The Land of Teuhyo
(Inspired by Dungeons and Dragons)
Chapter 3: One-and-a-Half Angry Men
They loaded everything into small satchels, taking only what they could carry on their backs.
“I wish we had a horse to give ya.” John said solemnly. “Walking that whole distance is gonna be mighty rough.”
“We’ll be fine.” Nedjem assured him. “It’s good exercise.”
“To be honest, sonny, I’m more worried about how Iah’s gonna fare in the heat.”
Iah, in response, pulled her purple hood tighter around her head. “It’s okay, John, I have my hood.”
John nodded slowly, and Iah ran up and hugged him.
“You keep that hood up, you hear?” John said as he squeezed her.
“I promise.” She leaned forward. “One week, tops…?” She whispered, her voice quivering.
“One week, tops. If you ain’t back, we’re comin’ to find you.”
Aeron hoisted his backpack, heavy with supplies, onto his shoulders and coughed lightly. “We, uh…should we go…?”
“Yes!” Iah chirped. “Um, which way is Orlaine?”
John pointed to the west, directly across from the Tab and Verne. “Follow that way, along the river about…two or three days? Make sure not ta miss it, you’ll walk right past it if ya don’t pay attention.”
“Two or three days, that way.” Iah grabbed the straps of her bag. “Okay everyone! Um…” She looked over the other three. “What are your names again…?”
“A-Aeron…” The Half-Orc held up his hand.
“I’m Nedjem.” The Elf took her hand, giving it a firm shake. He pointed at Vulcan and whispered “That’s Vulcan. If he tries to tell you any different, he’s lying.”
Iah glared at Vulcan.
“Hey, what the fuck Nedjem, you don’t know me.” Vulcan grumbled, scribbling something onto his sketchbook.
John stepped up onto the porch to get a better look at them as the group walked away, their figures slowly disappearing into the haze of the surrounding marshes.
They made it in two and a half days, slowed only by an incident with a foul smelling, sentient tree. The outline of the small town stood against the fading purple of the evening sky. An ancient feeling settled over the sand, and the buildings stood strong amidst it.
The town was quiet. Iah slowed her pace, while Nedjem took the lead and stepped forward, stopping as he came close to a stone wall facing the north. “…We’re being followed.”
Iah gasped and looked around as they heard the sound of scraping metal. However, when they turned to face it, they saw it had only been Vulcan pulling out his daggers.
“Where they at…?” Aeron asked.
“I don’t know…” Nedjem whispered. “But there’s something here…an alleyway maybe?”
“I heard the people in these towns throw their…waste in the street.” Iah said. “Maybe it’s for that?”
Nedjem looked back at her with a smile. “You believe that shit?”
Iah almost seemed to melt from shame under his gaze. “I mean…maybe they don’t…have plumbing?”
Nedjem pointed to the pipes outside. “No. They have running water. This is a secret tunnel.” He motioned for them to follow, and slowly slid away a portion of the stone wall, revealing a corridor just big enough to stand in, though Aeron still had to crouch to fit.
The cavern was dark and full of spiders, but as Nedjem shoved aside the stone blocking the exit, they stood before a run down old building which, despite the wear against its wooden walls, the limply hanging sign and the general feeling of abandonment, could have been the sister to the Tab and Verne. Underneath the darkness, though, it resembled more a large tomb than a place of mirth and merriment.
The group stood about 30 feet away from it, and Nedjem held up his hand. “Over there.”
Those who could see in the darkness could make out a small figure rushing towards the door of the inn. It knocked frantically, and when no one answered, tried the door and shoved it open, disappearing inside.
Aeron whimpered, and then coughed to cover it. “This place seems mighty dangerous…”
“Is it haunted…?” Iah whispered.
Nedjem ignored them, stepping up towards the door of the inn, with Aeron close on his heels.
Vulcan turned to Iah. “Well, this has been GREAT, but, uh, I don’t think my insurance covered demonic possession so…” He saluted. “I’ll just be on my way, you got this under control right?”
“HEY!” Iah shrieked, perhaps meaning to sound intimidating but instead coming across more like a terrified gerbil. “N-NO! You can’t leave!”
“Shhh!” Not so loud!” Vulcan hissed. “I’m not leaving! I’m…letting the professionals handle the situation.”
“J-John…already paid you!” Iah swallowed, trying to muster up any courage she had. It was no use though, she felt like she was shrinking. “Please, you gotta…you gotta stay…”
“I’m tempted but…” Vulcan shrugged. “Sorry.” As he turned back towards the tunnel, a strong hand grabbed him by the back of the neck.
Vulcan gagged as Aeron pulled him to face front, where he and Nedjem were standing with their arms crossed. “Where y’all goin…?” Aeron asked, lowering the octaves of his voice just a bit.
“He was trying to run off!” Iah whimpered. “I…I tried to stop him…”
“Yeah, we heard you scream.” Nedjem walked around behind Vulcan and slid the passage door closed. “We came here to do a job, and we’re going to do it.”
“Okay, I wasn’t gonna be an ass about it.” Vulcan grumbled. “But this place? It’s fucked. The owner is probably dead and as soon as we walk in there, we’ll die too. I have my whole life ahead of me and I’m not blowing it in here.”
“You may be right.” Nedjem said. “But you took payment already.”
“If you walk out…” Aeron stammered. “I’ll…I’ll come after you.”
Nedjem looked up at his Half-Orc friend, who looked down sheepishly. They all knew he was lying.
Still, Vulcan thought, on the off chance Aeron DID come after him, he really didn’t want to be on the receiving end of that hammer…
“Fuck, okay, fine.” He growled, crossing his arms. “But first sign of a ghost and I’m out of here.”
“I don’t think there’s any ghosts.” Aeron tried to assure him. “Prolly not anyway…”
“You aren’t helping.”
They stepped timidly towards the door, and Nedjem pushed it open slowly. The warm air around them rushed inside, almost as though it was pulling them in. The low light mingled with the darkness, and slowly, they looked inside.
It was calm, unusually calm for a tavern. Iah felt a chill run through her despite the heat. Where she came from, this kind of silence wouldn’t permeate until after closing. But the tavern was full of people, all sitting in silence, except for one.
“Are you sure I can’t just check?” A small voice cried from the bar. “I’ll only be a moment!”
“I’m a lady, thank you!” As they stepped inside, they noticed the very short, dark haired girl leaning on the bar to make herself more intimidating.
“Look lady, I can’t have you snoopin’ around in guests rooms. Those’re private, ya hear?”
“But she’s gotta be in here! I’ve already checked the other inns!”
“Maybe she stood you up.” The man got to his feet. “Look, missy, I’ll let you get a room but if you keep screamin’ I gotta ask you to leave. You’re scarin’ away good money.” He looked at the group that had just arrived. “Y’all need a drink?”
“Yeah, you got water?” Vulcan shouted across the room.
The man sighed loudly. “Hana…!”
A thin-faced woman with long, stringy black hair came out from the back room, her hands clasped in front of her.
“Go get the boy a water.”
Hana nodded and disappeared like a wisp in the air.
“Please, I know she’s here. She’s gotta be!” The girl kept begging.
“Missy, please, we don’t know nothin’.” The man sighed. “Just leave us be.”
“Who are you looking for?” Nedjem asked as he came up behind her.
The girl turned sharply, her bob of black hair swishing in front of her eyes until she brushed it away. “My friend, my colleague from the University. Have you seen her?”
“What’s she look like?” Aeron asked.
“Don’t pay much attention to her.” The man behind the bar said. “She’s been buggin’ the whole damn town with her questions.”
“I only just got here, and…” The girl looked around. “Here…how about we take a seat.”
“My name is Bedivere.” The girl said. “Bedivere Cerniban. Soon-to-be-Professor Bedivere Cerniban, but…well, this little dilemma is standing in my way.” She lit up her pipe and took a long drag of it, blowing the smell of maple leaves towards them.
“Why are you in Orlaine?” Iah asked.
“I was sent here to investigate strange happenings in the town.” She said with the chuckle. “I…kinda got lost. My friend, her name is Lulu, she ended up here ahead of me.” Bedivere took out a browning, crumpled note with messy writing scrawled across it. “I got this from her a week ago. She explicitly said she was here.”
“How do you know…” Iah whispered “that…um…she didn’t…leave?”
“She’s a professional.” The girl crumpled up the note and shoved it back in her pocket. “She wouldn’t leave.”
“So…you’re sure she’s here…?”
“Absolutely. If she’s not at the inn…” She looked up briefly as the serving wench, Hana, placed two mugs of ale in front of the women. Iah met her eyes briefly. They looked incredibly vacant.
“If she’s not at this inn, I don’t know where she’s hiding out, and that has me worried.” Bedivere leaned on her hand, and the two sat in silence. “Say…you’re a Dark Elf, arnt’cha?”
Iah’s head shot up. “I-”
“I know that pale complexion when I see it~” Bedivere giggled. “I’m a Dwarf, you know. We and the Dark Elves get along pretty well~”
“I…I don’t…um…” Iah swallowed, the dryness of her throat preventing her from forming words. “I don’t…like…”
“I’m teasing you~” Bedivere winked. “So, what’s someone like you doin’ all the way up ‘ere? Shouldn’t you be keeping your temples and the like?”
Iah looked down. “We…came here for John’s brother.” She whispered. “The tavern owner, he owes John money-”
“I meant on the surface…” Bedivere leaned forward. “Your ears are mighty queer…”
“My dad brought me up.” Iah said, sofly and quickly.
Bedivere nodded slowly. “A halfsie.”
Iah looked up at her, her face partially covered by her wavy white hair.
“Don’t worry.” Bedivere smiled. “I don’t have a problem with it.” She looked back at the bar. “So you’re after Tom, too?”
Iah nodded. “John lent him money…”
“Doesn’t look it.” Bedivere took a sip of her ale and coughed a bit. “That’s strong…I guess this is where all the money went.”
“He was supposed to fix up the inn but…”
“If my reports are any indication, he might not be able to.”
Iah took a small sip from her ale, noticing the heavy taste of spice lingering around the edge to the mug. She met eyes with Tom, and though she ducked away quickly, she could still feel the acid in his tired gaze.
It was at this time Aeron sat down at the bar before the owner. “Um…”
The man looked up at him, the bags under his eyes exaggerated in the light. “Food, drink, or room?”
“Actually…” Aeron coughed. “I was wonderin’ if you knew a Tom Verne?”
The difference was almost imperceptible, but Aeron saw Tom’s knuckles go white as he gripped the table. “Who wants to know?”
“Uh…” Aeron looked at the man’s hands. “I’m guessin’ that’s you then? You alright?”
“Alright?” Tom growled through clamped teeth. “You think I’m alright with a menagerie of people walkin’ into my home and interrogating me?”
“I meant no harm-” Aeron felt a featherlight hand on his shoulder, and watched as Nedjem stepped forward and sat down. His back was straight as a board and his chest was forward, making him appear bigger and stronger than he was.
“Your brother sent us to find you.” Nedjem said, slowly and deliberately.
“Yes. Do you recall owing him money?”
Tom scoffed. “I told John I’d pay him back in installments over the next ten years. It ain’t been ten years yet, I dunno why he’s sending a bunch of…what are y’all; ratcatchers?”
“To be frank sir…” Nedjem said, clasping his hands in front of him “we were under the impression that you would have the money ready for us to collect.”
“…No.” Tom said slowly and deliberately.
“John never mentioned an agreement.” Nedjem said.
“Well then why don’t you mosey on back to John and tell him I’m gonna pay him back like how we agreed.” As he talked, he began pulling out boxes from under the bar, and quietly loading mugs into them.
Nedjem nodded slowly. “Hey, Iah?”
Iah squeaked. “Yes?”
“Would you mind coming here for a second?” He turned to her.
Iah looked at Bedivere as she stood slowly. Nedjem turned to her and met her as she came up to the bar.
“Do you know anything about John allotting Tom a payment plan of any kind?”
“I…” She briefly met Tom’s eyes again, and began to crumble under his gaze, but Nedjem gave her hand a comforting squeeze. “John…has never lied to me…I’ve never heard anything about installments…”
“Thank you, Iah.” Nedjem turned back around. “Sir, it isn’t my intention to scam you out of your money, but the trouble is that your brother has already paid us for our service.” Nedjem clasped his hands. “If not the full amount, do you have a small sum you could possibly send back to prove we were here.”
“No.” Tom said again. “I already made my payment.”
“Sir, our employer has already paid us.” Aeron reiterated.
“Well your employer is a shitheel!”
Iah gasped. “Well…he said the same thing about you!”
Bedivere turned her chair to face towards the scene, sipping her beer contently, as though she were watching a stage play.
Aeron stood from his chair slowly, trying to square himself up to look as menacing as possible. “Um…sir, that ain’t no language you should be usin’ around these here ladies. It’d be right kindly of you to just give us the money, now.”
He and Tom met eyes. “Right.” Tom growled. “Riiiight.” He looked over to Bedivere. “You’re still here.”
“I’m just enjoying the show~” She stood up, stumbling slightly as the leg of the chair caught her toe. “Although, if I could give my honest opinion, I think you should at least write them a note.”
“Oh!” Iah clasped her hands together. “When I first started working for John, he had me sign a piece of paper with rules for my employment. Did he ever make you sign a piece of paper?”
Tom raised his brow. “You…work for John?”
“I…” Iah swallowed. “We…we all do.”
“But you been with him longer?”
“She’s with us.” Nedjem said harshly.
“And she does have a point.” Bedivere said. “If we had proof of transactions, we could take it to him.”
Tom nodded slowly. “Alright, tell you what.” He reached into his pocket. “You can take him one of these.” He pulled his hand out, middle finger sticking up.
“Oy!” Bedivere snapped. “How dare you? Hold my beer.” She shoved her beer into Vulcan’s hands while the pink Axolotl protested.
“Hey, hey now.” Aeron held his hands out. “Sir, we don’t wanna fight ya.”
“Then you can rent a room, or you can get the hell out.” Tom growled. “Otherwise a fight is exactly what y’all are gettin’.”