Chapter 17: The Twins
Six days after their quick encounter with the large spiders, the caravan spotted another roadside inn with lit windows and wisps of welcoming smoke floating up from the chimney. As they travelled northward, the nights were colder, and most mornings brought white frost, making the blades of grass crunch underfoot as they packed up their camp. Therefore, the excitement was tangible with the promise of mattresses and a stoked hearth.
“Thank the gods,” Arietta said, flipping her golden hair and resting her cheek on Fillip’s shoulder as he steered the cart forward on the wide road. “I miss sleeping in a bed. Being on the road is horrid,” she pouted.
Shale rolled her eyes and looked over to Reverence for support, but the tiefling was walking beside the cart staring quite obviously over at Zelena, who sat in the back looking bored and staring at her feet.
“See that?” Fillip pointed at the treetops, where a smaller wisp of smoke drifted up into the darkening sky.
“What do you think it is? A house?” Shale asked curiously, squinting.
The druid shrugged. “We could check it out,” he said.
Arietta wrapped her arms around his. “Oh no, please no,” she complained. “Let’s keep going. I’m so sick of the road. I want a warm bed.”
Fillip seemed annoyed by the girl and pulled his arm free. “You’ve been on the road for a couple weeks,” he pointed out, “the rest of the people in this caravan have been on the road for more than a month.”
Arietta crossed her arms and looked out at the fields, sniffing. Shale couldn’t tell if it was an act, or if the young woman really was naturally that annoying.
When they neared the inn, they noticed only one cart out front and the place seemed empty from the road. “That’s strange,” Shale said as Whisper came back to their cart after scouting around the caravan. “You’d think the hostel would be packed on a road this busy.”
Reverence nodded thoughtfully. “It is—strange.”
“Trigger,” Shale called her fox, and he appeared at her feet a moment later, “run up and check the building, see if there’s anyone inside, then come back. Try to stay hidden.”
The fox yipped and ran ahead.
“Send owl,” Whisper offered, jumping onto the cart next to Zelena. Then, his eyes clouded over as his fey owl shot from his paw and went soaring after Trigger. A minute later, the fox returned, and Whisper looked up, concerned.
“Five only,” the tabaxi said, jumping down from the cart. “Four with nice clothes. One is halfling that work there.”
“Did they seem dangerous?” Shale asked, and Trigger yipped. Shale looked up at Fillip, Reverence and Whisper. “I’ll go get the others.” With that, she ran off to find Keelan and Oszaren.
Oszaren, Keelan and Fillip went ahead of the caravan to scope the people inside, who Whisper guessed, from what he’d seen through his owl’s eyes, were nobles based on their dress. The warlock, paladin and druid were the three most nobly dressed of their party, and therefore took the lead. That, and Fillip was weirdly good at talking to people—for a druid.
Oszaren pushed open the door to the Grinning Gnome, which creaked on its hinges as they entered a huge, brightly lit room lined with thick wooden pillars and scattered with round tables. Four people, two human men, a half-elf man and a half-elf woman sat at one of the tables. They were laughing and talking loudly, but they all went silent when the door opened and Oszaren, Fillip and Keelan walked in. One of the human men with thick, curled black hair and a closely shaved beard stood, his robes slightly too tight for his burly figure as if they were made for someone else. “Sorry, lads,” he said in a voice that was anything but. “Inn’s taken. You’ll have to find another or spend the night out on the road.” There was an unspoken threat in the man’s voice.
Fillip gave a casual smile and splayed his hands. “It looks to me like the inn is empty but for you four.” His eyes flickered over to the small halfling woman who was standing at the bar on a stool, nervously circling a rag over the same spot of polished wood as she watched them. The tension was palpable.
“Unfortunately,” the man said with a shrug, “we paid for the whole place.”
“Works for me,” Fillip said, turning to leave.
Keelan grabbed Fillip by the shoulder to keep the half-elf from exiting. “Not so fast,” the paladin growled to his friend in a low voice, then said more loudly to the other four. “Who do you think you are?”
The standing man, who seemed to be their appointed leader, measured Keelan with his eyes, then slammed his mug on the table and said, “we’ve paid for the place, as I said. Private function,” he sneered, then looked to the halfling woman. “Goldra. Back us up on this.”
Oszaren was staring at the group, carefully taking in their lack of displayed weapons and their fine dress.
Goldra stirred at the sound of her name. “Um—y-yes, they paid for the whole inn. The stables too.” She was visibly nervous.
Fillip, seeing Keelan’s stubborn stance, said reassuringly, “we promise we wouldn’t be in the way. We simply want beds for the night, after weeks on the road and in the rain.”
“Not my problem,” the man said, folding his arms aggressively. The others at the table didn’t speak, but they were all tensed and watching. “You can camp in the forest. If you’ve been doing it for weeks, what’s another night?”
“Seems a small group to be needing so much room,” Fillip pushed.
“We paid for it, now get out.”
Keelan glared and flexed his arms threateningly, then said, “fine, let’s go.”
As the three of them turned to leave, Oszaren whispered a spell under his breath, warming each of their four beers with a hidden smile. They heard one of them spit out a mouthful as they closed the door behind them, and he shouted, “Goldra! What’s wrong with this batch? Get us another one!”
“Well,” Keelan sighed, “I hate them.”
“Agreed,” Oszaren said under his breath. “I’m going to check the back. Something’s off with these folks.” With that, the warlock turned invisible and tiptoed off.
Fillip shared a look with Keelan and put his hand on the paladin’s shoulder, “I’ll talk with their horses and see what I can find. I suggest you return to the caravan and tell them to continue up the road. We’ll meet up with you soon enough.” Then, the druid transformed into a fat rat and scampered away on four legs.
Keelan shrugged and headed back to the road.
Fillip skittered under the cart in front of the inn and ran under the horse’s hooves, transforming back to his half-elf form once he was sure he was out of sight from the windows. He cast a familiar spell and looked at the horse, who was chewing a mouthful of hay and seeming disinterested. “Hey, what are you doing?” Fillip asked casually.
The horse looked up at him lazily, snorting. “Uh, restin’. Eatin’.” It nickered. “What are you doing here?”
“Same,” the druid said, “so, what about your owners? Anything you can tell me about them?”
If a horse could shrug, this one did as it bent to tear off another mouthful of hay, “they’re the two-legged ones inside.”
“Are they good people?” Fillip asked.
“I pull the wooden box for them,” the horse said.
“Great,” Fillip said, swearing to himself as he ended the spell. “Well, that was useless.”
Oszaren turned invisible and crept through the back door to the kitchens. As he slowly opened the door, he saw a balding human man with mousy brown hair chopping onions and dropping them into a boiling pot over the fire. The man hesitated, then spit into the bubbling pot. Oszaren made a mental note not to eat the soup as he crept forward invisibly into the main floor of the inn, then passed the small halfling owner and turned up the stairs, the echoing laughter of the four patrons fading into muffled sounds as he reached the second landing.
“Why,” Reverence wondered aloud, “would they—rent the entire inn?”
“That’s what I mean,” Keelan growled, shaking his head, “it makes no sense.”
“Perhaps we should—go in there and take the place—forcefully.”
Shale crossed her arms. “We can’t just force them out. If they really did pay for it, as the owner said, then we have no right to take it.”
The caravan was stopped a short way up the road, waiting to hear word from Oszaren, who had yet to come back.
“If I was rich,” Fillip smiled, “I’d probably do something like this too.”
“Exactly,” Shale said, “so it doesn’t mean there’s a nefarious purpose. If they paid for the place, then it’s theirs.”
Keelan reluctantly nodded, but Reverence seemed unsure. “It does seem suspicious,” the paladin said. “The owner seemed very nervous.”
“Maybe I can talk to the halfling,” Shale suggested. “If we find out something’s wrong, then we can act. But not before then.”
Arietta moaned, “I’m sleeping in a bed tonight, Fillip,” she said, not for the first time.
“That’s speculative at best,” the druid told her. “Fine, we’ll wait until Oszaren returns. Reverence, can you get Oyn to take our cart and we can get everyone to start making camp off the road?”
The monk agreed and trotted off to find Oyn, and the two of them came back to the cart with Oyn’s horse and cart pulled around the rest of the caravan on the road, Oyn looking nervous.
Oszaren appeared through the darkness a few minutes later, holding his arm, which was bleeding and stuck with a crossbow bolt. The warlock stumbled over to them and Keelan quickly rushed to heal him. “What happened?” Fillip asked.
“Snuck upstairs,” Oszaren said, blinking furiously, “to look through their stuff. Just clothes, not much else in their rooms. The rest of the rooms are empty. When I was trying to sneak out of there, I must’ve made some sound on the stairs. One of them shot me with their crossbow as I was running out. I think it might’ve been tipped with poison.” As he said this, he leaned against their cart, grabbing his head. “Everything is spinning.” Keelan ripped out the bloodied bolt and inspected it.
“It is poisoned, alright,” the paladin agreed, casting it aside and placing a hand over the wound and whispering a few words of healing under his breath.
A moment later, Oszaren breathed with relief, and some of the colour returned to his pale cheeks. “Thanks, Keelan.”
“Well,” Reverence demanded, “is that enough—proof?”
Shale shook her head, “any one of us would react the same way if we saw someone sneaking around us invisibly.”
“Their bolts were poisoned,” Oszaren said.
“What about that other smoke we saw earlier?” Shale asked. “Maybe it’s some other travellers who know what these people are up to.”
“Couldn’t hurt,” Fillip shrugged, nodding his head, “it was this way.”
As their caravan pushed ahead to find space a mile up the road, the six of them headed into the forest toward where Fillip had last spotted the other line of smoke. They came to a clearing about a hundred feet into the trees. A fire burned brightly, and two elven men sat by it. One was turning dripping meat on a spit, and the other was carving something in his hand. Whisper shot his owl from his paw and the creature flapped its wings and landed on an upper branch, and the branch started to glow. The one who was cooking looked up, then nudged his companion and they both walked over to the tree and stood under it, looking up at the glowing branch and muttering their curiosity. As they did so, Whisper came from his hiding place in the trees and went to sit by the fire. When the elves turned back, they both jumped and drew daggers. “Halt!” one of them yelled.
Whisper meowed curiously, tilting his head at the knife points.
“It’s alright,” Oszaren said calmly, stepping from the trees and showing empty hands, “we mean you no harm. We simply saw your smoke a while back and were curious who you were.”
The one who spoke first hesitated and lowered his dagger, visibly relaxing. “We thought you were someone else.”
“Who?” Oszaren asked.
“The people at the inn,” the other elf said as he flipped his dagger and put it back in his belt.
“You kill them with us?” Whisper asked.
“Kill them?” The man laughed. “That’s absurd. My brother and I are merchants, not fighters.”
“What’s your name?” Oszaren asked.
“Lucian. My brother is Andark.”
“I have other friends here, in the trees,” Oszaren said. “Is it alright if they join us? They won’t harm you.”
Lucian hesitated again, then nodded, “alright.”
Shale stepped into the firelight, giving the brothers a nervous smile and showing she was unarmed.
“Do you know anything about the people at the inn?” Fillip asked as he made himself comfortable cross-legged next to the fire, warming his hands.
Lucian shook his head. “No idea. We tried to get a room, and they sent us back to the road. But, there’s something off about them.”
“Agreed,” Reverence said gravely.
“Well, we won’t bother either of you about it, if you’re not interested in a fight,” Oszaren told them, to which both brothers nodded gratefully. “What are you doing travelling in these parts?”
“Oh,” Andark said, excitement appearing in his eyes, “we make wood carvings and sell them in the towns. Would you like to see?”
Reverence immediately followed the elf to their wagon of supplies, which Shale only now noticed was filled with crates. The elf and tiefling were soon haggling on prices, and Reverence came away with a wooden owl carving, which he happily pocketed. The purpose of such a thing was a mystery to her.
“Let’s get back,” Shale insisted. “I will find an excuse to talk to the owner and see if these people are trouble.”
They took their leave of the elven brothers, who seemed relieved to have them go. Once they were back on the road, they made their plan.
Shale and Whisper threw open the front door of the inn and stepped inside the large room filled with round tables. At the foremost one sat four individuals, who went quiet at the sight of them.
“I said, the place is OUR—” one of the men started shouting, then turned to see Shale, her lavender hair covered with a scarf, and Whisper, a seven-foot tabaxi in travel-worn clothes.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Shale said, looking around at the almost empty inn with confusion, “I simply came in here looking for Goldra.” She put on her most flirtatious smile and the man with the curly dark hair blushed. The half-elf woman at the table rolled her eyes.
Whisper made a move toward the bar, where the halfling owner stood, tensely watching.
“Hey!” The man stammered, tearing his gaze from Shale as he drew a crossbow from inside his cloak, “don’t move, cat-man!”
Whisper purred and looked over in confusion. “Milk,” he said simply, pointing at the bar.
“Get out, we’ve rented this inn.”
“I’m here to speak with Goldra,” Shale said again, more firmly, and the halfling woman’s eyes flickered with confusion, then understanding as she met Shale’s gaze. Fillip had caught her name when scouting the inn the first time round. “I have news about your father,” she said.
“Goldra,” the man said roughly, his crossbow still trained on Whisper, “who are these people? Do you know them?”
“She doesn’t know us,” Shale corrected, straightening, “I’m a friend of her mother’s, and I have a troubling message about her father, as I said.”
The man looked from Shale, to Whisper, to Goldra, the latter barely moving. “Fine,” he finally said, lowering the crossbow and pointing a meaty finger at the halfling woman, “but I expect a discount on all of our drinks tonight.”
Nodding numbly, Goldra hopped down from the bench behind the bar and shuffled over to Shale, who grabbed the small woman’s arm and pulled her out of the door. “We will only be a minute,” she assured the four strangers, and Whisper slammed the door behind them.
Goldra let out a scream, which Shale quickly shushed, as she noticed Keelan, Fillip, Oszaren and Trigger all standing outside, crouched under the windows.
“Shh, it’s okay, it’s okay,” Shale assured her, placing two gentle hands on her shoulders. “We’re here to help. We think those four people in there are trouble, but we couldn’t know for sure until we asked you.”
Goldra sniffed and nodded fervently.
“Who are they?” Shale asked.
“T-they’re,” she looked around at the others nervously, then said, “they’re human traffickers. They take groups of travellers, drug them, and drag them away to sell.”
“Told you,” Reverence said from over their heads. The tiefling was sitting on the overhang of the roof. Goldra jumped again, and Reverence held up a hand in apologetic greeting.
“Do they have magic?” Shale asked calmly, to which Goldra nodded again, tight-lipped.
“That’s all we need to know,” Oszaren whispered. “Are you satisfied, Shale?”
Shale reluctantly nodded. “How long have they been here, Goldra?”
“A couple weeks,” the halfling breathed.
“I want you to hide,” she told her firmly. “Get under something and stay out of the way. There’s going to be a fight.”
The woman’s small frame was shaking, but she nodded again in understanding, then turned to open the door. She gave their group one more look over, then slipped inside.
“Took you long enough!” The muffled shouts of one of the men said.
“Ease up,” another complained, “she can’t serve us food if she’s too bloodied.”
“Shut it, Elward.”
“Okay,” Shale said, peeking through the window and casting her hunter’s mark on the one who seemed to be their leader. He had grabbed Goldra and was lifting her off her feet. “Let’s take them out.”
“Yes,” Reverence said from above, excitement clear in his voice as he turned and scaled the roof.
“I’ll go in through the backdoor,” Fillip said quietly, then winked.
“There’s another worker in there,” Oszaren reminded him, “try to get him out without hurting him.”
“Easy enough,” the druid smiled, then disappeared around the corner of the building.
Shale bent and readied a crossbow trap, infusing it with a simple spell to fire if anyone but her party or Goldra tried to escape through the front door. Oszaren put a hand on the outside of the door, looking around at them meaningfully, then said, “let’s fuck them up,” and threw open the door.
They all ran through, weapons drawn.
Oszaren rushed forward first and cast a holding spell on one of the men, who was chugging a beer and instantly froze, the beer spilling over his front. Then he began shooting the frozen figure with eldritch blasts until he fell back, stiffy, to the floor. Whisper went invisible, and Shale didn’t bother to keep track of the tabaxi as she took out her bow and shot an arrow at the man holding Goldra, Trigger bounding forward and leaping in to bite the arm holding the halfling. The man swore and dropped Goldra as he faced his attackers, Shale’s arrow sticking in his forearm, the point dug into his leather armour. There was a loud crash and a man’s scream from the kitchens, followed by the roar of a bear. A window on the second level shattered, which left Shale to assume Reverence would be coming down the stairs any second. Three large brown bears charged in from the kitchens and surrounded the man in front of Shale, and as soon as Goldra dropped she sprinted for the door.
“I guess sometimes the prey comes to you,” the half-elf woman said, casually standing from the table and shooting a small, buzzing light from her fingertips, which whizzed toward the three bears and exploded in a sudden burst of fire. The man, who still had Shale’s arrow in his armour, was able to jump out of the way. Trigger ran to Shale’s feet. All three bears flew back, their fur singed. The smell of burnt hair was pungent, and the two bears suddenly flashed and were gone, leaving only Fillip in his bear form. He rolled to his feet, roaring. Shale put away her bow and drew her two blades as another of the men took out a crossbow. Instead of aiming it at her, however, he flicked and shot at Keelan, who was trying to stand between their fleeing leader and the door. The bolt grazed Keelan’s cheek, and the paladin instantly went pale. Poison, Shale thought frantically, and sure enough, Keelan stumbled and fell against a table for support, the point of his sword dropping. He swung wildly then, looking confused.
The poison worked quickly.
A sphere of flames rolled over the prone man, who was still frozen from Oszaren’s spell, and Shale didn’t turn to look for Whisper. She knew his spells well by now. Instead, she ran around the sphere toward the man with the crossbow, brandishing her weapons.
Reverence leapt down the stairs striking at the woman, who, it was now evident, was their spellcaster. Within a few seconds, she was severely bloodied and backing up as Oszaren also began hitting her with spells.
The man Shale charged dropped his crossbow and drew a short sword, narrowly dodging her strike. She heard a thump behind her, but didn’t turn until she heard another noise, and suddenly felt a stinging pain in her shoulder. She stumbled, grabbing at her shoulder and feeling a bolt there. The man she fought grinned and lowered his blade as she fell to her knees. She looked back. The man who’d been frozen was standing over Keelan and Fillip’s unconscious bodies, smiling, his crossbow aimed at her. Shale felt her vision swim and her body became heavy. The man next to her pulled out a glass vial and said to his friend, “hold your breath.” Then, he smashed the glass on the ground and a thick smoke rose up. Shale coughed as the smoke consumed her. She collapsed, her vision tunneling into darkness.
Oszaren swept like a storm over the fallen bodies of his comrades, his greatsword flashing and the snake tattoos along his forearm glowing with power. He held his breath against the curling smoke and lunged at the man standing over Keelan, lopping off his head with one smooth strike. Without hesitating, he ran past to the man who released the smoke and cut cleanly through the hand holding his sword, then cut the other hand holding another vial, then, finally, removed his head. Blood sprayed in a glorious arc and splattered across the walls as the head landed and rolled. Luckily, the vial didn’t break.
Oszaren jumped through the smoke and saw Whisper shoot a bolt of fire at the sorceress. She countered the spell and was slammed from behind by his sphere of flames. The woman shrieked as she burned and fell.
The last man was running past Whisper, trying to escape through the back door. The tabaxi chased him, and Oszaren ran after them, finally gasping in air once he was clear of the smoke. “Give up!” Oszaren shouted as Whisper grabbed the fleeing man by the arm and pulled him back roughly, “your companions are dead.”
The man struggled for a moment, then let his crossbow clatter to the floor, seeing Oszaren told the truth. The warlock raised the tip of his bloodied greatsword under the man’s chin as Whisper kicked away his crossbow and began rifling through his pockets. “Where is the antidote for my friends?”
“You don’t need one,” he said solemnly, “they’ll wake if you shake them.”
“What sort of poison did you use?” Oszaren pressed the tip of the blade against his skin, drawing blood.
The man winced as Whisper pulled up another vial like the substance that had created the smoke.
“It’s just something we use to put people to sleep. We call it ether. We don’t try to kill them,” he said, “we need them alive if we’re going to sell them. That’s what we were trying to do to the rest of you.”
“Fine,” Oszaren said, “Whisper, tie him up.” He threw the tabaxi a length of rope from his pack, keeping the point of his sword trained on the man.
Whisper quickly tied his hands, then punched the man in the side of the face. He punched him three more times, and finally Oszaren said, “enough.” He raised the hilt of his sword and hit the man in the temple, knocking him to a heap on the floor.
Shale awoke to a floating, spectral hand shaking her roughly. She sat up, coughing, and looked around. Keelan, Fillip and Reverence were just getting to their feet. Trigger was laying asleep next to her. She shook him, and the fox awoke groggily, immediately rubbing his long nose under her arm. She scratched him. “It’s okay, buddy,” she said softly. “What happened?”
“Sleep smoke,” Oszaren said, walking through the room. “They were hoping to take us prisoner.”
Shale winced and grabbed her shoulder, where the bolt was still embedded. “Here,” Fillip said, walking unsteadily to her side, “let me.”
The druid pulled out the bolt and healed her. Keelan and Reverence began searching the bodies. “They were definitely traffickers,” Keelan said, taking out another vial of poison and showing it to them.
“We took a prisoner,” Oszaren said, nodding back toward the kitchen, “we knocked him out and Whisper tied him up.”
“Prisoner?” Reverence smiled wickedly, striding across the room to the kitchens. “Excellent.”
Fillip went to find their caravan up the road and tell them to return to the inn while Oszaren went through the room and used prestidigitation to magically scrub the place clean of blood. The smoke had completely dissipated, and they were able to drag the bodies and heads outside through the back door. Reverence dragged the prisoner into the cellar and Shale decidedly did not want to know what methods of torture the tiefling would use this time. Instead, she retrieved the frightened Goldra and assured her the traffickers were gone for good.
“What about the other people they took?” the halfling woman asked frightfully.
“I don’t know,” Shale shook her head, “but we’re going to find out. Our monk is on it.”
Reverence dragged the unconscious man into the cold cellar with Whisper’s help, then pointed to the dirt floor. “Can you—dig hole deep enough—that he can’t—crawl out?” He asked, and Whisper obliged, magically pulling up the dirt and piling it next to the earthen walls of the underground cellar.
Reverence tore off the man’s clothes until he was down to his smallclothes, then unceremoniously dropped him into the hole. Then, he jumped down next to the body and took a vial of the ether they’d found on him and dripped it into his mouth to keep him unconscious. With Whisper’s help, the monk crawled back up the hole and they dragged a table upside down over the hole to cover it. “Thank you, Whisper—you can go now,” he dismissed the tabaxi, then sat in cross-legged meditation in the darkness and waited for the man to wake.
“If I don’t get Arietta to sleep with me by now,” Fillip grumbled under his breath as the members of their caravan filed inside the well-lit inn, “then it’ll never happen.” The half-elf put on a big smile and ran to grab Arietta by the hand as she and her sister wandered inside. “As promised, my beautiful Arietta, your bed awaits!” He declared proudly.
Keelan found them a table and sat, watching Fillip and Arietta head up the stairs together, his expression hollow. “Are you alright?” Shale asked the Paladin, who looked up at her in surprise. “That drug they gave us was quite potent,” she clarified.
He cleared his throat and straightened, “It’s a useful drug. It’s too bad we didn’t find more of it to use.”
Shale nodded her agreement, then caught Zelena walking the perimeter of the room with a dull expression. “Excuse me,” Shale said, leaving Keelan at the table with Oszaren and Whisper. “Zelena, hi,” she said, trotting over to the woman as others of their caravan picked seats at the table or started carrying their clothing upstairs for the night.
“Hello,” Zelena answered, looking at her, a hand on a window sill.
“Since your sister is—ah, otherwise occupied, I thought perhaps we could share a room. The innkeeper said there aren’t enough for everyone, and it might give us an opportunity to—”
“Okay,” Zelena sighed, sounding bored.
“Great,” Shale gave a stiff smile and handed her a key. “It’s number eleven. You can bring your things up whenever.”
“Sure,” she said solemnly, then walked off, one hand tracing the wall as she did so.
Shale shook her head and sat back down.
“You really don’t like her, do you?” Oszaren asked.
“I don’t trust her,” Shale crossed her arms, “that’s why I’m planning on going through her things once she’s asleep.”
“Don’t tell Reverence that,” Keelan warned. “He fancies her.”
“That’s because she’s as solemn as he is,” Oszaren joked, and Shale smiled, but her attention was not on the main floor of the inn. Her thoughts drifted to the stairs under the kitchen, to where Reverence was torturing their captive.
The prisoner woke groggily and began shouting up through the darkness, touching his hands against the rough dirt walls, looking for any indication of where he was. “Hello?” He said, then began shouting, “hello! Can anyone hear me? Help!”
The shouting continued for the better part of an hour before Reverence finally acknowledged him. “Yes—I can hear you,” the monk said softly, dangerously.
“Where am I? Who are you?” The man demanded, then shivered, “and where are my clothes?”
“I’ll—ask the questions,” Reverence told him, putting a hand over the table and sliding it a few inches from the top of the hole so he could peer in. There was a dimly lit lantern in the cellar, giving only a vague impression of the outline of his horned face to the man who squinted to look up at him.
“Let me go,” the man warned.
“What is—your name?”
“Elryn. What’s yours?”
“What did I say—about asking questions?” Reverence warned, and the man seemed to shrink in his hole. “Good. Now—you’ve been here for a tenday,” he lied to the man, holding up a near empty vial of ether. “You know what this is?” he asked, and the man nodded. “We’ve kept you asleep for a long while. Your friends—are dead. All of them. You’re—the only one left.”
“Well, if that’s true,” Elryn said boldly, “then our prisoners have already starved.”
“Who were these people—you trafficked, Eldinn?”
“It’s Elryn,” he corrected automatically. When Reverence stared blankly at him, he began pacing the few feet he had inside the hole, back and forth. “Travellers, people we thought looked strong enough to face the journey.”
“How did you—do it?”
“We’d drug them with the ether, like we did to your friends in that inn. Then, we’d drag them off until we could get our contacts to create false documentation of sentences, stating our prisoners were felons. They’d get shipped out to sea without question, and we’d get paid.” He shrugged again, “it’s easy money in these parts.”
“I wonder why—you are so forthcoming—with this knowledge, Alris,” Reverence mused.
“My name is Elryn,” he said, growing more frustrated by Reverence’s blatant mistakes. “I was in it for the money, but if everyone else is dead, it doesn’t matter anymore. I couldn’t keep up the business on my own even if I wanted to. It was all Elward’s idea.”
“Where are you keeping the prisoners?” Reverence asked.