Securing the ring in the pewter box, the companions sat down to discuss what to do next.
“I wish there was a college of magic here,” said Theren.
“There’s a temple,” suggested Skrie. “Maybe one of the priestesses there can help us.”
“I guess it’s better than nothing,” replied the elf, “let’s take it there.”
Malusk gathered his pack, which held the container and its dark contents. They trooped to the temple district, finding shrines to a few of the gods worshipped by the local populous—Gond and Waukeen stood out to Skrie. Unfortunately, a temple to Tymora was not in the complex.
“Pardon me, brother,” the diminutive cleric approached an acolyte wearing a holy symbol she didn’t recognize. “We have need of a priest with more experience than I. I see you have no temple to Tymora, could you direct us to a priest that could help us further identify an item? Please?”
“Hmm,” the acolyte said, crossing his arms, then tapping a finger on his lip. “Father Stoen is away, but the priestess of Meilikki is in residence. This way, please,” he walked toward an ivy-covered temple.
Entering the temple was like walking into a forest glade. Plants surrounded the group, and a small fountain spilled out into a stream around the plants.
“How may I help you?” asked an older woman dressed in a flowing green gown with dark hair and a pleasant smile. “I am Veronda, priestess of Meilikki.”
“We, ah,” began Skrie, “we found this while out hunting.” The halfling motioned Mal to open the pewter box. “I checked it for magic and discovered two enchantments embedded in the jewelry. We have been debating returning it to the owner.”
“You know the owner, yet brought it here?” said Veronda, “interesting.”
“I think I know who the owner is, but can’t be sure of his trustworthiness.”
“I see,” responded the priestess. “Let me see,” she continued as she cast a spell to detect any magic it might contain. “Hmm, not only does it have transmutation magic, but it also promotes darkness. This must be studied more.” She reached out to take the box with the item.
Malusk held the box tightly, but the priestess twisted the box from his grasp, leaving the half-orc gaping at the slim woman.
“Wait a minute!” protested Skrie. “We’re taking this to the temple of Tymora. You have no right to steal this from us!”
“The item will be safer here, with those of more wisdom and experience,” answered Veronda smoothly, a smug look flashing through her visage. “You are only an acolyte; it is not for one of your station.” Several acolytes appeared at the temple door. Each looked quite capable of making a scene.
“Fine,” said Skrie, eyes narrowing at the priestess. “Let’s go Malusk, it’s time to leave. I will report this theft to your superiors. I will also inform the owner of the piece where I left it, and under what circumstances.”
Turning on her heel, Skrie stood as tall as her tiny form could and marched from the temple to the city gates. Malusk and Theren trailed behind.
“Now what?” asked the half-orc.
“We go find Geordo and tell him what happened,” sighed the halfling, shoulders slumping with the setback.
“We should have done that sooner,” murmured Theren as the trio passed through the gates toward the trail leading to Geordo’s camp.
Passing through the gates, the trio trudged back toward Geordo’s wagon. As they started up the path, Skrie saw the fresh footprints of a group heading toward the old man’s campsite. Alerting Malusk and Theren, they examined the prints. There were three sets of tracks, maybe more, and at least one of the owners was wearing heavy boots. They discussed a plan, and the halfling scouted ahead to check the situation.
The cleric found three men watching Geordo’s camp from the brush. Two carried unsheathed weapons. One held a crossbow, quarrel in the tiller, and pointed toward the clearing.
Taking the information back to her companions, Skrie outlined a quick idea to keep the old man and his niece alive.
“I’ll sneak up behind the crossbowman,” she said, “He’s here,” marking an ‘x’ in the dirt, the halfling continued. “The other two are here,” two more ‘x’s joined the first a few inches closer to the river.
“I’ll act like a hunter and ask ’em how the huntin’s been,” said Malusk, with a grin, trying to look harmless. It didn’t help.
“I’ll stick with Malusk,” said the mage, looking from the half-orc to the halfling. “Nothing personal, Skrie.”
The halfling chuckled.
“I’ll give a count of fifty, then ask about huntin’,” said Malusk. “That be enough time fer ya’s ta get into place?” he asked Skrie.
“More than enough,” she replied. “I’m ready.”
Malusk and Theren disappeared into the trees a moment later, and the halfling melted into the brush. She was waiting to hear her friends distract the watchers when the fellow she was watching raised his weapon toward the other two. As she heard Malusk ask, “how’s the …” she heard the crossbow fire. It was followed a moment later by an “eep!” and the sound of a body falling.
Lifting her weapon, she shot the man before her, hitting him in the back. He pivoted as he loaded another bolt and aimed in her direction. She ducked to the side as she reloaded her crossbow and fired again. This quarrel hit the man square in the chest, and he fell, the only sound being a thud as he hit the ground.
Skrie checked on the man she had hit. He was dead; the second shot hit him in the chest. She moved toward the commotion. Then she heard frantic arcane words followed by a blast of fire that hit one of the men in the chest, knocking him back in her direction. The cleric stopped long enough to keep him from dying, then continued toward her friends. The third man had dropped his sword with a muttered, “Jabe ain’t payin’ me enough ta die,” before disappearing into the trees.
“Come on,” said Skrie, “if these three were watching from the shadows, I can image what the other two are up to in Geordo’s camp.” She turned to a deer track that led toward the wagon.
Skrie whispered a few divine words when the trio neared the clearing and sent the sounds of men whispering from the bushes nearby. As hard as she tried to make it sound like his men, the halfling didn’t think he fell for the ruse.
“Whoever is out there,” Jabe shouted, shoving Geordo to the ground, “you better show yourself.”
“Hold still, you,” snarled Karl as he grabbed Aquila, putting his knife to her throat. “I will slice your throat.”
The cleric appealed to her goddess, and a bolt of holy light slammed into the man, knocking him prone. Aquila scrambled to safety. Aiming one last kick at Geordo, Jabe strode to Karl and picked him up from the crater the Sacred Flame left.
“This ain’t over, old man,” growled Jabe as he and Karl disappeared into the forest.