Yeet saunters to the gates of Archendale, where he is stopped by a sentinel. “You, what’s your business here?”
“Oh, uh…” He stammers. Clearly he assumed a quick, unchecked passage into the largest and possibly the last secured city of the Dales. “I received a letter from the Silent Partner to meet here.” Immediately, the guard goes rigid, his eyes unfocus as if looking through the young hero, and his entire body slowly rotates to a point somewhere to the East. Three seconds pass, the guard snaps out of his spell and returns to face Yeet.
“Sorry, what’s your business here?”
“I… received a letter…” Yeet talks slowly, sensing something is off with the man across from him. “…from the… Silent Partner to…” Again, the guard goes rigid, his eyes glaze over, and turns his whole body towards the same point in the East. Three seconds pass yet again until the guard returns to focus on the traveler.
“Right. What’s your business in Archendale, traveler?”
“Business. I’m to go to the Stonebow Inn.”
“Ah, alright. Make sure you do keep to your business and keep off the streets come sundown.” The guard waves the young man through the arches and into the bustling market city behind them. Yeet makes his way through the maze of tradesmen and women, searching for a sign of the Inn.
A time later, a striking, young Tiefling woman approaches the Archendale gates and is stopped in the same manner by the guards. No stranger to being stopped or questioned in foreign lands, she happily offers her motive, “I am a traveling entertainer. Surely a large city such as yours may be in need of laughter in the evening?”
The guard chuckles and confirms, “Too right you are, miss. Troubled times as these, everyone could use a sunspot.” The Tiefling asks directions to the Old Stonebow Inn, “I heard it might be a good place to start.”
“Aye, oldest and wealthiest inn in town. You’re sure to find work if you can keep up with the crowd.” The guard points her uphill, “Mile or two in the city, on the left. Next!” He waves her through the gateway, stopping the farmer’s cart following down the road beyond the city walls.
In their own time, the two travelers seat themselves at separate areas in the Old Stonebow Inn. Yeet, sitting at the bar, is first to be approached by Jalia, the barmaid. Her yellow-white hair plaited and crowned her young head. “What can I do ya for, stranger? Beer, wine? We’ve got fresh chicken – butchered today – in the back.” She continues drying a flagon with her apron, giving the patron what might be considered a smile.
“I received a letter. I’m looking for…” Yeet hesitates. “…the Silent Partner.” Exactly as the guard outside the gate turned stiff, Jalia’s body seized as if by invisible ropes. She released her apron and brought the flagon down to her side. Her mind went slack while her body slowly rotated, until she faced a point in the far western wall of the common room. Three seconds passed and Jalia came to.
“I’m sorry, dear. What’ll you have? Beer, wine? We’ve got fresh chicken – butchered today – in the back.” She raised the flagon once more, returning to its drying.
“Beer and the chicken will be fine.” Yeet said gruffly to the woman as she nodded once and made towards the kitchens. In a sudden burst of irritation, Yeet climbed onto his barstool and called over the crowd, “I am looking for the Silent Partner. Can anyone –“ The jaunty common room crowd immediately fell silent. Exactly like the soldier and Jalia, everyone within earshot of Yeet’s call stood and turned their whole body towards the exact same spot in the western wall of the room.
In the usual three seconds of silence, Yeet noticed one patron still seated. She was a frightening sight to be sure, but at least she wasn’t staring at a wall. He dropped from the stool and sat down across from her as the zombified crowd unglued themselves from the wall and resumed their conversations. “You saw that, right?” Yeet confirmed to the unidentified woman. “How they got all weird and stared?” The tiefling nodded. “So why didn’t you?” She shrugged. Yeet leaned back in his chair, eyeing the strange beast-kin woman across from him. “Hmm. Might be because you’re…” he traced her outline with a quick flip of his wrist.
“Yeah, well, you’re –“ She mirrored the hand motion back at Yeet, audibly agitated at his obvious prejudice towards herself.
“Here you are,” Jalia butted in. “No mind the move. Glad you’ve found yourself a… friend.” Jalia paused and emphasized the last word, questioning the validity of the statement, as she set down a mug and plate in front of Yeet. “Anything I can get you, dear?” She turned towards the tiefling. “Beer, wine? We’ve got fresh chicken – butchered today – in the back.” The tiefling shook her head. The maid wiped her hand on her apron, turned on her heels, and made quick towards customers coming through the door.
“Do you know anything about this, uh, SP?” Yeet looked around to see if anyone in the room was affected by his words. Nothing out of the ordinary. “SP,” Yeet said more forcefully. Apart from a few perturbed glances from the folks at a neighboring table, nothing happened to the crowd.
“No, I just woke up with this note at the foot of my bed saying to come to the Old Stonebow Inn in Archendale. So I figured, why not? I’m Sriracha, by the way. Not that you asked.” Sriracha side-eyed Yeet as he stuffed his mouth with charred chicken pieces.
Together, they devised a plan on how to proceed. They decided they would pursue the “Silent Partner,” if at the very least as a means to discover a potential threat if not a sign of friendship.
“Follow my lead,” Yeet stood up and the two exited the inn. On the doorstep, he cupped his hands around his mouth. “Silent Partner!” His voice rang through the now-silent street while every body slowly turned eastward in that eerie cadence they’d seen before. “Come on,” Yeet said, though his words came out difficult, as if he had drink a pint too many. He shrugged off the sensation and took the lead heading up the busy road.
Every few blocks, Yeet called out “Silent Partner” to the crowd. Watching the townspeople’s synchronized dance no longer bothered the two travelers. They followed blank stares right to the doorstep of a scribe’s shop. By this time, Yeet’s tongue was thick in his mouth and was slow to respond to his thoughts.
They were greeted by a tall, lanky, sallow sort of fellow. “We have all manner of parchment, vellum, inks, quills, paints, and journals. Have a look around. If you need something, just call for Astle.” The pale man took his usual place behind the glass case near the back of the store.
The travelers wasted no time. Yeet leaned over the glass counter to be out of earshot of the store’s other patrons, “We’re here to see the Silent Partner.” Astle grew rigid and slowly turned. Sriracha and Yeet both sighed and rolled their eyes having grown irritated by this continued reaction. “HA!” The man laughed. Yeet and Sriracha jumped, perplexed that he was somehow immune to the word’s effects. “Thought you had me there, eh? A bit of fun I sometimes like to have with the adventurers every now and then. Not me, won’t find me staring off at walls, silent as the crypt.” He shivered; a shiver in a body so thin and long it was an awkward sight – like the yellow parchment scrolls hanging on the line just behind the man’s head.
“Anyways, you’ll probably want to see him. Back here,” Astle cocked a thumb over his shoulder. For the first time, the party saw a large, purple tapestry hanging from the rafters. Black and purple swirls embroidered the edges of the tapestry. Among the whirls and patterns shined a bold, white face in the middle with black features. It took on a menacing appearance, like the antagonist an actor might wear on stage. Astle pulled the tapestry aside to reveal a darkened tunnel.
The adventurers followed Astle into the tunnel. The floor sloped and the smell of dirt filled the air. The party was moving deeper underground, but the aisle was fairly well-lit. The tunnel emptied out into a circular room, with an oculus illuminating the space. A man sat on the ground in the center of the light. The party took a minute to take in the man’s appearance: well aged, completely bald, and whose skin was covered in tattoos. The sitting man templed his fingers together and slightly bowed his head towards the visitors in greeting.
“Did you send us these messages? We both got one.” Yeet forced the parchment into the man’s face. He gestured towards himself, nodded, and smiled wide. “Okay, so why? Who are you? How did you get these letters into our sleeping rolls over night? Why does everyone freak out when we say ‘Silent Partner?’” Yeet pelted the man with questions, growing increasingly agitated. The tattooed man looked around the paper still hanging from Yeet’s outstretched hand, beyond Yeet.
“Oh, right.” Astle took a long pace towards the center of the light, flanking the party and the seated man. The man gesticulated wildly, sending shadows around the room at odd angles. The light flickering beneath him, illuminating flesh in intervals that seemed to make his various tattoos leap from their canvas and dance. “Right, so, you need to calm down,” Astle interpreted flatly. “His hands will fall off their wrists if you expect him to answer as quick as you ask. Pick something and be patient.”
The two adventurers glanced at each other. “Silent Partner, got it,” Sriracha chuckled. She nodded towards the seated man.
Yeet cleared his throat and exhaled to recompose. “Why did you summon us here?”
“Because I needed to talk to you,” Astle interpreted the flurry of gesticulations. “You’re hardheaded and untrusting, so a mystery message seemed the best way to convince you to come.” Yeet narrowed his eyes, though he knew the man’s words to be true. Curiosity had convinced him to enter Archendale.
“This is messed up! You come into our camps, our separate camps and lead us to a crazy city under some ridiculous zombie spell…” The words came out garbled and awkward. The tattooed man closed his eyes and mind to Yeet’s barrage of insults, slurs, and outright whining. On the young man rambled, seemingly without stopping for a breath. In his meditative space, the tattooed man once again pondered the frivolity of spoken communication.
“Sir,” Astle bent down to the man’s ear level. “He’s done, I think. Though it appears he does not – think, that is.” The seated man’s eyes popped open and Astle returned to his full stature. Yeet gaped as the man woke up? A rudeness unlike any other! Yeet decided. He made to turn for the door.
“You are angry and confused,” Astle’s voice rang in the silence while the light danced against the man’s chest. “because you don’t know why you’re here, where you’re going, or even who you pray to.” Yeet stopped immediately. The silence of the room darkened.
“What do you know that I don’t know?” Yeet looked towards the man over his shoulder, speaking slowly so his words could be understood.
“Plenty,” Astle chuckled. Yeet’s face screwed up once more. “But you have to know which questions to ask and which questions will get you killed.” The tattooed man slapped his knee and his whole body shook in an inaudible but visible laughter. Eventually, Astle resumed translating, “If you’re going to learn anything, you first have to learn who it is that answers your call, wouldn’t you agree? Your mind is bifurcated just like your questions, just like your answers. Isn’t it time you got a straight answer?”
Yeet stepped towards the man once more. “Where,” he asked flatly with an intensity yet unwitnessed by Sriracha.
“There is a temple outside the Dales. Beyond the trees, before the mountains, North West of this place. It will be a long journey, but one well worth its payoff.”
The party decided it was time to leave the underground dwelling. Ascending into the fresher air of the storefront, they noticed the sky was beginning to grey. “Well, that’s hours, then. Off you go,” Astle shooed them to and through the shop door and out onto the street. “Better find yourself somewhere to be before dark,” Astle reminded them. “City’s orders and all.” With that, he shut the door. The party heard the latches slide in place as they turned around and realized they were one of the few people still outdoors. The others shuffled swiftly and quietly to their destinations, one not even stopping to retrieve a dropped item.
Not knowing the area well, the party decided to return to the Stonebow Inn.
“Twelve gold for the night,” Jalia said flatly, moping up a spill on the bar with a clean towel. When the party raised some issues with the cost, Jalia shrugged. “That’s the price of business nowadays. Take it or leave it. Besides, we’ve only got the one room left and it’s the biggest in the house.”
“Which room is it?” Yeet squinted at her.
Jalia stared at them blankly. “What’s wrong with him?” The first genuine smile came across Jalia’s face as she thrust her thumb in Yeet’s face.
Yeet tried again, “Which room?”
Jalia laughed outright and looked at Sriracha. “What is it you need?”
“A room. How much and which one is it?” Sriracha asked.
“Over there, second floor, facing the main. It’s still twelve gold.” Jalia pointed towards a hallway in which no door was visible from below. “Like I said, take it or you’ll have to leave as there’s no other rooms available.” The party took issue with the prices once more. “Look, I don’t have to explain anything to the likes of you.” She glanced over the party with an expression as if a waft of something sour passed her nose. “Things are the way they are. If you don’t want to pay the price it costs to sleep comfortably in perhaps the last safe city in all the Dales, then leave. In fact, I’d prefer it if you did.” She motioned for a man at the door. “I’m sure there’s a house somewhere that might take you in. But you better hurry, the sun’s almost down.”
Yeet grabbed Sriracha’s arm and the two bent their heads together. “I’m not paying these outrageous prices, I don’t care who that woman is.”
“But we can’t risk wandering around in the streets,” Sriracha reminded her unlikely partner.
“Follow my lead and be prepared to move quickly.” Sriracha nodded in agreement.
“Maid, can we please get a few ales over here?” He waved at Jalia and pointed towards an unoccupied table. Jalia fanned her hand as if to say, “I still can’t understand a word you say, fool!” And continued her conversation with the customers at the bar.
Exasperated, Yeet yelled “Silent Partner!” above the crowded common room as ably as possible. All the attendees stood up and faced the western wall in chorus. Immediately, the party hurried towards the vacant room. Sriracha was keen enough to grab the room key off the wall hook beyond the bar behind Jalia.
With several more “Silent Partner” shouts, the two entered the vacant room. They listened at the locked door as the hallway once again filled with the bustle and raucousness of the floor below. Neither could speak well enough for the other to understand. Whatever spell held the townspeople hostage to hearing the Silent Partner’s name, it also held some sway over the speaker. At a loss for words, the two decided to sleep for the night.
Sheer luck allowed the party to sleep undisturbed and undiscovered through the night. They were awaken by a sharp rap on a door just down the hall. “Morning service,” a small, female voice echoed. Sriracha estimated her to be about four doors down from their own.
“Crap, we’ve got to get out of here,” Yeet flung himself from the bed. His tongue was still slow, but at least he could form words.
“There’s a window,” Sriracha pointed. A large bay window with a small balcony let in the morning sun. About twelve feet below was the main street, already busied by two dozen or so bodies. “We could jump and run for it.”
Another sharp knock from beyond the only door of the suite. “Morning service,” called the same polite voice, closer this time. Three doors away.
“I don’t think jumping two stories onto a main road is the best thing. And, ultimately, I don’t think I could do it. I’m not built like uh…” Yeet motioned towards Sriracha’s lower half. Sriracha huffed in reply. “Help me tie up these sheets.” He pulled the top blankets from the bed, handing one to Sriracha.
“Oh, right, because that’s somehow less conspicuous than just jumping down.” Sriracha’s tongue was also slow this morning, but it was still just as sharp.
Another quick knock beyond the door, “Morning service.” Two doors away.
“If we don’t get out of here, the maid’s going to find us. Just help me with the sheets and let’s get out of here. We know we’ve got to find some temple Northwest of here, that’s all we need to know. Mr. Tattoo wasn’t all that helpful, turns out.” Yeet began knotting his blanket with the blanket Sriracha wouldn’t take.
“There might be more here, though. We could just let her find us and we can pay up what we owe.”
Yeet paused for a minute, crouched over the blankets. He looked up at her. “Oh, and you’re going to pay it? Who’s to say they don’t take out the payment some other way? You’ve got more money than I do, I’m sure you’ve enough, but not me.” Yeet yanked the blankets taught, the knot was tied.
“Fine.” Sriracha cleared the space and opened the window into the room. The fresh spring air filled the room, wafting sweet smells from below – baked goods, fruits, and the perfume of the flowers from the window boxes surrounding the small balcony. Without looking back a Yeet, Sriracha stepped onto the windowsill and dropped to the street below.
Yeet gasp, but didn’t have time to fully consider Sriracha as he heard the small voice call “Morning service” while knocking on the neighboring door. “Shit, shit, shit.” Yeet focused fully on knotting a sheet to the blanket chain, and another sheet to a bedpost. He struggled to push the bed as close to the window to anchor his descent.
He paused to look down. He saw Sriracha just below, waving him on. Evidently, the sudden appearance of a tiefling on the road had shied away the majority of the morning busybodies. “Right, this is it.” Yeet stepped onto the sill and tested the anchor by pulling the sheets in his hand tightly. “Not perfect, but it’ll do the job.” Yeet leaned backwards, preparing for his fist push to rappel down.
A quick knock at the door, “Morning service.” The housemaid opened the room’s wooden door. She looked up just in time to see Yeet’s lower half balancing on the windowsill. The maid squealed in her surprise. She barreled over the misplaced furniture and poured herself out of the window just as Yeet jumped.
Below, the maid saw the man fall flat on the street and a tiefling rolling him over by his arm. She called out the window, “Thieves! Guards! Thieves from the Stonebow!” Pointing down at the two.
“Get up, you idiot!” Sriracha rolled Yeet over. His head was split, blood tricking from his forehead and his nose. “What kind of idiot jumps from a window to land flat on his face in the middle of – the guards are coming!” Roughly, she willed Yeet to his feet and began to half-drag the man away from the scene.
“Wait,” Yeet panted. He held up his free arm above them and placed it on his contorted shoulder. Instantly, his injuries lessened and the blood stopped flowing. The strength of his legs returned and he took his arm back from around Sriracha. “I’m good; let’s get out of here.”
The party made to turn around the side of the Stonebow Inn, but instead a pair of soldiers blocked the way, their arms reaching for the two. “Silent Partner!” Sriracha called over her shoulder as they turned back onto the main road. Soldiers and merchants alike lined the street, as if daring them to flee their way once they snapped back. The soldiers behind them closed in. Jalia finally came forth, “Stowaways! From my inn!” More soldiers galloped towards the party, hearing Jalia’s shouts.
“Silent Partner,” Yeet called over the crowd. Everyone froze but a single guard. Unphased by his comrades in arms, the soldier continued to pursue the thieves. He caught Yeet, the slower of the two from his fall, and bound his hands behind his back. “You have no idea who you’ve messed with, boy.” The soldier rasped in his ear while pushing him towards the Inn’s door.
Sriracha reluctantly followed her captive friend into the Old Stonebow, seeing the other patrons running out of it. If at the very least, she thought, it could make for a good story to sing later for coin. The soldier roughly forced Yeet into a stool while Jalia took her usual place behind the bar. “For stowaways, it’ll be twenty coin or a kneecap. What form a payment would you like to put forth?” Yeet and Sriracha quickly traded glances.
“Twenty pieces!?” Sriracha yelled, “Last night it was twelve and even then, greatly over-priced!”
“Yeah, well, last night it would’ve been square. This morning, it cost me to uphold a reputation.” Jalia squared her stance and crossed her arms over her chest.
Yeet droned on a bit about how “this dump isn’t worth the price” and “gold doesn’t grow on trees” and “how dare she” and something about “price gauging,” but no one paid much mind to it.
“I’ve told you before I don’t have to explain anything to the likes of you. But for some reason, you’re not understanding how things run here. Either I get my gold or I get my kneecap. Frankly, I have to clean the room anyway and I’d rather add to my collection.”
A flurry of insults erupted from Yeet, the each one more threatening in than the last. Jalia, quick as lightning, leaned over the bar and slammed her entire arm through Yeet’s face. Yeet fell off the stool in the direction of Jalia’s left hook. For the second time that morning, Sriracha found herself looking over Yeet whose face was in the ground. “Here,” Sriracha pulled the payment out of her purse and gently placed the balance on the bar. “We’ll be going now.”
“See as you do. To the other side of the wall with you!” She motioned for the guard, “Please escort them out of Archendale. They clearly do not belong in civilized society.” Sriracha lifted one of Yeet’s arms while the soldier lifted his other. Together, they dragged him the half mile to the city archway and main gate.
“Pity,” commented a sentinel on watch. “But law is law. Can’t let coyotes in with the wolves, can you?” The other guardsmen around him laughed as Sriracha stumbled under Yeet’s full. Weight. They made it off the road just in time from being trampled by a market cart entering the city.
Yeet lay heavily on the ground, still unconscious.
“Guess we’ll have to make camp here for a while,” Sriracha shook her head at the audacity of this bitch.