“Breadcrumbs.” Railyn quietly said to himself, closing the door to the seventh warehouse he and Gore had searched in the last several days. He stepped down the stairs and joined the minotaur on the street. “Your friend Lemy was not joking. This has been a wild goose chase from the very beginning.”
“No,” Gore glanced at the paladin with a frown. “Catching wild geese is easy. This is more like hunting my brother, Thi’radir, through a maze created by my father in his prime.”
Railyn stared at the minotaur blankly for a few moments. “Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.”
“So where do we go now?” Gore crossed his arms, staring back at the civilians staring at him. Most averted their eyes and increased their pace. “I didn’t find anything in there that could lead us to where the Smile is keeping Lul… if he’s still alive.”
“Neither did I,” Railyn replied, pulling out the note that Lemy had given them. “And there’s nothing else on this stupid piece of paper except for the address of the first warehouse and some scribblings that make no sense.”
“What scribblings?” Gore looked over the paladin’s shoulder. It didn’t do any good since he couldn’t read anyway. “What does it say?”
“I told you, it’s just scribblings,” Railyn tried to pronounce the words the best he could. “Lafe amas blon uhob klun salo okob bi rafen koret. See? It makes no sense.”
“Damn it,” Gore blurted, causing Railyn to grab his ear at the sudden outburst. “It doesn’t make sense to us because we can’t read it.”
“Your logic is pretty sound on that, yeah,” Railyn nodded, watching the minotaur tromp around. “What are you thinking?”
“I think it’s a special language among lowlifes of the city,” Gore replied. “The only question is where to get it translated.”
“Please,” Railyn held up a hand and motioned for the Minotaur to get back in the waiting carriage they had hired for the week. “I serve a drow queen; her army is filled with people like that.”
“Lowlifes?” Gore asked as he climbed in.
“Assassins, rogues, thieves.” Railyn replied, squeezing in after the beast. The ride back to the Chateau was faster than expected. Railyn did not wait for the carriage to come to a stop before he leapt from his seat. He threw open the doors, charging inside. “Celeste! I must speak with you. Celeste!”
“Railyn,” Celeste came hurrying down a corridor his face pulled in concern. “What is it? What’s the matter?”
“I need you to read this.” Railyn held out the parchment to the drow assassin. “What does it say?”
“It’s an address in the Apiary,” Celeste immediately replied, taking the paper. “But there is a hidden note at the bottom. It’s an older dialect of thieves cant, not really used anymore.”
“Can you tell us what it says,” Gore asked, following the paladin inside. “Lul’s life hangs in the balance.”
“South Garden.” Celeste translated. “Red door. Hit three, kick one. Find Black.”
“The Gardens,” Railyn replied, turning back to the doors just as Gore had reached the two of them. “Come Gore! We’re almost there!”
“Is he always this way?” Gore asked Celeste.
“Ever since his resurrection, yes,” Celeste replied, handing the minotaur the note. Gore nodded in thanks and returned to the carriage. The massive clydesdales pulled their patrons through the Temple District and towards the Gardens.
“Railyn,” Gore broke the silence after nearly an hour of traveling through the city streets. “Do you remember what I said about not being responsible for what happens to the Smile once we find him?”
“I remember you mentioning something like that.” Railyn turned from staring out the window. “But I also have my orders from my Queen. I want the Smile alive.”
“Then you better pray to your Gods you get to him first.” Gore turned and looked out the window, signifying the conversation was done. Railyn started to reply but thought better of it and looked back to the passing streets and buildings.
It was well after dark when the carriage arrived at the Von Goethe Gardens District. It was owned and operated by the powerful and wealthy Von Goethe family who was rumored to have been around for the founding of the city. The lamps and torches were lit across the Western Gate as Railyn exited the carriage with Gore close behind. They were immediately met by nearly a dozen local guards.
“I’m sorry, sirs,” one of the guards spoke up. “But the Gardens are closed until further notice. All business will be dealt with through the Von Goethe’s offices up in the Palace District.”
“We’re not here for the Von Goethes.” Railyn replied, tossing his cloak back to show the insignia of Bladeweb. “We have business in the Gardens that is urgent.”
“Well, that’s a nice little picture you got on your armor there, sir, but I’m afraid I still can’t let you into the Gardens.”
“Why not?” Gore rumbled, staring a hole into the guard.
“Um,” the guard became noticeably nervous. He turned, trying to get any support from his fellow soldiers; none came closer. “Monsters, sir. Ever since the outbreak months ago, we’ve had nonstop problems with monsters trying to build their nests in the Gardens. It’s the only place they really can.”
“What of the druids and rangers?” Railyn’s tone turned; even the simplest of beasts could prove problematic for any group of soldiers if caught unaware. “Are they hunting them down? And have you sent word to the Dagnir?”
“Aye,” the guard replied. “But the Dagnir haven’t replied yet; folk suspect they don’t operate anymore. And we don’t know about the rangers and whatnot; just told to close the gates and not let anyone in. T’was after the Lord and Lady took their household to the Palace, though.”
“Cowards,” Gore murmured. Railyn shot him a look before turning back to the guard.
“You need to open the doors and let us in,” Railyn insisted. “We can help with this. I can send word to the Bladeweb consulate and have practically an army here to defend the district.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” the guard shook his head. “Only an edict from Lord Von Goethe or Her Grace, the Archduke will allow entry into the district now.”
“Or we could force our way in,” Gore stepped up behind Railyn. The paladin held up his hand, trying to motion for Gore to stand down.
“I understand you are only doing your job, but…” the rest of the sentence did not come as suddenly the mighty door of the Gardens began to shake. Something was pounding on the inside, trying to claw it’s way out. Railyn jumped into action, barking commands at the guards. “Get your men in position! Be ready to open the gates on my command! Gore, you’ve wanted bloodshed since this all started; now’s your chance.”
“It’s about damn time,” Gore planted his feet firmly and hunched over. For a brief moment, Railyn could swear he noticed the minotaur’s eyes glow red. Gore’s muscles flexed and seemed to increase in size.
“Open the gate!” Railyn shouted. The guards exchanged glances, shrugged, and started to pull open the gates. The beast beyond must have realized what was happening as it pressed its advantage, throwing the two guards to the ground. The large creature was sleek and covered in grey armored plates. It’s huge mouth opened and let out a thunderous roar, causing many of the guards to instinctively step back from the danger.
Railyn wasted little time and lunged forward at the creature. His blade struck the side of its head; a glancing blow. “Its armor is thick! Pierce it between the plates!”
The guards, taking their cue from the paladin, charged forward with blades in hand. They stabbed and struck, trying to harm the creature but to no avail. The beast spun on it’s short, stumpy legs and set many of its attackers flying backwards. By the time it turned back towards the paladin and minotaur, Gore was already upon it.
“I will hold it still!” Gore screamed, grabbing the top of the jaw with one hand and the bottom jaw with the other, prying the mouth open and forcing it to the ground. “Railyn, strike it now!”
Railyn closed his eyes, offering up a prayer to the Gods. His sword glowed bright as he brought the blade down on the beast's neck. The light erupted in a large, devastating flash, injuring the beast severely. Gore continued his assault, pulling hard on the jaw before a sickening crack was heard and subsequent sound of blood splattering on the ground. Gore stood tall, holding the top half of the beast’s head while Railyn looked down at his feet and the blood that was washing over them.
“Guard!” Railyn shouted to the man standing near him; his blade was never drawn. “There are more things in the Gardens like this; we need additional help. Send word to Queen Ekino in the Palace District that Ser Railyn requires all the aid she can spare. Oh, and one more thing: tell her we need the Slayers.”