The Fiend Among Us
Baron Von Riker
The group walked and road down the dirt path and they soon noticed another settlement just northwest between them and the Shining City. “We’re running out of daylight,” Riker said. “Perhaps we should stay there for the evening,” he suggested.
“I will second that,” Lemuel followed riding bareback on one of the horses.
“I do not believe anyone will be opposing,” Perry chimed.
“Then it is settled. We will rest this night and arrive at the city at day break,” Riker announced then led a course across the meadow toward the settlement. The surrounding tall grasses whispered to them as the gentle breeze swept through the meadow. As the group entered the village, the sun was nearly gone. Some of the stars had already begun shining in the horizon’s peak. Riker decided to take the opportunity to speak with Llorva about the flowers in Kruzco’s bag; he fell back to meet with her at the end of the line and whispered, “You saw the flowers too. Didn’t you?”
“What are you talking about?” Llorva moaned.
“The flowers in Kruzco’s bag earlier. What were they?”
Llorva looked at Riker seriously and said, “Wolf’s bane.”
“Why is that important?” Riker questioned.
Agitatedly Llorva said, “The flower holds one of the most potent natural poisons.”
Riker cocked his head. “How do you know this?”
“Do you know any of your history?” Llorva snapped. “For centuries humans and elves have used wolf’s bane’s poison to lace their weapons and hunt creatures they competed with for food, like wolves. Hence the name.”
“Right,” Riker agreed. “That makes sense but why was it so strange to see it with Kruzco? I wouldn’t mistake him for not being an experienced hunter.”
“Seeing the wolf’s bane got me thinking about a memory I had decades’ past about an omen.”
“What was the omen?”
“It went something like ‘finding the bane of wolves in the wild forebodes an encounter with a monstrous beast to use it against.’ It’s from The Myrkalfar Journals of The Watchertower Rangers, how do you not know this?”
“Just because I am half myrkalfr doesn’t mean I’ve read ever book written by myrkalfar or about myrkalfar,” Riker defended. “Anyway, do you think the omen is true?”
“I don’t know Riker. I just want to get off my feet and sleep for now, so if we can hold the superstitions till we get to the Shining City, that would be wonderful,” Llorva said tiredly.
Riker accepted the comment and said, “Fair enough.” The village was quiet except for the sounds of the sheep bawling in the distance from the ranch. No persons were seen outside but many homes were illuminated from the inside. It made sense too, it was already late and well past business hours for anyone living there to be out in the countryside at that hour. Thankfully for the group the village had a small inn at its center.
They took their horses into the inn’s stable and before she joined the group to enter the inn through the front, Vylasgarden braced herself for the encounter. Every time she could expect some form of prejudice: fear, hatred, or uncomfortable fascination. The last couple of days with Riker and Llorva offered Vylasgarden a break from all that but reality once again grasped. This time she was sure to linger to the back of the group so that she may not be noticed. She was taller than all of them but Jared and Durbal were just a few centimeters shorter, so she considered hiding behind them. The lobby was cozy. The fireplace had a caldron burning on it and Vylasgarden could smell the lamb stew brewing within it. She made sure not to lick her lips.
“Good evening travelers, will you be checking in with us this evening?” the human innkeeper asked from behind his counter. Vylasgarden noticed the young girl sitting next to him on the counter. She drawing with parchment and a piece of charcoal. Her fro was pulled back and held together by a golden cuff.
“Yes, my friends and I are quite tiresome,” Riker responded while taking off his knapsack.
“Look daddy a dragon!” the little girl said hopping down the counter and running over to Vylasgarden.
“Semira, let the creature be,” the innkeeper called out to the girl. His accent clearly Zionder.
“It is alright. I assume she does not see many sarkany,” Llorva said to the innkeeper.
“No, none of us have,” the innkeeper said.
“Can I see your tail?” Semira asked.
“Semira don’t be rude to our guests,” the innkeeper called out a second time. This time he was much sterner in his voice.
“No, she is fine,” Vylasgarden insisted with a smile. She demonstrated that she, in fact, did not have a tail.
“What happened to it?” Semira asked.
“I was hatched without one,” Vylasgarden explained.
“Hatched?” Semira responded. At this point it appeared as though the child was more confused than before. Vylasgarden exchanged a look with the innkeeper and it was apparent that this was a talk he was not ready to have with his daughter.
“Perhaps your father will tell you about it one day,” Vylasgarden answered. To her surprise, she had never met anyone so excited to meet her. This child looked at her with astonishment. As the two conversed, Riker and the rest of the group approached the counter. On their left was an entrance into a separate room; it looked to be a lounge that had a long table covered in a bounty of food and drink. Numerous Zionders inside the room laughed and spoke drunkenly.
“Good sir, my friends and I have been endlessly traveling and have gone through a couple of miserable days. We do not have much for payment, though we are prepared to offer dried meats and a few assorted items,” Riker said to the innkeeper. By now Vylasgarden noticed when Riker was charming strangers.
“Alright young man,” the innkeeper replied. “Let us make a bargain. Show me what you have.” As he and the group sorted through the materials, Vylasgarden continued to speak with Semira.
“You are beautiful,” Semira said to Vylasgarden.
Vylasgarden smiled and said, “Thank you Semira. You are a delight. Most people look at me and see a monster.”
“Why do they see a monster?” The girl asked. Vylasgarden paused and considered what to say next.
She took a breath and said, “Adults fear what they do not understand, young one,” her voice was soft and kind to the child.
Semira stared into the distance and said, “Daddy says that the dragons are all gone now.” She looked back at Vylasgarden. “But you’re a dragon.”
“No, I am not really a dragon,” Vylasgarden said kneeling to Semira’s level. “My people come from the old dragons.”
“They were your mommies and daddies.”
Vylasgarden smiled and said, “Yes, young one. You are so bright.” The group returned from the counter with two sets of keys.
“We made a deal,” Riker said to Vylasgarden.
“What was the deal?” Vylasgarden asked.
“Three pounds of salted lamb, and a tinderbox,” Riker replied.
“Delightful, isn’t it?” Llorva commented with a bit of sarcasm. Vylasgarden then looked down to Semira. “Farewell semira. Have a good evening,” she said then petted the child’s curly hair.
“Good night Miss dragon lady!” Semira called back as Vylasgarden and the group went upstairs to their rooms.
The room Riker, Llorva, and Vylasgarden chose was small and a bit cramped but they all managed to fit inside along with their belongings.
“The man could have mentioned that the rooms were this small,” Riker commented.
“That would have been nice,” Llorva said closing the door behind them.
“How should we arrange this?” Vylasgarden asked.
“I suppose the two of you are going to put me on the floor again like some mangy mutt?” Riker said jokingly.
“Well you are half human,” Llorva quipped at him.
“Oh ha-ha,” Riker guffawed. The three of them laughed and teased each other and suddenly Llorva was interrupted by the sounds of something happening downstairs.
“What is it?” Vylasgarden asked.
“I heard something downstairs,” Llorva said lingering her eyes at the door.
“Yeah, there are people drinking down there,” Riker reasoned. Llorva walked over to the door and leaned her ear closer.
“No, it sounded like… nailing.”
“That is odd,” Vylasgarden pointed out. “It is quite late for an activity that would require nailing.”
“Yeah...” Riker said tiredly. “Let’s go see what the bother is,” he said reaching for his white coat. Then came a knock at the door. Llorva hesitated then answer it. It was Semira.
“What is the matter Semira?” Vylasgarden asked.
“Is it true that dragons lived a really long time?” the girl asked.
“Semira perhaps you and Vylasgarden can talk about this in the morn,” Riker suggested. “Do you know what is happening downstairs?”
“Father is boarding up the inn,” Semira said plainly. Riker perked up and got up from the floor.
“Why would he do that?” he asked inserting himself into view.
“I dun know, he says it keeps the monsters away,” Semira replied casually.
Riker, Llorva, and Vylasgarden exited the room saying nothing.
“Go get Jared and the others and meet us in the lobby,” Riker told Vylasgarden then he and Llorva made for the stairs. Semira followed the elves to the stairs.
“So how do you keep your ears so pointy?” Semira asked Llorva as she followed them.
“Not now, little girl,” Llorva hissed.
“Okay then,” Semira took a second to think. “What about the food you eat. Is it the same food we eat?” Riker stopped on the stairs and turned to Semira.
“No, we usually eat little girls who ask too many questions,” he growled through a twisted smile. Semira gasped.
Llorva slapped Riker’s head and said, “No we do not!”
“Well, not us. But I am starting to develop a craving for young human flesh,” Riker said clawing his fingers and creeping towards Semira. The little girl yelped and stepped back.
“Sleep,” Riker commanded as a wisp of yellow magic came from his flute and had put Semira under a sleeping spell.
“For goodness sake Riker!” Llorva exclaimed.
“Oh, come on! You know it was funny.”
“You are a mischievous weasel,” She replied. “You just might have started a negative stereotype for elves.”
“Well I suppose we are even for you calling me a human mutt earlier,” Riker quipped as he picked up Semira’s sleeping body and carried her down the stairs. Once they reached the bottom floor they noticed that every person from the lounge had congregated into the lobby and are spectating as the innkeeper nailed in boards and iron grates over the windows as a pair of men slid a large iron bar across the closed door.
“What is going on down here?” Riker asked. Everyone stopped and turned to look at them.
“My child, is she okay?” the innkeeper asked worriedly.
“Yes, she just fell asleep talking to my friend here,” Riker said as he laid Semira down on a sofa that was sitting in the corner near the staircase. “Curious this one is,” he said to try and ease the tension in the room. Many people in the lobby looked quite sober in contrast to their merriment just minutes before.
“What is all this?” Llorva asked just as Vylasgarden and the others came down the stairs.
“Everything will be okay. Just go back upstairs, you are safe here,” the innkeeper reassured them. Nothing in his voice seemed certain nor safe.
“That is not what she asked?” Jared said with a growl. “And unless you want me and my brothers to tear down those barricades, I would suggest you tell us what is going on.” There was a moment of pause. No one moved or spoke but the people looked at each other as if waiting for someone else to speak up.
“Okay, tearing it down it is,” Jared said before pushing his way through the crowd to the front door.
“No! Please, I will tell you!” A man said from the crowd. He was hearty looking and lean. One could have assumed he was a carpenter or a smith of sorts from just looking at the man’s upper build. “Every night a beast comes from the woods and torment our village. After a while we started barricading our doors at night, but she still managed to kill at least one person every night. We all would emerge from our homes in the morning to discover what was left of loved one’s bodies with their blood spilt all over the dirt road,” No one interrupted him, and when he took pauses no one dare to speak. “Before we knew she had come back, she killed every person caught wandering outside during the first nights of her attacks.”
“You said she. You know that the beast is female?” Jared asked.
The people looked among themselves again. One of the villagers⏤ a middle-aged woman⏤ pointed a finger at an elderly man sitting at a small corner table drinking from a large bottle. “He is the one to blame for this!” she yelled. “I do not know why we protect him, all he does now is get drunk and we barely have enough booze in this poor village as it is. We should throw him out for the beast to kill and maybe she will go away for good!”
“Why? What did he do?” Riker insisted.
A third person spoke. This time a woman who came and held the innkeeper’s arm. “Before all this, he was our shepherd. But he kept losing our sheep to a pack of ravenous wolves that preyed on the herd from the fields. We lost a lot of food and business because of that waste of a man, so one day our chieftain went to him and asked him to make a sacrifice to the demigod of beasts and transformation so that he may bestow to us a guardian for our herd. But instead of making an adequate sacrifice like a wolf or a dog, he sacrificed his virgin daughter!” The shepherd began to sob over the table and into his bottle.
“His mistake became our punishment,” A man said.
“His daughter transformed into a devilish she-wolf and she comes every night to remind us of what he did,” the woman’s eyes teared up with anger, sadness, and fear all at once.
“Perhaps we can help apprehend her and maybe your demigod will turn her back if we made a right sacrifice,” Riker suggested.
“Are you crazy? That thing needs to be slain!” Jared exclaimed.
“No one is doing anything but staying here. We cannot help these people, not in the state we are in right now,” Vylasgarden followed. “We all have not had a proper rest in days.”
“You and Llorva stay here, Jared, his brothers and I will go after the girl,” Riker suggested.
“Oh no, you will not be making decisions for us anymore,” Jared replied.
Riker looked Jared’s way then looked to Durbal, Perry, and Lemuel.
“What do the two of you say?” Riker asked.
“Come on brother, when was the last time we slain a beast together?” Durbal said to Jared.
“It is what Bomur and Ezekiel would have wanted, and it will be like they are there with us in spirit,” Lemuel followed. “We’ll be heroes.” Jared looked to Perry but Perry just looked at him anxiously like a startled deer.
“I… I am not sure I want to do this,” Perry finally spoke.
“Come on Perry we all need to fight as brothers!” Dural insisted.
“We cannot do it without the two of you,” Lemuel followed.
“Will it be like when we all would go hunting together?” Perry asked in a small voice.
“Yes, think about it being the ultimate hunt,” Durbal said with a toothy smile. Besides, we outnumber the beast. It wouldn’t see us coming.”
“We just need a plan to corner her and it all will be over,” Riker explained to Jared. Llorva wondered why Riker was advocating this after what they had just gone through. One thing was sure, she was not going to involve herself.
Perry nodded then looked up to Jared and said, “Okay, I agree. It is what Ezekiel and Bomur would have wanted.”
Jared sighed. “Very well, we will slay your beast for you,” Jared reluctantly said to the villagers. “But not for free.” The villagers’ faces lit up throughout the room. The former shepherd took a long drink from his bottle then covered his face with his hands. “Why do you whimper old man?” Jared barked at the man. “You cry for a child you sacrificed.”
“I had no choice!” the man screamed and all within the lobby fell silent. The man sunk into his chair. “I was told that nothing else would be enough for the gods.”
“Who told you that?” Riker questioned.
“The chieftain said that the lord of beasts and transmutation needed a noble sacrifice from the people,” the man started. “No animal would be good enough. He looked at my beautiful daughter with hungry eyes and told me to sacrifice her…”
“Is this true?” Llorva asked the village.
“This is the first any of us are hearing about this,” the innkeeper replied.
“It’s true… He said that a virgin sacrifice would please the lord. So now you know that I alone am not to blame,” the man said taking another drink from his bottle.
“Where is the chieftain now?” Riker asked.
“He was one of the first to die,” someone reluctantly said. “But thank all that is good for these brave heroes!” she shouted. The entire lobby then began to clap and cheer.
“We will not be going out there,” Vylasgarden said to Riker referring to herself and Llorva.
Riker walked over to them. “After last night, I would not ask either of you to do this.”
“Why did you ask for their help then?” Llorva asked.
“Because they have experience with these kinds of things.”
“And you do?? What if they lose another brother tonight Riker? You do not want that blood on your hands,” Vylasgarden told him.
“It will not come to that.”
“How do you know that?” Llorva asked.
“Because this time we will be expecting the threat.” His eyes, though tired, were focused on theirs. He looked at Vylasgarden. “You should meditate just in case something does happen,” Riker said to her.
“Don’t get yourself killed out there,” She replied to him.
“I do not have plans to die tonight, nor do those men over there,” he said referring to the warbound.
“What about your magic? Are you prepared for something like this?” Llorva asked him.
“As long as I have my instruments, I will be fine,” he said pointing to the flute tied around his neck. “It’s going to be a thematic confrontation I am sure,” he said with a bit of nervousness in his voice. He looked down with a bit of a chuckle then he looked up. “Am I doing the right thing?”
“You may be a leader Riker, but you have no more brain than stone,” Llorva told him. “But despite your presumptuousness, you are doing a valorous thing for these people and that poor girl out there.”
“Whether you kill her or not, know that you are righting a wrong that has been bestowed onto her,” Vylasgarden followed. Riker gave them a nod then turned to join Jared and his brothers.
Baron Von Riker
The men huddled around the counter with a map of the village given to them by the innkeeper.
“You know what this means now Riker,” Lemuel said to him.
“You are now warbound,” Durbal finished.
“He is not warbound,” Jared interrupted. “Yet,” he continued looking at Riker who met his eyes. The two nod to each other then focused on the map. “A villager mentioned that the she-wolf will stay with the herd of sheep after terrorizing the neighborhood for a bit. Says she stalks the main road. I suggest we ambush her from all angles using the sheep as bait,” Jared suggested.
“We will need to fashion a net to slow her down,” Riker stated.
A villager came from behind and said, “We can do that for you.”
“Do you have rope?” Jared asked. The villager nodded and went to assemble his own team.
“Good, now once you wear her down I can come in and try incapacitating her with a spell,” Riker followed.
“We are not taking it alive,” Jared barked. “We slay monsters, not save them.”
“The girl may have turned into a monster but it was not her fault. We should restrain her and try to figure out how to change her back,” Riker explained. “It is only fair.” Perry, Lemuel, and Durbal just exchanged awkward looks with each other.
“If you want me and my brothers to follow you into this, we will not be pulling our punches. We are going in with the intent to kill,” Jared growled. His eyes fixed onto Riker’s face.
“Can we at least use lethal force as a last resort?” Riker pleaded. Allow me to try to save her Jared.” There was a moment of silence as Jared stared Riker down. Riker sensed the resentment bubbling up into Jared’s lips. Still, his obligation took over him and pushed aside his guilt or compromise.
“Okay,” Jared huffed. “But I will call it and you best stay out of my way when I do.”
“That is all I ask,” Riker said then Jared and the warbound left the counter to prepare for the ambush.
The former shepherd approached Riker. “Thank you,” he said. The scent of alcohol was strong on his breath.
Riker looked at the pathetic old man and said, “Don’t thank me just yet.”