Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Paladins: Dangers

"Anything?" asked Werendril, as he extended his senses to the south. The town was just a town; he could sense evil, here and there, but it was a very mortal and mundane sort of evil that didn't really concern him. 

"Nothing," said Tarric, and then: "Woah." 

"Woah?" asked Werendril. 

"Woah," confirmed Tarric. "Best not to turn or look, but that building to the northeast? Two floors, tile roof, balcony? There are probably two dozen vampires and vampire spawn in there, including at least two masters. I think there must be a basement, too."

"Woah," said Werendril. That was a lot, for a town this size. But then he thought about the hunters and trappers and logging camps that likely filled the hills around Aldpond, and revised his estimate. Two dozen was probably sustainable here... and on top that, now they'd have to worry about vampires lurking in the Sweetwoods. He put a hand on Tarric's arm and tugged him towards a nearby shop. 

"Tea?" asked the young woman behind the counter, looking Tarric up and down in a way that made the human paladin blink. She glanced momentarily at Werendril, but dismissed him immediately. "Pastry? Something heartier?"

"Two teas and two of the pastries," Tarric decided, and handed over a couple of coppers. 

The girl pressed his hand as she took the coins, then turned away to fetch their food. Werendril raised his eyebrows, and Tarric flushed. 

"Just sit anywhere," said the girl, gesturing at the tables in front of the shop. She looked at Tarric, tilted her head slightly, and added: "Make yourself at home."

"Thank you," Tarric said heartily, and then turned to find a table where they could look over the street without seeming out of place. 

"That seemed a bit much," Werendril said softly, as they took their seats. The chairs were wooden, plain but well-built; so was the table. He didn't know how much money there was to be made in selling tea and pastries, but this place seemed to be doing all right. 

Tarric gave a soft chuckle. "She wasn't subtle, was she?" He glanced at Werendril, then looked out at the street. "Not to my tastes, though."

"So what do we think of the lair?" asked Werendril, and watched Tarric refocus. 

"Looks like it might be a tavern," Tarric said. "Maybe a brothel?"

"That would make sense." Werendril looked over the rest of the street, careful not to put too much of his attention on the lair. "Easy disguise. Hiding in plain sight."

The pastry was fresh and sweet and delicate, and Werendril looked down to discover that the small plate he'd been given was empty. He sipped at his tea, which was dark and heavy and strong with an almost smoky flavor; too blunt for elvish tastes, but good in its way. Tarric had all but inhaled his cup. 

"We should move on--" he started to say, but the girl was suddenly standing beside Tarric's shoulder, absently brushing him with her hip as she set out two new cups of tea and two slices of something that looked to be some sort of nut bread. 

"You're mercenaries, right?" she asked. "Or spies?"

Tarric and Werendril exchanged a glance.

The girl didn't wait for a response. "You have to take me with you when you go. Please, I'll do anything you want, any way you want."

Tarric leaned back in his chair, disengaging himself as well as he could from her body. "We're paladins," he said quietly. 

The girl froze, and then said. "Oh." She finished setting a second cup of tea in front of Werendril, then looked around and took a seat beside them, well away from Tarric. "Are you here for them?" 

Werendril raised his eyebrows again. "Them?" he asked quietly.

She glanced deliberately at the tile-roofed building across the street. "The vampires," she said. "I think they're vampires. Are they vampires?" 

Werendril and Tarric exchanged another glance; then Tarric shrugged and said, "Yes."

"One of them wants me. She keeps coming over here, and she looks at me the whole time she's here. I put some garlic in her tea, but she just laughed and said I was too clever for my own good."

Tarric started to stand up, but Werendril reached across the small table and put a hand on his arm. Tarric tensed, relaxed, and sat back down. 

"Not yet," said Werendril, "We finish looking, and then we finish them."

Tarric nodded and looked at the girl. "We can send you out of town, but..."

She was looking thoughtful, though. "You're paladins. You can feel them because you're paladins?"

They both nodded. 

"And any paladin could feel them?"

"Yes," admitted Tarric. "If they looked."

"And you're supposed to destroy them?"

Tarric frowned, and Werendril said, "Yes, in general. We're not required to die trying if we're outmatched... and we might be, here. We're still looking."

"One moment," said Tarric, and pronounced a blessing on the girl. It would keep the vampires away from her; more importantly, it would keep them from being able to influence her, and hold back any influence that was already in place. "So everything is as you said it was?"

The girl nodded. "Some sort of protection?" 

Tarric nodded. "Also part of our obligations."

"I have an idea." The girl didn't sound pleased or excited; she sounded angry. "Come back here late in the afternoon."

"As you wish," said Tarric. 

The girl stood, took the tray, and retreated to the counter just as another customer arrived. 

"What do you think?" 

"I think we'd be fools not to accept her help," Werendril said, then added: "Regardless of what she's prepared to offer you." 

"She's not prepared, she's desper--" Tarric caught the twist of Werendril's lips and stopped, shaking his head and suppressing a smile. "All right. Let's look around some more, and come back later."

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