Vile, rancid stench filled his nostrils. They stung and burned, but he was too preoccupied to care. He trudged through the slums, ignoring the cries of the maimed, though they were pitiful. The dark sky’s brow creased and brought forth rain to add to his brooding mood. The newly formed puddles sloshed beneath his boots, soaking his lower legs.
Meet me in the Chipped Mug tonight. Koifur and I will be waiting with food and rooms. And maybe some drinks if Koifur falls asleep early.
Aorien had left him the note earlier that morning, while they were still on the road. He looked up from the note and glanced at the sign. It read in gray, faded text, Chipped Mug. He entered, bracing himself for damp floors and dangerous strangers, but as the door creaked open he was met by a brightly lit room, with stairs spiralling up to the second floor. A portly bartender was arranging the mugs behind a bar and only a few people sat in the room.
Evart immediately recognized two of the faces to be his friends, Koifur and Aorien. Koifur had three mugs of some foamy brew out in front of him, and only one had ale left in it. The dwarf had taken off the chainmail he wore earlier and was garbed in a simple tunic cinched tight with a thick leather belt. His brown eyes and short, stocky frame gave him the look of a boulder. Aorien, on the other hand, was tall and thin and had a small glass of wine before him. The robes he wore were gray and slightly faded from travel. His sharp green eyes were wary, but came alight as Evart entered the room.
“Evart! We were worried you’d gotten lost in the slums!” Exclaimed Aorien excitedly but not so loudly as to alert the other patrons.
“Bah, boy can take care of ‘imself. Good te see ye though, Evart.”
Aorien ignored this, and continued.
“Was that man there today? We looked about the merchant’s quarter and couldn’t find anyone who knew him. In fact, no one knew anything about a man dressed like that, not even the guards.”
“Nay, I did not see him today. Perhaps we have the wrong town that was within a day’s journey? And also that just happened to also be called Streis?
Aorien and Koifur chuckled, though they were just as frustrated. Evart continued,
“It’s not like we are short on time, though, we haven’t had a need to leave so far. There’s food and drink aplenty here, and I doubt the owner minds us staying.”
Koifur heartily agreed, but looked disappointedly into the bottom of his empty mug.
“Aye, there’s food aplenty here, but th’ drinks runnin’ low”
Aorien chuckled and gave Koifur a hearty slap across the back,
“Well if you’d stop drinking it wouldn’t be a problem!”
The trio ate their meal and finished their mugs, then retired to their rooms. Aorien pulled Evart aside and whispered to him,
“Sleep lightly, I caught one of the men listening closely to our speech. I suspect foul play. I’ll keep first watch, then Koifur, then you, and keep your sword half-drawn.”
That night, Koifur shook Evart awake and motioned him to the door. He placed a finger on his lips, whispering “Don’t say a word, someone’s at the door”. Koifur drew an axe halfway out of his belt loop, the triangular blade glimmered in the dim moonlight from the single window. Evart rose from the mattress and reached for the dagger under his pillow, he’d put it there after Aorien warned him of his suspicions. Koifur reached for the door and raised three fingers. He put them down one by one, and on the last one yanked the door open. Evart burst through, grabbed the eavesdropper, and put the knife on his throat. Koifur followed this up with a swift punch from a certain steel gauntlet.
Hours later, just before the light of dawn, the intruder awoke. His jaw was swollen and his head hurt. Feels like I got hit by a brick! As he regained a little more consciousness, he noticed he was tied firmly to a chair.
“Mornin’, sunshine” a voice that sounded like falling rocks grumbled to him. “Don’t suppose ye’d like to tell us precisely what ye were doin’ outside our door last night, do ye?”
The stranger was more confused than anything, for there was a dwarf that had called him ‘sunshine’ and politely asked what he was doing. Everything he’d heard of dwarves led him to believe he would be woken up with another fist, perhaps the left this time.
“Erm, well I was walking by the door,” He paused when the dwarf drew an axe and began to sharpen it
“Go on, I always did like lettin’ people finish ther’ stories afore I sends ‘em on.”
The stranger was so nervous that he began to stammer uncontrollably. Before the dwarf could scare him any more, two other figures entered the room.
“Koifur, what have you been doing to this poor man?”
“Oh, nothing. Just loosening up his lovely voice ‘fore ye got to have a wee talk with ‘im… And makin’ sure ‘e won’t give ye any trouble at all. I’ll be in the hall if ye need anything at all.”
Koifur slipped out of the room and closed the door behind him. The two strangers pulled up chairs and calmly began to eat some bread and cheese. Between mouthfuls, the one that was clearly human said
“So, continuing the discussion you were having with our lovely companion, what were you doing outside our room?”
“I tried to tell the dwarf that I was just walking by, but he wouldn’t listen! He threatened all sorts of horrors on me unless I told him what he wanted! I swear I wasn’t eavesdropping!”
The elf began to shake his head about halfway through, and the human held his hand up.
“If you’re going to lie to us, please don’t try to convince us that Koifur is some kind of monster. If anything we would have heard him. He isn’t exactly quiet when he’s angry.”
The stranger knew that his lie was uncovered.
“Fine, I was eavesdropping. Some man found me in the markets yesterday and paid me good to find what you were doin’, and since the money was good I took the job.”
He began to pull at his bonds furiously. Koifur grabbed his wrists, and asked one more question.
“What did ‘e look like, boy?”
The stranger squirmed uncomfortably, but answered.
“Tall, robed, silver mask. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry, and his voice was unnerving.
Satisfied with this answer, Evart cut him loose from the chair. The stranger rubbed his wrists, and inquired nervously,
“What now? Can I just leave?”
Evart chuckled and a hearty laugh came from the hall.
“Of course you can, but if we ever catch you doing anything like this again you’ll have to learn to live without a hand.”The man’s eyes widened until they looked like dinner plates. He dashed out of the room as fast he he could, narrowly missing running into Koifur. Evart briefly looked into the hall to make sure he was gone, and then returned to the room. Aorien wore an expression of concern. Evart asked him why he looked so worried, and Aorien responded “Because that man was the man we’ve been searching for. He was trying to find if we were going to give up the search. I suspect he’ll be back tonight, so this time we can find what’s really going on.”