Reddit WritingPrompts – There Sat a Crooked House

Well, this was certainly an interesting bit! I had this very interesting prompt that turned out to be almost a good short story, all drawing inspiration from my online buddies’ DnD group (which I have to chronicle sometime). So, bouncing off of a prompt reply by u/ABitofKindness, I created the following prompt response over 3 or so posts, as there were character limits.

Done in the span of July 20-23, 2020.

Note: My writing for Reddit writing prompts is different for brevity. While this is a good example of my writing, I often omit backstory and several details to create a concise post. Please look at my other works if you’re looking for my more regular style of writing.

Original Post

Original Image (in case hosting or post goes down)

OP

Pre Story Notes

To skip a bunch of visual descriptions, I’ll do what I did in the original thread; quickly show the party and outline who is who:

Left to right:

  • Pri the rogue bard,
  • Ned the necromancer sorceror
  • Melarue the half-elf noble fighter
  • Fiona, Ned’s girlfriend
  • Marios the pope elf.
  • Mance the swashbuckling rogue
  • Seijun the rogue monk
  • Yorina the alchemist trading cleric
  • Nora, Yorina and Marios’ friend.

Got a name to a face now? Good! I’ll let you get going without adieu.

As night fell, a small entourage entered the village. They were a sort of menagerie, and varied in shapes, sizes and backgrounds. Most were stuffed into the back of a mule cart, while one led the way on a large warhorse. Walking up to the nearest inn, they dismounted and went inside.

“Finally. I was getting sick of this. I’m out.”

A big-skirted bard flopped out, almost losing her balance. The white-haired monk said no words, merely glaring at her through solid hair bangs.

“Oi, quit complainin’ about the driving. You wanna try?”

A snarking and oddly accented cleric was at the front, laying the reins down. She looked quite irritated, in blue robes and a mane of blonde hair.

“Of course I want to try! Anything over your driving.” the bard pouted before marching inside.

“Whatever.”

Everyone but the redhead fighter stayed outside. She leaned up against the wall, not too far from the entrance. Her weapons slumped down a bit for comfort, as she stared into the night sky for guidance and resolve.

The door opened back out, a stately pope elf exiting the establishment. She was busy fussing to not mess up her gown, handing the redhead a steaming mug of beverage.

“I pray that this is doth to your satisfaction.” She offered the fighter the cup.

The fighter took a sniff. A hair lock fell away to reveal elven ears and gold earrings.

“Smells good enough. Thanks.”

The pope nodded, looking out onto the street then back at the woman.

“Thus thou requireth respite?” She politely folded her hands, inching a bit closer so that she wouldn’t block the doorway.

The redhead blew a steam of hot air, eyes still fixed in the sky.

“I was just thinking about home a little. How I wish I could go back. Stupid syndicate.”

“Yes. Stupid syndicate, the stupid Arbiter of the church. The stupid succubus. The stupid shogunate. My stupid husband. We all doth have vices she have fled home from. Though the gnome…sullied his own hands and is proud of it.”

The pope bowed her head in thought, looking away in shame upon mention of their compatriot.

“Don’t ever let him near dead people. I don’t care if he’s a necromancer and is ‘helping’ us. He’s evil. I told you.”

The fighter half-snapped, her drink spilling out of her cup. The scent of butter and sugar wafted into the air.

“That you did warn us. And we foolishly ignored. I take account to that.”

The fighter calmed down, a smirk on her face.

“If Yorina said the same thing, would you have accepted it the same way?”

The pope’s face grew red, a scowl starting to form.

“My daughter has impaired judgement in such matters-“

“She was the second person to figure it out just for the record. All she wanted was her mom to back her up. She still wants that.”

The stately woman sighed, taking up a position similar to the fighter on the opposite side.

There was silence for a good moments, the two women in solitude. This lasted all of five minutes when a ruckus could be heard inside, something along the lines of a patron yelling at the gnome. Apparently he was trying to pickpocket someone. The pope exhaled and the fighter let out an expletive.

Before they could go to action, the pope felt someone tug at her gown. Looking down, she saw a young girl looking back at her, perhaps no more than six. An older boy was behind her, a good three or four years older. While he looked quite apprehensive, the girl seemed very determined.

“Excuse me.”

The fighter eyed them curiously. The pope coughed softly and attempted to look more stately.

“Yes, child. What troubles you?”

She looked around uncertainly, before being elbowed by her brother.

“I’m thinking!” She hissed.

“You’re the one that wanted to talk to her, say something!” The brother complained.

There was bickering for a moment before the girl turned back, clearly pouting.

“Are you for hire?”

The pope laughed nervously, craning her neck down towards the children.

“And what doth give you that idea?”

“Well, I don’t see clerics with swords. Or popes for that matter.”

The boy motioned the the woman’s elven longsword, sheathed in an elegant leather scabbard on her side. The pope cleared her throat, tone shifting a little.

“Well, you are perhaps correct. Though I am not a mercenary, I am on a sort of pilgrimage so to speak. That may lead to me perhaps taking an odd task from time to time.”

“You runts looking to hire someone?” The fighter asked nonchalantly.

The girl balled her fists.

“I’m not a runt! And yes, not that I’d care to.”

The fighter spat her drink, choking on it. The pope looked serious, glancing around the street.

“And what thus thou two desire to hire for?”

The children looked at each other, then back at the women.

“There’s a house that we went to recently. There was a mean old man living there, who chased us out when we thought it was abandoned. But My sister saw dead bodies…and nobody believes her. Nobody will go look, and saying that we’re making up stories.”

The sister looked sullen, as though she had seen something grave.

“And what do you kids have to offer? Coin better pay.”

The pope raised her hand, coming down on one knee. Her gown spilled out, a hand on her kneecap while the other grasp her sword hilt.

“Why does nobody listen to you?”

The girl looked like she was about to cry.

“They said there’s no house there. Everything we said people think it’s make believe. And we’re too scared to go back. I don’t want to be…”

The pope rested a hand on her shoulder to calm her, then looked at her brother.

“I second my companion’s question. What doth you offer?”

The brother seemed to fish in a pocket for a moment, handing her a silver coin.

“I hope that’s enough.”

The fighter scoffed.

“That barely covers food and board for two of us, much less the whole party.”

“This is a concern of mercy, not that of profit,” the pope scolded. She took the coin from the brother, looking him straight in the eyes to judge his demeanor.

“We will take this as a retainer. If this is an issue, I’m sure we will raise issue with the town to compensate us properly.”

She stood up, straightening her clothes and tucking the coin into her belt.

“Pray tell, who are thee?”

“I’m Martin, this is my sister Tabby. Y-you?”

The boy was taken aback by the woman in full posture, At a little over 6 feet, the hat didn’t help with the illusion.

“I am Marios, deacon advisor to Lord Ridhart in the southern islands. This is Melarue, a fighting noble from Ravenfall.”

“Yo.” The fighter slopped her drink, making the peace sign.

Both children admired them in awe for a moment. Marios couldn’t help but to smile in admiration as well.

“Please, tell your hired swords more about this crooked house…”

The door of the tavern opened, Marios leading the way. The two children behind her, then Mel in the back. The innkeeper looked up, raising an eyebrow.

“Kids aren’t allowed in the bar. You should know that, holy woman.” The innkeeper retorted sternly.

“As it should be. Give us a table where it is suitable for the youths to sit. Mel, fetch the others.”

“Elves…” he muttered, motioning to a long bench table near the fireplace.

Mel walked off without a word. Marios waved her hand, allowing Martin and Tabby to sit on a bench, while the pope took a seat opposite them. She placed her longsword on her lap, leaning forward and steepling her fingers.

“According to you, this house is a rite of passage? And this…man was unexpected company, claiming it to be his home?”

“Yes, Mrs. Marios. All the kids stay there at least once. It’s always stories about it being haunted; never about a man with dead bodies.” Martin answered.

“Hmmm. That is peculiar indeed.” Her eyes wandered to the table.

Tabby was about to speak when a wrinkly old voice interrupted them.

“Did someone say dead bodies?”

“Hoo boy, give it a break, Ned.” The blue robed cleric flopped onto the bench at the end of the table. If one knew what it was, they would say this young woman spoke with a New Jersey accent.

“But I need an army! You keep denying me corpses for my forces.” The gnome hopped up next to Marios. “We could easily win if you let me keep our dead foes!”

His skin was gray, with a wild bush of black hair. Clothes were torn, and it was clear he had seen better days.

“That is NOT happening. I refuse to travel with dead corpses in the cart.” The monk gracefully sat at the end next to the cleric. Her mouth was in a frown, an accent to the the east. Despite no eyes being visible, the chill from her glare could be felt by everyone.

Another girl sat, looking a bit off from the other adventurers. She dressed like a commoner, with a petite frame and two big pigtails. She weaseled in besides Marios and the gnome, glaring at him to scoot over. Mel sat next on the other side without a word, wolfing down a bowl of soup.

Marios counted heads for a moment, frowning.

“Where are the others?”

The cleric sighed. “Mance and the others are in a gambling game. They seem to think they can win enough money to pay for the rooms.”

The pope quelled a bit of anger, drawing in a deep sigh.

“Friends, these children are Martin and Tabby. They are residents in this village.”

The cleric and the pigtail girl was the only one to greet them, doing so with a wave and smile. The monk seemed to judge them, while Ned stared in disinterest.

“Children, this is some of our party. This is Ned our sorcerer, Seijun our monk rogue, and Yorina the alchemical cleric, who happens to also be my daughter. The pigtail girl is Nora, a family friend to I and my daughter.”

Mel looked up from her soup. “You can actually see them from here, if you want to point them out.”

Marios leaned back, looking towards the bar.

“Ah, you are right. If you look that way, that’s the remainder of our group. Our bard Pri, Ned’s girlfriend Fiona, and our swashbuckler Mance. As you can tell, they tend to be some of the socialites of the group.”

The children craned their neck around to stare at where the woman pointed. Martin regarded this in interest, but Tabby’s eyes widened in fear.

“Where are we gonna get money for all of you?!”

“What do you think I was trying to tell you?” Martin jabbed back.

“Shh!”

Marios cleared her through, raising a hand to stop.

“Children, please. That is not a concern for the time being. At least with those who are present, why not relate your story?”

The two quieted, nodding in agreement. They related their story of their past experience. The group listened with great interest, expressions changing from that to stern, alarmed then frustration.

“So that’s when we ran as fast as we could,” Tabby finished.

A short silence lulled over the table, Marios deep in thought.

“These bodies…can you tell me anything? You said fresh; were they children? Adults? Human?” Seijun asked.

Tabby’s lip quivered, fidgeting in her seat.

“They were people. Some seemed like grown ups, but I think most were kids. I don’t know. I just saw dead people…”

“People could mean anyone,” Ned offered.

“I think this house killer is opportunistic. He’s probably killing trespassers like the kids.” Nora suggested. She carried the same accent as Yorina, though less pronounced and more slurred.

“Did any kids go missing recently?” Mel asked.

Martin shook his head.

“Not that I know of. If they did, nobody’s talking about it.”

“Odd. I’m actually curious about that. I’ll be back.”

Mel abruptly got out of her seat, leaving two copper coins on the table for the food. With a fast walk she was out the door.

Ned looked like he wanted to follow but stayed put, swinging his feet back and forth.

“I suppose that is something that doth need to be immediately answered. Until then, I suggest thou two return home, and then meet us in the morning. We do require rest, but will mingle with the crowd and attempt to glean information before we meet.”

“Yes, of course. Thank you for wanting to help us, Mrs. Marios.”

“Your gratitude is ours. Take thy leave.”

Marios smiled gently, folding her hands and bowing. The two kids scrambled out of their chair, chatting amongst themselves as they left.

The table was quiet for a moment before Yorina spoke up.

“Mother, is that a good idea? Kids employin’ us?”

“I have a feeling this will be a less physical rewarding task,” Seijun noted.

“Well, it certainly is not fighting a werewolf, is it not?”

“Well, yeah, but still, we have bills to pay.”

“I still think we should open up those cafes,” Nora pouted.

“And not adventure? I like my trips thank you.”

“You can franchise them and just collect the money! I like the idea of making a coffee house called Dunkin’ Cleric.”

Nora waved her hands around, animatedly describing her idea.

Before she had a chance to even convince anyone of the idea, screams erupted from outside. Most notably, the screams of a young girl.

“That’s not good.” Yorina’s head snapped to the dark window.

“Indeed. We must investigate.” Seijun grabbed her staff, bolting up the stairs without another word.

Ned looked confused, Nora shrinking in her seat.

“I’ll wait here since I can’t help much. I’ll keep an eye on things.”

“Good, thank you Nora.”

Marios patted her shoulder and left her bench, so did Yorina. With a glance between the two of them, they started towards the door.

Upon entering into the street, mother and daughter found townspeople running for cover. The street had essentially cleared out, leaving a group of figures out in the center. Martin and Tabby were immediately recognizable, but the other’s weren’t. What could be described as a tall, grotesque clown over them, with glowing yellow eyes and a long pink jacket.

“I’ll give you an opening. Charge in.” Yorina immediately unslung her crossbow and locked the bolt.

Her daughter had a point; it would be dangerous to confront this foe if the children were in their way.

“Verily.”

She slowly started to unsheath her sword. Her grandfather’s weapon, it had passed the test of centuries and was a sculpted piece of elegance; just as any elven weapon should be. Marios quietly pressed herself against the wall of the inn, creeping forward as fast as she could.

A solid twhunk resounded as an arrow lodged itself into the side of the monstrosity’s head. The creature jerked up as Marios froze, before it turned to where the arrow had flown. Yorina had made a barricade with an overturned barrel, crossbow over the top. She had just reloaded, letting another arrow fly.

Despite this attack, the “clown” ignored this, swiping at the children. Tabby was immobile and screaming her head off, Martin attempting to drag her away. Tabby was batted a good couple feet away, leaving Martin to scramble away to safety.

This provided the opening Marios. With sacred whispers on her lips, she raised her hand towards the foe. A stream of bright light left her palm, lighting everything in the square as is seared into the evil clown.

The clown let out a screaming howl as it was roasted by the light, As the stream died, the foe turned to face Marios, grimacing at her before lumbering over to the children.

There was to be none of that. Marios wedged herself in between the two, grasping her longsword with both hands.

“Your battle is with me!” She held steady before bringing her sword down.

What followed was a series of heavy-handed strikes, Marios stepping forward as able. While most didn’t seem to actually land on the torso, it was driving the clown back. It did try to strike her a few times, in which she would spin out of the way and continue.

“Watch out!”

Marios quickly glanced to see where the warning came from. In that instant, the creature broke its concentration and raked her across the chest, pushing her back into the wall of the inn. Her head rang and hat fell off her head, dazed.

Mel came bolting in from a side street, short halberd in hand. She had it over her shoulder and was running full speed into the clown. By the time it knew what had happened, Mel brought down the halberd with a mighty yell. The neck severed as the body stopped moving, slowly starting to evaporate into black particles.

Marios had come to at this point, slowly standing to her feet. She grasped at her chest to assess the damage; while her stately robes were slashed, she was relatively unharmed save a bruise or two. Mel had reached over, pulling her to her feet. Yorina left her cover to join her mother, town guards starting to enter the scene.

“You okay?” Mel stowed her halberd.

“More or less. The children?” The pope’s eyes glanced about for their presence.

“Seijun’s got them. Don’t think they’re hurt much.” Mel glanced towards the inn’s entrance.

The monk had Martin and Tabby on the inn steps, her staff in between the combat and the children. Martin seemed relieved that everything was over, while Tabby was huddled and shaking.

Marios started to walk over to them. Yorina stretched out briefly, magic flowing from here fingertips.

“Here, let me get that for you.”

The tears on her clothing had started to mend, becoming as they were before. Marios mouthed a ‘thank you’ before a guard approached them. Mel had handed her hat back.

“What is the matter here?” He asked.

“A ghoulish creature attacked those two children. We were in the inn when it occurred, and came out upon the noise,” Marios answered.

“I’m sorry for the skepticism, ma’am. But we’ll be taking you in till this is sorted out. It’s a bit too convenient that the lot of you are around when this happened.”

Marios scowled, standing as tall as she could and facing the man fully.

“You believe we are responsible for this? I am of the body of the Church, guardsman. Shall the theocracy lodge a formal complaint against thy town for wrongfully accusing a holy one?”

The man gulped, cowering just a little. It had started to click what he had just done, recognizing the now placed headdress and the markings on her gown.

“My apologies, holy pope. We aim to keep order, but we would not accuse the clerics of the Church for crimes such as this.”

Marios dipped her head in a dismissive manner.

“You are but diligent, guardsman. The fighter and monk are with me under edict. If you have questions they will cooperate, but we are not the instigators. Carry on.”

“Yes, pope.”

The town guard left without another word, clearly flustered.

“Edict?” Yorina muttered under her breath.

“A technicality that I can make truth.” She sheathed her sword, finally making her destination. “To quote our belligerent party member, ‘a white lie to doth save our ass.’ “

“Without the doth, mother. He’s not as old fashioned as you.”

“Pfft.”

Martin stared up at her, sullen. Tabby huddled in a ball, eyes squeezed shut. Seijun was stone faced as ever, playing the part of a guardian quite well.

Marios knelt down, coming to the level of the children.

“Are you all right? Is thou harmed?”

Martin shook his head, signifying he was fine. Tabby did not answer, eyes slowly opening.

“We’ll take you home. Come on, in case something else decides to pop out of the street.”

Mel slapped her knee for the youngsters to get up. While Martin shakily stood, Tabby refused to budge.

“Tabby, get up. We need to move,” Martin complained.

“No!” Tabby protested.

“Tabby!”

Marios let out a resentful sigh, one of which she had experienced multiple times before. In one motion, the elf scooped up the girl before she could react, a heavy grunt leaving her lips.

“Lead us to thy house.”

Upon reaching the house, the children’s parents’ were quite shocked upon seeing their new visitors. They hastily let them in, Martin and Tabby being returned to their parents.

“Why thank you for looking out for them, I’m sorry they caused you trouble.” The father apologized.

Tabby was set onto a cot and buried in a blanket, her mother trying to console her. Martin sat in corner, silent and unmoving.

“Not at all. This wasn’t their doing.” Yorina leaned on her staff a bit, definitely tired from the day’s events.

“Nothing’s been right since they went into the woods a few days ago. They’ve been into all sorts of trouble since then. I’ve tried to tell them to knock it off, but just won’t stop with that house nonsense.”

The father glared sternly at Martin as a warning, nodding to Tabby.

“This is what results of it.”

“You are aware your town as a missing person problem these past few weeks, right?” Mel folded her arms and rested against the door jamb.

“And what if? What’s that got to do with a make believe house?”

“Dead bodies are in that house. I’ll bet gold that some of those people would be found inside.”

The father looked away for a moment.

“Well, even then, they shouldn’t have been going to strangers and asking for help. This needs to end here.”

“You are right. However, your children approached us because you did not believe or wish to help them. It is exactly why this situation transpired.”

“And you do?” The mother was in disbelief, baffled if not more.

“I’ve heard of worse, or silly; maybe even more simple that was nefarious underneath. It’s better to look and find nothin’, than ignore an incident then find out that it is a problem.”

“Oh yeah? What do you know about raising kids? Just roaming as an adventurer? You don’t just jump at every shadow you hear about!”

The father was a bit snippy.

“I have raised two daughters in the span of twice your life, sir. My daughter stands here as testament to that devotion. A woman who doth I am greatly proud of.”

Marios’ voice was quite stern, as to defend her position.

There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Yorina’s jaw nearly hit the floor, quickly regaining her composure. Mel started to shuffle out of the house, making Marios end their visit.

“Your children have been rescued and returned to you. We will be looking into the incident in the woods on their behalf, let it be known. Good night.”

The four assortment of elves left the house, slowly walking back.

“Daughter, you look baffled.”

“What? Me? No…yeah, kinda. What was that thing? I don’t think clowns are monsters.”

Yorina shifted the subject quite rapidly, attempting to dispel any issue that was on her mind.

“I think I have a feeling what it is; we have something back in our province called a Booghabbit. Down in the southern parts it’s referred to as a bogeyman. It’s a malignant sort of spirit, taking form of a victim’s fear and latching onto them. I think if those kids did stumble into something at that house; it must be something a lot worse than a serial killer.”

Mel sauntered along, arms folded.

“I hate to say this, but I agree. None of this is adding up. I do hope the kiddies are all right.”

“Well, they’re home. They should be. I think.”

Marios turned to Seijun, looking a bit uncertain.

“I know you will be roaming about at later hours; keep an eye on them. They must be kept safe.”

“Of course.” Seijun responded with a sharp nod.

Marios turned back towards their path to the inn.

“In the meantime, we must retire for the night. We shall see what lays for us the next day.”

The morning greeted Marios softly, though it did seem to hit a bit blunter than usual. As the woman got to her senses, she had seen that most of the party had woken up already. A pile of green fabric and black hair was sprawled on one of the beds, snoring loudly. It was then she realized this is what had awoken her.

The smell of wonderful food reaching her nose, distinctly different than what the inn seemed to offer. She slowly stretched, body aching from last night’s battle. With a quick prayer to her deity, Marios slipped into her clothes and went downstairs.

The inn wasn’t as busy as she thought it’d be. The bar wasn’t open, and there were few patrons at the table. The large long table had been claimed by the group, with most of the members either waiting for food or already eating. The mumble of discussion reached her ears, the scent of coffee strong in the room.

“Morning.”

Most of them looked up at her, replying in some form of nod or wave from their mouth being full. Mance’s jacket was on the bench. Ned was quietly humming to himself, and her daughter was shoveling food into her mouth while reading a book. Seijun was nowhere to be seen.

“Where is the others?”

“Seijun’s scouting the neighborhood. Pri’s…drunk.” Yorina returned to her book.

“Ah. That was her upstairs.”

“Well, I’m not drunk!” Ned proudly declared.

“Thank you, Ned. We’re all glad for that fact.”

Yorina reached over and plopped her hand down on Ned’s head a few times, eyes still focused on the book.

Ned almost instantly dropped his fork, grabbing for his head.

“My hairrrr!”

He started to mutter incoherently about ‘his evilness’ being ruined, attempting to rearrange the now flattened strands back into a flared bush.

Marios coughed softly and perused the table. Porridge, hotcakes and coffee was on the menu it appeared.

“Has our employers arrived yet?”

“Not yet. And it’s almost 10 o’ clock. Fiona went to go check on them.”

“I’m surprised you did not wake me earlier.”

“You were out like a rock, we figured it was better to let you rest.” Mel noted.

“Well, your consideration is appreciated.”

“Food’s in the back, Nora will get it for you.” Mel thumbed to the kitchen.

“Ah, good.”

Marios glided over to the kitchen, happening upon an interesting sight.

The pigtail blonde was behind a lanky man, scolding him as he held a skillet. His brown hair was in a bit of a mess, sleeves rolled up to his elbows.

“Flip the flippin’ thing!” Nora scolded, having a playful tone to it.

The man attempted to do so, a poached egg nearly flying out. Nora grabbed his wrist, motioning him through the right way to do so. Both paused upon the pope’s arrival.

“Oh, morning Marios. Food?”

Marios nodded, glancing at the man curiously. Nora went to a pot nearly and grabbed a bowl.

“Mance, I see you are expanding your skillsets.”

The man managed a wry smile, gesturing with the skillet and a shrug.

“Well, you can say that. I’d like to think a rapier can get me my food easier.”

“Parry thy egg as you do thy sword, and you shall do just fine. She may not be an accomplished cook, but she has been in a kitchen longer than I.”

Marios playfully smacked Mance on the arm, glancing back to the fire.

“Place thy skillet back or the egg will not cook. Even I know this much.”

Mance quickly returned his attention to cooking. Nora whipped around with a small cup of coffee and a bowl of porridge.

“Here ya go.”

“Thank you.”

The woman took her food and went back outside to the main table. Upon arriving she noted three new additions; Tabby, Martin and their father. Fiona perkily waved as she jogged over to the kitchen.

The father nodded at her as she placed her food down, walking over to greet him.

“Sir.”

“Holy one,” he looked at her apprehensively.

“I assume this is about the children’s crooked house job?” Marios perked an eyebrow.

“Of course. I realize that either you must be up to something, or do take my kids seriously about what they saw.”

“And?”

The man nudged the children forward.

“Look into it, I suppose. But I wholly and fully put you responsible for them.”

Marios sighed in relief, folding her hands in response.

“Very well. Regardless of the outcome, we will be back by sundown.”

“Thank you.”

With a small bow he was gone. Martin and Tabby looked up at her expectantly, as if they were in disbelief. Marios brought her hands together, bending over some.

“So, shall we be underway upon the others finish eating?”

“Yeah, though I’m not too happy to what would be waiting,” Martin admitted.

“Fair enough. Those are unpleasant things indeed. But we shall get to the bottom of it, I assure thee.”

Marios motioned to the table.

“Until then, join us. We shall leave shortly.”

The two children seemed to forget the gloomy situation, looking excited to mingle with the other adventurers. Perhaps that was needed after all.

“And you are sure it’s this way?”

The group had broken off the road, heading down through a clear part of the meadow. Mel led the way on her horse, Marios behind on another with the rest of the group in the cart.

“Of course it’s this way. It’d be easier if you let me be up front,” Martin complained. He was wedged behind Mel on her horse, looking back at Marios irritably.

“I’m not letting you sit in front.” Mel was firm.

In contrast, Tabby was plopped in front of Marios. She had been silent for the most part, soaking everything in with an occasional question or comment.

Without announcement Mel’s horse came to a stop. She stared into the distance with a squint, as if she wasn’t sure what she was seeing.

Marios came alongside her, attempting to gain vantage.

“What is it?”

A large empty hill with a wagon track lay ahead in the late morning sun. The puzzling sight shimmered and shifted, an old, two-towered house appearing from nothingness. It had seen better days but still stood. The building appeared to list sideways, giving it a crooked appearance.

“Look, it’s the house!” Tabby pointed.

“By heavens. One moment it seemed to be there, the other it didn’t.” Marios muttered softly.

There was a brief silence as everyone took in the sight.

“So this house does exist, and only appears to show itself in the presence of children. What do we do now?” Seijun asked.

Marios reached for her staff, quickly evaluating their situation.

“Go on ahead and scout. Fiona, Nora; mind the animals. The rest of us will travel by foot.”

Seijun leapt from the cart and into the woods with one bound. Nora hopped off the cart and drew a hand crossbow.

“Works by me. Come on Fiona.”

The purple gnome scrambled out, heading towards Mel and Marios to take their horses as they dismounted. The rest of the party checked weapons and readied themselves.

“That man wasn’t too happy with us being there the last time,” Martin remarked.

“A valid point. I do not believe us all going up the hill would be a wise choice.” Marios had just put Tabby down on the ground.

“Mother, might have an idea with that.” Yorina strode up, eyes fixed on the house.

“Oh, and what would that be?”

“It’s quite simple. The Church will pay him a visit. The rest of us will come up roundabout while this happens.”

Marios realized what she meant, a smile on her face.

“I believe we can give that angle a shot. If you’re up to it.”

Yorina took her golden staff, twirling it around before slamming it on the ground.

“I am. Let’s go.”

Marios raised her finger. “In a moment.”

She turned to the children, half kneeling as she did upon meeting them the first time.

“While we are here on your behest, you are doth younger and not skilled as us. Obedience is key; do not randomly run off or directly disobey us. You are not here to show us how brave you are. Do you understand?”

“But-” Tabby started to protest.

Marios laid a hand on her shoulder, looking kind but firm.

“This is important, Tabby. This is not a time or place to be carefree.”

Martin slowly nodded, Tabby reluctantly agreeing. Marios smiled and stood up.

“Good. Follow Mel. We will meet inside if all goes well.”

Martin trudged at the end of the group in a fast jog. Tabby was having a hard time keeping up, so Pri had opted to give her a piggyback ridge so she could keep pace. They skirted along the end of the hill, watching Marios and Yorina stride up the path.

“Would they be okay?” He asked worriedly.

“They’ve had a few scrapes, they should be fine.” Mance assured him.

“Unless a dragon suddenly bursts out of the house. Then we’d be f- er, in trouble.” Mel stumbled over her words for a moment.

“Can that really happen?” Tabby asked loudly

“Shush!” Pri warned.

Tabby shut up, her face still begging an answer.

“We’ll see.”

The group was in position, getting a good view of the back of the house. Seeing it in daylight without running in, Martin didn’t quite realize the scale of the house. In fact, he was questioning it’s name this very moment.

A figure appeared on the room, standing tall and silent. It was Seijun, waving at them in a sideways motion.

“Well, that just complicates things.”

“What does she see?” Tabby whispered.

“That means that nobody’s moving around inside.” Mel muttered.

“Sounds fishy?” Mance ventured.

“Yeah.”

A loud banging could be heard, followed by the voices of mother and daughter.

“Hello! Is anyone home?”’

“Greetings! Does anyone reside here?”

Mel looked back at the others.

“That’s our sign. Go!”

Mance took off first, then Mel and Martin. Pri scooped up Tabby, Ned bringing up the rear.

As the commotion continued, the boy noticed that it was odd that no one was answering the women. When they had come here the last time, nobody had greeted them upon arrival.

The reached the back of the house, everyone crouching against the wall. Pri let go of Tabby and walked over to the rear entrance, using her dagger and jamming the lock. Seijun vaulted off the roof and joined them. The door swung open easily, almost creaking on its hinges. She held it open, wordlessly motioning the others inside.

There was still no answer outside. Everyone quietly spilled into the kitchen, which had an odd smell to it despite being empty. There was no commotion inside whatsoever, despite the knocking on the door.

“Check immediate surroundings. He threatened the kids, so he might be hostile.” Mel warned.

Everyone spread out into a few rooms, carefully eyeing each corner for life. Mance looked over his shoulders a few times, going to the front door.

The two elves flinched for a moment, Yorina about to knock again. Upon seeing their party member they relaxed, quickly darting inside.

“Any progress?” Yorina whispered.

He shook his head. “Nobody seems to be here.”

The party continued to file out into the abandoned rooms, which were mostly empty.

“He must be hiding in the other section,” Marios mused.

“That seems likely. Maybe some of us look for the corpses while the rest of you try to find him?”

“We’d cover more ground better,” Mel agreed.

“I wish not to tarry here, but it makes sense. The children will stay with me.”

Mel rotated her shoulders a little.

“All right. I’ll go with you to catch the murderhobo creep. Miss alchemist, the evil gnome and swashbuckler seem fit enough to go look for corpses.”

“Finally!” Ned eyes lit with glee, rubbing his hand together.

“Hey, stop being evil for once and be useful, huh? We are going to go look for dead bodies. But no necromancy. Sheesh.”

Yorina bumped against Mance, letting Ned lead the way.

“C’mon, before we have Necropolis before we know it.”

Marios gazed after the trio leaving, turning back to the others.

“Let’s find this old man.”

Some poking about was done on the lower floors. However, no old man. The strange stench that they had encountered earlier was more prevalent, causing the children to wrinkle their noses.

“Do you think it’s…it’s the bodies?” Martin asked worriedly.

Mel took a big sniff for a moment, lurching just a bit.

“No. It’s close, but not the same thing. This is…something else. It smells like underworld if anything.”

They went up the spiral of steps that led to the top of the tower on their end. The top had a few windows, and some empty wooden boxes. However, they came to a sudden stop, sighting a figure sitting backfirst to them. It made no reaction to their presence.

Martin managed to point, identifying him as the man who had chased them.

Marios slowly stepped into the room, quietly approaching from the side. Tabby hid behind her, staying dead silent as she peeked out from behind her sweeping skirts.

“I don’t like unannounced guests,” the man finally spoke.

Marios jumped a bit at the sudden voice, but held her ground.

“I fully did if I recall correctly.”

The man turned around. His movements were slow and methodical, his frazzled look setting her off edge just a bit. His posture was off-kilter, his strong arms in clash with his lazy eye.

“That doesn’t change the fact I don’t want you here. Don’t like your sort.”

“You’ve taken up residence in a place you do not belong,” Marios warned.

“Oh? Those kids told you that?” He smirked. “What did they offer you, a cookie and a drawing?”

Martin scowled and was about to say something, but was stopped by Mel’s firm grip on his shoulder.

“What they gave me is none of your business. What does matter is that you need to leave. Now.”

The man laughed. It sounded a little gurgly and sadistic. Something was clearly amiss.

“You’re a special one, aren’t you? Thinking you can right everything, marching around with that big hat and sword, running after children. There’s more important things in this world to be bothered about than an old man in his own house.”

Tabby squeezed Marios’ hand tighter, biting her lip.

“Mother.”

It sounded like Yorina yelling for her. Marios started to turn her head to see what was the matter, but the man kept talking.

“Like your daughter. I’m sure she loves ramping things up and blowing it out of proportion. Kids are all the same.”

Marios’ face became as stone, striding to the side.

“What do you know of my daughter?”

Yorina burst into the room, slinging her crossbow with both hands.

“MOTHER!”

Marios whirled around to the commotion. As soon as Yorina saw the old man, she leveled the crossbow at him. She partially shoved Marios aside, feet apart in a defense stance.

“Daughter!”

“Mother, stay away! Don’t go close!”

“We will apprehend him and take him to town, Yorina. This is completely unnecessary.”

“He’s dangerous! You’re not going to be able to!” She snapped back.

“Who you gunna trust, fancy missy? Your holy, divine justice or your bastard, wayward daughter from another man?”

Marios turned sharply to Yorina, finger around the crossbow. But she did not such thing. She shook a little, breath ragged.

“Mother…avaene ‘a’ anta.”

Marios’ eyes shot wide, suddenly realizing what was at play.

As if on cue, the old man’s mouth turned into a crooked grin, stating to move to the side of his face. At the same, his head started to bend backwards, the stench the strongest that it had ever been.

Tabby screamed, hiding behind Marios. Martin let out a yell himself as the man shifted into some ungodly, abhorrent mass of red flesh. The rest of the party pushed past him as Marios pushed Tabby back.

Everything happened in a flash. Marios had cast her divine lance as Yorina opened fire with her crossbow. The man had finally transformed into a jelly-like human figure, with skinny limbs and a hunched body. It stood eight feet tall as it attempted to splay various tendrils in various directions, causing the party to scatter.

Tabby had run to the steps with her brother, the two peeking at the horrifying sight while hiding out of harm’s way. All that could be heard was various yells, spells and gurgling screams. A final scream broke the air before an uneasy silence settled in the air.

The two dared to look, finding the adventurers catching their breath. A large red good pooled on the floor. Marios caught sight of them, relieved to see they were safe.

“Mrs. Marios!” Tabby grabbed her in a hug, burying her face into her skirts.

“I’m glad to see you two are unharmed.” She reached to give Martin a hug.

“Well, at least they aren’t this guy.” Mance dared to poke the blob with his sword.

Marios cleared her throat, eyes silently reprimanding him. Mance regarded the kids and decided to turn his attention elsewhere.

The pope turned her attention to Yorina, who had still collecting herself.

“How did you know?”

Yorina glanced at her, grip slowly loosening around the crossbow.

“The dead bodies…Ned said there was more. But one was of an old man that matched the kids’ description. Then we found an egg thing on the ceiling. I think it sensed the death and took up residence, killed him then imitated him. But that is…”

Marios nudged the kids away from her, approaching her daughter.

“…a faceless stalker. I understand now why you did not explain yourself. Your wisdom carries you once again.”

She turned to the dead corpse of the creature, then back to her daughter to reaffirm herself.

“Do not let that abomination’s words haunt you. Thou are still my daughter, and I hold thee in high regard. I doth have…work to do in complicitly trusting you within a moment’s notice. I beg patience in that path.”

With that, Marios gave the woman a hug. Yorina flushed slightly, dropping the crossbow and embracing her back.

“Sure, mother.”

“Are you sure it’s safe?”

Georg unsteadily marched around the room, looking back at the others. The smell was gone, the sky was deep blue with stars. A lone lantern stood in the middle of the room, casting a soft glow.

“Mrs. Marios cleaned it out with her friends, and came back a few weeks later to make sure nothing else was here. It’s back to the same old house.” Martin assured him.

“And this house was magical?” Keith asked in disbelief.

“It’s why us kids can only see it. Of course a grown-up can see it if they’re with us; but whoever bound the magic, it’s a sort of safety mechanism to keep trouble away.” Martin was smug, leaning against the wall.

Georg finally dropped his bedroll on the clean floor.

“Then why did that old man come here? How did he manage to get past that?”

Martin walked over to his bedroll, kicking off his shoes.

“Something that is from another plane, greater than the magic here. It’s few and far in between is what she told me.”

That was the simple version, repeated word for word by the pope’s daughter.

The boys all started to relax, a sense of adventure starting to settle in.

“So where’s your sister?” Keith joked.

Martin looked sullen for a second, but gathered himself as he crawled into his bed.

“She’s with Mom right now. But even if she could come, she’s scared of the house. Mrs. Marios tried to walk around with her to show her it’s safe, but I think she won’t be coming her for awhile.”

“Funny how that worked out,” Georg mused.

“Yeah. It is.” Martin looked up at the ceiling, not saying a word.

“Something’s up.” Keith turned on your side.

Martin sighed, shaking his head some.

“They said that if Tabby wasn’t with us, we’d probably we dead. I don’t get the whole explanation. I just think we were lucky.”

“Well, we’re safe now. You said so yourself.” Georg reached for the lantern to dim it.

“Who wants to start the first ghost story?”

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