It was late afternoon when the group paid a visit to Mordru, identified by the baker as an eccentric who particularly enjoyed red licorice, as was found near the corpse they’d found this morning.
Kithri looked to the others, then down the road. “I am curious about the plantation, too.”
Fogaban led the way, with Declan following. Kor checked his gear and followed along silently, something heavy seeming to be on his mind. Luc followed along, muttering “The over shining sky the of light the dead, shall to all turning fail and gutter red.” Mialee looked at the man, trying to decipher his rambling.
Mordru’s cottage was more run down than most of the others in town. Kithri looked it over sadly and said softly, “Aw, the poor man cannot even keep up his repairs.”
Before they could knock, the door was thrown open, revealing an elderly gentleman, not at all surprised by the group’s presence. He was the first in town who greeted them without any signs of distrust. “Welcome! Welcome! Please … come inside.”
Declan Vandross smiled pleasantly. “Thank you, we’d be delighted.”
“Greetings ….. I am Fogaban … I am here with my companions seeking your wisdom,” the dwarf said.
“Of course you are! And perhaps you are here to shed some wisdom yourself!”
Kithri offered a friendly smile. Mordu stepped out of the way so they could enter. Declan Vandross stepped inside with a polite bow to their host, followed by Fogaban. Mialee followed them inside, though weary of being here, and Kor entered last.
“Please, tell us of happenings around town,” Fogaban began, “What seems to be …. strange happening.”
Kithri stayed near the group, her eyes wandering about the rooms they could see. Mordu closed the door and moved into the largest room of the house, filled with books and scrolls and astrolabes.
“Well…I was more interested in hearing what YOU thought was happening here,” Mordru answered.
“Zombies are slowly shambling in to town, attacking people. I’m guessing it might have something to do with the disappearances at the plantation,” Declan suggested.
“Perhaps…perhaps. I think the real culprit here is,” Mordru paused dramatically then announced, “The Ancient Swamp God!”
Mialee just looked at Mordu like he’d lost his mind while Mordu nodded, very assured of his research.
“I think he’s been called to Souragne by cultists in the cemetery. I’ll have proof for sure by morning!” the wizened old man continued.
“Cultists? What proof will you get tonight?” the cleric asked.
“You’ll see…tomorrow,” Mordru teased.
“If they haven’t killed you,” Declan muttered.
“True,” Fogaban agreed.
Mordu looked at Luc and frowned. “Sorry to hear about Marcel. You know he’s undead too right? Going to eat your bones… Now Jean runs the business. All of the business. Bet he’s a bone eater too.”
“I think maybe we should go,” Mialee said impatiently.
“Go? Before you go, would you like some licorice??” Mordru asked.
Fogaban arches an eyebrow as Mordu moved over to his stockpile, picked up a jar and opened it up to reveal fresh red licorice.
Declan Vandross browses the bookshelves for any books on necromancy or death magics, but nothing stood out.
Mordu dipped his hand into the pot and pulled some licorice out, then ate it. “Gotta get some more of this tomorrow.”
“Well, thank you … but I have some of my own,” Fogaban answered.
“I know!!!,” Mordru said excitedly, “Like a calling card right???”
“So …. you like red licorice too?” Fogaban asked.
Mordru nodded, “I very much do. Too much to leave it lying around though!”
“But maybe some got dropped during a struggle?” Declan muttered.
“Who else do you know who likes it as much as we do?” Fogaban asked.
“I read. I do NOT struggle,” Mordru sniffed at the cleric, then turned back to the dwarf.
“The kids mostly. Jean Tarascon too. I think he may like licorice even more than I.”
Luc spoke up, “In sorcerer the Daegon of house the born, though shall unliving, unlife, life scorn.”
“I think the plantation is a good next step,” Kor advised.
“Or the Tarascon townhouse before we go there?” Declan suggested.
“Yes, maybe we stop by to say hello to Jean,” Fogaban agreed.
“Jean Tarascon, the sorcerer of House Daegon?” Declan asked, looking at Luc.
“Jean lives in the townhouse. But some say lights are on at the plantation…at night,”
Mordru said. “That’s where the work gets done. Servants and family used to. Now the family is splintered. Jean here…Marcel there…and poor poor Luc…just a lost one.”
“Ah, then we should take Luc to his brother,” Declan decided, eager to be rid of the nonsense-spouting nutcase.
Kithri nodded in agreement, though more from concern for the addled man.
“Well its getting late. You better get to it,” Mordru counseled.
Kithri stepped toward the door, “thank you for helping us, sir.”
“Indeed, thank you for your hospitality. Hopefully we’ll swing by tomorrow to find out the results of your investigation,” Declan bowed.
“Take care of yourself,” Fogaban said.
“You too! Live through the night if you can!” Mordru smiled.
The group gathered in the street before heading on their way. Luc stared off silently.
“Shall we go visit Jean before going to the plantation?” Kithri asked.
Kor looked around. “Whatever the majority want, I will support.”
“I think we should, if only to find out who to expect when we get there,” Declan said.
“I agree,” Fogaban agreed.
“We can expect those wanting to kill us,” Mialee grumbled.
“The townhouse is on the way to the plantation,” Kor noted, then turned to Mialee, “You are a negative elf.”
Declan Vandross headed for the townhouse. “That’s a long list, Mialee.”
Kor headed on down the road with the others. “The negativity continues. I think of it as a long list of acquaintances.”
Kithri glanced along the streets and homes to see if anyone is watching them as they walked.
“I don’t have any that want to kill me, other than Talynx and those things chasing all of you,” Mialee countered.
“It’s still early. Maybe you’ll add more to the list before morning,” Declan responded.
Kithri looked with surprise at Mialee, “um, Talynx wants to kill you?”
Kor said, “That’s news…maybe that’s why he sent her with us.”
And simultaneously, Declan remarked, “He stuck her with us, didn’t he?”
“I don’t expect any of us are going to live long,” Kor remarked.
“… And said he would speak through her,” Kithri worried.
Fogaban walked silently, listening.
“Yeah he’s done a lot of speaking, hasn’t he Mia?” Kor sneered.
Kithri looked to Kor with a crooked teasing smile, “That was negative.”
“Come on folks ….. It’ll be dark soon,” Fogaban nipped the conversation in the bud.
Declan Vandross picked up the pace.
When they arrived at the townhouse, Luc stopped in teh middle of the street. The dark, two-story building had all its windows barred and closed up. The windows looked recently boarded up, but the steel bars on the outside looked quite…strong. Kithri looked at the other homes around them to see if they had been battered or had signs of obvious patchwork.
“Another closed up house,” Fogaban noted. “What is going on around here?”
“Their people don’t stay dead,” Kor pointed out. “I’d bar my windows, too.”
Declan banged on the door, “We’ve got your brother here. Open the door before the zombies come!”
“Subtle,” Fogaban muttered.
“Sorry. Should I have annouced a licorice delivery?,” the cleric smirked.
Kithri giggled, Fogaban roared laughing.
“Maybe we should get some tomorrow, as “gifts”," the halfling suggested.
“Maybe,” Declan pondered. “Should we head back to the inn?”
Mialee took off her pack and walked over to hand it and her spear to Kithri. “Hold this for me.”
Kithri took the pack and spear as she spoke to Luc, “Luc, you have been inside before right?”
Luc responded, “Seventh doth suns of son the time rise, to of eternity an to knave the send cries.”
“That’s always been my motto,” Declan grumbled impatiently.
“Let’s check around back,” Fogaban suggested.
Mialee moved back and behind the others and began to speak in an ancient tongue. She turned in a circle then shrank and changed into a ferret. The violet eyes searched while she darted toward a small opening in the house.
Kithri blinked watching her, while Declan muttered a shocked, “Well… that’s new…”
“I’ll just watch where I step,” the dwarf said, processing the new sight.
Kor pointed at Mialee accusingly, “Ok….anyone else here beside me think that is NOT natural!?”
“What? You can’t do it?” Declan teased the barbarian.
“By Welath I can’t do that! And no one should!” Kor insisted.
“You’re no Wizard, Kor,” Fogaban said with a laugh.
“Neither was she! I bloody hate magic!”
“Well …….. we’ll see what she finds,” Fogaban said calmly.
Mialee quickly checked out the room she was in before returning to herself, only mostly naked. The door unlocked and opened a crack, she stood behind it and extended a slender arm. “My robe please.”
Declan picked up her robe and offered it to her while Kor frowned disapprovingly at Mialee.
Mialee stepped back from the door, turning and slipping her robe back on while the others entered. She noted Kor’s frown, but made no comment. Kor unsheathed his sword as he stepped inside.
Luc watched them enter, then turned and began walking back toward the inn.
“Luc is leaving,” Kithri pointed out. “He shouldn’t be out alone.”
“He might be safer out there,” Fogaban answered.
“But he is all by himself,” the halfling worried. “I’ll go get him.”
“It is getting dark out Kithri, you need to remain with us,” Mialee said.
“Agreed. Let the lost boy go,” the barbarian nodded.
“But who is going to watch out for him?”
Declan Vandross patted Kithri on the shoulder, “The gods watch over the innocent and the fools. Luc qualifies as both.”
“Which are we?” Kor asked.
“Fools.” Mialee stated succinctly as she shouldered her pack and took her spear back from Kithri.
“If you have to ask…” Declan smiled at the barbarian.
“Fine, fine,” Kor grumbled.
“Alright,” Kithri nodded lightly to the cleric, though she had her doubts.
The house was well-appointed and full of expensive (but dusty) furniture. Downstairs they found a parlor, dining room, sitting room, a kitchen and the cook’s room, all empty, and a stairwell leading up. Fogaban unsheathed his axe as they explored, then looked at the floor and saw trails in the dust leading up the stairs.
“Tracks over here …….. I’m going to go up stairs and check,” Fogaban whispered as he eased up the stairs.
Each stair creaked loudly in the darkness as he, Declan and Kithri ascended. Kor and Mialee waited below.
“I once watched a man impaled who walked up Talynx’ stairs,” Mialee warned.
Fogaban stopped and inspected the stairs carefully for traps. Finding none, he continued on with the others close behind.
Upon reaching the top of the stairs they were met with a short hallway. There were two doors on both sides of the hall. Kithri worked her way around Fogaban and listened at the first door. The dwarf looked back at the cleric.
Declan shrugged and whispered, “Which way do the footprints go?”
Fogaban looked and footprints led to both doors.
Mialee decided to look around on her own, and soon called back to Kor. “Found something.”
Kor stepped into the room with her, “What did you find?”
Mialee held up a hand of red ropy candy. “Licorice. We need to join the others. I have a bad feeling.”
“After you,” the barbarian said with a frown and a nod.
Upstairs, Kithri checked the door for any traps, and clearing it moved on to the next.
Fogaban opened the first door and stepped into a bedroom, clearly recently used.
The next door was locked. Kithri inserted her lockpicks and a small dart shot out, barely missing her as she flinched her head away. She gasped and looked at the others, holding up her hand in warning.
Fogaban looked around the empty room and muttered, “So, someone came up here from the basement to sleep but bypassed all the other rooms on the main floor. Sleep ….. or have sex …. not sure.”
The cleric leaned his head into the room and whispered, “And probably hid in the room Kithri just tried.”
Kithri shook her head and moved to look inside. She had found the owner’s study. A desk and chair had been recently used, as well as a bookshelf on the far wall. This room was cleanest of them all. Fogaban joined her in the room.
“Weird, this room is dusted,” he said as he examined the walls. “Check the desk, Kit.”
Everyone else stepped inside behind them. There was some licorice scattered on the desk. The parchments and books appeared to be about the plantation and its profitability. The only thing on the wall was painting of three men. One of them looked like Luc.
Kithri examined the desk carefully for traps and slid her hand along the underside of the desk while looking under it to see if there was anything hidden. “It looks like business papers on top with the licorice,” she reported back to the dwarf, then to the others, “I didn’t see anything here.”
“In the drawers?” Declan asked.
“Nothing,” she said as she searched the drawers and rifled through more useless paperwork.
Mialee walked over to the portrait of the three men and carefully eased it a bit from the wall. Kithri looked over at the bookshelf and found a set of books made of wood and hollowed out, a storage compartment of sorts.
“This is weird,” she muttered.
“What?” Fogaban asked her.
The halfling pulled the books from the shelf and turned it over. Inside they found a black hooded cloak, its pockets full of licorice…and it was wrapped around a scroll tube.
“Well, that’s interesting,” Declan commented as Mialee moved closer. “That’s what the attacker was wearing. Seems we’ve found our man.”
“Or at least his robe,” Fogaban said.
“Who? Jean?” Kor asked.
“Or someone who comes here,” Kit pointed out.
“That’s who they say has been living here,” Declan reminded them.
Kithri held out the scroll tube to the others. Kor regarded it as if it were cursed. Declan took it, opened it, and poured an ancient scroll out. He unrolled it carefully and read:
These signs were foreseen by Hyskosa, a Vistani most gifted with the Sight. Spread word of these wherever you travel. Only the true hearted can stop the fall of the night of evil.
The night of evil shall descend on the land
When this hexad of signs is near at hand.
In the house of Daegon the sorceror born
Though life, unlife, unliving shall scorn.
The lifeless child of stern mother found
Heralds a time, night of evil unbound.
Seventh time the son of suns doth rise
To send the knave to an eternity of cries.
Inajira will make his fortunes reverse
Dooming all to live with the dreaded curse.
He paused and noted, “Then there’s a big tear… And it finishes
The light of the sky shining over the dead
shall gutter and fail, turning all to red.”
Kithri set the box down and looked for more fake books in the bookcase.
“Any idea what that means?” Fogaban asked.
“Luc didn’t say them with the words in that order…maybe he memorized it wrong,” Kor noticed.
“Luc knows of these passages …. and he is alone?” Kithri worried.
“Sounds more like what Mialee has been trying to say…” Kor noted.
“Maybe he heard Jean say them?” Kithri continued.
“Or maybe he is the pure at heart,” Mialee suggested.
“Maybe Luc knows the torn part?”
“These are omens…of something very bad….” Kor insisted.
“Sounds like we need to visit the cemetary,” Mialee offered.
“For Jeramiah?” Kithri asked.
“We should go check downstairs …… at the other end of that trail of footprints. But first I want to search the bedroom again,” Fogaban said.
A voice called from downstairs, “Hello! Jean? Anyone up there?”
Kithri drew her daggers when she heard the voice. Fogaban rushed into the hall and whispered, “Who is that?”
“Its the Constable….Constable Gremin. Something’s happened at the inn,” the voice called up.
Kithri sighed, whispering “Luc?”
“I was told you hadn’t returned, and its afterdark, so I came to see if you survived the attack,” the voice continued, his footsteps indicating he was climbing the stairs.
Kithri ran back to get the cloak and put it back where she found it, sans the scroll. Fogaban eased back into the bedroom while Kor stood still, confused.
Constable Gremin pauses at the top of the stairs. “Are you alright? Has something happened here as well??”
Declan Vandross walked calmly out to meet him. “Hello, Constable.”
Kithri hurried to the hallway after hearing Declan speak up, staying back a few steps.
“There was a stench that overcame the inn. Several patrons got sick. Some died….and we had to dispatch them….again. If you were there, you may not have made it,” the constable related.
“We were investigating this house. I guess we ran a bit late. Was anyone hurt?” Declan asked.
Kithri steps closer, “Was Luc … dispatched?”
“Luc’s fine,” Gremin said. “There was a travelling bard staying at the inn in the room down the hall from you. He didn’t make it. By the time I got there, it was over.”
Declan frowned, “A terrible shame. I’ll be there shortly to perform last rites, but we found something I think you should see.”
“How sad,” Kithri muttered.
“Was there licorice around him?” Mialee asked, stepping out from the study.
“What did you f—” the constable started to ask. He suddenly fell forward and dropped to the ground. Standing behind him was a cloaked figure, holding up a knife.
Declan Vandross screamed “ATTACK!” as he whipped out his mace, raised his shield and struck at the opponent.
The robed figure sidestepped the mace and ducked under Kor’s swing as he charged into the hall. He rose from under the swing and sliced his dagger into Declan’s side. The cleric cried out in pain as he felt the burning of poison rush through his veins.
Kithri ran forward, readying her blades, only to be blocked from her target by Kor and Declan. Fogaban, too, rushed forward but could not get past his human companions. Mialee lifted her spear. A word was said as a crackling began. A yellow spear of light flashed at the cloaked figure, who again sidestepped.
Declan staggered back behind Kor, casting a healing spell on himself. Kor roared and threw himself into a rage. His swing missed again.
The cloaked figure leapt at the halfling! Two quick slices nearly flayed Kithri open. She screamed and struck back in reflex, cutting the man slightly with her sword.
Fogaban roared and ran at the cloaked figure, swinging his axe. The blade bit deep, but all the madman did was look around wildly and scowl.
Mialee heard Kithri’s scream and closed her eyes. A few words sent a blue glow around the halfling, healing her wounds. Declan stepped forward and placed a hand on Kithri, muttering a quick prayer that caused the poison to seep from her wounds before they sealed. Kithri smiled lightly though she dared not take her eyes off the mad man to thank them.
Kor slashed downward, striking only air. Frustration was evident on his face as he nearly threw his sword across the room.
The madman turned toward the dwarf, the only one that seemed to be able to do any real damage to him….and stabs! Fogaban winced as the dagger hit, but managed to swing his axe anyway. He missed, but Kithri managed to hit with her sword.
Mialee stepped closer a bit while lifting a hand. Words came from her before a beam of moonlight shot from her hand and into the adversary. The cloaked figure fell heavily with a grunt. Kor screamed and hacked at the body as it fell, burning from the moon spell. Mialee lowered her hand and looked around to see who was injured.
“See who that is … errr … was,” Fogaban suggested.
The constable began coming to. The hood fell from the face of the madman…revealing Jean Tarascon, Luc’s brother.
“I’m still poisoned, so I’m just going to sit here and bleed and burn until the gods see fit to allow me to cure myself…” Declan moaned, sliding down the wall.
“I wish I had something that would cure you,” Kithri offered.
Mialee removed her pack, pulled out a few berries and chanted over them. Going to Declan, she handed him two. “Eat these.”
He popped the berries into his mouth.
“I’m not feeling too well either,” Fogaban reminded them.
Mialee handed him two berries, as well. The berry soaked up what was left of the poison…it also satisfied the fact that they hadn’t eaten or drank anything in a while…
“Thank you, Lady Mia,” Fogaban said gratefully.
Mialee gave two more berries to Kithri and two to Kor. “If you do not need them, keep them safe.”
Kor took the berries and nodded slowly, while Kithri gushed, “Thank you!”
Constable Gremin sits up and shakes his head. “What happened?”
Declan pointed, “I was going to show you that we found the robe and licorice of the person who attacked that person we found this morning when the murderer attacked us. We defeated him after you fell.”
Fogaban stood back up and walked over to the body ……. removing the cloak.
“Jean Tarascon!” the constable gasped.
“So it would seem,” the cleric nodded.
Constable Gremin shook his head. “At last…the murderer found….and defeated. I will be paying for your rooms tonight…and tomorrow, a feast!”
Mialee cautioned, “This may not be over yet.”
“A feast…” Kor’s spirits lifted at the announcement.
“Don’t bet this is all over ….. not just yet,” Fogaban echoed Mialee’s warning.
“Appreciated, but I don’t know if this resolves the zombie issue. We also found this,” Declan continued, handing the scroll to the constable.
Constable Gremin took the scroll and looked over it, then shrugged. “Maybe Shaman Brucian can make sense of this. He is at the inn.”
Declan nodded as he took the scroll back, “Then by all means, let’s head to the inn. My companions are in need of refreshements, at the very least. The robes and licorice we found are hidden behind fake books in the office of this house.”
“More evidence that it was indeed Jean,” the constable agreed.
“Or he is working for someone else,” Mialee countered.
“That could be…but who else could it be?” Gremin pondered.
“Mordu mentioned a cult,” Declan thought aloud.
“Let me guess, the Cult of the Swamp God?” the constable scoffed. “That is Souragne fiction…we’ve all read the books. Mordu is…eccentric…at best.”
“Yes. He said he’d have proof in the morning.”
“He’ll have a hangover in the morning.”
Declan smiled, “With any luck, so will we.”
Luc stood outside the townhouse…as if waiting for their return.
“Hello, Luc. Sorry about your brother,” the cleric said dismissively.
Kithri walked out to Luc, “We found some paper with the phrases you have been saying.”
Thunder shook the village. It started as a low rumble in the distance and built to a terrible, long-lasting explosion that rocked cottages and knocked items from shelves. Lightning danced wildly across the sky, casting stark shadows in its skittering flash. Then the rain began, falling in large, foul drops that soon became a deluge. The streets quickly turned to mud; small streams formed in the cracks and depressions. Vision was obscured by the unending sheets of dark water, and the rain fell with such force that it hurt those who ventured into its fury. Through it all, the thunder continued to roll above the village, and the lightning intensified. The storm had arrived.
“Quickly! Quickly to the inn!” the constable shouted.
Fogaban quickly searched Jean Tarascon’s corpse while Declan instructed Kithri to get his poisoned daggers. The corpse had the daggers and licorice, but nothing else. The daggers, while well made, were rather plain, and there was no poison container on the body.
Luc spoke, “The night of evil shall descend on the land, When this hexad of signs is near at hand. In the house of Daegon the sorcerer born, Through life, unlife, unliving shall scorn.”
“Let’s get to the inn,” Fogaban shouted over the storm.
“The lifeless child of stern mother found, Heralds a time, night of evil unbound,” Luc continued, “Inajira will make his fortunes reverse, Dooming all to live with the dreaded curse. The light of the sky shining over the dead shall gutter and fail, turning all to red.”
Kithri wrapped the daggers carefully and rushed after the others, noticing the difference in Luc’s speech.
“You do understand that my people get angry when wet? Very wet….very angry,” Kor reminded them.
“You have no idea…” Fogaban sympathized.
Mialee lifted the hood of her cloak and raced through the rain toward the inn. The others followed close behind.
They arrived at the inn to find it somewhat busy. The old shaman was sitting by the fire, telling children tales. The barmaids…the ones who have so far survived were moving from table to table. The people seemed to have gathered here for comfort in each others’ presence.
Fogaban stepped inside the inn, and called to a barmaid, “Ale !!! …. and dry towel …. 2 dry towels!” Fogaban dried off his axe …….. and then his face.