In the morning, Toshio ‘happens to be near’ the Rusty Dragon sporting his new banded armor and heavy flail. He gives Ameiko a friendly smile and a “Good morning, miss.” She smiles back and returns his greeting.
Jethrik shows up the next morning, slightly hung over, hoarse from shouting tavern songs and sporting a black eye and a hickey. He holds an artistically arranged bouquet of flowers out to Ameiko, “Remember me,” he implores. “Should I fail to return. And know that so long as I live my thoughts will be with you.”
“Oh Jethrik, you are so sweet,” says Ameiko taking the flowers. She bends down to kiss him on the forehead.
Jharad hands a bundle of arrows to the gnome and smiles at his black eye, “Here. Blunt arrows work better on skeletons. Have fun last night?
“Me?” Jethrik looks a little shocked. “I am a bard, I was working not having fun! It was the town that had fun!”
Toshio says, “You should take time to enjoy your work. You helped everyone else have fun, so why not you also?
Jethrik rolls his eyes. “You have no appreciation for what it is to be a performer!”
“Clearly not” says Toshio, amused by the strength of Jethrick’s response. “I’m sure I’ll learn more of it as time goes by and I get to watch more of your performances.”
Jharad gives the map he inscribed to Koya before they leave in the morning. She is quite pleased with it and tells him to please take care in the marsh.
Keng shows up looking bad assed in his new breastplate, greaves, helmet, and masterwork great axe.
Jharad smiles at the group, all adorned in their new gear. Stepping up to Keng with a grin he motions to touch the new helmet and says, “If you will allow, I think you will like this.”
“What are you doing?” Keng asks with obvious suspicion.
Jharad smirks saying, “Trust me.”
With a command word, “Cranio!” he touches the new helmet and its shiny newness is replaced by blacks, whites and shades of grey to depict a half-orc sized skull.
“Now you look bad ass.”
Despite the late night reveling, Zeyala appears refreshed and vibrant. Her cloak is worn open, with her tattoos showing in sharp contrast to her new chain shirt. Her face is veiled with a bright orange scarf, while a violet one adorns her left thigh.
“Good morning friends,” she says. ”Thank you both, Keng and Jethrik, for your wonderful performances last night.” Still smiling, Zeyala ask, “So, have we decided on a course of action?”
Toshio considers heading to the cliff that overlooks the marsh to get the view from there, but Jharad says, “What about tracking that creature from the bridge, to its lair? At the least we should see if there are any more of them to be rid of. Any more could be a serious threat to this area.”
Toshio says, “I think the road, to Ashen Moor, to the northern trail would serve us best to reach Proudstump’s cottage, eh? Do any of you know a better way? Anyone have ideas of how to approach Proudstump? He wasn’t very forthcoming with me yesterday.”
”I think what he wants is to have his foot fully healed.” Jethrik suggests. “And of course Zeyala needs to be careful in how she uses her arts. Its not an easy situation.”
Jharad says, “I suggest letting Jethrik approach him. After all they do see eye to eye.”
“Yes.” Jethrik growls. “I do feel I have a certain understanding where he’s concerned.”
Toshio says, “Yes, I think that’s a fine idea, Jethrick. You start the conversation. We’ll stay a few feet back so he doesn’t get nervous. If he lets you in or shows any sign of warming up, we’ll join you right away.”
They arrive at Proudfoot’s shack without incident. When Jethrik knocks, it takes a very long time for Walthus Proudfoot to respond. Just before Jethrik turns away to consult the others about what to do next he hears the creaking of the floorboards and a familiar and tired voice on the other side of the door grumbling and then asking, “Yis, oo is it?”
Jharad comments quietly, “He does not sound good.”
“Hello, Mr. Proudfoot.” Jethrik calls out. “Your visitors from yesterday are back. We thought we ought to check on you and we need a little more advice.”
Jethrik could swear he hears Walthus say, “Oh sod it.” Then the halfling hermit speaks up, “Bright, aren’t yous kind ter come all de way back e’yer ter check up ed me? Come ahead in then.” He opens the door to let Jethrik and the others in. He does seem to look a little better than he did the previous day, though still a bit shaky. “Ay am feel’n scutty. Would yous like ter ‘uv some tea?”
“Tea would be very nice, thank you!” Jethrik answers brightly. “You seem improved since last we saw you.”
“Well, I’ve ‘ad bags o’ sleep. Juss beun ly’n in bed sleep’n. Yous tinnie gather around de table in thuz. Sorry ’bout dat but I’ve only got de one chair.”
The dining room, such as it is, is to the right of the main room, but the table, being for a halfling, is low enough that the others beside Jethrik can simply sit on the floor beside it. Walthus bustles about in the pantry gathering tea and mugs and getting the pot boiling on the simple wood-burning stove. He offers to let Jethrik sit in the one chair. From beyond the other interior door in the main room they can hear the songs of birds.
Jharad sets up in back as he did before and breaks out ‘Wizard Chess’ for Keng and himself. They both put down their packs and commence to play while the others talk with Walthus.
“E’yer we bowl. I’ll ‘uv a kettle o’ swamp tea fe yous in juss a little while. So as yous tinnie see, Am scutty and juss need a few days more rest. ‘Ow did things bowl wi’ de goblins? Did yous find dem?”
“May I be of service?” Jethrik asks, “I hate to put you through the trouble. Although, I was noting the bird songs. It must be what drew you to this place.”
“Nah ta,” Walthus waves Jethrik back to his seat. “It’s nah up ther shute at all. Ay guess Ay should be up and about at this hour. Yous like me birds? Yis, Ay keep a few sparrows and uvver small pets in de uver room.”
“Perhaps when you are ready, you will introduce me to your pets,” Jethrik replies as he takes a cup of tea. He doesn’t know what swamp tea is, but figures that since it hasn’t killed Proudfoot it should be drinkable.
Jharad also accepts a cup.
“Thank you for your hospitality,” says Zeyala. “I would love a cup.”
Keng declines the tea.
Toshio also accepts tea. He checks the scent (as he would with any tea), as it’s not vile he tastes just a mere sip. Toshio is pleasantly surprised at the quality of the tea. He sips it contentedly, still listening and relying on Jethrick to carry the conversation and get Proudstump’s info about the map.
Jharad also smells the tea and then asks, “What is in this?”
Walthus answers, “Oh, its juss a tea made from some shrubs wi’ white flowers dat grer ‘ereabouts. It’s got some medicinal properties, so I’ve beun brew’n it fe de last few days.”
Walthus asks again, “’Ow did things bowl wi’ de goblins? Did yous find dem?”
Jharad replies from the back, “We killed them and burned down their village.”
“Short and to the point, hmm?” comments Toshio. “Maybe Jethrick can tell more, and also inquire about the map?”
“Ah, yes.” says Jethrik mourning the death of his moment. “That’s the story in a nutshell. If you’d like the particulars, I have composed a very entertaining epic of the days events…” he finishes more hopefully!
“Tar, but maybe some uver time. Wuz thuz sometin yous wanted ter ask me about?”
“Oh, yes!” Jethrik brightens. “Thank you so much for asking. Toshio, you were curious about that map, weren’t you?”
“Yes. Mr. Proudstump, we’ve acquired some additional information about the marsh, shown on this map. Can you tell us anything about these locations?” Toshio indicates the two shipwrecks and the cave.
“Oh bright yis. Thuz ay de occasional shipwrecks dat wash up ed de shore. Nowt tew special about dat, and o’ cose thuz ay caves ed de cliff. Ay dun kun anyth’n special about deez. Whuz did this map come from?”
Zeyala and Toshio both find it rather odd that the self-proclaimed “Warden of Brinestump” is being so vague about the map. Hosk certainly didn’t seem so reticent to talk about the marsh and its landmarks.
Jethrik answers Walthus, “It’s a copy of a goblin map we found in their camp. The caves and the shipwrecks are, in fact, special. We think that the caves hold undead. We were hoping you could warn us about the extent of the danger and if there are other creatures to be alerted to.”
“Oh thuz ay bags o’ frightful things in deez marshes. Mostly large snakes and giant bugs. If yous want undead, you’ll ‘uv ter explore de Bleaklow Moor. Not a gewd couple undead in de marsh, simply because thuz aren’t a gewd couple people e’yer, and na ‘uv beun.”
“I beg your pardon, sir? There are no good undead in the marsh because there are no good people in it?”
“Nah, nah. Ay arl bottle and glass, thuz aren’t any people so thuz aren’t any undead.”
Zeyala leans in and coyly says, “But surely the Warden of Brinestump knows all the ins and outs of the marsh. I’d love to hear more about these landmarks.”
“What’s ter kun? You’ve got yer wrecked ships e’yer and e’yer and some caves over e’yer.” He jabs his finger at the map. “Not much more Ay tinnie tell yous. Onna scutty dee i’d offer ter guide yous, but i’m dead not up fe any ‘ikes rite now.”
Jethrik persists in asking, “These undead would be warriors who were travelling on a ship that was lost here. Their armor and weapons would look unusual to us.”
At that moment there is a thump from the ceiling and Walthus spends the next few minutes cursing about all the damn rats and raccoons in the marsh and how he’s thinking he might need a cat or two to get some peace.
Jethrik looks up. “Perhaps my companions and I should look into that thump for you.”
“Nah need. I’ll check it out later.”
Keng looks at Jharad across the chess board and asks, “Do you understand a word coming out of that fat hobbit’s mouth?”
Jharad is about to answer then looks up where the thump came from. He nods his head in that direction to Keng and dissipates the chessboard. “How about we check it out just in case.”
Keng nods back to Jharad and silently gets up and moves to investigate the sound.
Toshio looks up at the ceiling in the direction of the thump. “A rat?” he asks rhetorically. He ponders what it could really have been, but doesn’t want to offend their host by challenging his claim – not yet.
“Sir, we were told that you were the ‘Self-Proclaimed Warden of The Swamp.’ As such we were hoping you could provide more information to us. Our purpose here can only help make your swamp safer. Your help could truly make the difference between life and death – maybe even your own.”
Toshio instantly regrets his choice of words. He hadn’t meant to sound threatening, though his words may have come across that way. Still, if the halfling feels in any way inclined to help, even if due to Toshio’s slip… He lets it slide and waits to hear what comes next, ready to apologize if he is misinterpreted.
Walthus is clearly taken aback by Toshio. He doesn’t seem so much offended as at a momentary loss for words. “Well I say! It’s not that I don’t want to help.” Then he sees Jharad and Keng coming around the table to investigate the noise. “Oh there’s nah need fe dat. It’s me own ‘ouse and I’ll check it out. Juss wait e’yer please.” Being closer to the door he darts out and heads for the stairs to the upper floor. “I’ll be rite back. I’ll call yous if Ay need elp. Ay think Ay tinnie take care o’ a little rat dough. Er evun a bigger one.”
Keng follows Walthus up the stairs, suspecting a trick.
Toshio lets Keng follow, waits a moment as he tries to decide what the best course of action is, and then follows Keng and hopes for the best.
“Well, we’re all on our feet! Why don’t we all come along?” Jethrik says with a bit more determination than lightness in his voice.
Walthus turns at the top of the stairs and sees Keng and the others following him. He looks quite affronted. “Wa’ ay you’s lot do’n? Ay invited yous into me ‘ouse fe some tea, but ay am not invit’n you’s lot ter come parad’n through me bedchamber. Ay think maybe teatime is over. Please go about yer business so ay tinnie go about mine.” He gestures towards the direction of the front door clearly inviting you all to take your leave.
Zeyala says to the others, “I think we better take our leave. It is in fact his…”
Keng continues to move up the stairs to stand next to Walthus and gently lifts him out of his way. He says, “You aren’t looking well hobbit, I think you are hiding something.”
When Zeyala sees Keng grab Walthus, she pleads, “Keng, please put him down. We have no authority. Toshio!”
Keng sets the squirming halfling down and then moves past him into the upper floor to look around.
Walthus is outraged and begins to sputter. He opens his mouth to say something to Keng but then shuts his mouth. Keng sees that there is a hallway at the top of the stairs that turns to the right and three doors along it. All the doors are closed. Nothing seems out of the ordinary and no further sounds are heard. Finally Walthus regains his voice and quietly says, in a voice nevertheless choked with indignant fury, “Dead bright. Be me guest. Make sure yous bowl through all me rewms and all me things and find any rats er squirrels er raccewns er uvver beasts yous tinnie. Dun yous tinnie take dem wi’ yous whun yous leuv. I’ll wait yous downstairs until you’re done.”
Toshio doesn’t like the options, but he suspects Keng’s instincts are right. Having followed Keng up the stairs he embraces this choice, though it may bring offense. “Please forgive us. We will leave after we ensure nothing is amiss. You are our best hope for detailed information about our task, you are recovering from injury, and if something isn’t right we would feel terrible if we had left you alone in a dangerous situation” Toshio explains authoritatively. “If it is rats, we’ll be gone quickly after apologizing. If it’s more, we will deal with it, then leave you in peace.” He gives a nod to Keng, indicating for him to continue.
Zeyala follows Walthus to the settle. Toshio also stays with their host, not comfortable leaving Zeyala alone with him at the moment. Feeling like they may actually be intruding, he keeps quiet, waiting for things to resolve. He stands at the base of the stairs, not far from Walthus and where he can protect Zeyala if necessary. He suspects that he will soon be apologizing, but wants to keep her safe if things turn ugly.
Zeyala kneels near Walthus and says, “I’m sorry for this intrusion. Something is happening in the swamp and we need to know everything we can. It’s just that some of my associates have methods of their own to gather information.”
“Bright worever is ‘appen’n in de marsh is not ‘appen’n e’yer,” Walthus says grumpily and looks away pointedly from both Zeyala and Toshio.
“I’m sorry, Zeyala,” says Toshio. “But as I said, we have a concern and need for his safety. I’ll be happy to apologize and make amends if it proves to be nothing.”
As he is speaking, Toshio’s curiosity gets the better of him and he opens his inner awareness and finds that he is indeed in the presence of something or someone evil. Toshio tries not to show his alarm, and keeps trying to determine its source.
Upstairs, Keng, Jharad, and Jethrik search the rooms off the hall. The first one is a supply room full of tools, hunting supplies, and spare halfling-sized weapons, including three handaxes, a longbow, 40 arrows, and two small suits of leather armor. The second room seems to be a guest room, but sheets cover all the furniture. The last room would seem to be Walthus’ well lived in bedroom. No rats or other animals are seen, nor any more bumping or thumping heard. But the windows of Walthus’ bedroom is open and there are plenty of places where creatures from the marsh could get in and hide.
Keng growls, “Little runt is hiding something.”
Downstairs, Toshio feels that there is a single evil aura somewhere in the room. Walthus looks up and must have seen something in Toshio’s look for he says, “W’s wrong wi’ yous? Why are yous giv’n me a laughin’ look. Am de one be’n put out e’yer. Dun yous look down ed me.”
Upstairs Keng asks of Jharad and Jethrik, “Can either of you detect magic?” Keng looks out the window of Walthus’ bedroom. Keng sees that it would be very easy for an intruder, animal or otherwise to climb in with the windows open as they are. Though he also sees that the shutters can be closed and barred shut.
“I can,” Jharad replies. He casts a simple cantrip and begins scanning the room. He quickly picks up on the presence of magic somewhere in the room but it will take a moment to discern its power and to pinpoint its location.
“Whatever made that thump could have left through this window.” Jethrik looks out through it as well.
At just that moment, a lower panel of the northwest section of the bedroom wall is pushed out by something behind it. And it is then that Keng, Jethrik, and Jharad realize that the two bedrooms of the upper floor are both the same size even though the guest bedroom starts a bit further south on the hall.
Downstairs, Toshio responds to Walthus, “What? I’m not looking down on you or anyone here.” Raising his voice so the others can hear he says, “We should all be alert though. There is something evil nearby!”
Even as he speaks, Toshio pinpoints the aura of evil – and it is centered on Walthus!
Jharad replies as he spins around towards the new presence, “And I believe it just found us.”
Kengs turns and crouches, knife held mid-ready in his right hand edge pointing away from his thumb.
From out of a crawlspace behind the wall of the bedroom, another Walthus emerges. He is dressed not too dissimilarly to the Walthus downstairs, but this one wears a cloak and has an axe in his belt. Jharad sees that the faint magical emanation is coming from the cloak.
“Walthus?” Jethrik says loud enough to be heard throughout the house. “How did you get up here?”
Toshio looks at ‘Walthus’ (?) accusingly as he gets his heavy flail ready. “Are you sure you don’t have any more information to share with us?” Toshio is giving the clear, if unspoken, message that this is the time for ‘Walthus’ to come clean before things come to blows.
Keng sheathes his dagger, grabs the bedspread and leaps upon the hobbit-thing. He yells out at the top of his voice, “Let’s capture it!”
Walthus deftly dodges the bedspread as well as Keng. Like the goblin chieftain he is small and very agile. “Please dun! Am walthus! De real one!”
Jharad holds up his hand to Keng, saying quietly, “Wait.” Then to the upstairs Walthus he says, “What happened, tell us quickly.”
Keng backs down, gathering himself to be ready to grapple again if need be.
Downstairs the other Walthus lunges at Zeyala, transforming even as he does from halfling into a hairless, leathery biped with a face dominated by unsettling whorls and slits instead of actual features. He grabs her and whips her around so that she is in a headlock and facing Toshio. Three hollow tongues flash out from three different slits in its faceless head and sink into her neck and begin throbbing with blood. Zeyala’s eyes go wide and she almost screams but then passes out with a look of shocked incomprehension. The thing looks up, retracts its tongues, and says, in perfect Common, “Do not move Toshio. I can kill her before you even swing your flail.”
Upstairs, Walthus says to Jharad and the others, “Faceless stalker. I’ve beun ‘id’n from ‘im.”
“Well, that’s the other way…” not bothering to finish the thought, Jethrik starts moving down the stairs shrugging off pack and shield.
“Set her down and leave while you can, thing,” Toshio says with all the menace he can muster. “If she dies, you die. This is your only chance to live. Walk away.”
Keng looks at Jharad and asks, “What do you want to do wizard?”
Jharad responds, “Something has our friend, we take it out,” and with a smirk starts heading downstairs.
Keng has an idea, and so he climbs out the window instead.
The small faceless creature starts moving around Toshio, careful to drag the unconscious Zeyala between them. As it reaches for the handle of the front door it says, “Don’t interfere human. Once I am outside and put a distance between us I will let her go, but don’t make a move until I am clear.” It opens the door.
Upstairs, the real Walthus heads for the storage room to get his longbow.
Jethrik digs into the pouch on his belt removing a treat shaped like a bear and a feather. “Coochie coo,” he says, tickling the bear which disappears in a mist that rockets over to the shape shifter and attaches to its ribs. “Laugh damn it!” Jethrik mutters.
The creature immediately collapses into a fit of hysterical laughter, consequently dropping Zeyala.
Letting his anger take him more than he’d like to admit, Toshio smites the vile, treacherous creature with his heavy flail, hoping for a one-blow kill. As he swings he shouts, “You should have put her down while you could!” The blow hits the creature in the chest and knocks it against the doorframe but does not kill it.
Jharad vaults over the bannister to land in the middle of the main room. His hand brushes his dagger and it flashes with arcane power as he plunges it into the belly of the beast. Black ichor pours from the wound, but it still flails about, continuing its awful inhuman chortling.
Keng jumps out the second story window, lands hard but manages to roll to his feet without any major injury. He sprints to the front door, kicks it in and attacks the shape shifter who is laughing hysterically on the floor, burying his axe in its back. Yet still the creature continues to laugh and to attempt to dodge away from its many attackers.
On the stairs, Walthus comes down with his longbow strung and ready and an arrow in hand. He stops by Jethrik’s side but sees that there are too many others in the way to attempt to loose an arrow at the thing he called a faceless stalker.
“You’ve stolen your last life, creature!” yells Jethrik.
Toshio lays into the creature again with his flail.
Jharad stabs at it again, but this time it’s leather jacket blocks his blow.
Keng continue to beat upon the shape changer. He roars, “Now your face looks better!”
After Keng’s blow to its head the faceless stalker reels back and slumps against the wall. It waves its arm feebly to ward Keng, Toshio, and Jharad off. The fight has clearly gone out of it.
Toshio scowls at the thing. “Somebody please bind it. And don’t forget that it can change it’s size as you do the ties.”
Addressing the thing he says, “If you resist at all, you die. If you attempt to change shape, you die.” Toshio stays ready to finish the thing, just in case, but allows room for someone to move in and tie it up.
Toshio is glad nobody else got hurt, but the need to deal with another prisoner is inconvenient at best. As he contemplates what to do now, he says, “Who can heal Zeyala? Quickly, take my potion for her.”
Sandpoint may need a bigger jail, thinks Toshio. Or sturdy gibbets. I wonder how the mayor and sheriff will deal with these.
Toshio lifts up Zeyala’s head and pours his healing potion into her mouth, a little at a time, and messaging it down her throat. Zeyala coughs and sputters as the potion bring her back to consciousness. In her confusion, she yells out, “It’s not! Where?!”
Jethrik says, “I appreciate that it would be evil to kill this thing. But it’s also too dangerous to bring back to Sandpoint and too dangerous to keep in our care. I don’t see how we should deal with it.”
Jharad ties up the creature but says to Toshio, “I agree with Jethrik, bringing this back to Sandpoint would be a mistake. Just because it speaks clear Common, does not make it any less of a monster. Look what it tried to do to Zey.”
Toshio says, “It would have been easier if we had killed it, true. But it’s surrendered now, and that’s not an option any longer. Since we can’t drag it with us through the marsh, we’ll have to take it back to Sandpoint’s jail. That stinks, but I don’t see a better solution. Besides, what’s a little inconvenience to the like of us?” Thinking a bit more, Toshio adds, “The thing is badly hurt. I doubt it will try anything foolish in that condition.”
Looking at the halfling Jharad asks, “What can you tell us about this thing and what happened here?”
“Toshio, don’t be a fool,” Keng interrupts Walthus’ response, “This monster held Walthus hostage, tried to kidnap Zeyala, and tried to kill us. It deserves no mercy.” Keng walks over to cut its throat with his large dagger.
Jethrik sees the dagger, “No Keng! Don’t!” he impotently cries.
Jharad steps back to give Keng more room.
Zeyala calls out, “No Keng, wait! Despite what it did to me and what I’d like to see done to it, there are rules we must follow.”
“There aren’t no rules in a knife fight!”
Somewhat surprised at Keng’s attempt to execute the faceless stalker, Toshio interposes himself between the half-orc barbarian and the prisoner. “It is not your place to execute a prisoner, mercenary!” Deeply unhappy with the situation, Toshio makes a visible attempt to calm himself, hoping that Keng will also pause. “If anyone here has authority to do so, it is I.” He looks each of the others in the eye. “Jharad, finish binding it” he says curtly. His eyes show that he’s reached some decision. “I agree it deserves little mercy. If it hadn’t surrendered our jobs would be easier. But it did surrender, and we can’t kill our prisoners, no matter how inconvenient. We’ll take it back to town and turn it over to the sheriff.”
Keng’s eyes begin to turn red but then clear. He looks at Toshio and says, “You may have your woman’s way with this thing now but if it so much as breaths wrong I will kill it.” He grabs his pack and walks out the door.
Jharad calmly responds to Toshio, “It is bound, though from what we have seen of its abilities they are of little use.”
Zeyala simply looks at Toshio and gives an affirming nod. She then asks, ”Other than me, was anyone else injured?” No one else, however, was injured in the brief fray.
Toshio warns, “Please do not do a healing that could make the thing a threat again. Not yet.”
“Don’t worry about that,” reassures Zeyala. “Though once we decide what we’re going to do, I’ll provide some healing for the real Walthus and myself. “
Looking once again at the halfling, Jharad says, “I believe you were about to share some information which may illuminate our situation.”
Walthus comes down the stairs to stand with the others, though he keeps his arrow nocked. He glances nervously in the direction of the creature, then looks at Jharad and begins his story.
“This th’n attacked me de dee before yestidee. Ay wuz out in me back gardun tend’n ter me snakes whun this th’n came over de wall. We fought fiercely and Ay managed ter wound it wi’ me axe. It wuz also bittun by me snakes, but not before it pinned me and begin drink’n me blewd juss as it did ter her.” The halfling shudders at the memory, and it can be seen that his throat too is marked by bites. “Whun me snakes bit it, Ay managed ter break away. Ay fled upstairs and ‘id in me saferewm. Since dun I’ve lain up thuz try’n ter recover. Ay could ‘ear it rummag’n around in de kun but it wasn’t able ter find me. Mostly it juss rested from its wounds and de snake venom as bright. Ay knew it wuz only a matti o’ time before it made a more thorough search and found me. Dun you’s lot showed up yestidee. Ay awoke whun ay ‘eard de sound o’ yer voices. Ay thought ay wuz saved. Ay would ‘uv called out but ay wuz tew weak still. Dun ter me ‘orrer ay ‘eard it speak’n wi’ me voice. Ay realized dun dat it must be some kind o’ shapeshifty. Whun yous left ay truly despaired. Ay tried ter sneak out dat night, but it ‘eard me and came up de stairs. Ay slates ‘id again and fortunately it wasn’t able ter find me saferewm, but Ay wuz more desperate than ever. Ay needed water and food, and it dun knew dat ay wuz about. This morn’n, while it wuz serv’n yous tea, ay saw me chance. If Ay could get out de window Ay could ‘ide and meet yous down de trail outi sight o’ me home and tell yous wa’ ‘ad ‘appened. Unfortunately, Ay got de window opun partway but fell back. Ay waited ter see if anyone ‘eard me, and whun Ay realized it wuz com’n back up Ay crept into de saferewm again. Ay would ‘uv leapt out de window but ay didn’t kun if ay could take such a fall in me condition. De rest ye know. Ay also dun like de thought o’ any cold-blewded kill’n, but dat th’n, once it slips free and Ay can se it can, wul try fe us blewd again. Ay don’t kun if it tinnie become bigger, but it could defo take ed me form er dat o’ yer gnome er maybe a dog er firkin. If yous take it into Sandpoint you’ll endanger everyone thuz. If yous let it bowl e’yer iddle try fe me again, er maybe iddle come afty yous. Ay vote yous ler rus finish it off.” He stretches the bow taught and aims the arrow at the most likely place for its heart.
From outside they hear the sounds of wood chopping…
Jethrik isn’t sure what to say (there’s a rarity) but he watches the creature closely and has a hand on the pommel of his rapier.
Toshio seems frozen, deep in thought. It seems a long time to him, although it was really only a few seconds, before he speaks again.
“Jethrick, please come with me.” He hauls the thing up and pushes it ahead of him out the door. Jethrik follows in respectful silence, knowing that some roles require solemnity. Toshio makes sure the door closes behind Jethrik. Jharad follows them outside, and though Toshio hears door open and close again and the extra footsteps, but figuring that they all have a good guess of what he has in mind, he doesn’t turn to check. Toshio just doesn’t want any others around if it would trouble them. He knows Jethrick would probably want to avoid it, but Toshio wants to use his credibility as an accurate storyteller. Otherwise he’d let Jethrick stay behind if he wished. Toshio sees Keng chopping the wood but ignores him, too, intent on getting the wretched task over with. Keng stops what he is doing and follows, especially since he saw Jharad tagging along.
Outside, Toshio tucks away his flail and draws his katana. Still moving the thing ahead of him, he guides it around to the back wall enclosing the real halfling’s garden. As he walks, he explains, “Not everyone needs to see this, and it’s my responsibility alone. I don’t want them troubled as I am. But I need one witness, in case any questions are asked. You don’t need to watch the actual deed. But I need someone to see that the thing wasn’t mistreated, and to verify the end.” He doesn’t check that Jethrick is keeping up, but assumes that he is doing so. Toshio continues at a quick pace, not wanting to give himself time to change his mind and not wanting to give the thing a chance to make more trouble.
When they are outside the garden, Toshio pushes the thing into a kneeling position. Without hesitation Toshio swings his katana and decapitates the creature. He pauses after the cut, and then looks to make sure the unfamiliar monster is dead and not regenerating, troll-like. “Dead, yes?”
Jethrik examines the creature to ensure the wound is not regenerating. He sees that it is not. “It was a difficult thing, Toshio, but a lot of people are safer for it.”
Keng, seeing that the monster is dead, nods his head. Turning to Jharad he says, “Pretty boy does have a pair.”
Jharad comments, “We should have questioned it first. Unfortunate.” He turns and walks back to the front door.
Toshio cleans his blade and sees that all but Zeyala and Walthus had come outside with him. Toshio shouts at them, “And who’s with Zeyala?! Are you all so sure that’s a halfling too with her?!” He pushes past them and runs in to make sure she’s still okay, as angry with the whole situation as he is with any of them for leaving her. It probably really is a halfling – he hopes.
In response to Toshio’s concern, Zeyala says, “I’m fine. I’m fine. Despite the encounter, my wounds are mostly healed,” she adds. “I’m fine to carry on.”
Toshio relaxes visibly. “I should have words with the others for leaving you, but right now such words would probably end badly. I am glad you are safe.”
Keng returns to the woodpile and continues chopping wood for Walthus. The pile is four times larger than when he started.
With the creature disposed of, Zeyala is free to call upon her healing power. Her wounds close over though she is still sore and feels tired due to the blood the creature drained from her. Though she had hoped she would be able to help Walthus, his current state is also due to blood loss that only rest or more powerful magic than she can call upon now can cure.
Walthus proves to be a much more gracious host than his imposter, as well as a grateful one. He takes the cloak off his back and offers it to whichever of them could best use it. He explains that it is a cloak that will enable the wearer to resist harm and that it can be adjusted even for you “big’uns.”
Jharad accepts the cloak from Walthus only to examine it closer to understand its specific magic in detail.
Keng, having finished replenishing Walthus wood and smelling food, reenters the house.
Jharad finishes examining the cloak and announces, “Yes, this cloak will help the wearer resist all sorts of spells, ailments, poisons, even assist in dodging environmental harm. This would be helpful for any one of us, but I suggest Keng be the recipient. He is, after all, the one we keep placing foremost in harms way.”
Smirking, to Keng he translates, “I just said you should have it because you get hurt more.”
“Pain is just weakness leaving the body,” Keng says with a feral grin showing off both his tusks. He does however take the cloak with a nod of thanks.
Toshio can’t help but come out of his foul mood a bit, hearing Jharad snipe at Keng like that then rub it in by “translating.” A slight smile graces his face as a chuckles escapes his lips.
Walthus also offers to make them lunch and tells them they are free to stay at his place as they search the marsh, even overnight if they wish. “I’ll feel a lot safer wi’ you’s lot around anyroad.” Finally, he informs them that by the shore he’s hidden away a little rowboat. He can take himself and maybe Jethrik and one of the larger folk, but that is all. He will be happy to take them over to the two shipwrecks which are both easily reachable by boat. The caves, however, he knows nothing about, though when he’s feeling better he tells them he’ll be happy to take them over to the cliffs.
Toshio muses, “Two ships and a cave. What say we work north to south? But, as nice as it would be to save the time, I’m not eager to split the party by sending some by boat.”
Turning to Walthus he says, “Your offer to guide us is very kind, Mister Proudstump. We will gladly take you up on the offer. However, I think we brought no supplies for overnighting, here or elsewhere. And we should let the sheriff know before we stay overlong.”
“As yous wul,” Walthus responds. He tells them they are always welcome to visit and he will help however he can.
Toshio asks Walthus, “Is there anything you need from town? We would like to return to your hospitality tomorrow night. It would be easy enough to bring things if you have need.”
Jharad comments, “We should grab another boat. Sounds like getting to the shipwrecks and maybe caves would be best by boat. We could row one from Sandpoint back to here by the evening.”
Toshio agrees. “I’m sure there is a suitable boat in town that we can use, so we can all get to the sites more quickly and without splitting up. Let’s also be sure to load up on provisions for a few days. And we’ll get enough so we don’t eat Mr. Proudstump out of his own home.”
“Yes,” agrees Zayala. “I’m sure there’s someone who could lend us a boat, or at least rent one to us.”
Keng thinks to himself, I hate boats.
Walthus does, in fact, ask for a few things from town – mostly new clothes and some other odds and ends for the house. He even offers the pay them the 10 gold that he estimates it will all cost.
“You can pay us when we get back,” says Toshio.