From the Journal of Tang Zhen

Session 8

September 4, 5086, Debulys

Our group knows some different versions of the "seven dwarves' tale". N-Guuk had never even heard of it, nor had Delyra. Pheldran and Tam knew an older and less whitewashed version than the one that Dunbarton, Jasper and I knew. The newer version, spread by the mad bard Yensid, is the only one in which the dwarves are named. Between the three of us who knew it, we came up with eleven dwarf names: Happy, Sneezy, Grumpy, Bashful, Dopey, Doc, Sleepy, Dumpy, Gropey, Sleazy, and Crotch. Jasper and I suspect that those final four are apocryphal. N-Guuk swore to kill Yensid, should they ever meet, for such defamation of dwarves. (I am of the belief that Yensid is long dead, but there exist rumors that he has put himself into temporal stasis, until the world could again be ready for his stories.)

The three victims thus far could aptly have been named Sneezy, Grumpy, and Bashful.

After breakfast, one of the locals recommended the weekly court proceedings for our entertainment. The oddity of this suggestion by no means prepared us for the oddity of the court. Most of the local populace gathered for their entertainment. Each legal case was argued by a pair of barristers who behaved like circus ringleaders. In their highly energetic manner, they presented the case and exhorted the crowd to cheer for or against the culpability of the accused. That the crowd's cheers would determine the fate of the defendant, nocent or not, disgusted me. But I suspect that the miscarriage of justice is no worse here than elsewhere; it is merely more bald, for all to see. I am not even certain that the popularly demanded punishments were in fact applied. (I doubt, for example, that the man who stole a loaf of bread did get buttered and left out in the sun.) Between cases, a jester entertained the crowd. The judge was a mirthful and quick-witted man, ready to interject quips at any opportunity. Only the bailiff seemed slow of mind; his job was to impose his sizeable presence, not to entertain the jeering crowd.

After the proceedings, we met with several town officials, including Seward; Trelodoc, the prosecutor; and Periwinkle, the bailiff. Our investigation has turned surreal, as we labor to identify potential murder victims who own magical potions and who fit the descriptions of Happy, Dopey, Doc, or Sleepy.

Our inquiries into local shamans and learned folks as Docs have led nowhere. Our eyes are turning to Periwinkle as a potential Dopey. We are keeping him watched, and are asking around about any newcomers arriving in town.

Delyra has been learning to fly by leaping out of second story windows. Flying looks a lot like falling, to me. The kindly old man who raises birds and butterflies across the street invited her in to watch them fly, and hopefully to learn from them. Meanwhile, Jasper made helpful suggestions about having N-Guuk drag her around by a rope.

I have carefully instructed Chen Lung to watch the middle of the town square for anything that he cannot see but that he can sense by echolocation. He is to follow such an invisible creature from above if possible. I will spend as much time as I can at the border of the town square.

September 6, 5086, Debulys

This morning, we learned of a man who emerged, delusional and barely alive, from the forest. According to the story that Sobris told before he collapsed, he and two others were walking through the forest when a heavy fog rolled in. The was an intense sound of knocking, and he suddenly felt his skin burning. He ran away. His companions never returned. He bears chemical burns.

I wished to determine where he was attacked. He would no longer speak of the incident, but we found out where he had emerged from the woods. Most of us left to investigate, but N-Guuk stayed behind to continue watching the town square. Dunbarton followed Sobris' panicked, running tracks until they ended, most likely where the attack took place. Delyra noticed that one of the trees sported acid burns. She cast detect magic, and then painfully shielded her eyes from the intense glow, as the entire forest radiated magic. She then tried detect evil with, I am displeased to report, the same result.

A dense fog suddenly surrounded us. We ran clear of it, and it dissipated behind us. We watched and listened carefully. Tam, Chen Lung and I all heard a slight rustle above, and looked up at two giant, hairy spiders descending quickly upon us.

My sleep spell was ineffective. Come to think of it, I am not sure that spiders even sleep at all. Tam hit one of them like a piñata, and Delyra singed the other with a burning hands spell. The spiders bit at us viciously. By the time the battle was over, Dunbarton, Tam and I were sick with poison. We returned with haste to Debulys.

N-Guuk, meanwhile, had met and spoken with Trelodoc, who decided that he would, next week, prosecute the forest. When we told N-Guuk of our excursion, he purchased a beer and cried over having missed the battle. Dunbarton purchased a beer and cried over having participated in the battle. Tam is now tending to us, accelerating our healing by both practical and magical means.

September 9, 5086, Pettigwyn

We nearly caught Erwyn last night. I fear that we will never come as close again.

Chen Lung noticed something entering the town square. Just as he got close enough to tell that he couldn't see it, a body materialized in mid-air, arcing to the ground as though it had been cast aside. I dashed as fast as I could toward the spot, raising a shout for my companions. Chen Lung took off in pursuit of our invisible nemesis, and we followed them down an alley. The antagonist evaded my familiar by entering the wall of the house on the left; I know not how. Chen Lung followed him through a knothole, but lost the trail. Several of us rushed into the house, but found no sign of Erwyn. Even Chen Lung could find no trace of him anywhere in the house, so I sent him on a spiral search pattern outside.

The victim this time was the jester (who almost certainly was "Happy" - until last night). Erwyn left a note, written on a cutout of four linked jester's caps, which I have translated to read: "the most important thing about comedy is timing". Some potions of levitation were missing from the jester's home.

The local officials were less than thrilled with our performance. We faced a guessing game regarding Erwyn's path: Is he consistently moving west, in which case he will follow the road inland to Eich Charon? Or is he consistently following the coast, which turns south toward Pettigwyn? We have guessed the latter, and made our way here.

Chlobin, patriarch of Pettigwyn, has not been quite as helpful as the others have been. We have precious few leads here. Nobody stands out as a Doc, a Dopey, or a Sleepy. I wonder whether we have made the correct choice. I also worry that, now that we have lost the element of surprise, we have lost with it all chance to catch Erwyn unawares.

September 11, 5086, Pettigwyn (early morning)

Erwyn has caught us off guard by speeding up his timetable. He murdered a shaman healer last night, and stole some healing potions. The note, upon a paper cutout of three hands, deciphers to: "heal thyself with good medicine".

September 11, 5086, Leänder

Chlobin was furious, but did not stop us from leaving Pettigwyn. However, word has quickly spread to Leänder, the next town down the coast. We are rapidly acquiring a "Jessica Fletcher" reputation; our arrival is an omen of death. There are even those who suspect us of the murders. Pointing out that we were absent for the first three murders does little good; they have no convenient way to verify that. Lord Willowsworth is not happy to have us here, and treats us like suspects. Still, people are willing to speak with us and answer questions.

We have found a likely candidate for "Sleepy": A traveler who has been in a coma for two weeks following a poisonous giant spider bite.

September 12, 5086, Leänder

There has been no attack yet. We have spoken with the shamans at the hospital about laying a trap for the murderer. They are understandably skeptical, but have negotiated a compromise with us. They have removed the patient to an undisclosed room. I shall take his place in the bed, feigning sleep. N-Guuk and his axe will wait on the floor beyond the bed, out of sight of the door. Delyra shall wait among the rafters inside the room. Dunbarton will wait in the room across the hall, ready to slam and hold our door at the first sign of a disturbance. Jasper will watch the exterior of the hospital from the roof. Pheldran and Tam will watch the town square.

It seems a reasonable plan, but I have a gnawing reservation about the victim. All of the other victims fit long-standing personality types. They could have been chosen months ago. This one succumbed only two weeks ago, ergo he could not have been chosen in advance. We can only hope that Erwyn is choosing the likeliest candidate from all available.

September 12, 5086, Leänder

We passed a disappointingly dull and restless night, waiting fruitlessly in our ambush. In the morning, the shamans and constables apologized to us. Our names had been cleared from the list of suspects, because word of the latest murder had just come in. It had taken place in Uscara.

Erwyn has crossed the bay inlet from Pettigwyn to the barrier island! We had considered that possibility before we left there, but had either forgotten or dismissed it in our rush to leave. We had simply continued southwest down the coast instead.

We now await the ferry which will bring us to Uscara this evening.

September 12, 5086, Uscara (night)

The victim was narcoleptic. Would that we had arrived here first! We could have been assured of his identity in advance. He had been killed by a pick through the skull. (My posing as bait seems a less appealing idea than it was yesterday.) Some potions of consciousness have been stolen. Erwyn left a paper cutout of two Z's, presumably to represent snores. I have decrypted the message to read: "sometimes solutions come to us in dreams".

We will leave for Apris, the next town to the south, after minimal sleep.

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