The party leaves the town hall in a hurry. Ben looks as if he’s ready to punch something—more than usual, anyway.
“Alright, Norixus,” Criollo begins. “Name off the children the magistrate mentioned.”
Norixus sighs. “Alright, well… Vaerill Ehlrice, Faelyn Maghana, Myrin Virroris, Eylon Yesrel.”
“Alright, I think it’s our duty to tell the parents of these children—whoever’s not missing—that they are likely in danger tonight. Among those, it seems like only Vaerill Ehlrice isn’t missing…”
“That’s called starting hysteria!” Big Hat peeps down at Criollo from his head. “Instead, we should try to find the monster faster!”
“We don’t have a clue as to where it lives, so we need to guard whoever’s not missing. The child will serve as out ‘bait’.”
“I remember when humans called me bait too!” Big Hat quips. “Is that like a slang word?”
Norixus turns to Big Hat. “Wait, humans?”
James shrugs. “Yeah, we’re all pretty racist.”
“Not me!” Big Hat states.
“I’m starting to think this isn’t all as it seems…” Willington ponders. “We’ll just have to see, though.”
The party arrives outside the Ehlrices’ house. It’s afternoon now, and the scent of dinner in the making tickles the adventurers’ nostrils. Ben, however, fantasized only the smell of blood…
“Man, when I get my hands on that dirty magistrate… I’ll crush his windpipe and make him gurgle his insults on his own fucking blood…”
Willington gives Ben the side eye. “Do that on your own accord. Don’t blame us if you get jumped by ten guards.”
“Just kidding!” Ben forces a grimacing smile, chuckling through his teeth as he knocks on the door. “Yo! Anyone home?”
After a short while, a fair-haired elf woman opens the door. “Hello?”
Ben waves. “Heya, we—”
“Hello, madame!” Big Hat interrupts as he lifts his hat.
Ben tries again. “Heya, you are—”
Rognalad shoves him aside. “Hello madame, you have nice breasts.”
The woman’s face turns red, before slamming the door in his face.
“Oh, I see…” James comments, “so he’s both a raging psychopath AND horny. I’m just fucking done.”
Rognalad grins. “She’s into me. Ben, bust down the door.”
Ben’s veins begin to bulge as his eyelid twitches. “Someone… take him away… before I KILL HIM.”
Valse scoffs. “I can’t believe I’m traveling with you.” She clasps her hands together. “Oh Firmaren, give me the will to hold back from striking this man down…”
Suddenly, James feels something cold vibrating in his backpack. He pulls out the source—the book the party found in the chest. He quickly flips through the pages—nothing about them have changed. However, the gold filigree on the book’s cover has started to fade slightly…
James turns to look at Rognalad and the others. “I think you guys just fucked everything up.”
Norixus gulps. “Oh… that’s not good.”
“Can we just kill Rognalad?” James grumbles as he puts the book back into his backpack.
“Oh my god, let me talk to her,” Criollo says, walking up to the door. “Everyone, just step away for a second.”
He knocks on the door. “Sorry ma’am, for our party’s… eccentricity. Please allow me to explain the situation.”
A faint voice responds from inside the house. “You can leave now.”
Rognalad approaches the door once more, but Willington sharply yanks him aside. “You. You’re coming with me.”
Ben sighs. “Let me handle this.” He knocks upon the door again. “Sorry for our mentally ill companion’s behavior. He doesn’t know how to social. Please just ignore him… treat his words as if they came from a very small and immature child.”
The door slowly creeps open. She gazes from the crack in the door, one hand gripped tightly around a holstered wand.
“I’m watching you lot. What do you want?”
“We love your child!” Big Hat shouts.
“That’s why we want to protect them!” he adds.
Ben winces slightly, looking at the wand. “Hey, miss…?”
“Aelua,” the elf woman responds.
“Aelua,” Ben nods, “we just want to ask some questions, mostly about the people who have gone missing. We’re also concerned for your family’s safety.”
“And why should I believe that my daughter will be next? My husband Livis and I can watch our own.”
Ben shows the symbol to her. “Has your daughter been carrying around something similar to this? The other children who’ve gone missing were known to carry around a symbol just like the one I described.”
“…yeah, actually. She’s been getting more political lately, but I don’t see how that has to do with anything.”
“Politics is bad for your mental health, madame!” Big Hat quips. “That is why we need to find her!”
“…If you don’t mind me asking, ma’am,” Ben says, “what are her political beliefs like? Has she shared them with you?”
“She keeps to herself often. Livis and I have always been more… reserved about politics, but she’s had a fire in her belly for almost half a year now. Always talking about injustice and oppression and all that.” She sighs. “Can’t blame her though. Some of the humans in this village are… a handful.”
“That’s racist, madame!” Big Hat comments.
Aelua darts her eyes at Big Hat and the party. “Is this… rat-thing with you people?”
“I’m not a rat! I’m a kobold!”
Criollo smiles. “No.” He grabs Big Hat and chucks him in a random direction, his squeals growing softer in the distance.
“I see…” Ben says, trying to ignore the commotion behind him. “Do you think it’s alright if a few of us went to speak with her? I’ll pick them out, so you won’t have to worry about what they say.”
“Alright… but Livis and I will be watching you.”
Ben turns and glares at the troublemaker. “Rognalad, you’re staying with Big Hat.” He turns to Criollo, Willington, and Norixus. “You three are coming with me.”
Ben looks to Valse. “Are you okay with watching over these freaks?”
Valse sighs. “I’m not, but if this is what Firmaren wills, then I have no choice.”
“Thanks, I’ll pay you back somehow,” he nods at Valse.
“I could accompany you if you want,” Willington motions to Valse. “He did get thrown like… three bars away.”
“That would be appreciated,” Valse says, breathing a sigh of relief.
“Rog, you—Pervboy, you’re staying with me,” Willington says, pointing at Rognalad. “You too, Big Hat.”
Rognalad puts his hand on his chest. “The name’s Dogshit, not pervboy.”
“What about me?” James asks.
“James, you’re way too impulsive for this,” Ben replies.
“You wanna see me? I will swear on MY pride that I will not make a single impulsive decision.”
Ben blinks. “Yea, no thanks.”
“Okay then! I’ll just… sit. I’m just gonna sit here, I guess.”
Big Hat comes crawling back to the party, audibly whining as he clutches Criollo’s leg.
Rognalad nudges Big Hat with his shoe. “Are you about to wet yourself, little rat?”
“I told you this so many times, I’m not a rat!”
“You clearly are.”
Criollo, Norixus, and Ben enter the house, finding seats in the living room. Aelua enters an adjacent room—when she returns, Vaerill is following her. She looks about 15 years old, and is wearing simple casual clothes, and a set of glasses. She seems to be busy reading a red book.
“Yo!” Ben extends his hand to her. “You must be Vaerill. Is it alright if we ask a few questions?”
She sighs, pouting slightly. “Not like I have a choice.”
“The symbol, Ben,” Criollo comments.
“Yea, I’m on it,” Ben shows Vaerill the symbol. “I take it you know about this?”
Vaerill glances up at it briefly. “What do you mean? Never seen it.”
“Norixus,” Ben gives him a knowing look. It’s obvious to the pair that she is lying.
“…You seem to be lying,” Norixus chides.
Aelua scoffs. “Vaerill, please, where are your manners?”
Vaerill slams her book shut. “I’m done with people telling me what to do—especially YOU, MOM!”
Ben sighs, giving Vaerill a grim look. “Look, your life is at risk here, and we want to do what we can to protect you.”
Vaerill grits her teeth. “I JUST SAID that I’m tired of people telling me what to do! I can handle myself just fine.”
“…” Ben tightens his fist as he tries his best to calm down.
Criollo clears his throat. “Norixus, please list off the names of ALL the children with the symbol, who said that exact same thing.”
“Well, ahem—Faelyn Maghana, Myrin Virroris, Eylon Yesrel.”
“Those names ring a bell?” Ben lets out curtly.
Vaerill tilts her head slightly. “Yeah, I’m friends with a few, and I already said that I’ll be FINE!!”
“Vaerill please!” Aelua scolds. “They’re only trying to help.”
Ben raises an eyebrow. “Oh? Then prove it right now. Hit me with everything you’ve got.”
Ben takes a wide stance, lowering my defenses and gives her a nod. Vaerill murmurs something under her breath…
Ben scoffs. “Wanna say that again to my face?”
Vaerill continues muttering—before suddenly raising a palm at Ben. “ELDRITCH BLAST!”
Her palm glows violet as a bolt of eldritch energy explodes in Ben’s face with a loud sizzling boom!
“VAERILL!” Aelua shouts, storming at her. “NO MAGIC IN THE HOUSE! And for the last time, I told you to stop reading from my books!”
Ben gives Vaerill a smirk. “Well? I’m still standing.”
The door opens slightly as James pokes his head in. “You guys good? I heard Rog’s favorite technique!”
“Yeah, we’re fine!” Norixus shouts back.
“Now if THAT couldn’t get through my friend Ben here,” Criollo chides, “how could you hope to defend yourself against the beast that’ll likely come for you tonight?”
Vaerill snarls, turning around and muttering something under her breath—but before she could finish, Big Hat jumps in through the open door and snatches the red book off the table!
“HEY! GIMME THAT BACK!!”
“What—” Norixus turns. “BIG HAT!”
Vaerill shouts out another string of arcane words, firing an eldritch blast at the kobold, narrowly missing him.
Ben turns to Vaerill and shrugs. “You couldn’t even wipe that stupid rat off this planet. Are you really sure you don’t need any protection?”
Vaerill glares at Ben. “I. Will. Be. FINE!!”
Willington steps into the room with a sigh. Pulling out his lute, he begins to perform a soothing musical spell—Vaerill seems to calm down from her Ben-level fury.
“Thanks, Willington,” Ben says. “I’ll take over from here.”
“Now, are you open for questions?” Ben turns to Vaerill.
“Whatever… just make it quick.”
“The symbol. What do you know about it?”
“It’s just an elf symbol. I’m an elf. Go figure.”
Ben sighs. It seems she still thinks she can lie her way out of it.
“There’s clearly more to it, from what I’ve heard around town. Especially if it’s enough for the carriers to go missing.” Ben squats down and looks Vaerill head-on. “I’ll ask you again. What do you know about it?”
Vaerill pouts. “Okay! Fine! It’s an elf symbol meant to represent us fighting back against the human oppressors. It’s just a political movement, okay?”
“Have you been telling others or giving out pamphlets about this movement?”
“Yeah… I showed a few of my friends about it, but it’s not like I’m the only one who knows about it y’know?”
“Would you know a reason as to why your fellow activists are being kidnapped?”
Vaerill scoffs. “Probably those humans trying to mistreat us again. Like they always do.”
“Can you tell me more of this movement?”
“It’s just a small little thing. Nothing much about it. Everything’s on the tin.”
Rognalad pops his head in. “What tin?”
“It’s a saying, dummy.” Vaerill sticks her tongue out at Rognalad.
“I know what you’re saying, but where’s the tin?”
Vaerill scoffs. “Whatever. Your tricks are old; my friends try that on me all the time.”
Big Hat peeks his head in. “Hi, ma’am! Here’s your book, by the way!” He tosses the book in her direction.
“Thanks for nothing, RAT!” Vaerill attempts to catch it—but it’s intercepted by Willington.
“HEY!! GIVE IT BACK NOW!”
Norixus looks at Willington. “Hey Willington, escort them out of here. And give her the book.”
“Alright,” Willington hands Vaerill the book, before motioning to Rognalad and Big Hat. “You two, let’s go.” Vaerill takes the book and immediately sits on it to stop anyone else from taking it.
Criollo turns to Norixus. “Nori, you have the footprint drawings? Let’s show her that and the fur.”
Norixus takes out his journal and flips to the pages with the drawings. Vaerill looks at them for a moment, pondering.
“I mean, could just be a werewolf or something.”
“Not a werewolf,” Criollo responds. “This thing attacks at all moon phases.”
“Are you sure it’s not a werewolf? Maybe you should go and check again. Leave me alone.”
Ben sighs. “We did check, multiple times, and nearly got ourselves killed because of it.”
“Maybe you missed something. You should check again, I think.” Vaerill clears her throat. “And it’s also getting late. You should leave us alone.”
Ben gives Vaerill a menacing grin, his eyes ablaze. “Trust me, lady, we didn’t miss jack fucking shit. We’ve put our lives at risk time and time again for people we just met, and you’re blowing us off like it’s nothing. Is that how light you’re taking this? When multiple of your friends have gone missing? Do you really not care about your own life?”
Vaerill’s eyes dart back and forth, and she begins sprinting away to the other side of the room.
“Why would I want you to protect me when you’re t-treating me like this?! MOMM!!!!”
Aelua runs in from an adjacent room. “Is something the matter? What are you people doing to my daughter?”
Willington pulls out his waterskin. “I’m not drunk enough for this…”
Ben sighs, rubbing his eyes, and shrugs. “We haven’t done shit, but it’s whatever. Clearly she has an issue when people get upset because she’s acting like a bastard.”
Aelua raises her eyebrows at Ben. “Excuse me? I think we’re done here. Vaerill is just having teenage issues.”
Ben gives a dismissive wave. “Yea yea, whatever. Have a nice night. And you should teach your daughter that casting eldritch blasts on any and everyone isn’t a smart idea. You never know what might happen.”
The party leaves the house, exasperated. Norixus sits back against a nearby fence.
“So… now what?”
Ben shrugs. “We stake out the house, duh.” He turns to Big Hat. “Oi! Rat! How well can you see in the dark?”
“I hate you!” Big Hat pouts. “You smell!”
Ben grits his teeth. “I’ve had to resist punching one impudent toddler today already, so help me gods, cause I don’t think I can resist punching a second one.”
He musters the best friendly smile he can. “AHEM. Big Hat, how well can you see in the dark?”
“Oh, I can tell you all about what I can do in the dark!”
“I’d love to hear it, on the roof. Where we’ll be sitting.”
Valse shakes her head. “That Vaerill kid really is something. We should probably watch her…”
Ben sighs. “She has a fire—reminds me of my younger years out in the slums. And man… no wonder I got in so many fights. If she wasn’t a girl, I would’ve decked her right then and there.”
Valse gives Ben the side eye. “Punching little boys isn’t exactly a good look either, y’know…”
Ben shrugs. “Meh, you’re right. I still would’ve done it though.”
“Huh…” Willington remarks. “You like punching, don’tcha?”
“It’s kept me alive this long,” Ben gives him a smug smile.
“I used to have friends that called me a punching bag before…” Big Hat says, dejectedly.
Rognalad chuckles. “You are a punching bag, rat.”
“Does that mean I make you guys stronger?”
“Rog,” Ben shouts. “Leave him alone. Big Hat, you’ll be joining me on the roof. We’re both good at seeing in the dark, so we’ll be able to see anyone before the others do.”
Norixus sighs. “That girl… she seems to believe in her abilities too much.”
“Considering her… rebellious nature,” Willington begins, “I’m starting to think… what if the children aren’t being kidnapped? What if… they escaped of their own accord. Y’know?”
“What?” Norixus shakes his head. “That can’t be right.”
Criollo blinks. “We… we did a huge investigation. We concluded that a beast kidnapped these children. There were footprints, fur, and everything. And you’re forgoing all that to say that they left of their own accord?”
“I mean…” Willington thinks. “…Yeah?”
“Look,” Norixus says, “if she’s running we can probably stop her before she leaves and ends up overly violent. Like Ben over here.”
Ben turns to Norixus. “Are you saying that’s a bad thing?”
“Well,” Norixus tilts his head, “it’s somewhat preferable for people to be calm, right?”
Ben smirks. “Alright, you guys go live in the worst parts of town with your pacifist ways. I’d love to see how long you last. Heh… I say two weeks tops before you end up with a rusty dagger in your gut.”
Norixus sighs. “Look, all we can do right now is setup a stakeout, right?”
· · ·
The party begins their stakeout at sundown, at about 7 PM. Peering in stealthily from the windows, they take careful observation of Vaerill and Aelua.
“See anything, Big Hat?” Ben whispers to the kobold.
“Yeah, all clear!”
Hours pass. Vaerill and Aelua don’t seem to be doing anything out of the ordinary—Aelua seems to be lounging in the living room, and Vaerill has gotten into bed. The forest too, is peaceful as usual.
“Don’t see much; you?” Ben whispers.
“I dunno… I see bats though! Let’s keep looking at that spot!”
“Gross. I hate bats…”
Yet more hours pass. Ben and Big Hat gaze out at the treeline—a few wolves pass by at a distance. Vaerill gets out of her bed and leaves her room briefly… before returning a few minutes later. She begins to gaze out the window—before catching something in the corner of her eye.
“Shit…” Ben mutters.
“Time to bounce, Willington,” Criollo whispers.
Willington attempts to duck back swiftly and silently from the bedroom window—but slips on a loose tile…
He lands onto a nearby shed, caving in the roof.
Ben slaps his forehead softly. “Fuckin’ hell…”
Vaerill opens the window and looks around. Cursing under her breath, she locks the window and closes the blinds.
Norixus looks down into the shed. “…You alright down there?”
“…Yep,” Willington chuckles softly. “Hurt less than I’d imagine.”
“I’ll heal you later, just be a bit more careful.”
“It’s not that bad…” Willington glances at the window. “But… why is she awake at this time?”
Yet more hours pass. The singular window into Vaerill’s room is blinded, so the party tries to rely on their hearing to get by—though it’s been nothing but silence for the past few hours—until about midnight.
Ben’s ears perk up. “What the hell…?”
Willington glances at Ben. “Ben… you hear anything?”
“Scratching noises, coming from her room.”
“…I knew it!”
Ben turns to the kobold. “Big Hat, I trust you. Can you sneak in there?”
“I am small enough to be unnoticed by everyone!”
Big Hat darts to the closest window to Vaerill’s room and pushes it open.
Aelua turns to the creaking sound. “Hello…?” She begins moving toward the window…
“Willington!” Norixus whispers harshly. “Cast sleep on her!”
“A-Alright!” Willington takes out a magic tome and begins whispering a chant.
“Big Hat, get ready to catch her!” Ben whispers.
Wispy threads of silvery magic trickle towards Aelua. She falls asleep instantly. Big Hat dives to try and catch her—but manages only to use his body as a cushion for her head instead.
Ben gives Big Hat a nod of thanks, wiping the sweat from his brow. He creeps inside and sneaks up to the door, listening closely. He can make out the unmistakable sound of a knife against wood, carving something…
“Shit!” he whispers, opening the door quietly to peer through the crack. She seems to be cutting her thumb, droplets of blood landing on her bed.
“Guys, hold on—” Valse whispers. “Don’t get all gung-ho. Wait until she actually tries to leave…”
Vaerill spends several more minutes continuing to carve up the floor and drip blood onto her bed. She then begins to rip and tear up the fabric of her bedsheets with the knife—her every move jittery with apprehension. Opening the window, she takes her knife and throws it far out into a bush near the house. Pulling out a wand, she holds the tip out the window—it flashes three times.
“What… in the hell?” Criollo whispers.
“…Signals?” Willington guesses.
Suddenly, loud footsteps are heard near the house. A large, humanoid-looking creature with fur scampers up near the window. Small, decidedly non-hairy hands reach out from under its fur, digging something out of somewhere. It climbs into Vaerill’s room—and a few moments later, it leaves her room from the window.
“What… the hell?” Willington says.
“Time to go!” Criollo signals. “Follow me!”