The three crested the hill to Berylbrown and looked at the buildings scattered around some fields. Modest, dilapidated homes stood just before them as the fields sprawled out, arranged around a central, spired building. Behind the homes, sat a tavern and beyond that a pentagonal outpost. As they approached they noted the lack of any apparent activity and closer inspection of the homes revealed extensive damage.
Already the sun had begun it’s descent as their horses strode in. From the corner of his eyes Aelen saw that many of the homes had torches burning just to the left or right of the front doors. His curiosity won out and he steered his mount toward the closet home. Flames licked and danced in the air but gave off no additional light in the daytime. As the elf neared he dismounted and walked toward, eyes enamored.
Rustiver and Jerold shrugged at each other as Aelen took his time inspecting and examining. Some vague magic fueled the torches, he knew, though the purpose and oddity completely occupied his mind. Two men further away on horseback began to comprehend the morbid silence when the quietude was violently interrupted. As Aelen peered closer to the torch a nocked arrow emerged from a smashed window; pointed tip not far from his face. Aelen jumped and raised his hands into the air slowly.
“Go away!” An unconvincing voice cracked from inside. Aelen took a small, tentative step backwards.
Rustiver starrted the situation, hands likewise held in the air. “Easy, we’re travelers looking for a kidnapped girl, Jemma.”
“Go away, can’t you see the torch?” The same voice shouted.
“Why isn’t it working?” Aelen heard from another voice inside, then louder. “They said they would take care of the halfings!”
“Who told you-” Aelen attempted.
“Go away or I’ll shoot,” the first voice ordered. “Go away!”
Aelen began walking backwards away from the home, obeying the voice. He very slowly turned to take up his horses reigns and led the animal to his two companions. Rustiver watched Aelen return to the group and it wasn’t until the three had traveled some distance from the house did the loaded arrow disappear back inside.
Reflexively the group rode toward the tavern. All three of the dismounted and after tying their reigns to the hitching posts they walked to the door. It opened suddenly and three rough-looking men emerged, laughing with each other.
They wore dark leather vests with various daggers and short swords sheathed at their waists. Each was tattooed in elaborate, swirling designs that curled around their arms and legs. Upon seeing Rustiver, Jerold, and Aelen the largest of the group sneered and spit on the ground.
“What do we have here,” his mouth carved into a mischievous grin. He wore a red bandanna and another red sash around his torso.
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Jerold returned.
“We’re new in town, just going in for a drink. You wouldn’t happen to know about a kidnapped girl, would you? Rustiver questioned, locking a stare on Snake.
“Lots of girls gone missing around here,” he chuckled. The other two joined in with him. Snake’s hand moved to the hilt of a sheathed sword and he patted it obviously.
“That’s a nice sword you’ve got there, pudgy,” Jerold goaded back.
“The name’s Snake and if we’re lucky you’ll be more familiar with them by the end of the night,” Snake laughed again. Aelen rolled his eyes at the posturing. He folded his arms across his chest and waited for the measuring contest to finish. They all exchanged a tense moment of glares, save the elf, but Snake and his men passed by without incident, heading back the way Jerold, Aelen and Rustiver had come.
So near to a tavern, and thirsty from travel, Rustiver and Jerold let the jeering go and both hurried inside with Aelen behind.
As they entered they found the place completely disheveled. Chairs broken and tables overturned, bottles smashed about and various pieces of splintered wood. Void of patrons the empty room had an almost haunted quality to it. Rustiver looked around the immediate area, finding a couple fresh blood stains, as Jerold strode toward the bar.
He slide his large frame over and began rummaging. Finding a bottle he exclaimed in delight and yanked the cork out. Immediately he began draining it as a smaller framed body exploded from the backroom. Bursting from behind the door the person barreled into Jerold and toppled him. As the three turned to see the commotion an angry woman, knife in hand, stood over the downed barbarian. Deep hatred in her eyes, the woman pointed the blade perilously close to Jerold.
“I told you all to get out and never come back,” she spoke slow and bitter.
“I don’t know that you told us specifically-” Jerold started. She interrupted and thrust the blade forward, inserting the blade. It caused him to a exhale in surprise and pain and Jerold immediately began moving. As he managed to his feet she got in another slash across his stomach.
“Easy, whoa!” Rustiver called out. His hands held in the air he moved toward the two, trying diffuse the violence. “We’re not bandits.”
“You were trespassing here and STEALING my liquor. I don’t care what you call yourselves but you need to go,” she glared, knife still pointed at Jerold. Almost twice and a half times her size the blood pouring from his wounds was evident but he showed no real signs of serious discomfort.
“We’re trying to help traders, two boys who were part of a caravan traveling here. They were ambushed by bandits, their parents killed and their sister was taken.” Rustiver explained.
“We’ve all lost family,” she replied cold. “Now, you thieves need to go.”
“Look, we’re trying help-” Rustiver began again.
“Helping yourself to my bar! Go!”
Jerold eyed the woman, and stepped backward a few feet. As he rejoined them Rustiver placed his hand on Jerold’s shoulder. The former adjudicator closed his eyes and mumbled a short prayer. A dull, white light emanated from under his hands and almost instantaneously the stab wound closed.
“You,” she stammered as she watched. “You’re a healer?”