorceress finished her mending spell on the wheels, and trudged over to the dwarf captain. It was unlikely that her keen-eyed scout friend Ashen missed the lizardfolk unless they had... just the perfect hiding place for an ambush. And whoever heard of bandits escaping without taking any loot? Nonsense. She thought to herself. Plus, I'm pretty sure Romo happened to "pocket" my focus during the ambush so I couldn't assist the guards.
"Sir," started Luanna as she caught up to Irongut, "does the bonus pay apply to me as well if I go and help them track down the lizards? I did fix the wheels, you know, and I think I'm worth more than 20 gold pieces or whatever your guards are being paid."
Luanna lowered her voice before Irongut can reply, "Things aren't adding up. Why didn't the lizard bandits take anything? And Romo knows something, I'm pretty sure. Turns out he had my focus palmed the whole fight. It kept me out of the fight and all."
"Hmm..." Irongut paused, "maybe it wasn't a coincidence that they left his cart alone but trashed everyone else's. Russet has his own suspicions as well. I will keep an eye out."
"See what you learn!" Luanna cheerfully waved as she skipped ahead to catch up with Greed and his party.
Greed's instinct was correct. Following the shore led straight to the lizardfolk camp. Three of the lizardfolk were seen lounging around next to some barrels and crates, while the other three lizardfolk were nowhere to be seen.
"You see how all that wind blowing is shifting the leaves on the lake to one side?" observed Ashen, "It makes a nice hiding place for aquatic creatures. Like four crocodiles I see hiding under there."
"Hey, mister scout." Glock chimed, "You good at sneakin'?"
"...yeah." Ashen replied quietly.
Glock smiled. "Let's sneak around the woods and surprise 'em."
"And talk to them?" Lorie asked.
"Yes, we'll 'talk' to them." Glock smiled more.
Greed rolled his eyes. "If by talk, you mean cut them open, then yes, I agree."
"Do they even speak Common?" asked Glock.
Lorie paused, "...maybe we can gesture? Or... just knock them out?"
Greed rolled his eyes again. "The objective is still the same. We're killing 'em and going back. Now come on!"
Glock tripped and fell out of the bush near the lizardfolk camp, clear in line of sight. Lizardfolk tensed up as rest of the party awkwardly emerged from the tree line.
"Ahem. Greetings." quipped Ashen. "Our caravan was ambushed by several lizardfolk, and we were wondering if you know anything about it?"
Lizardfolk looked at each other. "We don't know much about that. We are just... on a peaceful camping trip."
"Mhmm," Ashen grunted unconvinced, "and where did you get all those injuries? And where are the rest of your friends?"
"I think," the largest of the lizardfolk stepped up menacingly, "you best be walking away now, stranger."
"It doesn't matter if they were the ones at the ambush or not." Greed stepped forward armed with his scythe, "Just as long as we say we killed some."
Lizardfolk all took a step back. They drew out their own weapons. "Oi, we don't want any trouble."
"Me neither." Glock motioned Greed to sheathe his weapon. "Why don't we speak with the weapon sheathed, huh?"
"I'd say Im sorry, but I'm not." said Greed as he charged forward to the closest lizardfolk, and cut him down with a slash of his scythe.
Glock sighed, and with lightning speed, knocked out the two other lizardfolk with a double neck chop. The crocodiles hiding in the leaves emerged, but they look injured and not very enthusiastic to fight.
Ashen took out a couple of ham sandwiches from his pack and dropped them in front of the crocodiles. The crocodiles snatched up the food and slithered back underwater.
Glock flipped one of the lizardfolk over and began to search him for anything valuable. The lizardfolk groaned, and Glock murmured, "Not dead, yet?", before punching him through the head. Ashen paled and looked away.
"Wait!" Lorie winced, "Don't kill them! I can heal them..."
"I think she's right on this," Luanna acquiesced, "Something was up in that ambush and Irongut's gonna want to talk to them!"
Lorie pushed Glock away from the lizardfolk and began to heal them with the wand. Glock shrugged and searched through the crates, and found some coins and a letter, bearing the emblem of the Scarlet Swords, an adventurer/mercenary guild. The letter was sent by Romo Scatterstrings and it contained the caravan route, as well as instructions to leave the fifth cart alone and take no merchandise.
"OH I knew that tentacle face was fishy!" proclaimed Glock. "As a town guard, I cannot let dis pass!"
"We could blackmail him for cash." suggested Greed, "Triple pay would be nice."
"You and your blasted triple pay!" Lorie finished up bandaging the lizardfolk, "We should just turn him in!"
"Hold up, folks." Glock walked over to one of the unconscious lizardfolk and slapped him awake. "Aight, you gon talk to me, boy. Where are the others?"
Lizardfolk groggily woke up. "Ugh... they went out to hunt. I don't know where."
"Why did you attack people!" Lorie asked angrily.
"We were paid." the lizardfolk answered nonchalantly, "We are mercenaries."
"Have you met Romo before?" Luanna interjected. "Fancy hat. Funny beard?"
"Yeah," nodded the lizardfolk, "he hires with the Crimson Sword pretty regularly nowadays."
"Huh," Luanna paused, "Why would he hire mercenaries to attack his own caravan?"
"Maybe it's a merchant thing?" Lorie offered, "They can be pretty competitive sometimes."
Lizardfolk just shrugged. "We get weird requests like that from him all the time. Don't attack the first cart. Don't attack the last cart. Leave the merchants alone and attack the guards and beasts. Leave the merchandise alone."
"Yo, scaly," Glock inquired with a smile, "if I let you and your friends go, I suppose you gon raid us again?"
"I think I learned my lesson," stammered the lizardfolk with a gulp, "I learn quickly."
"I think we can trust him!" Lorie brightened.
"I suppose we can take the dead one back as proof, and let this one go." said Ashen.
Glock shrugged and let them go.
The mining town of Sleum was located on a precipitous cliffside. Two rope bridges connected the town to the outside roads. Its town square were full of miners, hauling carts full of ore and mining gear. One of the building was an inn named "The Heckling Elephant", and its air was loud and boisterous, full of adventurers singing and drinking cheap ale. The party entered, and a middle aged woman innkeeper greeted them.
"Hi!" Ellern exclaimed, "Party of five? Do you need lodging?"
"Actually," started Ashen, "we're looking for a dwarf named Durban Irongut?"
"Yes," Ellern replied, "he checked in not too long ago. He is upstairs."
"Thanks, sweetheart." said Greed, as he barged upstairs.
"Oi," Durbat Irongut came out of a steamy shower wrapped in towel, "what's all the ruckus?"
"A dead lizard, cap'n." replied Glock as he put down the lizardfolk corpse he was carrying on his back, "They won't be messing with us again."
"By Jupiter, you got 'em!" Irongut raised his fist in triumph before paying the party.
"Say, have you seen where the tentacle face went?" Glock asked.
"Room down the hall, to the right." answered Irongut as he entered his room, "I am going back to sleep."
"Good night, cap'n." said Glock as he turned down the hall, "Don't sleep too hard."
Glock knocked on Romo Scatterstring's door. Greed and Luanna stayed around the corner, out of sight.
"Yes?" Romo answered.
Glock showed him the letter and presented him with a pair of manacles. "Yer under arrest."
"Is this some kind of joke?" Romo didn't even flinch as he took a look at the letter, "You have one letter from nowhere with a forged signature. I have no idea where you got a letter like this, but if you continue to impugn on my honor, I will be forced to take actions against you-" Romo pointed to all of them, "-for slander!"
"Normally, I wouldn't trust dem scalyfolks," Glock continued, "but I know from my past experience that everyone tells the truth when their lives are on the line."
"You think I hired the lizardfolk to attack my own caravan?" Romo exclaimed with exasperation, "Jupiter above, this man is mad!"
"No, you specifically told them not to attack your own caravan." Glock pointed out.
"Your story is gobbledygook and no jury will take your side." answered back Romo, "I am letting you go because you look like you can put up a decent insanity case and it wouldn't be worth my time. Now go away." Romo shut the door.
Ashen stared at the door. "Glock, kick down the door."
Glock looked at Ashen. "Hmm, I dunno if I want to kick down this fine door."
Ellern the innkeeper shouted from below, "Uh... is everything okay up there? I heard 'kick the door down' and you better not be damaging my furniture up there!"
"Everything is A-OK!" asserted Lorie.
Ashen went to a room to retire. Lorie went back to the church to pray. Greed quietly sipped ale at one of the tables in contemplation. Glock and Luanna went outside to talk.
"The man has some iron mask," started Glock, "He is one of those guys who wouldn't submit until we catch him in the act."
"I told you blackmailing wouldn't help!" Luanna protested.
"I wasn't blackmailing him," Glock responded, "I was just gono arrest 'im that's all."
Luanna opened her mouth to answer, but closed them when she spotted a familiar red hooded shape climb out from his room, and begin to scale the wall outside with his feet dangling 160 feet from the jagged rocks below. Ashen made his way across to Romo's room, and jumped in. There were two twangs of crossbow fire, followed by someone abruptly exiting the room.
"AHHHHHhhhhhh!" Romo yelled while running down the hall, "There is an assassin in my room! He just tried to shoot me!"
A red hooded shape leapt back out of the windows and tried to return to his room, but he missed the windowsill and... tumbled down to the edge of the cliffside. He barely grabbed onto a tree branch and was hanging on with all his might.
Glock ran back inside as Romo returned with a group of somewhat sober adventurers. He yelled at them to search the room while he looked outside the window for the red hooded assassin. Ashen hugged the cliffside as close as he could, praying that Romo would miss him.
"What's going on here?" Glock entered Romo's room.
"I should have known that you guys were filthy assassins!" Romo spat, "I'm going to have your heads for this, I swear!" Romo turned to the adventurers, "You four, follow me!", and marched outside.
They ran into Luanna blocking the narrow passageway to the cliffside. Romo angrily gestured at her to move out of the way. "Your friend just tried to murder me!"
"Huh?" Luanna said in feigned disbelief, "What friend? ...The scout?"
"Your red hooded friend! He busted into my room and tried to kill me with a crossbow!" Romo bellowed, and then shoved Luanna out of the way.
Luanna responded back by color spraying Romo and 4 adventurers, knocking all of them unconscious! Ashen took this chance to flee back into his room.
Miners at the town square saw the bright flash of the color spray spell, and the crowd gathered around Luanna. After some seconds, Romo regained consciousness and stood up, pointing his finger accusingly at Luanna.
"You must have been sent by one of my rivals to take me out!" hollered Romo, "You and that red hooded man!"
"'Scuse me?" Luanna answered, "You pushed me! They probably should've told you not to push me!"
Romo wasn't listening. "I have more than dozen witnesses of you casting a hostile spell on five innocent people! You are going to jail!"
"But I didn't hurt anybody." Luanna quieted down, as the crowd chattered and pointed fingers at her.
Ashley briskly returned to her room. She liked the "Ashen" persona, but it was time to assume a new identity. She washed the powder out of her hair, changed outfits, and put on a quick makeup. She dumped the red hoodie on the north side of the building and slipped into the crowd.
"Sirs!" Ashley yelled, "A red hooded man just ran out of the inn heading north!"
Romo immediately looked at Ashley, but he did not recognize her - her disguise was top notch.
"You four," Romo pointed to the adventurers that were with him, "Go check out the north side of the inn."
"Ok, ok." Glock, now with his town guard insignia on his uniform, made his way through the crowd. "What's happening here now?"
Romo recognized Glock and saw the insignia on his shirt. "Mr. Guard, I demand that you shackle this woman and lock her away. I will talk to the mayor myself and see that justice is done."
Glock sighed and brought out his manacles. He shackled Luanna's arms together. "Follow me." Luanna followed him, defeated. Glock locked her inside the mine supply shed.
Lorie, with other volunteer clerics, watched the scene with worry. Surely they won't hang her for this! Lorie hoped. As she turned around to head back to the church, her head full of thoughts, she bumped into the head priestess.
"Ah-" Lorie was startled, "My apologies, Lady Matelier."
"Apologies accepted," the head priestess said unruffled, "And I told you to call me Linn, Lorie."
Linn then turned to see Luanna being escorted and locked in the supply shed. "Perhaps I should pay this sorceress a visit." she said to herself.
Lorie bowed and hurried back to the church.
Glock found Romo talking with the mayor, in a middle of long winded accusation against Luanna.
"...and then she ambushed me and four other adventurers from the back! Without warning! This type of treachery I only see rarely, and a special kind of punishment is needed to make an example out of her!" Romo cried out, "I say we hang her at sunrise tomorrow."
"Before ya make any decisions," Glock approached them, "Let me tell ya something. Back when I was workin' on me inn, I found her wanderin'. She is somethin' wrong in her head, but she would never attack anyone unless someone touched her or somethin'."
Glock sighed and continued, "I was wonderin' if there would be a way to bail her our or somethin'. I promise ya to keep me eyes on her, and ensure that dis never happens again."
"Absolutely not!" Romo cut in, "If you see a mad dog, you put it down."
Mayor Bosco Barleycloud looked tired. Thoughtful, but tired. "I will talk to her and see if she is insane as you say, Mr. Scatterstrings."
"No problem." Romo said assuredly, "You will see that I am right, Mr. Barleycloud."
Glock nodded as well, and headed away.
Ashley decided to take the matters into her own hands. Her friend got arrested trying to help her, and she felt responsible. She approached Glock.
"Sir Glock," she greeted, "I was informed that you are a member of the town guard?"
"Why yes," Glock replied, "I am. And who might ye be?"
"Mary Kate." Ashley made up a name, "Master detective." She made a small bow. "I am here to investigate the alleged attempt on the life of one Romo. Would you care to do me the honors of escorting me to the crime scene?"
"I s'pose." Glock grunted.
Bosco Barleycloud didn't ask for his job. He always fancied himself as a retired mountaineer, enjoying the quiet scenery and the basic luxuries of life. He didn't have any living relatives, and this side of the Plains wasn't blessed with many gnomes for him to romantically pursue. He resigned himself to a permanent bachelor's life, and when similar-minded humans settled near him, he helped them erect their houses and adjust to the life on the mountainside. Oh, Bosco wished all the time, how carefree my life would be if this blasted mine wasn't discovered...
He trudged to the mine supply shed, and knocked three times.
"Come in!" Luanna's cheery voice replied. Bosco sighed and walked in.
"I am Bosco Barleycloud, this town's mayor-"
"And I'm Luanna, nice to meet you!"
"...and we have multiple eyewitnesses that say you cast an offensive spell at a crowd this afternoon." Bosco finished. "Anything you have to say?"
"Oh, man. That merchant was flipping out!" Luanna gestured wildly, "he was shouting about my friend being an assassin. He was full of it! He faked an attack on our caravan... and then he went and played the victim again."
Bosco noted all this. "...and where is this friend of yours, now?"
"...And Color Spray is not THAT offensive either... he doesn't have a scratch. He just needed to know not to shove me..." Luanna quieted down. "I dunno. I've been in this shed for hours." Luanna looked up. "Next time you guys do this, could you leave a book or something in here?"
"So..." Bosco ignored her request for now. "What you are saying is, Romo the merchant suddenly decided to falsely accuse your friend and gathered up a crowd to chase him down, and to stop the chase, you cast a color spray at him.... Did your friend cross Romo somehow in the past?"
"I dunno." Luanna hopped off the crate she was sitting on and begin to pace. "We were both on the caravan when the attack happened. I don't think he knew him before then... But he was just an old guy with a midlife crisis who wanted to do an adventure. He's not an assassin!"
Bosco paused. "Luanna, there are some accusations and claims from both sides, but I think we need to look at the facts here, and the fact remains that you knocked a group of pursuers unconscious to help your friend get away. Now, regardless of whether he was actually innocent or not, I hope you understand that you can't do that in a civilized town like this."
"But they were fine!" Luanna protested, "I didn't even take anything off of 'em!"
Bosco bound his notes and gathered up his things. "I will talk to Romo and try to calm him down, and see if we can avoid some of the harsher sentences."
"Can I watch?" Luanna asked.
"No." Bosco said immediately, and then sighed. "Luanna, I know you may feel that the situation is wrong and unfair, and you may attempt to escape. You may even succeed, judging by your spellcasting talent, but I would like to ask you to remain here and face the law." Bosco continued, "You are young and have many opportunities ahead of you. I wouldn't want you to live the rest of your life running from the law in fear."
"...Hmm!" Luanna grunted. "Does Romo have the final say in what happens to me?"
"No," Bosco replied, "I do."
"...it was nice talking to you." Luanna finally concluded. "Have a good night."
Bosco smiled tiredly and locked the shed door behind him.
"Aha, a weapon!" Mary Kate (Ashley's new identity) held up a crossbow. Then, she pointed to the engraved letters on the side of the crossbow that read, 'Property of Fallabor Theatre & Dance Guild."
"Uh..." Glock scratched his head. "... a dance guild?"
"The pieces are falling together..." Mary Kate looked deep in thought. "You have some sort of paper indicting Romo, yes?"
"Err... yes." Glock admitted.
"As I suspected, " Mary Kate nodded. "the red hooded man was a hired actor. Romo faked an assassination on himself to provoke someone in your party to retaliate against him, in order to discredit the case against him."
Glock scratched his head. It sounded a little bit too wild, but hell, the whole day has been wild.
Don't look down, just don't look down. Lorie thought to herself as she slowly made her way across the rope bridge connecting the town to the outside roads.
Creaaaaaak, screeched the wooden planks beneath her, and it was enough to convince poor Lorie that the bridge was coming undone.
"This blasted bridge, " Lorie sobbed, unable to move, "Why did they have to put it here?"
"We don't have all day!" yelled Greed, already on the other side, "Let's get going!"
Mary Kate glowered at Greed, and held Lorie's hand all the way to the other side.
"So," Mary Kate confirmed for the fifth time, "This is where we are going to find critical witnesses that will help us?"
"For the fifth time, yes." Greed growled, "now stop talking to me."
Under the cover of darkness, three of them made their way back to the lizardfolk camp. It looked abandoned, until Lorie saw something trying to sneak away by diving into the shallow lake.
"I see one!" Lorie shouted, "There! In the water!"
Greed stepped forward menacingly with his scythe drawn, which was enough.
"Ok, ok, stop." A soaking wet lizardfolk with a lilypad on his head emerged from the lake. "This is not what you think it is."
"And what do I think it is?" asked Mary Kate, with her arms crossed.
"Unlike you boorish adventurers," the lizardfolk cried out, "I do not ROB leftovers from abandoned camps!"
"We never accused you of anything." countered Lorie, "who are you and what do you do?"
"My name is Dogou," announced the lizardman, "and I am the proud and witful representative of the Crimson Sword guild."
"Great!" Lorie clapped her hands, "We are looking for the lizardfolk who attacked a caravan during the day, but we do not with for retaliation. Instead, we wish for them to back up our story against Mr. Romo."
Dogou looked intrigued. "I, Dogou of the Crimson Swords, know these lizardfolk you speak of, and I also have the ability to summon them and have them back you up on whatever you are trying to do."
"So the only question left," Dogou grinned, "is how much you are willing to pay."
Mary Kate gulped. "What is your fee?"
"150 gold pieces." Dogou immediately answered. "Half now, half later. Standard mercenary- I mean... adventurer's contract."
"Relax," chuckled Greed. "You're speaking to a fellow mercenary."
"Not so fast," Mary Kate stopped Dogou. "Let me see these lizardfolk first."
"Ehehehe..." Dogou chuckled. "I never make claims I can't back up." Dogou began to growl and slap the water with his tail in rhythm. After some minutes, three lizardfolk emerged from the woods.
"These aren't the same lizardfolk." Mary Kate stated flatly. "I think."
"Nonsense!" Dogou hollered. "These ARE the lizardfolk you are looking for."
"So long as they back up our statement." Greed observed nonchalantly, "it doesn't matter."
"So, do we have a deal?" asked Dogou without missing a beat.
Mary Kate looked at Greed, who simply shrugged, and Lorie, who replied, "I would help, but I'm dead broke."
"Ugh..." Mary Kate wavered, "But Luanna is locked up because of me..."
Mary Kate took out the gold coins and offered it to Dogou, who snatched them up.
Dogou looked at the coins hungrily, "The lizardfolk will show up in their finest attire at town, tomorrow morning, ready to back your word." Dogou looked up. "And then you will pay me the other half of the payment."
Dogou submerged back into the water. Mary Kate looked very uncertain.
"I told you we'd get witnesses," Greed pointed out, "Now, let's head back to the inn."
Luanna opened one eye. A hooded and cloaked figure entered the shed, and closed the door behind her without a sound.
"Greetings," the figure pulled back her hood, and revealed herself as Linn Matelier, the head priestess, "I am Linn Matelier, the head priestess of this small town. I come to give a word of advice... and an offer you might be interested in."
Luanna sat upright. "Sounds good!"
Linn took a step closer. "In my recent dream, I foresaw an incident, deep in the mines, and it is about to happen soon. You-" She pointed at Luanna, "-may be called by the warden for assistance."
"Exciting." Luanna yawned and stretched. "What kind of incident?"
"A deadly one." replied Linn. "I do not have the details, as it was only a dream, but I did see... a peculiar altar, radiating dark magic."
Linn paused before progressing, "I want you to prevent its destruction, at least temporarily. As the head priestess, I would like to do a personal examination of the device before it is shut down."
"Hmm!" Luanna had a bad feeling about this. "Does the town know about it already?"
"No," Linn responded coolly, "and truth be told, I do not know if you will actually find such an object. I don't want to raise an alarm about nothing."
"Hmm!" Luanna thought about it. "And you will... get me out of here in exchange?"
"If the deed is done," Linn turned to leave, "I will grant you a pardon, should you lose the trial. You shall be set free."
"Thanks for talking!" Luanna waved her goodbye.
When Glock returned, Rycath Trosk, the mining superintendent, was waiting for him. He wore a full body set of overlapping slabs of steel - he looked like a golem. They went inside the mining office for a talk.
"Glock," Rycath started, " we have a situation."
"Ye need somethin'?" Glock asked.
"This miner here-" Rycath pointed at a terrified miner standing behind him. "-tells me that we have a possible monster encounter down in the mines."
"Monster?" Glock lit a cigar. "That ain't good."
"It.... it.... it was HORRIBLE." stuttered the miner. "Arms coming out of the WALLS. Disembodied hands, swinging our own pickaxes against us. And there were these undead-"
Rycath cut him off. "I think there is no need to use such a harsh word, when nothing's been confirmed yet." He turned to Glock. "I want to keep this on the down low. Assemble a small group of adventurers who are good at being discreet, and bring them here."
"Right." Glock turned to leave. "We all know wut's gon happen when ol' mayor hears all dis."
"Which is why it will not reach his ears." said Rycath with finality.
Luanna opened her eyes to repeated slamming on the shed door. A golem entered, and started talking to her.
"Are you awake?" asked Rycath.
"I am now!" Luanna rubbed her eyes. "What's happening?"
"I'm wondering if you could do me a job." Rycath brought the lantern closer. "Some miners got attacked by something in the mines, and I need few adventurers to clear them out."
"Sounds fun." Luanna startled to see that there was a human under all that slabs of steel. "What kind of something?"
"No idea." Rycath shrugged. "Miners were too panicked to give an accurate description."
"Hmm." Luanna dusted herself off. "And what will you do for me?"
"Coinage." Rycath replied. "And I can put in a good word to the mayor for your freedom."
"Good enough for me!" Luanna sauntered out of the shed and stretched. "Do you have a full party in mind?"
"You will be with Glock's handpicked adventurers." Rycath led her quickly to the mining office. "Try not to be seen."
"Mine level eight, tunnel two, shaft six." Greed stepped forward with his scythe. "Ugh, could we get a light down here?"
Lorie put away the spear she was holding, brought out a moonrod, and struck it against the mine wall. It brightly illuminated the blood stained walls. Mutilated body parts were scattered all over.
"These poor souls." Glock swore, Lorie murmured a prayer, and Ashley stumbled back into a corner, green in the face.
"What do you think attacked them?" Lorie began to examine a hacked arm nearby, when Greed suddenly swung his scythe very close to her face.
"Greed!" Lorie shrilled. "Cut it out-"
Lorie stopped when she saw that Greed had cleaved in half a floating disembodied hand that was lifting a pickaxe to clobber her head.
Four more hands floated forward disturbingly, each menacingly gripping a miner's tool.
"You take the top two-" started Glock, when he saw a man covered in gore emerge from the north corridor, except... it wasn't a man. Its mouth was snarled like a wolf's, and its hands ended in jagged claws. Its eye sockets were hollow and it pounced forward in a savage limp.
"WHAT," Lorie screamed and backed away frantically, "IS THAT THING?"
Greed stepped in between Lorie and the creature. "Damn it, I hate undeads." he murmured as he broke its charge with his scythe, and then cut it in half from head down to toe.
Another one ran forward from the darkness, howling.
"Just like on stage..." Mary Kate raised her shaking crossbow at the creature, and fired. The bolt went wide and struck the ceiling.
"Luanna!" Glock called out as he smashed the disembodied hands against the wall. "Do something!"
"I can't!" Luanna replied matter-of-factly, while scrambling for cover. "I don't do well against... undeads!"
The wolfine creature leapt on top of Lorie and began to slash the frightened cleric. Greed slashed at it but it continued its frenzy. "Get... off of... her!"
A crossbow bolt punctured squarely through its head. The creature went limp, and fell over. Mary Kate dropped her trembling crossbow and rolled into a fetal position.
Glock trashed the last of the floating hands, and helped Lorie to her feet. "Are you okay?"
"Uh... I'm okay!" Lorie gulped. "Just a little shaken up."
"Fuck those things..." Greed murmured. Mary Kate started laughing nervously. Luanna hopped over to one of the creatures and kicked it over.
"Loups." Glock muttered quietly. "That's what those things are called. You make 'em with foul magick and living sacrifices."
Glock walked over to Mary Kate, who was muttering to herself, "...not afraid. Not afraid."
"You okay, miss detective?" Glock asked. "We need ya to tell us which way to go first." He pointed to the north and south passage.
"They came from this way." Greed pointed to the north passage. "I say we check this way first."
Mary Kate gulped and nodded. Glock got up and shined the light down the hall, which extended short ways before ending in a small door that was ajar.
Glock listened at the door. Crunch. Munch... munch... munch...
Something was eating something. Or someone.
Glock slowly opened the door. This small room had two rows of barrels lined up neatly on the walls, as well as a sign of explosion, and two dead bodies at the end of the room. There was a hunched figure crouched over the charred bodies.
"Ick." Mary Kate grimaced bravely, "That is gross."
Lorie swallowed, and then charged forward with her hands gripped around her spear... and slammed it into the loup!
Loup howled, and violently twisted its torso, ripping the spear out of Lorie's grasp. It then pounced on top of Lorie and clamped down hard on her neck. She went limp.
"L-LORIE!" Mary Kate screamed, as she fired a bolt in panic. The bolt went wide and hit a crate. Loup twitched when it heard the bolt's twang, and it rag dolled Lorie aside before facing Mary Kate with a growl.
Mary Kate crumpled and stepped back. "N-no..."
The loup sprang forward, only to be chopped in two by Greed's scythe.
Greed looked at Mary Kate with disgust. "Learn how to aim."
Glock ran forward, uncorked a potion, and let it drip down Lorie's throat. She coughed twice, then opened her eyes.
"Stay behind the fancy lad." Glock lectured. "One unlucky moment and that could kill ya."
"Right..." Lorie felt the bite marks on her neck. "That was a little reckless of me."
"As were these guys!" Luanna remarked on the two charred corpses. "It looks like they were trapped in this room, and they decided to commit suicide through lighting the mining explosives."
Glock tried not to think about it.
"Down or left." Greed looked down the two ramp up ahead.
Mary Kate looked around. "Hmm...."
Glock sighed and put down his lantern on a barrel... only to have a disembodied hand reach out and grab his wrist.
Glock backed away with a yelp. Hideous masses of arms appeared from thin air on the ramps all around them, and they could hear loups' howls coming closer all around them.
"AHHHHHH!" Mary Kate yelled as she leapt away from the arms, and fired a bunch of bolts into the arms.
"We're surrounded!" Greed screamed out, wildly slashing at the arms grasping at his legs.
"Give me a moment. I have an idea!" Lorie called out as she knelt down with her holy symbol of Luna, and began to pray.
"Don't let them get to her!" Glock yelled as he tackled a loup that emerged from the tangles of arms. "She's going to turn them!"
"Guys." Luanna nervously asked, "Do we still have this?"
"Why don't you DO SOMETHING?" Greed shouted as he ducked under pickaxe swings from disembodied hands. "Can you do anything at all?"
Luanna opened her mouth, but quickly shut it as she backed out of the arm's grab.
"As Luna guides us-" finished Lorie as she raised her symbol into the sky, "dust turn to dust!"
Brilliant silver light began to shine from Lorie's holy symbol, and with a crack, every undead creature in the area turned to black ash.
"Whew," Glock got up. "That was ugly."
"Hmm!" Luanna grunted, unfazed. Mary Kate threw up on the ground.
"Wait." Greed held up his hand. "Do you guys see that?"
Not too far ahead, a half-unearthed altar was glowing with sickly green glow. It was covered with blood and gore.
Mary Kate went up to the altar, and then kicked it. It did not budge.
"Miss," Glock warned, "we're better off not messin' with it."
"I agree." Lorie chimed in. "Let's let someone else examine it."
"Mmm." Greed nodded, spooked by the altar. "We've cleared out this area, so can we get out of here now?"
Glock assented, and the group packed to leave. Luanna took one last look at the altar, thinking about Linn's request, and followed the party suit.
"I see that you have returned." Rycath, in his overlapping steel plates, did not seem to have moved from his desk. "I hope there were no complications."
"The mines are clear." chirped Lorie. "Save for a strange device."
"I think... we gotta talk to the clergies." continued Glock. "There's... some questionable thing down there."
"I see." nodded Rycath. "I will talk to the local priests."
"Abominations are cleared up and all." Glock made a smashing motion with his hands. "So it should be safe for awhile."
Rycath carefully scanned the party and stopped at their loot-laden bags.
"Normally, I would have my assistant Joe here-" Rycath pointed to a skinny man standing behind him. "...examine you for whatever loot and items you may have acquired down in the mines, and I would ask for half."
"However," Rycath continued, "I would much prefer if no word got out that there is a strange undead rituals at work down in the mines. It would be... suboptimal for the business. Therefore, I will let you keep whatever loot you found in the mines, in exchange for your silence."
Greed nodded. "I like the way you think."
"Why keep quiet about a threat that is no longer present?" Lorie asked. "We cleared the mines, so why not let the people know? Why hide things?"
"I am simply worried that miners may be spooked by the news, and will cease work at the mines, which would reduce the mine's profits." retorted Rycath in a matter-of-fact tone.
"Speaking of profits," Rycath pointed to the table, where gold coins have been meticulously stacked into 5 equal height piles. "You may collect your earnings there."
Party members collected their pay. Luanna grabbed her coins, and before going back to her supply shed, cheerfully waved to Rycath. "Make sure I walk free tomorrow!"
"Wait up!" Lorie darted forward to catch up with Glock.
"Um, you see." Lorie started. "Miss detective fronted 75 gold coins to lizardmen for their cooperation in the upcoming trial."
"What?" Glock cried out. "She paid for that??"
"Yes, and..." Lorie pointed her finger at Glock accusingly. "It's not very fair for you to take the extra loot you found!"
"Well." Glock crossed his arms. "I did the extra trouble of searching through all those rotting corpses. I say I deserve 'em."
"I'm not going to do anything, Sir Glock." Lorie said flatly. "If you insist it's your money, I won't challenge you on it, but I won't forget about it either, and I'll pay Mary back out of me own pocket!"
Glock thinks for a bit, pulls out a pouch, and counts out some coins.
" 'ere." Glock handed Lorie some coins. "Give that lady this."
It was 75g. Lorie brightened. "Thank you, sir Glock. I"ll tell her this is from you!"
"Just say it's from ye." Glock replied. "Now, I'm gon get me some shuteyes. Today was wee bit too wild for me."
"Good night, sir Glock." Lorie headed to the inn.
"Miss detective." Lorie handed Mary Kate a bag of coins. "Here is your repayment for earlier with the lizards."
"Th-thanks." stammered Mary Kate, surprised.
Lorie smiled and left. Mary Kate sighed, and began to count her coins once more.
"141, 142, 143, 144, ....145." Mary Kate tallied. "5 more."
Lorie stretched, and put on her favorite pair of socks. She thanked Luna for keeping vigil through the night, and headed to the main church building - just in time to see two young knights in brand-new armor clank inside.
"Greetings, Lady Matelier." Young man addressed the head priestess. "My name is Hyun, and this is Catherine. We are knights sent from the Order of the Queen to do routine survey of the region."
Catherine stepped forward. "The Order was worried that due to the sudden population rise in Sleum, people's living conditions may suffer."
Linn nodded. "It has been certainly trying, but I've had much help from the volunteer clerics from the region. We are doing our best."
"That is good to hear, ma'am." Hyun concurred. "We will be surveying the miners and adventurers. Let us know if you need anything."
Three lizardfolk in suit & tie stood waiting next to the inn. They drew many curious glances, but no one dared to question these finely dressed creatures. Eventually, the mayor was alerted.
It's not every day you see lizardfolk dressed like this, thought Bosco, as he approached.
The biggest of the lizardfolk cleared his throat. "We are here at request of three adventurers to serve as witnesses to an upcoming trial, mayor sir."
Bosco scratched his head, as Romo came down from his room and looked bewildered to see the lizardfolk.
"What the hell?" Romo was startled. "What are you guys doing here?"
Lizardfolk looked at each other, and the biggest of them repeated what he told the mayor.
Romo Scatterstrings paled and stumbled back inside.
Bosco sighed and began to prepare for the trial.
"Hey, Romo." Greed was waiting for him inside. "Care to chat for a moment?"
Romo opened his mouth, but Greed cut him off. "I think you're in a bit of jam if my guess is correct about those lizardfolk."
"What... what kind of help can you give me?" Romo stammered.
"With just a word, I can help them out of your hair." Greed grinned. "I think 400 gold pieces is a good start to not go to jail for life."
Romo frowned. "How about 300 gold pieces?"
"450 it is." Greed stopped smiling and got up very close to Romo's face. "Do I hear 500?"
Romo gulped. "I will have to money in 15 minutes."
Greed nodded. Romo sprinted upstairs to fetch the money.
"...And you can choose to represent yourself, or have someone represent you. Do you have any questions?"
Luanna opened her mouth, but Bosco cut her off. "Fantastic. Let's get started."
Romo Scatterstrings cleared his throat. Many miners and adventurers were watching, as well as the head priestess and two knights he has never seen before.
"As you are well aware," Romo began to tell his story. "I was attacked in my room yesterday by a red-hooded assassin. He was the same person who checked in yesterday at the inn sometimes after I checked in, and broke into my room through the window and shot at me with a crossbow twice."
"I chased the assailant with a brave group of adventurers, but this lady over here-" Romo pointed to Luanna. "...blocked my way. When we shoved her out of the way to continue our pursuit, she knocked us all unconscious with a color spray spell, allowing the assassin to get away."
"I ask the mayor and the good town of Sleum just what kind of morality you want to set as an example, if you allow people to be hit by offensive spells and get away scot free." Romo bowed and stepped back.
Bosco nodded. "Defendant may proceed."
Mary Kate stepped up. "The supposed assassination is a sham. No one besides Romo here saw the red-hooded man actually try to kill him, and the murder weapon..."
She held up the crossbow and pointed to the engraving on its side. "...is not a real crossbow. It is merely a stage prop."
"But why would Romo fake his own assassination?" Mary Kate turned to face the crowd. "Because he needed to discredit a certain group of adventurers, who had found evidence of his misdeeds."
"I would like to bring your attention to exhibit A." Mary Kate motioned Glock to show the emblemed note they found to the mayor. "This note details the caravan routes, times, and specific instructions, as well as the offered pay."
Mary Kate pointed at the lizardfolk. "Lizardfolk, do you testify that this note is in fact accurate and that you and your kin were hired to assault the wagon by Romo Scatterings?"
Romo Scatterstrings nervously looked at Greed, but Greed was completely silent with his hands in his pockets.
"Yes." grunted the lizardfolk. "We were hired by him to attack the wagon."
Murmurs and gasps went through the crowd.
"This is nonsense." Romo interrupted. "Why would I hire the lizardfolk to attack my own caravan?"
"You specifically hired them to assault every wagon besides your own." Mary Kate continued. "You stole Luanna's magical focus during the assault on the wagon. Even the supposed red-hooded assassin was not present during the combat, having been sent forward to 'scout' and miss the ambush."
"Yes." affirmed the lizardfolk. "We were instructed to not touch the goods, or the wagon Mr. Scatterstrings was cowering in."
Romo Scatterstrings, completely red-faced, began to yell. "I... I... this is all horse-crap! I was the one attacked here! You guys are all in it against me, because I have money!"
"I think we've heard enough!" Bosco silenced him. "Mr. Guard, please unchain her and set her free. I'm going to open an investigation into Mr. Scatterstring's personal financial account."
"And as for you lizardfolk," Bosco frowned. "I don't know what made you think you can just walk in here and confess that you killed people for money, but-"
"Now, just a moment, my good mayor." Dogou, dressed in a purple suit and silver tie, opened the inn doors. "I'd like to point out that this event happened well outside the town boundaries, and the frontier laws would technically be in effect. The dueling laws clearly state that-"
"You're calling this a duel?! The guards were taken by surprise-" Bosco tried to object.
"A DUEL, yes." Dogou loudly declared. "No property was stolen, so it wasn't banditry. Every participant had a weapon to defend himself, so we can rule out pillage. Standard contract for guards clearly warn them that they may be attacked at any point during their duty, so they were certainly not surprised."
"In fact, I don't know why you would raise a ruckus over a fair and honest duel, and you could be drinking and celebrating the exposing of a crooked merchant!" Dogou turned to the crowd. "Free drinks for everyone at the inn!"
The crowd cheered. The suit-and-tie lineup of the lizardfolk and their imposing physique, as well as the allure of free alcohol, were more than enough for them to buy into Dogou's half-baked excuses. Mayor Bosco stuttered some words, but was overwhelmed by the crowd. He relented and went to the inn for a drink.
"What's up?" Glock asked as he answered an urgent summon from Rycath Trosk. "Mole problem?"
"It seems that we got another breakout, similar to the last one." Rycath, behind his overlapping steel plates, broke the news. "I need another cleanup crew."
"Again so fast?" Glock swore. "This ain't right."
Rycath stared back motionless. "Plus, we have a couple of busybodies poking their noses into places they aren't welcome."
Glock nodded. He's seen the pair of knights talking to the miners.
"I want to send the same group as last time to minimize the number of people who knows about this." Rycath concluded. "I am willing to up their pay to buy their discretion."
"Aye." Glock agreed. "We don't want no pesky knights pokin' around where they do not belong."
"Shh!" Glock held up a hand, and pointed forward. Up ahead, a faintly glowing outline of a humanoid could be seen.
"I hear... fire?" Glock shrugged, as he moved closer for a better look.
Upon closer examination, the creature seemed to be skeletal, with embers and small flame dancing around its bones. It was standing over an unconscious miner, who softly gasped as white wispy trails rose from his mouth and drained into the skeleton creature. The miner expired soon after.
It seemed to have sensed the party's presence, for hordes of disembodied hands and loups emerged behind the stacked crates to attack.
Lorie stepped forward. "By Luna's light." She held up her symbol, and brilliant silver light washed over the creatures again, turning about half of them into dust.
"I didn't think you'd be this useful in a fight, Lorie!" Mary Kate exclaimed, as she eyed for an angle at the flaming skeleton creature.
Glock lunged forward into the undead horde, bashing and kicking his way near the skull creature. The skull creature opened its mouth, and began to absorb white wisps that fluttered out from Glock.
Glock stumbled. He could feel his life force drain out from his lungs, and he had no strength to resist as the skull creature stepped toward him to drain him entirely...
...and its left eye socket was smashed by a well-aimed crossbow bolt! It began to twitch amd vibrate, before being consumed in a fiery explosion.
"Thanks, detective." Glock breathed a sigh of relief.
Greed and Lorie finished turning the remaining undead into mincemeat.
"You know, I've been thinking about this." Mary Kate grabbed a pickaxe off the wall and walked to the altar they have discovered soon after the fight. "I think leaving these altars intact was a mistake. We're not making the same mistake twice."
Lorie nodded as well, and hefted a pickaxe. The party reduced the altar to a rubble, and the foul necromantic magic soon cleared from the air.
"Huh." Glock remarked. "So we can destroy it without getting cursed."
"Let's go to where we found the other one." Mary Kate suggested. "And rip that one apart, too."
The high priestess Linn Matelier was already at the first altar, when they arrived with pickaxes.
"Ah, I have finished my examination." Linn said, as she got up. "You are here to destroy the altar, yes?"
"Indeed." Mary Kate crossed her arms.
"Very well." Linn stepped back.
Glock stepped up. "So miss, I thought you Sol believers are all 'destroy first, talk later' sort of sort with respect to the undead."
Linn slowly nodded. "I needed to know what we were up against."
"So what'd you learn?" Luanna chimed in.
"This altar... seems to have been crafted by intelligent beings. Perhaps humans, as doubtful as it seems, considering that the civilized people did not live on this side of the Plains until recently." Linn answered, thoughtfully. "There is still much to learn, but I suspect that as unsuspecting miners unearth them, they cause violent spirits to manifest and uses the miners as living sacrifices to bolster their numbers."
"That's horrible!" Lorie blurted out.
"Ye know what I think, miss?" Glock hefted a pickaxe. "I think we need to sweep the mines and crack all dem altars we find." Mary Kate nodded in agreement.
Linn assented. "I will ask the mine superintendent to shut down the mine meanwhile, to prevent more incidents like this."
Greed grunted, and swung his pickaxe at the altar.
Glock entered the bar. It was a long day, and he could use a drink. He certainly wasn't expecting the silver-tongued representative of the Crimson Swords waiting for him.
Dogou offered him a drink. "A word please, if I may?"
"Waddaya need?" Glock took the drink and sat next to him.
"I have a job for you and your comrades, if you be interested." Dogou sipped from his own drink. "Tomorrow, I will be negotiating with the representative of my rival guild, the Spectacles gang."
"It is traditionally agreed," Dogou continued, "that representatives will not bring force of arms to the discussion table, but just in case they do-"
Dogou pointed to Glock with his tail. "I would like to have some insurance."
"Well it's gon hard for me to leave me post and all." Glock slowly swirled his drink. "I could make sum a-rrange-ment dependin' how much ye paying us?"
"50 gold apiece." Dogou replied.
"Hell that's more than what my boss pays me." Glock was liking this proposition. "Gimme some details."
"Tomorrow morning," Dogou finished his drink. "I will head out from the town into the woods. You will follow me discreetly and make sure I am clear from harm throughout the negotiations. That's it!"
"Judgin' by your face, yer not tellin' me everything." Glock eyed the lizardfolk. "Me and my men's lives depend on what we expect ya know."
"You worry too much old man." Dogou guffawed. "I've done these negotiations dozen times without a hitch. You'll be fine."
"Well..." Glock sipped his drink. "It's still payin' me more than my boss ever will, so I'll take the offer anyhow."
Dogou clapped him on the back. "I knew I could count on you! I will see you tomorrow!"
Greed stood propped next to the well, watching the two young knights go from a miner to miner asking questions. He feigned boredom, but he secretly hoped that the knights would come his way, and they did.
"Greetings." Hyun gave a short bow. "We are knights sent from the Order of the Queen, here to survey this town and its living conditions. Could we ask you few questions?"
Greed kept his excitement in check. "Just as long as I can ask some back."
"Sure." Hyun replied. "No problem."
Catherine stood some distance from Hyun, cross-armed. "How often does the town face threats from monsters?"
"Whoa." Hyun raised his hand. "Slow down, Cath."
"More blunt the better." Greed grunted. "You don't get anywhere sugarcoating things."
"Frankly, I agree." Catherine sighed. "We've been assigned to this backwater town and there seems to be no problems whatsoever."
"Catherine." Hyun lectured. "The fact that there hasn't been any reported problems is a good sign."
"I didn't sign up to be a knight to do surveys." Catherine complained. "I want to fight monsters and save people."
"Well." Greed made up his mind. "I came around recently and all I've ran into is trouble and monsters. Personally, I'm shocked this town hasn't been overrun."
"Uh... are you sure?" Hyun flipped through his notes. "We've not heard of any attacks reported..."
"I knew it." Catherine's eyes flashed in interest. "Please, tell us all you can."
"Note that small scale bandit attacks and isolated drunken brawls do not count in the survey-" Hyun started, but Catherine cut him off.
Greed pretended to try and remember. "Well, this one guy has been sending us on missions over and over. Told us to keep each job quiet and get rid of the monsters."
Catherine nodded. "My money is on the metal guy at the mining office."
"We don't refer to persons as 'metal guy'!" Hyun cried out.
"I could give you more direct information..." Greed fished. "But what do I get from it?"
Hyun crossed his arms. "...under the edict of the Order, we are hereby allowed to make stronger assertions and requests from citizens deliberately withholding information from the knights in their mission-"
"Shh." Catherine cut him off. "Ok, I think I understand, and I can tell you that if we make a big bust, we will get a big batch of reward money. We can split that."
"Catherine!" Hyun frowned. "I can't say I approve of this underhanded-"
"Oh, I'm interested." Greed cut him off. "The two people to look out for would be the tin can and the head cleric. The tin can has been the one sending me and few others out to take care of some monsters. Pays us a bit extra to keep quiet. Considering you're not hearing anything about this, well.... you tell me."
"Hmm..." Cathering thought. "He must be putting pressure on the miners to keep their mouth shut. What about the head priestess?"
Hyun shook his head. "I assure you Lady Matelier has shown us nothing but kindness and hospitality-"
"She's been very interested in some strange altars. We even found her examining one when we went to destroy it. Why is she so interested?"
"Write it down, Hyun." Catherine directed. "Head priestess of Sleum is secretly working on raising an undead army to invade the mines."
"Oh, come on." Hyun complained. "That is nowhere close to what he just said-"
"Sounds like a logical conclusion." Greed finished.
"I'm not going to write this down." Hyun packed up. "I'm going to go survey other people, Catherine."
Catherine watched him go. "I think... we are going to tell the mayor that everything looks okay, and then leave and bring back reinforcements. I need you to gather enough evidence on these two to warrant a full search."
Greed grimaced. "It will be difficult to get evidence on the head priestess."
"Look." Catherine got ready to leave as well. "Do you want the big payout or not? You gotta work for this."
"We'll talk again soon." Greed shoved his hands in his pockets.
"Oh, dear." Mary Kate grimaced. "I think they saw me."
Glock and Mary Kate were hiding in the bush near Dogou and a stranger in a fancy suit, a top hat, and spectacles. They were scanning the perimeter when they noticed four men in hoods and goggles armed with rifles hiding in the bush nearby. It seemed that the men spotted Mary Kate around the same time she spotted them.
"Keep 'em interested." Glock whispered as he began to make his way through the bush, hidden.
Mary Kate nodded and waved back at the armed men. One of them shoot his head while others remained focused on the meeting.
"...I trust that the Crimson Sword is doing well?" the top hat stranger asked Dogou.
"Shut up, you rascal." Dogou retorted sharply. "We're fighting for scraps, and I think it's because of you and your Spectacles gang taking all the jobs around here. Isn't that right, John the Prospector?"
"Baloney!" John exclaimed. "Times are hard for us as well, but allow me to show you something interesting first."
John set down two wine glasses on the barrel in front of him, and poured wine from the flask he was carrying. He took one of the glasses, and took a step back.
"Please." John the Prospector motioned to Dogou. "It's on me."
Dogou looked at him suspiciously, and approached to take the glass. Boom. A sharp gunfire echoed through the small clearing, and the wine glass shattered as Dogou was about to grab it.
"YEOWCH!" Dogou leapt back. "You brought friends? We had an agreement, you thug!"
"Nonsense!" John the Prospector laughed. "It must have been the wind!"
"Now," John took a sip from his glass. " Before stronger winds blow, why don't we discuss the terms of our non-compete agreements, hmmmmm?"
"Ugh... before we do that, let ME show you something." Dogou grimaced, and pulled out two wooden cups. He mimicked John and poured ale into them, before taking one of the cups and stepping back.
John the Prospector looked nervous, but he nevertheless reached out to grab the cup. Mary Kate fired her crossbow, only for her to miss and hit the barrel.
John guffawed. "I think you might want a better control over your wind, my friend."
Dogou looked crestfallen.
Glock snuck behind the hooded men. They seemed to be in a celebratory mood, whispering to each other about how bad of a shot Dogou's men were. It looked like Dogou was getting slaughtered in the negotiations out there.
Glock covertly neck chopped two of the men and retreated into the bush. The other two didn't see him, but they grabbed their guns and began to look wildly about the bush.
Glock pounced on the other and knocked him unconscious with a savage knee to the face, and when the last one raised his rifle to fire... Glock kicked the barrel into the man's face. He dropped with a groan.
"Huh." John the Prospector looked in Glock's direction. "What was that? Did you bring anyone with you, Dogou?"
"I wish." Dogou pouted.
Glock disassembled the rifles and threw them out into the clearing. John the Prospector's face immediately paled.
"What- what the..." John stammered. "I don't... this... I didn't hear anything.... what?"
It was Dogou's turn to laugh. "Why don't we renegotiate the terms, John? And maybe you should hire better 'winds'."
Dogou gave a thumbs-up towards the bush, which Glock missed because he was busy looting the Spectacles.
"Ah-hahahaha!" Dogou was in a fantastic mood on the way back. "You were the best, Glock."
"I hope yer negotiation went peacefully." Glock winked.
"Better than I could ever hope for!" Dogou cheered. "Double pay for everyone!"
Glock smiled. This was a good way to start a day.
And... Rycath just informed him that one of the mining sectors did not report in, the sector where they stored the mining explosives. Ugh.
"Look." Glock tried to reason with Rycath. "We ain't bomb experts. We kill monsters occasionally for pay."
"Yet, you represent the group of adventurers with most experience dealing with these monsters." Rycath insisted. "If I were to hire other people, the chances of an explosion would only go up."
"Alright, alright." Glock assented. Sheesh. Undead altars and now explosives... this day suddenly took a turn for the worse.
"So, you're telling me," Greed yelled while desperately holding a loup at bay, "we could go all up in flames if that deathskull explodes wrong."
"Aye, lad." Glock replied as he hand chopped a floating hand. "Hopefully, this be our last time."
"This isn't worth 50 gold..." Greed turned around and sliced through arms clutching at him at the stairs.
"We could use some help from Luna right now!" Mary Kate yelled as she ducked under a loup.
Lorie sat with her legs folded in prayer. A single bead of sweat streamed down her face. Luna wasn't answering her call.
A loup leaped out from a corridor behind the party, and charged towards Lorie, but Luanna stepped forward and shot it down with a crossbow.
The deathskull turned the corner and emerged among the crates of explosives.
"Oh sweet gods above." Greed took cover in a small cranny. "We need these undeads gone now!"
Lorie finally raised her symbol, and the undeads in the way turned to dust. Greed leapt out from his cover and slashed the deathskull. "Die, you dumb skull!"
It shuddered and exploded into fire as Greed tackled it away from the crates.
Greed woke up from someone yelling excitedly downstairs. He immediately groaned. He got burns all over his body from last night when he stopped the deathskull from exploding on the crates. Lorie healed the worst of it, but everything still felt raw. He stretched and headed downstairs to see what was making all that noise.
"...And the best part is, they don't take half of the hard earned loot you find down there!" Adventurers were sitting around the three excited men laden with large bags of gold and items. "Seriously, it's just all for the grabs, and you carry out as much as you want!"
"The fuck is going on?" Greed took a seat next to Luanna.
"I dunno!" Luanna shrugged. "But they're serious!"
"They said it's for non-profit." One of the men gestured with his arm. "So they won't be charging us at all!"
"What were you exploring?" Luanna inquired.
The men turned to Luanna. "Our good mayor opened up a new entrance into the mines! This area is not part of the mines operated by Rycath Trosk, so he can't tax you on your way out!"
"Woah." Luanna made a surprised face.
"You walk in, and you get out with as much loot as you can carry!" The men yelled.
"And who's the 'they' that let you go in to this new area?" Greed asked.
"John the Prospector, and the Spectacles guild!" The three men began to pack up their bags. "They set up near the mayor's house, on the other side of the cliffside. You guys should all get in on this before the loot runs dry!"
"This is a breach in our contract." Rycath towered over the small gnome mayor. "It's simply unacceptable!"
"You wouldn't give us, Crimson Swords, an exclusive contract," Dogou sided with Rycath. "But you are going to favor the Spectacles? What injustice is this?"
"Gentlemen, please." Mayor Barleycloud held his hands up. "I told you again and again. As written in our contract-" He looked at the iron-faced man. "I DO have my own private right of entry to the mountain, granted that it's exclusive to the mine operated by Rycath Trosk."
"And I'm not favoring anyone." Mayor turned to the lizardman. "John and his guild are here on a nonprofit mission. They are just making sure the crowd doesn't get too rowdy. They aren't here to collect fees or make money!"