Purple Cloaks

The Lumber Camp

Darkness had enveloped everything by the time we had reached the next town – Bowshot. We quickly made our way to the tavern, hoping greatly they’d have a couple of spare rooms. Having to camp out whilst knowing there were warm rooms would just be a kick in the teeth.

The tavern was quite when we walked in and Thom and I quickly settled down in a booth by the window, opting to have a little rest and check my shoulder before asking the barkeep if there were any rooms available. As I began to redress the bandage on my shoulder, Thom directed my attention to someone standing at the bar. He said he had just seen her pickpocket the man with the goatee and moustache who sitting at the table opposite us. From the looks of her, she was a half-elf like myself and I made a mental note not to get too close. The only money I had left was what I had earned from my street performances in Highmoon and I needed it to last me until we arrived at Baldur’s Gate.

I kept my eye on her as Thom and I settled into an easy silence and another pair of people walked in. Being attacked by bandits and then continuing our trek had taken it out of the both of us. The silence didn’t last long as a rather gregarious (and slightly tipsy) elf came and joined us. She introduced herself as Grelda and began to chat away aimlessly at us whilst pouring us wine from a flask she had with her. I returned her pleasantries, but Thom seemed considerably less than interested. Grelda seemed lovely, even if she liked to ramble a lot. The man she had entered with soon made his way over too. Grelda introduced him as Derrin with a fond smile on her face. He didn’t seem to happy to be there and just gave Thom and I a nod before sitting down as far away from the three of us as the booth would possibly allow. I watched him form the corner of my eye and frowned slightly. While Grelda seemed very friendly and chatty, this man was quite clearly the opposite and I couldn’t help but wonder how these two had managed to find themselves traveling about together.

Thom’s elbow gently prodded my side and I quickly looked at him before following his gaze towards the half-elf he had pointed out earlier. The half-elf who had pickpocketed the rich man with the ridiculous moustache and who was now being waved over to our table by Grelda. I felt Thom tense up next to me as she sat down at our booth, but I gave her a smile nonetheless and made a mental note to check my coin pouch when we left the table.

Grelda began animatedly chatting away to us when a drunken lumberjack staggered towards our booth. He slid in next to the other half-elf and leaned into the centre of the table, closing the distance between all of us before talking.

“Hello there. Would any of you like a drink?” he slurred, clearly very intoxicated and very creepy, so his presence was definitely making me uncomfortable. I shared an uneasy look with Thom, but to my surprise, it was Derrin who spoke first.

“No thank you. We’re good here,” he said in a gruff voice. Thom looked over at Derrin and nodded once before returning his stare to the drunken Lumberjack.

“Yeah, like this guy said. We’re good here. We’d appreciate it if you left.” The lumberjack looked over at him before raising his hands in the air and beginning to slide out.

“I don’t want to start any trouble. Just thought you all would be up for a little chat, is all,” he said, standing up and then patting his sides. “Have any of you seen my coin pouch? I’m sure I had it when I walked over.”

“No, I don’t think it’s around here,” Grelda replied, moving around so she could see around the table. The rest of us remained silent and I can’t speak for everyone else, but I wasn’t going to say a word to this man when he was in that kind of state. Luckily for us, he didn’t stay very long after Grelda’s reply and moved back to the table he had been sat at before. As soon as he was out of earshot, Thom leaned forward so he was looking straight at the half-elf across from us.

“Why did you steal his coin pouch?” he asked, his eyes narrowing as he stared at her.

“Because I wanted to. It did no harm anyway, it was empty,” she replied, squaring her shoulders, but otherwise looking quite bored about Thom’s accusations.

“The rich man’s coin purse wasn’t empty though, was it?”

“Me taking a couple of coins from him didn’t do any harm either. He’s got plenty of money. The odd gold piece here and there going missing isn’t going to shatter his world.”

“It’s illegal.”

“I know.” The tension was building and I began to shuffle in my seat. This definitely wasn’t what I thought would happen when we entered this tavern. I was just hoping to get some good nights sleep before we carried on to Baldur’s Gate.

“Derrin! Wouldn’t these guys be perfect for the job?!” Grelda exclaimed, gesturing to Thom and I with one hand, and the girl next to her with her other. “He said we’d need more people. Here are more people!” Derrin gave her a long side-glance before sighing deeply and then turning to face us all.

“The rich man’s name is Content Not Found: voitrem-remy-tirk and he’s offered me a job. But in order to complete it, I’m apparently going to need some help. Like we’ve established, he’s rich. He’ll pay us decently. All we have to do is head to a lumberjack camp not far from here and get some information. Are you guys in?” Despite it sounding a little like a sales pitch, Derrin looked thoroughly disgruntled at the thought of having to work with other people. Or it may have just been the fact that Grelda had kind of forced him into asking to work with us. Thom and I shared a look before both nodding at each other and then turning to answer Derrin.

“We’re in,” he replied, holding eye contact with him before looking at the other half elf. She shrugged and nodded, as if she was agreeing because she had nothing better to do.

“Right. We leave at sunrise. I suggest you all get some rest,” Derrin said, pushing away from the table and beginning to leave.

“Do you know if there are any rooms still available here? We really should have asked as soon as we came in,” I said, leaning so I could see if the barkeep was around.

“We got the last two rooms,” Grelda said, taking a sip from her flask. “But why don’t you girls share with me and the boys can share a room!” I nodded and smiled at her in thanks before looking at Thom and then Derrin. They shared a glance before both coming out with a resound ‘no’ and then Derrin walked off, up the stairs, not leaving it up for discussion.

“It’s okay, I’ll just sleep here,” Thom said, stretching out his arms. Grelda and the other girl both started to get out of their seats and making their way towards the stairs and I followed suit, but more hesitantly.

“What? In the bar? Are you sure?” I asked. He just smiled and nodded before waving me off. Giving him a small smile and wave, I moved to catch up with Grelda and the other girl, making sure I did a careful count of my possessions before we got there. Thom had seen her steal some money without being noticed and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t fall prey to her thievery.

The bed in Grelda’s room was big enough for two, so I ended up sharing it with her while Briss set up a makeshift bed on the floor. The room was plain and simple, exactly what you’d expect from a tavern like this. Only the bag in the corner of the room seemed out of place, but I could only assume that they were Grelda’s possessions.

“My name is Briss, by the way,” said the girl on the floor. I rolled over in the bed to face and her and smiled.

“I’m Alyona,” I replied. “And I’m sure you know Grelda’s name.” I turned to look over my shoulder and the older elven lady. “It was very nice of you to offer to share your room with us, by the way. Thank you.”

“It’s not a problem at all! I wouldn’t leave the two of you without a place to sleep. But tell me more about yourselves? Where are you two from? What are your stories?” she asked and I couldn’t help but laugh. This was turning into a sleepover very much like the ones I used to have as a child.

We spent a lot of the night getting to know each other, which is probably something we should have done before we all decided to share a room. But none of tried to kill the others in our sleep, so it all worked out okay. I found out that Briss used to live on the streets in Amn and was a bounty hunter there. She said she also did odd jobs to earn some money and I had a feeling she meant pickpocketing and maybe a couple of more serious thefts. Grelda turned out to be healer from Myth Dranor, not too far north from where I grew up. When it came to my turn, I told them about my parents back in Deepingdale and how I left for Highmoon to try and further my magic and maybe find some adventure. But that had been about five years ago now and the life of a street entertainer hadn’t provided much in the way of exciting journeys and escapades, so I had taken it upon myself to find more.

The sun was just peaking out above the horizon when Derrin knocked on the door to wake us up. Briss and I didn’t take too long after that wake up call to get ready, but by the time all five of us were downstairs and prepped to leave, it was definitely a lot later than Derrin had wanted it to be.

As we all followed Derrin out of Bowshot and towards the woods, a calm buzz of chatter settled amongst us. Thom and I fell into pace, more out of habit than anything I think, and began chatting about these people we had just met, but apparently felt so comfortable doing a job with. Grelda had also revealed that she used to be a teacher and was still a herbalist. Also, it was quite clear she fond of the drink. Thom expressed his wish to get rid of her when we had done this job and I couldn’t help but wonder if we would keep any of these people around after this.

An hour passed before we reached the outskirts of the camp. We all gathered, crouched, behind a group of logs while Derrin and Thom began to survey the lay out of the place. Derrin looked at the cabin furthest from us and identified it as the chief’s cabin – the one we needed to get in to.

“Remember, we’re here to investigate. That’s all,” Derrin said, looking around at all of us. When his eyes met mine, a shiver went down my spine. I suddenly had the feeling that something more sinister was going down here than he had initially let on. Derrin pressed his had against the logs, pushing himself up right, but then he paused and looked down at his hand. “These trees are dead. They were dead long before they had been cut down.” He stood up, peeling off a section of the bark. “Someone’s been poisoning the trees.” We looked up at him before looking at the bark. Something was definitely a miss here. “Right, I’m going to go ahead and see if I can find a way into the cabin furthest away.”

“I’ll go with you,” Briss said, standing up. “I’m good with locks. I can help.” Derrin stares at her for a moment before nodding curtly and the two of them make their way to the chief’s cabin, leaving Thom, Grelda and me behind.

All three of us stayed quiet, crouched behind the logs, trying to listen out for what Derrin and Briss were doing. It wasn’t long before we heard a loud thud, causing Thom to poke his head around the logs. The face he made wasn’t encouraging me that the other two were doing okay. It wasn’t until we heard Briss yelp that Grelda and I sprang into action and began to run towards them. I could hear Thom running behind us, his armour clanging with each movement.

A man, who was most likely a guard, was attacking Derrin and Briss and seemed to be dominating the fight. But as we got closer, Derrin managed to land a blow to the guard’s face, causing him to stumble back. The sound of Thom’s armour clanking stopped and I turned to watch him draw his bow, ready to take a shot. I smiled as I watched him release the arrow, but quickly frowned when I saw it fly over the roof of the cabin – miles off its intended target. Looking back at Thom, I saw what seemed to be a tear rolling down his cheek as he stared at the path the arrow had taken. Part of me wanted to go and see if he was okay, but I carried forward instead. There was probably a lot more going on than him just completely screwing up a shot.

I turned back round, giving Thom a chance to deal with whatever he was going through in private, and continued moving forward just as Derrin picked up the man and thrust him against the wall. His cracked loudly against the wood and the man crumpled to the floor as Grelda, Thom and I finally arrived to where Briss and Derrin had been standing. Grelda kneeled to the floor and placed a hand on the man’s head as Briss pulled out some rope from her pack and tied the man’s hands in front of him. Grelda’s hand seemed to glow and the man began to come around, looking a little out of it as he did so.

“I’m just a mercenary! Don’t hurt me!” he whimpered, raising his bound hands to cover his face.

“Talk and we won’t,” Thom replied, scowling at the man and drawing his bow at him.

“M-my name’s Greg. Like I said, I’m just a mercenary.”

“Tell us about the camp,” Derrin interjected. “How many other guards are there and where are they?”

“T-t-there are three guards, including me. I was just meant to guard the perimeter of this cabin. Brom is out with the lumberjacks. He shouldn’t be back for a while yet, and Leo is inside looking after the chief,” Greg rattled off; stopping to gulp at the arrowhead Thom had pointed at his face.

“What about the trees?” I asked, moving forward slightly. “Why are they sick?”

“That’s Leo. He’s been making a lot of potions to poison the trees. I don’t know why. I swear I’ll help you, just please don’t hurt me.” Briss seemingly ignored everything Greg just said and began to take things from his pockets. She pulled out a set of keys, smiling while holding them up for all of us to see.

“These could come in handy,” she said, gesturing to the front of the cabin, where the door was.

“We can still use Greg,” Derrin said, nodding to the still cowering man in front of us. “It looked like there was also a lock on the inside of the door and they won’t unlock it if it’s us lot asking them to.”

“Yeah, Derrin’s right. Better for Leo to hear a friendly voice,” I added, looking at Derrin. Thom just grunted and pulled Greg off the ground before ushering him forward.

“Let’s get this show on the road then,” he said, returning his bow to his back.

“You’re going to have to untie my hands if you want me to knock…” Greg said, holding his tied wrists out to Derrin, who merely frowned at him before conceding.

Briss reached around and put the lock into the door, twisting it until we all heard a click. Thom pushed Greg forward, with slightly more force than I probably would have used, and then his clenched fist hit the door three times. We didn’t have to wait long before the sound of footsteps could be heard from the other side. I smiled over at Thom, but that was perhaps a little too soon as that was when Greg took the opportunity and began to run. Without much though, I flung my hand in his direction and cast a Magic Missile at him. Greg fell to the floor instantly and I could a see a pool of blood beginning to collect around his head. My stomach sank and I brought my hand to my chest and grasped it with my other. I really needed to get a better grip on that one.

I turned around to see the shocked looks of the others, but before I could explain that what I just did was definitely an accident and that I had no intention of killing the man, a voice came from the other side of the door.

“Password?” they asked. We all looked at each other, panic clear on everyone’s faces. But that panic was quickly replaced with shock as Thom opened his mouth.

“C’mon Leo. It’s me. Just let me in,” he said, mimicking Greg’s voice perfectly. Thom looked around at us and his facial expression clearly indicated that he had absolutely no idea what he was doing. We didn’t hear anything from the other side of the door for what felt like an eternity, until the sound of keys jingling pierced the silence. Grelda moved forward, in front of the door, as we heard the lock click. The door swung open and Grelda lifted her necklace in front of her, mumbling some words as she did so.

A white light surrounded her, becoming brighter each second. Leo staggered backwards, raising his arm to cover his eyes. Derrin darted in front of Grelda, pulling his sword from his back and cutting the man as he pushed him backwards. Quickly, we got everyone into the chief’s cabin. I entered last, keeping my eyes on the building in front of us, just in case anyone decided to leave it and venture over in our direction.

Derrin and Thom dealt with Leo, tying him to a chair while he remained unconscious, as Grelda, Briss and I had a look around the cabin. Briss searched the bookshelves and found a book about poison, pocketing it quickly, she then came towards me. I had stumbled across a makeshift laboratory. Many different herbs and instruments were strewn across the benches and in amongst the mess was a note.

Tear at my skin, I will be the one not in tears.
Which room has no doors or no windows.
Around the wood but never in the wood.

“I think we should check upstairs,” Derrin said, double checking he had fastened Leo’s hands behind the chair he was sitting on, correctly.

“Good idea,” I replied, moving towards him and Thom. “But I think a couple of us should stay down here. Just in case anyone else tries to come in. I’ll stay, if you want.” derrin looked me up and down, his eyes lingering on my hands, which was perfectly understandable. He had just witnessed me accidentally fire a Magic Missile that was a little too strong, and kill someone.

“Yeah, I’m okay with that. That magic of yours will stop anyone in their tracks,” he quipped. I gave him a sheepish smile before moving towards the window near the door, so I could have a quick scout of the outside.

“I’ll stay with her,” Thom said, crossing his arms over his chest. “She’s got the magic, I’ve got the brawn. Plus, I’ll just alert the whole camp to our presence if I try to climb those stairs in my armour.” Derrin nodded sharply before gesturing for the other two to follow him.

As they began to head up the stairs, Thom and I stood in an amicable silence. I kept my position near the window while Thom hung back by Leo. The note from the laboratory began to bother me. None of us had really discussed what any of it could mean. Obviously, it was a riddle of some sort, but what would it do? Since we found it in the laboratory, the natural assumption would be that the riddles were for ingredients. Maybe they would make the poison that Leo had been using for the trees? Or maybe it was the antidote for the poison? Either way, we wouldn’t know until we worked it out.

A loud noise from the stairs stopped me in my train of thought. My head turned to the stairs, but all that followed was quiet mumbling. I made eye contact with Thom who just shrugged and then shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Turning back to the note that I held in my hand, I was ready to try and work this riddle out, but it seemed that we weren’t the only ones startled by the sudden noise.

Groans started to leave Leo’s mouth and his head began to loll from side to side. I looked at Thom, full of panic and I’m pretty sure my facial expression clearly gave across ‘what the hell are we meant to do?’. Leo straightened his head and looked back and forth between Thom and I before a sinister smile crept upon his face. The blood that had pooled in his mouth and gathered around his teeth, from Derrin essentially beating him up, definitely added to the whole aesthetic. Leo didn’t say anything for a while. He just sat there, smiling, and looking at Thom and I.

“You’re not going to get anything out of me,” he finally said, still giving us that creepy smile. “It doesn’t matter how hard you idiots try. I’m not going to say anything.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Thom replied. He reached over and flicked Leo’s nose. “I reckon we can make you talk. If we really want to.” Leo laughed, throwing his head back dramatically before abruptly stopping and looking Thom straight in the eye and smiling again.

“I’d like to see you try, boy. I’ve been a mercenary for fifteen years. I know the drill. You’re not going to get anything out of me.” As soon as he finished his sentence, he spat blood into Thom’s face. Thom paused for only a second before slapping Leo round the face with enough power to knock him unconscious…again. I looked over at Thom and raised an eyebrow at him as I put the laboratory note in my pocket.

“What?” he asked, shrugging his shoulders slightly. “I don’t know my own strength, sometimes.” I didn’t have time for a reply before Derrin, Grelda and Briss made their way down the stairs.

“The chief was being blackmailed,” Derrin said, walking over to me. “These guys were blackmailing him so they could poison the trees. He has no idea why they’d want to do that, though.” Grelda made to speak, but before she could get in a word, Briss called out to us. She was standing by the unconscious Leo and was now holding something in her hand.

“It’s a note, I think, but it’s in code. I can’t read it,” she announced and then walked over to hand it to Derrin. “You guys should really rifle around in people’s pockets more.” I smirked and rolled my eyes at her comment. Routing around in other people’s pockets wasn’t really my calling.

“Okay, obviously we need to work this out,” Derrin stated, moving to the laboratory benches with Grelda and Briss and they begin to decipher the note. After quickly surveying the room, I walked over to Thom and lent against the wall next to him.

“I can’t believe you slapped him so hard he fell unconscious,” I whispered, unable to stop the smile from creeping up my face. Thom smiled back and did his best to conceal a chuckle. But all comedy was lost from the moment when Leo began to come round again. Thom moved forward and pulled his head back sharply by his hair. Leo hissed in pain, but didn’t react much more, apart from that.

“Start talking,” Thom whispered menacingly. Leo laughed again and it looked like he was going for a repeat of the spitting tactic he had employed earlier, but before he could, Thom leant into his cheek and licked it. The older man sat there in a stunned silence and I couldn’t help but feel a little creeped out too. “I told you to talk.” Leo maintained eye contact with Thom, which was a brave feat, especially when he was being as intimidating as he currently was. The mercenary opened his mouth to speak, but the snarl of his mouth made it clear that whatever he was about to say wasn’t what the man threatening him what he wanted to hear. Thom yanked Leo’s hand back violently, ripping out a clump of his hair with it. Leo yelped from the pain, but promptly clamped his mouth shut again.

I rolled my eyes and moved around the table, opposite where Leo was sat. Holding out my hand, I conjured some flames into my palm. Doing this was always entertaining for me. The fire never actually burnt me, but I could always feel a warm tingly sensation where the flames were. Turning my head, with the fire still crackling in my hands, I saw a look of pure terror in Leo’s eyes. Thom didn’t miss how the older man recoiled at the sight of my illusionary fire and quickly went back into interrogation mode.

“So, you feel like talking now?” he asked, towering above the man. I moved my hands closer to Leo’s face, causing him to shriek and lean back farther. “Who are you working for?” Thom questioned.

“I don’t work for a particular company,” Leo said quickly, his eyes fixated on the fire in my hands. “Like, I said, I’m a mercenary. I just get hired out by people. But the man who owns this camp is building something. My boss doesn’t want it built. That’s all I know.”

“Why do I find that hard to believe?” I asked, leaning forward even more. Leo tried to pull back further, but he had reached his limit.

“I’ve been in this business fifteen years,” he snarled, still staring at the flames. “What I’ve said is already too much. You’re not going to get anymore out of me. I’d rather die.” Looking up at Thom, I shrugged slightly and he did the same. I pulled away and disenchanted the fire, but I couldn’t stop smirking when Leo visibly relaxed.

“Hey, you two! We’ve deciphered the note,” Briss called, waving us over. Thom and I walked towards them, Thom throwing the clump of Leo’s hair that he pulled out onto the floor.

Derrin held out the note for us to read. The initial writings looked like a bunch of random squiggles to me, but written underneath it, in what I assumed was Derrin’s handwriting, was the decoded message.

The wood must fail. I am sending you 50 gold. Good luck.
The Seawood Company

“Who’s the Seawood company?” Thom asked, looking around at all of us. I shrugged my shoulders and pulled the note from laboratory out of my pocket.

“I have no idea, but I really think we need to find out what this is meant to mean. If we can save this wood, then it’s worth a shot. Especially if these men wanted it to fail,” I replied as I walked back over to the laboratory.

Grelda followed me and we both set about filding with everything we could find in there. She held out two vials fulls of murky liquid that she said was the poison used on the trees. Wordlessly, I took them from her and managed to extract the components of it. The poison was made from horse blood and an extremely poisonous fungus that I had never seen before. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted some vials containing the fungus and grab a couple of them as I returned the riddles to my pocket. Grelda and I begin to start searching for anything else that could possibly work as an antidote for the poison, but were quickly distracted by the sound of Leo yelping and then gargling before silence.

Turning around, we both saw Leo slumped back in the chair he was in with a slit across his throat and blood pouring down the front of his clothes. My eyes darted to Briss who was stood in front of him with a bloody knife in her hand and blood on her face.

“What?” she asked, holding her hands up as if she was perfectly innocent. “He spat blood at me! What else was I meant to do?”

“Maybe not kill him?” Thom retorted, shaking his head slowly before he made his way to the door. I wanted to say something too, but I was in no real position to judge.

Slowly, we all followed Thom out of the chief’s cabin and the first sight we saw was Greg’s dead body lying on the ground. I avoided looking at him and stayed behind Thom as we approached what appeared to be a totem pole in the centre of the space.

“Well, that has to be the worst lumberjack carving I have ever seen,” Derrin said, staring up at it as he placed his hands on his hips.

“Oh, so that’s what it’s meant to be,” Grelda commented, nodding as she looked the carving up and down. I made to move past it, but before I could even take another step, everyone was distracted by the sight of Thom trying half heartedly to climb the totem pole. We all stood and watched for a couple of minutes as he managed to get halfway up before losing his grip and falling down to the floor with a loud thud.

Turning on my heel, I walked towards the door of the cabin that none of us had even thought of entering earlier.

“Shall we check this place out?” I asked, my hand already resting on the handle.

“We were here to get intel, nothing more. Remember?” Derrin said, gesturing with his hands for us to leave.

“Yeah, but surely Remi would prefer it if we manage to save the camp that he wanted us to investigate, right?” Derrin paused for a moment, staring directly at me. Thom moved to stand next to me, also ready to open the door. “Fine,” Derrin finally relented. “But we’re not staying for much longer. You two go have a look in there while the rest of us deal with Greg’s body. We can’t just leave it out in the open.”

I twisted the handle and pushed open the door of the cabin. We both stepped through and shut the door behind us without much thought. A lumberjack was stood opposite us, looking very confused as to our presence. He had his jacket half on and was just staring at us while we stood in front of the door.

“Who are you?” he asked, pulling his other arm through his jacket sleeve.

“We’re inspectors,” Thom lied, making a lot of panicked eye contact with me and his voice was obviously hesitant, but the man in front of us didn’t seem to pick up on that as he visibly relaxed. They engaged in a conversation that I soon tuned out as I began to look around the room we were in. There were several beds lined up along the walls and standing next to one of them was another lumberjack who was not wearing a shirt. He caught me staring at him and I couldn’t help but smile coyly back at him. We exchanged a handful of flirty glances before Thom started to pull me out of the cabin.

“Well, while you were busy flirting with Mr. Shirtless over there,” Thom began as we started to walk back to the chief’s cabin. “I found out that Leo and his little friends had been separating the lumberjacks into different divisions. Plus, a lot of them have started to be let go from the camp.”

“Oh, good intel collecting. But still no clue as to how we can reverse the effects of the poison,” I stated as I opened the door for us. “And he was a very attractive man. I had every right to flirt a little.” From the corner my eye I saw Thom roll his eyes as walked toward the others.

They had placed Greg in the seat next to Leo, so they were sitting around the table. Honestly, it all looked a bit weird, but I wasn’t going to say anything. Where else were they meant to put the body? I stood next to Thom as he relayed the information he found out to the others, and I couldn’t help but stare at the lab. There had to be a way for us to reverse the effects of the tree poison.

“Hang on a minute guys,” Thom said, halting the conversation and drawing my attention back to them. He knelt down to the floor and picked up the corner of the rug.

Pulling it back in a dramatic fashion, he revealed a trap door underneath it. Derrin walked over and yanked open the door, revealing a small set of stairs and a very thin man at the bottom of them. He was hanging off the railing on one side and was squinting up at them, using his hand to shield his eyes.

“Who are you? Are you here to rescue me?” he asked, slowly beginning to climb the stairs.

Derrin held out his hand to help the man up before replying, “We’re friends of Remi’s. Yeah, we’re here to help you.”

“Okay, great. I’m Periss. Remi sent me and my partner here to find out what was happening. Have you found Missy?”

“No, we haven’t yet,” Derrin replied and helped the man sit down at another seat of the table. Periss looked around the two dead bodies who occupied the other seats and he seemed grow even paler. “Tell us what you know,” Derrin requested, taking a knee in front of the man.

Everything he told Derrin were things we all already knew and halfway through his speech, I pulled out the note from the laboratory once again. Briss popped up next to me, as did Grelda and we all began to work on the riddle.

“Wait!” Briss said, pointing to the first line. “‘Tear at my skin, I will be the one not in tears’…that could be onions!”

“Yes!” Grelda cheered and then pointed at the second line. “And this – ‘Which room has no doors or walls’ – that could be mushrooms!”

I smiled at both of them before looking at the third line and saying, “This last line – ‘Around the wood but never in the wood’ – that’s tree bark!”

Following my exclamation, all three of us hurriedly made our way to the laboratory and concocted a paste out of the three ingredients and then added it to the vial of the poison that Grelda picked up. As soon as the paste made contact with the murky contents of the vial, smoke efferfessed from it and it began to turn a deep purple. Grelda took the vial into her hands and after a moment or two looked at Briss and I with a smile on her face.

“This will heal the trees. We did it!” she exclaimed. “I’m going to go give this to the chief. He can keep the camp going now and he won’t have to worry about his daughter!” With that, she ran up the stairs and Derrin made his way over to us.

“As soon as she’s back, we’re getting out of here,” he said, looking primarily at me.

“Yes, sir!” I replied, smiling at him.

As soon as we made it back to the tavern, with Periss in tow, we headed straight upstairs to the room Derrin knew Remi had rented out. The room was nice and surprisingly neat. There nothing out of the ordinary there apart from the fact that he had an array of jewels just lying on his dresser.

“Thank you so much for returning Periss to me! Shame that you couldn’t find Missy…but not to worry! I’ll have someone locate her,” Remi said, reaching for his gold pouch. “So, how much do I owe you? One hundred gold, was it?”

“Make it one hundred and fifty,” Briss said, crossing her arms over her chest and she stared Remi down.

“Now why would I do that?” he asked, still holding his gold pouch. “Unless you have more information for me?”

“They were poisoning the trees,” Derrin added. “One of the guards was a mercenary, hired by an outside company called Seawood. He was poisoning the trees so that the wood would be useless.”

“Okay then,” Remi replied, smiling. “One hundred and fifty gold it is!” He counted out the money quickly into Derrin’s hands before bidding us goodbye and ushering us out of his room.

While we stood in the corridor, Derrin divvied up the gold between us, ensuring we all got thirty gold pieces each. By some sort of silent agreement, we all began to make our down to the bar. As I was halfway down the steps, Derrin grabbed my arm and kept me behind as everyone else walked past.

“Alyona, would you mind checking out this axe for me. The chief gave it to me while we were talking to him. It seems like much more than a usual axe,” he asked, holding it out to me.

I ran my hands over it, studying it and feelings its marking before replying, “It’ll never dull. Quite fascinating really. It used to belong to druids that lived near Cloakwood, actually.”

“That’s great, thank you,” Derrin said, quickly taking the axe back from me, but still giving me a small smile.

“You know, Thom and I are heading south to Baldur’s Gate. Both you and Grelda are welcome to join us if you want. I’m sure they’ll be plenty of work for you down there.”

“I’ll have to talk to Grelda, but I think we might just take you up on that offer,” he said, smiling at me again before we both made our way down the stairs.

The bar was now full of people as evening had approached. Being around this much hustle and bustle was greatly appreciated. It gave us all a chance to go by unnoticed – we could all relax. Briss and I were chatting and everyone else in our little group seemed to be getting along surprisingly well. That was when the very attractive shirtless lumberjack from earlier walked in.

He came over and began to talk to Briss and I, when we found out his name was Shard and he actually lived in the town. Later that night…well, let’s just say it was a very interesting evening.

The next morning, Briss and I left Shard’s house and met up with Thom outside the tavern. I was happy to see that he was joined by Derrin and Grelda. After we all checked that we had everything, the five of us began our journey south to Baldur’s Gate.

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