Jabe grabbed Karl out of the crater that was left by Skrie’s spell and took off into the woods, carrying his son from the scene.
“I certainly appreciate your interference in the men’s assault on us,” the old man began.
“What,” Skrie whipped around to face their erstwhile employer, “in the name of all the gods is this about!” she demanded. “You expect us to trust you, but you won’t tell us a damned thing about why we should!”
“I can explain ….”
“Really?” asked the halfling, sarcasm dripping from the word.
“Look, the object is dangerous ….”
“Tell me something I don’t already know.”
“The nature of the ring is not yours to know,” Geordo stood to his full height. “All you need to know is that it is dangerous, and should not be left with criminals.”
“I am tired of your half-truths, old man,” said Skrie. “You want the ring? Get it from the priestess of Meilikki.”
“Damn! The temple priests have often interfered with my work. I will speak with the priestess of Meilikki and retrieve my property.” Geordo gave the group a long look. “Despite our reservations with each other,” he began, “I have a job for you, if you want it. I will be here another day if you would reconsider.”
Skrie stalked from the camp but heard Theren apologize to the old man. “I’ll talk to them when we get back to the inn,” he followed behind her.
The party checked on the bandit left at the site of the failed ambush. He was still breathing, so Malusk slung the man over his shoulder, and the group marched back to Suncall. Skrie was in a foul mood and must have telegraphed as much because when they strode toward the constable’s office, the guards passed them on without comment.
The tiny cleric held the door open for Malusk.
“Oi!” said a stout halfling when the group entered the building. The woman eyed the group warily. “Place ’im on th’ bench there, careful now.”
“Is he alright?” asked a tall young man, wearing much the same brown trousers as the constable but clothed in a dark grey shirt. “Looks like he got burned.”
Skrie stared at the woman, mouth agape. Between the stench of the charred flesh and the brightly-colored shirt the halfling wore, her mind flashed back to a burning inn and an equally colorful dress on fire.
Fire blazed through the Jaunty Traveler as Skrie pushed herself tight into the small, brick-lined cavity in the back of the root cellar. The young halfling lay curled into a fetal position, tears streaming down her face, hands tight against her ears, unable to drown out the roar of the conflagration outside her niche. The hot air burned her lungs, and she remembered the cloth in her pocket.
Her father’s last words played through her mind repeatedly: “get ta safety, lass, the root cellar, like we practiced.” With that, he nudged the child toward the stairs. Skrie looked back as she passed the threshold and watched her father take the two-headed axe off the wall from behind the bar. Two mercenaries stood in the doorway, swords drawn. A third stood behind them, holding a torch.
“This is the end, Hin,” said the biggest merc as she threw a vial of lamp oil on the ground at her mother’s feet, splashing the halfling with the viscous liquid. At the same time, the wiry man in the back tossed the torch into the puddle. Her parents looked so small as her mother screamed and scrambled out of the way, a fraction too late.
Skrie’s mind whirled as the scene played through her mind over and over.
Malusk nudged the young halfling out of her reverie.
She had seen stout halflings before (she was a lightfoot halfling), but she had never seen one so touched by Bridgitte. The woman’s blonde hair and bright blue eyes showed a tight connection to the legendary folk hero, whether the constable knew it or not.
“Set ’im down o’er ‘ere,” she motioned to a bench along the wall. ‘Gentle, now.” Turning to the young man beside her, she instructs, “Michel, run ta th’ temple an’ get th’ healer.”
“Aye,” replied the fellow, running out the door.
“Now, then,” she said, turning to the group. “What brings ya’s ta me office with a injured man ‘afore lunch?”
“We were going out to talk to the trader camped near the river,” said Skrie, “when we saw a group with swords and crossbows stalking the fellow’s camp. When we asked what was going on, they attacked us, we defended ourselves, and this guy got burned.”
“I see,” said the constable, rubbing her chin. “An’ th’ others?” she asked, “recognize any o’ them?”
“Only two,” said the cleric, then named Jabe and Karl.
“Ah, those two,” said the woman.
“I didn’t recognize the others.”
“Oh,” replied the woman, “I’m sure Michel an’ me can figure it out.” She eyed the group. “Are ye stayin’ at Dayne an’ Filice’s?”
“Aye,” replied Skrie, “for another day or so, we might have a job lead.”
“Right then. I’ll look there if’n I have more questions for ye.”
“Me thanks,” said Malusk, trying to look innocuous and failing.
Trudging back to the inn, the trio found a table and ordered the lunch special. As they finished their meal, Aquila approached them.
“Thank you again for your help with those bandits,” she said. “Look, I understand you were left in the dark about some things, I would like to clear up any misunderstanding. May I join you so we can talk?”
Skrie looked at her companions, who shrugged, then motioned the girl to sit.
“Thank you. My uncle feels like his work should be shrouded in secrecy. He rarely tells me where we are going next,” she said, chagrin coloring her tone. “Honestly, most of the work is digging in market stalls and junk bins, or waiting in creepy alleys and dingy bars for someone that might have a clue to a lost trinket, an old book, or a piece of a map. Oh, there’s the occasional ruined building or tomb, but my uncle won’t let me do that anymore. Said I’m getting too old. He made that perfectly clear,” she looked around at the group, then down at her hands.
“So, how did you get in with those two?” Skrie prompted the girl to continue.
“As for the ring, Uncle hired Grubak and Illeryl to acquire the piece. I went with them while he tended to some other business. We weren’t supposed to touch the piece, but I did, and held on to it for too long,” she blushed. “After a while it kept calling to me and I couldn’t help myself. It called to Illeryl too, and we fought over it eventually. That first day when I ran away from the camp, I was following what the ring wanted—to get away from my uncle. You caught up with us because Grubak made me stop early that morning. He worked a spell to try and remove the curse the ring had placed on me. It worked, partially. I would never have given the ring to you if it hadn’t.” Aquila looked around the table.
“I just wanted to let you know that my uncle and I meant you no harm, either when trying to recover the ring or with those two. We truly need your help,” her voice took on a pleading quality. “Others are working against us to find items from the past. You have proven yourself capable and, well, willing to do things against the rules.”
Skrie listened to Aquila, trying to discern any deception in her voice or manner. She did not. Aquila was sincere.
Skrie turned to Theren, “what do you think, mage? You seem to know Geordo.”
“Aquila and Geordo are doing what I left the colleges and libraries to do,” said the young elf. “They’re exploring ancient ruins for knowledge that is lost. It’s my life’s dream to find lost magic.”
“I ain’t got no place in particular ta be,” said Malusk. “I just wants ta make a livin’ that don’ involve … er, well, I’m lookin’ fer work.”
“Okay,” said the halfling, “we’ll listen to what Geordo has to say.”
“Thank you,” said Aquila, rising from the table and walking to the door. She gave a signal to someone outside.
Soon after, Geordo entered the inn.
“Thank you for agreeing to listen,” he said. “I’m too old to crawl around in old buildings any longer, so I hire others to do it for me. I give them a location, and they go out to find it. Sometimes I look for something specific, other times it can be anything you find interesting. I often get tips from traders, buyers, and sellers of antique or previously used items.”
Skrie looked around the table. Theren leaned toward Geordo, absorbing every word the old man uttered. Malusk had a bit of a lost look on his face but perked up when the trader described the conflicts in his line of work.
“If I cannot hire you, then I’ll find someone from the next town. It will, however, delay my work and most likely cost me more. Besides, I like you,” he said, looking at Malusk, Skrie, and Theren.
“Okay,” replied Skrie, and the haggling began.
In the end, Skrie and Geordo agreed to fifty gold each per week and a fifteen percent share of anything they brought to the old man that they could sell.
“Meet me in the morning at my camp,” said Geordo, sliding a pouch across the table. “This is payment for helping with the bandits. We can’t thank you enough.”
The group spent the rest of the day gathering supplies and ensuring their equipment was repaired before trekking off to whatever adventure Geordo had in mind.
Previous: The Damned Priestess
Next: The Road to Nemeademore