By Brian Flood
Chapter 41 - The Farmhouse
Along the Dusk Road
North of Asbravn, The Sunset Vale
Mid-Afternoon, 2nd Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The company approaches the first building - the stone and sod farmhouse. Darius and Alani move up to stand on either side of the door while the mages watch from a few paces behind them. Cyzicus and Corax remain on the path.
At Lucas' wordless gesture, Alani slips forward and presses her ear against the door, which stands slightly ajar. The elven scouts frowns and shakes her head.
At that point, Dolak comes forward, his axe held ready. Without breaking stride, the dwarf lowers his shoulder and hits the door.
Bang! The door swings inward and to the right, ricocheting off something behind it. Dolak follows the swinging door and steps into the small dwelling, sidestepping slightly to his left when he clears the doorway. By his doing so, most of the other companions can see parts of the room from where they stand outside.
The room exposed by the open door is about twenty feet square. A fireplace - devoid of any flame - sits against the eastern wall. In the center of the small room is a simple round wooden table surrounded by six wooden chairs. On of the chairs has fallen over and rests on its side on the dirt floor.
Just to Dolak's left - or east - is a bearskin rug, lying on the floor. To his right - or west - is a wall made of wooden planks. A single, wooden door is set into the wall.
Behind the door, Dolak easily identifies the object that it impacted. A wooden ladder leads up to a loft that covers the western end of the house - using the roof of the small western room as its floor.
Alani raises an eyebrow at Lucas and nods her head at the door, a silent query as to whether she should listen at the second door for any noises. Slinging her bow, the elven woman pulls out a short sword with a slightly curved single cutting edge, better than a bow for close quarters fighting, and waits for Lucas' response.
Already inside the house, Dolak grips his axe tightly and bellows in common, "Hello the house! I'm Journeyman Smith Dolak, and I'm wantin' to purchase some ale so I can get back to crackin' insect skulls! Would ye have some ale to sell?"
When the dwarf's loud inquiry is met by silence, Darius yips at Soft Fang <Man scent?> and nods towards the loft and door.
Soft Fang pads softly through the door to the house. He stops and sniffs at the closed door and then around the base of the ladder.
He pads backward slightly so that he can see Darius where the druid stands outside the house. The wolf gives a soft growl, looks from Darius back to the ladder and then back to the druid once more.
"Someone is upstairs," Darius says. "Ho the loft, you can come down now. We'll help you."
Getting no response from the loft, Darius looks to Lucas, "One of us needs to go up there. I'll go."
Lucas moves up to the door that Dolak smashed in and quickly surveys the interior of the room - to the extent that he can discern. Turning to Alani, the red-robed mage nods points at the remaining closed door indicating that Alani should listen at it.
Turning back to Darius, Lucas nods at points up the ladder into the loft. Lucas also tries to gesture the noisy Dolak to be a little more subtle and quieter. The mage then gestures the remaining party members forward.
Following Lucas' unspoken instructions, Alani slips into the farmhouse. She moves up to the interior door and places her ear against it. After a few seconds, she shakes her head, indicating that she cannot hear anything.
Darius steps through the door and around Soft Fang to reach the ladder. Slowly and quietly the druid climbs up to the loft.
The remaining party members - Kjira, Corax and Cyzicus - move up to the farmhouse. Kjira takes up a spot outside and the left (or east) of the door; Corax takes up a place opposite her on the other side of the entrance. Cyzicus moves to block the door itself. All three split their attention between the door and their surroundings.
Cautiously poking his head over the edge of the loft, Darius looks around. It is laid out like a sleeping area. Four small footlockers occupy most of the northwest portion of the loft. In the far (southwestern) corner is a fairly large pile of blankets.
Lucas moves around Dolak, intending to stand behind the dwarf and next to the fireplace from which he can provide covering fire if needed. As the mage steps onto the bearskin rug, he gives a startled cry as the rug collapses and then disappears into a hole in the floor. His quick reflexes save him, however, and he falls backward toward the center of the room, landing on his backside with a loud THUMP.
Wincing from the discomfort, the mage now sees that the rug covered an open hole in the dirt floor. A wooden ladder, slightly smaller in width than the one used for the loft, runs along the western surface of the hole.
Lucas mutters a soft curse as he lies on his backside. He quickly gets back up and frowns when he sees that Dolak and Alani witnessed his graceful landing.
Shrugging his shoulders, he turns to Dolak and gestures for him to watch the newly discovered tunnel leading downward. Next, he signals Corax and tries to have him come forward into the room and position himself near Alani so they can be ready to clear the room once Darius returns. The red-robed mage positions himself next to Dolak just south of the new hole and keeps his attention directed downward, on alert for any possible danger.
Abiding by Lucas' wishes, Corax slips noiselessly into the small cottage, adding to the congestion in the room. The rogue nimbly steps over the fallen chair and moves to Alani's left side. He carefully moves the chair that shares his chosen space and then makes eye contact with Alani, nodding slightly. In his hands, his rapier and stiletto are held ready for whatever awaits beyond the interior door.
A deep rumbling comes from Dolak as he tries not to laugh too loud. "M'lord Lucas, you have shown us another Secret of the Mages: How to find a secret portal! Had we the time for further lessons..." Dolak chuckles.
Turning serious, the dwarf examines the hole and the ladder for workmanship, and to see what lies below. "So, what manner of hole is this?" He retains his axe at the ready, should something from below decide to come above.
From his vantage point on the ladder, Darius looks around and whispers to Lucas, "Checking something out." Then the druid disappears over the edge.
* * * * *
Darius quickly moves to start a search of the loft. His first destination is the pile of blankets in the far corner.
He removes the layers of blankets and is greeted by the site of a small human boy of about five or six years of age. At the sight of the druid, the boy's eyes grow wide in fear and he inhales a large breath. Then, he slides himself backward across the floor, putting his back into the corner. In his hands, the boy clutches a butcher's knife. He holds the weapon in both hands and extends his arms in front of his small body, as if to ward off the intruder.
The druid sits down and comes no closer from when he first saw the child. "I'm not here to hurt you boy," Darius says in a quiet voice with his most charming smile. "We've killed the thing that destroyed the farm. I've got a wolf downstairs; he's my friend, want to see him? And there's a dwarf and some elves too. You ever see a wolf, or a dwarf, or an elf?" Darius speaks in a soothing voice, quiet calm and matter-of-factly. He's trying to play on all children's natural curiosity about the strange and wondrous world....
"You killed it?" the boy asks incredulously, his eyes still wide. "But it killed 'em killed 'em all! Papa, Mama, little Sarah - all of 'em! And it 'et 'em, I just know it did! Was it did you the elves and the dwarves are you magic?" he asks, his mannerism slowly turning from fear to wonder.
"No, we are not magic boy. One of the men can do magic tricks! But he won't do anymore today. He has to save his magic to make sure that there are no more of those creatures. What's your name?" the druid asks.
"I'm Simon," the boy responds. Then he glances at the knife he has held in his hands, lowers it, and offers an empty hand for Darius to shake. "What's your name, mister?" he asks.
Extending his hand and returning the handshake, Darius replies, "Greetings, Simon. My name is Darius and my wolf's name is Soft Fang. Let's go down now and meet him. You can meet the dwarf and the elves, too."
Simon hesitates a moment as he thinks it over. "Alright," he says finally, as his young mind comes to a conclusion. Then he rises up from the floor and takes Darius' hand. "Kin yer magic man bring Papa and Mama and Sarah and the others back?" he asks as the two move toward the ladder.
"No Simon, he cannot," the druid answers solemnly. "He is not that strong in magic. But come to the edge and you can look down and see everyone," Darius suggests.
"Okay," the boy replies as he allows the druid to lead him.
* * * * *
Back in the first room, Dolak finishes his cursory examination of the hole and reports to Lucas. "Like the ladder, the hole is of shoddy workmanship. The ladder goes down the hole a good ten feet or so. The hole continues on after that. Could be it connects to the Farmers' Bane tunnels, though that would add a 'hole' new mystery to what we've already got."
A short time after Darius had disappeared into the loft, he sticks his head out over the ledge, and a moment later the other party members see another head, this one a ruffled mop of brownish hair with the face of a six-year-old. Darius says to the boy, "See, there's the dwarf (pointing at Dolak) and there's an elf (pointing at Alani). Let's go down."
Darius descends the ladder with the child following him down. Once down, the party sees a boy who looks to be about five or six years old. A ruffled mop of brownish hair tops a green-eyed, freckled face. For clothing, he wears a simple woolen shirt and leather pants. The boy's face, hands, and other exposed skin is slightly smudged, as if he has not bathed in a few days. Finally, in his free hand, he holds a butcher knife.
Darius turns to the boy, "This is Simon, he lives here."
Dolak looks at the boy for a moment, and the knife in particular, and then affects a friendly tone. "Well, Hello Simon. M' name is Dolak, the Journeyman Smith. Ye wouldna be a brewmaster with a drop o' ale for some weary travelers, would ya? I reckon not, with th' cookin' knife ya must be a right fancy chef instead. D' ya keep a pot o' stew around here somewhere?" Dolak exaggerates looking in all directions for the mythical pot of stew.
Lucas frowns at Dolak before turning to address the small child, "Please excuse my hungry dwarf friend. I am Lucas, Mage of Silverymoon and you must be still terrified of whatever has befallen your home here. We are here to help if we may. Can you please tell us what happened as you know it?"
Then, addressing Alani and Corax, the mage says, "Please go ahead and make sure that room is clear," as he motions to the door they are standing near. Lucas turns back and listens to the boy to hear what he has to say.
"I..well " Simon stutters, "First, Michael went missin'. Then, when Papa went to go look for 'im, this great big 'ole bug creature grabbed 'im and took 'im under. Mama had us git to the house."
As Simon speaks, Alani presses her ear against the wooden interior door. She shakes her head at Corax and then the two of them move through the door.
On the other side of the interior door, Alani and Corax find themselves in a small larder. Shelves line the western and part of the northern walls. Canned goods - and a few small kegs - fill the shelves. Also on the northern wall are some wooden pegs, from which hang several different sizes of simple, homemade cloaks. Along the southern wall is another door; it is partially open, revealing a glimpse of a bedroom within the chamber beyond.
Back in the first room, Simon continues talking. "We hid in the house fer a day or so," the boy says. "Then, Mama got scart' and said we was gonna leave. So, she grabbed up lit'l Sarah and we made fer the road.
Simon stifles a sob before going on somewhat jerkily. "We we hadn't gone more than a few steps when one o' them bugs bust outa the trail and got Mama and Sarah." The boy is now shaking uncontrollably as he recalls the horrific event. "I..I ran back in here and hid 'n the loft. I been there ever...ever ever since " Simon can no longer continue. The boy is trembling and crying, streams of tears running down his face.
Cy moves to comfort the boy while checking him for any injuries. As the halfling approaches, Simon's eyes widen. He turns to Darius and says, with obvious awe, "You didn't tell me you had another kid travlin' with you! He's not much older than I am! Kin you give me a set of armor and a sword, too?"
Darius chuckles, "He's not a kid, Simon. This is Cyzicus, and he is a halfling."
Simon's face screws up in an unmistakable sign of confusion. "Half of WHAT?" he asks.
Cy says, "That is a name given us by humans. They seem to think we are halfmen, though your question has merit - they never seem to say what the other half would be." He finishes with a chuckle.
Leaving Corax to search the room, Alani calls to Lucas. "Nothing there except supplies."
Then looking down at the child, she says, "Hello, Simon. My name is Alani. Can you tell us what happened to your mother?"
Simon looks from Alani to Darius and back to Alani. "Uh, I just did " he says, confusedly. He then turns his curiosity to Cyzicus who is still poking and prodding the boy.
"Alani," Lucas explains, "it appears that the boy's family has been taken by the creature we slew earlier, maybe not the only one though...Simon escaped back to the farmhouse as his mother was taken by the beast. Cy is checking the boy out and explaining to him what he is - as Simon seems to think Cy is a big kid with neat toys," says Lucas while gesturing at Cy's armor and sword.
Addressing the halfling, Lucas continues, "Cy, if Simon is okay, then I suggest we finish or exploring as darkness gains on our remaining daylight."
Lucas approaches the small boy, places his hand on his head asks, "Is there anyplace on your farm that you or your family might hide if they were in trouble? We will do all we can to help you locate them and see you to safety. Please stay close to me as we explore your farm and you can tell us as we get moving about anything that you know that may help us locate your family."
Simon's screws up again as he thinks. "Maybe the cellar," he says, after a few seconds. "It's over there under the....oh...I guess you found it." The boy is pointing with his butcher knife toward the hole in the floor.
At that point, Corax comes out of the interior door. "Nothing in there but a larder and a bedroom," the rogue announces to the assembled throng.
With that said, Lucas looks to the others for any other comments. Getting none, he gestures that they lave the house and move onto searching the rest of the farm as planned.
Darius nods, and in wolf speak to Soft Fang <Right side>, and then to Alani, "Let's go." Darius and Soft Fang head out the door.
"Yes, let's," agrees Alani, and she heads out the door as well.
The other adventurers file out of the house behind the scouts. The last to leave are Corax and Cyzicus. The halfling takes Simon by the hand and leads the boy along while Corax assumes a position at the rear.
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