The party spends a few minutes to catch their breath after the grueling fight. Norixus and Valse work closely to tend to everyone’s wounds, patching them up as best they can.
Norixus gazes at Johnson’s limp body, sighing. “…I never wanted to end it like this, Johnson. I pray to Katigda for mercy upon your soul…”
Valse walks over to the map on the wall, inspecting it. “Hmm… it seems to be marking the location of several outposts for this resistance movement. Can’t exactly make sense of the markings, but they seem to be pointing towards Ambstalt. Looks like this revolutionary group’s got a name too—Amber Fall.”
Ben joins Valse at the map. “Ah… I see now. Those outposts listed there—we could take a detour and knock them out, one by one. Or, we could just go straight to Ambstalt.” Ben shrugs. “I’ll be honest—if all the leaders are freaks like that Johnson cunt…” he chuckles and slams his knuckles together. “I want to stomp every last one of them.”
Valse ponders. “Hmm… there seems to be a date inscribed on the bottom… looks like whenever this is going down, it’ll happen about a month from now. I’m not sure if we have time to detour—just getting to the city will take the better part of a week at least.”
“Hmm… you’re right.” Ben sighs, rubbing his eyes and stretching his muscles. “There should still be some recruits here, right?” He turns towards Johnson’s corpse with a wicked grin. “I’d rather not have them march to their deaths—why don’t we show them just how impossible their goal really is?”
· · ·
The party re-enters the medbay, this time taking a more thorough inspection.
Willington approaches one of the tanks and looks closely inside—before backing away in horror.
Ben approaches and takes a look—it appears that each tank contains a child, suspended in some sort of fuid. “…No fucking way…” He grits his teeth in anger. “You think we could get those kids out of there?’
“Let’s just check around the machinery for some sort of deactivation switch.”
Looking around, Ben spots a switch on the far side of the tank. “Is this it? Should we give it a flip?”
“It might be…” Willington gingerly says. “Let’s just… pull it for a bit and see what happens.”
Ben pulls the lever. The fluid begins to slowly drain from the two tanks. With a hiss, the tanks open. At a glance, the children inside seem to be unharmed. “Should we take them with us? They’re still unconscious.”
“Wait!” Valse places her hand on Ben. “Something doesn’t seem right… it feels like some sort of dark magic has changed them, removed something in some way… it’s hard to get a good read on it.”
“…Fear?” James asks.
“I can’t tell. Only that something is missing. It’s distinctly different from anyone we’ve encountered down here so far.”
“Fuck…” Ben rubs his eyes, sighing. “I don’t want to leave these kids here, but clearly they aren’t safe to take with us. I don’t want to let them fall back into the hands of these freaks either.” He clenches his fists, struggling to find words. “Do you think… it’s possible that those tanks have a kill switch?”
Willington’s eyes widen. “You’re suggesting mercy killing?”
“That’s…” Valse pauses, deep in thought. “I’m not sure if that’s in line or out of line with what the book wants us to do…”
Ben rubs his face. “But is it wise to just leave these kids here? I know we’re running on our last rope with the book, but I don’t know if I can back away from this without doing anything.”
“I suppose we’ll have to decide what’s most ‘good’ and ‘lawful’ to do in this situation then…”
Willington reaches his hand out, wispy tendrils of mana seeping towards the child. “…there’s no magic coming from them. There’s that odd residue of dark magic that Valse talked about though.”
“None?” Valse asks. “Usually, people have some sort of baseline level… their bodies seem unharmed, though. Pristine condition.”
“Perhaps their magic was drained?”
“Hm… it’d be more than just magic if it’s ZERO magical traces at all, though. Even nonmagical people have a little bit in them. Perhaps we should try waking them up? Maybe they could tell us more about what happened.”
“Sure.” Willington lightly shakes the kids, trying to wake them up—to no avail. “…Must be really drained. We might need to bring them back to the town.”
“Alright,” Valse heaves one onto her back. James takes the other onto his left shoulder.
Ben gives them a nod. “Now, let’s go find the rest of the recruits. They have some long overdue news.”
The party searches every inch of the base. After about an hour, they find three more of the missing children, hiding in a closet.
“Heya!” Ben gives them a friendly. “We aren’t here to hurt you—we’ve got no interest in fighting kids. But the man who recruited you all for this fucked up plan is dead, and it’s best you jump ship too. Your parents are worried about you lot, so why don’t you go show them you’re okay?”
The kids begin backing away slowly, before bolting down the hall towards the exit of the base.
“Fuckin…” Ben mutters beneath his breath. “I promise you; I just want you all to get home safely, we aren’t—” he sighs. “I suck at talking to kids.”
“Don’t think that’s the way we wanted them to leave…” Norixus adds. “But they’re leaving?”
“Yea, maybe they’re running home?”
Ben turns to the group. “Let’s go tell the guard that the beast has been slain. Though… should we tell them about Amber Fall? Or should we lie? I feel like if we tell them, it may worsen the treatment of the non-humans. So… I think we should lie.”
“But isn’t lawful about being truthful?” Valse says. “Following the law? Wouldn’t the people in the village want to know the truth…?”
James shrugs. “Ignorance IS bliss.”
“White lies aren’t against the laws I know of,” Rognalad says.
“Sounds good to me,” Norixus responds.
Ben’s brow furrows in consideration. He looks around at those who agreed and takes one last glance at Valse. He moves to speak but says nothing. “Let’s… get a move on.”
· · ·
The party treks back to Folngrove. As they walk, Ben decides to speak. “I’m not so sure about my decision anymore—yet there’s so many factors we don’t know of. Lying could worsen the book, or it could do nothing. Remember how it remained unchanging when we had gotten into that heated exchange with the assassins?”
“Hm…” Valse ponders. “I suppose the only thing we can do is to do what we believe to fit with the book’s wishes the best.”
“Seems like it… is everyone sure on what we should do? Or has anyone changed their mind?”
“If we had to tell t he truth, we’d need to find some way to reduce suspicions against the elves,” Willington says.
“I don’t think we could come up with something like that. Not with their magistrate.” Ben sighs, nodding his head. “I’m still on the side for lying about what happened. I don’t want to make things worse, knowing what it’s like to be trash to t he rest of society.”
“Alright,” Valse says, sighing. “Lying it is…”
The party locates the guard that had initially sent them on their quest. “So… you’ve all returned.”
“Yo. We got your beast.” Ben pulls something from his bag, rolling it to the guard’s feet—Johnson’s severed head.
The guard sighs. “Johnson… I should’ve known. We torched his hut long ago…” The guard stops. “Wait. Wasn’t the beast some sort of furred creature? We’ve seen the evidence…”
“Ah yes,” Rognalad says, motioning to Criollo. “Well, you see, this man was wearing a fur coat—the one that our draconian friend has on right now.” Criollo spreads the suit open, showing it to the guard.
“You can compare it to the fur found at the crime scenes,” Ben states. “They’ll match up.”
The guard blinks, bewildered. “Well, alright. I’ll report the findings to the magistrate. You lot have done a great service for this town. We will pay you for your troubles, as well as the favors mentioned earlier.”
“Wait.” Ben stops the guard. “Have any of the missing children come through town?”
“Yes, indeed they have. We’ve already escorted them to their families.”
Ben smiles, giving him a grateful nod. “That’s good.”
“If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask the magistrate. And here’s your gold…” The guard tosses each of the party members a sack of 50 gp.
Ben glances at Johnson’s severed head. “I don’t need this anymore.” He leans back and hurls it into the woods as hard as he can. A mighty crack rings out a few seconds later.
Norixus smirks. “Nice throw.”
Suddenly, the book begins to glow, growing as warm as an oven. Willington takes it out of his pack—the gold and white patterning has returned to its original splendor, growing brighter and more ornate as well.
“Heh. Looks like we did the right thing.”
The party spends the rest of the day repairing and augmenting their equipment with the newfound gold, as well as finally catching a break from the non-stop combat of the past two days. Soon, they prepare to set off for Ambstalt once more.
“Hey,” Valse says as the party begins to leave. “Perhaps we should check out Vaerill and Aelua. We should also ask the magistrate for transportation to Ambstalt.”
“Yeah,” Willington says. “Let’s go check up on her.”
Ben gives Valse a genuine smile, nodding. “I want to make sure she’s not too shaken up over what happened.”
The party moves to the Ehlrice household—Aelua answers the door. “Oh hey, it’s you folks. I can’t thank you enough for getting my daughter out of that mess… I didn’t know just how far she’d go.”
Ben’s eyebrows furrow. “It’s no problem… did Vaerill tell you about what had happened?”
“Of course. A mother knows how to make her child speak. Frankly though, I’m not one to be involved in that sort of politics.”
“Ah… if it’s not too much trouble, do you think we could speak to her for a moment? I want to apologize for how I had acted.”
“Go ahead. I’m sure she has a few words to say to you as well.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Ben gives Aelua a grateful nod, and gestures for the party to follow him to Vaerill’s room.
The party moves to Vaerill’s room—she’s sitting at her desk, an empty expression upon her face.
Ben knocks lightly on the doorframe. “Heya.”
She turns to Ben, tears slowly trickling down her face. “S-Sorry for everything…”
Ben takes a step forward, offering up a warm smile. “Nah, it’s alright. Kids your age can be very impressionable, so I won’t hold anything against you for following what you believed to be justice. I’m glad you’ve returned home, and…” he takes a deep breath, giving a respectful bow. “I want to apologize for how I had acted previously—I let my anger get the best of me and couldn’t keep a clear head.”
Vaerill’s lower lip trembles as her eyes begin to shimmer. The dam breaks as she begins to wail, hugging Ben tightly as she cries into his robes. Ben pats her on the back, letting her cry for a while. Gritting his teeth, he feels tears begin to brim in his own eyes as well. His voice cracks as he opens his mouth. “I get where you’re coming from, but it’s not worth throwing your life away for an impossible plan. You’re young, and you have a whole life ahead of you… it’s not worth having it snuffed out so soon.”
At last, Vaerill lets go of Ben, sniffling. “M-Maybe you should have this… you could help other kids like me learn that…” She hands Ben her amulet.
Ben takes it into his hands and gives her a grateful nod. “I promise I’ll do what I can for them, Vaerill.” His eyes are determined, unwavering as he smiles slightly. Vaerill returns a small smile through her tears.
Ben rises to his feet. “My group and I need to get going… stay safe.” He pats her on the head, and nods toward the party. As they begin to leave, he stops and turns back with a joking smile. “You should practice your magic a little too—those eldritch blasts barely hit.” He chuckles lightly, leaving the room.
The book glows, getting warmer.
Willington pauses, and turns to Vaerill. “Oh, that reminds me—do you still have that book?”
“H-Huh…?” Vaerill sniffles. “The one I was reading…?”
“Yes. The one that… the big-hatted kobold took once.”
“Yeah… it’s here. You can keep it; I won’t need it anymore…” She pulls the book from a shelf and hands it to Willington—it is titled A Treatise on Human History, by Johnson Tygrid. Willington takes a look at the summary—it appears to be an account of human history told through a lens of oppression by humans onto elves, half-elves, and non-human creatures.
“Thanks.” Willington waves to her as he leaves.
Norixus waves to Vaerill. “I hope Katigda blesses you with wondrous luck, Vaerill.”
Vaerill smiles. “Thanks, dragon person… may Mykhori bless your travels as well!”
The party leaves Vaerill’s house, heading towards the town hall. “We should talk with the magistrate about getting transportation,” Valse says.
“Wait,” Willington responds. “What about the other kid?”
“Eylon? I Don’t recall seeing him amongst the ones we found at the outpost… maybe Amber Fall transferred him elsewhere?”
“What Valse said,” Ben shrugs. “Just cause Vaerill went to that outpost, doesn’t mean they all went there.”
Norixus closes his eyes. “…I pray to Katigda for that one’s safety.”
Ben glances at the amulet, nodding with determination. “If we come across the revolutionaries again, we’re bound to find him. I plan on keeping my promise to Vaerill.”
“Now… let’s go visit that lard ass.” Ben stops and turns to the group. “I promise not to say anything to piss him off this time…” he grins slightly and shakes his head. “Nah, I can’t make a promise like that, haha! I’ll try my hardest though.”
The party arrives at the magistrate’s office. He appears ever so slightly more friendly this time around.
“I’ve been informed that you have handled the issue with the attacks,” he sets down his cigar. “I must say that I am both surprised and impressed…”
Ben hangs at the back of the group, giving the magistrate a smug smile. “What? You doubted us?”
The magistrate chuckles. “Certainly. Most travelers are just freeloaders trying to get something out of our little town… but I believe your work here deserves special praise.”
The magistrate leans forward in his chair. “I’ve heard you’re seeking travel to Ambstalt. Now, I have a few means of transportation to offer you—we have more than enough horses for the lot of you, but… we might be able to afford you other means of transportation as well.”
“Oh?” Ben’s ears perk up, and his grin grows. “Do tell!”
“We could send you in a ship down the river, for instance… it would take about five days to arrive. However, should you be in an urgent hurry… I could call in a dwarven airship—if you so desire. It would take about a day—maybe faster—if the winds are in your favor.”
“We aren’t in an urgent hurry, are we?” James looks to the party, trying to be modest.
“Hm…” Ben takes a glance at Valse. “I know we don’t have much time for it, but are there any outposts on the way to Ambstalt if we took the horses?”
Valse ponders. “Taking the horses would detour us too much… but I’m just wondering where this man got an airship. Those are quite expensive… I mean, the standard price of an airship is around 200,000 gp—not to mention special contracts within the Dominion of Kur.”
“Hmm…” Norixus says. “If I were a betting man, I’m guessing he got the money from taxing the elven people more?”
“Hm?” The magistrate overhears the conversation, chuckling. “Oh, none of the bill for the airship is coming from my treasury coffers. I have some connections…”
“This seems a little suspicious to me,” James says.
“Maybe he just requested funds from the governor of this region?” Valse asks.
“Eh…” Willington says, scratching his head. “I really think the boat’s fine. Not worth the risk.”
Valse clears her throat, turning to the magistrate. “We’ll take the boat.”
“The boat, eh?” The magistrate chuckles, lighting another cigar. “Interesting… most travelers are in more of a hurry.”
“Why’s that?” Norixus asks.
“Folngrove isn’t ever anyone’s stop. Neither are most villages out here. I find it interesting that you’d take a slower option to get to your destination, that’s all.”
“We don’t really mind the trip,” Willington responds.
“Suit yourself.” The magistrate shuffles some papers on his desk. “I’ll get you your boat by tomorrow morning. Safe travels, m’kay?”