(Sorry for the two posts in one day. The Luke one was already scheduled and I couldn’t find another spot for this.)
Ichabod Brooks stares at the smoldering wreckage that was once a tavern run by a former thief named Pepper. Only one wall remains standing, but he can hear it is already starting to buckle under its own weight. He is relieved to see that there are no bodies within the blackened wood and cracked stone, which means his old friend could still be alive. Spotting an oddly shaped pile of ashes, Ichabod gets closer to the building and draws a dagger that looks to be made of ice. The freezing blade keeps his hand cold as he moves it through the hot debris, the gray flakes turning white and sticking to his dark fingers. Finding something solid beneath the ashes, the adventurer pulls out half of a stuffed ferret that is fastened to a wooden plank that crumbles in his hands. Ichabod drops Pepper’s childhood pet and favorite decoration back into the pile, the idea of keeping the thing once it died always a point of contention between the two friends. With a loud creak, the final wall collapses and sends a wave of ashes down the main street of Vorgabog.
“At least he sent me the signed contract for this job before he disappeared,” Ichabod coughs, waving the swirling flakes out of his face. Moving out of the local firefighters’ way, he takes a seat by a water barrel and scoops some up to pour over his head. “Far too hot for you to have had the fireplace on and you were always careful with your pipes. Looks like somebody has it in for you, buddy, and they went right for your throat. Hey, do any of you know what happened to Pepper? Was he inside when the place caught fire?”
“He would have been the only one, but we haven’t found a body,” the nearest firefighter replies while using a pick to drag some beams out of the wreckage. The large man grabs a shovel to sift through the exposed debris, his eyes searching for bones. “Nobody has seen him for the last week. Word has it that he was poking around where he shouldn’t have, but the old coot was always doing that. Hey, aren’t you that famous adventurer? There was a framed contract of yours in this place. Pepper used to tell stories about you all the time. None of them were as good as the bard tales. Said he didn’t want to say something wrong and bring down the wrath of Ichabod Brooks on his head.”
“Pep was always a smart and cautious man,” the blue-eyed man says with a smirk. He unsheathes his shortsword and flicks it into the ground, the enchanted blade returning to his hand with a low hum. “He gave me this baby after we met. Caught him stealing jewels from a Dawn Fang merchant and managed to negotiate for his life. Told me to always bring this weapon with me when I visit and that he wants to be buried with it. Really hoping this isn’t the day I make good on that last promise. Any idea where he could be hiding?”
“There rumors of him having secret lairs around here, but that’s all we know,” another firefighter says while tossing water into the building. A plume of hissing steam rises from the floor and a few smoldering embers can be seen under the wood. “It’s been two days and this place is still hot. If you ask me, I think the King of Nowhere is behind this. His followers have been all over Serab, but it’s only around Vorgabog that they cause real trouble. Come to think of it, I heard Pepper yelling at one of those cultists a week or two ago. They were shouting at each other for about an hour. Maybe you should check them out. All of us would appreciate them going away.”
Patting the pocket that holds his contract with Pepper, Ichabod leans back and considers the offer. “We’ll see if my path crosses with this King of Nowhere. I only take on one job at a time, but I’d be willing to help once I finish my business with Pep. He has a lot of enemies and only a few of them know he’s still alive. I can think of four right away that would use fire to kill him or target his tavern as a warning. Five others would do this to cover up a kidnapping and send me a message in the hopes I’ll show up to discuss a ransom. Be very disappointed in the old thief if he was taken out by a new threat instead of his past. Just doesn’t seem right that way. Well, thanks for the information. I’ll wander around and see what I can see.”
Pouring another cup of water over his head, Ichabod leaves the firefighters to finish their work and heads for the small dockyard. He keeps his hands in his pockets and gazes around the street, his attention really on the passing conversations. By the time he reaches the place where the dirt road is met by the wooden pier, the adventurer has heard everyone whisper about the King of Nowhere. None of them have mentioned Pepper, which worries him since the man had established himself as a pillar of society. The thief was no longer up to his old tricks, but his ability to manipulate others never dulled and proved to make him an influential force in the small town of Vorgabog. Stroking his chin, Ichabod considers that this mysterious cult saw Pepper as the first obstacle to taking over. It would not be the first time an aggressive group targeted a beloved citizen instead of a politician to make a statement.
The shattering of glass snaps Ichabod out of his thoughts and he walks back into town in search of what sounds like a fight. When he comes within sight of Pepper’s tavern, he finds that the firefighters are being harassed by a trio wearing leather armor. The two men and one woman are throwing glasses at the hard-working locals, their taunts threatening to wipe the scared people off the face of Windemere. They point at the black circles that have been sewn into their shirts, the badges nothing more than crudely cut pieces of velvet. Sticking to the edge of the street, Ichabod gets as close as he can without drawing attention to himself. His hand falls to the leather bag on his hip, but he merely taps his thumb on the bronze clasp that is shaped like a cage.
“I think I have about ten minutes before the traveling boots remind me that I should be exhausted,” Ichabod mutters while drawing his longbow. Putting an amber arrow on the weapon, he whistles to make his presence known. “Do you three mind letting these people go back to work? This is my friend’s place and I’m sure he wants as much salvaged as possible. So time is limited and you’re wasting it. Whatever business you have here can wait or I’d be happy to take their place.”
“Our business involves everyone!” the taller man shouts while he brandishes a club. He takes a step forward and grins, but there is a spark of fear in his eyes. “These people will bow before the King of Nowhere. Then they will join us to bring peace to Windemere. He has given us a prophet that will make our dreams a reality. Haven’t you ever wanted the world to be at peace?”
“Quite frankly, I’d probably get bored and my wife would lose a lot of her business,” the adventurer admits with a smirk. The other cultists draw small crossbows, the bolts dripping with a red poison. “I can see that we aren’t going to be talking our way out of this. You know, this really isn’t something I want to get involved in. Really only came to talk to Pepper and see what he wanted. Maybe have a drinking contest or two. My sincerest apologies to you and this King of Everywhere.”
“That’s the King-”
Before the enraged cultist can finish yelling, Ichabod shoots him in the chest with a stun arrow. The man’s body crackles with amber energy before he collapses in a heap, drool flowing from his open mouth. Surprised by the attack, the others do not bother to aim their crossbows and their bolts miss their diving target. Ichabod rolls into a crouch and throws his freezing dagger at the other man, who proves to be faster at reloading. The blade sinks into the cultist’s thigh and covers it in ice, which makes his entire body shiver. Clenching his fists, the man accidentally shoots his unconscious ally in the heel with the poisoned bolt. Unable to stir from his enchanted paralysis, the defenseless fighter releases a faint moan to reveal the agony he is feeling. A stun arrow to the head knocks the injured cultist out, leaving only the woman to fumble with her weapon. By the time she gets the bolt loaded, Ichabod is standing next to her and casually knocks her on the head with the hilt of his shortsword. He steps away when the falling cultist flails wildly with her crossbow, her fingers nowhere near the trigger. The woman releases an odd squeak when she hits the ground, the impact setting off her weapon and driving another bolt into her large companion.
“It seems I’ll be handling this King of Nowhere,” Ichabod says with a yawn. Giving the guards more space, he looks for another place he can stay for the night. “Normally, I would discuss the contract or payment, but I’m really sleepy. These boots let me walk for four hours without fatigue, but it makes you pay for it. Anybody have a spare bed I can use since the one I reserved is nothing more than ashes?”
“There’s the Emerald Rooster that’s two blocks over,” somebody in the crowd mentions.
“Thanks to whoever said that,” the adventurer mumbles as he stumbles away. He only makes it as far as a bench before lying down and falling asleep.