Part I: Back to Kerr
Part II: Investigation
Part III: The Magistrate
Part IV: The Disappearing Thug
Part V: Peg-An
Part VI: Ambush
Part VII: When in Doubt, Ask Questions!
The Company from Kerr flew their hippogriffs through the tunnel in nowhere, arriving in the skies east of the dwarven city Rendelshod. The commander verified their position and led the flight to the stables in the cliffs over the city.
The Gilderlo Air Corp had over three hundred active war hippogriffs, with a number nearly equal to that of older, younger, and non-fighting griffs. The Corp was organized in flights of six, a corporal and five subordinates. For every three flights there was a sergeant, and for every three sergeants there was a senior sergeant. Jake found it interesting that there were actually ten Air Corp stables, two at the city of Rendelshod and the other eight located in pairs within twenty miles of the city. Each stable housed older rider/griff pairs who were no longer fit for regular combat duties, but were quite capable of defending the stables.
Jake wasn't clear on the organization, but he understood that the griffs moved between stables on an irregular schedule, and their numbers were divided among the ten stables so that no attack could take out more than 10% of their force. Some eight hundred years before an enemy attack had killed nearly a quarter of the Corp. The retribution was immediate and brutal; the city that instigated it was reduced to flaming rubble by the surviving Air Corp and nine dwarven armies. It was unlikely others would try, but caution was observed.
Orjen, the commander, was miffed that the Company was not going to join the Air Corp. He had expected it, but Jake made it clear that his path was different. Cieldren and Demeter had different plans for him, although he stated clearly that the protection of ALL dwarven peoples was his priority.
The Company remained in Rendelshod for another two months, spending their time training and greeting visiting dignitaries. Each of the other Eight Clans sent representatives to meet the new Champion, and representatives from a variety of governments made an appearance. The dwarves and elves of Trivana got along better than they had in Shahrivar, although that might be connected to the fact the high elven king's sister was married to the Gilderlo Clan Chief's uncle. Milo's mother Leannah had been queen of the high elves and led them through a dark time, abdicating in favor of her younger brother to marry Baldor, son of Meselda and Thorin, founders of the Clan Gilderlo.
The other Champion, XXX, was not present. She was on some mission for Cieldren and had not returned yet. Jake was nervous of meeting her. From what was said of her, she was prickly. Trilla privately commented that a woman taking on what had historically been a man's role would receive a lot of criticism and hostility, so being prickly wasn't a surprise.
Jake was surprised that Trilla had spoken to him in this fashion. It spoke well that she was becoming more self-confident and trusting him to listen to her. It did nothing to lessen Jake's fear that Trilla would instantly follow him through the Hells, naked if necessary, if he suggested it. While the role of Champion was fitting more comfortably onto his shoulders, he was still leery of being in charge. At least he no longer had to deal with Lennart and his men. The dwarven border fighters had latched onto Jake following the Battle on the Walls of Vigerfast, and their willingness to blindly follow him exceeded Trilla's. Thankfully they had remained behind in Shahrivar.
After the last dwarven ambassador left for home, Bisonbit broached a topic that had been on his mind for months. "We accepted the commission to deal with the greymen who had been plaguing the area around Kerr. That mission was superseded by the war in Shahrivar, but it's time to get back to it." Jake, David, Bisonbit, and Gilden had accepted a commission from the chief cleric of Demeter in Kerr to fight greymen. While fleeing from a much superior force they took ship with sea going giants, and had subsequently found themselves in Shahrivar.
"We need to report to the chief cleric of Demeter in Kerr and complete our commission." There was some discussion amongst the four primary Company members, but it was agreed that the next stop was Kerr.
That evening the Company met with Orjen and the Gilderlo ruling council, explaining their commission and the need to continue it. Orjen spoke for the Council, "So you abandon your position here to obey a human god?"
Normally quiet, Jake spoke forcefully. "I follow Demeter. This has been clear from the moment I accepted this sword. I fight for Cieldren with my patron's consent." The dwarves looked scandalized. "Demeter and Cieldren will work things out, and they will let me know what they want me to do."
Jake's calm belief that the gods would work together sounded simplistic and the dwarves muttered until a senior advising cleric commented, "Perhaps our brother demonstrates more faith in Cieldren than we do?"
"I will be wherever Cieldren needs me. Never fear on that score." With that the Company returned to their rooms to prepare for the morning's trip.
The flight to Kerr was uneventful. Being unskilled at cross county navigation from the air, they chose to follow the trade road that meandered south from Rendelshod through the mountains to Kerr. They took off at first light, rose to about 5,000 feet, and followed the general track of the road. Flying straight to the farthest visible point of the road saved a lot of time, since there was no grades to traverse nor meandering right and left around obstacles. What was normally a three week trip by road took five leisurely days.
Arriving at Kerr they landed outside the north gate, walking their mounts through the gate. Kerr was an open city, protected by mountainous terrain and high walls, so access to the city was generally free during daylight hours. The guards stopped and spoke with the Company, but it appeared to be mostly curiosity. Hippogriffs were rare mounts, and the Gilderlo griffs were huge in comparison to normal ones. The guards were all careful to stay clear of the heavy hooked beaks although one guard moved cautiously forward and let Bisonbit's griff sniff him. Satisfied that the guard was no danger nor of interest, the griff ignored him while they spoke.
Bisonbit explained they were visiting the temple of Demeter, which was in the north section of the city. The guard wished them well and they move through the city.
Eight centuries previous the City of Kerr had been destroyed when one of the last flying cities of the Sky Raiders had crashed near the city. Although it missed the city by almost a mile, the concussion of a two mile wide, half mile thick block of stone impacting from seven thousand feet had leveled the city, and what wasn't leveled was burned in the many fires that resulted. The ruling council of that time had wisely chosen to rebuild the city in a more organized fashion than the sprawl that had previously existed. The main market was in the center of the city and roads radiated out from it. The city had not remained so neatly laid out, but the major routes were wide, cobblestone-paved streets, easily wide enough for two wagons abreast plus foot traffic on either side.
The Company had no problems walking their griffs to the temple down the short distance to the sprawling temple complex. The temple guards fumbled a bit but quickly got the idea to summon the chief cleric, Kensha, a tall woman of Kerrean blood.
She greeted them warmly, the calluses on her hands a clear indicator that like most clerics of Demeter, she was a fighting cleric. It was quickly agreed that the Company could stay for a while in the guest quarters and arrangements were made to house the griffs in an unused stable on the edge of the complex. Horses tended to be skittish around hippogriffs as the griffs viewed them as food. The Gilderlo griffs were trained from birth to not attack horses, but it was difficult to convey that to the horses.
"When no word of you was received, we assumed you had been killed by greymen or some other danger. It wasn't until three nights ago when the clerics all dreamed of a party of six arriving on hippogriff that we knew you were still alive."
Bisonbit explained the situation, including a summary of the wars in Shahrivar, and introduced Trilla and Faraz as natives. They looked a lot like Kerreans, being of similar height, but their hair and skin were darker. "Now that we have settled a more pressing problem, we are ready to resume our commission to destroy the greymen."
Kensha looked nonplused at that statement. The greymen were a fierce danger, and their numbers would make them difficult to destroy. But stories of the Company from Kerr had already spread, and if ten percent were true, these grim people might do it. "There have been sporadic attacks outside the city, reports from as far as one hundred miles away. A few caravans to or from Sathea have disappeared, and a few reported attacks that left few survivors." Looking at their serious faces she continued, "In the past two months the attacks or disappearances have grown more frequent, and closer to the city. We have had a number of mysterious deaths in the city, although not the usual greymen hack and slash."
David queried, "How were the attacks different?"
"On the full moon two months ago there were two incidents. A prominent merchant, Peg-An, was attacked by a single creature. It literally tore most of his bodyguard to pieces, and he escaped through luck. The following night five known thieves were found clawed and bitten to death. While it was not reported to the watch, reliable witnesses relayed the details. We could not examine the bodies, so we have no idea if it was the same creature."
"Then last month we had similar occurrences. The first night before the full moon Peg-An was attacked again, this time at his residence, which is not too far from here. His guards suffered ugly causalities but drove it off. The following night a tinker and his family were found torn apart, literally." She grimaced. "That night same night a trio of retired soldiers were found clawed and bitten to death. They had fought back, but unsuccessfully."
"The two attacks appear to be different beasts. While there were no witnesses to the last attack, the wounds were quite different. One beast rips the victims apart with inhuman strength, while the second one appears to be more like animal bites, although druids could not identify the bites and claws. Neither was quite like anything they had seen before."
Jake spoke up, "This takes priority over the greymen?"
"We cannot be sure it's not another tactic of the greymen. Their attacks have been getting closer to Kerr and appear to be more frequent, then these attacks occur. While it may be coincidence, we are assuming it isn't."
The members of the Company all exchanged glances. Kensha could make nothing of the exchanged looks. They turned their attention back to her and Bisonbit said, "We will investigate. We may need more information and we'll let you know, and keep you informed of our results."
As the group left Kensha thought to herself, "Bisonbit doesn't seem much like a subordinate cleric. But if a tenth of the stories told about these people are true, that isn't a surprise."
Faraz surprised everyone by speaking first, "What is our plan of action?"
After a momentary hesitation Jake, David, Bisonbit, and Gilden chanted in unison, "Patrol."
As they walked David outlined a strategy. "We arm ourselves appropriately, go to Peg-An's home since he was attacked twice, and is the most likely target. From there we walk the streets, circling outward from that point."
Bisonbit commented, "The attacks have all occurred during the full moon, which isn't for three nights. Do we start tonight?"
Jake answered, "Best that we do. We can visit all the attack sites and become familiar with the surrounding streets. Bisonbit, David, and I grew up around the temple but my parents' grandparents' homes were north of the city, so we know the city well down to the central market, but not the Fearrington district where nobles and wealthy merchants live, nor the demi-human areas, and especially not the slums in the south east." No one could think of a better starting point, so they returned to the temple of Demeter and got what rest they could that afternoon.
At dusk they refreshed themselves, armed themselves for an ugly fight with creatures unknown, and walked to Peg-An's home.
The Fearrington district was not walled in, although most of the homes had some type of wall around the property, even if it was merely ornamental. Some of the homes were small, a mere 5,000 square feet, while others were veritable castles. Many homes had guards at the front gate, and those of the nobles and major merchants had perimeter guards as well. The guards typically gave them hard looks, but none accosted them. While the guards of the wealthy often inherited a measure of their employer's arrogance, bullying a tradesman or farmer was far less hazardous than accosting a group of heavily armed mercenaries.
As they approached Peg-An's home, the Company slowed their walk, giving them time to quietly discuss the situation. The plan was to surreptitiously observe Peg-An's home plus the surrounding homes, then start circling along the streets. This area was not as grid-like as the main part of the city, so the "circling" would be less regular.
The man was known to be one of the most prosperous merchants in Kerr. He was known to be scrupulously honest in his dealings, although he bargained hard and was rough on his business rivals. His caravans often carried a large percentage of highly valuable goods, as opposed to bulky goods like food. While this made his caravans more interesting targets, he hired the best soldiers, and every single one of them submitted to a Geas as a condition of employment. His methods included hunting down and killing those who robbed him, and doing the same to those who betrayed him. He paid high wages and expected equal return from his people.
Peg-An had inherited his business from his father who had managed to eke out a living with it. The younger man had taken the business, ran a number of riskier ventures that paid handsomely, and in the course of fifteen years built it up to the fifth most valuable merchant house in Kerr. He crushed and sometimes bought out competitors, and often had as many as ten caravans out at once, including two that traveled regularly to and from the Orc Kingdoms, north of Rendelshod.
He was not well liked.
His home was not the largest, far more were larger and more ostentatious. He had more physical land than most, having a twelve foot stone wall surrounding a property of nearly eight acres. A large manor house stood near the front, although it was far from the largest home. The corners of the house were lit with Continual Light spells, a cheap enough method of lighting used by the wealthy. In general the property was impressive without being gaudy as is common with the newly wealthy.
The Company walked by and paid no special attention to the property, apparently concerned with personal business. Yet they were able to get a good enough view of the property to understand the layout. They kept on walking, making larger and larger loops, never traveling the same stretch of street twice.
During three hours of patrolling they saw few pedestrians, and as midnight approached, they saw less guards.
One set of pedestrians caught their attention. Three men in heavy armor walked straight at them. Like the Company they were heavily armed, and walked in a V formation as if they owned the city. Trilla's first impression was, "Arrogant jackasses."
"Who are you and what are you doing here?" the first man demanded. He was tall, well over six feet in height and heavy of body. His flankers where just slightly shorter than he, but of the same mold. His voice projected arrogant command. He was used to being obeyed instantly.
David started to reply by Bisonbit cut him off. "Who are you to ask?" in a clipped, unemotional tone.
Gilden really liked his fellow Company members. They were among the best of any race he had known, and he was proud he had sponsored them to become members of the Clan, proud they were his brothers and sister. However, dwarves in general had a common dislike for the human propensity to equate size with authority. Among dwarves being taller meant you might not need a step stool to reach something on a higher shelf. When someone else was taller it also meant their knees were closer to one's axe when it was necessary to cut them down to size. Most dwarves didn't think of that last thought, but Gilden was a cleric of Cieldren, a soldier-priest, so other dwarves would make allowances for blood thirsty thoughts.
These humans were of the type his people despised most. They not only thought their height gave them importance, but they looked down on those shorter than them, both literally and figuratively. "Best that Bisonbit answers for us, he won't get mad and get us in trouble. Well, not more than will happen if it happens," he mused. "David or I would guarantee a fight."
The question took the men aback. They obviously weren't used to being questioned. His surprise suppressed, the man grunted, "I am Kaffee, and I have every right to ask."
That name they knew. Kaffee was in his mid-50's, a famous paladin of Heironeous the Invincible, a god who championed chivalry, honor, justice, valor, and daring. This man and his henchman had traveled much of Trivana in his youth, fighting and defeating all manner of evil creatures. Dragons, giants, and evil humans had all fallen to his axe. Some three years before he had retired from field duty, returning to his native Kerr. He had appointed himself protector of the city and was known to patrol the city, seeking out evil-doers to arrest. The ruling magistrate had welcomed his services and in truth gave the paladin much leeway in dealing with those who broke the law, appointing him as a sheriff. It was said that Kaffee and his men brought in less than one-third of those they targeted for trial. The remainder were slain in combat. Serious crime had dropped by half in many areas of the city, so the Council of One Hundred, the ruling parliament, sanctioned him.
Bisonbit nodded his recognition and named the Company members in reply. "We are merely traveling the streets of Kerr, becoming familiar with the streets."
"You do not belong here," the paladin grated.
"What law says we do not?" the cleric responded politely, although there was a dangerous glint in his eye.
"So much for Bisonbit not getting us in trouble," Gilden thought.
Kaffee blinked. He wasn't used to be questioned or argued with. And he didn't like it, but the reminder about the law put him off. "There are dangerous things that roam the city at night. All men of good intent should be home and abed after dark."
"We worry not about the dangers of the city."
David had to speak. "We have defeated some horrible monsters. I doubt that the city will produce anything we should fear."
"The first time will also be your last. Go home." With that Kaffee stomped off, his men in his wake.
"THAT was interesting," Jake commented softly as the men passed out of sight. "I got a funny feeling that he doesn't want us out here, and it's not concern for our safety."
David scowled. "He is definitely suspicious. I wonder if he's involved in the full moon attacks?"
Trilla gasped, "A paladin?"
David scowled more, "His being a paladin doesn't guarantee anything." The others wondered at David's paranoid suspicion, but all thought it unlikely that a paladin was involved in murder. David wasn't pleased at everyone scoffing at his suspicion. "We will see."
The Company patrolled another hour, and seeing nothing they returned to the temple to get more sleep.
Shortly after dawn four city guardsmen came to the temple gate, asking for the Company members by name. When they arrived at the gate the Company was informed that they were summoned to a session with Rosvor son of Diktatorram, the chief magistrate of Kerr.
This surprised everyone. "Are we being arrested?" Bisonbit asked.
"Not yet," was the laconic reply. The Guardsmen had an arrogant air about them, thinking their position made them invincible.
Jake realized that these four men with their scale mail armor and halberds had no idea how easily he, by himself and with no weapons, could put them all down in just a few seconds. "Lead on," he commanded them when they made to form up around the group. The men blinked but immediately realized they were not going to cow any of them, especially not the friendly seeming Sathean with the commanding voice. The corporal looked Jake in the eyes and didn't like what he saw - their armor and weapons meant nothing to him. Instead of being shepherds of miscreants who had earned someone's official displeasure, they were forced to become an honor guard.
The chastened guards led the way to the House of Justice, a huge building in the government sector near the center market.
At the House of Justice the guards led them into the building, and straight up the ostentatious hallway to where huge, ornately carved, wooden double doors ended the hallway. Two of the guardsmen struggled to pull open the doors.
Glancing up Faraz counted three floors above them, each with a balcony/hallway surrounding this hall. The druid really didn't like large buildings, partially because of the building itself, and partially because of the arrogant mindset behind the constructions of such an edifice. David wasn't always the easiest of employers, but his ego was confined to himself, his own abilities, and to a lesser extent the abilities of the Company.
Once the guards, red in the face and gasping for breath, had opened the doors about half way, the corporal led them into the largest court room in the city. The back wall had a raised platform where as many as a dozen judges could sit, although the center seat was higher and more imposing. In front of the platform stood a pair of high tables with no seats. They stood within a spectator area, and in front of them was a waist high wooden rail, ornately carves, and a swinging gate. No one but the judges sat, which probably reduced trial time.
A dozen guards wearing scale mail armor and bearing halberds lined the walls. The corporal turned to one and said in a loud voice, "The pris--," and cut off, coughing. He glanced back at Jake, thought better of what he was going to say and continued in a lame voice, "The people the magistrate wished to see are here."
The chief guard, probably a captain of some sort, nodded a sharp, shallow bow to the corporal, acknowledging the statement. The corporal bowed in return, a choppy movement, and all but bolted from the room, his men running in his wake.
Captain Kelvert silently observed the Company as they entered the court room. There were surprised to be brought into such a room, and probably had no clear idea why they had been summoned. Rosvor liked to keep people off balance, and he used his typical tricks with this group.
The closest person to him was a man, probably early 30's, dressed in loose fitting dark green shirt and slacks. He looked Kerrean but his hair was dark brown, almost black, instead of the typical sandy brown. It took him a moment to realize the man was a druid by the carved wooden symbol of Sylvanus on his left breast. The man appeared cool and distant, which was typical for a druid. He didn't carry himself like a full druid, but the man wasn't an initiate.
The dwarf? He was dressed in the typical greys of his people. His body language screamed "soldier", his stance and the way he held his hands talking as plainly as words. Probably an ax man from the way he moved his right hand. The dwarf turned as he scanned the room and the platinum symbol of Cieldren hung around his neck, the crossed sword and hammer. "Rosvor summoned a high priest?" he wondered. A lesser cleric would have a gold or silver medallion, but platinum meant he was a full cleric. "Not good."
Kelvert struggled to hold his composure. The tall Kerrean was a high priest of Demeter, as clearly a battle priest as the dwarf and the druid. The circlet with the symbol of Demeter on it screamed "DANGER" as loud as anything could. "Dragging in servants of three powerful gods, what does Rosvor think he's doing?"
The short Sathean in black robes was undoubtedly a mage. This one couldn't be all that powerful, he wore a heavy swordsman girdle, stained black so it didn't stand out against the robes. Powerful mages hired meat shields while weak ones carried a sword as a backup for when their spells failed. But his build wasn't typical for a mage, this one had serious muscle.
The mage turned and locked eyes with Kelvert, an electric moment. The captain saw absolutely no fear, no uncertainty in the brown eyes, only confidence. This one was no stranger to violence, up close and personal. His right hand moved near a pocket and the heavily calloused hand was no stranger to a sword, nor was it far from components to a spell. This one was fully ready, willing, and able to blast anything that threatened his group.
He looked away from that disturbing figure. The tall woman was a match to the druid, looked mostly Kerrean but the hair was too dark. She was wired for reaction, her senses flaring. Kelvert wasn't sure what she was, but the heavy leather gloves with arcane symbols etched on the backs provided a clue. Included in the symbols was the upward pointing arrow of Donblas, yet another major god.
She kept glancing at the last man, a slight Sathean. "Lover?" he wondered, but decided not. She was looking for direction in battle, an attack dog who would kill anything her master pointed to. "I hope Rosvor knows what he is doing!"
The last man was barely taller than the mage and dwarf, but massively built, making the other Sathean look scrawny in comparison. His biceps filled the sleeves of the blue shirt to over-filling, and the massive chest packed the shirt to just within its limits. He stood lightly, balanced, like a dancer. Both hands were heavily calloused, and in the captain's professional experience the man preferred a two-handed weapon.
The man's eyes made a circuit of the room, noting doors and windows, looking at each guard and deciding which way each would move if violence erupted. His inspection ended with the captain, staring him in the eyes. The Sathean smiled, a friendly smile in the face of a man who smiled a lot. He looked happy and genial … and Captain Kelvert realized the man had decided his first target if things turned bad, and had already decided how to kill a heavily armed and armored soldier using nothing beyond a belt dagger.
Captain Kelvert of Kerr couldn't remember the last time he was afraid of anything mortal. But these folks, as he surveyed them a as group, were used to working together and were quite ready to kill their way out of the Hall of Justice. None of these people had any idea of how to correctly react to authority. He swallowed, praying, "Ptah, please don't let the magistrate get us killed."
Gilden watched the captain, who surveyed what he obviously thought of as "prisoners". That notion didn't last long as he quickly realized this group included a cleric and druid of two of the major human gods, along with a dwarven cleric. Gilden tried to hold a straight face, but smirked when the captain locked eyes with the smallest human, David.
The captain was Kerrean, over six feet, his hair sandy but his fair skin weathered by a lot of harsh sun. He had seen and done dangerous things, and held himself confidently. But whatever he saw in David's eyes caused him to doubt himself, to question his ability push this smaller man around. The Sathean had defeated giants and dragons and creatures of Elemental Chaos. Right or wrong, he had no fear of a mere human, regardless of his relative power in Kerr. The mage's gaze promised overwhelming violence in return for violence, that backing down was not even a thought. "Fear is good for him," Gilden considered, "and his fear is good for us."
The Company stood at a form of parade rest, all facing in slightly different directions. None showed any trace of irritation that the magistrate was making them wait.
After twenty minutes a door at the back of the raised area banged open. A man in long brown robes entered, shouting. "All rise for Rosvor son of Diktatorram, the chief magistrate of Kerr!"
Bisonbit's eyes briefly flashed with irritation. There were no seats so how could anyone rise? But he settled into his usual neutral expression … which others found looked just slightly hostile.
The magistrate shuffled papers for a minute, dragging things out to exaggerate his power over them. Looking up he skewered the Sathean swordsman, "You are Jake?"
"I am Jake, grandson of Marissa and Trajan, of the Clan Gilderlo," the man stated clearly, strongly, but not loudly.
Captain Kelvert had not been informed who these people were, which was typical of Rosvor. The magistrate wanted obvious muscle to intimidate. But Kelvert recognized that name. Certain quarters of the city had been buzzing about the group that arrived on Gilderlo hippogriffs. Lot of stories circulated about them, including silly stories about them all being more than 400 years old. But among the garbage stories the dwarves spoke with pride of this group, all of them, not just the Gilderlos. The dwarves adopted few outsiders, and when they did it was a big deal. These people were not only dangerous, they were important.
Rosvor tried to stare the Sathean down. The returned gaze was not hostile, not threatening, not arrogant. It brimmed with confidence. Kelvert know the magistrate well enough to see that flicker of doubt.
He covered it well, asking each of the others to identify themselves. Each responded as a dwarf would, indicating solidarity. Then the magistrate launched into a diatribe about them not taking law into their own hands, and staying off the street at night. "You can and will be arrested for violating the laws of Kerr. Do you understand?"
Bisonbit answered for the group. "Of course we understand. We will not do anything contrary to keeping the peace in Kerr."
Rosvor wasn't sure how to take that, but dismissed them anyway. The group backed up en mess and each turned away only when reaching the door.
"Whew!" Kelvert thought.
"Dismiss your men and join me in my office."
"Yes Magistrate!" As the elder man exited through the back of the dais, Kelvert dismissed his men, detailing each to various duties. Then he hurried to the magistrate's office, knowing better than to keep the man waiting any longer than necessary.
Rosvor had held his position for thirty-seven years, and was an adept political player. He had enough powerful patrons on the Council of One Hundred to keep him in his position, and never over played his hand. Kelvert had been Chief Seneschal of the Court for seven years, which was three years longer than any had lasted with Rosvor. It was a good position, it paid well, and the bribes were good. No point in jeopardizing that.
He knocked on the office door and entered at the sharp, "Come in!". Without preamble the magistrate spouted instructions. "They are staying at the temple of Demeter?" At Kelvert's nod he continued, "Have them watched and followed. If they are on the streets at night, arrest them. If they resist, kill them."
At the man's nod the captain strode confidently from the office. As he walked he considered his choices. Should he assign a few hotheads that the guard would be better without, or should he assign men of good judgment who would avoid unnecessary problems? While there were a dozen men he'd like to see dead … not starting trouble with three major human temples and not irritating the dwarves was the wiser course.
As they walked back to the temple of Demeter, the Company quietly discussed the situation. David was ticked, stating for the fifth time, "I know that Kaffee instigated this!"
"Yes David, that is evident. He's the obvious choice, and as far as we know the only one who knew who we were last night," Bisonbit retorted through gritted teeth. Kaffee set David's teeth on edge.
Faraz asked, "What are we going to do?"
Bisonbit started to respond but Jake cut him off. "We are commissioned by Kensha to deal with the greymen, and these murders are currently assumed to be part of it." Looking around at his Company, he continued, "We patrol …"
"Invisibly," everyone chanted in unison. The chagrin, irritation, and anger of the session with the Chief Magistrate evaporated in a round of laughter. Everyone around them on the street stared at them, wondering at the high spirits in this eclectic group.
"I'll cast Invisibility when we get back to our rooms. Rest in the afternoon and we'll leave after dark."
Being experienced soldiers, each took what rest they could during the remainder of the morning, all rising as the sun exited the sky. David woke first and studied his spell book, restoring the spells he had expended that morning.
Being invisible had its clear advantage of surprise. It had numerous disadvantages. So many routine task as accomplished easily due to the ability to see where one's body parts are. Take that away and those same tasks become laborious. This includes simple things such as eating.
But the Company had become well versed in living with invisibility over the past five years. This tactic had gotten them through enemy lines and put them in a good attack position so many times that all understood the value of it, and so they suffered with the drawbacks in good humor.
Using a rope to keep together, they moved slowly. Bisonbit cast a Silence spell on a copper piece and they moved in a sphere of silence. This hid the fact that Jake, Bisonbit, and Gilden wore heavy metal armor, it hid the clinks metal weapons made. Granted, the spell didn't last that long but it was useful in crowded areas.
It also meant they had to stay away from people so the silenced area would not be noticed, and it guaranteed they could not talk. The agreed upon plan was to walk to the area where the soldiers had been murdered and circle that area in an expanding circle.
The plan worked as expected, meaning they encountered few people, they managed to stay away from the ones they did encounter, and three hours of walking covered a large area of this quadrant. But no monsters of any sort.
Jake led the procession so David yanked lightly on the rope to warn him to stop. They used a rope long enough that each was spaced six feet apart, and when walking slowly - which invisibility encouraged - the rope was held taught. When it slackened it meant the person in front had slowed or stopped. When it tightened it meant they were moving again. Years of practice meant that as long as everyone paid attention they didn't run into each other, and could start and stop moving with no verbal communication.
When the rope slackened David stopped and heard the soft sound of everyone behind him stopping. He twitched the rope so those directly in front and behind formed a circle., hands out to touch each other. "This is not working. We need live bait."
"Live bait?" came the hissed reply. "Probably Bisonbit," David thought. It was hard to tell when the whispers were that soft.
"Someone needs to be visible to attract attention."
"Yes." Soft snickers sounded around him. No one doubted David's courage, he put himself into dangerous situations first before asking anyone to join him, he led from the front. No, everyone doubted his good sense.
It was quickly agreed to try it. David dispelled his own invisibility, and continued the patrol with the others behind him. He kept the same slow pace so the noise of their movements was less likely to betray them.
David passed several people on the street. Given that it was close to midnight, people gave him a wide berth, opening the spacing as they came abreast of him. Everyone assumed anyone out at this time was dangerous and gave themselves room to react.
Except one man in good quality clothing. He had his hands in his pockets and walked with his head down, as if deep in thought, not being fully aware of his surroundings.
As the human walked past the mage he turned in place the drove a heavy dagger into David's spine, an instant kill move.
Or so he planned. Although he grew up in the Temple of Demeter, David was a child of the streets. He knew the obvious ploys muggers used and would have been shocked if the man did NOT try to murder him.
Stepping inside the man's guard he blocked the dagger with his left hand, stopped the wrist, and drove his right fist into the man's solar plexus in a short, vicious upper cut, driving the breath from his lungs. Grasping the wrist of the knife hand to control the dagger, he pounded his fist twice more into the belly, and elbowed the man in the head.
"Total knock out," David silently crowed! "That is going to hurt when you wake up," he whispered to the body. Looking around, there was no one. The mage dragged the body into the shadows of a nearby alley. He waited until the others were there.
"Change of plans. I'm going to go invisible again, and we wait to see if anything grabs this guy."
"Use him as bait?"
"Yah. If it helps us catch the monster it will be one good thing this guy has done in his life." He snickered, "Maybe the last thing he does, but he should not have tried to kill me."
None of the Company felt sorry for the highwayman. The legal systems of Kerr, Sathea, and most of the city/states treated attempted murder the same as murder, the only real difference is the victim got lucky or the would-be murderer got unlucky. The penalty was generally the same, typically hanging or beheading, followed by burning the body.
The more affluent generally paid a cleric to Bless the body of a loved one so that it could not be animated. In some temples the spell was performed routinely on the bodies of the faithful, especially those who tithed regularly. Criminals warranted no such favor and were universally burned to prevent them rising as undead.
If they turned him into the guard the man would be tried and executed. If they used him as bait and he survived, it would actually be a kindness.
Thus the party retreated down the alley to wait and watch.
An hour passed with little activity. Three times people passed the alley entrance, all skirting it widely and none noticing the highwayman.
David watched the body carefully, which Trilla and Faraz kept watch behind them. "Look," David hissed. He pointed at the comatose man, even though the others could not see it. The body had grown hazy, like the lines were blurred by something. The haze seemed to grow thicker and the body simply faded away.
The Company counted off two minutes and David moved forward to investigate. He looked around - no one in sight. He retrieved a copper piece with Continual Light cast upon it, kept in a special heavy pouch that was proof against the light escaping. Holding it high to not blind himself, he examined the area. An eight foot by ten foot section of the cobblestones was clean of dirt and garbage, and the place the body had lain was glistened slightly.
David sniffed lightly. It smelled like an acid. He picked up a nearby splinter of wood and rubbed the glistening patch. Nothing obvious happened. Pocketing the coin he quietly cast Detect Invisibility, but the spell showed nothing he was not already aware of. Thinking ahead, he cast Detect Magic, which also showed nothing.
"What happened?" someone hissed nearby.
"No idea. I checked for invisible objects and magic, both negative."
"What is the wet area?"
"Not sure of that, either, but I'm not touching it with my hand." He looked at the stick, the area he had touched to the glistening patch looked odd. He pressed it on the cobblestone and it bent easily and crumbled. "Maybe acid, it destroyed this stick, although it took a couple of minutes." Wryly he added, "Don't lick it."
"Nothing more we can do here. Let's quit for the night."
This was a fun one. I had not consider they'd use the thief for bait, so I had no idea what I wanted to do here. Then I thought of the effect, the body looking strange then disappearing. It had the desired effect, it spooked the players. :-)
It was probably two weeks later before I decided what did it.
The following morning a servant in expensive livery arrived at the temple, asking for the Company. His employer, the merchant Peg-An, begged their pardon for disturbing them, but requested their presence at his home for dinner that night. He had a proposition he wanted to discuss with them.
Questioning the servant was fruitless. He either knew nothing or was instructed to say nothing. Although he was a servant, the human was apparently a trusted one. Instead of being dressed from head to toe in Peg-An's colors, he was dressed in fine clothes of dark brown, with a neck scarf showing the House colors red, gold, and black.
In Kerr it was generally the practice that common servants wore the house colors in large quantities. In Peg-An's case his men typically wore black pants and a red shirt with gold-colored sleeves. The higher ranking the servant, the less color was worn, but what was there was typically of higher quality. The silk of the man's neck scarf probably cost 20 gold crowns before it was dyed.
This practice was common among the merchant houses, and in the past few decades had been adopted by the nobles as well. The two groups tended to be antagonistic towards each other, although if faced with a common enemy they would join forces, at least temporarily.
Bisonbit was certain the man was fully in his master's confidence on this matter, but saw no value in pestering the man. They'd find out soon enough what was desired. He cut off the questions and accepted on behalf of the Company. The others accepted his authority in this matter without comment as Bisonbit's good sense was hard to argue successfully against.
"I will return in six hours to escort you." With that the man turned and left, his honor guard of two men in full colors escorting him.
"This should be interesting," David commented, and the others agreed. "What do we wear?"
When consulted Kensha suggested they wear their best clothes with nothing but small belt weapons. "Don't go armed to the teeth to a party," she advised.
Thanking her, all bathed to in preparation. As they dressed they lined up their fighting gear and carefully stowed it in their Portable Hole. That handy item would keep their best weapons close at hand without disconcerting or insulting their host.
At the appointed hour a large carriage arrived, pulled by four horses. The servant and driver on the front seat, two armed retainers on the back stations. The servant ushered them into the richly appointed enclosure and they were off. The carriage was quite smooth and it was obvious this conveyance cost more than the money five typical families brought home in a year.
The trip was short, it was less than a mile to Peg-An's city estate. While they couldn't see in front of the carriage, it was obvious that the gate guards opened the double iron gates as soon as they saw the carriage. It did not slow down until they were in front of the house.
As he stepped down from the carriage, Gilden surveyed the house. He wasn't especially impressed with human houses, most were firetraps made of wood. Dwarves used mostly stone - wood was an accent, a decoration. Not a building material. But this one had solid stone walls, even the decorative columns were high quality granite and marble, expertly shaped and smooth to an incredible sheen. Definitely dwarven work.
Most of the exceedingly wealthy had large double doors on their homes, making a huge opening to dwarf those entering, a sign of power and wealth. The front doors of this manor house was tall, but each panel was only three feet wide, making for a relatively small opening, rather than the ten to fifteen feet common in other edifices. Then Jake noticed the windows. There were a large number of windows, but each was tall, probably eight feet high, and a measly two feet wide. It was well executed and looked impressive … but the place was setup for defense.
As he walked through the doorway Jake glanced to his right. Hidden behind a decorative drape was a steel bracket. Two of them, one at three feet and the other at six. A pair of eight in beams could be dropped into those brackets, bracing the doors against a battering ram.
Looking at a nearby window he spotted decorative metal scroll work on either side of the opening. Thinner boards could be dropped into the disguised braces. This wouldn't be enough to stop a ramming device, but the pair of boards would severely hamper anyone trying to gain entrance, while not interfering with a bowman shooting outward.
With solid stone walls two feet thick, the place was a fortress.
Their host greeted them in the foyer. Peg-An was a Kerrean of middle height, standing about 5' 10". He looked well-muscled and smiled warmly at them, with no artifice in his expression. The smile went all the way to his eyes, which sparkled.
"Thank you for coming at short notice!" he stated emphatically but not loudly. He was enthusiastic, not brash, and his taste in clothing was muted. Trilla realized he was wearing a very tasteful silk suit that probably cost more than a hundred gold crowns.
Most of the newly rich flaunted their wealth by ostentatious displays. Peg-An's display was subtle, many would not realize just how much he was flaunting his wealth as they were too stupid to recognize real value.
Most of the wealthy had servants do all work. The merchant led them into a well-appointed ballroom with many comfortable chairs along the walls, the room clear for dancing and a raise dais on the far end for musicians. A man and woman played quietly on the dais, the man some type of flute and the woman a stringed instrument larger than a violin. Trilla didn't know what it was called. The melody was soft, gentle background music.
Peg-An led them to a side board and poured a white wine into crystal glasses for each, serving Trilla first and then whoever was closest. He was quietly exuberant and friendly.
Another board had a stack of high quality plates with the symbol of Peg-An in the middle, a covered wagon with crossed swords on the side. Next to the plates were serving bowls containing a variety of light food stuffs, including olives (which were not native to Kerr), vegetables, pastes, and thin slices of various breads. "Faraz," he asked, "would you cast Detect Poison on everything? My people have already done so, but one cannot be too careful, especially when some may wish one dead."
David narrowed his eyes as his henchman cast Detect Poison. The spell was a waste of time, the food and drink was safe. But the merchant was obliquely indicating that he was in danger, and that he already had trust in the Company to help him. Plus this gave them the opportunity to eat and drink freely without worrying about poison. He was smart to set them at ease and encourage them to think of him positively. All before he said a single word of what he summoned them for.
He chattered small talk, asking non-invasive questions and encouraging them to describe their exploits. Even Bisonbit, normally suspicious of everyone and everything, seemed at ease. Although after finishing the first glass of wine he filled his glass from a pitcher of purified water, and nodded meaningfully to each as they reached for more wine. First rule of adventuring is to do it sober. Regardless of appearances, this was a situation in which to maintain a clear head.
After thirty minutes a servant called them to dinner, a round table set for seven places spaced equally around a table capable of seating ten.
Jake had wondered how the merchant would treat Trilla and Faraz. Technically they were servants, hirelings, although within the Company they were not treated as second class. Each contributed fully to group success and it had grown pointless to keep track of how many times any of them owed their life to each of the others. Peg-An seated Trilla next to him and flirted lightly with her all through the meal.
He was quite engaging and managed to set everyone at ease as they worked through way through course after course. Each course was a small amount of food, enough to enjoy but not quite enough to satisfy, which increased the appetite for the next course.
Finally dessert was served, a mixed fruit tart and an extremely sweet white wine, one that complemented the tart.
"You have all been remarkably patient, not asking why I requested your presence." He drummed his fingers on the table, all business now. "In the past five months there have been eight attempts on my life. Four were typical attempts, ones I expected and dealt with."
"Dealt with?" David asked, not necessarily tactfully.
He met David's eyes squarely, no trace of humor in his voice. "The assassins were killed. Two of their employers received the heads of their respective assassins as a warning. The other two had been previously warned and did not take the hint. Each received a second warning of a more personal and graphic nature, and encouraged to understand there would not be a third warning.
The mage had to fear of the man. But he realized that Peg-An was not anyone he would go out of his way to antagonize. He smiled a small smile and nodded his head. "The other four?"
"That is the crux of my problem. None of the other four were traceable to anyone. Until the last I wasn't sure they were assassination attempts, but it adds up."
"The first was an owlbear, it managed to get onto the property and nearly had me. It ignored a servant, brushing her aside, and attacked me. The second, a month later, was a rather demented eagle that should have driven its beak through the back of my skull. It was pure luck that I moved at the last minute, although it caught my shoulder and bowled me over."
He paused. "The third was the wolf thing that attacked me two months ago. It shredded four highly experienced soldiers and I luckily snagged a horse's bridle and swung into the saddle. It was fast but couldn't catch the horse." Looking at each in turn he said, "I didn't put the three incidents together. Each appeared to be a separate incident, more of less accidents." He sipped his wine. "Last month the wolf thing attacked me just outside my gates, and it seemed focused on me. Just like the owlbear and the eagle. I lost two more good people and three others were badly wounded. We were prepared for werewolves and used silvered weapons. We hurt it, but not as badly as I wished."
He slammed the glass down on the table, shattering it. "My people are really good people, but we barely hurt that gods damned thing! I need expert help to ensure I don't lose any more good people!" Looking at each in turn with his angry visage, he said, "Your Company is reputed to be powerful monster killers. The dwarves talk about all of you as if you were gods." His anger subsided. "I need your help." Looking directly at Jake he continued, "I pay very well and always treat my people properly. What are your terms?"
Jake started to speak but David cut him off. "We need to know more before we can discuss terms."
"Money is not an iss-"
"Money is not an issue," David cut him off. "We are not worried about that. We need to determine if we can help you, and not just become the next to die in your service."
Jake interjected, "We need to question you about all four attacks, we need detailed information about your known enemies, and we need to question all survivors of the four attacks."
"Then we need to review the information and probably consult some sages," Bisonbit added. "We are not meat shields. But maybe we can prevent more deaths."
The wine was put away and the group buckled down to questioning Peg-An about the attempts on his life, his enemies, and then moved onto questioning his servants. It was a long night.
The following morning the Company reviewed their notes. Each recorded comments regarding each interview, and they compared their respective notes, creating a comprehensive list. Then they cross-referenced the stories told by each person.
The owlbear and eagle were of interest, but didn't tell them anything useful. It did appear to paint a picture, but Gilden cautioned everyone to not buy too much into the connection until the facts proved a connection. "Those attacks may still be coincidental."
"True," Bisonbit responded, "but the evidence leans in that direction." He crinkled his brow. "Gilden is right, we should not believe too much in a pet theory that we ignore other things."
Trilla asked, " The full moon is tonight, which is when the other attacks occurred. What do we do?"
"Ambush it," David replied. We use Peg-An as bait and when it attacks, we kill it."
"Will Peg-An agree to that?" Faraz asked.
"If we phrase it correctly," David laughed.
* * *
At dusk Peg-An got into his carriage with a bodyguard, and with two driving and two on the back stations, they traveled to one of his warehouses. There he entered the office, discussed business briefly with the manager, and returned home. The carriage reached the gate shortly after the full moon appeared in the sky.
As the gate soldiers opened the gate a horrible howl sounded from nearby. The soldiers on the back platforms through off long cloaks that hid their armor and quickly put on open faced helms equipped with cheek and nose guards. One picked up a shield with his left and a spear with his right, while the second man drew a bastard sword that shed bright light, even in the moon lit street.
Before either could dismount, a huge, furry shape rocketed into the side of the carriage, splintering the door. It scrabbled at the door tearing it from its hinges. In the seconds that took Peg-An and his inside bodyguard exited from the other side, slamming the door behind them, and taking up defensive postures.
The thing blasted through the door, ripping it off its hinges, but the effort tumbled it to the ground. Peg-An started the mystic passes of wizardry and shouted words that could be heard, but not understood, and were forgotten immediately no matter how hard the listener tried to remember. Five cyan streaks of energy flew in succession from the index finger of his right hand, striking the thing in the side.
But as each touched the fur the bolt winked out, the magic negated. "Damn!" the mage shouted.
The bodyguard kicked it in the side as the beast scrabbled to its feet, the force of the blow slamming it against the carriage, rocking it on its wheels. The horses screamed in terror and bolted as the driver and front guard dropped off.
At first glance, no one would think this thing was a wolf. It was generally wolf shaped, but was bipedal. The front and back paws were huge and armed with long sharp claws, and the slavering jaws filled with wicked teeth. But it wasn't a werewolf, it was clearly different to anyone who had seen a werewolf.
Jake stepped in and brought the Sword of Cieldren down on the things shoulder. The shock of the hit nearly ripped the sword from his fingers. The blow should have cut half way through the chest, but it barely scratched it. In return the beast swatted him in the side with a huge paw, bowling him over as it went for Peg-An.
Peg-An swept his long sword from its sheath and stabbed the beast in the chest. The super sharp point of the glowing blade opened a ragged cut instead of piercing it past the spine. The thing weighed in at over 400 pounds, and it bowled the much lighter man over.
Trilla punched it in the side of the head, rocking it and distracting from going after Peg-An. As it turned to her Bisonbit drove his spear into its back, not even scratching it. Spinning it swatted at him, catching his shield. The force of the blow spun him around, giving it a clear goal - his back. The beast hit the cleric like a fully loaded wagon, bearing to the ground, the jaws latched onto the back of his helm.
The Sword of Cieldren gashed a bloody furrow in its back as Gilden's glowing axe opened another cut on its shoulder. Faraz swung his glowing scimitar at its hindquarters, but the sword bounced off.
Letting loose of Bisonbit's head the thing brought a paw down on Gilden, who interposed his shield. The blow crushed him to the ground as the horror rounded on Jake and Faraz. Both jumped back and Faraz stabbed it pointlessly in the chest as he sidestepped. Jake slashed it across the ribs, opening another gash. The wolf-thing snarled and darted off at high speed.
Jake surveyed the Company. Bisonbit rubbed his neck as he struggled to his feet. The helm saved his skull and quick reaction time from Jake and Faraz saved his neck from being broken.
Gilden creaked as he tried to stand up. Trilla offered a hand and assisted him up. He was shaky on his feet, but didn't fall as the young woman held onto him. Jake realized she was shaking, but there was no blood.
When the thing retreated it knocked Faraz off his feet, but he seemed ok. Jake looked at Peg-An as the man pulled off a wig and sat down to remove shoes with thick soles that increased his perceived height. Revealed at David in disguise, he said, "Let's get everyone up to the manor house and tend to injuries." Looking at his best friend, he said, "Jake, how badly are you hurt?"
Jake realized he was holding his side where the wolf-thing had swatted him. Pushing on the armor he replied, "Bruised ribs, I think. Probably nothing serious, but tomorrow morning is going to be ugly."
David took a clean white cloth and wiped up a dark red blood that wasn't human. "Not sure if this will be useful, but we will see," he thought. He followed his Company as they stumbled up to the manor house.
The Company filled Peg-An in on their partial success the previous night. Partially successful as Peg-An had not been killed, and they were more sure that he was the target. Partially unsuccessful as they had failed to kill it.
But they had direct knowledge and experience now. More counts on the "success" side of the ledger.
After Peg-An left David looked around at the Company and quietly said, "I think Kaffee is the beast we fought last night."
"WHAT?" was the general reaction.
After everyone calmed down, Bisonbit said, "What evidence do you base that on?"
Grimacing, he replied, "I don't have any evidence. It's just a gut feel. Kaffee is involved in this, and right now that is the most logical thing."
Jake commented, "Kaffee is a paladin. There's no way he could be a paladin and also be that thing last night."
"How do we know he's a paladin?"
Trilla replied, "He is a quite famous paladin of Donblas. His reputation goes back decades, and last year he defeated a demon in the middle of the market." She blinked. "He couldn't even be one without knowing it, paladins are immune to diseases."
"Yeah," David scowled. "But he is involved in this. I can feel it in my bones."
"What is our next step?" Jake asked over coffee and biscuits the next morning. Healing magic had cured the bruised ribs but his body was still sore from the abuse it had absorbed. The others looked similarly inconvenienced.
"Let's ask at our respective temples," Gilden suggested. "That is the first step, and if we don't get any useful information we can try at The College." All agreed to that plan, Jake and Trilla walking to the temple of Donblas, Faraz and David to the temple of Sylvanus, Bisonbit and Gilden to their respective temples. They agreed to meet at the Temple of Demeter at mid-day.
That meeting was unhappy. Everyone they had spoken with suggested werewolves, but the beast they had fought wasn't one. It's resistance to magic, and it's immunity to all but the most powerful of their magic weapons set it apart. Even the most powerful had barely scratched it.
"On to The College?" Gilden prompted.
All nodded. As they stood David said, "We should not all go. We are a distinctive group and I think we should keep this quiet."
"So who goes?" Bisonbit asked.
"Me and Gilden," he answered. "A pair of dwarves asking about werewolves won't raise as much suspicion or comment. They will assume we are adventurers." Cieldren had granted David the ability to become fully a dwarf for a limited amount of time each day. While the mage used it for the instinctive defensive abilities versus goblinoids and the infravision, it was also an effective disguise.
Bisonbit nodded in agreement. "Since we have no idea who is involved in this, we should assume everyone is. Even Peg-An's men and people at our respective temples. Let's keep our cards close to our chest." Bisonbit rarely gambled and never for much money, he considered it foolish, but he know how to play.
The pair dressed in plain clothes and walked down to The College. Once there they stopped in an empty class room in one of the building and David changed, morphing into the dwarf he might have been born as if his parentage were different. Gilden marveled that the mage's face didn't change much. Well, not to those who knew him well.
They walked to the zoology building and asked in the first office who was the best person to talk to about supernatural animals. "Best to not be too specific about what we want to know about, not until we find the right person," David had previously suggested. The student filing papers suggested they talk to Ben-Dur, whose office was on the fifth floor.
The primary professors had their offices on the first floor, the next rank on the second floor, and so on. It was clear that this Ben-Dur was not an important professor.
After trudging up four flights of steps the pair discovered that the person they wanted was in a small office all the way at the back of the building. He was definitely not a ranking professor.
The professor was a human of middle years, pudgy about the middle with violent mutton chops of dark hair sprinkled with white. His hair was too dark for typical Kerreans, but his facial structure said he was. It was possible his non-typical appearance was part of the reason he was so low in the hierarchy, as academia could be appearance conscious. His personality might be the other part.
"What do you want here?" he demanded.
"You are Ben-Dur?" David responded.
"Yes, of course. What do you want?"
"We seek knowledge of a wolf-like beast we encountered south of Rendelshod," David lied smoothly. "It wasn't a werewolf, but we have no idea what it was. We were told you would know." Jingling a purse of heavy coins, he added, "We are prepared to compensate your for your knowledge and time."
THAT got the sage's attention. "My fees depend upon the services required. An hour of my time will cost you 100 gold crowns."
If he expected a reaction, he didn't get it. "That is acceptable, but we expect good value for our coin."
"Dwarves always expect good value," he thought. "I always give good value!"
David and Gilden looked at each other, then David extracted 20 platinum crowns from the purse and stacked them neatly on the desk. "Will this suffice?"
"Yes. My time is valuable and expensive, let us begin." With that he launched into a background on lycanthropes. Twenty minutes later he summed up his points.
"Wolfweres are wolves that can turn into men. They are generally inoffensive unless threatened. Werewolves are cursed men who turn into a bipedal wolf-like creature and are violent, indiscriminate killers. Some berserkers have an ability to channel rage beyond what is normal for berserkers, but have the additional ability of limited regeneration of injuries, rapid healing actually. Other men can turn into a true wolf, but that is a process of shape shifting, but their attitude is like a natural wolf, which are not the vicious killer of men that is described in old wives' tales."
"The ugliest is the hexenwolves. Their transformation is the most unnatural, as they use a magic item, typically a belt made of animal skin or fur, to effect the transformation."
"Where's does such a device come from, who makes it?" David asked.
"The few cases that have been fully documented state that the item is produced by demon lords. They introduce such things into our world to inflict horror and panic. Those who use such an item transform into a wolf-like creature that grows more violent and indiscriminately blood thirsty with each use. Eventually they become raw, uncontrolled killers."
"Are magic weapons required to harm them?"
"Definitely not. True werewolves are harmed only by silver or magic weapons. Wolfweres, berserkers, shape shifters, and hexenwolves can be slain by normal weapons."
"What kind of wolf creature is barely scratched by powerful magic items?"
Ben-Dur scowled at them. "Nothing I know of." Then he frowned further. "Wait, there was a creature. The loup garou."
"Loop gar roo?"
"Close enough," he commented at David's pronunciation. "There was a case here in Kerr a century ago. A man was cursed by a demon lord with a terrible thing. On the full moon he turned into a ravenous beast that ripped its victims to shreds. In beast form he was nearly impossible to kill, and strongly resistant to spells."
David and Gilden exchanged glances again excited. "That sounds like what we saw!"
"Then you are lucky you are alive. That one a century ago was eventually trapped by a paladin and his followers. Half died and all were wounded before the thing was destroyed." He frowned again in concentration. "I have more information on this, some place. Come back in two days and I will have found the reference."
"Our hour is not up!"
"But it will take time to find and re-read the material, and my time is not free. Come back in two days." With that he ushered them out.
Copyright 2014 Bryan Fazekas