The Guild flunkies removed the burlap sacks from Aranza and Monty’s heads, hopped on their horses, and left before Temperance could free them.
“Nice of them to provide transport,” Monty muttered. He rubbed at his wrists where the rope had bitten into his skin.
“You’re lucky they brought us this far,” Temperance sneered. “As if you two deserve such kindness.”
Aranza clenched her fist, eyes locked with Temperance’s. “I’m about to stuff your cranky Dwarven ass deep into the next hill I see…”
Monty held up a finger. “You do that and The Guild will have nooses on our necks before we make it to the next Unaligned Zone,” he said. He turned his attention to Temperance, who in turn focused her scowling on him.
“Make no mistake,” Temperance said. “I am doing this as part of my sworn duty to The Guild. One failure to comply. Even a hint of committing a crime? I’ll turn you both in and wash my hands of this.”
“So we have a tentative, tenuous agreement,” Monty replied. “We stay in line and you help us complete this highly unlikely quest, and then we part ways freed from each other’s company forevermore.”
Temperance blinked as she considered what Monty had said. A brief smile flitted across her lips.
“Course, we have to take down an Archlich before we can say our goodbyes,” Aranza said. “Don’t you forget that little detail. Anyway, let’s get a move on. Sun’s gettin’ low and we need a place to rest our heads before we get moving.”
The dirt road wound its way into a small town. Curls of fireplace smoke snaked their way from chimneytops into the crisp, evening air, and leaves crunched underfoot as the trio walked along the dirt road towards the heart of the town. The town square was empty, the numerous stands and shops lining the road closed down and boarded up.
“Awfully quiet,” Aranza muttered.
Monty held a finger up. “No one say it,” he commanded. “Nothing good ever…”
“Too quiet, perhaps,” Temperance replied.
Monty hissed several choice Highborne cursewords as the realization crossed Aranza’s face.
There was a pained groan from small side street that ran alongside the Hidden Treasure Tavern and Inn. Monty and Aranza exchanged glances.
“Yeah, I’ll take the fall for that one,” Aranza said. “I started the cursed call.”
Temperance raised an eyebrow. “You can’t mean to tell me you believe saying a place is quiet caused something to happen…”
Monty wagged a finger. “Not that simple, no,” he said. “It’s a call. One person must comment on it being awfully quiet, and then the response of it being too quiet sets things into motion.”
Another groan, slightly louder, and muttered demands could be heard from the side street now.
Temperance walked past Monty and Aranza, her armor still gleaming despite the low light. Aranza stepped into her path, arms folded across her chest.
“Listen here, Pally,” Aranza said. “I may not like you, but if we’re stuck with you I can’t let you just blunder your way into that obvious trap.”
“Someone clearly needs aid,” Temperance replied. She stepped around Aranza, and didn’t bother to look back as she continued. “How sad it must be to see the world in such cynical terms.” She disappeared into the shadows of the side street.
“Gods damn it,” Aranza said before she stormed off after Temperance.
“You following her?” Monty called after.
“Have to,” Aranza called back. “We’ve been fitted for nooses too many times for me to test my luck again. You coming along or will I have to save her myself?”
“If you insist,” Monty grumbled as he ran to catch up.
A single, sickly looking Kobold leaned against a toppled trashcan at the end of the street. He opened his eyes as the trio approached, shut them again, and groaned.
“Kindly sir, are you hurt? What happened?” Temperance asked. “Fret not, for I am an envoy of the guild and I will aid you.”
The Kobold groaned louder again. “Closer, please,” he said. “The world grows dark and cold and I fear I have not much time, goodly traveler.”
Aranza threw a dagger into the darkness behind the trash heap. There was a pained screech and a muttering of foul language.
“By the Gods, what is wrong with you?” Temperance demanded. She spun around, hand on the pommel of her zweihander. Behind her, something shifted in the shadows.
Aranza produced two more daggers from her sleeves, having adopted a defensive stance. “You want to dance, Dwarf? I’ll knock some sense into you if these muggers don’t.”
Temperance cocked her head. A rustling behind her caught her attention, and she stepped just as a Goblin leapt forward with a polearm. Her weapon’s blade struck the stone wall of the neighboring shop. Sparks rained down onto the street.
“A false dead-end,” Monty observed as he fired his crossbow into the wavering stone wall. The bolt hit something, which grunted and toppled forward onto the Kobold, which shrieked in pain.
“They had a Bridge Troll,” Monty commented. “Good thing we did assist, I suppose, or we would be cleaning our friendly Paladin off of the walls.”
“And the street. And out of those nice window boxes of flowers over there,” Aranza added.
Temperance huffed. “Perhaps I misjudged the situation, I’ll concede,” she said over metal-against-metal of her sword being unsheathed. A soft, white glow emanated from within the blade. It filled the street and banished the glamoured shadows and false wall. Two more Kobolds ran out, one with a club raised above his head and the other with a frying pan.
“You die now!” shouted the one Kobold.
“We take your gold!” shouted the other.
One of the Kobolds was knocked backwards, the back door to the inn having been thrown open abruptly. A towering Wyvernkin with a slick, black ponytail hunched in the doorway.
“Keep it down out here, wouldya?” roared the Wyvernkin, obsidian flames flickering around his fangs. “I’ve got paying customers trying to get a good night’s rest, and they can’t with you buffoons brawling back here.”
“Forgive us, good Dragonfolk,” Temperance said as she wound up and delivered a gauntlet-bolstered punch to the remaining Kobold’s snout. It crumpled to the dirt, unconscious but still alive.
The Wyvernkin huffed, shook his head, and slammed the door shut.
“Made tidy work of them, I think,” Monty said as he looked around the alley. “Best check their pockets and see if they’ve got anything worth liberating from their ownership, yes?”
“Already on it,” Aranza replied as she rifled through the Troll’s collection of skulls converted into carrying satchels.
Reluctantly, rigidly, Temperance approached one of the Kobolds and retrieved his leather wallet. She felt a thud against her back, and spun to see Aranza.
“You got cozy with that real quick, didn’t you?” Aranza said, unable to suppress a laugh.
The color drained from Temperance’s face. “I…Well, they were criminals, and so this likely belonged to someone else. It’s best we reclaim it and look into finding its rightful owner.”
“Hate to break it to you, Pally, but the rightful owner of that handful of copper and the few shiny bits we get?” Aranza replied. “Probably dead. No need to feel bad for robbing the robbers.”
“This alley could have been our untimely grave,” Monty added. “One does wonder where such a questionable crew came upon such complex glamours, however.”
Aranza clicked her tongue. “Can’t ask ’em right now,” she muttered. “Suspect we’ll find out eventually, but best to leave the trash where it lies for now. Who wants to go grab a pint? Their treat.”
“Thought you’d never ask,” Monty said. They turned to leave the side street. Temperance cleared her throat loud enough that Monty and Aranza turned around.
“I…Well, perhaps…” Temperance said.
“Second round’s on you,” Aranza said. “No one’s checking if you’re using your money or theirs, though. Sound good?”
Temperance nodded, following along.
The front door to The Hidden Treasure was storm-and-sea-weathered wood, larger than a royal galleon. It swung open with a gentle push, the room behind it warm and welcoming and filled to the brim with life. Everyone fell silent as Monty, Aranza, and Temperance entered.
The barkeeper–the Wyvernkin who had knocked one of the Kobolds out earlier–glanced up from cleaning a goblet, sneered, and resumed his task. The trio made their way to the bar.
“What can I get you, uh, group of troublemakers,” the barkeeper grunted.
“Hail and well met,” Temperance said.
The barkeeper looked up, eyes narrowed. “Yeah, yeah, drop the formalities, would ya’?” he snarled. “I’ve paid our Guild dues for this lunar cycle and I don’t much care to have you goons buggin’ my paying customers.”
Temperance blinked. “I beg your pardon?”
“if that’s what you’re into, good for you,” the barkeeper said. “Just be into it elsewhere, yeah? I got customers behind you waiting to spend real coppers here.”
Monty gently maneuvered between Temperance and the bar and offered a gleaming smile. “Our friend means no ill will,” he said.
The barkeeper looked Monty up and down, frowning. “Don’t think I care much for you neither,” he said. “You, the Orc. The one good with throwing knives. You here to cause trouble?”
Aranza shrugged. “Depends on if trouble’s here to be had,” she shot back.
The barkeeper sighed. “Tell ya’ what,” he said. “These two prim-and-proper types with you?”
Aranza offered a curt nod.
“You keep them outta other customers’ business,” the barkeeper said. “You took care of Fangra’s goons, so you’re good in my book…There are others here who might not see you the same way, you hear me?”
“Clear as a bell, and twice as well,” Temperance replied, and immediately received an icy look from the barkeeper as a result.
“You must be a real treat at parties,” the barkeeper said. “Go tell Grimsby over there what you want. Food. Drink. Whatever. I’ll give you an okay discount, ’cause you’re just okay. You planning to spend the night?”
“There a room to be had?” Aranza asked.
“Only if you promise you won’t be around long,” the barkeeper said. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a bunch of half-dead crooks I need to clean up.”