I headed toward the Old Light, and just as I got there, a grizzled old man came walking down the rubble of the old tower.
He was a spindly old man, holding a slab of stone that must have come from the ruins of the Old Light. The slab suddenly became two when he tripped coming down the slope.
"It wasn't a lighthouse!" he exclaimed, I think to me, because he waved the stone tablet... or rather, tablets... at me as he got up and moved closer. I guess he just wanted to tell someone. He looked to be mumbling to himself as he approached and seemed to forget I was there for a moment. I asked him what he was talking about, and it seemed to rouse him from his internal ruminations.
"Look here!" He gestured excitedly at one piece of the stone with the other. "Some people think this symbol means 'light', and that's why they think it was a lighthouse. But-" he paused, seemingly lost in his own thoughts for a moment.
It can also mean fire, I thought to myself before he continued speaking. And that other symbol is... spew? Throw?
"This symbol for 'light' is also used for 'fire'! It looks a little different from the usual 'light' symbol, but close enough that a lot of people get it wrong when translating." I nodded, and he blinked at me a couple times before continuing, gesturing at the symbol again. "But context makes all the difference! It was a tower of war that spewed flames at the foes of the ancient Thassalonians!"
He paused, pointing to that other symbol I had noticed. I nodded again as he confirmed my thoughts on the symbol. "I finally have my proof! They'll have to believe me now! HAHA"
I was following along with his line of thought, somewhat, and realized that he must be the one who posted the hastily scrawled request for help at the Old Light. Broderik Quink, if I remembered correctly. By his enthusiasm, if he knew I could read those tablets as well, Madame Mvashti wouldn't get the help I had planned to offer because I'd be tied up talking to him for a while.
"Your theories intrigues me, good sir. I would like to talk to you about it at a later time, as I am meeting someone soon. Where could I find you?"
He blinked at me for a few moments, almost surprised someone was interested in what he was saying, then told me where his home is and scurried off down the road, continuing to mumble to himself.
I sat down on a larger piece of the rubble to wait, but it wasn't terribly long before the old lady showed up, and surprisingly she had someone with her, a female warrior. Her hair was just a little darker than her skin, and cut a little short of her shoulders. A longsword and light crossbow were the main weapons I could see on her, and her armor was a bit heavier than the leather armor I was wearing. Madame Mvashti was wearing the colorful clothing you would expect of a native Varisian. Even the most modest of the traveling folk would usually wear a mix of bright colors.
I called out a greeting to Madame Mvashti in Varisian, and she gave me a funny look, replying in Varisian, "We're in a Common town, why are you speaking Varisian?"
I responded I was just trying to be friendly, then switched to Common and introduced myself to both of the women. The warrior was a town guard named Kalista.
I asked what it was we were supposed to be looking for, and Madame Mvashti replied she had just been hearing noises, what sounded like wails or howling, up on Chopper's Isle and wanted us to investigate. We didn't really get much direction beyond "investigate" when I pressed for more, but were promised five gold pieces each once we completed the task, and so agreed.
The two of us set off on the short path to the base of the cliff that led to Chopper's Isle. I asked Kalista if she thought there really was a ghost up on the plateau and she said she wasn't sure if there was or not, but thought the noises were probably just wind through the trees or the old ruins of Chopper's old home. The town guard had apparently burned the residence to the ground in some kind of attempt to expel the evil spirit of the serial killer after killing him.
As we neared Chopper's Isle, I could see there used to be steps carved into the stone that led up to the top, but since the "late unpleasantness", no one had apparently felt like maintaining them at all, so climbing up was really the only option.
Kalista pulled a grappling hook and length of rope from her bag and started trying to get it up to the top. I was glad she came prepared because I wouldn't have known something like that was necessary for this job.
It wasn't a terribly high cliff, but was tall enough that an anchored rope would prevent a potentially fatal fall. It took her a few tries due to the distance to the top, but she finally got it hooked on something up there. Before we started to climb, though, I spotted something to the east.
Chopper's Isle is really more of a peninsula in the northwest part of Sandpoint. There is a small stretch of open water from the Isle's northernmost point until another bit of land that stuck out from the east, with a small bay to the south of that opening. Sandpoint sits to the south of the bay, at the top of another cliff. From our position, I could see what looked like a decent size pile of junk at the base of that cliff, the sunlight glinting off parts of it, meaning there was most likely metal sitting down there.
What I saw down there was some movement around the junk heap. I pointed it out to Kalista while asking what all that stuff was doing there. She said Junker's Way is the name of the road just south of that spot, and the workers there would periodically comb the streets for trash just sitting out and would toss it over the cliff there, and the spot had become known as Junk Beach.
"I can tell there's scrap metal down there. Why would they throw that away? Hosk could probably use it, for making nails if not actual horseshoes, and the blacksmiths could at least make tools out of the scrap, since the metal likely wouldn't be good enough for weapons, but-"
"Trust me, Mat, this has been discussed to death before. They just pick up whatever's on the street and toss it on Junk Beach."
"Well, they shouldn't. If I'm not mistaken, that thing I can see moving around over there is a goblin."
"What? Where?" I pointed out the small creature that was moving around the junk pile and she sighed once she spotted it.
"The things aren't total idiots, so they'll probably use our trash to make those little..." I paused for a moment, thinking. "Dogslicers, I believe is what they call those crummy little daggers they use."
"I'll have to send some guards down the cliff to run it off once we're done here. The little scoundrels have been getting bold lately, that's for sure." She grabbed onto the rope and started up the cliff to Chopper's Isle. "Again, you bring up good points, but the Junkers aren't likely to change how they do things anytime soon, unfortunately."
I sighed in resignation, then climbed up myself once Kalista reached the top.
We made our way through the sparse trees on the top of the plateau, and came upon the ruins of the old house pretty quickly. The stone walls of the circular house that were still standing were no more than three or four feet tall in most places.
Kalista started to move toward the burned-out building, but I grabbed her arm reflexively to stop her. When she looked back at me over her shoulder, I pointed to two places in front of us on the far side of the building. One goblin on the right, two on the left. None of them were looking in our direction. The ones on the left seemed to be rummaging through the bushes or something near the tree line, and the one on the right was poking around a rock near the crumbling house.
With her stronger armor and likely more training with her weapons, I signaled for her to take the two on the left and headed to the right myself after she gave a nod. I whispered I'd join her if I was able to take care of my target fast enough.
I had practiced moving stealthily over the years, and was a bit surprised that I didn't hear her movements much as we snuck up on our targets.
I managed to get within just a few feet of my goblin without him hearing me, and raised up my quarterstaff to strike. He moved suddenly, still unaware of my presence, and my swing hit the rock behind him, the physical shock of the strike causing me to drop the staff. The goblin yelped and I heard a similar noise come from over where Kalista was.
The goblin in front of me took a swipe at me with its crude, jagged dagger, but I managed to evade the strike with a small jump backward.
I quickly drew my rapier from the sheath on my belt and stabbed at the goblin, landing a glancing blow across its arm. The creature managed to position itself with its back to the crumbling wall of the house and missed with another swing at me with its dagger. It must have been the nerves of my first real life-or-death fight, but I managed to strike the wall behind the goblin when it dodged out of the way and "dropped" the rapier as well when it stuck in the old mortar.
The goblin laughed as it tried to cut me again, but I leapt over its swing, doing a somersault in the air and grabbing my staff from the ground as I landed. I spun around, and the quarterstaff caught the goblin in the head, smashing its face into the wall of the house with a sickening crunch. The wall, already falling apart, completely collapsed in that spot, and the dead goblin flew through the hole.
I heard Kalista curse, and yanked the rapier from the wall, sheathing it as I jumped through the hole made by my attack. I could see Kalista through a gap in the wall on the far side of the house, and noticed a cut on her forearm, which was probably the reason she had yelled out angrily a moment before.
She saw me through that gap in the wall as well and made a motion with her head before backing up a little, getting out of my view. I realized what she was trying to say, though, when the goblin came into view, then disappeared as well, likely still advancing on her as she "retreated".
I swiftly moved over to the hole in the wall I had seen Kalista through and jumped through it myself. I spotted the goblin and spun my staff around, catching it squarely in its side, hearing ribs crack with the blow. It cried out in pain, and swung wildly at me in reflex, missing by a large margin.
As soon as it turned around, Kalista ran her blade through its back. It slumped on the blade before falling to the ground. I looked around and saw the other one had already been killed, a crossbow bolt through its neck over by the bushes I'd seen them by originally. She apparently fired right as she heard my fight start on the side of the house and managed to take out one of them immediately with her ranged attack.
The goblins dead, she suggested we were probably done. After taking a quick look around the clearing near the house, I said it wasn't very likely that they were the cause of the noises Madame Mvashti had heard. It didn't look like they had setup a camp here, and while thin, the clusters of trees on Chopper's Isle were dense enough that staying anywhere but this clearing wouldn't really allow a group to make a campfire or anything. They had to just be scouting the area.
Kalista thought for a moment then nodded in agreement, and we started searching the property. I went inside what was left of the house while she searched the outside. In the past five years, grass and moss had grown over almost everything, and the discovery I made ended up being on accident.
I heard creaking and cracking under my feet and managed to dodge out of the way of a rotted trap door breaking where I had just been standing. I called out to Kalista that I had found something and she was by my side quickly.
There was a small wooden ladder that led to the top of some stairs that descended into darkness. I remember thinking before I headed out that maybe I should buy a torch just in case, but I didn't because the job was supposed to be done in the afternoon, when the sun would still be out.
Luckily, Kalista had a candle, and we were able to find an old torch near the landing at the top of the stairs by its light. I lit the torch with the candle before extinguishing the small flame.
We descended the stairs and I couldn't shake a feeling of unease as soon as I started down.
The path split left and right just a few feet away from the steps. We could hear soft crying down the left path, so I suggested we head that way. We went down the path, and after a short distance found a small room. The walls seemed rather bare, and there was what looked like a broken chair lying in a pile of straw. As Kalista took another step into the room, the light from the torch landed on the huddled form of a child, the shaking shoulders telling us we had found the source of the crying.
Kalista and I both definitely felt creeped out at this point, but I asked the child if they were okay. I didn't get a response, so I asked if his parents were nearby. He turned around, and said, sobbing between words, "The bad man took them away." The kid was very pale, and very creepy.
I asked him where the bad man was. Maybe we could get rid of him. He replied that there is always a bad man. I asked what he meant, and he told me when one bad man dies, another takes his place, stronger than before.
"The cold fire in a dark place calls to them."
"Cold fire? Huh? What are you talking about?" I replied.
"The cold fire gets stronger when people with anger die. Please... put out the fire...”
I looked to Kalista, who shrugged at me. I replied, "Okay, I will. Where is the fire?"
"The fire is nearby."
"That's a little vague..." I muttered. "How can I find it?"
"The angry people. There are two people who hate each other. One of them will kill the other. One of them hates the other just because they were born."
"Well, that's kind of rude." Kalista and the creepy kid were not amused by my comment.
We asked a few more questions, and while the kid kept being rather cryptic, my linguistics experience helped me decipher a lot of it.
The "cold fire in a dark place" the child kept mentioning was linked to the burning of the old church somehow. Because of someone who had a bad dream, and had to kill those who had hurt them.
"Chopper" apparently spoke with the birds, and he freed them from the wood. He was the only one who could free them, but he couldn't free them all. The child saw Chopper, and on him was the face of evil.
The child lost his mother, and was waiting for her here, but didn't think she would ever come back for him.
Finally, the child was hurt by other children before he lost his mother. They killed a wounded fox he had been feeding and taking care of, cut off its head and poured its blood on him. He tried to stop them, but was too weak and small. He finished, saying the mean children are still around, that they're "all around us".
I asked the child if he would come with us, and he shook his head. I told him we would come back at a later time to check on him, and he just went back to the corner we found him in.
Kalista and I made our way back down the hall and took the other path. We didn't plan on staying here for long, but wanted to fully explore. The room seemed to be the same dimensions as the other room, and there was what looked like a dog skull sitting on a cloth on a little altar of some kind.
Right before I stepped into the room, I heard the child behind me. "The bad man doesn't want you to go in there." He had apparently crept up without either of us noticing.
I took a step into the room as I replied. "The bad man can kiss my-" I stopped talking when the dog skull and cloth started floating. Then it darted at Kalista and myself and we dodged out of the way. "Okay, yeah, the bad man really doesn't want people in his room."
The fight with the floating dog skull was pretty quick. A few sword slashes and staff smacks and it hit the ground and shattered... and then reappeared on the altar. "Okay, let's get out of here. I don't want to keep fighting a floating skull." Kalista nodded in agreement.
We backed up to the stairs and just before we left, I thought of another question for the creepy kid. "What's your name?"
"Jervis Stoot." The child paused when Kalista gasped. "Please put out the cold fire in the dark place. Look for the people who hate each other to find it." And then he disappeared.
"Let's get out of here, Mat." She moved up the stairs and started climbing out of the hole.
"Who's Jervis Stoot?" I asked as I followed.
"Jervis Stoot is the Chopper, Mat. Everyone thought he was a kind old man who liked to carve birds out of wood, but he killed twenty five people and the town guard managed to track him down after his last kill and killed him here. They burned down the house after."
Understanding her shock at the child's last words, we returned to the town and Madame Mvashti's residence in silence.
We were ushered in quickly when we arrived at Madame Mvashti's house.
We told the old lady what happened on Chopper's Isle, and she nodded. She gave us the five gold pieces each she promised, and Kalista took her leave, saying she would report to the Sheriff on what occurred.
I stayed behind to talk to Madame Mvashti for a little while. We chatted in Varisian, and I got a laugh when she told me one reason she seemed somewhat suspicious of me speaking to her in Varisian originally was because the only people who talk to her in it are usually trying to get her to sell them her house. I let her know that wasn't my intention, and I had only picked up the language because it was used a lot by travelers who would come into The Bartered Coin.
While we were talking, it came up what I was doing in town, and I told her I was staying with Hosk. She offered to sell me a pair of goblin ears for one gold. She said she just didn't want to make the trip to the Stables to collect the gold from Hosk herself if she didn't have to. Since I'd get my gold back right away, I took her offer.
"Can I just ask one thing?" I said. She nodded. "No offense meant, of course, but how did you come into possession of some goblin ears?"
She smiled and stated as a matter of fact, "A woman has her secrets." I raised an eyebrow at that and she just laughed.
Before I left, she offered to tell my fortune for free this one time. I consented, and after a few moments she said things were clouded more than they usually were with her readings, but what she could say for certain was that a shadow was growing, and that I would have to deal with it, along with a few others who would cross my path in the days to come.
The look on my face must have been something, because she asked if I thought she was just making things up.
"Ma'am, I knew magic existed before I moved out here. I've seen some of the things it can do to make people's lives easier, and some small magic shows from wizards just starting out, or a traveling circus that came by Magnimar. But before this afternoon, yes, I would have called you a crazy old lady. But after today?" I paused. "A murderer's ghost talked to me... asked me for help, even... and a dog skull flew at my head trying to kill me. I wish I didn't, but I believe you."
She smiled, then glanced at a clock standing against the wall. "Well, you best get on your way," she said, still talking in Varisian. "Don't want old Hosk getting worried about you, Mister Mat."
I realized I hadn't given her my last name when we first met. "It's Mat Farrier," I said as I stood up and placed my wide brimmed hat on my head.
"Mister Mat will do just fine." She smiled again.
I shook my head and thanked her again for the gold. A Varisian woman would generally call you what she pleased, and there wasn't much you could do about it.
When I got outside, I placed the goblin ears she gave me in an empty belt pouch. It then dawned on me that I left three gold pieces, in the form of three sets of goblin ears, sitting up on that plateau, and who knows how much money in gear I could sell from the creatures! You hear in stories about adventurers how they come home with "spoils" and "loot" and that's how they get their riches.
I found a shop in town that had some things travelers might need and purchased a grappling hook for myself. I returned to the cliff and managed to hook the line after a few tosses. I found out Kalista hadn't had the same thought as me when I found the bodies of the goblins still there. I cut off their ears and dried off the blood on their clothes before putting them in my pouch. I searched the bodies and came away with some hide armor that was in okay condition, and a handful of coins.
Their blades I decided to take back to Hosk to see if he could use the scrap they were made out of for something, and found a bow on one of them, along with a few arrows.
I couldn't think of anywhere else to take the equipment, so I went by the barracks for the town guard and asked to speak to someone about selling it there. I figured they could get it from me for less than a shop would sell it to them, and I might get more than the shop would give me.
A gargantuan man, easily seven feet tall, was sitting behind a desk that must have been custom built for him. I found out his voice was as big as he was when he stood up (yep, seven feet tall, I thought to myself) and introduced himself as Sheriff Belor Hemlock and asked what business I had with the Guard. A massive, two headed hammer was resting next to the desk he had been sitting behind. An earthbreaker is what I think they were called. This was definitely a man who wouldn't have any trouble wielding one of those.
I told him I had some equipment I thought they could use and would like to sell it. He said he would take a look at what I had to offer. If his guards were going to use it, he'd make sure it was good enough for them himself.
I let him know I had just been working with Kalista earlier that day, and he said he'd already gotten her report. An interesting tale if it was all true. I assured him it was before working out a deal for the armor. He said once they were cleaned up some of his Halfling officers could use them.
I presented the bow as the last item I had to sell. Being sized for a goblin made it too small for me to keep, otherwise I would have. A bow is something I would likely find useful in the future. He yelled out someone's name, and with how long it took for the Halfling to arrive, Hemlock's voice must be able to carry all the way across the barracks grounds. Can't say that surprised me, though.
"Yes, boss?" he said.
"How's the pull on this bow?" He handed it over. "I'd test it myself, but I'm sure I'd break it and this poor guy wouldn't be able to sell it to us." The Halfling and myself laughed at his unintentional joke. The small officer tested the bowstring a few times before handing it back. "Well? Think we could use it?"
"Yep. It's in good enough condition. It'd work just fine."
We worked out a deal and Hemlock handed it back to his officer, who started to leave the room. The Sheriff returned to his desk.
"I hope you can make good use of it," I said in the Halfling tongue to the small officer.
The man paused, clearly surprised I could speak his people's language. "It's just going in the armory. I may not even use it myself," he replied.
"Could I ask you a question?" I continued so that only the Halfling officer could understand me.
He glanced at the Sheriff. "Just make it quick."
Hemlock looked at us both with a questioning look, not being able to tell what we were saying.
"Are all the officers that big?"
He chuckled. The next word he didn't say, just mouthed it to me. "Shoanti." The nomadic barbarian tribes of the north.
I nodded my head in understanding. "He doesn't have an accent, so I just thought he was an unusually big guy. I'm surprised he's all the way down here."
"Was raised here, I think. Never lived with the tribes, as far as I know." He glanced somewhat nervously at the Sheriff. "Look, I gotta go, okay? He'll yell at me if I stick around much longer."
"No problem. Thanks for answering." I turned to the Sheriff as his officer left. I, of course, switched back to speaking Common. "Sorry I held him up. I haven't spoken to a Halfling in a while, so it was nice getting to for a moment. I'll take my leave now."
He didn't look up from the papers on his desk as he replied. "Since you're new in town, and you helped one of my guards today, I'll just say this. Don't make any trouble. Hosk doesn't need it, and you seem like a decent kid. I'd hate to have to throw you in one of the cells here."
I chuckled nervously as I turned toward the door. "You won't get any trouble out of me if I can help it, Sheriff. Thank you again. Have a good evening." He grunted in reply as I left.
I started back toward the Stables, and noticed Ameiko arguing with someone. I could tell they were both speaking Tian, but couldn't understand what the argument was about. The older man seemed rather upset about something. I gave a small wave when I saw she was looking my way, and was about to move along before I saw the look on her face. I paused and she called to me.
"Hey, Mat! I needed to talk to you! About that thing, remember? Now is a good time, right?" The man looked annoyed, but I played along as I started toward her.
"Uh, yeah, I was just headed to see you," I replied.
The man said a few more things in Tian, then left in a huff. She thanked me after he rounded the corner.
"What was that all about?" I asked Ameiko.
"That," she sighed, "was my father. He's still not happy about me opening the Dragon, and wants me to come back to the family to make glass."
"Oh, I didn't realize your family was here in town. Or that they owned a business. That's neat."
We chatted a bit more about her family as we walked toward the Rusty Dragon, and I found out her family was rather famous in town for the glasswork they did. As we got to her tavern, I asked if now was a good time to start the lessons on Tian. She said it shouldn't be getting busy for another couple hours, so it would probably work out fine. I told her I'd be over as soon as I dropped off all my stuff.
I finally got back to the Stables, and I gave Hosk all the ears I'd collected. The gold from those paid for the grappling hook, but the gear from the goblins had all been profit. He seemed impressed. When I told him one of the sets was actually from Madame Mvashti, he laughed.
He said he could use the scrap metal for something, and took the crude daggers off my hands. He told me to enjoy the rest of the night off, but he expected me to be ready to work in the morning.
I left most of my gear in the room Hosk was having me stay in, and grabbed the book on Tian before heading over to the Rusty Dragon.
It was nice to be able to relax after the crazy day I'd had. I'd be working with horses again and finishing up the Goblin Toss tomorrow, but for a little while I could rest and start to learn a new language while enjoying a good meal with a new friend.