6. Loose ears
25th of Rova – Toilday
Beneath the Glassworks, Sandpoint
Tsuto screamed horribly and collapsed to the floor unconscious. The barbarian stood above him, the half-elf’s ears in his hands.
“What the fuck!” I winced. Vidarok shook his head, sadly. Ilori, blood on her face, looked upon the half-elf like a condemning goddess.
“You’ve gone too far, Frank”, Harsk stated gravely.
30 minutes earlier, outside the Glassworks
We had made our way, hurrying, from the Rusty Dragon to the Glassworks. After my debacle at the Vinder general store, Bethana had came running to us with a note to Ameiko in her hand. She was shocked. Ameiko had not arrived to the tavern in the morning, and Bethana believed she had disappeared. She had found the note, signed by Ameiko’s half-brother Tsuto, where he had urged her to come to the Glasswork during midnight, last night. In the message, Tsuto warned Ameiko and indicated that their father had had some part in the goblin attack to Sandpoint.
Our party had grouped at the tavern and immediately set off to the Glassworks, keen on finding out where Ameiko was, what she had learned and if something had happened to her.
The building was quite a sight. After the new cathedral and the ruins of the old lighthouse, it was easily the tallest building in the fishing town. Ornate, colourful windows covered it, and the eye was drawn to the beautiful glass cupola at southern end of the building.
I felt immediately that something was wrong with the Glassworks. The place felt eerie – it looked vacant and curtains fully covered each tall window. We asked around before approaching, and indeed, people had noted very little activity around or in the building in the past days. We knew from earlier talks with the town folk that the production of the works had fallen steadily over the past few years, but now the place looked completely dead.
We circled the building once, trying each door. All locked. No-one came to answer our knocks or calls. We quickly realized that breaking and entry was our only option if we wanted to find Ameiko and uncover what had happened. We were amost ready to force an entry on any door, when heard voices coming from the western side of the main floor, through the high windows. Harsk and Frank called at the people inside, knocking on the glass.
Everything became quiet. Before we would lose all momentum and element of surprise, we decided to act, for better or worse. Frank pulverized the window nearest to him to little shards, bringing down the curtains at the same time and flooding the hall inside with light. Immediately in the low light, I could spot two goblins, wide-eyed. Goblins within the city perimeter, I wondered in disbelief as Frank roared a battlecry, alerting all to the danger.
Without pause, Ilori swooped over to the open window and blasted closest goblin to cinders with her ray of fire. Vidarok broke another window, revealing more of the insides of the building and even more goblins. He expertly killed one with a fine sling of a rock.
Harsk had remained behind. “Frank!” He yelled, “toss me inside”, and launched himself to a run towards the window. I didn’t see Frank’s expression as I was behind him, but Harsk later told me his face was of utter epic disbelief and Harsk should’ve reconsidered his attempt that very second. As Harsk was running towards Frank and the window, a goblin tried to throw a bottle at Frank, but missed. Frank later said that disturbed him, but we didn’t believe him. Three paces, two, one, and Harsk leaped, while Frank reached with his hands, got a hold of the dwarf and with all his strength hurled him..
..straight into the wall.
I was too preoccupied to enjoy the hilarity of the moment. I had selected a third window next to Ilori. With my gloved fist I smashed it open and ripped the curtains aside. I was greeted by a panicked shriek – a goblin carrying a rusty knife stood right behind the window, expecting the attack to come from another direction. It was without any cover and did have little time to react. I shot an arrow into its belly and it flew back good ten feet.
Three goblins were already dead but the fight was far from over. Fourth came running towards me from the darkness, a steaming hot iron in its hand. It jumped on the window and wildly lashed out with the iron. The lucky bastard struck my face, burning flesh on my cheek. I cursed, stepped back and drew a new arrow from the vine. Ilori turned and sent a fireball at my opponent, but missed and set the curtains on fire. Having lost its momentum, all the goblin could do was flail and growl at me.
I looked it in the eye. Blood was flowing down my cheek and into my neck. “Your days are over, beast”, I declared simply and loosed an arrow. The goblin stumbled off the window and into the darkness, dead.
As the barbarian and the dwarf were recovering from their botched up attempt at dwarf-tossing, yet another goblin climbed to the broken window next to them and screeched, stabbing at Frank. The brute, growingly mad, brought the earthbreaker up and down, but instead of flattening the green monster, he made a hole in the wall, effectively turning the window into a door. Harsk, who had gotten back up on his feet, slashed past the barbarian and cut down the goblin, denying the kill from Frank.
Frank, infuriated by not having been able to kill anything for a while, stormed into the building, typically heedless of any danger. Vidarok followed him in, his motion much more composed. With more light falling inside and time to appreciate my surroundings, I could see the hall where the goblins had been hiding was actually a smelter of some sort, a working area for glassmiths with fiercely burning ovens, work benches and tables. It was dark inside and quite hot, and that reminded me of descriptions of Hell. Ilori walked next to me to the window and took a peek as well.
“May I help?” I asked the sorceress overly sweetly, offering my arm to help her through the broken window. She just smiled shortly, before noting two more goblins on the far corner. Flames danced from her hands and struck the cowering beast closest to her. It screamed in agony and fell down burning like a living pyre. The other, horrified by the fate of its comrade and unwilling to fight us, bolted out of the hall through the nearest door.
“I’m OK”, Ilori replied to me before leaping in with ease, her cloak billowing.
I leapt in behind her. Inside, Frank was struggling with the final goblin in the hall. The earthbreaker arced back and forth, up and down but the brute failed to connect time after time. To his benefit, the goblin was forced to simply try and survive the onslaught. I had a shot but decided not to take it.
“Don’t let them get away!” Frank told us with a yell, launching yet another blow that didn’t connect. Vidarok, who had entered at Frank’s heels, decided too not to intervene. Instead, he curiously regarded the surroundings. It was becoming apparent to us that very bad things had happened here.
I turned the other way from the brute’s and goblin’s brawl and took some steps, but couldn’t help myself. As I was walking, I drew a new arrow, notched it and rolled back towards them with the intention to shoot.. but stumbled on a glassed corpse and released the arrow prematurely. The arrow-head scratched my calf, drawing a nasty wound. I cursed, and earned chuckles from Ilori and Vidarok. The goblin, now realizing it was alone against us five, decided too that discretion was the better part of valour, spun around and ran out of the hall, leaving an enraged Frank to catch his breath.
I was still cursing at my clumsiness as we noted the bodies among the goblins we had slayed. Each was covered in glass. It was obvious the goblins had played with their prisoners, pouring liquid glass onto them. Those sick bastards. For a moment, I felt an uncharacteristic pang of righteousness for ending their lives. Everybody except Frank looked more or less horrified. “Not a worthy way to die”, he simply stated, to no one in particular.
Then I found Ameiko’s father among the corpses. I kneeled next to him and touched the glass lightly. The expression on his dead face was of pure pain and suffering, a death grimace. I felt nothing for him, but grew increasingly worried of Ameiko. Was she among the dead? Were we already too late?
To our relief, we found no trace of Ameiko in the glass-blowing hall. Harsk was gracious enough to cast a healing spell that made the burn in my face and leg wound disappear like they never were there. Meanwhile, Vidarok and Ilori had gone out to warn the townsfolk and ask them to call the town guard. This I immediately considered a bad, potentially disruptive idea. With my wounds healed, I ran after them and bluntly cut their request short.
“There’s nothing to worry about, keep moving”, I explained hurriedly to some people who had gathered around the Glassworks. They looked doubtful, given that Vidarok had just a second ago mentioned goblins, but my insistence paid off. I gently but firmly pushed the druid back in. “There’s no point in scaring the locals, Vidarok”, I explained curtly and with a low voice so the others couldn’t hear, “we can handle this by ourselves and the town guard is overextended already anyway.”
Certain that we had checked every corner of the hall, we agreed that the building hid at least two other goblins that had managed to escape our wrath. They had ran to two separate directions, so we too split. Vidarok and Ilori headed to the northern part of the building, while me, Harsk and Frank went southwards.
Frank and I had, unsurprisingly, completely different methods how to search the building. I let him go first through doors and rooms. At one Y-intersection I signaled Frank and Harsk to stop and remain silent. I had heard a door close some fifty feet away, so I listened hard and had a quick look over the corner. There indeed was a door, far in the darkness. I pointed at Frank and confirmed there was a door and I had heard it close.
But Frank, for some reason, misunderstood me, and very loudly and violently smashed in a door only five feet to our right. I covered my face with my palms. Harsk walked past me, following Frank and just shrugged. I decided to let them be and followed the noise myself.
I reached the door silently and carefully tried the lock. It was open. I couldn’t hear any further voices from behind it. I notched an arrow and slightly drew the bowstring in anticipation. With my other foot I slowly opened the door. I peered through the opening. Nothing. I pushed the door open a bit more. Still nothing. I steadied myself, drew a deep breath and kicked the door fully open.
The room, a lounge of some sort for the glassworks employees, was vacant. There were only some furniture and several doors leading to other rooms. But no goblins. I let my guard down a bit and lowered my bow. Unexpectedly a door to my right came crashing down, the hinges flying through the air several feet. I immediately re-drew my bow string and lifted the weapon towards the new threat.
“Oh, hello Alpharius!” Frank greeted me, grinning. I rolled my eyes. That damned brute will get us all killed sooner or later, I thought.
Reunited with the barbarian and the dwarf, we continued the exploration of the main floor of the Glassworks. Everywhere was empty – we couldn’t find a single living soul, not even the goblins. Frank was worried they had escaped outside.
Harsk discovered the bed hall of the workers. There was blood everywhere, and more bodies. It was evident that the goblins had surprised the men, killed some to their beds and dragged the rest to be tortured and glassed. We didn’t linger there.
Near the bed hall, I examined a room next to the kitchen that had been used as a food storage. Baskets, bags and spilled piles of foodstuffs, mainly different grains and flour, littered the floor. I guessed the goblins had ransacked the storage, trying to find something quick and simple to eat, and in their frustration, had made quite a mess. I kicked one bag, and it fell on its side, spilling flour to the floor.
I was suddenly quite hungry for an apple. Looking around I wondered if they had any among the foodstuffs. I walked past the piles, baskets and bags, putting my bow to my back to free my hands. I pushed one basket aside, then another, making my way through the mess. Not really seeing where I was reaching, I pushed my hand into one particularly potential basket.
Inside I could feel a head. A goblin’s little warm head. Instinctively, I grabbed it, lifted the small beast from the basket and with my free hand, drew a kukri blade from its scabbard. The goblin didn’t even have time to make a sound as I slashed its throat wide open.
A bad apple, I cursed inwardly and dropped the corpse. I returned to the others.
We ran into Ilori and Vidarok at the lounge area. They had successfully investigated the northern side of the building and had found no goblins and little of interest – Vidarok only mentioned a room filled with accounts and other official looking papers that might, with some extensive research, reveal something of the mysterious events of the Glassworks. I shortly told everybody of the hiding goblin in the storage room. But most interesting was that Ilori and Vidarok had found a staircase leading down under the Glassworks. It was our obvious next target.
I and Ilori wanted to go there immediately, but the others wanted to retrace our steps and go cut the dead goblins’ ears – after all we knew by then they were worth quite a lot of gold. So we decided to split again.
We reached the top of the staircase quite quickly. Then we waited for the others, in silence. I realized it was the first time I was alone with the red girl, so I decided to make some conversation. I cleared my throat. “So, how old are you again?” I asked, not looking at her but keeping my eyes to the darkness of the staircase. Looking back, that really didn’t sound good when it came out of my mouth, given that only hours earlier I had been accused of abusing beautiful, underaged women. Ilori just chuckled, her gaze at the staircase as well. “I’m old enough”, she said simply and with confidence. I was just about to retort and question her ability to fight and function if things really got messy – if someone from our party, including her, really got badly hurt – when the others arrived. So I didn’t get to voice my doubts.
We walked down the narrow stairs one by one, the druid and the cleric with their darkvision going first, then me, and Ilori and Frank at the tail. Below it was even darker than on the main floor. Even I with my half-elven sight had a hard time seeing what lied in front of us. We walked carefully. As we reached the bottom of the stairs, Harsk signalled us to stop. He had heard something, beyond a corner in the passage. I silently moved to the front and to the corner. I could hear it too. Someone was banging on a door nearby. I took a quick look over the corner and yes indeed, there was a panicked goblin banging a locked door, clearly trying attract someone’s attention within. I turned back to the others.
“There’s a goblin trying to get through a locked door, should I take care of it?” I asked, whispering. Nods followed in approval. I leaned over the corner, took aim and shot an arrow. It hit, but didn’t kill the beast. Blood gushed from a deep wound in its neck. It screamed in terror and ran, disappearing behind another corner before I could finish it. But a heartbeat later, the door the goblin was banging, was thrown open and a half-elf leaped out. Our eyes met. Instinctively I knew right away that this was the one who had brought together the goblin tribes for an attack to the city. But the half-elf didn’t attack me – rather, he took off running in the same direction as the goblin.
The passage split into two ways at the end of the staircase. I waved the others to go the other way as me and Frank ran after the goblin and the half-elf. When we reached the door where the enemy had appeared from, we exchanged glances. “Go get the bastard”, Frank told me as he entered the room. I complied and swiftly moved to the second corner in the passageway, preparing my bow and arrow. I leaned over and saw the goblin locked in melee with Harsk, the half-elf right behind them, only a measly 20 feet or so away, looking frantically for a way out. I took aim and shouted at the man. “Surrender now and we’ll let you live!” He turned around and regarded me coldly. “Never!”
Your loss, I thought to myself and let loose the arrow. The half-elf moved like a phantom and expertly evaded my shot. I frowned in surprise. A quick one. But my opponent didn’t waste a beat, as he sprung towards me, empty-handed. Next thing I knew he was upon me, and his right fist was flying towards me. I was barely able to block the blow before it could connect with my face. I took a step backwards, and so did the half-elf. Behind him, Harsk gored the goblin with a longsword to its stomach. He was fighting alone against us five.
Frank reappeared from the room behind me. “Ameiko isn’t here!” He yelled. “So we’ll want this one alive”, I responded in kind, raising my bow for another shot. “Á pusta!” I ordered the half-elf in Elvish. He was trapped between me and Harsk. “Who are you?” He spat in clear Common. This isn’t going nowhere, I thought to myself. “You don’t stand a chance! Give up or die”, I kept demanding, ignoring his question. Frank was now behind me. “Where is Ameiko?” He bellowed furiously over my shoulder. The half-elf flinched and spun towards Harsk. The stout warrior braced for head-to-head close combat but our enemy had other ideas. I released my arrow, missing again, as the mystery man dexterously jumped over Harsk and past Vidarok, who was behind and to the side of the dwarf. Vidarok’s quarterstaff cut only air as the half-elf evaded him. I ran after him to join the melee.
His astonishing maneuvers brought her right in front of Ilori. Immediately he struck at her, but his fist slammed against the fire sorceress’ elemental shield. Sparks flickered and died where the hit connected. Vidarok, not a sluggish one considering his bulk, turned around and cast a frostbite on the man. He became visibly less agile, but it wasn’t enough. He kept going against Ilori, and blood spattered on the rocky walls as Ilori was hit to her face twice. I didn’t see the hits but I was amazed she wasn’t struck cold. But it was close.
Dazed, her features rapidly covering in her own blood, she cast fire rays wildly at the half-elf. None hit. Upon seeing the damage he had done to Ilori, our blood boiled and we doubled our efforts. Remembering my good experiences with the goblin at the Garret house, I uncovered my head, looked at the half-elf with a deadly intent and for the last time bellowed to the man to give up. He froze for a second, unsure, before leaping again, this time towards me over Harsk. The dwarf angrily demanded the man to stop using him as a jumping obstacle, but the acrobatic half-elf paid him no heed and instead swung a right hook at me. I sidestepped, and the punch went wide. In retaliation, I dropped the bow and rapidly drew my kukri blades. I managed a stab and a slash, but neither drew blood.
Then it was Frank’s turn. The brute stormed the passageway, madly raving about Ameiko, the earthbreaker above his head and ready for the killing strike. The battle rage had overcome him completely. The poor half-elf had nothing he could do. As the extension of his fury, the mighty hammer landed solidly on the half-elf’s upper back. I could hear bones crack and tendons tear apart. The half-elf howled in agony. Somehow, he still was able to move and try to get past the brute to safety. But it was all for nothing. The barbarian seized the man by the throat, choking him, and slammed his head against the wall. Finally still and lifeless, the half-elf collapsed to the floor, followed by a considerable amount of crumbled stonework.
Knowing we didn’t have much time, Vidarok quickly moved to tie the man up with rope while I searched him. Frank loomed above me and the barely-alive half-elf. He had fought us bare-handed, but he carried considerable amount of things with him. On his back he had a composite shortbow. He had quite a lot of valuable with him, like gold and silver dust pouches, golden earrings and a strangely shiny ring, which I suspected to be imbued with magic.
“Hey cleric”, I threw the ring to Harsk who caught it one-handed, “can you tell if this is magical?”. Harsk examined it carefully, taking a closer look and feeling its weight. “Yes.. I believe it is a ring with some protective abilities.” I nodded and asked him to revive our captive for interrogation.
The half-elf’s eyes trembled and opened, and he coughed blood. “WHERE IS AMEIKO?!” Frank roared at the man’s face. Our captive flinched, and breathing heavily and laboriously, pointed at a nearby door with his forehead. Frank moved over to the door and hit it twice in quick succession with his hammer. “We need a key”, he stated, now more in control of his wits, after failing to break the locked door.
“We need a key”, I stated bluntly to the half-elf. He spat blood on my feet and didn’t answer, emboldened since Frank wasn’t on his face anymore.
That’s not nice. He was sitting on his arse, back to the wall, his hands and feet tied tightly. I reached down and grabbed him by the hair on the back of his head, and yanked. “Come on, feuyaer, what is your name?” I asked, casually. He gasped for air. “I’m not telling you anything!”
Vidarok, looking over me and the half-elf, stood silently and motionless. I turned to Frank. He had had enough of my poorly started interrogation. “I’ll search this fellow’s room”, the brute told us and left.
“Is he telling us anything?” Harsk asked us as he and Ilori walked over to us. He had healed some of Ilori’s wounds but she still had blood and some bruising all over her face. That would hurt tomorrow, I thought to myself. She looked fierce. And completely out of place, with such harm done to her. I realized we both had taken our first wounds since arriving to Sandpoint. I realized I was staring her, so I turned back to our captive. I yanked his hair again, drawing a wince and a muffled scream of pain – Frank had introduced him to the wall back of his head first.
“I’m quickly losing my temper with you”, I began coolly and casually, crouching down so I could whisper to him. “Who are you and why did you and your goblins butcher the Glassworks?” He was grimacing and gasping for air. “I’m.. not.. telling.. you.. anything..”
“Oh yes you will”, I corrected him as Frank returned. “I found a key.. and some pages from his journal”, he told us and handed some papers to me. I quickly browsed through them as Frank began to unlock the door. “This man is Tsuto, Ameiko’s brother..” I realized, talking aloud to everyone. At the same time, the locked door creaked open. Ilori hurried past me.
“AMEIKO!” Frank yelled and stormed into the room, Ilori at his heels.
Oh no, I thought as I saw what was inside. Ameiko was slumped against the floor. She wasn’t moving and looked very bad, lifeless. Her clothes were ripped to shreds and goblin bite marks covered her. Frank kneeled next to her and gently wrapped his arms around her. The young barkeep, our gracious hostess, looked like a sleeping child in his arms.
“She’s still alive!” Frank gasped. I let out a breath of relief. “Cleric, get over here!” Frank yelled to Harsk.
“Coming, coming.. hold her steady, lad”, Harsk tried to calm the brute and stomped over. Ilori was stroking Ameiko’s hair gently, trying to make her feel better. There were tears in her eyes. Harsk begun a soft prayer, and warm light shone from his hands on Ameiko. Harsk murmured, hovering his palms over the poor woman. Then, we waited.
Finally, Ameiko spasmed and her eyes rolled open. She uttered a moan. “Master Harsk..” She began, upon seeing the friendly, bearded face of the dwarven cleric, “I must warn my father..” She passed back out. Harsk turned to us. “I think she’s stable for now. But she is barely alive and needs proper medicines and help quickly.”
“What should we do with.. Tsuto here?” Vidarok asked. I shrugged. “Let’s keep interrogating him.”
Ilori slowly rose to her feet, and walked out of Ameiko’s cell and to the bound half-elf. She grabbed his chin and pulled his face towards hers. “You will tell us everything, you bastard..” Suddenly, the temperature in the passageway increased noticeably. Burning white and red light shone from Ilori’s eyes, and the hand she was holding Tsuto’s chin erupted in flames, burning him mercilessly. I didn’t believe our carmine lady could be so wrathful. Such boiling rage was the domain of Frank. Her darker side, perhaps? I wondered. Tsuto just screamed, unable to talk.
Finally, Ilori loosed her grip and the magical fire that created no smoke died instantly. Tsuto’s face was in blisters. “Let’.. me.. die..” He begged us between his teeth.
“NO! What did you do to Ameiko, your sister! WHY?!” Ilori cried furiously, her eyes still shining like two erupting volcanoes.
“She’s in this.. with me..” Tsuto pleaded the fire sorceress. I stepped in and looked him in the eyes. I was good to tell a lie from a truth and this time I felt I could see right into his soul, which was already wrecked by Ilori’s magicks. “He’s lying”, I stated, but that really wasn’t a surprise to anyone. “Who is this woman, this demon bitch?” I demanded, pushing one of his journal pages to his face where he had drawn an erotic picture of a succubus next to his texts. I saw a glimpse of recognition, and affection. She was behind all this, I realized – she had manipulated Tsuto into organizing the goblin attack to Sandpoint. They had taken the body of High Priest Ezakiel for some hideous dark magic rituals during the raid. And another attack was planned against the town.
“She’ll kill you all”, he laughed coarsely through the considerable pain. “She’s your mistress, isn’t she?” I asked, and didn’t get a reply. Frank, apparently willing to let go of Ameiko and content with her being, appeared from the cell and walked straight to Tsuto, next to me and Ilori.
“He isn’t talking, is he?” He asked, flexing his muscles and cracking his knuckles in anticipation of violence. Still clearly intent on unleashing a world of hurt, Ilori didn’t take her gaze off the half-elf. I wondered which one of them would kill the man first. “He isn’t”, I replied to the barbarian, “and I’m unsure what we should do with him. Kill him now, or take him to the town guard for imprisonment and further questioning. He has valuable information and every man breaks in the end, but I’m uncertain Sandpoint guards could imprison him properly without him escaping before he breaks.” Then I added, half-jokingly, “maybe you should crush his kneecaps so he couldn’t run or walk.”
Which was a really stupid thing to say as it clearly gave the brute a terrible idea.