Thick fog rolled into The Cracked Chalice as yet another hooded man stepped in from the outside. It would have been strange to not wear a cloak in this weather- cold and wet- but traveling alone was slightly less common. Still, another paying customer was always a good thing. Carolyn could see the man’s salt-and-pepper hair under the hood as well as his dour expression. “Rooms are five coppers a night. Seven with dinner.” The man grunted and dropped seven coppers onto the table. “Right then,” Carolyn took a key from behind her, “Room’s at the end of the hall.”
The man grunted again, then went and sat at the tables in the common room, off to the side. She didn’t blame him for wanting to sit off by himself- the rest of the place was filled with Scoubar soldiers. They were a bit rowdy, but that was the way soldiers were. She didn’t have much choice about hosting them anyway. Dalgare was completely occupied by Scoubar now. Besides, it didn’t make much difference which country the soldiers were from. Not that everyone felt the same way- some people had deaths in the family, but just as many had soldiers ransomed back home for a reasonable price. For the common folk, Scoubar’s occupation just meant a change in rulers.
At least the soldiers paid a reasonable rate to stay at the inn. Carolyn couldn’t have stopped them from just doing as they pleased. It wasn’t as much as if she’d had a full inn of normal customers… but that rarely happened. Instead, the guaranteed income was worthwhile. Before long, they’d move on and more customers would come in… soldiers or not.
Since there were so many customers, Carolyn took some of the serving duties upon herself, passing out cheap ale and filling bowls with stew- the easiest meal to make in large quantities. The gruff man just grunted when he received his, but he was far from the rudest customer she had served… and he’d already paid. After a busy evening, Carolyn turned in for the night, never expecting what she would find in the morning.
She didn’t notice anything was wrong until she’d swept the common room and made breakfast. A few customers trickled down, either ordering breakfast or just moving on. However, it was getting a bit later and no soldiers had come down yet… and whether they were travelling or staying in town for a few days they would always wake bright and early. She was beginning to become suspicious when she heard a shriek from up the stairs, then the thudding of footsteps as the serving girl rushed down the stairs and into view. “Miss Carolyn!” the serving girl was hyperventilating, barely able to get out words, “The soldiers… they’re… they’re…”
Carolyn didn’t wait for the serving girl to finish her sentence- she was already headed up the stairs. It was best she saw for herself. She steeled herself as she stepped into the open room. One soldiers was still in bed, covered in blood around the neck, but another was facedown on the floor in a pool of blood. The next room had more dead soldiers, and that was when Carolyn noticed that, beyond having their throats slit, their tongues had also been cut out. Some of them had died in their beds, but others had moved about… but she hadn’t heard a single sound.
An hour later a captain from a different group of Scoubar soldiers was questioning Carolyn about all the guests that had been staying with them. She described them as best as she could- looking over the guestbook, there were only a handful of non-soldiers who had been staying.
To the north, there was also fog. In fact, fog seemed to be a more regular occurrence than Lucy would have expected… except that it was magical. Because of that, it mostly stayed to the outside of the village. So far, her stay at Briarspring had been pleasant, though many of the village’s residents were still cautious around her… and she was the same around them. It was hard to imagine a place with peoples both small and tall living together, but it was indeed the case. Not that there were very many people to begin with. A couple dozen fey lived in Briarspring, a few gnomes like Thicket and more pixies like the mayoress Tilia.
For the first few weeks, Lucy had carefully watched everything she ate and touched for traces of magic. Sometimes the food had magic lingering on it, but she soon came to learn that was just part of it growing in the area. She went to visit different parts of the little village including the farm which grew mushrooms and berries and a few different kinds of fruit trees. However, besides pulling out weeds there seemed to be very little work to do on the farm at the moment, though she did help tend to some animals.
The farm was tended to by a pair of nixies, fey who were about half the height of a human, who lived in the river and had webbed fingers and blueish green skin. Lucy didn’t exactly understand what they said as they explained everything- they spoke in the language of magic which she was realizing she only knew the very basics of. Certainly, she hadn’t ever spoken it as a language, merely using it to create magical effects as she wished. Now, she was learning… though names for different sorts of berries didn’t seem like they would be important they were still part of the language overall.
The clothes of the nixies repelled water in such a way that when they stepped onto land most of the water fell off of them- though some lingered on their skin. They seemed to function just fine on land for a few hours at a time, though they obviously enjoyed being in the water as well.
The animals that the nixies raised were squirrels and rabbits and birds of various sorts. No cows and pigs, though Lucy later learned that larger villages sometimes raised boar and deer as well. In the end, they weren’t that different from humans. At least, they made their home into a place suited for them, they just happened to prefer settings that looked natural on the surface… but certainly wouldn’t have been the same way without them. For example. Tilia’s home was carved out of a giant willow… still alive, but perhaps it would not have stayed that way without the use of magic. The entire village was held together by magic, and it was quite a sight to see. Lucy was learning a lot… and though she didn’t feel any magical forces compelling her to stay, she could see why people might not want to leave a fey village… if they had the chance. It was so peaceful and refreshing.