We arrived in Esra tired, and wanting nothing more than to sit around a table with friends and discuss the happenings of the last six months. Fate, it would seem, had other plans.
We could smell Esra well before we saw it. The unpleasant odor of fish filled our nostrils as we drew closer. We rounded a small bend of trees, to find the village straddling the coast. Built in rustic style with lumber serving both utilitarian and decorative purposes. The sides of the houses were adorned with shells, and feathers which gave a cheerful, and unique feel to the village, nearly overshadowed by sagging roofs and bent frames that detracted from the simple beauty of the village. The houses became newer and newer the closer one came to the edges, indicating a steady growth, a good sign for such a small town. The market snaked its way between the water and the village proper. The docks stretched into the awaiting sea, and out on the water, fishing boats plied their nets in and around a jagged reef made of black stone.
As we neared the city gates, we were met by the captain of the guard. A large human, with a bushy red mustache and bald head. He wore simple leather armor that bore scratches, scars, and wear from years of service. His thick belt carried a sword on one hip, and several daggers on the other. His gaze was stern, sad, and hopeful and when he spoke, his deep bass voice was the same; “I don’t suppose the three of you would be the help which Masters Bloodhoof and LaMarc sent for?”
“We would.” Eldwist said, stepping forward and holding out a clawed hand, “My name is Eldwist Thunderfist, this;” he gestured to me; “is The Lady Andraste Blueleaf, and the looming ghost of a man over there, is Scourge. How may we be of service?”
“Excellent,” the captain gave a small smile, though it did not touch his eyes, which looked troubled, “my name is Captain Edgar Trulop, and I’ll be your primary contact within the town. There is much to tell you, but not here.” He glanced around and turned beckoning us to follow.
Captain Trulop lead us through the village to a small tavern near the docks. It was modeled in the same fashion as the rest of the town, decorated with shells and feathers, and sporting a wonderfully made porch that used uncut raw lumber as supports for the roof. The windows were slightly grimy but still in one piece, unlike the majority of taverns I seemed to visit with this bunch of people. The captain lead us inside, which was just as I expected it to be. A two story building with rooms upstairs for the rare visitor, and a one roomed bar with open kitchen. A fire crackled merrily in the hearth, surrounded by large armchairs. The few patrons of the tavern were seated sporadically throughout the room, nursing various drinks. A few looked up when we walked in and greeted the captain, before returning to their mugs.
The bar itself was well worn to the point that it had become polished wood and the stools were much the same. The barman himself was well worn as his bar with leathery tanned skin partially covered with a salt and pepper beard. His hairline was receding so that he only had a horseshoe shaped boarder of hair around the sides and back, while the top of his head shone like newly polished stone. His eyes, like the captains, were sad and hopeful, but much more friendly. He waved and asked us what we’d have, serving us quickly before going back to his work while we sat around a table with Captain Trulop.
“So,” Eldwist said after a few swallows of his drink, “What was so sensitive that we couldn’t speak in the open?”
The captain heaved a sigh and looked forlornly out the window, “We’re not sure to tell you the truth.” He took a swig of his drink and continued, looking at us now, “It all started about a year ago, not long after I was sent down here to train a town guard. Things were going fine, the recruits were learning, they weren’t great, but they were learning. Then people started disappearing. Fishing boats would leave the pier to fish around that reef out there and not return. Sailors go missing here and there, and fishing around that reef isn’t the safest place to be sailing but what do I know.” He paused a take another swig out of his own cup. “The locals,” He cast a sideways glance a the tavern keeper, “Say that the reef is cursed, black rituals used to be performed there or something. Say of it what you will, but the fact remains that we didn’t just lose one boat here and there, no. This was three boats in one week. I’m no sailor or fisherman, but I’ve got a town to protect. I had a few of my boys go and poke around the reef but they couldn’t find anything and things went back to normal after that, for a while at least.”
The old guard drank again and gazed briefly into his cup, a faraway expression on his features, “But then the kids started going missing. A couple of teenagers at first, we thought it was just young love. Eloping.” he gestured towards us and we all nodded. It wasn’t uncommon for teenage children to leave a small village to go find something more out of life. He continued, a grimace fixed on his face, “Then the younger kids started disappearing too. Always workable though, never under six or seven. We went out to look for them in the woods, thinking maybe they got turned around or something, or Gods forbid, a bear or some wolves got ’em.”
“What’d you find?” Eldwist asked, he had begun to lean in, engaged in the report.
“Nothing.” Trulop said with a shrug, “Absolutely nothing. No tracks, no blood, not even a scent for the hounds to follow. It’s like they just up and vanished. So we started telling families not to let the kids out of town. Keep ‘em in hearing and sight if possible. We figured there could be Dark Elves or something, hidin’ out in the woods somewhere. Once again, it worked for a while. Few months passed and your friends showed up. Just in the knick of time too. I can fight and defend with the best of ’em, but I can’t explain much. Not to mention, now people are going missing inside the town itself. Patches, bless him, came up with the idea to send for the two of you. Said you’d probably be able to find anything that might be causing the disappearances and put a stop to it, magical or no.t”
“Well, he was right.” I said, reaching out and patting the captain on his shoulder, “We are rather versed in the arcane arts, and know how to track it.” he gave me a slight smile, but shook his head.
“I’m afraid it’s not quite that simple m’lady. See, Patches and Damon were starting the search after they sent for you, we asked them to play like we thought it was Dark Elves to be safe in case of interception, but they went missing about a month ago, along with five more people. Fact is, we appreciate you folks coming all the way out here, especially from clear up to Vora, but we can’t let you put your lives on the line like that.”
“With all due respect Captain Trulop,” Eldwist growled, his eyes alight with fury, “but we aren’t going to be following those orders.”
“Eldwist is right.” I said, “They haven’t just taken your people. They’ve taken ours as well, and we aren’t going to take that lying down. We’ll find your people Captain, and make the bastards who took them pay.”
One week later found us combing every inch of the town, the shore, and the surrounding woods. Traces of odd magic that was too weak to make out could be felt at every disappearance sight, along with tracks that kept suddenly stopped. No signs of struggle, no accompanying tracks, no blood, nothing. They had all simply vanished.
I was walking down a side street, when I heard a woman calling me. I turned to see an elderly woman beckoning me over to her. I hadn’t seen her before, but all of the townspeople knew us by name and sight at this point. It wasn’t a large town and word travels fast. I walked towards her without a second thought, “What can I do for you ma’am?”
She didn’t say a word, but continued to beckon me; looking left and right, but never meeting my eyes. I had begun to recognize that something wasn’t right, but it was already too late. Before I knew what was happening my world went black. All I remember is the feeling of the strange magic, and a low psyonic laugh.
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