The day had started like any other for Peyton Dustone, but today was coming to an end in a much different manner. Just three hours ago, a young halfling girl had collapsed on the floor of the tavern, mumbling about something that was on its way. Peyton was grabbing a bowl of fresh hot water and some food for the girl when the door opened to the now-empty establishment. In the doorway stood a dark figure, outlined by the lights in the street, the torches burning inside did little to illuminate their face.
“Is the girl here?” the person said. Their voice was barely above a whisper, but Peyton heard them clearly. It was almost melodic and seemed to penetrate directly into his mind.
“I-I’m just getting ready to close up, sir. You’ll have to come back tomorrow,” Peyton replied, setting the water and food on the bar. He was sure that the door had been locked, but in the chaos that had followed when the girl had arrived, it was possible that he had forgotten.
“I’m only here for the girl,” the person replied, “Do not get between me and my quarry.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Peyton replied, walking to the end of the bar and placing his hand on the dagger he kept there for emergencies. “The guards outside will arrest you if you don’t leave now.”
“Fine,” they replied, taking a step inside, turning around to shut the door behind them.
Peyton pulled the dagger from its hiding place as the door latched shut. The person lowered the bar that blocked the entrance in emergencies, and at the moment it landed in the brackets, all the torches went out in the room, plunging the tavern into darkness.
Peyton could feel his heart racing in his chest as he backed against the wall, keeping the weapon before him. The air grew cold as his eyes searched for the windows outside. His eyes strained to see but perceived only the cold expanse of infinite darkness.
“Where is the girl?” the voice asked again. This time it was only in Peyton’s mind. He couldn’t place where it was coming from once more.
“I-I don’t know,” Peyton replied. “I’m just a simple barkeep. I don’t know much of anything.”
“You lie to me,” the voice echoed through the room.
“N-no, I’m not lying. I don’t know,” Peyton replied, swinging the dagger around him. “Stay away from me!”
“I have what I need,” the voice echoed.
Peyton waited in the dark silence of his tavern, his chest rising and falling rapidly as he swung sporadically at things he hoped weren’t there. After a few minutes, Peyton heard the bar over the door move, and it open. The lights returned as fast as they had gone, and he found himself alone in the room.
“Saoirse,” he whispered as he ran up the stairs to the room. The covers were pulled back on the empty bed. “Fuck.”
Peyton ran back down the stairs and out into the street. He spun in place, looking for the figure, the girl, the guards, or any indication as to where she had gone. In the quiet street, the streetlamps crackled merrily, but not a soul could be seen. Peyton turned north and ran to the guard tower, where he began beating on the door, hoping someone would come down.
“What’s the-” the guard said, opening the door.
“He took her!” Peyton said, his hands shaking. “Saoirse is gone! The guards are gone. He took her.”
“Calm down, old man. What are you talking about?” the guard asked.
“I need to speak to the Captain. Now!” Peyton said. “The Iron Trumpet, where the girl from Dobrigh had been. Auxlen had put guards outside. Everyone is gone. Saoirse, the guards, everyone!”
“Come with me,” the guard said, some recognition seeming to awaken in his eyes.
Peyton followed the guard through the door, up the tower, and over the top of the wall to the East Tower. There, sitting at a table, Auxlen Hammerbeard sat, pouring over a map of the region as a soldier looked over his shoulder.
“Captain Hammerbeard, Peyton-”
“Auxlen! He took her!” Peyton cried as he rushed forward.
The soldier moved to draw his sword, but Auxlen waved a hand dismissively.
“What do you mean? Saoirse? She’s gone? Who took her?” Auxlen asked, standing up.
“I don’t know. I didn’t see his face. He came in, and everything went black. I had my dagger,” Peyton paused, looking at the dagger still in his hand. He slid it into his belt. “She’s gone.”
“Where are the guards I had posted outside?” Auxlen asked, walking past him.
“They’re gone too,” Peyton said.
Auxlen turned to the soldier, “sound the alarm. I think whoever was in Dobrigh is here. Peyton, you come with me.”
The soldier ran up the stairs as Peyton turned around. He was halfway back to the tower near his tavern when the alarm bells rang. Each tower along the wall echoed the alarm bell. Guards and soldiers could be seen running through the streets when they exited the tower.
“What are you going to do? Are you going to get her back?” Peyton asked as Auxlen stepped through the door to the tavern and went straight for the stairs.
“I’m going to do my best to protect everyone in Malton. If the guards can find her, we’ll get her back,” Auxlen replied as he looked at the empty bed. “She’s the only one that we know of that saw them until you. Why didn’t they take you?”
“I-I don’t know,” Peyton said, staring at the floor. “I only saw one of them. Maybe he couldn’t take two of us?”
“You wait here,” Auxlen said, “Bar the door, and I’ll send a dozen guards here to surround the building. They can’t have gotten far.”
“Okay,” Peyton agreed, following Auxlen to the door and closing it behind him.
Peyton dropped the bar and hobbled to a table. His hip was screaming at him from all the activity. He fell into a chair and waited. He hoped that they would find the girl and the people responsible for taking her.