The day of the Swallowtail Festival finally arrived, and Ameiko asked the bard who had been playing at the Rusty Dragon the last few evenings to lead the crowds to the square outside the new cathedral in the north part of town. He was very talented with the lute, but no one knew what he looked like since he always wore a mask.
Once everyone was gathered outside the cathedral, the mayor, Kendra Deverin, announced some of the games around town, including something called the Demon Hunt over by the Old Light, a "Dragon Ride" by the docks, and a greased pig catching game in a small pen near the market square where Hosk's Goblin Toss game was as well, a little to the west of the Stables and Rusty Dragon. After mentioning Goblin Toss, she asked everyone to please not encourage the children to think the jerky is actually goblin meat. There were a few chuckles and groans throughout the crowd.
She also urged everyone to keep children away from the Pixie's Kiss being hosted by the Pixie's Kitten, the local brothel.
The Sheriff took her place briefly and told everyone to have fun, but crimes would not receive leniency just because of the Festival. He also announced the bonfire that would be later that night, advising people to be safe and especially keep an eye on any children who come to the bonfire.
Cyrdak Drokkus, the proprietor of the local theater got up next and praised the people who had built the new cathedral, encouraged everyone to take part in the food local businesses were offering for free in the cathedral square, and at the end of his speaking reminded people to come by that evening to audition for his new play The Harpy's Curse that would be coming out soon.
He stepped down and people started milling about, getting food and chatting. The bard started playing some music to entertain people, and as I was looking around the square I noticed someone familiar talking to the theater owner.
I waited for them to finish talking, but then walked over. "You planning to be in the play, Ham?" My old friend turned around, surprised to see me there, then gave me a funny look. "Sorry, Hamlin." He hated being called Ham, but I couldn't resist using it sometimes.
Hamlin was an old friend from Magnimar. We'd met when he came to the Bartered Coin to sell some stuff, but we didn't really get to know each other until he brought a horse he'd... "acquired" (not from my father or we wouldn't have become friends). Horses were one of the only livestock we would try to move because they were, well, easy to move compared to others. We could find someone passing through town who needed one and get it out quick, but we would usually put word out one was needed before taking one. We couldn't just keep them in the backyard or anything.
When he came on the property that time, the horse he brought looked like garbage. I could tell without even having to get close. I actually said to him, "That horse has 3 feet in the grave, what were you thinking? I'm coming with you next time." I got the okay from the boss to do it because of my knowledge with horses. I managed to teach Hamlin a fair amount about horses in our time together working jobs, and he became quite the horse thief, but we decided to stop a few years ago after one job had too close a call. We hadn't seen each other a whole lot since then, but did keep in touch.
It turned out he actually was there to try and get into the play. I teased him about it a bit, but it was kind of nice that he had a dream or goal he was trying for.
He talked to the bard for a moment, and we found out his name is Dante, and before I knew it Hamlin was playing some panpipes, with the bard appraising his skill while never really stopping playing his lute.
After a little while, the three of us decided to check out some of the games. A lot of the townsfolk were sad Dante's music was ending as we left the cathedral square. Some followed us hoping he would start playing again.
For some reason, dressed as nicely as he was, Dante wanted to try the pig catching game. It was one copper piece to play, and you won the pot of everyone who was in the same round as you. He asked if there were any rules other than catching it, and whoever was running the game just said no fighting each other.
The game started and Dante subtly waved a hand and mumbled something, and the pig dodged past a couple of other contestants and walked right up to him. Dante picked it up and handed it to the game runner and got his few copper pieces.
As he was getting ready to play that game, I noticed some children walking around with these little catapults, launching small rocks at each other and laughing whenever they conked someone. Some of the adults who were hit weren't so amused.
I asked where they got them and they said there was a game up near the Old Light where you used bigger ones to knock down these small stone towers that stood a few feet high. If you could knock the tower down, you got one of the small catapults as a prize.
I asked if I could see one of the catapults for a moment, and a kid handed his over. After looking it over briefly, I realized they were very finely made. Aside from being so small, they were fully functional catapults. I estimated we could sell something like these at the Bartered Coin for about 15g, possibly more to the right type of buyer. Not a cheap item to be giving away to kids as a festival prize.
I decided I wanted one of those for myself because of the novelty, so we headed up to the Old Light since no one else really had a game they wanted to check out.
I found out the Carpenter's Guild Master, Aesrick Battlehorn, was the one running the game. It suddenly made sense why the items were so well-made. While I was talking to Aesrick about the work on the small siege weapons, we were walking between the few larger catapults they had made for the game, and he would stop me for a moment to very quietly give tips to the children. "Turn that crank another couple turns." "Angle it a little higher." That sort of thing. I noticed the kids seemed to do a lot better at the game than most of the adults, and I think the master carpenter liked it that way. The kids' faces were beaming whenever they'd get their tiny catapults.
I didn't talk to him for too long since he was busy running the game, but I did pick up enough of the advice he gave the kids that I felt a little more confident when I asked to play. It was five silver pieces, and I was given three shots at one of the towers. My first shot clipped it but only knocked a few stones loose. I over adjusted on the second shot and missed completely, but on the third try I hit it square in the base and it came toppling down. It was really quite fun, and I walked away with one of those miniature catapults.
I thanked Aesrick for his time and we moved on to the Demon Hunt, which was really just an archery contest. I did okay, but didn't win anything special with the three arrows I was given. The white ribbon they gave out was apparently for anyone who at least hit the target. Oh well.
By the time we finished walking the circuit around Sandpoint to check out the games, it was time for the swallowtail butterfly release. A bunch of people gathered in the cathedral square again where the legend of the goddess Desna was shared. I missed some of the details because of the noise of the crowd, but caught that someone who gained the favor of Desna was turned into an immortal swallowtail butterfly, and the festival celebrates this event. At the end of the story a cover was removed from a wagon, and hundreds of swallowtail butterflies flew up into the sky and scattered with the winds.
There wasn't much time to marvel in the beauty of the spectacle, though, as a handful of goblins suddenly ran into the square and started singing an awful song while simultaneously stuffing their faces with food from some of the stands and wrecking those same stands.
I looked around quickly and Kalista happened to be there, but no one else from the town guard. I caught her eye and motioned to a couple of the goblins, heading over to take on one that was by Ameiko's food stand. It was clutching a dog it must have killed in town on its way to the square, and didn't seem to want to let it go as it went about destroying things and shoveling food into its mouth.
I was disappointed the owner of the Rusty Dragon wasn't there at the moment. During the times she had been helping me with learning Tian, I found out Ameiko had been an adventurer before she settled down in Sandpoint, and the blades on the walls of the tavern were mostly ones she had used over the years. Another good fighter would have been nice to have at that moment.
Dante began to sing, and my attacks against the goblin in front of me suddenly felt... empowered. It felt easier to connect with my staff, and those attacks felt slightly stronger as well. This was a new feeling. I didn't realize magic could do something like this before.
Hamlin asked if anyone else could hear a drumming noise, and moved around the corner of the cathedral to investigate. He called out he saw more goblins that way, and one had a drum it was pounding away on.
Kalista moved up next to me to attack the other goblin at Ameiko's stand.
Dante ran around the fountain in the middle of the square, putting himself between two goblins approaching from the west and myself, and slid across the ground on his knees, yelling, "MELT YOUR FAAAACE!" as he continued playing his lute. The goblins fell over dead, clutching at their faces, which appeared to have actually melted. I continued to be surprised by the strange ways magic could work. I had heard of wizards who could make great balls of fire appear amidst their foes, but this was a bit... different from that.
One of the goblins took a couple swipes at me, but kept missing since it wouldn't let go of the dog's body it was holding. I only managed to land two glancing blows, but then it dropped the dog and managed to cut my leg pretty badly with its wicked little dagger.
Hamlin and Kalista stepped up and managed to kill the goblin, and while I was assessing my wound I caught a glimpse of a hand holding a holy symbol stick out the door of the cathedral, and suddenly almost all the pain was gone. I nodded to the priest, who must have slipped inside when the goblins arrived, and the door closed again.
More goblins came from the south, one of them carrying a drum. That one played out an urgent beat on its drum suddenly, and Dante fell to the ground laughing hysterically. I had felt the same urge to do so, but managed to shrug it off. I decided I didn't like all magic, particularly when it was malicious and aimed at me.
Kalista handed her crossbow to Hamlin, and I headed toward the goblins he had seen before on the north side of the cathedral. I was suddenly surrounded by three of the little creatures and got slashed in a few places. I was in more pain than I had ever experienced before, and felt like one more hit from one of the goblins would finish me off.
But then Kalista charged up and just eviscerated one of the goblins that had surrounded me. It was in more than one piece when its body hit the ground.
I took the opportunity to tell them to back off or get what the other goblin got as I took a swing at one of them with my staff. The one I didn't hit actually stepped back, cowering in fear after one of his friends practically exploded while the other took a whack to the head. It started to run away, so I took the opportunity to attack it as well. I reversed my grip on the staff and smacked the retreating goblin with a solid blow, hearing some ribs cracking as it took off for the northern gate screaming.
The goblin with a drum in the group by the cathedral stepped up and attacked Kalista, but missed.
I grit my teeth and managed to tumble past the drummer goblin in order to try flanking it, but was so busy trying to not fall over dead after doing the jump and flip that I missed with my attack.
I heard the bard do his face melting thing again and looked over to see two more goblins on the ground. He must have shaken off that weird laughing spell.
Hamlin asked which drummer he should fire the crossbow at since they seemed more dangerous than the other goblins (and there was only one goblin aside from them left standing at this point) and I simply coughed up some blood in reply. He fired at the one by me but missed. Fortunately, I managed to cave in its skull with my staff.
The remaining drummer pulled out a whip and charged at Dante, trying to tangle his feet up with the whip, but the bard was quick on his feet and managed to dodge the attack.
Kalista finished off the last goblin near us, so the only one left was the drummer by Dante. I was feeling too beaten up to try moving over to it to attack with my staff, so I pulled a dagger out of my boot and flung it at the enemy. It tumbled end over end and lodged itself in the goblin's throat. Finally, I get a good hit on one of these things, I thought as I fell down to my knees, leaning heavily on my staff.
The priest came bursting out the door of the cathedral with other acolytes pouring out behind him as soon as the last goblin fell, and they quickly healed all of us before gathering up the townsfolk and moving them into the cathedral to tend to them better there.
I quickly cut the ears off the dozen or so goblins and put them in a bag I'd acquired just for this purpose after my last encounter with goblins. It was made from a heavier material that would help prevent a... mess. Cutting off the ears elicited a dirty look from the bard. I let him know about Hosk's deal with goblin ears, and he just took a few steps away in response. A dozen gold was a dozen gold, as far as I was concerned.
In a hasty search we found a couple vials of liquid, and the priest was able to tell us they were healing potions, and he wondered aloud how goblins had gotten their hands on something like that.
I handed a few gold to the priest and told him to use it to help the injured townsfolk.
The commotion in Sandpoint wasn't over yet, though. We heard a dog howl and a man yelling for help up north, and Hamlin, Dante, Kalista, and myself ran off.
We came upon an injured nobleman with a dog beheaded a few feet away. One of the two goblins there was riding a creepy, emaciated-looking dog, and was holding a somewhat larger scrap metal blade in its hand than the other goblins we'd run into so far. It was trying to tie the dog's head to its belt.
The bard waved his hand, and the severed dog head started nipping at the goblin and somehow pulled it off its little mount. When the goblin noticed what was happening, it freaked out and started wildly swinging its weapon at the dog head on its hip, slicing its own leg a few times in the process.
Hamlin lined up a shot with the crossbow and fired a bolt straight through the grotesque dog mount's eye and it slumped to the ground without even a whimper.
Dante helped the nobleman to his feet and told him to head toward the chapel before chucking one of his curved daggers at the goblin that had been riding the creepy dog, instantly killing it. Is that a kukri? I thought to myself. I didn't think anyone in these parts used those. Where's this guy from?
I stepped over to the one Kalista had already taken a swing at and managed a crushing blow on one of its legs and it started to collapse. Dante called out to not kill it so we could question it, and Kalista kicked it in the chest, knocking it onto its back, then held it down with her foot. She looked over at the bard and asked, "Do we really want to keep this one alive?" He nodded and she pulled out some small shackles to chain it.
The nobleman introduced himself as Aldren Foxglove. He offered to pay for our meals at the Rusty Dragon while he was staying in town for the next few days, and offered a healing potion to each of us.
Sheriff Hemlock arrived shortly after, his eyes seeming almost full of bloodlust as he assessed the situation. The rage in his face slowly died away and he suddenly looked rather winded. We let him know we took a goblin prisoner, and he invited us to participate in the interrogation since we were the ones who had saved the northern part of Sandpoint. It turned out we were the only ones aside from the town guard who had helped in the fighting.
We went straight to the garrison with Hemlock and to the holding cell. The goblin was chained up and a guard came in to ask questions, looking to us for what to ask since we captured it. We told him to ask what they were after, but the goblin wouldn't reply. After the guard jabbed the goblin with a metal rod a few times, Dante interrupted and said he had a better solution than just making the thing scream a bunch.
Dante waved his hands again and muttered under his breath for a moment, much like he had at the pig pen, and the goblin suddenly became very amiable, as though the bard was its friend. We managed to find out a half-elf or elf was apparently leading the goblins because he referred to the person in charge as a "longshanks" like us, but that he has pointy ears. We also got a rough idea of where the goblin camp was by having him point out the location on a map.
I asked what parts of town were attacked, and the Sheriff let us know that only the northern gate and southern bridge were where the goblins attacked from, but the Tanner's Bridge in the central-east part of town did not see any assault. I followed up asking what was in that area. It seemed to me like maybe the attack was a distraction if an entire entryway to Sandpoint was avoided by the attacking force.
Hemlock replied that it was the craftsmans' area. The blacksmith, carpenter's guild, etc, were in that area. There weren't any big, expensive projects known to the town guard that would be worth stealing from there, and no word had come from the area that anything was missing.
He let us go but said he may want to follow up with us the next day if any new information came to light.
We got back to the Goblin Squash Stables, and I saw a lot of damage around the place. I was suddenly worried and ran onto the grounds. The horses had apparently fought back, as there were a number of trampled goblins around the property. A couple of horses had been killed, but Pips and Molly, the horse Hamlin had purchased from my father when he left Magnimar, had survived with some bad cuts, but they wouldn't be ready to ride again for a while.
I fed a healing potion to Pips, and Dante asked what I was doing. I briefly explained to him that Pips has been my horse since he was born, so helping relieve some of his pain in this way was natural to me. He shrugged.
Once I was sure Hosk had things under control at the Stables, we went to the Rusty Dragon for the evening, where Aldren greeted us and announced he would be buying food and drinks for everyone in the tavern that night. There were cheers around the place at that.
Dante started playing music just to help the people in the tavern feel more at ease. "No need to pay me for my services tonight, Amrika," he said.
Ameiko ran a hand across her face as she replied. "For the twentieth time, my name is Ameiko."
"No worries, Amanda," Dante said. "I shall still play to my full capability." I shook my head, and Ameiko threw her hands up and sighed exasperatedly as she went over to the bar.
I patted her on the shoulder as she walked past me. "He's been doing that with everyone he's met today. I don't think he tries to actually learn anyone's name. Just ignore it."
Despite his apparent disdain for my actions earlier, Dante began singing a ballad about the heroic goblin ear collector.
I involuntarily shed a single tear.
The rest of the night was uneventful. Everyone tried to have as good a time as they could with most everyone knowing someone who was injured or killed in the attack.
The next day, Hosk woke me up to say the Sheriff was waiting for me outside the Stables, and said I could take the day off again since I was helping the guard. Hemlock had already gone by the Rusty Dragon to get Hamlin and Dante, and he guided us to the square in front of the cathedral. A priest in a dark robe led us from there to a mausoleum in back.
The tomb was empty. I could see goblin-sized footprints in the dust, along with some more human-sized footprints. I couldn't tell how many of each was there, though.
Hamlin asked what was supposed to be there, and we were told this was Elias Tobin's resting place. He was the head priest years ago and died in the fire in the cathedral, along with his adopted daughter, who was apparently a half-celestial. His holy symbol and the scepter he held as the high priest at the time were missing, along with his remains.
There were drag marks in the dust, and we were able to follow them across the cemetery. They led to a wall, where my suspicions were confirmed that they used the Tanner's Bridge, which was on the other side of the wall, to accomplish their goal during the confusion of the attack. They must have crossed the bridge after the attack began, scaled the wall, then broken into the mausoleum.
Hemlock said he couldn't spare people to look into things further because he was busy trying to shore up the town's defenses after that attack made it into Sandpoint almost too easily. He said to let him know if we got any leads, and he would do the same, before dismissing us.
Hamlin had heard when he first woke up that the auditions for the play were going to be held most of today because Cyrdak Drokkus wanted to bolster people's spirits by moving along with his work. We decided to discuss what we wanted to do next while we headed to the theater.
We got in the line of people wanting to audition. A few minutes later, Cyrdak spotted us when he came out to get the next person, and he ushered us in immediately, saying the goblin-slaying Heroes of Sandpoint needn't wait in line like commoners. "No offense," he said offhandedly to the other people there, who surprisingly didn't seem offended for the most part, many of them looking at us with what seemed like wonder or adoration when they realized who we were. Whispers started spreading through the line about us.
Cyrdak had all three of us perform some lines. He wasn't impressed with my performance, saying something along the lines of, "Maybe this isn't for you." My feelings weren't hurt because I didn't really care to be in his play and wasn't really trying, but didn't want to be rude by outright refusing to perform. He was rather impressed with Hamlin, though.
Dante, however, had me almost in tears with suppressed laughter as he somewhat lazily sang a song about how much he didn't want to be in the play. Cyrdak was somehow more enthusiastic about his performance than Hamlin's. He kept praising him, and said, "I can tell you held back in order to make your friend's performance look even better by comparison. A wonderful bard you are! You shall be the star of The Harpy's Curse!"
Despite the fact he was wearing his mask, which he apparently never took off, I could tell Dante had a look of disdain on his face as he said, "I don't want to be in your play. I'm not going to be in this play, Cronut."
Cyrdak kept telling him how much he was looking forward to Dante and Hamlin being in the play as we began walking out of the theater, the bard repeatedly saying he was not going to be in it. The theater owner laughed heartily every time he said it.
As we made our way around town discussing what to do next, we walked by the bakery. I'd bought a few things there periodically, bringing sweet rolls, cinnamon rolls, and other treats as a sort of payment for Ameiko as she was helping me learn Tian. Suddenly, the baker came out, with a few baskets of various baked goods. Along with the things I would typically buy, there were cookies and cupcakes, muffins, and more treats I couldn't remember the names of. When asked why they were giving us all these goods, they replied it was the least they could do for the Heroes of Sandpoint.
The scene repeated itself when we passed the general store. The owner's daughter came out with bags full of goods. Trail rations, oil for lanterns, and other odds and ends that travelers would find useful. She gave a similar reply as the baker when asked what it all was for.
As we walked away from the general store, I spoke to my companions. "Guys, I have a feeling they're expecting something from us."
We talked about the implications of my thoughts as we continued walking around Sandpoint. As we were walking, children started following us. It was only a few at first, but as more and more started gathering, they began whispering amongst themselves, and eventually the questions started.
At first, it started with, "How many goblins have you guys killed?" "How many did you kill in the attack yesterday?" As the day went on, they started asking more questions, to the point they pretty much never stopped.
Since some of them had found out I was working at the Goblin Squash Stables, more than a few asked if the goblin meat from the Goblin Toss game "is reeeeally goblin meat?" "Hey, hey, Mat, I heard your staff turns into a snake! Can you show us? Please? Did the snake eat the goblins?" I told them it could only do that when fighting goblins. Many of them were disappointed to hear that.
"Hamlin, Hamlin, Hamlin, show us how your crossbow can shoot fire! I heard you burned a dozen goblins with your crossbow during the attack." "I heard it was two dozen!" "No, it was... fifty! Yeah, my brother told me it was fifty!" "Well, my dad told me he burned a hundred goblins with his crossbow!" The kids argued about that one for a while, and Hamlin couldn't get them to stop.
"Where'd you get that cool mask, Mister Dante?" "Did you really melt goblin faces off with your lute!? Is the lute magic?" "I heard your daggers are magic too. Like, you can make them float?" "They're called kukris, dummy. I heard one of the town guards talking about them." "I heard he has an army of pigs he can talk to and they do what he tells them." "That's weird." "You're weird." "Show us some magic, Dante!" "Sing a song! I heard your music is its own kind of magic!"
I laughed for a good five minutes the first time a kid asked about the pig army.
This went on all afternoon, until a messenger found us and said the Mayor wanted to meet with us.