After a long afternoon of sparring with a very focused bald halfling under Valenie's watchful eye, Faith was exhausted. She felt like she was making progress though and she was able to avoid a lot of hits from her opponent. He was two levels above her so she still took a pretty solid beating for her efforts.
Twila wasn't in the hut when she went there to rest before dinner. She laid down on her cot and without meaning to, drifted off to sleep. She was awakened by a sharp knock on the door. Faith was surprised to see Kaja Bauerdatter standing there when she opened the door.
"Come in," Faith said immediately. Kaja looked panicked. "What's wrong?"
"Is Twila here?" asked Kaja.
"No, she's not back from training yet," Faith answered and Kaja collapsed onto Twila's cot, in tears.
"Please help me," Kaja sobbed.
"Ok, I will," Faith calmed her. "Just tell me what's wrong."
The words all came out in a rush.
"Gunnar and Askel says they've been in the crypt and there's nothing to be making those noises. They won't go back in at night. But I know... I KNOW it Faith... I know it's Lars in there. I don't know if he's trapped or he's being held or if he's hiding and doesn't want to be found but that has to be where he is. Don't you see? He's in there, he's so close but I can't get to him... even if he's undead in there, I have to know. Don't you understand? I have to know what's become of him... he wouldn't just leave me... he wouldn't leave me... "
Her stream of words dissolved into heartbreaking sobs.
Just then Twila came in. She glanced at the sobbing girl on her cot and gave Faith a questioning glance. Faith mouthed the word "Lars" and Twila nodded. She leaned over and patted the girl on the back.
"Hi, Kaja," she said.
Kaja, on hearing Twila's voice raised her tear-stained face and sobbed again.
"Oh Twila, you are the only one who understands. Please can't you help me? People's been saying that Lars is the one making sounds in that crypt, that it's Lars in there, undead now. But no one can see anything wrong in there in the daytime and no one will go in there once the noises start at night. Jacoby Drexelhand keeps telling me there's nothing but I don't believe him. He's just a coward! He won't go past the gates. I can't stand it, I have to know... "
She dissolved again into heaving sobs.
"I don't know," Twila said uncertainly. "Maybe I can find someone to go in with me at night and check it out..."
"I'll go," Faith said suddenly. She was holding back tears. "I understand Kaja. My mother...."
She couldn't complete that sentence. But she knew how awful it was not knowing. And she couldn't stand to see someone else going through that, especially if she could help Kaja have a happier outcome than her own. On a more practical note, as far as she knew Talbron and Cellimas had not been able to locate Lars Heyton... it made sense if he were stuck in that crypt somehow. It was her mission and her duty to find out. She felt a new sense of purpose.
She leaned over the crying girl. Twila was staring at her in surprise.
"Listen, we will go into the crypt. Late, when the noises start. And we'll find out what's going on. If Lars is in there, we will find him. OK?"
Kaja sniffled, drew the back of her arm across her face and nodded. Then she hugged Faith.
"Oh, thank you. Thank you. I'll find something for you in payment, I swear. I'll see to it that you get credit for it, like a real job. Just please find out what's happened to him."
"Don't worry, we'll look into it. Tonight. OK?" Faith said.
A smile lit up Kaja's face and she nodded again.
"I have to go help Ma with the supper crowd now. It's a crazy night at the tavern, so much going on. I'm sorry I'm so teary. I'll see you soon."
She hugged Twila fiercely and left.
Twila looked at Faith in wonderment.
"What's gotten into you? You told me you'd never go in there again," she asked.
"Oh Twila," Faith sighed. "I know what it feels like to lose the people you love but not know what happened. My mother... my mother... was...um... "
Faith bit her lip to try and get hold of her emotions. She took a deep breath and started again.
"On the Day of Mourning... um...." she couldn't finish it.
"Hey, hey, it's ok," Twila interrupted. "I understand, you don't have to say it. I'm so sorry."
Faith just nodded, eyes screwed shut. Then she looked off to the side, turning her face while she blinked back the tears and took a deep breath again.
"Anyway, if I can help Kaja, I think I'll feel better about my situation," Faith said in as normal of a voice as she could muster. "I'll go in alone if I have to."
"Nah, I'm dying to get in that crypt!" Twila answered brightly. "Well, maybe dying is a little strong but you know what I mean. You aren't going in without me!"
Faith laughed at Twila's enthusiasm, then they headed over to the Wavecrest for supper. The place was packed and the tables were set up differently, with a small table in the center and the others pushed against the wall.
"Have to eat standing up at the bar tonight," said Merla Bauerdatter, the older daughter of the Bauersons. "No room for spreading out. What'll you have?"
They ordered and Merla brought them their food, telling them to be quick about it or they'd be trampled. Faith didn't ask what was going on, she was just grateful for a reason not to linger in the tavern. After eating, Faith and Twila walked casually out of the tavern and headed over to the village storehouse, just east of the tavern. Seeing no one around, they quickly ducked through the sheet of canvas that served as a door.
It took a moment for their eyes to adjust to the dimmer lighting, but they saw Ardan, crouched low in a corner waiting for them. He waved and put his finger to his lips, then pointed at something on the other side of a stack of boxes. Twila dropped into sneaking mode like Ardan and slunk over to him. She came back and whispered to Faith, "Spiders. Big spiders."
Just then, Thysmac came flying through the door, backwards and slammed into the stack of boxes in the center. With a spine-chilling, chittering sound, the spiders came at them as fast as their hairy legs would take them. Thysmac was getting his balance and his breath back when Malut appeared.
"Sorry," he said with a big, broken-tusk grin that didn't look sorry at all. "Don't know my own strength."
"I'll get you later," Thysmac retorted. He realized he was surrounded by spiders. "Ahhhhh! I hate spiders!"
He pulled out his wand and started shooting flames out of it at the spiders.
"Shhhh, be quiet!" Faith hissed, worried that someone would come to check out all the noise. She was beating on a spider but within seconds, Malut had taken out his greataxe and made short work of all the spiders.
Twila was shaking with laughter.
"You are afraid of spiders?" she asked Thysmac in a loud whisper
"Oh shut up," he replied in a normal voice. "For one thing, tonight is the weekly arm-wrestling tournament at the Wavecrest and no one could hear us even if we screamed bloody murder."
Just then a great cheer arose outside and they realized he was right.
"And for another, I was traumatized by spiders when I was small. My brothers tortured me, putting spiders in my bed and handing me a bowl for breakfast with a spider in it... I can't help it."
He raised his wand menacingly in Twila's direction and she stifled a giggle. He turned to Malut.
"And finally, I wasn't ready, Malut. Next time I'll be ready and you won't be able to shove me so easily."
"Sure," said Malut. But he snorted like he didn't believe Thysmac.
"Look, we need to get started," said Faith. "We've got a second mission after this one."
"What's the second one?" asked a voice that startled them all. Kalvenor was standing inside the doorway.
"What... how... why are you here?" asked Faith, confused.
"I told him come," said Malut. They all turned to look at him in surprise. "I felt bad about knocking him down, so I told him come tonight. I know he wants work."
"You don't feel bad about knocking me down," Thysmac mumbled.
"What were you thinking?" Twila burst out. "He's a drunk and he doesn't even like us!"
"Yes," said Kal, "I am a dwarf. I mean drunk. But I can do my job better drunk. And I'm nicer. Sometimes."
They all looked at him skeptically.
Malut said, "I need a healer. Kal is a healer. He came." Then he smirked. "Need him to heal Thysmac after we wrestle."
Thysmac shot a small burst of flame from his wand at Malut which hit his leather armor on the shoulder. Malut clapped a meaty hand over the small blaze to extinguish it.
"Cut it out, you two!" snapped Twila. "You aren't taking this seriously. Now, what are we going to do about Kalvenor?"
"We're here now and we've work to do," said Ardan. "Let's get on with it. No point quibbling."
"C'mon, let me stay, I need the experience to get back to civilization," Kal's gruff voice was wheedling now.
"There's something really creepy about a whining dwarf," Twila said. "Just let him stay as long as he stays here til we're done."
"Good idea," Faith said. She stood directly in front of Kal. "Stay here, OK?"
"There's no call to yell," Kal whispered, putting a hand to his forehead. He staggered over and sat down on a crate. A huge cheer went up from the tavern and Kal groaned. "My head...."
"OK, here's our objective," Faith told the others. "Somewhere in this storehouse is a scroll behind a locked door. It's protected by a magic shield; we will need to deactivate the shield to get the scroll. The villagers wouldn't mind if we cleaned up the rat and spider problem either. The key to the room where the scroll is stored is in here somewhere, so let's try to find that first."
"Well, here's a locked door," Ardan pointed to a heavy door with a lock on it on the left wall. "Scroll is probably in there."
"Why don't I just pick the lock?" Twila said. She walked up to the door and pulled out her tools. Time after time, the lock failed to open.
"Twila, you keep trying and in the meantime, we'll look for the key. There are two other doors here. Malut and Thysmac, take the door on the right and Ardan and I will take the one straight ahead..."
Before she had even finished talking, Malut had pushed through the door, busting crates and barrels in the storehouse as he went with wide swings of his greataxe. Thysmac ran ahead shooting crates with his wand of fire when they heard him cry "ahhh-spiders!" followed by a laugh from Malut.
"Let's go, lass" said Ardan and they opened the other door. The hallway curved up and to the right and was full of boxes. And rats. But something was wrong with these rats, other than being overly large. They had open scabby wounds and were hairless except for patches of fur here and there. Their eyes were red and glazed over, like they weren't really alive...
"They're undead rats!" Ardan said in surprise. "What in Khyber are undead rats doing in a storehouse?"
Ardan swung a shortsword in one hand with a dagger in the other as he attacked the closest rat. Faith attacked another rat that had run down to bite her.
As they reached the door at the end of the hall, they heard a noise inside. A crashing noise. With a quick glance at each other, they burst through the door, ready to fight whatever was on the other side. It was Malut and Thysmac, who had turned to attack them as well. Both hallways had curved around and lead up to the same main storage room.
"Ah, hello again," said Thysmac with a smile. "Ok, this seems to be the whole building. The key must be in one of these boxes somewhere..."
Malut was smashing crates with wide swings as Thysmac spoke. Then they heard a distinct "plink" from a crate that Malut had just destroyed. Faith leaned over and picked up a small silver key.
"Got it," she said.
Suddenly, the wall behind Ardan slid away and a huge sahugin appeared in a hallway behind it. It raced at Ardan, sticking him with a spear. Taken off guard, Ardan fell, clutching his side. Faith and Malut rushed in, attacking the sahuagin. Thysmac was shooting magic missles at it but Ardan got back up in time to strike the killing blow. The slimy fish creature slumped to the ground.
Ardan, gasping a little, leaned in to take a closer look at the dead sahuagin.
"That's Huul Eyx," he said. "He's a priest of some sort in the sahuagin tribe. That explains the undead rats, he must have been killing the rats then reanimating them for practice here."
The group of them walked slowly into the tiny hallway, which sloped down to a small pool of water and a Devourer altar, a smaller version of the fanged altars Faith had seen in the sahuagin caves when she first arrived. A round metal grate surrounded a hole in the floor, filled with water. A chest sat in the corner. Ardan stuck his shortsword into the hole and they heard a clink as the sword hit metal about twelve inches down.
"There's some sort of a lid covering this thing, but I'd say it's pretty clearly an underwater tunnel," Ardan said as he felt around on the lid, looking for a lever or some sort of handle to pull it up. He found nothing but smooth metal.
The party stopped for a moment to take in what this meant. The sahuagin were using the storehouse as a secret entrance into the village! This was one of the entrances the villagefolk had been unable to locate.
"Loot," said Malut.
They quickly rooted through the small chest in the corner, leaving items for Twila and Kal and dividing the rest.
"Nice, a fire touch quarterstaff," said Thysmac who took a few swings to try it out. "I like this."
"C'mon, let's get back to that locked door with this key," said Faith, remembering Twila working away and wasting all her tools on the lock.
They hurried back to the first room where Kal was snoring on his crate and Twila was sitting with her back against the door, face buried in her hands.
"I'm a terrible rogue! I've been practicing on locks all day and I can't pick this lock? Is that what it's going to be like? I can only pick practice locks? I fail and I haven't even gotten off of Korthos Island yet..." she moaned.
"Here," Faith said, unlocking the door. "The lock is probably protected with magic, just like the scroll. Head to the upper storeroom and down a tiny hallway, there's a chest there with stuff for you."
Twila brightened up at the thought that the lock was magically unpickable. Knowing there was loot waiting for her didn't hurt either so she went off to see what she could get from the chest. Malut smashed the crate Kal was sleeping on and he fell to the floor with a crash and a yell.
"Hey, what!" Kal said. "Why'd you do that?"
"Heal my friend," Malut pointed at Ardan who was holding his side.
"Yeah, yeah, cure wounds, I can do that," Kal mumbled. "He doesn't look so bad anyway..."
Kal struggled to his feet, crossed his arms in front of his chest and with a few mumbled words he waved his arms in a circle over his head.
"I feel better now, that was a good idea," Kal said, looking surprised.
Malut kicked him again.
"Heal Ardan, not you."
"Oh, right, the halfling," Kal looked intently at Ardan and did the same procedure. Then he did it a few more times. The wound healed and Ardan breathed a sigh.
"I do thank you," Ardan said.
"Go get chest, stuff for you," Malut pointed up the hallway.
"I don't need this pitiful junk," Kal said, finding another crate to sit on. Malut broke the crate and Kal hit the ground with a thump.
"Stop that!" Kal complained.
"Sorry," Malut gave a wide broken-tusk grin.
Meanwhile, Faith had entered the locked room. A huge, glowing blue sphere dominated the room. It surrounded a pedestal holding a gold scroll case. Around the sphere the floor was laid out in a large square made up of smaller square tiles. Each tile had a line printed on it. Some lines made a right angle, some were straight across and some even held two lines, crossed. In each corner of the big square was a large circle. The circle in the north corner was lit up.
Tentatively, Faith touched one of the tiles nearest the lit up circle. The line on it was drawn side to side. At her touch, it spun around so that the line now went up and down. The line on the tile lined up with the circle and the new tile was now lit up as well as the circle. Faith walked around and looked at the puzzle... spinning tiles here and there, sometimes several times. It seemed to her that she needed to arrange the tiles to connect the lines and light up all the circles at once. She started to work on the puzzle, turning the tiles this way and that until they were connected with the light in an unbroken line from one tile to the next. In no time, she had three circles lit and was working on the fourth.
"I can do this," a gruff voice behind her said suddenly. "Lemme do it."
"I've got this Kal," she said, turning to see Kal destroy the work she'd already done, spinning tiles haphazardly.
"No, I've done these before, I'll do it. So we can finish this," Kal wobbled a little as he touched random tiles. "I know what I'm doing and you don't."
"Get off the puzzle!" Faith snapped. A cheer went up from the tavern.
"See? They like me. Just a few more... " Kal had succeeded in having nothing lit anymore except for the original circle on the north corner.
"Malut!" called Faith. "Get in here. He's your problem, you get him off that puzzle."
"I've got it!" Kal insisted. "Just give me a minute. I know how to do these."
Malut walked over and picked the dwarf up then took him, insisting to be put down, back out to the main room.
"Sorry," said Malut as he went by.
The others had wandered in to look at the scroll. Twila tried to touch it, but the sphere was cold and hard. She quickly pulled her hand away.
"It's like ice," she said. "Cold light."
"Don't touch anything," Faith said."Let me finish this and see if it works."
Faith worked quickly, spinning tiles until at last, the fourth circle lit up. The shield disappeared.
"Twila, are there any traps do you think?" Faith asked nervously.
Twila took a look around.
"I think it's safe," she said.
Faith reached out and picked up the gold scroll case. Nothing happened. She put it into her bag of holding and said, "Let's go."
As they all piled out the door into the lightly falling snow, a huge cheer went up from the Wavecrest Tavern.