Gavin and Raelle walked into the tavern proper, locking the door to their room behind them. The villagers had cleared out for the evening, and a burly man stood behind the bar, swabbing the floor with a mop. Raelle had been thinking she would ask Bri about someone who delved in mystic energies in the town, but she was no where to be found. The man looked up from his mopping and glared at them. Raelle gulped in fear inwardly, but found the courage to mutter a weak-voiced "Ummm.. hello... there."
"You must be the... /guests/... in room three."
"Ummm, that's right."
"My sister told me there was only /one/. A girl. Alone." The man's words became no more inviting, and as his penetrating stare turned to Gavin, he too, showed signs of nervousness.
"Well, uhh, he's..."
"No matter. Have a seat. Please." The "please" seemed like an afterthought.
Gavin and Raelle exchanged nervous glances and took seats at the bar, feeling that it was less of an invitation and more of an order.
"So... uhhh.... you're Bri's brother? Who owns the inn here?"
"Yes. My name is Chet."
"Nice to meet you... Chet..."
"Have something to drink... it's the Hollowed Oak's special brew."
"Thanks... Chet." Raelle paused as she received the mug handed to her, and spoke again. "Errmm, we were wondering if there was anyone in Wystbough who knew about spiritual matters... you see... ummm..."
"Peval. Has his setup at the east end of town."
"Oh... great.... thanks!" Raelle stood up sharply, and forced a smile. "We'd better get to him before he settles in for the night, eh Gav?"
"Uhhhh... right!" Gavin said after quickly gulping down the swig of beer he had in his mouth. He set the mug down and stood up with Raelle. "Thanks for the brew, though, it was delicious! Let's get going, then!"
"Good luck." Chet's deep voice seemed ironically ominous.
They actually ran into Peval outside of his small tower. It was fairly hard to miss him, as he was dressed in layers of robes of charcoal grey and black, quite opposite the lightly outfitted citizens that walked the streets. He also wore a red headband with what looked like a deformed sideways water droplet painted on it. He bore a friendly smile as he talked to them.
"Yes, I know quite a few things about spiritual matters," he said in response to Raelle's inquiry. Gavin gave a small hiccup.
"I need some help with something," Raelle began.
"I am always here for those in need, especially with spiritual concerns, my dear. Many have lost their way in life, are unsure where to go, or possibly have just started giving a lot of thought to the deeper meanings of existence. It is natural to seek assistance with matters of the soul."
"Er, well, I'm not trying to figure out who I am or anything like that. Just, something happened... I have a thing, and it was one way, and now it's another, and I think it's broke, but I don't know how to fix it."
Peval furrowed his brow and looked at Raelle intently, and then at Gavin.
"Oh, don't mind him, he just had some bee..." she started to say quickly, but Peval thrust out his hand and placed it on her shoulder, giving Gavin a sympathetic look. (/Hic!/)
"Child," he said deeply, "I know that it can be difficult, especially for young people, but I think you've come to the wrong place. Our order can do nothing for sterility or incompatibility. It may just be that you two will never be able to have children."
By the time he was through, both Gavin and Raelle were a deep shade of red. Gavin had even stopped hiccuping for a moment. Both were looking at each other and shaking their heads and their hands.
"No no! It's not that!" they were both saying at once.
"Er, ah, maybe I had just best show you," Raelle said. Hic! Hic!
"Hmm, step inside then with me, if it's a sensitive matter. We will see if I can be of any help."
Hic! Hic! Hic!
Raelle nodded, and Peval opened the door to his tower (/Hic!/) and they stepped inside. As they walked through a short passageway, Raelle pulled the amulet from her pocket and was holding it in front of her when (/Hic!/) they reached the central chamber. She and Peval gasped at the same time, she looking at the decorations on the walls and ceilings, and Peval looking at her amulet.
The chamber had about a dozen acolytes (/Hic!/) standing about, all also wearing red headbands with a black symbol on it. At second glance, Gavin realized (/Hic!/) it looked more like a sideways feather, minus the stalk. It certainly would explain (/Hic!/) the tapestries and paintings of large predatorial birds shanging about the place.
"Falcon!" Raelle cried at the same time that Peval cried, "Tanuki!"
"Fal/hic/con"? Gavin asked. But in answer, Raelle darted back through the passage.
Peval, realizing he had acted too slowly, reached out and grabbed Gavin by the arm. Recognizing danger finally, Gavin twisted (/Hic!/) and pushed the older priest headfirst into a wall. He staggered a bit himself, one hand clutching his skull, the other grabbing a chair for support, and then he was gone after Raelle.
After a moment or two, a loud "After them!" was heard from inside.
Gavin had caught up to Raelle remarkably fast, faster than he normally would have been able to. She seemed winded. "Don't tell me you can't run now either?" She just gave him a look.
"Ok ok," he said, looking behind him. Many of the acolytes had emerged from the tower. Most had weapons. "We might not be able to outrun them. Maybe we can lose them."
Raelle pointed at a gap between buildings. "There," she said. They both left the road and dashed between the buildings, only to find themselves looking at a vast tract of farmland. The setting sun still provided plenty of illumination to track two fleeing figures. "Argh, we'll never lose them out there," she said. Gavin pulled her along the back sides of the town buildings, looking for another way.
Suddenly, a few seemingly ordinary planks of wood swung out in front of them and a large arm reached out and scooped them both into the new opening. The planks swung back into place, perfectly masking their path. They found themselves inside a dark room. A single candle burned, held carefully by a large hand that was connected to a person they recognized.
Chet looked at them sternly and put a finger to his lips. He led them down a hall into what appeared to be the keg room at the inn. "I figured you'd get into trouble with those ears of yours," he said gruffly, looking sideways at Raelle.
"Nothing wrong with my ears," Raelle said defensively.
"What's going on?" Gavin asked in a hushed tone. "Falcon? I think those guys definitely had some feathers or something. Stupid curse."
Raelle half giggled. "Well I guess it wasn't the beer after all. Falcon is a long time enemy of Tanuki."
"Tanuki, eh?" Chet said. "No wonder. I better keep you guys somewhere safe tonight."
"Safe?" Raelle asked, but Chet was already manipulating a spigot on one of the large kegs. It swung upward, revealing that the barrel had nothing in it. Instead, it had some steps leading down into a basement of some sorts.
"After you," Chet said in that tone of voice that assumed cooperation.
Raelle and Gavin stepped in and followed the steps down. The cellar had an odd smell, and as they walked further down, sounds of scratching and chittering became more apparent.
They got to the bottom and Chet followed after with his candle. At the bottom, Chet used it to light a larger lamp, and Gavin and Raelle could easily see what was causing the noises.
A large plethora of rodents of various types and sizes scurried about what looked like the beginnings of a cave of some sort.
"This here's the Field Mouse Underground Railroad," Chet said in explanation. "Though, of course, there's more'n just field mice here."
Gavin and Raelle were somewhat speechless at that point, looking around at the mice, rats, and occasional gerbil. Chet pulled some crumbs from his pocket and tossed them out, an uncharactaristic smile on his face.
"They really shouldn't stick around here," he said. "I dunno what the cute little guys like about the place." He scooped up one white rat and held it gently in his palm, petting it gently. "Anyway," he continued, "you guys should hang out down here until those Falcon guys give up the chase."
"Yeah..." Raelle said, looking around them for a place to sit that didn't already have fur and a tail.
"Um, I have a bag up in the room, could you..."
"Already brought it down," Chet said, reaching under the stairs and pulling it out.
"Where's this go?" Raelle asked, peering into the deeper parts of the cave.
"The cave system runs all the way to Gastopan," he said, setting down the rat. "Falcon guys don't know anything about it. They hate it underground."
"Is it safe?" Gavin asked, noting that it wasn't exactly set up with any lighting system.
"No predators, if that's what you mean. Can't speak for..." he was cut off by a muffled banging from up the stairs.
"Hang on, that's probably Peval's crew. Let me go get rid of them." He took his candle, but left the lamp, and trotted back up the stairs.
Gavin and Raelle stood in nervous silence for several minutes, straining to hear up the stairwell. After a time they heard some voices.
"I'm telling you, they checked out earlier. Haven't seen them since. I don't know what this pendant crap is you're talking about either. Now I don't appreciate you guys poking around this place like you own it. I'm giving you thirty seconds to get out of here or I'm not gonna give room and board to yer pilgrims agai... hey, get away from that!"
"Look at this, Elder!" another voice cried. Something creaked and the noises became less muffled.
"I said get away from that you feathered freak!" Then there was a roar, and crashing, and screams.
Gavin and Raelle looked at each other, and nodded. They did not want to wait around to see how the fight above would turn out. Gavin picked up his bag, and Raelle took the lamp, and they set off into the darkness of the cave.
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