Rise of the Runelords

Runelord Reflections 2 (Day 4)

Day 4 (3.6.15)

Broken Glass

I laid in bed late into the night, exhausted beyond measure. I lay there, staring. Staring at the ceiling, for gods know how long. It was like every muscle in my body had turned to water. Bone-weary, I couldn’t quite find the oblivion of sleep I so desperately sought.

My mind spun with plans and observations and hunches, the strengths and weaknesses of my freshly-formed group’s members, the names and faces of the people in this town I found myself in. People who owed us, or didn’t like us. Important people, and people who just seemed cool. Thoughts of winter, and something that had been in the back of my head, something familiar as Rainbow’s healing energies had washed over me that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. Itching at my thoughts but frustratingly impossible to grasp, I found myself coming back to that feeling again and again.

I don’t exactly know what it was, or when it happened. Not exactly. Maybe it was laying there for so long, finally realizing that one of the other five women should have turned in by now. Maybe it was that faint, annoying sound that kept pulling me back from the brink of consciousness. Whispering. Or maybe a crackling flame. Maybe it was something else entirely. Whatever the case, I found myself getting up out of bed, creeping toward the doorway with an overabundance of nervous tension.

What am I scared of? I wondered that myself, but couldn’t deny the terrified pounding of my heart, pulse throbbing in my ears as I reached out towards the door knob. I looked down, and saw a strange glow from beneath the door, a sliver of light that seemed to flicker.

I remember gritting my teeth as I flung open the door, preparing myself for whatever had my danger senses tingling. Another goblin raid, or an angry mob of villagers, or Zeyara’s secret mission turning out to be murdering us all, or maybe even giants…

Everything was in flames.

I gasped at the beauty of it, but even as I did it became clear that something was not right. There was no hallway, no staircase to go downstairs. There was nothing but fire. A whole world of it.

Glimmering from above pulled at my attention, and I looked up to finally noticed the brilliant constellations that hung above me, startling in their clarity. Spellbound at the awesome sight, I wondered where the roof had gotten to, but looking back into the room I realized that it was no longer there.

Unsettled by this development, I peered around carefully. I was within a sea of fire, a burning expanse that flickered and churned, a sound not unlike deep bass rattling my bones. A world of fire, and its flames made even the sky seem to burn. But, far above, I could see the constellations so clearly, I knew they, at least, would be separate from the raging inferno that engulfed me. Shooting up towards the bright stars, I found myself hurtling into an infinite gulf of blackness as the fiery area was left behind.

The stars were brilliant; I could easily pick out the most familiar ones. They were beautiful, but they made the place in between all the darker in contrast, and I found myself facing a vast chasm between the stars, so dark it gave me a serious case of the nerves.

Suddenly terrified, I realized that something was out there. Out in that nothingness. Waiting. Biding its time. I began to hear whispers, hissing whispers both familiar and unknown. My caravan-family, gone and dead all these years. A dark, harsh whisper of something alien and deep, reminiscent of fire and bronze.

They were telling me to go, to embrace the darkness, give myself over to it. The lessons my mother had tried to instill came flooding back, and every last part of me railed against the fate that lay yawning before me like a bottomless pit, ravenous and ready to swallow up the flickering light inside me.

Sensing my hesitation, the voices got louder, more insistent. Demanding. Now I was getting angry. Black, shadowy tendrils lashed out from beyond time and space, infinitely cold with the limitless nothingness through which they’d traveled. WIth a roar, I felt myself beating powerfully against the pulling grasp, great wings thrashing through the void, the incredible power I unleashed allowing me to tear away from the clutching tentacles as if through cobwebs, wheeling and diving back down into the fiery depths below, rippling with strength and bellowing with rage.

I turned my head, strange and sinewy, getting a look at myself.

A dragon, with scales of deep, dark red-

“Rusty Dragon-”

Something twitched.

“”The Rusty Dragon Inn-”

Gradually I opened an eye. The bed twitched again. I looked down, seeing the small form of Rainbow curled up in one corner of the bed.

My heart froze as the whispers began.

I lay there, listening for a good minute, before blowing the hair out of my eyes. Screw that noise. Blearily, I sat up, disturbing the halfling enough to cause her to roll over, nearly crushing her pet rat in the process. Mister Whiskers, however, deftly scurried away, pausing before continuing to nibble on the bedsheets.

I was yawning, halfway to the door, when it sunk in, and I turned to get another look. Sure enough, numerous holes dotted the now-ragged end of Ameiko’s sheets. I shook my head. Not good. Maybe I should check in with her, break the bad news. Possibly catching her in the bath. Humming to myself, pleasantly distracted, I decided a bath of my own was in order.

A short while later I opened the door to the common room, surprised at the lack of noise and customers, vaguely disappointed that I’d ended up bathing alone. The place was so dead, the only people I saw were the Tian woman who worked for Ameiko and an elderly man. “I’m sorry, but the Rusty Dragon Inn is temporarily closed, please come back tomorrow. I apologize for the inconvenience.” The man, somewhat grumpily, turned and left with a grunt, and the woman turned to me, looking more than slightly flustered. Something strange happened with her eyes, then, possibly a gleam of hope. With hurried steps, she approached.

I’d never caught her name, and without a proper introduction I couldn’t remember much about her at all. Now was not the time to start trying, though.

“Something wrong?” Zeyara appeared from the hallway, rubbing her prominent mantis-eyes, the solid orbs distinctly yellowish in the morning light that shone through the window front.

“Where’s Ameiko?” I asked, more pointedly.

The woman, who I’ll call the Tian manager for lack of a name, informed us that her employer had disappeared earlier that morning, following the delivery of a strange letter. Her expression practically begged us to ask and see it, and after some half-hearted deliberation about Ameiko’s privacy, she hastily produced the document in question.

“Chicken-scratch nonsense,” I muttered, louder than I should have, apparently, as the manager woman gave me a startled and slightly offended look.

“It’s Tian, clearly” stated Vega.

“What’s it say?” Rainbow asked, peering over the table upon which the letter had been placed, straining on her tiptoes.

“Ah,” Vega stalled, “I can’t… that is, I don’t know how to read it-”

“Well what good does that do us?” Rakonia asked in a gravelly voice.

“SInce there’s only a few Tian-born people in town-”

“Hey,” Zeyara snapped her fingers. “One of them’s right here.”

Skalmold had caught on, mostly, at least. “Did you write this note?” the blonde asked threateningly, looming over the now-shaking Tian woman.

“N-no!” she denied. Skalmold put her down, turning to look at us rather quizzically, clearly out of ideas.

“But you could read it?” Zeyara suggested, getting a frightened nod for her trouble. “To us.” I grinned; the way she asked it as a question at first, but then demanded it at the end.

The woman took us into the back room, behind the kitchen, where various dry goods and sundries were stored. As I glanced around at all the stuff, she began to read.

Ameiko’s long-lost brother, the half-elven bastard Suto, was the supposed author. He beseeched his sister to meet him at the Glassworks, the Kaijitsu family’s claim to fame in Sandpoint. There, they would confront the old bastard Lonjiku about his role in the crisis with the goblins. He went on to accuse his father of being the one who’d opened the gates along the north wall, allowing the goblins access to the town, and that together, brother and sister would make it right.

I couldn’t help passing judgement then and there. I didn’t know anything about this Suto character other than that, as a stranger, he was untrustworthy. But her annoying father had seemed stuck up and cold; it was impossible not to believe the worst about him.

Some people save give people a chance. Or multiple chances. I prefer the snap judgements. Don’t second-guess yourself, and act accordingly. And, if you should be wrong about them, at least you’ll be alive, even if they wind up otherwise. Live and learn, that’s what it’s all about. That, and better them than you, at least when it comes to dying.

I gave the Tian manager-woman a long, hard stare. “Don’t talk to anyone about this.” I took the letter from the table, intending to throw it into the fire, but found to my amazement the pages already crackling as a current of energy tingled its way down my arm.

That was new.

Nobody else seemed to notice, everyone busy grabbing their gear or using the privy if they hadn’t already. Making haste as best I could, I slid into the chain armor, wiggling until it felt comfortable. Zeyara was hopping around the room, trying to fit into her skin-tight leathers. Moments later we were out the door, casually rushing across town towards the western cliff overlooking the ocean.

The Street of Glass, as were so many of the town’s imaginatively named streets, gave a good indication of what could be found along it. The Glassworks loomed large, stone and imposing, along most of the street.

As we approached, an old man called out to us. “Eh, yeh won’t be getting in today, sonny. They done shut down the place!” He looked like he’d just told us the most important and amazing fact that had ever been discovered, nodding vigorously to affirm his own story. “Ain’t nobody come or gone all morning.”

“Whaddaya mean?” Intensity crackled off of me

He swallowed, surrounded as he was by three imposing female figures carrying weapons and staring at Zeyara’s creepy pupil-less eyes. “What are yeh?” he gasped, suddenly much more frightened than gregarious.

“We’re the people who saved the town from the goblin raid, night before last,” I announced importantly before turning the question around, putting him on the defensive. “Who are you?”

The old man sputtered, squinting around at each of us in turn. “Eh? What’re yeh about?”

In all fairness, he may have given a name, but I’ll be damned if I can remember it.

Zeyara caught my eye and quietly disappeared, heading across the street towards the building.

“What is happening in the Glassworks?” Rainbow asked reasonably. Looking down in surprise, the old man caught sight of the halfling looking up with those wide, earnest eyes of hers. “You said something about it being shut down…” She paused politely, giving him a ‘go ahead’ kind of look and held out a hand to signal he should continue.

He crouched down, lowering his voice conspiratorially. “Yeh see, little un, the Glassworks is always up and running at the crack o’ dawn.” He nodded importantly. “I live across yonder, and its always the same. Smoke billowing out the chimneys and people hustlin’ and bustlin’ all over the place. Get’s so’s a man can’t get his beauty sleep!” He chuckled at his own joke, fingers rasping across the stubble lining his withered face as he pulled at his jowls. “Why, back in ‘87-”

“This morning,” Rakonia prodded, looking disgruntled. The man glanced at her, eyes narrowing before shaking his head.

“That’s what I’m gettin’ to,” he whined. “Nobody’s out and about. They only got but one furnace running. The place is locked up tighter than a maid’s… er-”

“Careful,” I warned.

He stuttered for a moment, then turned to point at the building. “Yeh see,” he began, the did a double take. I followed his gaze and saw the emaciated figure of Zeyara across the street, bent over and fiddling around with the door. “What’s going on here?” he exclaimed, looking concerned.

Deftly, I stepped in front of his gaze, the gleaming mail rings catching the light of the newly-risen sun quite dazzlingly. “You are right to be concerned, citizen,” I said pompously. He looked up at me in surprise. “Your help is appreciated. As we investigate, make sure to steer people clear of the building.” He stared at me blankly. “Tell them what you told us, that it’s closed.”

“Er… alright…” We left the old-timer gaping in his spot along the street, heading to the building as Zeyara gave us a subtle hand-wave.

“It’s open,” Zeyara stated, sliding something into her belt pouch.

“It was open?” Skalmold asked, looking puzzled. “But the old man said-”

“It is open now,” clarified the fetchling, turning the handle and opening the heavy, ornate door. It swung backwards into the building, revealing a silent, dim interior.

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Making glass was apparently more complicated than I’d imagined. Not that I’ve ever spent time thinking about it, really, but between all the chemical smells and heat and smoke, it seemed not completely different than a forge. Minus the anvils.

It was eerily quiet. With a shared glance, the Sisterhood of Steel crept its way through the building. The majority was stone, with hallways and small, specialized rooms holding strange devices or mundane-looking barrels.

The stink of the place began to get worse, and there was something underlying it that gave me a feeling of foreboding. Almost like cooked meat…

We opened a set of massive doors, and looked upon a scene of slaughter.

The room was long, with numerous individual furnaces and kilns arrayed in neat rows. A series of workbenches and tool racks ran along the perimeter. But it was the blood that drew my attention. Blood spattered the floor, the walls, in some spots even the ceiling. Mangled corpses lay scattered about, their ruined flesh red and wet in the flickering light of the furnace. Sightless eyes gazed into oblivion from around the room. And there, in the corner, a human-sized shape caught my eye. Thick, dripping glass had cooled solid, but within I could just barely make out the shape of a humanoid figure.

Ameiko! was my first panicked thought. The intensity of my worry was surprising.

And then, the living occupants of the room turned on us.

From their hiding spots around the room, a small tide of familiar, wicked-looking goblins rushed out, beady black eyes glinting with malice and mouths opened in high-pitched battle-screams, fanged maws dripping spittle and blood as they raised their strangely curved swords and attacked.

I felt something turn on inside of me, stepping forward around to the left side of the kilns that separated one side of the room from the other even as Rakonia and Skalmold made for the other. The goblins rushed forward and my naginata lashed out, severing the legs out from under one of the beasts before spinning up and thrusting its way through the chest of another. Through the glassmaking devices, I could see Skalmold laying waste with her humongus hammer roaring incoherently, and heard Rakonia’s furious shouting, no doubt insulting her hated enemy in their native tongue.

I was shouting too, the words feeling utterly right and beautiful; I’d never felt so eloquent about insulting the parentage of an opponent. Zeyara appeared to flow behind one of the goblins that had held back, her blade flicking out in a fluid motion and exiting its throat in a spray of dark blood. I watched the degenerate creature fall to its knees, gurgling before keeling over, and heard the fetchling shouting something at me but I couldn’t understand the language she was speaking in.

I clove the last goblin on my side of the room, the green-skinned monstrosity falling to the floor in a heap of split bone and glistening muscle. I hooked its limp, child-sized body on the end of my naginata and hurled it across the room into a wall where it collided with a satisfying crunch.

I looked around for more, but the last of the creatures was being bound with rope by Rakonia, the dwarf’s eyes slightly crazed with the prospect of her captive. Things began to slow down, and as I caught my breath I heard her say, “Always save one for questioning.”

“That’s what I was telling you,” Zeyara frowned at me.

“I couldn’t understand the language you were speaking in,” I explained.

She rolled her eyes. Or at least, I think she did; it’s hard to tell when the things are a uniform yellowish-green color. “You seem to understand me fine right now.”

That was true. Puzzled, I shrugged helplessly, feeling like I was missing something.

Rakonia had already begun to question the captive in the goblin tongue, Rainbow occasionally inserting a sentence or two of the guttural, primitive-sounding language. Wiping her bloodstained hands on her thighs, the dwarf stood up from her gristly work. Vega looked a bit ill, paler even than usual, but Skalmold had watched the scene with interest. It was hard to read Zeyara’s blank, luminous eyes, but she hadn’t blinked during the torture at all.

“They came in from somewhere below,” the squat ranger began, giving the creature’s corpse a kick for good measure. “A tunnel. And below is where their master is. Crazy, it thought.”

“Their master?”

“A human, by the sounds of it. The one who led them here.”

I walked over to the glass statue, unable to get a thought out of my mind. As I peered at it closely, seeing the horribly burned features of an old man, I fairly danced with delight. “Hey, it’s that old bastard!” I shouted with relief. The others turned to look.

“Lonjiku Kaijitsu,” Vega confirmed, peering at it closely.

“Let’s keep going,” I said, eager to find our still-missing-and-possibly-alive friend, as well as this so-called ‘master’. I had some questions of my own for him.

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A secret door in the floor was hidden cunningly in the stonework. We would never have found it if it hadn’t been left open. But there it was, and cautiously we descended the stone staircase.

“These stairs are old,” Rakonia whispered.

“How can you tell?” I asked. It seemed like stone was stone. Ageless.

“I’m a dwarf,” she muttered, as if that explained everything. Which perhaps it did. After all, I seem to have an innate ability to find the place on a building where, if a fire were to be lit, it results in an all-consuming inferno.

At the base of the stairs, a stone chamber opened up, three doors along its walls and a dark tunnel that curved away in the distance. Zeyara held up a hand, creeping her way through the room silently and listening at the doors. Her eyes glowed a dim green, the angular face pinched in concentration.

“Sounds from those two doors,” she breathed, barely a whisper. “Someone sleeping in the first, crying in the second.”

Crying. “Ameiko.” I nodded at the first door. “Sleeper first.” Zeyara shot me a questioning glance, thinking to rescue our friend first.

We’d do that once the ‘master’ had been dealt with.

Slowly, quietly, carefully, the fetchling ninja opened the heavy, ancient-looking door, quick dabs of oil to the hinges allowing for a silent entry. Not that it turned out to be necessary; the slumbering figure on a pile of bedding snorted and turned, reeking of potent spirits.

We surrounded the figure, a strangely-dressed half-elven man. Presumably Suto, Ameiko’s brother, bastard child of her mother and some unknown elven lover. The alleged inspiration for Lonjiku’s rumored murder of his wife. The ultimate cause of Ameiko’s estrangement from her family. All that, just by being born.

In unison, we raised our weapons, bringing them down upon the helpless, sleeping opponent. As the butt of Rakonia’s axe collided with his stomach, the staff-end of my naginata was cracking him across the head. After a brief burst of pummeling, someone raised a hand to stop. Grinning, the others quickly tied up the man good and tight, blindfolding him, gagging him, and then putting a burlap sack over his head for good measure.

I burst into the room next door, envisioning a heroic rescue scene where Ameiko would be sobbing her gratitude and rushing to embrace me, but the sight that confronted me brought the taste of bile rushing up my throat. Chained to the wall, Ameiko Kaijitsu hung limply, her arms held above her awkwardly as she sagged on her knees. Her face was a mass of bruises, and numerous cuts and scrapes had bled and dried all over her body.

I rushed forward, feeling a burning need to get close to her, somehow make it right. A flood of vitality rushed through me, and without knowing exactly how I imagined the power flowing through my hands, into her, giving her strength. She gave a gasp, jerking and sending the chains rattling. “Zeyara!” I called, watching the cuts and bruises fade away, leaving behind patterns of dried blood. The fetchling appeared at the doorway. “Can you unlock her?” I eyed the heavy, solid-looking manacles. Zeyara made a scoffing sound, and a few seconds later I was catching the limp form of the newly-freed Ameiko.

I tossed her over a shoulder and headed out. “I’m going to get her back to the Rusty Dragon. Be right back.” I headed to the stairs. “Don’t start the questioning without me. Maybe get him set up in the other room,” I added, and Zeyara at least nodded in understanding.

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Once the unconscious woman had been safely and stealthily deposited in her room, I made my way back to the Glassworks. The lack of commotion outside was promising. Casually, I walked up to the building and entered, studiously avoiding the inquiring gaze of the old man who still lingered outside.

The questioning proved difficult. Suto was apparently quite mad, and silent on all topics that we brought up.

While Rakonia and Skalmold tried working the man over, the rest of us were contemplating our next move.

“Lonjiku was a traitor. His son-”

“Not his son,” Rainbow clarified.

“True. Well, this guy, Suto, was working with the goblins as well.”

“And?”

“Well, it paints a rather grim portrait of the Kaijitsu family.” Only one of which will be alive to suffer the consequences. And she was innocent. Probably. “All I’m saying is that we have to be careful to get our stories straight.”

“Stories?”

“Several workers, townspeople who live here in Sandpoint, are lying dead on the floor upstairs,” I began. The others nodded, some looking uncomfortable. Maybe even a little sad. “Soon, their families will begin to wonder, people will investigate… if they find us, or this Suto asshole, who knows what conclusions they’ll jump to.”

“We should get out ahead of this,” Vega commented, picking up on the idea. “Inform the mayor of the attack, and that we investigated and dealt with it.”

“Yes, goblins attacking the town again. Somehow they got inside-”

“Through the tunnel, most likely,” Rainbow commented, eyeing the dark chasm through the rock that stretched off as far as we could see.

“Yes, but… maybe best to keep that to ourselves, too. Incriminating, having a secret tunnel out of your business, and one that goblins know about…” There was something romantic about the notion of knowing about a secret passage nobody else did. Also, I had plans for this business, plans that wouldn’t work if the place was taken over by the town as restitution for the traitorous actions of the family, whether past or present.

“So, what do we say?”

“Just keep it vague. They must have snuck in under cover of darkness. We got inside, saw the goblins murdering people, Lonjiku and the rest having battled them valiantly but falling to the overwhelming numbers. Then we came and killed their attackers.”

Rakonia approached, shaking her head. “Won’t talk,” she muttered.

“Maybe magic would succeed where conventional tactics have failed,” Vega offered, laying out the possibility for mental compulsion. Rainbow quickly agreed, but the power she required to accomplish such a thing apparently couldn’t be unleashed until the following day.

It was midafternoon. We looked around at one another, and then decided to set a watch over our prisoner while the rest of the group met with the mayor and took care of other business.

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After closing the secret stairway and locking the door behind us, Rainbow, Zeyara and I sauntered uphill toward the town hall. Laying out the situation to Mayor Deverin, who looked shocked at the event and relieved that we’d dealt with it, we made arrangements for the collection of the corpses, minus Lonjiku’s glass statue, which we had decided to keep for the moment.

I spent the rest of the day meeting with soldiers and walking the rounds, making visible appearances to show that we were taking our duty as semi-legitimate protectors seriously. The men, more town militia than military veterans, responded well, and as I chatted them up I made sure to ask their opinions of the town’s defenses, and what areas needed to be shored up in case of imminent goblin attack. I made a point to insert requests for this or that, for help building a wall or digging a trench or showing volunteers how to wield a spear or a crossbow. All very reasonable and obvious, and for the most part they were compliant, slowly getting used to doing what I asked. It was a habit I intended to cultivate.

Late afternoon, I walked across the bridge spanning the Turandarok river that framed the eastern edge of town, heading up into the cliffs that rose south of the city proper across the cozy harbor. Only a few ships were at dock. Crossing over a stream that fed into the harbor’s placid bay, the trek became more strenuous as the land rose dramatically. The road made its way into a small wooded hill, at the top of which rose the residences of the town elite. The large, elaborate mansions that greeted my eyes were magnificent; the homes of the four founding families of Sandpoint.

I knocked politely at the Valdemar residence, hoping for an audience with the local patriarch, but nobody answered..Annoyingly, I noticed the family crest of the Scarnetti adorning another of the manors, opposite of the Valdemar, in fact. But where the Valdemar estate faced the harbor and Sandpoint, the Scarnetti home faced out into the sea, back towards Magnimar.

Heading further up the clifftop, I snuck a look across the area to get a look at the Kaijitsu manor gleaming proudly along the cliffside, facing the sea and the gradually-setting sun.

As I made my way back to the Rusty Dragon, I smiled to myself. Someone was about to come into a nice little inheritance…

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“So… how you holding up?” It was stupid, but the silence had grown first uncomfortable, and eventually tedious.

Ameiko stared across the room with red-rimmed eyes. “I’ve been better,” she sighed.

Time to put a positive note on the ordeal. “I can only imagine.” I paused, pretending to consider my thoughts. “Think of it this way. We caught the traitor who had opened the gates for the goblins, which unfortunately was your father. Kind of struck me as an asshole,” I commented, realizing too late that it was a bit soon for that. Luckily, the woman was nodding her head, fingers playing with the streak of white that ran through her black hair, framing her face. “As for Suto’s mad alliance with the goblins-”

“Tsuto,” she said.

“Huh?”

“My brother’s name. Tsuto.”

“Ah,” I said agreeably. Sounded the same to me. “Tsuto was a traitor, too, working for the goblins. They called him ‘master’.” I shook my head. Stupid goblins.

“You’ve been right about them all along. Your father, murderous, trecherous bastard that he was, got less than he deserved as reward for his traitorous actions. Every injury and death that occurred that night the goblins attacked Sandpoint is entirely his fault.”

“You’re right,” she murmured, looking tired. I pressed on.

“Your father, patriarch of the family. Your brother. It’s like you said, since your mother died, the Kaijitsu family went to shit. Except for you.” I ticked of a point or two on my fingers. “You’re respected here, people like your place and seem to like you. There’s no need for you to suffer the taint of association that knowledge of your family’s crimes would bring. Let the town think your father died a hero; they need inspiration during this time of need, not more things to be fearful of. Traitors in their midst… It’d be a witch hunt. Your brother should be kept out of it entirely.”

“But it was him,” she murmured, her voice dripping with the pain of betrayal. “Tsuto was the one behind it.” They’d been close, apparently, before the boy had gone off the deep end. She looked like she was willing herself to ask a question. I nodded encouragingly. “What happened to him? Did he… is he-”

“My condolences,” I said, with perhaps too strong a dose of irony. “Let’s just say he will not be returning to town. Permanently.” I let it sink in for a moment. Grief and relief seemed to war across her features. Struggling, I came to a decision. “I’ll be honest with you. He’s dead.” Which of course wasn’t true, not yet at least. But, for all intents and purposes… “For all intents and purposes, he disappeared last time he left and never returned. Sandpoint needs you more than they need to know the truth about your family.”

“But all those people, the workers who were killed… they deserve to know the truth. Their families deserve justice.” Ameiko had a hard glint in her eyes, like she was about to do something meaningless and self-sacrificing.

“They have a measure already,” I assured her. “The goblins are dead. The ones responsible for their murder are dead, too.” I shook my head. “Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.”

She shot me a quizzical look. “What bigger picture? My family is a bunch of traitors-”

“In the grand scheme,” I interrupted, “the goblin attack was only a ruse, your family pawns of whoever is behind all of this. And that person is still out there. And,” I couldn’t help adding, “it was two members of your family that were traitors; the Kaijitsu family is now represented by only one person, and I happen to know she’s pretty loyal and, basically a decent person.”

“Who do you think it is?” she asked, glossing over my revelatory statement.

Fine. I shrugged. “Who knows? Could be that Chopper everyone talks about so much around here.”

Ameiko shook her head. “He was caught years ago, by Sheriff Belor.”

“Well, whoever it is, they’re out there. Making deals with goblins, of all things. Maybe, if you can find the will to carry on, you’d be willing to lend a hand in the defense of the town? Come on, you were a badass adventurer, and your talents speak for themselves. Singing or performing would be great,” I continued, pushing through the hesitation I saw in her eyes, “but it’d be even better if you were seen helping to man the walls or patrol the river, and maybe you could work out something with free refreshments for the sentries. It would help to lift morale and increase the participation rate of the volunteer militia, if only to get a taste of your cooking!”

“But… what do I know about battle, about defending a city?”

I rolled my eyes. “More than just about anyone else in Sandpoint. At least you’ve wielded a weapon in anger before. And it’s not what you know, it’s the attitude you bring to the task. You’re not going to run away at the sight of the enemy, and seeing you stand firm will give others the courage to stand as well. But you’re also smart enough to know what you don’t know, and won’t make stupid mistakes from arrogance or ignorance.”

Finally, she looked a little impressed by my assessment of her character. “You really think they’re going to hit us again?” As if it were the most unthinkable thing in the world.

Patiently, I shrugged. “I’m not sure. But a wise man once said, better safe than sorry.” She looked amused for a moment, lips twitching in a brief smile. “You can have your revenge against both the goblins and the spectre of your father and brother. Do it by protecting the people they wanted to destroy and taking your place as a leader among the town in a way your father could have never thought possible.”

And, just to lay it on thick, I brought up another spectre. “Your mother would be proud of you, Ameiko.” If only she were still here, if only your father hadn’t killed her. Tears glistened in her eyes, and I didn’t feel the slightest bit guilty bringing up someone I knew nothing about to give my point an extra emotional punch.

Finally, she agreed. “It will be like you said. Goblins snuck in, attacked my father and the workers. I’ll have to find out the names of the victims, arrange for compensation for their familiies…”

“And what about-”

“Yes, I’ll help with the defenses as best I can.” She smiled, stretching her arms out above her. “Maybe I can teach some of the local girls how to stick someone with a blade.”

“It comes in handy more often than you’d think,” I agreed.

“I do like the idea of giving out some food to the sentries. Good marketing, if nothing else.” She nodded appreciatively at my suggestion.

I had another. “You look like you could use a bath,” I commented. “Nothing like a long, hot soak to wash away your worries. Take the night off, get your manager friend to run things for a night. People will understand.”

She gave me a frank look. “You look like you could use one as well.” Looking down, I noticed the dried goblin ichor that had encrusted the sleeves of the outfit I wore below my chainmail. Shit, has that been there all day!? It wasn’t just a little spot here or there; great big splotches of rusty-colored blood covered much of my clothing. Damnit!

That explained some of the looks I’d been getting.

The thought gave me an idea. “I guess so. Wanna go together?” I asked innocently.

“Go? Where-”

“Bathe.”

Her look became guarded. “Ah…”

“I thought I heard that girls take baths together all the time in Tian,” I explained. In fact it was the only thing that stuck out in my memory about the place. “Just two girls, no big deal, soaping each oth-”

“No, well, I suppose yes,” she sputtered. Hopefully flustered rather than shocked. “Public baths are a thing there. I’m more Varissian than Tian,” she admitted. “I’ve lived my whole life here, so…”

“Ah, I see. Well, another time then?” I got up to go.

“Definitely,” she said automatically. I flashed her a smile and left.

The Sisterhood of Steel was gathered around what was quickly becoming “the usual” table. I leaned back, feeling smug. We’d slain a fair number of goblins, found that Ameiko’s asshole father had been taken care of, captured her traitorous brother who now awaited further interrogation the following day. We’d discovered a secret passage underneath the Glassworks that practically begged to be explored, and rescued Ameiko, who was suddenly the beneficiary of a large inheritance… most notably the Glassworks and the Kaijitsu Manor outside of town along the cliffs.

It had been an interesting day.

And tomorrow promised to be interesting as well.

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