Part I: Kaffee
Part II: Follow the Clues
Part III: Problem Resolution
Part IV: Aftermath
Back at the temple the Company gathered around a table in a back room while David and Gilden briefed the others on what they learned. "At this point it appears there are two different killers involved, as we previously suspected. The one sounds like a loup garou and the second might be any of several things." He paused and considered what Ben-Dur had told them. "Given the wounds inflicted on the other victims, I think we can rule out wolfweres and berserkers. The wolfweres are really wolves who are not inclined to random slaughter, and the berserkers are humans with some special abilities. The wounds don't match."
David cut in, "Shape shifters might be it, but it sounds more like hexenwolves. It's hard to tell from second hand accounts, but the violence of those attacks appears to be ramping up, which matches hexenwolves." He slammed his fist down on the table, making it jump. People that didn't know David well and had never seen him outside of the bulky wizard robes he habitually wore had no idea of his true strength. "Kaffee is the loup garou!" he stated vehemently.
The others were surprised at his statement, and Bisonbit asked, "What makes you think that?"
"The way he's trying to keep us off the streets, first threatening up directly, then going through the Chief Magistrate. He's up to something, and it fits that he is a loup garou and his men cover for him."
The Company discussed the minutia of what they knew to be true and what fit into the puzzle. After an hour of discussing and arguing, not everyone was convinced that Kaffee was a loup garou, but his actions were suspicious enough to garner more examination.
"So what is our plan of action?" Jake asked in general.
David looked at him with his favorite patronizing look. "We follow them and see what they do."
Jake rolled his eyes. "Maybe just a bit more detail than that?"
"We will follow invisibly."
"All six of us? Bisonbit, Gilden, and me wear heavy armor, it will clank."
The mage frowned. "You're right, that is a problem in the city. Even after dark." Deep in thought he wasn't aware of those around him. Looking up he explained his idea, "Trilla and I can move silently, she's stealthy and I have my Elven Boots and Cloak. We can go invisible and you can follow several blocks behind us, out of sight."
It was Gilden's turn to frown. "If we cannot see you and are out of sight of Kaffee and his thugs, how will we follow?"
This question produced a long argument. The Company finally decided that Trilla and David would shadow but not interfere with Kaffee and his men, but would find the remainder of the Company to report developments. The Company would carry their normal weapons but would not use heavy armor, and simply follow as best they could.
Everyone napped until just before dusk. "What if someone is watching us?" asked David.
"Why would anyone be watching us?"
"Do you think that Kaffee or the Magistrate will take our word that we are not going to patrol?" David retorted.
Jake considered that. "He's right. We should take precautions."
"Dress in street clothes and put all our gear in the Portable Hole. Stop at a tavern and get something to eat, which we need to do anyway. Go to a second one, and immediately walk straight through the tavern and out the back."
"Which taverns?" Bisonbit asked.
Jake responded. "The Stumble Inn for food, theirs in good. Then to the Spotted Dog. The owner is dwarven, he won't bat an eyelash if we need to duck out the back."
Everyone agreed that while the precaution wasn't necessary, it hurt nothing. With that they finalized their preparations and walked out the front gate to the Stumble Inn.
As they walked they spoke animatedly with each other, and David, at the front of the group, made it a point to spin around to talk to someone behind him every minute or three. As they entered the inn he commented, "I didn't spot anything."
The place have numerous open tables so they sat at one, ordered a light meal, ate quickly, and moved on to the Spotted Dog. The owner was known to the Company and Jake spoke quietly to him. He nodded enthusiastically and led them down broad steps to the cellar rooms, which few other than dwarves enjoyed. They passed through the main area and into a storage room. A ladder attached to the wall led up to a trap door. "This opens into the alley behind the inn," the proprietor said softly.
They all thanked him quietly and Trilla climbed up the ladder. She looked around, saw no once, and called softly for the others to join her. Once all were up they closed the door and moved as quietly as they could away from the inn.
A few blocks away they found another dark alley. "This looks like a good place," David decided. After entering the alley he cast Invisibility on himself and Trilla, while Bisonbit took the Portable Hole out of its steel container and unfolded it onto a large area. Faraz dropped into the Hole and passed up their weapons. He leapt up and Jake yanked him out of the Hole. Bisonbit folded it up and replaced it in its container.
The party had previously identified the rooming house where Kaffee and his men lived. They walked there and while the visible members of the party hid in a nearby alley, David and Trilla kept watch in front and back of the building, respectively.
The wait was boring as everyone was hoping to solve the murders this very night.
Time dragged on.
And on …
David was broken out of a reverie by a flash of movement. Three figures came around the side of the building, wearing soft shoes and typical street clothes, no obvious weapons. The better districts of Kerr were lit by Continual Light on random street corners - by the light David identified Kaffee and his henchmen. They turned right and started walking at a brisk pace towards the temple district.
A hiss caught the mage's attention. He hissed back. "You see them?" whispered the soft question.
"Yes, alert the others while I follow them." Trilla was exceptionally fast, but her natural skills at silent movement were not as effective as David's Boots.
Kaffee and his men went straight towards the temple district five blocks, and by that time Trilla had caught up with David. They had agreed to maintain a one block separation from Kaffee so she was able to figure out where David was, and soft "hiss" received a return hiss.
When the suspects turned right Trilla stayed at the corner to alert the others. When they a minute later she quietly informed them of the turn and ran to catch up with David.
This pattern repeated itself for an hour. Kaffee appeared to be trying to be non-suspicious, making no furtive motions nor frequent changes in direction. They stuck to main streets, turning every few blocks, eventually crossing their own path and meandering into the dwarven district. Trilla got a workout, acting as runner. David realized early on that if the suspects had made more rapid changes in direction, he would be alone. "So be it," he mused.
The paladin and his men broke pattern, they moved into an alley. Peering around the corner the mage saw them remove potion bottles from pouches and all three men gulped theirs down, and faded from view. "Invisibility!" David grouched mentally, as if no one else should use his favorite tactic.
Fumbling for Trilla he found her where he expected her, and pulled on her arm to silently alert her that they should leave. Running back to the end of the block, he cast Detect Invisibility as quietly as he could. "Warn the others!" he whispered urgently.
"What are you going to do?"
"Same thing, follow them." In his magical sight Trilla turned and ran almost noiselessly back to the others. Turning back David saw the trio exit the alley and walk towards a non-descript building half-way down the block on the other side of the street. As they entered through the front door David moved closer.
As the mage reached the building horrified screams rang from the open windows. More screams rang out and then more, but they sounded muffled, like coming from further inside the building. David briefly considered waiting but discarded the idea in favor of action.
Entering the building he found two dwarves, throats ripped out. One wasn't quite dead, but from the quantity of blood, death was imminent. More shrieks echoed from the back of the building. As much as he wanted to dash forward, the mage moved cautiously, finding more dismantled bodies. Bodies torn as if a beast insane with blood lust had clawed and bit them.
More sickening yells echoed, but they were closer. Looking through a doorway David saw three humanoid beasts, heavy grey fur matted with blood, tearing at three of the many bodies in the room. Without thinking David pulled a glass rod and a piece of wool from a pouch and began casting.
A jagged sheet of electrical energy formed in front of the conjurer and flashed forward, engulfing the three figures, wracking them with pain.
All three survived the attack and turned towards David, who quickly prepared to cast another spell. The bulkiest one made an odd growl, and rushed out an exterior door, the other two following. David immediately followed to the door and prepared to chase them.
"Whoa, David," he said aloud. "This is NOT a wise choice." The monsters had survived his Lightning Bolt - going after them alone was not a recipe for dying of old age. "Not that I'm going to die of old age," he commented to himself with a sardonic edge. Instead he retreated, encountering his mates at the front door.
He briefly explained what he saw and led the others through the building. Bisonbit and Gilden checked the bodies, but any that had survived the initial mauling had expired in the minutes since then. The attacks had consistently gashed major veins and arteries in the victims, so without immediate help none had a chance of survival.
Checking outside for a blood trail, they found bloody footprints for half a block, then nothing. "Nothing more we can do here," Gilden commented.
They took the shortest path back to the alley behind the Spotted Dog. After ensuring that no one was watching they opened the concealed door and went down into the cellar. Opening up the Portable Hole they stashed their large arms and entered the main area, which was deserted except for a few heavily armed dwarves.
At Gilden's quizzical look the owner said, "We were thinking things might be ugly in the city tonight and thought preparation would not be wasted."
The Company nodded in unison. The time to grab a weapon was before a fight, not after it started. Gilden decided to not mention too many details. In Old Dwarven he said, "There were some killings tonight, the beasts again. Tomorrow night is another full moon, best to be prepared." The dwarves all nodded at the wisdom and rose as a group and left.
The proprietor asked, "Anything to eat or drink?"
"Ale and something light."
He joined them for a mug, chatting happily with the Company. Faraz thought back to the wars in Shahrivar. He had worked with the dwarven rangers many times, and while they were friendly, there was always a separation. Now there was none, nor had there been any since the Company was adopted into the Clan Gilderlo.
During the wars the dwarves had displayed a firm wall of solidarity. The humans and elves never saw any serious disagreements or frictions. It was like the dwarves were automatons without their own opinions.
Now? "They have the same internal frictions and disagreements as humans or elves," he thought. "But when presented with without anything outside the clan, they form ranks and display an impenetrable wall. We are clan now and are part of that wall."
The Company finished a mug and some bread and cheese, refused a second, and thanked the proprietor, who refused their money. "We are heroes to him and all the other dwarves." He glanced around the tavern on the way out. "We have been pulled in and changed to fit their society. And we like it."
Awaking at dawn, the Company sought an audience with Kensha, who immediately received them. "Is your news connected to the murders in the dwarven quarter?" she asked as they entered her receiving chamber.
The question surprised them all into silence, but Bisonbit recovered first. "We should expect that news of the murder of thirteen dwarves last night would travel quickly."
"It was only thirteen?" she asked politely.
"Only thirteen!" David blurted. "That's a lot!"
Kensha shook her head grimly. "Early reports spoke of thirty dwarves, all torn to pieces."
Bisonbit shook his head negatively. "No, it was thirteen, and they were not torn to pieces."
"Merely bitten and clawed to death," he added sardonically.
David recounted their activities of the previous night.
"So you are positive it was Kaffee and his men?"
"You saw them change into beasts?"
David frowned. "No, but logic clearly indicates it was them. They entered invisibly, the slaughter immediately commenced, and when I found them there were three beasts and no humans."
Kensha shook her head bleakly. "No that's not good enough. He is a paladin of Donblas so use of Detect Lie will probably not be permitted. Since you have no direct proof he can claim his group was elsewhere. And only you can testify they entered the building invisibly."
The chief cleric snorted with an irritated fashion. "His position as a paladin makes his word practically unassailable." Looking around at the unhappy faces, she continued, "We need concrete proof."
Gilden slammed his fist down on the desk. "Gods damn them to the Hells," he grated. "We will get the proof." Turning to Jake he said, "We need to inform our clerics."
Jake nodded affirmatively, the Company thanked Kensha for her time, and left for the Temple of Cieldren.
An hour later they were in conference with the senior clerics of the temple. While non-dwarves referred to the temple as the Temple of Cieldren, all the dwarven gods were venerated. The main worship area had multiple shrines, each dedicated to a different god.
Gilden started the story and then David filled in the parts he had directly witnessed.
When the tale was concluded the chief cleric looked around at his people, and then back at the Company. "We have more details than the human temples and the city authorities have."
At the concerned looks on the Company's collective faces, he continued, "Despite our differences the demi-human temples communicate things of interest to our respective communities. The human authorities often do not care about our needs, so we don't bother them with things they do not want to hear about. It's hard to tell when they will respond positively or not."
David broke the silence. "I hate humans, they are so unpredictable."
Although he was serious, his comment broke the grim mood, bringing soft laughter. The cleric continued, "During each of the full moons of each of the past five months, a criminal organization has been destroyed. The first month it was an elven group, the second a halfling group. Then a human group and a gnomish group. Now dwarven."
His eyes flashed, "While part of me fails to miss those slain last night, as they do not follow our values and actively harm the community at large ..." He broke off. "I do not miss them but their murder is not right."
"In addition others have been slaughtered. Some innocent, some not so innocent. But all murdered." His eyes flashed again. "The authorities know much, but have failed to do anything as most of the murders involve non-humans."
This news shook the human members of the Company. The discussion delved into the details of the murders. Nine in the past three full moons were the work of the beast that tore its victims to shreds, more than seventy were the result of Kaffee and his men. Not all occurred during the full moon.
The Company thanked the clerics for the information. Jake had spoken little, but told them directly, "We will stop this."
The clerics' expressions turned to grim smiles, and for the first time they were upbeat. Trilla looked at their change in attitude and realized again just how much the dwarves believed in Jake.
After exiting the temple David and Gilden separated from the group, planning another visit with the sage Ben-Dur. David transformed into dwarf form in a quiet area and the pair walked to the College of Kerr as the others returned of the temple of Demeter.
Unlike their previous visit, the sage acted quite pleased to see them, quite jovial. After accepting the remaining payment he happily sat them down and explained what he had learned.
"Yes, it took a bit of searching to find the reference. I had not seen it in probably ten years," he bubbled. The man was definitely a scholar who enjoyed research for its own sake.
"One hundred seventeen years ago the paladin Kermack and his men tracked down a loup garou which had been terrorizing Kerr for seven full moons. In a pitched battle over half his men were slain, literally ripped apart by the savage beast. Several accounts describe Kermack striking the beast repeatedly with his Holy Avenger and doing little damage. The cursed thing was immune to all but the most powerful weapons, and even a Holy Avenger barely scratched it. The thing collapsed from blood loss, and the paladin beheaded it as a precaution."
Ben-Dur obviously relished the story. David wondered if he had ever even held a sword.
"Upon death it turned back into its human form, and the survivors were astounded to see that it was Gregory of Gregory, the high priest of Donblas in Kerr." The sages eyes were shining as he revealed this information.
"That ended that problem and no further murders of that type occurred." He paused for breath and continued. "I found a reference dated from that time. Clerics of several faiths performed extensive research and discovered that Gregory was the apparent victim of a curse levied by none other than Jxtl himself." The sage was smiling broadly at the deliciousness of the tale. David wanted to roll his eyes, but acted as properly attentive and somber as he could.
"This is the same Jxtl who was slain nearly sixty years ago by your Gendin." He paused in thought. "You are Gilderlos, aren't you?"
At Gilden's affirmative nod he continued. "The account states that Jxtl used this curse occasionally to vex those who earned his ire. It is a bloodline curse, one that jumps to each next generation when the predecessor dies. The only way to end the curse is for the last one to suffer from it die without issue."
Ben-Dur was perspiring he was so excited. He wiped his forehead before continuing. "Fortunately Gregory had no children, so the curse died with him."
"Almost as exciting is the other deaths you reported!"
"Demeter and Cieldren preserve me, this man is giddy!" David thought. He fought to keep a frown from his face. "The man is not a ghoul, it's all clinical to him. He has no direct experience with freshly slain bodies all around."
"Of the known types of wolf-type shape changers, these victims appear to be the result of either berserkers or hexenwolves. Wolfweres will kill, but typically in self-defense, never as brutally as these attacks. Same with shape shifters. That leaves berserkers or hexenwolves, and from the damage you describe, I suspect the latter. Berserkers have normal teeth and heavy nails for a human, but not those of a supernatural animal."
Gilden prodded him, "How are hexenwolves created?"
"Ahh! That is the crux. They are NOT created!" The words spilled rapidly out of his mouth. "They are humans using a magical item that transforms them into a humanoid wolf-beast, and unleashes all their internal savagery." He wiped his forehead again, relishing this information possibly more than the loup garou. "The item is a belt, typically made of wolf pelt or maybe something supernatural, that activates by mental command, turning them into a humanoid beast and draining all inhibitions."
Ben-Dur's face dropped and he stopped talking. After a pregnant minute he looked up and soberly continued his tale. "Accounts state that good men have donned these belts to fight evil, but they fall prey to evil, changing into something no longer civilized and human. It eventually destroys them. After a certain point they will not give up the belt and find more reasons to use it, until they are eventually destroyed."
"Who or what produces the belts?"
"Ahh! That has never fully been determined. I'sel, Jxtl's consort, is commonly believed to have created them, but one source states she got the idea - and maybe the belts - from a daemon lord. This is only stated by one source and no daemon lord is named."
The two dwarves thanked the sage for his efforts and departed.
Back at the temple they filled the others in. David was adamant that Kaffee was the loup garou.
"That doesn't fit the facts," Bisonbit retorted. "For one, the loup garou is a single beast that kills everything it encounters. If it was Kaffee he would have killed his own men at some point." The cleric cut the mage's reply off. "Plus the three wolf things you saw were not loup garou, were they?"
"No," David grudgingly replied. "But -"
"So you're thinking they are hexenwolves?" Jake asked.
Bisonbit cut over the babble of opinions. "Let's not buy into that too much, either." He scanned the Company. "While that is a good possibility, it's also possible they are something else. Let's not assume too much, it will alter our thinking and could get us killed." The cleric smirked at the mage, "David is partially right - Kaffee and his men as part of this problem, and regardless of what they are, we can solve that problem."
Faraz broke the silence, "What is our plan?"
David laughed cynically and bluntly stated, "Follow them again and when they do something, kill them."
The Company retired for the afternoon, waking just before dusk. The plan was the same as the night before.
"Same plan as last night?" Trilla asked.
"Is there a reason to change it?" David replied with a question.
All shook their heads and they left for the Spotted Dog.
Using the same tactic, they exited out the back, retrieved their weapons, and David cast Invisibility on himself and Trilla. They staked out Kaffee's boarding house the same as the previous night, and the results were identical. Kaffee and his men exited the house through a back door and took the same exact route for the first half hour.
Then they diverged, turning north instead of south. Trilla waited for the Company, told them of the change in direction, and hurried off to find David.
This night the random turns took them steadily north. Trilla got a workout, running back and forth, losing their targets several time and finding them only with luck.
She and David whispered a conference as they quietly strode a hundred yards behind the trio. "We are headed for Fearrington," he said, meaning a large sector north of the main city in which the wealthy, both nobles and merchants, had local estates. They had been here previously at Peg-An's estate. "If you can't find us, run to the main entrance and wait there."
The Fearrington didn't have a wall, it was too huge of an area, but the main road leading into it had a check point that the wealthy manned with guards who controlled the main flow into their enclave. Anyone could bypass it easily, but most did not. It satisfied its purpose well enough.
Trill ran off to notify the Company. She found them easily, passed the message, and ran back. As David predicted, she couldn't find them so she ran to the gate, expecting to get their first. She wasn't honestly that much faster than those who did not train in her art, but her stamina for running was significantly higher than those who didn't, so she could maintain a peak rate that surprised others. The gate to the Fearrington was lit by Continual Light and manned by two bored looking guards. She positioned herself a hundred yards down the road and waited.
Her wait was short. Kaffee and his men came within fifty yards of her, moving silently - by their standards - and left the road. Trilla ran to the point they left the road, gauged the distance of their shadows in the darkness, and hissed when she thought they were a block away. She hissed again and then heard David's reply.
"We need to alert the others!" Trilla whispered.
"If you leave now, you'll not find us. The Fearrington is a maze, we are going to need to follow closer to avoid losing them. The young woman wrung her hand in indecision. Her training said to make sure Jake was informed, but David was right.
"Our first priority is to stop more murders," the mage said quietly.
The monk was not happy with the decision, but she didn't see an alternative.
Kaffee and his men circumvented the gate and got onto a lesser road. They zig-zagged frequently, moving steadily to the north-west. An hour later they stopped outside a nine foot wall surrounding a large estate on the edge of the Fearrington . As they mulled near the wall, probably discussing their plan, David and Trilla got closer.
All three shimmered and morphed into humanoid wolf-like creatures, clothing and everything changing as part of the transition. With no wasted motion they leapt up and clambered over the wall.
"Run," David commanded. As expected Trilla out-distanced him quickly. When he got to the wall he hissed. At her return hiss he said, "Boost me over the wall." At 5' 1" David did not easily scale nine foot walls as did the monk who was nearly a foot taller than him.
They fumbled for a bit and Trilla got his foot into her joined hands and thrust him upwards. David was surprised, he did not realize how strong she was. Her strength was easily greater than most men her size. He caught the top of the wall and pulled himself over. His strength was also greater than most men her size, so the chore was minor.
Dropping to the ground took a moment, and he heard her scrabble over the wall, easily the most noise he had ever heard her make. He moved away from the wall so she'd not land on him. THAT would not be fun.
The monstrosities moved faster than he could. Making a quick decision the mage extracted some items from a pouch and began casting. He flared into visibility just before a red pea materialized in front of his right index finger and streaked after the werewolves, striking one in the back. It blossomed into a raging Fireball that lit the area up.
The monsters flattened and rolled, pounding the flames out of burning fur. Their preternatural senses helped them spot their foe all too quickly, and while David was considering another spell, they charged in a ragged line.
Dropping the components of whatever spell he was going to cast, the mage yanked his long sword from its sheath, realizing they'd overbear him if he didn't defend himself. He braced himself as if for impact and dropped flat as they launched themselves at him, timing it tightly so they would be committed. One hit the wall and was delayed, while the other two recovered quickly and flung themselves at their lone target.
Trilla took the opportunity to attack the third one as it recovered from its impact. She materialized as he right foot impacted the side of its head. While it was much heavier than she was, the ball of her foot hit is squarely in front of the ear, the muscles of her body propelling her entire body weight into the strike. The thing flew off its feet, spinning around the flopping over. Trilla leapt into a jumping kick that hit it in the solar plexus as it turned towards her.
Her lightning strikes did damage, the thing was not fighting effectively, but a swiping claw gouged three parallel lines down her right arm, deadening it.
The dead weight would destroy her balance, she had to win quickly. Taking a terrifying risk the young monk moved in to the things left, her left hand snapping under its chin to crush its throat. Even in death its reaction was lightning, it spun after her and rakes its claws across her kidney area, shredding her clothing and gouging deep into her flesh. She stumbled and fell heavily.
Fighting the pain she struggled to her knees, but her opponent was thrashing out its life with its throat crushed. Looking for David she saw a sight she had not truly appreciated before.
Jake was an acknowledged master of the hand-and-a-half bastard sword, and his feats with the Sword of Cieldren in his hands were truly legendary. David was a powerful wizard, one almost ready to qualify for the title Wizard.
But it was easy to forget that the small man had been also taught by Trajan, who had started Jake on his path.
Normally Trilla had no opportunity to watch David in action - most of the time her battle focus was on not being killed by some terrible monster. But as she mastered her pain and regained her clarity, she saw the man as few now viewed him -- a powerful swordsman. Maybe not as good as Jake, but his dead opponents never noticed.
Like Jake he was graceful, movements deceptively gentle looking as he slashed his terrible foes, his face looking surprisingly serene considering that either of his foes could kill a normal human in seconds.
He ducked and dodges their blows, never letting either get close enough to bite, keeping their powerful claws from his flesh, working to keep one in front of the other so he had but one opponent at a time.
Then a swiping claw caught his left arm, a blow that might easily have taken his arm off if he had not worn magical bracers under his mage robes. The force of the blow spun him around and tossed him off his feet. Instead of fighting it he rolled with the energy until it dissipated, on his back as the closer thing leapt at him.
Thrusting his long sword at the thing, he punctured the right eye and the force of the leap drove the point out the back of its skull. The dead weight hit him hard but he was already rolling with it to lessen the impact.
The beast was laying on its back on the other side of him, the sword sticking up from the face as he fought to stand. He grasped the hilt and stepped on the dead face to pull the sword from its gory sheath. David heard the growl behind him and threw himself to the side, knowing it was leaping.
The partial impact flung him onto his face, the ground hitting him brutally hard, rattling his battle composure. "Shoot, I'm dead!" he thought as he rolled over frantically and tried to avoid the next leap.
A heavy thud greeted his ears as he rose shakily to his feet. Trilla had probably executed a flying kick and knocked it off balance. Instead of turning on the mage it turned on the badly wounded woman, who fought to evade its claws as it fought to get in close and bite her life out.
David saw his sword lying next to the dead wolf-thing and stumbled over to it. Fighting for control of his damaged body he flung himself at its back, driving the point between its shoulder blades, bearing the already badly wounded hell-thing to the ground, where it struggled weakly. The fall and the mage's weight drove the sword to the hilt and embedded the blade in the ground. Pulling his favorite dagger David ended the fight by cutting its throat.
"That all of them?" he asked as he got heavily to his feet. In the moon light it was easy to see Trilla was badly hurt, her wounds bleeding profusely. He pulled a potion bottle from a pouch and swigged half of it. The rush of healing magic burst immediately threw his veins in a rush that was painful. His head cleared and he straightened. It didn't fix everything, but the situation was immediately better. Putting the bottle to her lips he poured the remainder into her mouth where she struggled to swallow, some gushing down her chin and onto her chest.
The young woman blinked and it was clear life was already better for her. The wounds clotted but needed a lot more healing, but she was far better than a moment before.
Looking down he realized the body had reverted to its human form. "Yeah, Kaffee. Bisonbit was right, he's not the loup garou." The other two had changed as well. Checking Kaffee's corpse he found a wide belt, the outer surface matted with long grey hair, a platinum buckle holding it in place. Using his magical dagger he cut the belt, which writhed and made a screeching sound as if in agony. He did the same to the other two belts.
David retrieved his long sword and immediately beheaded all three monsters. "Better safe than not," he commented blankly. It was nothing he wanted to do, but neither of them was in any shape for more fighting if the things regenerated. "Let's pile the bodies."
They quickly moved to of the bodies, dumping them and their heads onto the gory pile, with the cut belts on top. Without speaking each pulled a vial of oil from a pouch and poured it over the bodies, soaking all visible surfaces, especially the belts. "We need magical fire for this, I want those things destroyed."
Noise from the manor house, more than a hundred yards away, grabbed their attention. They could see a knot of men with Continual Light Rods, moving in their direction.
David led the way to the wall, turned, and dropped a Fireball into the pile. The magical flames burned a huge diameter area including the bodies, and lit the oil.
Trilla boosted him to the top of the wall and he braced himself to catch her hand and help her over. Neither was quite up to the task alone. Then he gracefully fell off the wall with a dull thud. Trilla landed lightly beside him, pulled him to his feet, and they stumbled tiredly and painfully into the darkness.
The following morning the Company briefed Kensha and the senior clerics of Demeter over a late breakfast. David and Trilla slept in, still sore and weak despite the application of healing magic from the clerics the night before. Some things magic just didn't fix - sleep, good food, and time were the prescription.
"So it was Kaffee," one of the clerics commented. "The clerics of Donblas will not be happy about this. They were all so proud of having him here."
David snorted. "They will get used to his not-presence."
Jake asked, "Will they be able to use scrying magic to determine who killed them?"
Kensha grimaced. "We tried this morning, so we could prepare for any backlash. We got very little, just a burned circle on the ground with no indication of where the area is."
The Company all perked up, even David and Trilla. "THAT is nice," Gilden purred.
In one of his rapid mood changes, David frowned. "Why?"
"We have discussed it, and suspect several factors. One, the men were beasts when killed, so that may cause odd results, depending on how the questions for the divination are asked. Two, we don't know the exact effects of the belts, since you destroyed them." Kensha looked pointedly at David, who grimaced back at her.
Her face changed to contrition. "I am sorry, I did not mean to imply anything untoward in your actions."
The mage's face lit up. "I know, you just wanted to study the belts to understand them better!" Then he grimaced again. "If I had to do it now, I'd not destroy them."
"But last night? It was the right thing to do. As much as we want to understand them, I think they are too dangerous to exist. Anything that can destroy a paladin, take from him his essential self?" He met the eyes of everyone at the table. "That type of magic is too dangerous to not destroy."
Jake said, "Trilla, if you and David want to rest go ahead. The rest of us are going to the dwarven temple to let the clerics know what happened. Then we need to let Peg-An know that we think this enemy is slain."
* * *
When the next full moon rose the Company patrolled until midnight. They saw a few petty criminals, but there were no attacks that night, nor the following night.
As they reported to Kensha the following morning, she imparted some interesting news. "We discovered that the clerics of Donblas recently summoned the owner of the estate where you killed the hexenwolves. He was questioned at length but no action was taken against him. He can honestly say that he knows nothing about Kaffee's death."
Her eyes took on a puzzled look. "His name is Gary of Gregory, great-great nephew of Gregory of Gregory."
The others looked around in surprise. "Maybe," Jake suggested, "Gregory had a closer relationship with his brother's wife than is typical for most families."
The others chuckled.
"And … we found a connection between Kaffee and Peg-An. As you know, Peg-An has a reputation from integrity but plays hard. He's known for crushing rival merchants."
"Yes …" David prompted.
"Eight years ago shipped a load of woolens to Sathea, and apparently some type of regulation at the Port of Sathea kept a rival's ship from unloading while Peg-An sold his goods. By the time the rival was unloaded the market was saturated and that rival lost badly as he couldn't get a good price for his goods. He later took on a very risky shipping contract up to the Orc Kingdoms and was killed by pirates."
"And …" David prompted again, mystified by the story.
"That rival was Kaffee's younger brother."
The collective "ooooo's" of the Company were in harmony!
"Plus, we checked on Gary of Gregory. He is NEVER seen during the full moon, and we theorize that his servants lock him up securely during his transformation so he cannot harm anyone. It's possible that Kaffee found a way to release him, and induce him to go after Peg-An."
"We do not know. We also do not know where Kaffee got the hexenwolf belts, but we believe it was about seven months ago. We have discovered evidence of a number of bodies that were probably killed by him and his men. It started out as only known criminals, but in the last two months an unfortunately number of innocents were killed. As the sage said, the evil gets in and perverts even the good."
"Good thing we destroyed the belts," was David's soft reply.
Copyright 2014 Bryan Fazekas