I had to stop and let the question register. The captain seemed stressed, and I wasn’t sure if he was being accusatory. “Yes, they’re mine.” I paused, waiting for some response, but the man just kept staring. I could see the despair in his eyes. After a moment, I continued, “I saw them killed by the monster and then they stood up and attacked your men. I was just trying to help.”

“No, I mean, thank you. You did good.” He turned toward the dwarf. “And you, I would have a bigger mess if you didn’t step in. Thank you too.”

Waving his hand dismissively, the dwarf said, “It was no problem, just doing my duty. Our offer stands. Can we do anything to help ye?”

“We’ll probably need help investigating this incident,” the captain said. “Come see me tomorrow at the headquarters. Right now, I need to clean up this mess and contact my men’s families. Excuse me.”

Jerry walked over to us while the captain rushed off. When he was out of sight, I turned to the dwarf. “That was terrible. What was that thing?”

“That was a ghast, and we took care of it, didn’t we?” the dwarf exulted. “Aye, we did good!” He clapped me on the back, a smile under his bushy beard.

Although uncharacteristic, his mood was infectious, and I remembered our original goal before the ghast attacked. “Jerry was about to take me to Bearty Bahts. Would you like to come with us?”

“No, I’m goin’ to take a gander at the job board, but it’s a great place to get supplies. Enjoy yerself.” He turned around and went down the street, whistling.

I glanced at Jerry and mouthed, “What’s gotten into him?”

Jerry shrugged. “He gets that way sometimes. Come,” he said, and started down the street.

Glancing around as we walked, I took stock of the different buildings and markings so I wouldn’t get lost in town on my own, but mostly, my thoughts strayed back to the incident that had just occurred. Something like that doesn’t just happen. I had to wonder about the dwarf and Jerry, as they took the incident very nonchalantly. The fight had me a bit shaken, and I knew that I needed some answers before I could let it pass.

Once I finished shopping, I figured that I would head down to the docks and ask around. Maybe somebody could give a clue as to where that monster came from.

Lost in my thoughts, I barely noticed when we reached a street with several small shops and a second floor on each, where the owners probably lived. The buildings had no gaps between them, but you could tell where one started and ended by the different paints and decor on each business face. Jerry led me to one of the bigger ones, which had a wooden sign that hung over the door. Written on the sign in flourishing calligraphy was “Bearty Bahts.”

The door jingled as we opened it, and the smell of incense wafted out. I stepped in while Jerry held the door open, and my jaw dropped. To call the place a general store would be a complete understatement. The place had aisles of racks and displays, with practically everything on them, from food and travel rations in one area to general clothing in another. Tools lined one shelf and basic weapons and armor another.

I found myself perusing the aisles of stuff. None of it was junk. The place catered to the practical side of life, whether you were a traveler or a local, or whether you lived in the city or on a farm. Supplies for canning, pickling, and preserving littered one shelf I passed, and not far from that, shelves dedicated to pickled items had all manner of pickled goods brought in from outlying farms.

Incense sat on a counter in the back of the shop, and I could see more rickarack behind a door that had just opened. Now standing behind the counter stood a stately woman with a wide smile above her double chins. “Hello, darlings!” she said, drawing out the O. “What can I do for you?”

I gave her one of my most endearing smiles, and then she reached below the counter and pulled out a hand ax.

Michael C. Sahd, author of The Unfettered Child and Assassin Marked

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