“Explain to me again what we’re doing?” I ask Norman. It’s been almost fifteen minutes since we killed somebody so I haven’t been paying attention.
Norman holds up a cardboard box and shows it to me. “New Shoe Lou – or whatever that idiot’s name is – gave us this box. He said to go into the Jangolode mine, walk to the back, and get in the box.”
“I thought we were investigating a murder? Why are we moving into a cardboard box?”
“I guess we’re supposed to spy on somebody? Look, I have no idea. I’m just happy that for once we’re going to go into a mine without needing to fight dozens of …”
“… kobolds.” Norman hangs his head in defeat. “Do we have ANY mines that AREN’T kobold cities?”
Since this is some sort of police stakeout, we inconspicuously murder our way through the tunnels, leaving a clandestine pile of mutilated kobold corpses in our wake.
Eventually we reach the back of the cave. Norman unfolds the box, and we slip inside.
An ogre shows up. And a woman made entirely of shadow. Thinking they are alone, they talk shop …
Glubtok says: What little humie want? Why you call Glubtok?
Shadowy Figure says: Sad... Is this the life you had hoped for, Glubtok? Running two-bit extortion operations out of a cave?
Glubtok says: Glubtok crush you!
Shadowy Figure says: Oh will you? Do you dare cross that line and risk your life?
Shadowy Figure says: You may attempt to kill me - and fail - or you may take option two.
Glubtok says: What option two?
Shadowy Figure says: You join me and I shower wealth and power upon you.
Glubtok says: So Glubtok have two choices: die or be rich and powerful?
Glubtok says: Glubtok take choice two.
Shadowy Figure says: I thought you'd see it my way.
Shadowy Figure says: I will call for you when the dawning is upon us.
The idiots finish up and leave, and Norman and I climb out of our box.
“I can’t believe this. They didn’t say anything about the murder we’re supposedly investigating,” Norman says once the conspirators have left.
“I can’t believe they didn’t discuss the carpet of dead kobolds they had to walk on to get in here. You’d think they’d notice something like that.”
We head back to Blue Shoe Lou and Norman tries to set the guy straight, “The lead you gave us was a waste of time, and had-“
Lou slams his hands over his ears and begins shouting, “STOP! STOP! STOP! I don’t wanna hear it! I don’t wanna know and I don’t care! That kind of information is liable to get you killed ’round these parts. “
Norman boggles, “What, you’re an informant who hates information?”
I tug on this robe, “Don’t knock it, boss. You’re a warlock who hates evil, working for a detective who hates investigating, and you’re trying to find out about the death of farmers who never planted any crops.”
Norman sighs, “I know demons supposedly come from some sort of terrifying hell world, but I really can’t imagine how it could be much worse than this place.”
“We demons have a saying in the demonic realms: ‘Hell isn’t where we live. It’s all the OTHER worlds, that haven’t been cleansed of idiots.‘”
“It’s a shame you couldn’t get rid of these idiots,” he says to himself. A few seconds later he adds, “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”
“Of course you didn’t,” I smile.
Boo Hoo Lou is still standing with his hands over his ears. Norman pokes him, “So what now?”
Lou looks around carefully and then whispers, “A couple of thugs recently showed up at the farm, causin’ all kinds of trouble. I don’t know where they came from or who they’re working for, but I KNOW they’re bad news. I may have overheard ’em talkin’ ’bout subjects that might interest you.”
“I suppose you can’t just tell me what they said?” Norman says impatiently.
The answer is more squealing and hands-over-the-ears, which we take as a “no”. We walk around to the other side of the nearby barn, where we find some guys talking.
Thug 1 says: Did you... Did you meet her?
Thug 2 says: Yep. She's for real.
Thug 2 says: She wanted me to tell you lugs that she appreciates the job that we did for her on the Furlbrows. gave me a pile o' gold to split with you all.
Thug 3 says: See her face? Is it really...
“Waaait a second,” Norman says out loud. “The shadow lady hired a team of thugs to assassinate a couple of broke, starving losers? That doesn’t make any sense. Why bother? What possible reason could they have … I mean, aren’t they busy with a conspiracy? Did Arthas stoop to hiring hobos to kill unemployed people when he was trying to take over?”
“Idiots! These men are complete idiots, and it’s an insult to even face them,” Norman shouts. Suddenly the group of men look in our direction …
Thug 1 says: Whoa, what do we have here? Looks like we have ourselves an eavesdropper, boys.
Thug 1 says: Only one thing to do with a lousy, good-for-nothin eavesdropper.
Thug 1 says: DIE!
“Yeah, that’s not a good idea,” Norman says. But the hobos swarm around and Norman calls down a rain of fire to incinerate them.
“At least we’re solving the homeless problem,” I say once the smoke has cleared.
We head back over to Cindy Lou Who, who turns out to be a recent recipient of the gift of murder. Detective Horatio Laine has showed up and launched an investigation comprised entirely of yelling at people and trampling evidence.
When we get near the detective turns to Norman. “We’re dealing with an organization here, rookie. You don’t just off the richest bum in Westfall in broad daylight and leave no witnesses. Someone with a lot of power is behind these murders. What have you learned so far?”
“I’ve learned that setting hobos on fire does not make them smell better, which is probably more than you’ve learned … ‘detective.'”
“So what do we know so far? We need to follow the clues.”
“There are no clues!” Norman snaps. “This isn’t an investigation. This is a series of murders, most of which were committed by me.”
“Over at the Jansean Stead you found a note and some scraps of cloth. Here at the Furlbrow’s you overheard a conversation between some shadowy figure and an ogre mage. You also got a confession from a bunch of thugs – whom you then killed.”
“Yeah,” says Norman. “Good times. But look, why would an ogre cover up his crime? He’s an ogre. We kill them on sight just for being ogres. There is no reason for them to care what we think.”
Horatio scratches his head as he tries to think. The expression on his face suggests that this process is painful for him. “Something isn’t adding up, rookie. There’s an old couple, southeast of here, at the Saldean’s Farm. Head over there and speak with Farmer Saldean. Find out what he knows.”
“I hate this,” Norman says as we hike to the next farm. “I was a bad mage, then a bad alchemist, then a bad warlock, and now a bad detective. Mother was right. I AM a complete screwup.”
“Stop being silly,” I tell him. “Think back to the last hobo fight. You took on six guys at once.”
Norman shrugs, “Yeah, but that doesn’t count. That was easy.”
“Do you think it would have been easy for Detective Laine? Or Marshal Dughan? Or Marshal McBride?”
“No,” Norman admits.
“See, you are good at something, kid.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“Just something to think about, is all.”
We arrive at the Saldean’s Farm and speak with their chief dirt-pusher.
“Horatio Laine? That man is a scumbag. Dirty as my underwear,” the guy tells us.
“Thank you for that image,” Norman says. “Just thinking about it has soiled my brain. I don’t even know how to wash that.”
“Listen, friend. I don’t often give out advice like this, but you guys seem like a good man and … a …”
“Gnome. Gobstab here is a gnome.”
“A gnome?” the guy asks suspiciously.
“Sure. An underfed, angry, gnome that was burned in a fireball mishap.”
“Whatever,” he tells us. “The point is … GET OUT OF WESTFALL. You’re already in way over your head. All you’re doing now is putting your neck on the chopping block.”
Norman stands there in stunned silence for a few moments. Finally he replies, “Okay.” We head for the road.
“We’re really leaving Westfall?” I ask.
“I don’t see any point in staying. We’re killing hobos to investigate the murder of a couple of hobos to uncover a conspiracy of hobo-murderers.”
“You know boss, I’m proud of you,” I tell him.
“You’re what? I’d think you would be disappointed. Aren’t you in favor of all this senseless killing?”
“You have a very old-fashioned view of evil. But no. Being evil doesn’t mean killing hobos for no reason, especially not when it’s a waste of your time and talent. Don’t get me wrong, hobo-killing is a great recreational sport, but it doesn’t pay the bills and it doesn’t build your power. I’m just glad to see you taking a stand. You didn’t let those idiots mooch help off of you just because you felt sorry for them.”
“I don’t feel sorry for them,” Norman says flatly.
“Good man!” I tell him. “See, your mother might disapprove of the stuff you do just because you didn’t become a paladin. But I’m proud of you as long as you’re using your skills and looking out for yourself.”
Norman nods. Looks like his head is busy.
“So where are we headed next?” I ask him.
“Let’s head for the Redridge Mountains,” he says. “We’ll see if there’s anyone worth helping.”
NEXT WEEK: Our story ends. What will happen to Norman?