The Sky Pirates party continues its investigation and finally discovers evidence to back up their position.
Cast of Characters
Wood Elf Barbarian – Red
Andelle (Ann for short)
Wood Elf Druid – new player convinced to try D&D by her wargamer sister and brother-in-law
Dragonborn Fighter/Bard – older teen girl
Tabaxi Druid – lady with a baby
Lizardfolk Monk – guy married to Mistress Mau’s player
Half-Orc Fighter – new guy that intended to lurk but was convinced to play instead
Through the night, Del watched the door to the group’s little room in the tavern. After Bobby had been attacked, they had collectively decided that rooming alone was inherently risky, but Del did not mind. Since she did not need to sleep like the others, she merely sat atop the sturdy chest in the corner, idly working on embroidering her engagement sash once she had gotten her four hours of needed rest. It only required enough of her attention to distract her, so that way she could make certain to notice if anyone – or anything – was entering or exiting.
It was some time before Balthasar wandered back in, and as he neared the end of long process of removing his armor, Tyrone and a few of the others arrived as well. Only once the room was full and the door was closed did Del notice that Ann was not among the group, but she merely shrugged and assumed that the druid wanted to spend the beautiful night out in the forests like she herself would have been doing. The stars were so mesmerizing to gaze up at, and the sounds of night were some of Del’s favorites. She could not imagine why anyone would prefer spending the dark hours holed up in some tiny little wooden room, much less why a druid so close to nature would, so she expected that Ann would simply be waiting for them in the tavern proper once the sun had risen. Thus as the birds began their daytime chorus to replace the calmer sounds of darkness, Del let the others take all the time they needed to wake, while she went to get whatever breakfast the barkeep had deemed to have delivered today.
When she had reached the bottom of the stairs, she found only a large, greenish man at the bar, greedily slurping at a bowl of steaming oats and milk. Ann was nowhere, but she could have been out doing anything. She seemed to prefer the day anyway, so Del waited for the others before approaching the large green man.
“Hello! What beings you here?” Del asked with a smile. “I’m Del.”
“Passin’ through,” the big green man grunted around the two large canine teeth protruding from his mouth. “Name is Dench.”
“Which one of the ships did you come in on?”
“My boat. Canoe. Lots of little bird wings on the side,” Dench uttered.
“Did you paint them?”
The big green man screwed up his face. “No. Bird wings with feathers.” He made a motion to mimic hammering a small nail through something small.
Now it was Del’s turn to screw up her face. “That’s… awful…”
Before she could say any more, one of the town guards entered the tavern, requesting that the group, most of which had just stumbled down the stairs, come with him to the keep. He seemed somewhat agitated, and as they and the half-orc followed, he seemed to continuously glance over his shoulder. Del kept catching his eye, and when he saw her returning his gaze, he quickly turned back to the front, focusing for a time on their path before looking at them again. It did not even stop once they were inside the great stone walls of the keep, and when they had finally reached the hall that Dumas had been meeting them in, the Guard quickly scampered off with barely a hesitation.
“Good morning, Lord Dumas!” Tyrone exclaimed once the sound of the guard retreating had quieted.
“Your druid friend assaulted one of the kitchen maids,” Dumas stated abruptly, not even attempting to entertain the dragonborn’s hospitality.
“Ah… that… does not sound like Ann,” Tyrone stammered. “Could we talk to her please?”
“I think not,” Dumas answered. “I do not think it wise to trust you and yours any longer.”
“Well… I… uh…” Tyrone stuttered. “Could we pay a bail for her? I’m sure she did not intend to harm anyone.”
“I would agree to release her into your custody for 90 gold peices,” Dumas stated, “on the condition that none of you leave town and continue to stay at the Black Adder Tavern, so my guards can find you if they need to.”
The guards brought Ann out and escorted the group back outside the keep, where Ann shushed all of the questions and ushered everyone back to the confines of the tiny room in the tavern.
“What happened?” Del demanded.
“Well, I was exploring the keep as a cat, looking for something – anything – that could lead us to the Oni. I followed a scent into the kitchen and this mean old lady swatted me out with a broom… so I decided to give her a scare and turned into a Dire Wolf.”
“You did attack her?!” Del exclaimed increduously.
“No! No! I just wanted to give her a little scare. It was nothing bad,” Ann reassured. “But the Oni – it’s Kells.”
“What?” Del exclaimed. “He’s been nothing but helpful to us. …how do you even know?!”
“He smelled funny; he did not smell human.”
“We are not human. He could be a race that none of us have met before. I am sure that is plenty common,” Del said. “He could be possessed. Does that smell? Does magic have a smell? I mean even if it is him, how could we even prove something like that?”
A resounding silence coupled with averted gazes answered her, so she continued: “We need to find proof. Balthasar said the thing ate children. It has to be keeping them somewhere, so how do we find them… the pirates!”
“They’re more active around the other towns!” Ann insisted, picking up what Del had begun to imply. “The drunk said they take whatever they want, and they would ask a lot less questions about the cargo they were bringing in, if they even cared at all that they were smuggling children.”
“Right!” Del exclaimed with at smile. “And someone has to unload the boats. If this has been going on for years like that man implied, someone must have seen or heard something.”
When Del and the others had arrived at the docks, they found them bustling with activity. No one had the time to stop, but Tyrone had gone to find the harbor master and had come back with good news. The boats always needed more hands to help with the cargo, and the harbor master had not questioned his claim that they had worked for a shipping company before. Thus he had secured them a day’s worth of employment on the docks.
As Del worked, quietly listening to the idle chatter of other dockhands, most of which were young and roudy human men, she noticed one that seemed a little different. He was strong and boisterous like the others, but there was heavy grey in the hair on his chin. When he spoke, the others listened, and as the sun began to set and the dockhands wandered towards the taverns, Del approached him.
“It’s nice to put in a hard day’s work again,” Tyrone yawned, stretching languidly.
The greying man eyed Tyrone quizzically. “I wouldn’t’a taken ya fer the sort,” he chortled.
“Oh, I’ve put in plenty of work,” Tyrone insisted after a brief, confused pause.
“Sure ya have,” the old man scoffed.
“Care to join us for a drink, sir… ?” Del interjected.
“Jefferey,” the old man finished. “And I ain’t no sir. But I’d take a wee drink.”
With a smile, Del motioned for the others to come with to the nearest tavern, where she paid for every ale old Jeff could down. When asked about working at the docks He spoke mostly about seemingly benign shipments that had been presented in strange ways. Magical containers had once been filled with nothing but grain. A small cat, which had been painted green and had all manner of things attached to its fur, had once been delivered to the docks for sale at market. As Jeff drank more and more, his stories became increasingly strange, and as he downed a tenth beer and could barely keep himself upright, his demeanor suddenly changed, a guilty look crossing his face.
“Ya know,” Jefferey whispered, barely audible over the din of the tavern, “thar were dis reaaally… bad thing tha’ happened long time ago. We were offloadin’ dis boat da’ came in late. Lots of big, big crates init. Real good crates too. Nice an’ sturdy. Bu’ when we were takin’ da last one off, this little thin’ flopped out da crate. Must’a been a hole in da crate, bu’ I swear – as I live ‘n’ breathe – it was dis little bitty hand. Da Bishop cov’red it up right quick an’ gave me an’ da othe’ hand lots’a coin ta nev’r talk ’bout it again.”
“The Bishop?” Tyrone hissed.
“Ya!” Jeff whispered back. “Dey were takin’ it ou’ to da church ou’ by da graveyerd.”
“Thank you Jefferey,” Tyrone announced, sliding another few silvers across to the greying man. “Have another few drinks on me.”
Having returned to the tavern quite late at night, the group had discussed their plan before sleeping for the night. They had then decided to approach the Bishop, intending for Del to engage him in conversation while Ann, as a mouse, slipped out of a pocket to explore the church through the cracks. As they all approached the church, Del walking carefully to protect little Ann the lowest pocket on her cloak, they did not find what the expected. Instead of a quiet morning, the bishop was overseeing a group of four large men loading wooden crates into a carriage.
“Good morning!” Tyrone hailed the Bishop as they all approached the carriage. “Is there no service today?”
Del felt a tiny movement in her cloak, looking down as the Bishop told Tyrone that they would all have to return later. In her pocket, Ann was looking up at her, tugging at the fabric with a tiny paw. If her tiny mouse face could express emotion, it appeared to be desperately concerned.
Del inconspicuously tapped Tyrone on the back before discreetly gesturing to her pocket. The dragonborn pointed down toward mouse Ann and seemed to listen intently for a moment before quietly whispering to Del: “She says the crates smell like body odor.”
Del nodded before watching Tyrone use his magic to whisper the news to the others, ending by pointing at one of the peasants struggling with the crates and hissing under his breath: “There are children in the boxes.”
The peasant’s eyes widened, and he let out a horrified shriek, the box slipping from his hands and crashing onto his foot. The peasant’s terrified howl changed to one of pain, and he fell back, sitting hard on the ground, his foot popping out from under the box. It looked flattened and splayed, clearly broken.
“Bishop!” the peasant screamed. “The demons! The demons are whispering to me again!”
“Hush, hush, it’s alright,” the bishop shushed, rushing to the peasant and shooting Tyrone away when he moved to help. “Let’s go get that fixed. It’s not that bad; I can fix you up right quick.”
The priest helped the peasant, still blubbering about the demons in his head, into the church; while one of the other three picked up the box to finish loading it. “How much to buy one crate?” Dench asked once the priest was inside.
“There are children in the boxes,” Mau insisted suddenly, drawing looks of concern from the others.
The peasants paused for a moment in shock but kept loading; one of the peasants glared at Dench. “They ain’t fer sale,” he scoffed. “They’re fer the keep.”
“There are children in the boxes!” Mau shouted angrily. Del stepped back from her, and Tyrone loudly shushed her, trying to usher her away from the carriage.
“There are children in the boxes!” Mau screamed, pushing Tyrone off and rushing forward, yanking one crate down off the carriage and clawing at its boards.
“Please! We don’t need to do this!” Tyrone insisted, trying to pull Mau away from the crates as Hazudra and Dench began to pull more of them off the carriage.
“There are children in the boxes!” Mau screeched, her claws sending splinters flying. Tyrone began to back up, and Del turned heel to find one of the town guards. She felt Ann slip out of her pocket and saw her revert to her elfin form, but that did not make her turn back. It felt wrong to attack the bishop’s possession based solely on a smell, so if they found something or not, it was best to have an agent of Lullin’s law present.
Through the streets she wove, ducking down alleys and thoroughfares alike in her search, her voice pleading for help until she nearly ran head-on into an armored torso. “They’re tearing apart the church’s boxes!” she exclaimed breathlessly before the guard could even say anything. “Please, come quick!”
The guard grabbed her by the shoulders and held her at arm’s length to look her in the face. “Are you alright?” the guard asked, the concern in his eyes putting Del at ease.
“Yes, they have not hurt anyone yet,” she insisted, grabbing the guard’s forearm to start leading him, “but they were violent with the crates.”
The guard nodded curtly and followed after Del, his armor clanking loudly behind her until they arrived at the church. The boxes had been torn to bits, splinters of wood and strands of hay scattered all around the carriage. Small children, none older than maybe six or eight years of age, were lying all about, some looking as if they were sleeping, others groggily wailing or uttering confused questions. Tyrone was removing amulets from about the children’s necks, smashing them into red shards of glass, many of which were scattered among the hay and splinters already. Ann was trying to comfort the terrified children, but many of them were too young to understand what had happened.
As Tyrone crushed another amulet beneath the butt of his dagger, Hazudra and Dench dragged the struggling bishop from around the back of the church. The old man was demanding they release him, although his insistences died in his throat once his eyes fell on the children and the guard.
Drawn by the noises and cries of the small children, more guards came out of the town’s woodworks, and there were soon enough of them to escort the entire motley assortment back to the keep. Del, Tyrone, and some of the guards had loaded the tiny children into the emptied carriage, those that could not fit being carried by the adults that walked alongside its slow plod. The bishop brought up the rear, one guard having clapped him in manacles and having tied a rope between them and the carriage; that way the guard could keep a wary eye on the bishop but help with the children as well.
As they entered the keep, the wails of the children filled Dumas’ great hall and startled the lord, who appeared to have been until them engaged in an argument with his brother Rolland. “What is this?” he exclaimed, shock and horror in his voice as he rushed toward them.
“Sir, the bishop was found in possession of crates full of children,” one of the guard stated.
“There were these amulets around each of their necks,” Tyrone added, extracting one of the things from his pocket and handing it to the lord.
“How could this be that there is a slave ring in my town?!” Dumas demanded in horror.
“Sir, there is a creature called an Oni living in your town,” Tyrone continued. “We believe this was its food source as it eats young children.”
“Find out what the Bishop knows,” Dumas instructed his guards before turning back to Tyrone. “Could you take this to Richildis to have her look at it please?”
“Yes,” Del smiled, taking the amulet and turning back to Tyrone as the few guards left in the room dragged the bishop off, Mau, Hazudra, and Dench following closely behind.
“They’re going to go listen in on the interrogation,” Ann assured as she and Tyrone turned toward a different hall. “Richildis is down this way.”
Del followed them through winding stone corridors, their destination proving to be a small room not too far away. The door was open when they arrived, and the little, hunched woman inside was busily working some herbs together at a table amidst all manner of papers and jars and clutter.
“Sage Richildis,” Tyrone greeted, “Lord Dumas instructed us to have you look at this.”
The old woman looked up from her work, gingerly setting down her mortar and pestle before hobbling over a few steps and accepting the amulet. Her squinted eyes closely examined the amulet as she turned it over and over in her gnarled hands, and Del smiled in spite of herself. The old woman reminded her of her village elders – the way her Wardancing instructor Miniel had scrutinized Del’s dancing forms, the way Rael’s teacher had scrutinized his woodworking, and the way Glemrenil’s mother scrutinized her needlework.
“It’s a sleep amulet,” Richildis stated, handing it back before hobbling back to her table.
“Do you know of anyone that could have made it?” Tyrone asked.
“No,” she concluded after a moment of thought. “No one in town is capable of making one of them. I don’t even know how, but I guess it would not be too difficult for someone with the appropriate magical aptitude.”
“Thank you very much,” Tyrone finished, before bowing out of the room and ushering the other two away. Once they had returned to the great hall and informed Dumas of what they had learned, the others came back from the dungeon with Guard Captain de Treville.
“My lord, the bishop has been delivering these crates filled with children to the keep’s cellars once a month for the last few years. He said that strange nightmares have been driving him to do these things,” the captain spat. “Madman.”
“What he described is the work of hags,” Mau interrupted. “Who has keys to the cellars?”
“Many, many people,” the guard captain answered quickly. “The kitchen staff, most of my guards, the residents of the keep…”
“Lord Dumas,” Tyrone began after the captain’s words had trailed off. “The bishop is likely a middle man, serving the devious purposes of more powerful creatures.”
“Thank you for giving us another chance. We will continue searching to prove our companion’s innocence,” Tyrone offered.
“I think you have amply proven that he is not a part of this,” Dumas proclaimed.