Alexander sat at his usual table, off in the corner of the Land’s Edge; he liked having a wall to his back. The waitress poured him another glass of whiskey as he read his book, and Franklin relaxed on the table with a shot glass of water, since he was too small for a real glass. Rilain came in later, perhaps the solitude of the Gazelle must have finally been too much for her to bear. When she sat down at the table, the waitress came back with her usual drink without having to be called for.
Rilain still looked out of place in the bar filled with lowlifes, pirates, and all sorts of unsavory characters. She took out her flute and began to slowly play a small tune. It seemed to hush the room as people started to realize music was being played. The bar was quiet when she finished. Flustered, she realized everyone was staring at her. Some people cheered, as they found it pleasing compared to the rowdy sounds of the town itself.
There was a loud bang of a weapon over the silence, and gunshots to follow, that brought Alexander out of his book. Franklin asked what that sound was as Alexander tried to figure it out himself, or at least what gun would have caused such a racket.
"Let’s go for a walk, guys," Alexander said, wondering what was happening in town today.
Franklin scuttled back up his shoulder and Rilain got ready to leave as they walked out.
Ruby yelled over, “I have a job that you might find interesting, come back later.”
"Sure, we'll be back as soon as we can," Alexander said as they departed, for the sounds of a chase had started somewhere in Conwell seemingly moments before.
A man ran by with a haste about him—as a man on the run would from danger—with a group of thugs trailing quickly after him. Alexander tripped one of them, causing him to fall face first into the ground, breaking his nose.
He tried reaching for his weapon, but it was kicked out of his hand. As he’d become aware of the situation, he noticed the girl pointing a shotgun at his face and an eye-patched man picking up the downed weapon.
"So, do you want to explain what’s going on and why you were chasing that man?" Alexander said, returning his attention back to the thug.
"I don't know. The boss just said we had to capture him," stated the thug.
"He's lying to us," squeaked Franklin.
Alexander looked at Franklin," I know he's lying to me! You think he didn’t hear anything at all? Especially after there was a fight and their target got away. What he doesn't realize is I'm going to have Rilain shoot his face off with her shotgun if he doesn't tell me what I need to know."
He turned his attention back from talking to Franklin, "Well, I assume you heard that. So, why don't we talk a little...or you can talk to my friend over there," Alexander said motioning to Rilain.
"I don't know anything at all, I swear. The only thing I heard was that the leader mentioned his name was Phinneus, I believe," the thug pleaded; he didn't want to die.
"Well, you were a little bit of help, I think. I don't think I'll kill you. Just get out of my town," Alexander said in a stern tone.
The thug seemed relieved.
A shotgun blast rang out, showering the thug in shrapnel, striking him dead.
"It slipped," Rilain said, surprised.
"Don’t worry about it. I would have just shot him anyway. I think I didn’t like his face," Alexander said to lighten the mood. “Shall we go see if we can meet Mr. Phinneus or go for a walk? Today seems more exciting than I thought it would be."
Hours later, Alexander returned to the Land’s Edge to see what Ruby had so eagerly wanted to tell him earlier in the day. Entering the bar, Ruby came out with a bottle of whiskey and 2 glasses, also holding a piece of paper. She then sat down and poured the glasses for Alexander and his Nakalo companion.
"I wanted to show you this before you ran off. Where did you go, anyway?" Ruby asked, trying to figure out what all the commotion was about outside.
"Just business. Just a guy passing through," he stated, trying not to divulge any information, since news traveled and Conwell had ears everywhere.
Returning to the matter at hand, he looked at the news article. It was about a small town west of Sorditudo having rumors of children and adults disappearing in the night without a trace.
"So they think it’s a monster,” Ruby mentioned, “which is why I think it’s reason enough for you all to go investigate."
Alexander just stared at the news story, and Rilain looked like she was contemplating what part of the mysterious animal’s tail she wanted to keep when they caught it.
"There doesn't seem to be mention of how much it pays,” Alexander stated.
Ruby replied with, "Well, if you read all of it, like you should do, you’ll notice rewards will be discussed in person, and the town isn't that far away."
Franklin squeaked, "We should do it. We need extra money to replace a couple of engine manifold couplings!"
With a pause, Alexander looked at Franklin, then Ruby. "Alright, we will take the case," he said, defeated. Ruby enjoyed winning, especially against Alexander, since she owed him for the last favor and a job seemed appropriate for now.
With preparation made and gear stowed away in the cargo hold, the Gazelle left the docks unmoored and made its way back to Antiford at a steady pace. They would arrive at this nameless town with in a day’s journey. The trip was easy, filled with talking and arguing, and music. Trips had become more lively with Rilain now. She had suggested finding more crew members, but Alexander didn’t really like to trust people. He enjoyed being alone, not counting Franklin. To most people, it did really seem like he had lost some bit of sanity somewhere down the line, but it all seemed to work somehow.
They had reached the town by the first light, and the town seemed rather busy for a town that didn’t even have a name.
Franklin squeaked, "They might be other people trying to make a name for themselves, attempting to catch this monster."
Alexander sighed, "That’s just what we need: rookies thinking they're hot shots."
They descended into the town. It was a small town, probably for miners and the miners’ families from Sorditudo, since it was half a mile away and there were a few transports parked nearby that looked way older than one someone would use to safely travel across Antiford.
Trudging through the sand as they crossed through the gate at the beginning of the town, the people took notice of the two; a one-eyed man and a Nakalo. Most people knew who they were just by look, while others had just heard recent rumors.
Alexander decided to walk to the biggest structure in the town as a man approached and stopped a few feet from him, staring for a couple of minutes. "This is my bounty, so get out of here with that freak," he said.
Alexander thought about it for a second. "So, this is your bounty… Then what are all these other hunters doing here?"
The question made the man think for a little, enough time for Alexander to pull out his revolver and put a round in the man’s leg. The guy dropped to the ground as people watched, and Rilain drew her shotgun as onlookers approached.
"If this was your job only, I wouldn't have gotten this job offer. But next time, I will end you if you or anyone else tries to stop me again,” Alexander stated. “Got it?" The man limped away like a wounded dog with his tail between his legs.
"What a bitch," franklin squeaked, and Alexander laughed.
"You do have a point there, my friend."
After the drama subsided, they headed back through the door where the town leader sat. "Good day, sir, I’m Captain Nolan and these are my companions, Franklin and Rilain. We heard there is a job you need us for," Alexander said, reaching out his hand for a handshake. The old man grasped Alexander’s hand, a firm handshake probably built from the many years of mining. However, age had taken its toll.
"Thank you for the polite introduction,” the old man said. “This is my town and we do need your help. A few of the families have had their children stolen in the night, and one of the adults has gone missing like it said in the article."
"Do you have any suspects or any ideas about what was taking them?" Alexander said inquisitively.
The old man replied, "Not a clue. Too quiet for sand pirates and slavers, though I don’t know of any monsters that only take kids."
Alexander thought about the situation. "Can I see the rooms or places where it happened, if you would be so kind?" he asked politely.
The old man smiled. "It would be my honor if it helped you stop this."
They walked to one of the small houses near the edge of the town. The house was held together with bits of sheet metal and plywood and the windows were scratched up by the sand.
"Let’s inspect this," Alexander muttered, looking around the outside of the house for any miniscule piece of evidence.
"What's he doing?" the old man muttered.
Rilain let out a chuckle. "It’s his process. He likes to touch, feel, and look for things out of place. He's quite good at finding things from nothing," she said, trying to be serious, though it was always funny watching his process.
Alexander combed over the outside, the only strange thing was that the window was broken near the door, but the glass was on the inside of the building. He entered the house, stepping carefully, seeing how the objects on the inside fit into place.
Franklin squeaked a, "It stinks in here and there’s no food on the table and the trash can is empty so nothing is rotting."
Alexander sniffed the air; the scent brought back memories of an old job. "You remember that job with the white haven bomber?" he said, trying to recall the memory.
"Kind of. We had to chase him around the underbelly of the city, why?" Franklin asked.
Alexander paused for a bit, trying to put his thoughts together "That place smelled like filthy humans, musky caves, and hints of death."
The old man entered and saw the man sniffing the air. "Did you find anything?" he asked.
Alexander realized where he really was again, not lost in a memory. "Well, I have good news and bad news… The good news is we might know where the people might be, but the bad news is what or who took them might be tricky." He tried to express the direness of the situation. "Are there any caves nearby?"
The old man, lost in thought about it, recalled memories he wanted to forget. "There used to be an old goblin hive, the entrance hidden in the rocks about half a mile north of us."
"Well, that’s where we have to start. Time is a factor now," Alexander said as he walked outside. He yelled so that everyone could hear him, "There’s an old cave about half a mile from here! That's where the hunt starts, so if you're not scared little babies, you should all go there now!"
Franklin asked, "Why did you say that? There goes our profit."
A smile cracked his lips. "If it’s goblins, they'll help get rid of them. If it’s something else, they will disarm the traps by setting them so it helps us out," Alexander whispered.
Franklin said, "And you say I come up with the evil ideas, but I like it."
The group of rookies all went running to the location, and Alexander's group took their time to look for tracks and what signs of the area were disturbed with something carrying children away.
"I hate tracking things in sand. The ground changes with just the wind," Alexander muttered as they trudged through the sand. Finally, they came to the rocky outcropping. None of the rookies had stayed to wait or think of a plan. About ten minutes later, a guy came running out, covered in blood, screaming. Alexander yelled, "Halt," but he wasn't stopping. He motioned for Rilain to stop him. She stepped in with a shotgun butt to the man’s nose, knocking him out and dropping him like a stone.
"Great, now we have to wait for him to wake up. You couldn't have just close-lined him, Rilain?" Alexander asked. She just smiled and began tying him up so he couldn't run away.
An hour later, the man came to with a nasty headache, then realized he was restrained with rope on his hands and feet, and people sitting around a fire were staring at him. "Why am I restrained? I need to get out of here! The cave is haunted," he said.
Alexander laughed. "Well, if you and all those others didn’t run off, seeking glory, I probably would have told you that we most likely have a hobgoblin on our hands." He looked off into the entrance of the cave, feeling as if something was watching him.
"Well, it’s time to get to work," he said, standing up and looking at the man. "I'll give you two options: die a coward, or come with us and live like a hero, saving those people, if they’re still alive." Alexander said, drawing his knife, waiting for the answer.
"I don't want to go in there again, but I don't want to die, so I know my answer. I'll go with you guys."
Alexander smiled. "Good answer," he said, cutting the ropes and handing him a knife. They started their way towards the entrance, the same smells washing over them and they stepped through.
"This one has been busy," Franklin muttered into Alexander's ear.
They walked for half an hour before the first bodies appeared, the group checking and looking for clues of their death. “Looks like a trap got them. A crude-made explosive device," Alexander muttered, taking what ammunition they had in their pockets and giving a spare lamp to the rookie. "Don’t turn it on just yet. He can see better in the dark than we can. And a word of warning: we’re on his turf," Alexander said, pulling his pistol free.
The tunnels were winding and mixed, but headed towards a bigger main chamber. The screams of people echoed through the tunnels as they slowly walked, each person trying not to set traps off and give away their positions as they crept along the low lit tunnel, moving towards the source of light. The screams got louder and louder as they moved.
They emerged into the main chamber and saw men and children tied up next to a small shack made of pieces of wood and bone, a hooded figure dragging a man into the shack. Seconds later, a death-rattling scream emanated from the bone shack.
"Alright, this is what we do: new guy, you creep along the edge of the wall over there. I want you to get him to come out in the open where we can get him," Alexander said as he drew out the area on the ground. The new guy gulped, agreed, and slowly made his way to the side of the wall, trying not to be loud. He reached the bottom and slowly started to make his way out in the open to save the people.
"Tell me the real reason you sent him down there," Franklin asked, because it seemed odd for Alexander to be so nice.
A smile crept across his face "I’d rather shoot him from here. The kid is the bait and I don’t know what this hobgoblin has for weapons. For all we know, he has a lightning gun. Let’s just see what the bait does."
As the man was creeping, he stepped on broken glass that was strewn across the field. The man froze in shock as the hooded figure came out, screeching violent obscenities. The figure ran at the man, brandishing a saber covered in blood in one hand and a in the other pistol, firing off a couple of shots. The man never picked up a pistol. He just had the knife Alexander had given him, which he realized right before the figure was on top of him, firing into the man's torso before lopping off his head.
Franklin said, "You let him die."
"No, no, I said he could die a hero. It’s not my fault if he didn’t pick up any weapons besides my knife. You have to think in this line of work." Alexander sighed as he pulled back the hammer of his revolver, taking careful aim and firing off a well-placed shot that pierced the figure, dropping him instantly. "Let’s make sure he is dead."
They moved with haste towards the body they hoped was no longer breathing. The figure lurched forward, reaching for the sword and looking for the assailant that shot at him. Spying Alexander, he ran at him, screaming. Alexander's revolver barked in his hand, firing off four shots in to the hobgoblin’s chest, but he wasn’t stopping in his pace. The saber slashed at him, but alexander blocked with his revolver, sparks flying as he parried the blows.
"Rilain, you can step in any time now!"
She smiled, getting the drop on the hobgoblin with a well-placed shotgun blast to the face, causing the hobgoblin to fall. "We’re even now," she stated, firing another blast to the corpse.
Alexander bent down to examine the corpse underneath all of the filthy rags. "It looks like the outer shell of a skuttlekovy. That would explain why my bullets weren’t working. I wasn't using the good ones for this," Alexander said, looking at his revolver. "I’m glad that blade wasn't sharper. The knicks can be fixed easily in Conwell."
Alexander snapped out of his thought process and started walking towards the shack. The prisoners saw him and shouted in joy, knowing they were safe from harm. They started to free the hostages one by one, and Alexander picked up his knife as they headed out of the cave. He explained what had happened to the old man in charge of the town, embellishing the part about the man’s heroic deeds in the story, but still collecting the reward since they killed the hobgoblin.
They boarded the Gazelle and started their trek back home for some drinks, to finish prepping for their trip to Kuu, and to replace the engine parts he would need for an over-sea adventure. Alexander opened a bottle of whiskey, poured two glasses and a shot glass to toast to a job well-done as the sun set in Antiford.