Chapter 9 – Back at the Inn.
The six adventurers sat around the table, enjoying lightly poached fish, fresh bread, and a hearty brown ale. For dessert, they sampled the excellent cherry brandy. Animus remained in his room, obsessively working on his nets.
Other patrons included the Visitor, who sat alone enjoying a gourmet meal of his own, the man in the deerstalker cap, who mostly seemed to watch the Visitor in a clandestine way while pretending to read a book, and one other tired-looking fellow eating and reading something on parchment, occasionally marking on it with a red crayon.
D-Stract approached the man with the parchment. He had dark hair flecked with gray, and wore a baggy but colorful jumpsuit which had several cases and pouches secured around its waist. “Hi, I’m D-Stract.” She gave him a smile to melt ice.
He looked up. “Oh. Hello, child. I don’t believe we’ve met. Call me Bones. Was there something you needed?”
D-Stract leaned against his shoulder and peered at the parchments. “I was just wondering what was so interesting there.” She pointed at the red marks on the parchment.
“These dang reports. I was brought here to be a doctor but I can’t work in that … that… medieval torture chamber. Sewing up people with wire and thread, sticking them with unsterilized needles.”
“Horrible. So they sent me out here to help the villagers, but there is not much to do, especially with no supplies. I’m supposed to be on emergency medical call in case there are more attacks, but of course by time I get there, there’s nothing to see but little bloody bits. And so here I am writing up reports on dead farm animals. Absurd!”
“Gee, sounds rough.”
Bones put an arm around her waist. “But enough about me, sweetie. What about joining me for a drink?”
D-Stract detached herself smoothly. “Sorry, I’m with some friends.” She pointed to the table of adventurers. “Rain check?”
Bones sighed and nodded, then went back to his parchments.
D-Stract went back and reported what she had heard to her friends. “Sounds like that Visitor chap is really dark. I don’t think I want to be the one to go talk to him.”
Sapphire held up a hand. “I have a better idea.” She stood up and went to the table of the man with the Deerstalker hat, who busily pretended to be reading his book.
Sapphire cleared her throat and the man looked up, feigning innocence. “I’m sorry I didn’t see you there. Won’t you please sit down?” He shifted the chairs around a bit, so he still had a view of the Visitor. “Can I get you some tea or something?”
Sapphire smiled. “Thank you, no. I’m Sapphire, by the way.”
The man gave a little nod. “Pleased to meet you. I’m Sherlock.”
Sapphire raised her eyebrows a bit. “A famous name, for sure.”
“Well, in all modesty, I do my best. How may I help you, Sapphire? Do you have some problem I can help with?”
Sapphire leaned forward and whispered. “Let’s cut to the chase. We’ve seen you watching the Visitor, and frankly we’ve heard stories about him. What’s the deal?”
Sherlock cocked his head and looked thoughtful. “Have you ever been to the city of London?”
Sapphire bit her lip. “The little village east of the capital city? No, you said ‘city’. There is a ‘New London’ across the eastern ocean, is that what you mean? Where is your London?”
Sherlock shook his head ruefully. “I know precisely where my London is. The problem is, I don’t know where I am now, and no one seems to be able to tell me how to get there from here.” Sherlock leaned forward and whispered. “That man, if it is the same man, I saw die, three years ago — in London.”
Sapphire looked surprised. “Die? Are you sure?”
Sherlock nodded. “Yes. I examined the body carefully. I had been following him for some time – a criminal investigation.”
“How did he die?”
“Well he, er … fell. Off a building.”
Sapphire looked skeptical. “Why were you following him?”
Sherlock straightened up a bit, then hunched forward again. “That man, in London, was guilty of a series of gruesome murders. Young ladies, out at night alone. Terror such as London had never known before. This man, a doctor and a gentleman, was above the suspicion of the police but I knew it was him. I just needed proof. Then he died, the murders stopped, and the case was set aside. There was never a trial because the man I knew to be guilty, was dead.” Sherlock peaked over his shoulder. “But then, there he seems to be, alive and well.”
“So, you think he faked his death and came here from this London, and has been hiding out?”
Sherlock shook his head. “He was summoned here by the Earl, like me, but less than 4 months ago. I’ve been here about 6 months. That leaves a considerable gap in time for him to have kept hidden. In any case, the first order of business would be to locate London, in relation to here. I really must find time to consult the books at the Tomes mansion; it really is an excellent and well stocked library.”
Sapphire frowned. “So the Visitor is clearly a doctor. Why were you summoned by the Earl?”
Sherlock sat back. “Oh, on another matter entirely. I was hired to solve a series of jewelry thefts that have been going on Uptown, ever since this place became famous, I understand. Perhaps some outsider was attracted by tales of this place. So far I’ve proven that every single member of the 7 families has an alibi for at least one of the burglaries. Of course, there may be more than one burglar.”
Sapphire looked surprised. “But, the zombies at the gate….?”
Sherlock laughed. “Totally harmless. They are under orders never to hurt anyone. Human at least — I think that must extend to elves and dwarves, but I don’t know for certain.”
“But where do they come from?”
“The uptown families have been embalming their ancestors for centuries. They appear to have solved the universal servant problem by raising a few of their ancestors as zombies to act as servants for them. No one lives uptown except the families, the servants, and one itinerant artist who moves from place to place, name of Pablo Dalitrec. Oh, I’m less certain about the safety of the zombie guard dogs – raised from dear departed pets. They only started that about 3 months ago, in the wake of the other troubles. I’m not sure I’d take any chances around them, if I were you.”
“The … uh … other troubles. Do you know much about that?”
“Only what little I’ve heard. I really have been focused on solving the jewelry thefts, so that I can get sent back to London. I’ve been accused of being a bit obsessive.” He sat back and started fiddling with a pipe. “Curious thing about the stolen jewelry. Pieces seem to turn up again from time to time, only to be stolen again. Somehow they’re being obtained, though the new owners claim they were old ancestral pieces stored in the crypts. Very curious.” He lit and puffed at his pipe, staring into the distance. Sapphire simply got up and walked away, and Sherlock never seemed to notice.
Flummox shook his head as Sapphire returned. “I think we got all that, courtesy of the Monk’s spell. This place is crazy!”
“Remember what he said about everybody having problems? My word, where do we start?”
Flummox raised a finger. “I think we should choose one at a time to focus on, like Sherlock’s doing. That way we can make some progress.”
“Okay, let’s write down what we know and decide where to start.”
The group pooled their information from their afternoon activities, and put together a summary of what they had learned, in timeline format. Sherlock came over and listened, volunteering a few details that they had missed.
200 Years Ago: Eight old families embalmed their ancestors (and their pets) and occasionally raised them as zombies (strictly forbidden to harm humans) to use as servants. The eighth family, the Withers, broke ranks and embalmed themselves while still alive; the old couple inhabits the mansion to the south, peacefully, at least until recently. These events have led to a “stable” presence of undead in the valley that people have gotten used to.
6 Years ago: Duncan’s parents took ill while passing through the area and died, leaving him (age 4) to be adopted by Clang.
9 Months Ago: The Lord, who was born abroad, is requested to come take his hereditary place as Earl of Founder’s Valley. He is actually descended from the Withers line. Initially stays at the inn while renovating the castle.
6 Months ago: Founder’s Valley becomes famous due to publication of journals regarding the finding of the western ruins. Adventurers take note and begin preparations.
The influx of traffic leads to a new awareness of outsider fashions, sparking many parties and grand balls uptown. Jewelry thefts suddenly take an uptick, there are complaints and Sherlock is summoned/hired/recruited by the Earl to solve the crimes.
5 Months ago: Two Rouge girls (Gloss & Rose) and the Autumn couple were taken from farms, apparently by undead. The villagers demand something be done, and the Earl begins summoning/recruiting a castle guard, one per week.
4 Months ago: Chief Grief investigates the disappearances, and is bitten by undead.
The Earl begins recruiting for a medical lab, one person every couple days.
3 Months ago: Uptown increases defenses, using embalmed pets as watch-dogs.
Hobo sees Rouge girls at Withers estate, tells Maude. They go to complain to the Withers couple, but are attacked on the grounds. Sister Maude is infected trying to reach the Withers. The Hobo is taken.
8 Weeks ago: Madam Chessy Exchequers (frail lady) is bitten, taken to castle by the Visitor.
7 Weeks ago: Baker’s wife Iggy Yeah (hefty lady) is bitten, taken to the castle by the Visitor.
6.5 Weeks ago: Scout master, old Mr Teal, is killed defending his troop from wolves.
Three children taken by wolves – Chap Rouge, Grey Sky, & Spud Autumn.
6 Weeks ago: In rescue attempt, Delft is bitten and Rudy Rouge is taken by wolves.
5 Weeks ago: Something exhumes two newly dead from chronic illnesses (Grandpa Rouge & Mother Sky)
2 Weeks ago: Mouslings begin harassment of Delft (who departs), then Gorbag.
June 1: Adventuer’s caravan departs The City.
Night of June 3-4: Major storm sweeps through Founder’s Valley, just after the arrival of the adventurer’s caravan.
June 4: Big town hall. Exits closed. Schooner ruined. Food and water shortages loom, and major transient population (caravan) makes villagers nervous. The Earl stretches himself and summons a handful of law enforcement support.
Evening of June 4: This summary prepared.
June 5: The Earl has promised to summon a team of experts to work on the yellow brick roads.
Cleo groaned. “This is too much. My head hurts.”
Flummox chuckled. “Let’s sleep on it, and get together again in the morning.”
Everyone agreed, and headed for bed in their rooms at the back of the inn. It was a quiet night, except for an occasional scurrying in the walls, which they ignored.