Lach-Roemar Pt. 3
The battle-priest muttered one last sacrament, then scattered a tincture of acidic liquid upon the green, bloated corpse of the mutilated horror. The liquid caused black smoke to rise from the stinking collection of bones and meat, disturbing an army of enormous swamp flies that had been sedately feasting upon the carcass. The priest’s motions and utterances were controlled and practiced, his ruddy complexion seemingly undisturbed by the rotting smell that assaulted Jonath’s senses. Perhaps a lifetime ministering to the fallen of countless battles, working the last blessings that the dead would receive amongst the collected, mortal refuse of war, had tempered the priest. Then again, Jonath mused, perhaps partaking of another sort of sacramental tincture gave the priest the kind of composure that nearly had the knight jealous.
Jonath stepped away from the bloated, rotting mess and shouldered his way past the collection of pale, wane watch deputies—each looking as if they regretted eating anything within the last few days. The deputies gladly stepped aside and many took the opportunity to follow the Warden of Lach-Roemar as he made his way across the small, tilled field to the black-garbed figure seated lightly upon a moss-covered, ramshackle wooden fence. Behind the figure, beyond the fence, the tilled soil gave way abruptly to the dense foliage, brackish water and dark, over-hanging trees that marked the swamps of Lach-Roemar.
The smell closer to the brackish water and rotting vegetation was not much better than that of the bloated, rotting carcass in the field.
Sphinx looked up as Jonath approached, then looked past the Warden to eye the motley collection of sickly-seeming deputies. Jonath glanced over his shoulder, his hauberk metallically sibilant, and signaled the deputies to keep their distance. The assortment of lightly armored humans and halflings, short swords and pikes at hand, forlornly came to a halt, milling around, glancing with disturbed eyes at the priest and the thing in the field.
Jonath removed his gauntlets and used them to wave away the cloud of swamp flies that had followed him from the corpse. He noticed with annoyance that the flies—indeed, insects of any kind—seemed to ignore Sphinx. Damned elven blood, Jonath thought, wiping his brow. He noticed as well that the elven archmage seemed comfortable and cool despite the steady warming of the season. Granted, within a few short hours, the swamp would grow preternaturally cold, dense fog rising from its depths and dangerously obscuring its borders, but Sphinx sat lightly on the fence, wrapped in belts and black leathers, weapons near at hand, no trace of sweat on his brow, as if he were simply sitting at home, in a fresh breeze that smelled of neither swamp nor monstrous death, sipping a chilled goblet of wine.
“So,” Jonath ventured, “what in the name of the gods did you do to that thing?”
“Asked it a few questions.”
“With an army of hammer-wielding, dwarven smiths?”
Sphinx simply smiled. “Nothing so subtle, I assure you.”
Jonath glanced back, past the motley deputies, toward the priest, who was beginning to bundle his sacramental tools into a stylized leather bag. He turned back to the elf. “And you’re sure that’s the thing you detected at the Gull and Sail?”
“Without a doubt. When I sensed the creature lurking in the common room I performed a quick sending that marked the thing for ease of later…inquiry…so to speak.”
“Inquiry with the vengeance of an elven mage who’s had his potential dinner interrupted at a local, run-down tavern?”
“Essentially, yes.” Sphinx smoothly dropped from the fence and began walking up the narrow path that led toward Lach-Roemar. Jonath fell in beside him. The deputies—now joined by the priest—followed at a short distance. Sphinx looked out over the field. “Shall I send someone to take care of the remains?”
“No, I’ll have the Mayoral Council pay the owner of the field to do it. Besides, it’s better to let the locals have a hand in ridding their community of a beast like that. What was it, anyway? I’ve never seen the like.”
“Something from the lower planes, I believe. I made copious notes before it, ah, ceased being a creature from the lower planes. You can read them if you like.”
“Perhaps later. What did you learn?”
“The obvious, really. You appear to have made some enemies.”
Jonath absently adjusted the Sash of Office over his hauberk. “And they’ve decided to take them out on the owner of the Gull and Sail?”
“Not exactly,” Sphinx replied, stooping to snap a small, berry-filled branch off of a large shrub that was growing out of a break in an old, tumble-down rock wall that had once separated some long-forgotten landowner’s domain from another. The elf popped several berries into his mouth, then offered the remainder to Jonath, who refused, his stomach far from settled after the inspection of the bloated, monstrous corpse. “It seems,” Sphinx continued after swallowing, “that No Lady Maef—the proprietress of the Gull and Sail—wasn’t actually the target of the creature.”
“The Sail itself. And Seri, the human girl who helps tend the tavern with Maef. The creature was sent to watch and report—and more than that in the girl’s case, if it’d had its way.”
Jonath stopped, his hauberk jangling, his sheathed longsword smacking his side. “The serving girl? A girl about the same age as the girl murdered by Marzell and dumped in the garbage pile behind the very same tavern where the serving girl works?”
Sphinx turned and cocked his head, swallowing a mouthful of berries, his black eyes alight. “I see you’re beginning to catch on.”