“Doc isn’t aware of what happened last,” Claire reported.
“Are you sure?” Rowen pressed, “Is there any way to tell if he lied or not, or maybe he’s unaware of what he did?”
“No, Doc is not aware of what happened last night. Due to the contract between us, we can both sense the intentions and emotions of the other when speaking,” Claire explained, “We can both tell when the other is lying, and often times we can vaguely sense why as well.”
“That’s interesting to know,” Milly whispered, “but I feel that the situation is over there is a little more important than a lesson.”
The three of them peeked their heads out of the alley they were hiding in. Down the street, a crowd of people were gathered outside a tavern. Cries of anguish and fearful whispers echoed down the street as the guards brought out headless body after headless body.
“This is really bad,” Claire whispered, “The slime must have gone into a feeding frenzy last night. An entire tavern filled with people; it must have been starving for quite some time.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Milly whispered back, “The slime was been attacking one person for weeks now. It even ate that woman . . . almost a week ago now. How can it be starving if it has been following a routine?”
“Maybe the slime ate only one person a week because it was getting its food from elsewhere,” Rowen postured, “I mean, I’m sure the demons have done a wonderful job devouring everything they can get their hands on. The hunters haven’t been bringing back much game from the forest recently.”
“But slimes can eat anything, even plants and stone,” Milly argued, “Why is it so focused on heads? Is there such thing as a head slime?”
“Not yet,” Claire murmured, “But maybe Doc can try experimenting . . .”
“Hey you kids! What are you doing!” a loud voice barked from behind them. Claire hid in Milly’s pocket as the two teens jumped in surprise. They turned to discover three guards examining them from the road.
“We’re curious to see what’s happening,” Milly chirped, “We could hear the commotion all the way from the guild classroom.”
“Well stop and leave immediately,” the head guard barked, “this is no place for a child. Leave this mess to trained professionals. Go home!”
“Right away sir!” Rowen nodded as he grabbed Milly’s arm and pulled her away.
“Let me go!” she insisted, struggling against his grip, “What trained professionals? They can’t even track down the culprit!”
“Quiet,” Rowen whispered as he glanced back at the guards from the corner of his eye, “We need more information, and they seem like the ones to get it from. Besides, you don’t have your daggers remember? You shouldn’t pick a fight now.”
Milly pouted and slouched in Rowen’s grip, “Well, what are we supposed to do then? In order to use a tracking beast, we need some sample of the slime. Even if the guards aren’t smart enough to try, they have to have something we can use from the crime scene.”
“I know,” Rowen agreed, “Which is why our next step is going to require your charm magic and a lone guard. Feel up to it?”
Milly immediately stopped struggling, and instead used her superior strength to break free, turn around, and hold Rowen in an excited hug. “You want me to use my charm magic? Yay! I’ve been waiting to show off my powers to Claire!”
“Alright, alright,” Rowen protested as he struggled in her grip, “Yes, we’re going to use your charm magic, so can you please let me go?”
“Nope,” Milly said cheerfully, “You pulled me, so now I’m dragging you! Feel free to complain, but I still have 3 or 4 years on you.”
Rowen gave up struggling and relaxed his body into dead-weight. Milly rolled her eyes and slung Rowen over her shoulder like a sack of flower.
“This is incredibly humiliating,” Rowen muttered, “I’m a grown . . . well, I’m not child anymore.”
“Don’t worry,” Claire teased from the pocket, “She’s not treating like a child; she’s treating you like a sack.”
“That . . . well that wouldn’t be too unexpected actually,” Rowen muttered as he gave up and pretended he was dead, ignoring the giggles and chuckles from pedestrians passing by them.
After putting Rowen down a few minutes later, the two resumed their serious search for a lone guard. After spying on a few patrols, they finally came across a single guard hurrying down an alley. He was clearly late to something.
Rowen coughed into his fist and signaled for Milly to begin. Milly gave him a big thumbs up and ran tripped in front of the alley exit. The guard soon came upon her, and ignored her as he hurried away down the alley.
“How dare a guard ignore a damsel in distress!” Milly roared angrily after Rowen helped her up, “What sort of morality is being taught to those guards? I want my taxes back!”
“We don’t pay taxes; we’re not adults yet,” Rowen reminded her, “Anyway, I guess we need to either chase after that guard or find another one.”
“Chase!” Milly growled.
“Wait,” Claire cried out in their minds, “let me help!”
The two teens heard a cry and a crash from the other end of the alley. With matching grins, Rowen and Milly ran towards the sound until they discovered the source; a slightly confused soldier who had somehow tripped into a stack of crates.
Claire stuck her body out of Milly’s pocket and made a double thumbs up with her hands, “Earth magic, gotta trip them all.”
“Thanks Claire,” Rowen winked at her, “alright Milly, your turn.”
With a winning smile, Milly walked over to the fallen soldier and bent down to look the soldier in the eye.
“Wha . . .” The soldier began to regain his facilities.
“Shh,” Milly whispered, holding her finger up to her mouth, “I need your help soldier. Can you help me?”
Milly’s eyes began to glow a low red, and the soldier’s eyes soon glowed the same color.
“I want to help you,” the soldier murmured, “but I’m late . . .”
“It won’t take long, and I really need your help,” Milly pouted sadly, “I just need some questions answered, that’s all.”
“Okay,” the soldier’s eyes glowed a deep red as he smiled dopily.
Rowen chuckled softly as he shook his head, “Your power is as scary as ever Milly. This is why I don’t look you in the eyes when we fight over dessert.”
Milly’s face twitched, but she kept her pleasant smile on as she ignored Rowen. “Mr. Soldier, I need to know if anyone found part of the culprit at the tavern massacre.”
“We found some,” the soldier replied truthfully.
“Where is it?” Milly pressed.
“Headquarters,” the soldier’s smile seemed to grow smaller.
“Why are you in a rush?”
The soldier’s smile faded further into an expression of puzzlement, “I’m late to the general’s meeting. I need to deliver . . . some news; why am I telling you this?”
“Sleep!” Milly ordered loudly. The soldier’s eyes rolled into his head and he slumped back.
Milly pursed her lips, “What a disappointment; I’m still too weak to keep the spell up for long. At least he won’t remember this conversation.”
“Yeah, that’s if we beat it before he wakes up,” Rowen reminded her, “Let’s get out of here!”
The three companions raced away, Claire diving her head back into Milly’s pocket. Once they were clear of the alley, Rowen pursed his lips and leaned against a building.
“So, what we need is at the headquarters,” he summarized, “and that headquarters happens to be crawling with soldiers, guards, and any number of magic spells guarding them all. Any ideas?”
“Break in!” Claire piped up from the pocket.
“No,” Milly and Rowen said together.
“Not you guys, me!” Claire continued.
“Even worse of an idea,” Rowen deadpanned, “If anything happens to you, this whole town will end. Why don’t we plan out a heist using our combined magical talents?”
“Sure, but your magic takes too long to activate, both of you! Milly, no offense, can barely keep a conversation for more than a few questions. Meanwhile, my spying can be done without any effort,” Claire argued back, “Besides, I’m tired of staying in this pocket! I want to do something important for the investigation!”
“I like Rowen’s plan better,” Milly declared, “It’s safer and we can plan ahead.”
Claire turned her head and pouted at Rowen.
Rowen threw his hands into the air, “Don’t come to me with those puppy dog faces! I want no part of this!”
“Well, since you are the deciding vote,” Claire pointed out diplomatically, “It would wiser to make one person happy by choosing rather than upsetting two people with inaction. By the way, who are you going to live with longer, her or me?”
“In that case no,” Rowen declared.
Claire tapped her finger against her head, “Hmmmmm . . . . overruled!” With that said, she vanished.
Rowen and Milly both groaned. Neither one of them could hold a candle to the trickster nature of the pixie. They could only let her go through with whatever she decided.
“We’re getting those daggers of your back after this meeting,” Rowen vowed, “At this rate, we’re going to fighting the whole blasted city!”
“Alright, I’m in position,” Claire reported from her hiding spot inside the main army headquarters. She peeked over the books she was hiding behind on the bookshelf directly next to the map table.
“I can hear you loud and clear,” Rowen’s voice sounded in her mind, “Oh, and Milly says she’s going to bake some snacks for us when you’re done.”
“I love snacks! Wait, shh,” she said suddenly, “I think the meeting is starting.” She used her magic to enchant her ears so Rowen would hear what she heard.
“How bad was the attack?” Prince James asked the guard captain in front of him.
“It was one of the worst massacres I’ve ever seen,” the captain said truthfully, “My prince, the tavern was filled with bodies lying in every possible position. No one was spared from customer to dish cleaner. It looks like they but up as much as a fight as they could while drunk, but we found no enemy bodies among our own. Everyone who died passed the same as the beheaded murder victims. The priests have been requested to cleanse the building of resentful spirits, but I doubt the building will ever be used again.”
“Thank-you captain, you are dismissed,” James waved his hand. The captain bowed and exited the room.
James sighed as he rubbed his forehead. He gazed around at his three advisers and the few generals in the command room room.
“This incident does not reflect well on us my prince,” Annabelle spoke up, “my children are hearing many reports about the citizens of this town being quite . . . disenchanted with your rule. Having sent all the adventurers away and taken over the responsibility of guarding the town, it appears you have made yourself a wonderful source of their frustrations.”
James fixed Anna with a glower, “Your venomous tongue hasn’t changed at all, even with this crisis?”
A loud slap echoed the room. Everyone starred in surprise at Alfred, who had slapped Anna across the face. He glared down at her shocked expression.
“You are in the presence of his highness and will show him the appropriate level of respect,” Alfred barked, “Or you risk losing your position and life. Is that understood?”
“I’m sorry,” Anna apologized, getting on the floor and bowing her body toward James, “I’m . . . I’m so sorry my prince. My speech was in appropriate.”
James winced at the display of groveling and waved his hand, “As long as you’re learned your lesson, you are forgiven. Josh, as captain of my guard what are your thoughts on this matter?”
Josh frowned, “An attack of this scale has completely destroyed morale within the town and our troops. The fear of being attacked is growing, and this unrest could easily grow until it reached a state of complete and utter panic. This situation is the worst possible problem we could have while experiencing a siege. We must quickly find a way to improve moral or risk riots.”
“I see. Alfred, what are the best options?” James pressed.
Alfred tapped his chin in thought. “The rangers should be preparing to complete their mission soon. Given the time it takes to travel, they could be back as early as 2 days or as late as 4. If they return successful, then morale will naturally improve. However, if they fail, then all is lost. To avoid risking our chances, we must find a cause, event, or person within the next 2 days to raise moral to a level where the ranger’s success inspires the people, or their failure is negated by our success.”
“To that end,” he continued, “Our best solution would be to find the culprit and punish them publically. We need either the real culprit, or a scapegoat.”
“A scapegoat? That would be mean lying to the people and letting a murderer run loose,” Prince James pointed out darkly, “If we were to execute a scapegoat and allowed the murders to continue, then no one would place trust in the royalty again.”
“I understand your concern you highness, but before you set your mind allow me to read the report on all the beheaded victims,” Alfred pleaded. Seeing James nod his head, Alfred pulled out a scroll and read it out loud.
“All victims have had their heads removed by alchemic melting,” Alfred announced, “The same method for every case, and the alchemic fluid used strongly resembles that of a slime’s.”
The generals began muttering to themselves. James held up his hand for quiet.
“A slime did all this? I highly doubt a slime would have the cunning and reasoning to pull off their attacks and hide their trail. Perhaps someone with a tamed slime is using it to commit murder,” he suggested.
“I’ve checked the records your highness,” Josh spoke up, “and there are no tamers currently registered with a slime pet in town. The few adventurers who possess tamer skills have left with the rangers. The elf tamers do not tame anything besides beasts. If someone possessed a tamed slime, then they would have had to come forth for taming supplies at some point. It is highly unlikely.”
“Someone could have made a mistake, or maybe someone sneaked in,” a general argued, “After all, we brought many refugees with us from Duran, and who knows if one of them is a spy.”
“The murders began before fall of Duran,” Alfred pointed out, “So I doubt this is a spy we brought with us. I have a strong possibility, but I hesitate to say it.”
“Do not falter Alfred,” James urged, “I trust your council. What are you thinking?”
“I’ve spoken with the head witch, Helen,” Alfred said slowly, “and she agreed with my conclusion. The dungeon is responsible for the attacks, for it has become corrupted.”
The room was filled with noise as everyone began talking at once.
“Quiet!” Josh bellowed.
“Alfred, surely this cannot be?” James asked in disbelief, “This dungeon has been highly stable, and the entire town relies on its treasure and loot. To falsely implicate it is to risk the wrath of the entire town and Adventurer Guild!”
“I wish the same, but I regret to say that the dungeon is the most likely culprit,” Alfred sighed in regret, “the witch Helen showed my written records of past dungeons that became corrupted after their food source dropped. Dungeons grow as we do, and their appetites grow proportionally. In the last few weeks, fewer and fewer adventurers have been entering the dungeon, and even less have died within it. Thus it began to feed outside the dungeon in order to sate itself in order to satisfy its hunger. However, every adventurer left a few days ago. Not even the miners will enter the dungeon now in fear for the oozes they could unearth. The dungeon must be starving, and so it acted out of a need for self-preservation and devoured an entire tavern’s worth of citizens.”
James crossed his fingers and bent hid head down in contemplation.
“I won’t say this logic is false Alfred; I just hope none of it is true. However, if that is the case, then we must do something. While I can respect another individual’s desire to live, I won’t tolerate the death of my subjects. Generals, what would be our chances to eliminate the dungeon if it were indeed the culbrit?”
“Not good sir,” one responded, “Our men were never trained to fight slimes, and all our equipment have been enchanted to repel demons and their kin. Not only that, but the tunnels are too small to support the army’s standard method of fighting and out formations would be worthless. Our men were never trained to fight in such close containment where an attack could come in any and every direction. Many would die fighting their way down, leaving the town defenseless against a demon attack.”
“Actually, I have a solution,” Alfred spoke up with an enlightened smile, “I went to the witch Helen not only to confirm my findings, but also because she has been working on a witch enchantment for weapons and armor. An “anti-dungeon” enchantment if you will, much like goblin-bane and human-killer enchantments. She just needed a few days to perfect the formula, and then we would have an army equipped with weapons and armor capable of defeating any dungeon on the world! No longer would weapons and armor have to be treated for individual monsters, but instead treated to destroy any and all dungeon created monsters. ”
Everyone was moved by the idea.
“Sir, wouldn’t this new enchantment rid us of the demon-bane enchantments?” a different general spoke up, “We would be defenseless against a demon onslaught if they attacked us without them.”
“You are correct,” Alfred nodded, “Our iron weapons can only hold one ‘bane’ type of enchantment at a time. Have no fear, because I have signed a deal with Witch Helen to mass-produce demon-bane potions as soon as she is done researching the dungeon-bane enchantment. That way, once the dungeon is dead we can use the potions to bring ourselves back to fighting strength.”
“A few days . . .” James considered, “However, you said earlier that we needed to do something before the adventurers came back to raise morale. As you also mentioned earlier, we have about 3 days more or less.”
“You are quite right to notice that my prince,” Alfred flattered, “We should announce later today the identity of culprit, the dungeon, and our plans to subdue it. We will transfer all the frustration and negativity that has been building up in town to the dungeon, and then we shall become the conquering heroes who saved the dungeon. Once the people are distracted, morale will begin to rise as they realize the danger will soon end.”
Prince James thought long and hard before announcing his decision.
“Begin preparations today, but do not make any announcement,” James ordered, “I want to have a talk with Master Mary before we do anything too drastic. Assist Witch Fiora with anything she needs. Give her access to our full stokehold so that she can finish her enchantment.”
“But sir,” Alfred protested, “she will try to stop you for sure.”
“Better I make her aware now than going behind her back,” James affirmed, “Civil conflicts should be decided amongst all leaders, especially the ones who understand their territory. You will do nothing until I order it. Not only that, but if we do come to the conclusion that the dungeon must be destroyed, then it is paramount that the adventurers join us and lend their expertise. They have the most experience with this dungeon after all.”
Alfred sighed, but nodded, “Understood my prince. Your wish . . . is my command.”
“Oh dear, oh no, oh no,” Claire muttered in distress as she watched the people leave the room, “This is terrible, horrible, and the worst thing that could happen! Rowen, what do we do? What can we do?”
“Claire, you need to calm down,” Rowen ordered, “Panicking isn’t going to help us or Doc. Our goal is the same; we need to find the wild slime to prove Doc’s innocence.”
“But if the whole town thinks Doc is the murderer, then killing a wild slime isn’t going to help anymore,” Claire grimaced, “We don’t have the influence to change the minds of everyone in town. They want someone to punish, and Doc is an easy target.”
“We don’t, but the adventurer guild does,” Rowen pointed out, “Milly and I are friends with Master Mary, and she’s a calm and rational person. I’m sure she’d rather kill the real culprit as opposed to slaying a scapegoat and letting the murders continue. I’m sure that if we explain our plan and the evidence we have, she’ll work with us to prove Doc’s innocence.”
“I’m the source of your evidence!” Claire cried internally, “There is no way I’m going anywhere near the Adventurer Guild! That’s suicide!”
“Fine, then Milly and I will do it,” Rowen said calmly, holding up his hands to placate the panicking pixie, “You heard the prince, he wants to talk to the guild-master too, so we still have time. We just need you to locate a good tracking beast in the elf district while we talk the guild master tomorrow.”
“Monsters are scary too!”
“Then, I don’t know, bring some warg fur or something to hide your scent. Which is scarier, the tracking beast or the guild?”
“Fine, I’ll find the monster sniffer,” Claire muttered in defeat, “But why wait till tomorrow?”
“We can’t leave the tavern;” Rowen muttered reluctantly, “Fred came home and is in full concerned parent mode after hearing about the massacre. He won’t let Milly and I out of the house for the rest of the day. In fact, he’s going to take the time to walk us to and from the guild starting tomorrow.”
“What! So now what?” Claire began to cry in the bookshelf, “I, I don’t want Doc to die! He’s my best friend. I . . . I . . .”
“All isn’t lost,” Rowen reminded her, “You heard the prince; he doesn’t want to risk his troops without the adventurers. Milly and I will use our trip to the guild tomorrow to speak with Mary. We will do our best to convince her and the prince to not attack. You use the time tomorrow to find that tracker dog. For now, come back to the Knifed Zombie. You need rest.”
Claire wiped her eyes, “Alright, I’ll do it! Don’t worry Doc, I’ll save you!”