Otherwise, read on!
It was the pain that woke him up.
Boko gasped and tried to sit up, but the pain pressed against him like a spear held at his throat, and so, relenting, he laid still and tried to open his eyes. It was several moments before he realized he had, in fact, done so, for the darkness here smothered him so completely. Blinking rapidly only brought phantom bursts of light and an intensification of the pain, so Boko closed his eyes once more and tried to remember how he gotten into this predicament.
Through quick thinking and not a little luck he had managed to escape the ravening owlbears relatively unscathed. Even the crazed barbarian who had charged them at the gates had only managed to dampen his clothing. Then they had come here, to the Northlook Inn and Tavern and–oh yes, it was all coming back to him now …
The wine. He had been drinking cheap wine.
Boko groaned and rolled over, accepting the hammer blows to his brain as just recompense for his folly. Of course, it wasn’t as if he had had much choice in the matter. The entire town of Bryn Shander probably couldn’t rub enough coins together to afford a decent bottle of Arabellan Dry, let alone the Fire Wine that Boko used to have laid in at his estate in Waterdeep. And refusing the drinks the locals had pressed into his hands after hearing his tales of high adventure on the Ten Trail would have been unthinkably rude. No, Boko simply had to accept his role as a missionary of culture and good taste to the peoples of Icewind Dale, along with the martyrdom that entailed.
Speaking of martyrs, maybe that cleric of Helm had a prayer for headaches.
Boko gritted his teeth and sat up, blindly fumbling about for his boots. He had come to Icewind Dale for adventure, by Milil! And it would take more than a headful of sour grapes to stop him.
Boko walked through the narrow streets of Bryn Shander, holding his cloak tight about him and squinting against the brightness of Keothakan’s torch. Other figures, bundled against the cold, hurried past them in the bobbing shadows, the sounds of their passage muted by the soft, steady fall of snow. Even the chorus of hammers in Boko’s head had grown quieter, now just a steady drumbeat of dull, throbbing pain.
Bishop had demurred when Boko had asked about a prayerful remedy for his plight. Whether this was because even the gods had no cures for hangovers, or because the cleric thought penance would do him more good than prayer, Boko remained unsure, though he suspected the latter.
Raoul’s voice was the first to break the quiet. “I don’t understand why we all have to go to the town hall. Can’t you just … check in for us?” The lad looked imploringly at the cleric of Helm, but Bishop’s face was as stern as his rebuke.
“The guards said all visitors have to present themselves to the sheriff. That includes you.”
Boko squeezed Raoul’s shoulder in encouragement. “Fear not, said sheriff will be dazzled by our appearance! Backwaters like these don’t see guests of our caliber very often. We can’t help but make an impression!”
The young lad slouched further down into his cloak, his response muffled by the furs. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
As it turned out, dazzling the sheriff of Bryn Shander was proving to be more difficult than Boko had anticipated, due in no small part to the limited space he had to work with. Much like the Northlook’s lodgings, the sheriff’s office was a compact room with low ceilings built to keep the heat in. There was barely room for the six of them to stand crowded about the sheriff’s desk, with the two goliaths bent over at odd angles to keep their heads out of the rafters, and every time Boko gesticulated he ended up swatting one of his companions in the chest or face. After his last flourish caught Keo in the ear, prompting a feral growl from the warrior, Boko shoved his hands into his sleeves and tried a different tack.
“You mentioned there’s been trouble in town lately. What manner of trouble? Perhaps my companions and I can be of some assistance.”
Markham Southwell, the sheriff of Bryn Shander, sighed wearily and ran a hand over the smooth dome of his head. “Murders. Three of them. The first was several moons ago, a trapper in Easthaven. Rumor had it one of the fishermen came to his house to collect on a gambling debt and found the halfling stabbed to death with a dagger made of ice. I didn’t give the story much credence at the time, but when one of our tradesfolk turned up dead the same way last month I started to think differently. And now, three days ago, I have word from Targos that one of their boatwrights was found dead with an ice dagger in his chest. No sign of the killer, but I’d have to be a fool to think that was his last target. And I’m no fool.” 1
The sheriff leveled a hard look at Boko, and the bard found himself at an unaccustomed loss for words. It was Kip who spoke up.
“We’ll keep an ear out, and let you know if we find any leads. Anything else?”
The sheriff nodded, looking, if possible, even wearier as he did so. “Yes, before you go, I need to log your arrival and give you your giftstones.”
The sheriff opened a drawer behind his desk and withdrew a leather-bound book along with a heavy leather satchel that clattered as he set it down on the desk. Reaching into the satchel, he withdrew a smooth river-rock the size of his palm, carved and painted on one side with the image of a ram’s horn. Opening the book and picking up a quill with his other hand, he sketched a figure of the ram’s horn on the page and then looked up expectantly at Boko. “Name?”
Boko cleared his throat. “Charles Webster Biffin the Third, of the Waterdeep Biffins.” Smack. Keo growled again. Boko hastily shoved his hands back into his sleeves. “But, ah, my friends call me Boko. We’re all friends here, yes?”
The sheriff made a noncommittal noise and noted down Boko’s name and provenance in neat, small letters before reaching out and handing Boko the stone. “Hold onto that.”
Boko examined the item in bemusement as the sheriff repeated the process for the rest of his companions, handing each of them a stone marked with a different symbol. How quaint, the bard thought to himself, that they would give such gifts to all their visitors. I suppose the sheriff is too provincial to be embarrassed about handing out rocks as if they were treasures. Boko entertained the idea of handing out such “gifts” at his next soiree in Waterdeep, and chuckled to himself as he imagined his guests’ reactions.
At last, the sheriff closed his logbook and replaced it in its drawer. “Keep your giftstones on you at all times, and do not exchange them amongst one another. If you travel to one of the other towns, you will be required to present your giftstone to gain admittance back into Bryn Shander. If for some reason you lose it, inform me and I will issue you another.”
As the companions tucked their illuminated stones into pockets and pouches, Kip looked up, suddenly anxious. “What if someone steals them?”
The lines of weariness on the sheriff’s face deepened until they looked carved upon his visage, as if his face were one of the graven rocks. He gave a deep sigh and shook his head.
“No one will try to steal your stones … “
1 This conversation sets up what is meant to be the adventure’s introductory quest, “Cold-Hearted Killer.” As written, the characters are meant to pick up the quest from a dwarven bounty hunter who can tell them not only about the murders, but also who committed them and exactly where to find him. The quest is meant to be a straightforward fight that also informs the characters about another important development–the human sacrifices that are taking place in Bryn Shander.
The adventure is clear that this quest is meant to be a hunt rather a mystery, although it doesn’t even make for much of a hunt since the murderer is right there in Bryn Shander. I decided to play up both angles by leaving the murderer’s identity a mystery for the characters to solve, and by changing the chronology of the murders to make it clear the killer had already moved on to other towns. Combining both factors gave the party an immediate reason to want to branch out and start exploring Ten Towns, while leaving the reveal of who was murdering people and why for a time when that info would be more meaningful to the players.
It also allowed me to postpone the reveal of the sacrifices happening in Ten Towns, something I wanted to present more as a dawning horror than an up-front statement of fact. It would be a while yet before the characters found out what those giftstones were really all about!
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