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Merrick was a Highway town, one whose birth and survival came from its proximity to the Great Murhn Highway that connected the various capitals together. Weary travelers would stop here overnight before making the final day's push towards Halffarthing Proper to the South, or over the Stone Mountains to the North. In need of fresh horses, supplies, and a proper night's rest, Perah-Perah decided they would spend the day here, and push off the next morning.

The city itself was located on a peninsula between two fast moving tributaries; the Rapid River and the White River, joining together into one powerful river and flowing south into the sea. What immediately surprised them all was the town guard standing on either side of the only bridge into town. One was human, the other an orc. Not wanting to attract undue attention, the sisters had agreed to keep their hoods up whenever possible.

The human stood in front of the bridge as they approached, "State your business here."

Perah-Perah spoke for the group, "We are on business to Halffarthing. We were attacked in the mountains and lost two of our horses. We had hoped to rest and resupply here."

"Attacked? By who?"

"More like what. Feral mountain goblins. We drove them off, but they will surely attack others passing over."

The orc spoke up in a gravelly voice, "Looks like the cave-in didn't hold," the human nodded in agreement.

"The mountain goblins have been a problem for some time now. We often send our men to hunt for them and collapse any cave entrances they find, but they either dig through or make more. On behalf of the city counsel of Merrick, I apologize for your ordeal. Please, enter and be welcome. You should find everything you need to continue on your journey. However, be warned that Merrick is under a strict curfew, do not leave your lodgings after nightfall."

Asyra looked confused, "A curfew, why? Is it the goblins?"

"Well, when they get really hungry they have been known to try and raid our town, but the bridge is easily defended, and the buggers can't handle the rapid water. No, something else is around, ma'am. But don't worry, the town guard will be taking shifts at all hours to ensure your comfort and safety."

"How reassuring," said Perah-Perah, with a sideways glance at the orc guard.

"Right then, off you go!" the guard said standing aside. The five rode over the wooden bridge and into the quiet little town.

"Did you notice how nobody asked about Nari?" Asyra asked her sister. Nari padded along side them with the same attitude he always did, knowing full well he belonged there.

"Must be because of the orcs. They keep wolves as pets. Some of the smaller ones even ride them."

Asyra nodded, she knew this from her studies, but it still struck her as odd.

"How do you think they'll react if they see you're an elf?" she asked, "I can hide my ears under my hair, you can't."

Perah-Perah closed her hood a little further, "Hopefully we won't have to find out."

Merrick had everything you came to expect of a Highway town. Taverns, stores, stables, a brothel, even a church of Salias.

"I would like to visit this church," said Rosileen, "see if their priest can be of any help."

Victoria nodded, "Soo and I will buy a couple of new horses-"


"-and catch up with you later. Where should we meet?"

Perah-Perah pointed to a tavern nearby, "We will meet you there," she said, "Asyra and I also have things to attend to."

Victoria squinted to make out the sign, "The Flatulent Halfling?"

Perah-Perah's eyes shot wide, and she immediately pointed to different tavern, "No, that one."

Victoria checked the sign, "Bucket of Grog?"

"Yes," Perah-Perah answered, knowing that of all possible things that could be fill a bucket, Grog was quite acceptable, "and ask around about the curfew, I have a bad feeling about it, and I don't want to be caught unprepared."

They then split up, and took care of their personal affairs.

Rosileen was the first to arrive at the Bucket of Grog. Friar Mokayhee had been good enough to give her a tour of the small, humble church. Its walls and floor was made of stone, with a number of pews and a raised wooden stage against the back wall. Salias' hammer glistened in the soft light that filtered through the window. The friar himself was a large jolly man whom you expected to dominate a buffet table, and wore a rope around his waist only because they didn't make belts in his size. A slender half-elf female was briefly introduced to her, his personal assistant Sail.

Rosileen asked if he could further explain the curfew, but Friar Mokayhee had little to say.

"For the past few nights there have been strangers around town. According to some, these strangers do not answer when called, and seem to disappear once they round a corner. Some thought them to be simply beggars, and none have been seen except at a distance. But we now have two missing townspeople, and I fear panic is on the rise. We hope the curfew will prevent anyone else from disappearing."

When Perah-Perah and Asyra arrived, they told her they heard the same story from the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper wasn't terribly concerned, however.

"Probably just gone off drunk hunting wild goblins," he had said, "I know both those boys and they can never seem to keep out of mischief."

Soo and Victoria arrived last, having bought a couple of standard riding horses, which seemed confusing to Soo because it would have been easy to borrow them before they left town. But they did buy them. Soo named her horse "Paid For", because that's what the stable hand said he was now.

The stable hand's brother was one of the missing, and he was terribly concerned.

"It's not like him to stay out this long without leaving a note or telling someone," he had said somewhat nervously, "And those rumours of strange people being around, I'm sure there's a connection. If it wasn't for the curfew I would be out looking for them tonight."

"Which is probably why there is a curfew in the first place," Perah-Perah said, ordering a round of drinks. With everyone together and having compared notes, there was one thing they could agree upon.

"Nobody leaves the tavern tonight."

The Bucket of Grog had adequate accommodations on the second floor, but Perah-Perah and Asyra were still used to the best. Who would have thought that handling the family business would have meant slumming it so much?

Of course if Victoria had heard them say this aloud she would have either burst out laughing or gotten really frustrated. Ever since she became a bard she had gotten used to camping outdoors and occasionally dining on squirrel to stretch her gold piece further. The Bucket of Grog's single stretched cots and heat vent coming from the kitchen were luxurious compared to what she had to put up with when times were tough.

Soo, on the other hand, found the indoor accommodations somewhat stifling. Though her people had houses, they were more like large tents with wooden beams (easy to pack up and transport). You always felt like you were outdoors in them. Something about these city buildings felt unnatural.

Rosileen for some reason felt terribly excited. Perhaps it was meeting a different priest after so much time, or maybe how far she had come was just starting to sink in. She wondered what The Master was doing now, and if he missed the bumps on his head. Then she thought about Maslo, the attractive swashbuckling halfling she met back in Sorrowtown. She had only known him for less than a day, but strangely enough, she missed him.

Nari didn't care about where they slept one way or the other. His fur coat ensured he was always comfortable, and as long as Perah-Perah was nearby, he was content. Strangely enough, he didn't mind the little young blond haired one, either. It was if she knew exactly what Nari was, and accepted it without question, instead of the usual uneasy feelings he picked up from anyone that came within fifty feet of him. If they ran out of food and could find no game, he would definitely eat her second last.

When the screams came, none of them were surprised. Oh, the screams themselves woke them up with a start, hearts pounding and skin chilled cold, but it was, nevertheless, expected.

Chalk it up to a law that was as of yet unwritten but would someday make a fellow named Murphy quite famous and miserable.

Asyra opened the window a little, and saw the entire world obscured by thick fog. She quickly shut the window, and saw her sister already getting dressed.

"Are you going out?" she said, in partial disbelief.

"Are you kidding? I just don't want to be caught in my underwear when whatever is going on out THERE starts coming in HERE."

Asyra thought it over for a moment, then started getting dressed.

"Should we wake up the others?"

A scream and a plead for mercy echoed through the fog outside, "I doubt that will be necessary," Perah-Perah's keen sense of hearing picked up the faint crackling of fire. A lot of it. Nari could smell it.

"Something is burning. One of the houses probably."

Asyra swore, and picked up her sword.

In her room, Rosileen had in fact been awake some time before. Something unnatural was going on outside. Soo felt it too, though much later. Something was wrong. Then the first scream came, and Victoria awoke with a shock.

Shortly after the second series of screams and pleas, Asyra and Perah-Perah knocked on their door, "Everyone awake?" The door was unlocked and they found everyone inside armed and ready.

"We are now."

"Something's burning," added Soo.

Rosileen was looking out the barely open window into the endless fog.

"What is it?" asked Perah-Perah.

Rosileen's voice was somewhat distant, "There is something wrong here. Very wrong."

"What was your first hint, the dense fog that appeared out of nowhere or the bloodcurdling screams?"

Rosileen didn't answer, but leaned on her staff and kept her eyes fixed outside.

"Something is moving," she said with the same distant voice.

Perah-Perah took a peek outside, "I don't see anything."

"Neither do I, but something is moving."

Perah-Perah was beginning to fear that recent events were making her slap-happy.

Victoria checked her loaded crossbow, "We should go outside in case someone needs help." "NO!" Perah-Perah said firmly, "Everyone stays inside. We have no idea what is going on out there. The curfew was put up for everyone's protection, and the city guard are no doubt out there looking for the source right now."

"Maybe they're the ones screaming," Soo thought out loud.

"All the more reason to stay in here."

Another scream. This one much closer, outside, downstairs.

"Please! Please! LET ME IN!"

For a long moment nobody moved. Silence.


Victoria rushed down the stairs as quickly as possible.

"Ghah! No, you fool!" Perah-Perah screamed after her, but knew she was wasting her breath.

Victoria opened the barred front door, and dragged a man inside by the forearms. His face scratched and bloody, his skin white as a sheet.. Victoria shot a half smile of victory up to her companions.

The man's gratitude was brief, "Oh thank the gods you-AAAUGH!", and both he and Victoria were yanked outside in a single pull.

"Oh crap!" Perah-Perah yelled, most unladylike. Soo rushed downstairs.

Asyra was on the verge of panic, "Don't go out there!"

"I'm not!" Soo yelled back, slamming the door shut, and wedging a door against it, "Look!"

From one of the windows, the bright glow of a torch could be seen. Soo barred the door, and sighed in relief. Then a window was smashed by a flaming torch.

Perah-Perah saw where this was going, and hurried down the stairs with her sister, "Get some water and blankets, they're going to try to light the place!"

By now the burly owners were wide awake, in their nighties with a two-by-four each.

A torch was thrown in, and quickly smothered. Another torch from another window was smothered by the owners. There were two more screams, one of which might have been Victoria-

-and then it was over. Only the fog remained.

The fog stayed heavy the rest of the night, and the remainder of the party took turns taking watch.

By morning, the fog had mostly lifted, and the rest burned away before breakfast began, which was held at first in silence.

It was Soo who first spoke up, "What do you think it was?"

"I don't know, and I don't want to know. It doesn't concern us. It's not important. What is important is that book, not this. This is not part of the mission."

Rosileen looked at Perah-Perah with a torn expression, "I have to stay. Something is wrong, people are dying, and they need my help."

"People are always dying somewhere. Stay if you want."

"But I have to go with you."

"Then come."

"What about Victoria?"

Perah-Perah stood stone faced for a moment, "I told her not to go down there."

"She might still be alive."

"Do you really believe that?"

Rosileen's conviction was evident, "Yes."

Perah-Perah sighed, making it clear that this was against her better judgement, "Fine. It couldn't hurt to at least ask a few questions before we leave."

Out of the corner of her eye, Perah-Perah saw her sister smile.

Perah-Perah voice was beyond annoyed, it was 'miffed', which is the gentile form of 'pissed off', "What do you mean we can't leave?" Rosileen and the others stood behind her in the great personal library.

The mayor of Merrick sat patiently in his chair addressing his audience. "I will tell you what I have told the other travelers. The night before was merely a couple of disappearances, but last night was an all out attack, and we are not even sure from what. We wish to keep anyone and everyone who might have had a hand in it here, this includes the local population and all of our guests."

"But we arrived before the disappearances, surely you don't think we can be involved?"

"What I think doesn't matter. What matters is proper procedure to minimize losses to the town. I won't take any chances where my people are concerned."

"Great. For how long?"

"Until we figure out what is happening and stop it."

Perah-Perah appeared calm, but in her mind she was pacing back and forth trying to find a way out of this mess. She found only one:

"And I suppose if we were to help, things would be wrapped up all that much quicker."

The Mayor seemed genuinely shocked, "The thought never occurred to me! However, you make a good point. Several of our town guards disappeared last night, making us short on manpower for an investigation. Perhaps you could assist in that way? You seem skilled enough... unless I'm mistaken."

Slick, thought Perah-Perah, attacking us both with reason and against their ego. Ordinarily she wouldn't let that work against her, but Victoria was missing, and Rosileen felt obligated to stay. There was such a thing as a good excuse.

"Fine," she said, as if beaten, "but we'll handle this our own way, agreed?"

"I wouldn't dream of imposing restrictions," said the Mayor with a half smile.

Outside, Rosileen spoke up, "We should go to the church first," she said. The Mayor said the wounded survivors were brought there, they might have some answers."

"Right," agreed Perah-Perah, "but there is no point in all of us going there. You should talk to Friar Mokayhee, while the rest of us look for any connection between the missing, especially those from the two burned houses, and the others that they tried to burn down." she addressed the others directly, "Find out about people they knew, enemies they had, places they've been, anything that might give us a commonality."

The girls nodded and headed their separate ways, Rosileen to the church, Soo to one of the houses, and the sisters to the other.

Inside the church, Rosileen saw the survivors of last night's attacks. Four people lay sprawled on the floor, one of them a child. The child was for the most part uninjured, except for the single scratch down his face. He sat, curled up, and rocked forward and back, staring at an unknown point in space.

The others, two men and a woman, fared much worse, with bloody wounds all over their bodies. Wounds from what was unclear. Friar Mokayhee was tending to one as she came in. He shook his head and pulled the blanket over his head just before she arrived.

"The shock was too much for him," he said slowly, "And I fear the others may not do better. Except for the child they are all unconscious, and cannot be revived. As for the child, the trauma has affected him worst of all, I'm afraid."

"I didn't mean it!" the kid blurted, then started rocking forward and back again.

"This is it? These are the only people who survived the attack?"

"Yes. Everyone else was left alone, and of course there are the missing."

"How many?"

"Twelve, I believe. Four of them town guards."

"But how...?"

Friar Mokayhee gestured to the child, "To the best of my knowledge, he's the only one who knows, and I haven't been able to get a word out of him."

The child continued to sit and rock, dazed and confused, occasionally blurting out "I didn't mean it!", and "No, grandma, no!"

"What does he mean by 'I didn't mean it'?"

"That's all he says. Sometimes he also says, 'I take it back.'"

"I take it back! I take it back! I take it back!" the child parroted as if on cue.

Rosileen walked up to the child and held him by the shoulder. His eyes cleared up a little, and almost focused on hers.

"What happened?"

"I just wanted to see her again..." the child blubbered.



When Perah-Perah, Asyra and Soo compared notes in the Bucket of Grog, they found the sum commonalties to the missing townsfolk seemed to begin and end with the fact they all lived in Merrick.

"Actually, there is one other," Asyra pointed out, "though some of the dead from last night are town guard orcs and half orcs, none of the missing are orcs.

"Meaning?" asked Perah-Perah.

"I don't know, maybe nothing. But it is the only common thread there is, it would seem."

Rosileen joined them at the table, but didn't sit down.

"Any luck?" she asked Perah-Perah.

"Not yet."

"Okay then, let's go."

"Go where?" "The graveyard."

Merrick's graveyard was located within the peninsula, and had in recent years been moved farther away. Close enough to visit departed loved ones, but far enough away not to be an eyesore, and to allow for the inevitable urban growth the Mayor envisioned.

Soo pointed at a freshly dug and recovered pit, "Here's another one!" she yelled.

"That's ten so far," Rosileen moved from site to site, as if trying to pick up on some kind of clue.

"They've all died in the last year," she added, "including the little boy's grandmother..." her voice trailed off before she quietly added, "he came here and wished that she would come and visit him..."

"You don't think..." Soo began.

"Of course not! But the poor child does think so. His grandmother died only a week ago. All he wanted was to see her again."

"Be careful what you wish for..." Soo said wistfully.

"That enough out of you!" Rosileen snapped, "Can you imagine how the poor boy feels? His own grandmother comes back from the dead and drags away his parents. He thinks its his fault, and nothing is going to change that. His scars will run much deeper than the one on his face. Let's get the others, we've got one piece of this puzzle figured out. We should see the Mayor again."

"Undead?" the Mayor almost gasped, "Well it does explain a lot. The shambling movement described, the mostly ineffective attempts at arson. Zombies and their ilk can only obey simple commands. But how? The dead don't just raise themselves."

Rosileen nodded, "It's probably a cleric, and in all likelihood a very evil one."

"Only probably?"

"There are other possibilities, albeit less likely. For example, an unscrupulous dabbler in the arcane arts could have purchased a clerical scroll with such a spell on it. Raising mindless automatons is not as difficult as, say bringing someone back to life, or undead with all their faculties intact. This is basically deified puppetry."

"I see... so what are your plans now?"

Perah-Perah took over, "Nothing until morning. It's almost sunset and I want us safely locked indoors until dawn. I'd be very surprised if there wasn't an another attack tonight."

"Yes, of course. Now that we know what we are up against, perhaps we can devise a better defense."

"I'm sure Friar Mokayhee and I can make some holy water and pass it out before nightfall."

"Good idea. I will have the militia assist you. Good luck."

Friar Mokayhee and Rosileen handed a couple of vials of Holy water to another family.

"Be careful, the vials are very fragile," said the friar, "And remember, you don't want to miss, so don't use it until they are right on top of you."

"Bless you, Friar Mokayhee," said the peasant woman, and added to Rosileen "and bless you too, child." Rosileen smiled as the peasant closed the door, and wondered if she meant that literally or figuratively.

"How many more houses, Friar?"

Friar Mokayhee checked his bag, "We have enough water for five more. I hope the militia is faster than we are."

Rosileen gripped her staff a little tighter, "I'm sorry, it's my leg. It's slowing us down."

"Don't worry about it, little one. It's a small price to pay for how much you have helped me these past couple of days."

"Thank you," she said, almost blushing, then noticed the sky wasn't as black as it should be. She looked around and saw gray in all directions, getting closer.

"Fog! But, how?" she stammered.

"Most unnatural! It must be whoever created the zombies. Quickly! We must flee, take the water with you back to the tavern, I must go back to the church and make sure Sail is okay! Run!"

She ran, or rather she limped. She limped quickly as the fog closed in and she limped even faster when she heard Friar Mokayhee's scream.

When she reached the door, Soo had been keeping an eye out for her from the tavern window. Not seeing anyone else nearby, she threw the door open, dragged her inside, and slammed it shut. A chair and table were braced against it.

Curiously, there were no attacks on the Bucket of Grog that night. From their vantage points at various windows, whoever was watch would call out when they saw a shambling form, but it would always steer away. The sounds from the fog told them the rest of the town was not so lucky. Each of them only managed a few hours of sleep that night.

The fog lifted at dawn once more, and the four of them had a hasty breakfast.

"Why didn't they attack us?" asked Asyra. Perah-Perah looked unforgivingly at her steak and eggs, and passed them down to Nari, "They know we're well armed and a threat, that's why."

"That's not possible," said Rosileen, "Zombies have no free will or independent thought.

"I didn't mean the zombies, I meant whoever is controlling them."

"And how would he know unless..." Asyra began.

"...unless he or she is from the village," her sister finished, "Exactly. And that brings us back to motive. Who has something to gain by killing and kidnaping villagers? What's the base motive?"

Asyra: "Money?"

Rosileen: "Power?"

Soo: "Revenge?"

"Always looks good in my book," agreed Perah-Perah. "But if money is involved, why burn down the houses?"

"Maybe someone is trying to clear out the area . Maybe a mine of some sort was discovered nearby that could turn this into a boom town, and someone wants to buy up the property cheap."

"It's a possibility, I've read stories like that before. Usually before four young friends and a dog who travel from town to town find out it was really some guy in a mask doing it."

The four of them looked at each other for a moment, then down at the floor. Nari looked up from his snack with an expression that made it perfectly clear he would not be getting into any zany hijinks any time soon, thank you very much.

Perah-Perah changed returned to the discussion, "But why the kidnapings? If they are kidnapings. Why are some of them dead and some of them taken away? Are they killed and taken away, or are they taken alive?"

"Judging by the screams they are alive, at least they were for a little while." said Rosileen,

Asyra spoke up, "More importantly, where do they go?"

"I can't make out the tracks properly," said Soo, in a strangely professional voice, "I tried yesterday. They're all over the place and the dirt here is too hard packed."

Perah-Perah stood up, "Hopefully we will have our answers today. Are we ready?"

Rosileen picked up her staff as the others rose, "I just hope the holy water helped."

"TWENTY?" Rosileen gasped.

The Mayor looked over his report, "Yes, and Friar Mokayhee is among the missing, which makes tending the wounded more difficult, which now number over a dozen."

Rosileen bowed, "I will be honored to do what I can."

"That is kind of you. You should also know two of the zombies were killed, or at least made inoperable, last night. But it's a hollow victory at best. Now, what news do you have?"

"Only that the Bucket of Grog was not one of the targets last night," answered Perah-Perah, "Which leads us to believe that whoever made the zombies knows who we are and didn't want to unduly risk them."

"That would indicate either he resides in the town, or has contact with someone here."

"Most likely."

The Mayor leaned back, "This is far more serious than I thought. This morning, I sent a rider to Halffarthing Proper to request assistance. Hopefully they will send their most powerful cleric, but it will be at least another two days before he returns. At this rate half our town will be dead."

"Perhaps you should evacuate?"

The mayor sighed, "That may not help, I'm under the impression that these attacks might be personal in nature. If my people flee, it is three days by foot to Halffarthing Proper at best. They will only be chased by creatures that do not tire, and will be caught in the open when they are found. Also, people are stubborn, and despite the evidence to the contrary, most of the men will insist they can protect their families."

"What about the river? It leads right to the ocean."

"We don't have enough boats for everyone, but if worst comes to worst, we will split up. Women and children on the boats, and the men will brave the road to Halffarthing."

Perah-Perah certainly wasn't going to let that comment slide, but Rosileen spoke up, "I have an idea, your Honor."


"Members of the priesthood are granted certain powers to help them execute their duties, one of which is the ability to distinguish good from evil. I spent last night in prayer preparing to do just that. Under these circumstances, your people are looking for leadership. They're looking to you.

"I suggest you have a public gathering and say something to them. Make it sound like you have information about the attacks, and are close to identifying those involved. I will walk among them and see if anyone radiates an evil intent, namely the perpetrator or one of his contact."

The assembly was called at once in the main square, which was really just a large empty dirt opening in front of the Mayor's keep. "People, I have come to give you word on recent events, and hope for tonight," he began.

"I say we all hole up in your keep, Mayor!" one of the peasants said gruffly, "Way I see it, you've got a stone house while we have wood!"

"True. But if everyone stayed here, it would make it much easier to get everyone, because we're all in one place. Besides, it may not be necessary..."

That's my cue, Rosileen thought, hope I don't screw it up. She briefly muttered a short prayer, and with the others, started handing out vials of holy water.

"These young souls have volunteered their help to us for the duration of the crisis," he said, "One of whom is a powerful cleric and will be treating your sick and wounded while we search for Mokayhee..."

Detecting evil is not as easy as it sounds. Evil people are often quite capable of being friendly, likeable and even helpful. Under these circumstances, a simple spell like hers could not detect anything unusual. Only when their current intent is evil, that self-consciousness radiates like the noonday sun. This staged event would be perfect in bringing that out, since the perpetrator or his contact couldn't possibly avoid thinking about their intentions while he gave his speech.

Handing out the vials, Rosileen picked up no evil thoughts whatsoever, just a couple of selfish ones from children and older people. Nothing.

The Mayor continued his speech, promising a quick solution and promising leads, and now Rosileen had to tell him she picked up nothing.

The last vial was handed out, the speech ended, and the crowd dispersed. Back inside, the mayor came straight to the point.

"Did you find him?"

"No, your Honor. It wasn't one of the townspeople. Or if it was, he has powerful magic hiding him."

Perah-Perah stepped forward, "I would like to investigate the houses that were attacked this time, see if any other information comes to light."

The Mayor nodded, "Of course, feel free. The town guard has already looked them over, however."

"We might notice something they didn't."

"As you wish."

"As for myself," said Rosileen, "If you need me, I'll be attending the church helping Sail."

Inside one of the attacked houses, they saw a complete mess. Tables turned over, blood both relatively fresh in dry puddles and very old in clumps covered the floor. Bits of decaying body could be seen as well.

"Did that finger move?" Asyra shrieked.

Perah-Perah kicked it with her boot, "Don't be foolish, reanimation only affects the core of... oh crap it did move!" the finger began to crawl away like an inch worm before Soo came in from the other room and stepped on it.

"Look at this!" she said, oblivious to what she had done.

They went into the kitchen, and Soo pointed shattered glass across the floor.

"These were the holy water bottles, right?"

The sisters nodded, "Right."

"Both of them are broken, right?"


"But the floor isn't wet. There's only glass all over the floor."


"So, if this bottle had simply been dropped, there would still be liquid on the ground, and the glass would be much closerr together. The fog would have kept it from drying up during the night, and no sunlight can come on this spot of the floor directly. The floor is waxed, too."


"So, the only way I can see this happening is if the vials HIT the zombies."

Perah-Perah saw where this was going, "So you mean the holy water-"

"-had no effect on them, yes."

"But how can that be?"

"More powerful zombies, perhaps?"

"Perhaps..." Perah-Perah said, putting her hand to her chin, "but something doesn't add up. What if... what if the water wasn't even there?"

"What do you mean?"

"An illusion! Perhaps everyone just THOUGHT holy water was in the vials. Illusions work perfectly if the target WANTS to believe."

"Of course!" said Asyra, "Melvin's Magical Memory! Anyone can get that spell!"

"Or Plah's See Bow." "Melvin's is easier to buy and cast."

"Sure, but Plah's is more convincing."

"Ummm... why couldn't it just be plain water?"

The sisters looked at Soo. For a moment they didn't have an answer

"Well... because," Perah-Perah snapped her fingers. If it was ordinary water, then that would mean the Friar didn't bless it, right? Why would he do that, only to get attacked by zombies himself?"

"Still," said Asyra, "she has a point. We should check the other houses."

At that point Rosileen burst into the house, "Thank the Goddess Mother! Come quick, we have to do something!"


"It's Sail! She's behind it!"

They were in the Mayor's library, looking for anything on the history of Merrick. The Mayor walked in with an armload of books.

"Tell me again how you found out Sail is the one responsible?"

Rosileen thought about it, the four of them had stormed into the keep, yelled for the Mayor, blurted that it was Sail behind everything, demanded to see the library, and (after realizing that demanding was perhaps not the right thing to do) asked very politely for him to help them find any records of the town.

"I don't remember telling you a first time."

"You didn't. I was being polite."

Rosileen's face turned a shade of red, "Oh. Well, when I went to the church I had the strange uneasy feeling. I didn't know what it was. Inside, about half of the survivors were dead, and the others unconscious or incoherent. I was starting to think these undead carried an unholy disease as well. As I was treating one, Sail came up from behind and asked me if she could help. I told her 'I'm sure you're doing everything you can to cure them,' and turned around, only to see her aura was bright red. I was still under the influence of the spell from before. She's not curing the people, she's killing them!"

She drifted off for a moment, not wanting to tell them the rest of it. The fast-as-light premonitions, the darkness, the fire, and Sail's face melting away into a gory horror, promising to swallow her soul. The face of the demon Dralg. Fortunately, Sail seemed to be unaware of her vision when she excused herself from the church.

Perah-Perah took over the story at this point, "The vials of holy water they distributed earlier didn't work, because there was nothing in them. In one of the houses we found an intact vial, but it was empty. We think it was an illusion."

"Sail was with Friar Mokayhee and myself when we prepared the holy water for distribution, or what we thought was water. He was blessing air."

"What about the holy water you handed out today?"

"That's real, I made that myself. Sail was nowhere in sight. I'm sure it's good, but I'm not very powerful, so it won't be very effective in any case. But it should give people more time to run."

"That explains much," said the Mayor, "but not why we are rooting through all of my books and leaving them scattered all over the floor. Except for the house-of-cards style pile over there."

Across the room Soo put the last two books on the ten level high pyramid. "Sorry, I can't read."

"Then make yourself useful and put these books back on... no, strike that. Make more pyramids." If she couldn't read she couldn't even group things in alphabetical order, let alone understand his system.

"To answer your question," said Asyra, "I don't think Sail is acting alone, and I don't imagine anyone hiding out in the woods past the graveyard. Her accomplice is in town. And that leaves only a few options."

"So you're looking for... what? You never said what kind of records you wanted. Architecture of old buildings? Floor plans? Where buildings used to be and may have intact basements, that sort of thing?"

"Er... yes."

"Aisle 2, shelf C, row 3..." the Mayor looked over at Soo, "Assuming it's not part of a pyramid by now."

"There," said Perah-Perah, pointing to the floor layout, "That's the one."

"So the church has a sub-basement," said the Mayor, "I had no idea... it looks a little bigger than the church on the surface, too."

Asyra pointed to a stairway near the top, "It looks like the entrance to it used to be where the pulpit is now."

"What are those things?" Soo asked, pointing to some rooms on the floor plan and generally getting in the way.

The Mayor shook his head, "It doesn't say. I suppose they could be used for anything."

Rosileen stood from her chair, though one could not say she rose since she remained the same height. "We should go there, now! Time is wasting and we don't want another foggy night to pass before a decision is made."

The Mayor scratched his chin hair thoughtfully, "Though I am the last person to make rash decisions, I am inclined to agree. There are many reason to go quickly, and very few to wait. I will summon the guard and we shall head there at once. Will you be accompanying us?"

"Absolutely," Rosileen said without hesitation.

However, it was Perah-Perah the others looked to. Each knew how they felt, but her word nevertheless held the greatest sway, "We might have a member of our team down there, so we're going."

The Captain of the Guard met them outside the keep with most of his men. En route to the church, it was clear all hell was breaking loose in the village. Windows were broken, bonfires were being made in the middle of the street, and some of the younger troublemakers were looting the houses of the dead.

The Mayor shook his head, "I truly don't need this right now... blast! Captain, take half the men and restore order, NOW! Tell them we believe we know who is responsible and their actions are only hurting our chances of stopping it."

"Yes, sir!" the Captain said, and departed with half the guard.

The Mayor's face continued to appear grim as they got closer to the church. "Once they figure out where we are heading, I expect a mob looking for blood will be coming to the church. I'll have to keep even more of my men back to keep them out. I'm afraid you won't have more than a few men to take down there with you."

Perah-Perah nodded, "I understand. If we need more people, we'll come back up and wait for things to settle down."

Rosileen thrust open the front doors, her eyes ablaze with anger, "SAIL!" she yelled.

But only heard an echo.

"The place is empty," Soo observed. "I thought you said there were sick people here?"

"There were..." Rosileen said quietly, "but where did they go?"

"Down," said Asyra. She nodded to her sister, and together they walked over to the pulpit and started examining it.

"What are you waiting for?" said one of the guards, "just move it!"

"Scenario 5:" quoted Asyra, "When you know you're going to be followed, leave them a surprise."

"Booby traps," Perah-Perah translated, then felt her fingers trip over something, "Wait! I found something. Hold on..." she angled herself to get a better look, "no, I think it's just the lock. There." the sound of metal sliding across stone could be heard, and suddenly the podium had some give. The sisters laid it down on its side, revealing a very steep staircase going down. Far too steep for Nari or most mountain goats to get down.

Perah-Perah directed her attention to the guards, and singled out two of them, "Okay, you handsome boys go first, seeing as you have some decent armor on and we don't. The others stay behind us and watch our backs," not wanting to leave her wolf without something to do she added, "Nari, protect the Mayor."

The guards looked at the Mayor, who nodded, and started down the steep stairs, followed by Rosileen, the sisters, and Soo. Two more guards closed the rear.

There were no lights down below. Asyra called up a ball of light which followed behind the guards.

It was a catacomb of sorts, very short, with two rows of open empty tombs on either side, and a very abrupt dead end.

"That can't be it," said Asyra.

Perah-Perah sized up the room, "I don't remember this on the layout, it must have been added later."

The sisters looked at each other.

"Secret passage?"

"Secret passage."

Perah-Perah waved the group around her, "Okay, everyone look for loose stones that can be pushed, probably in one of these empty alcoves. You guys start here, we'll start at the other end."

The girls gathered at the far end. The wall ahead was bare and the stones evenly spaced. On either side were a pair of empty alcoves. The sisters appraised the wall, "What do you think Maslo would say?" asked Asyra.

"Hide it in plain sight," she said, and started pressing stones.

"Uh, excuse me...?" said Soo.

"Not now, Soo," said Asyra, pressing stones near the floor.

"Yeah, but..."

Perah-Perah cut her short, "If you want to be useful, start pressing some stones!"

Soo halfheartedly did so, but continued to persist, "But look, it's just that I think I know where it is!"

The girls didn't stop, "Then press the stone, already," Perah-Perah said without breaking stride.

"It's not a stone. I don't think. Not here anyways. And uh, I should say that Rosileen knows where it is."

The sisters stopped what they were doing and looked around. Rosileen wasn't with them. She had stopped dead in her tracks halfway down the passage and was staring at one of the walls. "What the...?" they said almost in unison. The walked back to the halfling cleric, who had a far away look in her eyes.

"It's here," she said looking at the wall, "Something evil."

Soo and the sisters focused their search on the area. Perah-Perah found a stone sticking out slightly from the rest, and pushed it in. There was a click, but no movement. Everyone readied their weapons.

"Probably a counterweight door," said Asyra, who gave the wall a slight push. It opened effortlessly on a central axis.

Perah-Perah waved the guards over, and together they crept into the next room.

It was another long tunnel, and along one row were a series of gates, somewhat like jail cells. Now other sounds could be heard, human sounds, or at least they once were.

Perah-Perah approached the first of these cells, but too much was obscured in shadow. She called a lit up guard over to shed some light on the subject.

Inside, things moved. They stood only because the were not told to lay down, and they moved with the aimless amble of the undead. If they saw the light, they did not care. These rotting corpses waited only for the their next orders. Perah-Perah heard the guard gasp.

"That's Piter, that is! The first one who disappeared! And Rayam beside him. They're... oh sweet Salias..."

"Yes..." said Rosileen, "But she cannot help them now."

"What about the others?" asked the guard.

Perah-Perah gestured down the hall, "Let's check the other cells. You guys cover us, look for anything moving that's not locked up." The guards nodded.

The next cell however, had only the dead, some of which Rosileen recognized from upstairs. They had not yet been raised, at least as far as they could tell.

The third cell was empty, but the smell indicated people had lived here, and none too happily.

Lastly, at the end of the corridor, there were over a dozen people locked up, sitting forlornly in groups of three and four. As the light from the guards shone in, they looked out at them from their cell, the look of someone wondering if their time had finally come. Some shifted farther back into their cage. One of them, however, came closer.

"Rosileen, is that you? I don't remember any other halflings in this cursed village!" Victoria's long red hair was uncharacteristically out of place and quite messy.

"Victoria! Are you alright?"

Victoria looked at the mess behind her, "I'm not going to answer that."

Perah-Perah stepped forward, "Let's get you out of here. Asyra, tools." Her sister handed a small cloth bag, from which Perah-Perah pulled out some metal objects.

"This might take a second, I'm out of practice. Everyone else keep an eye out for anything unusual."

"Like if one of us is missing?" said a slightly thick headed orc guard.

Perah-Perah sighed, "That would be a good example, yes."

"Oh," said the Orc and became quiet.

Perah-Perah quickly worked the lock. The rust was more of a problem than the lock itself, but in the end it came loose.

The thick headed orc guard spoke up again, "Uh, miss, I notice something unusual."


"One of us is missing."

They took a quick head count. It was true, the guard who noticed who the two zombies used to be was no longer with them, a universal case of 'I thought he was with you' syndrome.

Perah-Perah held herself back from yelling at the guard, that wouldn't help right now. She let her training dictate her next action, "Everyone buddy up. Don't let your buddy out of your sight," she opened to cell door with a noisy screeeek.

"All right, everyone here, back to the surface. We'll cover you."

It only took a few minutes to help everyone back to the stairs, getting everyone up those unnaturally steep steps took a little longer.

"How are things up there?" Perah-Perah asked the Mayor.

"Not good. The looting has stopped but everyone wants to burn the church down."

"Never mind the fact its made of stone."

"I think most are more interested in pillaging. If we let them down there, they're only going to get themselves killed."

"One of your men is missing, we're going to find him, can you spare anyone else?"

The Mayor shook his head, "Only myself, and I'm not trained in combat. I'm afraid I'd be more of a liability than an asset."

Victoria borrowed a crossbow from one of the guards and rejoined the group back down into the dungeon. Vengeance ran hot in her veins. Victoria's finger itched on the trigger, "Damn Friar Toupe, he's going to pay for this."

"Who?" asked Rosileen.

"That Friar of the church, Mokayhee or whatever his name is. Wears a cheap toupe, I could spot it anywhere. He's behind this." This made the entire group stop.

Rosileen couldn't quite accept it, "But I heard him, he was... no."

"It makes sense," said Perah-Perah.

"I know it does, but I was just hoping it wasn't true," she sighed, disappointed, and drew herself up, a hint of anger and betrayal in her voice, "Let's put him down."

After the cells, the corridor turned to the right, where they found the missing guard's body. He seemed to be asleep with his head was backwards. _Rosileen could do nothing.

"Damn," said Perah-Perah, "Silent and deadly."

Victoria looked quickly behind her, thinking she heard something, "That would be Sail. She's some kind of assassin or something."

"Remember you buddy," said Asyra, sticking close to her sister.

Farther down the corridor, there were other doors, but quick examination showed they hadn't been used in centuries.

At the end of the hall were a set of double doors, the copper plating recently polished. Engraved across both doors was single demonic skull, with great horns coming down towards the jaw, which had both upper and lower fangs.

"Dralg..." Rosileen said, in a voice that secretly said 'I knew it.'

"Check your weapons, everyone, they're ready for us,"_warned Perah-Perah.

"Are we going in?" asked Asyra.

"We've come this far, no point in backing out now. Are you ready?"

Asyra nodded.

"Okay then, let's do it."

Perah-Perah gestured for two of the guards to open the door, while she, Asyra and Soo readied their bows. Victoria raised her crossbow and Rosileen prepared to cast a spell.

It opened into a long room, with large pillars on either side. In many ways it looked like a church, a macabre mirror image of the one above. Above the dark podium, instead of the gauntlet holding the holy mace of Salias, there was another dark visage of Dralg. Behind the podium was an sacrificial altar, and even from this distance it was evident it had recently been used.

"Spread out," said Perah-Perah, "but keep each other covered."

No sooner had the girls stepped inside than an unnatural wind gust up from the podium. The doors forcibly shut behind them, locking two of the guards out before they had a chance to enter.

A voice came from the other end of the room, but echoed all around, "You... have been a pain."

"And you have betrayed Salias!" Rosileen cried out.

"Foolish whelp. You can only betray someone you've actually served!"

Perah-Perah whispered to Rosileen, "Keep him talking, we'll work our way forward."

Rosileen nodded, "And whom do you serve? Dralg? Dralg is dead, my friend!"

The voice boomed off the walls, "Dralg lives! Not that it matters to you, but it will. The dark days are only beginning!"

'That's right, keep yapping, moron,' thought Perah-Perah, keeping to the shadows of the right side of the room. Suddenly, she saw a glint of metal down the hall. An almost completely concealed crossbow was aimed towards Rosileen.

Perah-Perah bolted to the halfling. "Get down!" she yelled, and tackled her to the ground. The bolt missed by mere inches.

"Everyone take cover!" Perah-Perah yelled.

Everyone ran for the pillars, but the remaining guard was shot in the gut before he could reach safety. He staggered and fell, screaming in pain. He began to crawl for the pillar, only to be shot in the leg.

Rosileen tried to struggle out of Perah-Perah's grip, "We have to help him!"

"No! It's the oldest trap in the book."

"But he's still alive, I can help him!"

"You run out there and you'll get shot as well. She's counting on it. Our only hope is to work our way up from pillar to pillar."

The guard valiantly tried to pull himself to safety, only to have a third bolt stick in his side. He collapsed and moved no more.

"What's wrong?" echoed the voice, "No shouts of defiance? No taunts of how I will never get away with this?"

Nobody answered. Perah-Perah nodded to her sister, and they ran to the cover of the next pillar. They signaled Soo, who did the same thing with Victoria on the other side of the room. Rosileen came last, slowed down by her limp.

The taunts continued, "Your already too late, I've done more than you can imagine!"

"Doesn't he ever shut up?" Asyra muttered. They sprinted to the next pillar, and signaled Soo and Victoria to do the same. A bolt barely missed Rosileen as she struggled to keep up, and the sisters returned fire in its general direction.

"How many more pillars?" Asyra asked.

Perah-Perah hazarded a quick glance, and ducked back before a bolt bounced off the pillar, "Six."

The priest droned on, "I am part of the endless one, the beginning and end of order..."

"The closer we get, the easier it will be for her to ping us off."

"Why are we in such a hurry? They're not going anywhere. Let her come after us!"

Asyra strung her bow and fired a wild shot in the assassin's direction, "Not bad, but what about the priest? He could be preparing something big for all we know."

"With him blabbing away like that, I doubt it."

"He could be stalling."

"Or trying to distract... DOWN!" Perah-Perah pushed her sister down as a bolt struck were her head should have been. They moved around the pillar to regain their cover.

"She's on the move. Forget this, I'm using the Haste spell," she rummaged in her backpack and pulled out a scroll, "Give me some cover fire."

"Where did you get that?" asked Asyra.

Perah-Perah didn't answer as she started chanting. Asyra fired a few blind arrows and Rosileen threw a rock before ducking back.

From across the hall they heard Victoria yell, "She's over on this side! I think Soo nicked her!"

Perah-Perah continued to read the spell, oblivious to the priest's latest rumblings, "You will all perish in the fires of Acheron!"

Perah-Perah finished the spell just as she noticed Sail's bolt with her name on it.

Arrows, believe it or not, can be dodged, even blocked by trained experts. In far away lands, monks of great renown could block dozens of arrows out of midair. So it came as something of a shock when the crossbow came along and cut these monks down with a very puzzled look on their face. Bolts are much, much faster, almost quicker than the eye. Normally, when one says they "dodged" a crossbow bolt, what they really means is they wisely got out of the way before it was fired.

In a move that would cost several million dollars in another universe's form of entertainment, Perah-Perah barely managed to arch her body back and avoid the bolt. She felt the air hum as it burned past, and noticed her sister's brain was only now in the process of beginning a reaction. This was more like it.

Perah-Perah smiled. She could have said something cool like "my turn" or "let's dance". She could have thought of something witty like "time to take the wind out of your sail". But she didn't. Perah-Perah only smiled, but it was a smile that could have turned lava to ice.

Besides, if she said anything at this speed she would have sounded like a chipmunk.

Perah-Perah saw Sail make a dash for the next pillar, and fired off four shots before she reached it. Unfortunately they all missed. Sail peeked out and fired another shot back, but Perah-Perah was out of the way before she pulled the trigger.

Knowing it takes longer to load a crossbow than an bow, Perah-Perah took advantage of this to fire relentlessly on her position. Before she knew it she was almost out of arrows, and Sail was on the run, flying from pilar to pilar back up towards the podium, Perah-Perah in hot pursuit. Sail fired another shot, missing wildly, and made a running dive to use the alter as cover.

Perah-Perah took a bead on her, and in that special moment, when you know your shot will go exactly where you want it to, she fired.

Sail dropped behind the altar, but did not rise.

Perah-Perah heard someone gasp, but it was a kind of slow motion gasp.

"Yyyooouuu wwwiiillllll pppaaayyy fffooorrr ttthhhaaattt," the voice droned, and from behind his hiding place, the friar stood and yelled, "Gggeeettt ttthhheeemmm..." before Perah-Perah's next arrow lodged in his brain.

Had they managed to make their way up another pillar on either side, they would have had a nasty surprise waiting for them. The undead which had been used over the past few nights were laying in wait, and would have attacked them each time they advanced.

With the friar's final command, however, Perah-Perah saw them shamble from behind their pillars. Two dozen of them. She rushed over to Asyra to warn her.

"Hurryasyratherearezombiescoming!" Perah babbled, though it seemed normal to her.

"What?" said Asyra, puzzled by how someone's lips could move so fast.

"I think she said there are zombies coming," said Rosileen, peering around the pillar and seeing the slow wave of undead shambling in their direction.

Asyra shouted a warning to the others, "Soo! Victoria! Undead on the way, get ready!"

"Don't use arrows!" added Rosileen, "Melee weapons only!" Then the zombies were upon them.

The battle was short but furious. Zombies might be a threat to your basic scared peasant, but everyone here had been trained in combat of one form or another, and had fought creatures much faster and smarter. But the main reason the battle was short was because they had a priestess.

Even Perah-Perah was impressed at how deftly she wielded her staff, bludgeoning the animated bodies with single blows that left them crumpled and useless. Then, when six of them began to swarm her, she raised her holy symbol, the small silver gauntlet of Salias wielding a mace.

"Back to the earth, you mockery of life! Back, in the name of the All Mother!" her symbol burned with a holy light that caused everyone to shield their eyes. All the nearby undead caught in this light turned and shambled away as fast as they could. Though they are mindless, zombies know what they don't like, much like how wrestling fans know they don't like opera, and avoid it unerringly.

With most of the undead on the retreat, it was easy to cut them down, while taking only a few cuts and scratches.

The threat was over. Merrick was safe.

Rosileen tried her best to help the fallen soldier, but he had passed beyond her help during the battle. With the Friar dead, the huge doors opened easily once more. Before returning to the surface, they searched the room and the bodies of the culprits for anything useful. On Sail they found only her crossbow, and the Friar had nothing of interest except his unholy symbol of Dralg.

Behind the podium was a book, a mixture of spell book and personal log. There was also a blood stained ceremonial dagger, along with candles, and various magical components in flasks.

"Damn clerics and their vows of poverty," muttered Perah-Perah, "You'd think he'd have a stash here somewhere."

"Maybe he kept it in his living quarters?" Asyra suggested.

"Good idea, we'll check that later, but there might be another hidden room here."

During this time, Rosileen just stood in the middle of the room, staring at the symbol of Dralg.

Victoria tapped her on the shoulder, "What's wrong?"

"I think we need to read the journal."

As the sisters continued their search, Victoria and Rosileen read the journal, while Soo pretended she could read. After a few minutes, Rosileen looked up from the book.

"Oh my..."

Everyone was gathered back in the church. Most of them sat on the pews while Rosileen explained what happened to the Mayor. Nari was curled up by Perah-Perah's feet, getting an absent minded scratch behind the ears, and Soo was finding out for the first time what was actually written in the book.

The Mayor was stunned, "I can't believe it. Friar Mokayhee was doing this to his own people?"

"Yes, for power," Rosileen explained, "Power he used in some kind of teleportation spell."

"Teleporting who? From where?"

"I can only guess who, but we know from where. Murhn, the mainland," she laid out the book on the podium, now raised back into position, and pointed out the relevant passages.

"Apparently, someone passed by here not too long ago, an orcish woman with an item of extreme importance in her possession, though he doesn't go into details as to what it is," Rosileen was careful not mention their knowledge as to who this woman was. Perah-Perah was very clear on that point.

"Yes, I know the woman he's speaking of. She's been here before, mostly to talk with the orcish guards. They call her some kind of preacher."

"A cleric?" Rosileen said in disbelief.

"No, no, more in the political soap-box sense. She convinced one of my best guards, Chack, to join her once a few years back. But they don't talk too much about her. Her name is tainted or something."

Rosileen proceeded from where she left off, "Anyway, she met the Friar and asked for his help. The Friar recommended some people he knows in Halffarthing Proper, though he doesn't mention their names, and then set about raising the dead."

"To what end?"

"Apparently this item was something the Emperor in Murhn has been waiting for. Either as a tool or as a threat, it's unclear which. It's only clear that it was urgent to let them know what was going on.

"The spell he used to teleport over such a long distance requires a human life, or perhaps just untapped power within one, so he used the undead to gather a couple of people for the sacrifice. One there, one back. Apparently after making contact and telling them everything, he was instructed to bring over some important people. So he needed to continue the sacrifices, and thus the attacks on the village. There were even plans to convert the entire town into an undead army. However, it seems he knew the jig was up, and was going to leave after tonight's sacrifices with Sail."

"But who did he bring over?"

"It doesn't say. Key personnel of some kind. It speaks of captains and generals. They snuck out before morning under the bridge, before the fog lifted." "The fog was another one of his spells?"

"Of course. It also provided quite a number of benefits. It kept the undead hidden except at short distances, provided cover for the Murhnian agents, and instilled fear in everyone, making them easier targets."

"What should we do about the church? I would be interested in your suggestion."

"I'd say destroy it, but that's only my gut reaction. When the priest our requested from Halffarthing Proper arrives, he should have a better suggestion. Perhaps it can be purged of its evil. The basements can be gutted, and the surface structure purified."

"Perhaps. But the people are angry and want to let off some steam. Perhaps some vandalism is permissible under the circumstances. I doubt Salias would mind."

"This has never been a house of Salias."

At that moment the Captain of the guard came in, along with an exhausted looking messenger, a young man of about thirty.

"You're back already?" the mayor said in surprise. I didn't expect you until tomorrow at the earliest!"

"I never made it the Proper, sir," the messenger panted, "It's an army, it's heading this way!"

"An army? Whose?"

"Ours! They were flying the Halffarthing standard, but they were all orcs, oddly enough. They asked me where I was going, and I told them of my mission. They said not to worry and that they were heading this way, they would take care of it after their 'other business'."

"A little too late, I would say," said the Mayor.

"You don't understand, that 'other business' was about capturing some spies from Dreet," he pointed at Perah-Perah and her crew, "Them!"

Perah-Perah stood defiantly, "You must be joking! I am not a spy!"

"It shouldn't matter if you were," said the Mayor, "it wouldn't warrant an army being sent after you. All orcs, you say? That's most unusual. Lord Valious strictly enforces a mixed race regimentation. No, something else is up," he paused a moment to think, "I think we're looking at the work of one of these summoned Murhnians. How else would they know you were here?"

The messenger broke in, "I hurried back telling them that I would get you to hold them until they arrived, but I figured we could get them out of here before then, and tell them they left before I arrived."

"Good idea. How far behind you are they?"

"Only a couple of hours, tops. If they send scouts first they could be here any minute!"

"Not much time, then..." he turned to the women, "where did you intend to go next?"

"Halffarthing Proper," Perah-Perah answered.

"Damn. You'll never get past them on the highway, not with your horses. Even on foot they may will have men scouring the nearby woods. You'll have to take the boats."

Perah-Perah thought about it and nodded, "Sounds good. What about our horses and gear?"

"The horses can't go on the boats, they are far too small. However, once you get to Halffarthing Proper, you can send a messenger back here, and once the coast is clear, we will send riders down with your horses. It's the least we can do under the circumstances."

"It's more than enough, we may owe you our lives."

The Mayor bowed, "We already owe you ours. But I ask a favor of you, nevertheless."

"Of course, what is it?"

"Promise you will inform Lord Valious of everything that has happened here. I will send messengers myself, of course, but he will want as full an account as possible, and you are the ones who should give it."

Perah-Perah smiled and nodded, "It shall be done, my friend. Just don't forget my horse."

The Mayor smiled back, "It shall be done."