The party strikes out for Johnson’s hut, at the edge of the village. It is late out now, and the light of the full moon beams down eerily through the silent streets. A few minutes out from the village down the eastern road, they spot a hut in a clearing. It is in a clear state of disrepair, its roof half caved in, with moss dripping out of the many holes in its crumbling walls. Its interior is just as decrepit; a bookshelf stripped bare of tomes with broken shelves, a torn-up bed stained with rot, and a desk on its last legs are the few discernable furnishings that remain.
Criollo lifts the mattress of the bed, before quickly dropping it in disgust as a swarm of hundreds of bedbugs skitter out of the mattress. Big Hat dives at them, trying to scoop as many as he can into his maw—but only succeeds in slamming his head on the bedframe.
Rognalad blinks at him. “What did you intend to do there?”
“Ow…” Big Hat rubs his head as a welt begins to form. “T-This isn’t fair!”
Willington pats Big Hat on the back. “I bet we can find some bugs later, Big Hat. Don’t lose your horses.”
“Hmm…” Criollo reaches for something under the bed and shows it to the party—a tuft of fur, similar to the fur found in the Yesrels’ home. “Now why would this fur be tucked all the way back there?”
Norixus inspects the bed. “Seems there’s claw marks on the bedframe too.”
“That seems…” Willington turns to Ben. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Yep. We should be sure though.” Ben begins carefully inspecting the floor, before recoiling in surprise.
“Oi oi… what the hell? There’s some blood between the floorboards!” Ben digs his fingers under the floorboards and begins to lift—they come apart easily, revealing stone foundation beneath.
“Weird…” he knocks on the stone foundation, listening closely. “Hmm… I hear a faint echo. There might be another room down there.”
“Wanna bet I could break this foundation?” James says, hauling his greatsword up. He slams it against the stone, chipping it somewhat.
“Not by yourself, you can’t,” Valse responds. She begins chipping at the foundation with her greataxe. Criollo joins in as well his sword. After a few minutes, the foundation gives way, revealing a staircase beneath.
“See?” James quips. “I’m just so good!”
“Now we’re cooking,” Rognalad says. “Throw the rat down there.”
Big Hat stomps his tiny feet. “I’m not a rat!”
“No one asked you either?”
Criollo brushes past both of them. “Light up your torches and let’s head down.”
Before Criollo can descend the staircase, he is pushed aside by James, running at full speed with his greatsword in both hands.
Big Hat turns to the party. “Say, do you guys want me to lead the way? I can see everything before anything bad h—"
“Outta my way!”
James jumps past Big Hat into the air, landing on the flat of his greatsword like a skateboard, attempting to slide down the stairs on it—but fails to stick the landing.
The handle of the greatsword smacks him in the back of the head as he keels over.
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!” Norixus shouts.
“Absolute ape…” Ben says, smacking his face. “Big Hat, lead the way.”
“Okay!” Big Hat responds, climbing down the staircase. “Let’s catch up to the idiot first!”
Norixus sighs. “Ben, is this normal for your group?”
Upon reaching the bottom of the staircase, the party finds a small room, filled with rotting bookcases, books strewn everywhere. The remains of some sort of colored banner lay tattered across the ground. A faded symbol is etched in the wall—some sort of sharp V-shaped icon inscribed over a circle, with the roots of a tree choking the circle…
“Hm…” Ben ponders for a moment. “Hey Valse, you know about religious stuff yea? Do you recognize this symbol?”
Valse squints at the faded symbol. “Hm… the roots might be related to Mykhori, perhaps? The V is likely an ancestral elven symbol.”
Big Hat scurries up to Ben. “I remember when I spoke to Mykhori! I grew her in my plant pot! She wasn’t really talkative though…”
Ben turns to Big Hat with a murderous glance. “You best be joking, before I come over and make you shut up.”
“No, I’m not! An elf told me that!”
“Actually, Ben, he’s probably not joking…” Valse states. “Mykhori is known to speak through plants.”
“What…?” Ben sighs and rubs his eyes. “I really should’ve paid attention when the old man would go into that religious mumbo jumbo.”
Big Hat smiles sweetly. “Mykhori can be anywhere! She’s like a gentle flower that likes to help people…”
“Well, do you think we could try and contact this Mykhori? Ask her about this symbol?” Ben replies.
Valse thinks. “That… would be a long ways off, unless any of you happen to be one of her followers.”
“I only spoke to her once… I’m not sure if she would be willing to give us her wisdom now!” Big Hat comments.
Valse sighs. “We’d have to cross the mountains and go into the Forests of Ilyun. Also, the elves there don’t take to outsiders kindly.”
“Hey, I think I might recognize some of the elves there!” Big Hat says. “I can definitely get them to help us!”
“I know Elvish, but if they don’t take kindly to outsiders, they definitely won’t like a half-elf like me…” Ben says.
“They certainly won’t like me either,” Valse explains. “Some elves still hate dwarves for the Millennium War all those centuries ago.”
Ben ponders for a moment. “Hey… you think one of the elves in the village might be a follower of this flower chick?”
“It could be likely… though perhaps we should finish investigating this room first.”
“I agree, let’s check around and see if there’s more we can find—” Ben pauses for a moment. “Wait, Big Hat, you’ve spoken to her, right? Do you recognize this symbol at all?”
“Of course I recognize it!” Big Hat shouts. “The symbol is how they show who’s a follower of Mykhori!”
“I mean…” Valse says, squinting her eyes. “It does contain some elements of it… but normally Mykhori’s symbols seem a lot more… peaceful. This one seems violent—the roots are choking the circle.”
“Actually, that’s a good point… maybe this is from someone who hates Mykhori!”
“Hm…” Ben picks up one of the scattered books and begins to flip through its contents. Yet before he could finish skimming it, it slams shut on his fingers!
The debris in the room begins to swirl. A swarm of folding and crinkling of paper fills the air, picking up more and more debris into a tornado-like vortex—a poltergeist! The party readies their weapons—but are interrupted by a salvo of books and rocks.
“James, watch out!”
“Huh?” James finds an entire bookshelf smashing into his body.
“Begone, fiend!” Norixus readies his weapon. “With the wrath of Katigda, I STRIKE BACK!” He swings his mace at the whirlwind…
“Wait… what is it doing?”
And just like that, his mace was yanked into the vortex.
“Pfft…” Ben smirks. “A real man doesn’t need weapons to fight! Check this out.” Ben swings his fists at the air—only to realize that he had no idea how to gut punch a ghost.
“Man. I hate fighting intangible beings!”
The party continues to battle the poltergeist and its vortex of debris—yet found that each weapon thrust at it merely added to its deadly arsenal.
Ben dives to the ground as James’s lost greatsword whooshes past his head.
“Alright, let’s not give it anymore weapons, yea? I’m not trying to take a greatsword to the gut.”
“It’s super blunt,” James quips. “It’ll probably just be like a teddy bear made of concrete punching you.
Criollo dives out of the way of a spinning greataxe. “Focus on disabling or getting rid of the objects it has!”
“OK.” Rognalad leaps back and begins chanting. A blast of heat and smoke singes hairs as the tornado is engulfed in flames.
A flaming book strikes Norixus in the face.
“You gotta be kidding me…” he slumps over unceremoniously.
Yet more minutes pass. Bloodstained pages continue to burn as the party’s bruises worsen.
Blood clings like honey in Ben’s throat. “Man, this fucking BITES!”
Rognalad chants in eldritch words—burnt cinnamon-sugar scent erupts as a beam of dark magic blows at the vortex. A cloud of inky darkness emanates to cover the entire room…
“I’m outta here.”
“You’re a fucking CUNT!” Ben blindly swings in the darkness, fists seeking Rognalad’s face. “I swear, on everything that has ever graced this planet, I’ll tear your throat out Rognalad!”
Rognalad scurries up the stairs and out of the hut. Yet the flapping of singed pages seems to be following him…
“Fuck.” Rognalad fires a beam of violet eldritch energy at the vortex, hitting only air.
“Don’t worry, Dogshit! I’ll save you!” Big Hat sprints up the stairs and fires a beam of frost from his wand. Crackling ice drips from the books and weapons as the swirling slows.
Tediously the party begins to hack away at the debris, pulling their weapons from the slowed spinning of the vortex. At long last, the air stands still…
“Holy shit… FINALLY!!!”
James coughs up blood as he gasps for air. “Never again.”
“Goodnight.” Rognalad props his head up against a fallen book in the basement and lays back.
Like a parting shot, the basement ceiling collapses—Criollo catches it, dropping it once everyone had escaped.
“Criollo,” Ben pants, “you are a fucking life saver.”
“There.” Criollo says, sitting back against a wall. “Can we finally rest now? OUTSIDE?”
“Fuck this house man. Let’s just go back to the village and ask around.”
· · ·
The sun had just risen as party trudges back to the Yesrels’ place, scowls all around, clothes stained with blood.
Ben grinds his teeth. “I’m going to pummel that guard for even directing us to that god damn house.”
James stretches his arms. “Pro tip; if you don’t think about it, it never happened.”
Before long, they locate the guard that had send them to the hut. He gazes concernedly at the party, tightening his grip on his weapon.
“Did you lot find anything out about the attacks?”
“We almost died.” James stares daggers at the guard’s face.
“Barely found anything—though I think there’s more to that Johnson guy than what was on the surface level…” Ben replies.
“M-My condolences…” the guard says, gulping. “That Johnson guy was always a controversial one. The humans in this village often talked about burning down his hut…”
“There was something of note though… we found a strange symbol in his basement.” Ben uncrumples a sheet of Norixus’s journal paper from his pocket and displays it to the guard.
“Hm… that symbol… it seems awfully familiar, like I’ve seen it around town before? Can’t put my finger on it though.”
“If you’ve got any good guesses, we’d love to hear ‘em.”
“It could be some sort of logo. Maybe on a sign or a piece of clothing somewhere?”
Criollo sighs lightly. “Okay, fine. Know anyone else in this village who’d know a thing or two about these symbols?”
“Faelar is rather well-traveled. He might know something about it.”
“Oh, that’s the guy Big Hat stole from!” Ben looks around for Big Hat. “Hey, Big Hat! We’re paying your best friend a visit!”
A nearly inaudible whimper can be heard from Criollo’s head as Big Hat does his best to pretend to be an ordinary head garment.
“Stupid rat…” Ben shakes his head.
Criollo sighs. “This visit can only end well. Let’s move.”
The party arrives outside Faelar’s shop. A typical alchemy shop by any stretch of the imagination—various herbs and elixirs line the windows, and a faint smell of strange spices wafts in from under the door. Rognalad walks up to the door.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
“Shop’s closed, come back tomor—”
“This is the police! Open up!”
The silver-goateed elven shopkeeper opens the door. His already tired face droops even further upon seeing Rognalad and the party.
“What do you all want.”
“Ben, tell ‘im about the symbol.”
Ben shows the shopkeeper the same drawing of the symbol from the basement. “Think you’ve seen this symbol somewhere?”
Faelar attempts to blink the tiredness from his eyes. “Ah… that symbol… it looks like two symbols overlaid on top of each other. The roots and the V are ancestral elvish symbols… but that circle… yes, it’s meant to be the crest of Ambstalt.” Faelar clears his throat and rubs his face. “It’s also a common ancestral human symbol. From the looks of it, it looks like the roots are destroying the human symbol.”
“Wait, what?” Willington peeks out at Faelar from behind the party. “Aren’t the victims primarily non-humans?”
“Seems like you have a real conundrum on your hands.”
“So…” Criollo begins, “an elf, or elves are conspiring to destroy Ambstalt, from the looks of it.”
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re looking to destroy Ambstalt itself.” Faelar rolls his eyes. “Don’t be silly. The walls of that city have stood for millennia. Like I said, it’s a traditional human symbol as well.”
James shakes his head. “Once again, racially aggravated assault is a very viable option. A shame!”
“I don’t think so…” Ben says. “The victims were primarily half elves, right? With a few elves too, right? And the one human who was killed was well-liked by the half-elves and elves in the village. To me, it seems like someone doesn’t want humans and elves mixing together.”
“Perhaps.” Faelar scoffs. “If you’re looking for some suspects, the magistrate of this town is known to be pretty hostile towards non-humans. Bastard increased the taxes on my store…”
Ben grins, cracking his knuckles. “Something tells me with our party, they won’t be so friendly. This’ll be fun, heh.”
Norixus gulps. “Well… if it’s the only way, I suppose.”
“Then let’s get ready to roll some heads.”
· · ·
The party heads over to the town hall. While the rest of the village was sparsely populated with guards, the town hall seemed to be afforded at least half of the guards in the entire village. A pair of crossed lances block the party’s advance.
“Travelers, state your business.”
“Yo!” Ben waves at the guards. “We’re currently investigating the recent attacks on your town, and we’d love to speak to the magistrate.”
“…Very well. We shall escort you.”
The party follows the guards into the town hall. Metal footsteps of the guards’ gauntleted feet reverberate across the tile floor.
Norixus glances around, sweating nervously. “Do they really need to completely surround us with guards just to escort us...?”
Criollo looks over the party. “Guys, please don’t get too antsy. I can’t take another fight without losing my head.”
Ben gives the party a knowing look. “Be ready for anything…” he whispers.
The party enters the magistrate’s office. Flanked by two guards on each side, with both feet upon a worn mahogany desk sits the magistrate. Just looking at him reminds Ben of the irritable stuck-up rich folks that would spit on him in the slums. His fat face looks like it was made to be punched…
“Alright, who seeks an aud—” the magistrate leans forward in his chair and deadpans at the party. “Oh. It’s the travelers.”
“Heya!” Ben smiles at the magistrate with fierce eyes.
“You… know us?” Willington asks.
“Tsk… a dwarf, two dragonborn, a kobold, some elves… how could I not spot you lot?”
“Hey!” Big Hat peeks out from atop Criollo’s head. “How did you know I was a kobold?!”
“You should ask Faelar, runt.”
“Of course he does,” Ben sneers. “He probably knows when anyone in this town wipes their ass.”
The magistrate raises an eyebrow at Ben. “Enough with the chatter. What do you all want?”
“Let’s cut to the chase,” Criollo walks to the front of the party. “We’re here to ask you questions about the disappearances of the elves and half-elves from this village.”
The magistrate rolls his eyes. “Mhm. Right. Blame the person who has the trouble of running this Firmaren-forsaken ramshackle town.”
“Who said anything about blaming, bud?” Ben spits. “We’re just here to ask around is all.” Ben pulls out the drawing of the symbol, showing it to the magistrate. “Think you saw something like this? If you weren’t too busy sitting around all day.”
The magistrate takes a brief glance at the symbol. “Some of the younger folk here have been carrying some paraphernalia with that symbol on it. Probably a fad or something.”
“Can you tell us about these younger folks?” Norixus asks. “Are any of them missing?”
The magistrate lights a cigar and takes a whiff. “Scrawny pointy-eared ruffians, what else do I need to say? And yeah, some of them are missing.”
“We could get some names; you could say that.” Ben deadpans.
“Sure. Vaeril Ehlrice, Faelyn Maghana, Myrin Virroris, Eylon Yesrel…” the magistrate waves his hand in a sarcastic gesture. “I could keep reading, but I think you get the point.”
“Yesrel’s one of the missing people…” Ben turns to the group. “We should ask that guard if he could guide us to one of their houses.
“Sounds good,” Norixus responds. “Let’s get going.”
“Yea, I’d rather not stick around with m’lord any longer…” As Ben turns to leave, he throws a rude gesture at the magistrate with a smug grin.
The magistrate scoffs. “Tch. Such behavior is the norm for mutts like your kind… get out of here.”
Ben stops in his tracks and turns around slowly, shoulders tensed. “You wanna repeat that, you pile of lard?”
“Hey! He’s a racist just like the monster!” Big Hat shouts. “Maybe he’s the monster!”
The magistrate flicks the butt of his cigar at Ben. “Alright, you dirty half-ear, I said get the hell out, or I’ll have my guards escort you. And you can take your overgrown rat with you.”
Criollo tugs at Ben’s arm. “We don’t have time for this.”
Ben rubs his eyes and lets out a loud, mocking laugh. “Ah, what am I even wasting my time for? I could crush the throat of you and your lackies before you could call for any kind of help. But I’ve got better things to do—I’ll see you losers later.”
“I guess we’re gonna go now!” Big Hat shouts. “By the way, being racist is bad, sir!”