You’d think an apple town would be easy to find, but no, I guess all the maps were wrong or something, and then all the travelers I questioned on the way kept giving me bad directions. Despite these stellar instances of incompetence, though, I made it. There were posters tacked up on a few bulletin boards and buildings about needing adventurers to handle the monster problem this place was having, all of them directing interested parties to talk with the mayor.
It had been late when I’d arrived and no reputable mayor was going to entertain a disreputable hooded figure in the equally disreputable late evening, plus I was tired, so I made my way over to a pair of inns. They were across the street from each other, each jangling with activity and hoping to take the bulk of the night’s business. The Green Mug and the Inn and the Out both were about what you’d expect from a small town: alike, owned by different people who had a years-long rivalry with each other. The Green Mug was packed, probably because of the musician. He looked somewhere in his forties and appeared to be leading the crowd through reels, jigs, marches, whatever it is you play on bagpipes. I know there’s a difference, I just can’t remember it.
I didn’t have the money for a room since I’d used up the last of my coin getting to this benighted apple haven, so I loitered in the alley next to the Green Mug, absorbing the sounds. I had a crust leftover from lunch and also a copy of Octakiserys’ poems on summer, and it was a pleasant enough way to spend an evening.
Until everything caught on fire.
Apparently, the kobold problem was worse than anticipated. I commend the town asking for help with that, because it was very much not under control. The kobolds were carrying torches, setting homes and businesses aflame, and then running off with assorted valuables. If this is something that happens regularly, you’d think maybe the town guard would be better equipped to deal with it, but no: two very clueless dudes came out and tried to spear a group of kobolds to no effect. They seemed to forget that kobolds are in fact not person-height. I’m not going to sugarcoat it: it was a disgrace and I was embarrassed for them.
Then this guy with black horns spouting out of his forehead punched a kobold in the neck. He seemed genuinely sorry to be doing it, too, which was weird. And he was accompanied by the bagpiper from the Green Mug, both in battle and also musically. It seemed like the duo had it pretty much in hand, so I watched. There’s something to be said about not sticking your nose into every scuffle. But there was something really sad about the way the guards winced whenever the piper or the horn guy got hit, like the men had signed up to be town guard but hadn’t envisioned that it would involve fighting or being in actual physical danger.
Eventually, the bard took enough hits to look like he was in a pretty sorry state and peaced out through a window, while Mr. Horns kept placidly punching things. I was settling in for some good, clean entertainment, and that’s when one of the kobolds stabbed a guard in the eye.
That was it. I was moving before I could think about it: slicing and dicing with my rapier and shortsword. The crowd jeered and no one was doing anything and that just made me angrier. That poor guy probably had a family. Maybe everyone in apple towns is just very stoic, maybe this happens all the time, maybe they just– I don’t know. It was a lot to sort out in my head, so I expressed myself with weaponry. That was much better.
Then things got weird. Mr. Horns took a stab too many and fainted, and the other guard ran off (honestly for the best), leaving only me against four or five kobolds. A small voice in the back of my head entertained the idea that I had done something incredibly stupid leaving that alleyway, that it was exactly this sort of dumb being-kind-to-people stuff that got perfectly competent people like me killed, when out of the building that the bard had crashed into came the most terrible insult I’d ever heard in my colorful life.
It was so bad that the kobold it was directed at just straight up died.
I blinked. Yeah, it was really dead. Stone-cold R.I.P. Yikes.
I weighed my options. Attack and minimize the kobold threat seemed like the only sensible thing to do. They only had one target (yours truly) and a good tactician would limit the amount of potential harm. It was just that… Mr. Horns wasn’t looking very good. Like, he wasn’t moving, was beat to hell, and a kobold had even poked him another time with a sword after he’d fallen for good measure.
But, tough nuggets. That’s the law of the streets: you take care of yourself first and then you save people to extort favors from later.
Except that one guard had taken a blade to the pupil because I’d valued my own safety over actually doing something. Ugh.
So, as discreetly as I could, I tapped a hand on Mr. Horns and did my little healing trick. Hopefully no one noticed, or maybe they just thought he’d been knocked silly for a few moments and then came back to himself, as strange vaguely draconic people are maybe wont to do.
And okay, that ended up being not a tactically sound move on the part of yours truly at all– I got beaten on by kobolds and it hurt a lot. But the bard played a rousing BRRRMPH of something on his pipes, and then the newly reinvigorated Mr. Horns resumed socking kobolds in the throat. A dagger even zinged out from somewhere in the crowd of onlookers and knocked a kobold out cold. I didn’t catch where from, since I was understandably in the middle of a melee, but it was a beautiful throw from that kind of distance. Clearly someone else around here knows what’s up.
I can’t say that no one else was helping: some kobolds also looked a little frost-bitten, which did not seem normal given the summertime weather. Someone with magic had gotten to a few of them and made the threat less dire for me, the bard, and Mr. Horns.
Seeing the tide of battle turned on them, the last few kobiolds tried to escape but Mr. Horns and I got them. A satisfying conclusion to one hot mess.
After the fight, I was rifling through the bodies’ pockets for change, trinkets, weapons, anything of value, the usual, when the bard made a disgusted noise behind me. I narrowed my eyes underneath my hood. Guy kills a kobold with some mean words and then takes issue with me searching a corpse? That’s not very metal of you, old dude.
But whatever. If you’re too highborn to get your hands dirty, then I’ll gladly take your share.
Mr. Horns was still banged up pretty badly. I’m good in a pinch, but’s not like I specialized in being spookily medical or anything. Dude actually needed either a good rest or a healer or both. He’d acted immediately when the townspeople had yelled for help, and as he was looking at the wounds on his shoulder and side with a small, sad ah-this-again expression, I wondered whether the townspeople would be too scared of him to offer him any aid for free later.
Money, as anyone who’s had to live without it knows, can work wonders to make people like you.
I slapped a silver into his palm from the kobolds, told him to get fixed up, and left. He kept asking people if they needed help and got involved with putting out fires, the bard played another jaunty tune to motivate everyone, and even a magic-user applied his arts to douse the remaining blazes. Elsewhere, a twiggy looking gnome healed the guy who’d taken a sword to the eyeball and a part of me released a breath. Good.
I stuck to the alley, injured, tired, and waiting for the town to return to some level of calm again. My one remaining silver was enough to purchase me a room at the Green Mug, and the horned dragon-ish guy, killer insult bard, icy sorcerer, and two gnomes– one kind of looking like she wanted to blend in and the earlier twiggy one– were also there. Some asked the innkeeper about the mayor, where she’d been in the conflict. Turns out no one had been able to find her, which, in my professional opinion, is a bad sign.
The innkeeper served drinks, then promised us porridge and bacon for tomorrow. I haven’t had bacon in weeks. The group seems interested in pursuing the monsters per the advertisements in town. Since I imagined the monsters are tied to the magical prize apple of Appleton somehow, I said I’d look after the party, at least for the time being.
It’s not like I can find out more about this healing apple alone, and it’s also not like anyone has to know I have a motive other than a fat purse of coins. They’ll just look at me and see exactly what that bard saw: a young thief hungry for gold. Good. It’ll just make my work that much easier.