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Wolves Among Sheep (Hafnium) GMed by Takimaru

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    Wolves Among Sheep (Hafnium) GMed by Takimaru

    On the border of Elynsor and Brevnia

    Rafe took his first step into the town of Ternbach, a small village on Elynsor’s southeastern border nestled comfortably between the woods and the mountains. Here, settlements such as this one had cultures of their own as isolated pockets away from both Elynsor and Brevnia’s capital cities, developing unique identities which were neither uniquely Elynsorian nor strictly Brevnian. To the hunter, places like this village were a common sight, with the sort of terrain and arrangements that he was all too familiar with. Even if there were countless such villas, often with their own traditions and accents, it was difficult not to feel a sense of dejavu.

    And yet, for as familiar as he was with this sort of town, not all were familiar with him. Two gruff-looking woodsmen, with beards typical of their profession, stood outside the outer limits of the village, hacking away at some nearby trees with their axes. They paused, their gaze wandering over to the stranger. Rafe felt their suspicious looks upon him as they stood, only their heads pivoting like those of watchful owls to ensure that he wasn’t hostile--though, ironically enough, he could sense their own wariness, seeing their grips tighten upon their axe handles out of his peripheral vision. However, such glares would eventually leave, albeit gradually, as he passed, and once he was over a dozen paces away, they would resume their tasks in short order. These looks of distrust weren’t actually typical, at least not towards someone dressed the way he was.

    Closer towards the first building on the main path, was a traveling merchant who had their cart set up. As he closed in, the hunter would find this person to be someone he knew, upon getting a better look at her face, though it might have taken him a little since her clothes always seemed to differ every time he saw her. It was Ellia, an agent also employed by the Elynsorian Church, who often worked in the same vicinity providing information to those like himself. Though she was dressed in common traveling clothes, there was a distinct look about her grey eyes that the detail-oriented Rafe had learned to recognize. Other than that, she had a look that allowed her to fit right in with most settings, and a willingness to wear a variety of hats necessary for the job.

    Once she saw him, the woman raised her eyebrows a little to give him a knowing look, which momentarily shifted in the direction of the two men he had encountered earlier outside the village proper.

    Mm… hey there, stranger. Haven’t seen you in a little bit. The looks you get here are um, iinteresting, right? I’ll just go ahead and say that you should probably be glad that I’m here, ‘cause some of the people in this town are really… not the friendliest. Even took -me- a little bit to dig out any kind of info,” said the raven-haired woman in greeting, though quietly enough so that others wouldn’t be able to overhear it too easily. The corner of her lip was turned up as usual in something akin to the start of a sly grin--an expression that she commonly wore, at least during the times he saw her.

    I’m really hoping that the problem isn’t bigger than it looks… but, here.” She quietly handed him a folded piece of parchment, which, when spread out, would show a small map on it, drawn to proper yet smaller scale representing his surroundings. Not much more than two dozen homes made up Ternbach. A red ‘x’ marked a building nearby.

    Luckily, I went ahead and did all the hard work just for you. I was at least able to get some info out of the tool shop owner--one of the few people here who won’t shut the door in your face!” She placed her fingertip on the red mark. “Here is the late blacksmith’s house. He says the smith’s wife has been acting strangely since he passed--far worse than your normal grieving. Probably possessed by a Voidic demon. Either way, the townsfolk fear she is lost to the Void and think she’s responsible for the disappearance of the tanner’s two sons. I took a peek through the window, but couldn’t see much of anything,” she went on to explain, allowing the lone hunter to get a word in if he chose to.

    Now all you gotta do is take care of that little problem for me! No big deal, right? I’ve seen you handle worse before,” she assured him.
    Developer of Despair Labyrinth and primary GM of the PbP.

    Re: Wolves Among Sheep (Hafnium) GMed by Takimaru

    Rafe was a man particularly concerned about appearances.

    His clothing was free of even a speck of dirt. His boots and gloves had been brushed and oiled. Despite his journey, he had made time to bathe almost every single day he'd been on the road. The small amount of Rafe's suntanned skin on display was as clean and immaculate as any piece of his gear.

    Appearance was the first half of Rafe's battles. He had to toe a particular line in his work. He did his best to look both mercenary and completely disinterested in the towns he found himself in, yet professional and trustworthy enough to be confided in about all those towns' secrets. Most of all, he usually needed to look specifically like he wasn't from the Elynsorian church. The implications of a church hunter appearing in town were undesirable for the guilty and the innocent alike.

    It made the wariness of the woodsmen all the more noticeable. In his experience, when people acted suspicious of him it meant that he should have suspicions about them. Surely they hadn't picked him out as anything more than a wanderer. Were they hiding something? Maybe they were just xenophobic. Perhaps they were reasonably wary of an approaching stranger. Whatever the case, he would burn out all the village's darkest secrets before he left. He wasn't very concerned.

    And this was partly because the second half of his job tended to be literal battles. As such, he spent most of his time working on his gear to make sure it was prepared for any altercation. His sword's edge had been honed, the blade had been polished and oiled. Over his shoulder was a cloth sack in which he hid more gear, all neatly separated and compartmentalized. In it he had a disassembled crossbow, a dozen bolts, a corked bottle of water blessed by a cleric, some rope, his church insignia, a change of clothes, and some trail rations carefully wrapped in linen.

    Preparedness and an eye for detail had made him a successful animal hunter and eased his transition into a hunter for the church, he hoped they'd serve him well this hunt too. And one such detail which Rafe took care to consider was maintaining Ellia's cover. When he spotted the woman in the guise of a traveling merchant, he became a different man. He adopted an uncharacteristic swagger in his step as opposed to the long, efficient strides he normally took. He would swagger right up her like a thug looking for a date and plant his hand on the cart, leaning against it as they spoke. He imagined it was best if anybody who might spot the two talking assumed that he was just trying to get under her skirts.

    He simply nodded at the initial part of her greeting, but risked a quiet comment after her remark about looks. "Always glad when you're on the job. My smile isn't as nice as yours at wooing people out of their secrets. This lot makes me suspicious though. People looking that way have something to hide. Crime at best, Voidic at worst." Beyond that contribution, he was silent as Ellia handed him the map and explained her 'little problem.' He risked a few glances every once in a while, just to make sure nobody was eavesdropping, but otherwise focused on Ellia's words and keeping his body language reminiscent of a man chasing women instead of demons.

    "Always a shame," he would reply even more quietly as she confirmed that he would deal with it. The suspicious nature of the woodsmen made more sense now. This town might have to be scoured after the blacksmith's widow was dealt with, just in case the voidic infection had spread its roots. "They lose someone and think they can pull them back from the Void. Instead they get a demon and murdered neighbors. Yeah, this problem will be gone by the morning. Hopefully it's the only problem. How long has she been holed up?"

    "So," he continued less quietly, after she answered his more serious question. "I'm guessing there's no night life here. There at least a tavern or an inn or something? Even in a small town like this there's gotta be some way to pass the time, right?" Rafe was part acting for the benefit of any eavesdroppers, and part seriously asking because the townsfolk were going to get really suspicious if he simply loitered around until night fell.


      Re: Wolves Among Sheep (Hafnium) GMed by Takimaru

      "It's nice enough for me, and that's what matters, right?" teased Ellia in response about the rugged hunter's smile, who had never been opposed to the occasional flirty comment. Rafe could tell that she was not of a particularly haughty or noble upbringing--or, if she somehow was, that she was just too damn good at hiding it, in that it wouldn't keep her from acting as needed for her cover. "Besides, if everybody just spilled all their secrets to you, I might be out of a job. Though, I appreciate your sublety..." she added quietly, making a demure smile and swaying back a little, to make the scene look as normal as ever to anyone who would glance their way.

      Luckily, the rather perceptive hunter wouldn't find much in the way of wandering eyes around them, but it never hurt to be sure--some small towns were paranoid by nature, and this seemed to be one of them. "After all, most hunters don't bother with the details and would just storm right on in... in broad daylight!" she exclaimed with false incredulity and a playful grin before allowing her tone to settle once more. "I'm glad that you at least like to take your time with it. Speaking of time, it seems like you've got no shortage of it, since the smith's wife hasn't stepped foot outside the house. She's apparently been in there for a week now, at least."

      Out of his peripheral vision, Rafe spotted the two woodsmen heading back towards the village with bundles of firewood hoisted over their shoulders. They didn't escape the notice of Ellia, who gave the hunter a knowing look and tipped her chin in the other direction, towards the far end of the town.

      "Hmm," she started. "Why don't we go somewhere more... private~" Perhaps his postured flirtings had done enough to win her over, at least in the eyes of passerbys, and so she'd beckon for him to follow her with cart in tow. The two ended up on the opposite end of Ternbach, on its outskirts just outside what could be considered its border, in a relatively isolated pocket just off the main road. This way, it would be easy enough to see if any curious would-be peepers cared to follow them. Which, at least for now, they didn't.

      Once they were alone and properly out of sight, Ellia moved some objects around within her merchant cart to reveal a large chest. It was about half a person long, and relatively deep, perhaps able to fit a body if it was compacted a little. More notably, the chest wasn't made from typical wood, but from a gleaming red material, some sort of steel. The insignia of the Elynsorian Church lay upon its lock.

      "Ah, here we are~ So, you know the usual protocol by now, mm?" said the girl in a more normal tone. "Common things like goblins and orcs, you're free to slay. But since this seems like a pretty um, special, case--you may need to try and capture her if you can afford to do so, depending on what's making her act so strange. Minor demons, parasites, relics and all that other fun stuff need to be seized by the Church for study. They told me that this container is enchanted and blessed strongly enough to keep even fairly powerful Voidic stuff in check, so I'll be on standby for when you've finished the job."

      But until then, there are still a few hours to kill until nightfall. Not too much to see in this town. All work and no play make these folk really, really dull. The tool shop guy seemed friendly enough. They’ve also got a tanner, a couple of furriers, some carpenters and masons, that sort of thing. There is one pub, but it’s oddly kind of full, even at this time of day, and there are lots of people there already--ranting angrily over kegs of booze. There’s an inn here too. And well, they… had a blacksmith,” Ellia explained.

      Other than that, what you see is what you get,” she added, looking around her. “Lots and lots of trees.
      Developer of Despair Labyrinth and primary GM of the PbP.


        Re: Wolves Among Sheep (Hafnium) GMed by Takimaru

        Rafe risked a chuckle at the church agent's retort about his own smile and subtlety, imagining the reaction wouldn't seem out of place to onlookers. She certainly didn't have to worry about job security. He could still call upon his roots and play the part of small town boy to some extent, but he'd never make blending in and earning trust look as easy as Ellia did.

        Beyond that, he remained silent, biting back a comment that lack of subtlety and patience was how hunters ended up barging into the middle of cults and becoming sacrifices. When she invited him to somewhere more secluded he grinned and replied. "Sounds good to me." Rafe would quite happily strut off, following her until they were more isolated. He would likewise happily drop the charade as soon as they were there, sighing in relief that he could drop all of his acting for a little while. The void hunter would roll his shoulders a few times to work out the stiffness he always felt after trying to play a role in the public eye.

        "Yeah, yeah," he replied to her remarks about church protocol. He was a little louder and much more relaxed than earlier. "The clerics've gotta lock up the major stuff so they can fool with it later and end up with worms instead of innards," he muttered grimly. Rafe had never made his disdain for capture missions a secret. His complaints always came in order, too. The first complaint was always anything voidic was dangerous and better off destroyed. The second was that trying to do capture missions got people killed, especially when they were working alone. He skipped the latter this time though, figuring that Ellia had heard it enough. "I'll capture it if I can," though in his case that usually meant that he would capture the target if it wasn't dead after he shot it a few times.

        After she explained his options for killing time, he would offer his plans. "I think I'll stop by the tool shop first then. Might as well feel him out myself, especially since I can flash my insignia without blowing your cover if he seems susceptible to it." He idly rested his left hand on the grip of his sword. "I might try to get the tanner's account afterward. Don't expect he'll want to talk to a stranger about it and even if he does it probably won't help me much for figuring out what's lurking around in the forge, but for the sake of thoroughness. If I've got time left after both of those I'll stop by the pub and see what I can hear."

        "Once people's windows start going dark, I'll take a more direct option for figuring out what we're dealing with and do the storming in part of being a hunter. I'll try to keep things clean and quiet, but I'm going in fully armed," he shrugged the shoulder his cloth sack was hung over to emphasize it. "If worst comes to worst, the church is just going to have to settle for a holey demon."


          Re: Wolves Among Sheep (Hafnium) GMed by Takimaru

          They can do whatever they want with it as long as it’s properly locked away somewhere--but more importantly, as long as they keep paying me right,” commented Ellia with a shrug. She didn’t seem particularly bothered by his indifference about the targets being dead or alive, not in the way that some more straight-laced types he had worked with in the past might have been.

          I’d much rather deny the robe men their little weird novelties than have to deal with a greener hunter, so do what you gotta do. If they wanted these things intact that badly, you’d think they would send a team instead,” she added in a somewhat roundabout way of hinting concern for his safety. “I’ll try to talk them into giving us a bit of a bonus if you do though, and maybe we can split the gold afterwards--sound good? I’ll be around when you need me, since it’s not the biggest town in the world. Well, have fun~

          After saying his farewells to Ellia for the time being, Rafe made his way to the tool shop, a fairly humble little building with about the standard fare for a small village’s supply. Axes, chisels, augers, hand saws, hammers and the like were lined up on the wall behind the counter. Other various things of use, such as fisherman’s nets, furrier’s combs, and some rope--but no chain--were hung up to the right. A man with curly flaxen hair and a friendly, light face full of freckles looked up from his task, quick to acknowledge the newcomer and greet him with a flurry of words. His bright blue eyes scanned Rafe’s form, searching for hints of something by which he could get a sale.

          Welcome! Ah… a mercenary? What can I do for you today? Afraid our smith’s no longer with us, but if you’re looking for weapon stuff, I’ve got some quality whetstones handy; red roughbacks from the southern mines! Oh, and some oil. This tenfurling fat is perfect for blades! Even for styling hair!” He held up a small vial of slightly cloudy liquid. “Or, OR! I have…” If Rafe didn’t interrupt him soon, it was likely that he’d have no shortage of things to go on about.
          Developer of Despair Labyrinth and primary GM of the PbP.


            Re: Wolves Among Sheep (Hafnium) GMed by Takimaru

            The gold didn't really matter to Rafe, if he was being honest. He'd have happily done his job for free, as long as his food and equipment was handled. After all, his was a mission from Erion Himself, in a way, and each voidic beast slain meant potentially hundreds of lives saved. Still, he appreciated Ellia's understanding when it came to his aversion to capture missions. He'd see if he could get away with only shooting once before trying to capture his prey this time, if only so she could bank some extra coin off of the mission.

            "I'll see you later tonight then," he would bid the agent farewell before setting out to take care of his own investigation. He found himself in the unenviable position of needing to avoid drawing too much attention but also being on a short time limit, so he needed to get started as soon as possible. His first stop would be, as he said, the tool store. It was a relief when the man proved to be as chatty with a strange man as he'd apparently been with a flirty young woman.

            Rafe chose to let the man go through his initial sales pitch before butting in, instead taking the time to take glances at the shopkeeper's inventory. "My whetstones are getting worn," he eventually interrupted the salesman, seizing the opportunity during his pause. The church hunter wasn't outright lying. Rafe had a bad tendency of wearing his whetstones and blades down in record time due to his meticulous nature. If he was being one-hundred percent honest though, he was mostly just dangling the prospect of a sale in front of the man in order to get him more receptive to answering other questions. "I'll certainly have a look at what you've got in stock. First though, I came in here wondering about your town's blacksmith. I've got something in need of more than maintenance, and it's an urgent matter." He shrugged the bag slung over his shoulder for emphasis. "You've already answered the major question, but I don't suppose he's got any family who might've picked up some of his skills, does he? An heir or an apprentice I could speak with?" Rafe knew the answer already, of course, but it was best to lead this conversation toward his end goal in steps.


              Re: Wolves Among Sheep (Hafnium) GMed by Takimaru

              Oh! Wonderful! Here, let me show you what I have… These red roughbacks from the southern mines of Veltria are perfect for the discerning swordsman! The way that they are heated from neighboring firestones give them different degrees of ah, roughness on opposite sides. Their red sides are quite coarse, while their gray sides are clearly more fine, as you can see,” he explained. “Then, the tenfurling fat, will keep it from getting too dry and brittle,” continued the salesman, until Rafe took the initiative by forcing his own words into the matter edgewise--a necessary course of action, so it seemed.

              The smith… Danegald?” His normally cheerful expression changed somewhat, and he shook his head. “Unfortunately, he’s got no proper heir, as his wife’s barren. He did have two apprentices. Tanner Berngill’s sons were actually studying under him, and they usually come to visit his shop. They went to pay their respects just a day after his passing, but never came back. Probably rest in that cabin now along with him. It all started when the smith found this big stone by the river. Said he’d try something new with it, but there must have been something bad in it. Only his wife is alive now, and Berngill said she’s different… changed. He’s been tight-lipped ever since he tried to go check on what happened to his sons. Think I heard him say that it’d be better to just burn the whole thing down to be rid of whatever Voidic influence still lingers within the home.

              If you’re looking for Berngill, he spends most of his days in the pub nowadays. Careful though, he doesn’t like to talk… mainly likes to drink. Actually, that’s sort of the general atmosphere around here right now. Might be the same until they finally get enough liquor in them to set that house ablaze. Good thing I don’t drink, or I might be in there with them too--and a lot poorer for it! So… speaking of which, these whetstones are only 10 gold a piece, a great deal!” exclaimed the clerk, taking a rather sharp turn back to the matter of his sales.
              Developer of Despair Labyrinth and primary GM of the PbP.


                Re: Wolves Among Sheep (Hafnium) GMed by Takimaru

                The church hunter could see why Ellia spoke well of the tool shop owner. He must've made her job simple. Rafe needed only to raise his eyebrows and act surprised as all the information he'd hoped to learn tumbled out of the other man's mouth with barely any coaxing. Not needing to charm, intimidate, or torture for every valuable piece of information he received was a nice change of pace. If every person he'd dealt with had been so useful, he might not have been so jaded about small, xenophobic towns in the first place. He'd probably have a lot less blood on his hands, too.

                Unfortunately, for as valuable as it was, the tool shop owner's story made this a far more complicated job than he'd hoped it would be. The void hunter put his hand to his chin in contemplation as the shopkeeper reverted to his sales pitch. Rafe had foolishly written the tanner's sons off as dead. It was a common thing for voidic powers to want sacrifices. Whether they wanted those sacrifices for fun, slavery, or a mixture of the two usually depended on whether it was a cultist or a demon in charge. But either would have the same result given long enough, and those rare survivors who were found were spirited away to become the church's problem instead.

                If it truly was voidic material though, the odds of them being dead became a coin flip. Voidic items had a tendency of getting their hooks into everybody within their effective proximity. They succumbed to their basest instincts until they were indistinguishable from demons, at least as far as Rafe was concerned. Trying to save them with anything other than the mercy of death was a fool's errand, especially since they had a tendency of attacking hunters who tried to take away the thing which had caused their condition. The whole thing meant he would need to make sure there were three bodies instead of just one. He couldn't ignore the rock or hope to fully it either, only to get it safely to Ellia's cart. The infestation needed to be meticulously removed or he'd be back in another few years.

                The void hunter shook himself out of his pondering after several long moments and slipped the cloth sack off his arm, allowing it to fall onto the shopkeeper's counter. He wanted to hammer out his plan further, but there was another detail in need of his attention right then. "A terrible thing for those families and your town. In times like these we can only hope for guidance, whether it's from Erion or drink," he played at solemnity before giving the clerk the sale he was seeking. "But a great deal. I'll take one," he remarked, but he would pull out twenty coins and lay them all out on the counter. In exchange, he collected his purchase and placed it into his sack before slinging the whole bundle back over his shoulder. "The extra is for your helpfulness. I may need more of it soon."

                He would excuse himself from the shop then, without much else to say to the clerk for the time being. The man's loose lips were a double-edged sword. They'd provided the hunter with valuable information and there was likely quite a bit more to pry away, but they'd also surely share the details of Rafe's visit to the entire town and he preferred to keep the overall number of those details as low as he could. Better to leave now and move on with his to-do list and then come back if he couldn't help it, although that had changed as well.

                Originally he had intended on going to Berngill next, but he couldn't see that yielding a positive result before his work that night was done. The drunken, disturbed tanner wasn't likely to take well to a mercenary questioning him. If Rafe explained that he was a church hunter it would probably go even worse. The grieving man might try to insert himself into the hunter's work, word might get out to the entire town before the night was done and invite bystanders, or his presence might embolden them into burning the house down immediately and making the successful removal of this infestation more difficult. And now that Rafe expected that might need to personally kill the man's sons.... It was just for the best that he approached Berngill afterward, if at all.

                So, he decided it was time to move straight to surveying the targeted house. Now that he'd spoken to the tool shop owner, he had a decent enough excuse to nose around on his own. After all, what was wrong with an outsider with a metalworking job who knew no better trying to get in contact with a blacksmith's widow? It wouldn't hurt to see what kind of windows and doors he was going to have to deal while there was still daylight either. He might even be able to get an idea of what he was going to be fighting that night, if he were lucky.


                  Re: Wolves Among Sheep (Hafnium) GMed by Takimaru

                  True, true. If Erion had a rival god, it might very well be less Tzern and more the bottle! Or perhaps they are one in the same,” mused the man aloud, though his eyes widened and even lit up a little when he saw the coin placed before him. “Ah, thank you! You should take a second, just in case,” he replied, offering another one of the stones. Rafe would be given the chance to collect another before quickly taking his leave, knowing that the window of opportunity by which to leave the shop without being trapped by another wave of words from the talkative shopkeeper was a small one.

                  A glance at the stones afterward would show Rafe that these ‘red roughbacks’ were quite natural looking, though largely unrefined... probably collected as they were. Still, the rocks’ inherent coarseness, of different degrees on each side, ensured him that they would be more than sufficient as whetstones nonetheless.

                  As the hunter approached the smith’s shop, he would find that the foliage around the home had grown out just a little past what appeared to be normal, though the exterior hadn’t quite gotten to the point of looking as though it had fallen into complete disuse just yet. It was a typically Brevnian timbered home, attached to a larger, enclosed area that very likely made up the forge. That portion of the building had no windows, outside of a small skylight placed up high, presumably just to let the barest minimum of light inside.

                  However, the house itself had several windows through which he could see. From the front, there was little to be seen. But as Rafe came around the home to check the side window, he would spot through the curtains the figure of a thin, lone woman from behind. She gently swayed from side to side, like a plant in the breeze, though the movement seemed quite unnatural for anyone who wasn’t troubled--or even deeply disturbed.

                  From the safe distance that Rafe watched, she didn’t appear to notice him quite yet, which might be for the better given that she appeared to be in some sort of trance. Then, he heard it; the odd, somewhat otherworldly wails she made, which were somewhat muffled by the home’s structure, but loud enough that his sharp ear could catch as much.

                  He couldn’t catch sight of any more bodies or figures within from where he was, though viewing the windows from the other side, since the woman’s back was turned, might catch her attention.
                  Developer of Despair Labyrinth and primary GM of the PbP.