First order of business in Verchiel, after securing room at The Paper Dragon inn, is to offload the collection of armor and weapons collected from the various ne’er do wells, preferably to someone that is not related to the previous owners. Marius decides that Felayne shouldn’t be left on her own, and volunteers to stay at the inn with her while the rest venture out into the shopping district. Broga easily locates an equipment shop, Veata’s, which happens to be owned and operated by a very handsome dwarf woman. As they enter, she is speaking with, or rather shouting at, a pair of guilty looking city guards. Not wishing to interrupt, Corryn, Broga, Tyree and Armon begin to peruse the wares. They are soon overwhelmed by the vast array of weapons and armors available, some made of materials they’ve never even heard of. Armon is particularly drawn to the Dragonbone, being Neverran, knowing that it is very rare and valuable, and also that he couldn’t possibly afford it. The proprietor eventually notices her customers and abruptly breaks off her tired, assumes her most winning smile, and greets her new customers. Broga successfully sweet-talks her into giving them a very good deal for their loot. Wanting to discuss amongst themselves how best to use their funds, they let her to go back to berating the guards. Tyree, not interested in shopping at the moment, decides to eavesdrop on their conversation. It seems she had recently been robbed, and the city guard have not been able to find any leads or recover the merchandise. Tyree casually strolls back to the group and excitedly informs them of Veata’s problem. Seeing this as an opportunity to get an even better deal, Corryn interrupts Veata to volunteer his services.
Vaeta is surprised yet grateful and sends the useless guards away. Her story is a strange one. Three nights ago her store was robbed. The theives took several suits of light leather armor, short swords and crossbows. They left the high-end merchandise in favor of medium quality items. What troubles her the most though, is the fact that she didn’t hear anything. Since she lives above her store and was sleeping there at the time, she can’t figure out how they could have been so stealthy, in light of the amount of equipment they took. Vaeta promises ten percent of the cost of any goods they recover. She also mentions that two other merchants, a lumberer and a preserved foods dealer, were robbed that same night under similarly mysterious circumstances. Corryn decides that’s the first place they should start, but they want to make some purchases first, just in case they run into the thieves. Broga picks up a nice new suit of armor, while Armon gets a formidable red-steel bastard sword. Then it’s off to the warehouse district, to visit the first crime scene.
The story from the lumberyard owner is similar to Vaeta’s. Enough wood to build several houses was taken in the middle of the night with no witnesses, a seemingly impossible feat. He also reports that three of his employees and their wives have gone missing as well. They get the addresses of the homes to find out if the employees were taken by force or left of free will. Armon recognizes the law-breaking that is likely to happen and excuses himself to check up on Marius and Felayne back at The Paper Dragon.
After knocking and peering through curtained windows produces no evidence, Broga easily picks the lock. Tyree and Corryn enter the empty house. They discover the cabinets have been cleaned out, along with the wardrobes. Of course this means the family is guilty, otherwise they wouldn’t have left town in such a hurry. The searching also produces a scrap of paper with some sort of coat of arms. Broga thinks it looks close to the Orlesian Empress’s coat of arms, but it’s not quite right. The other two houses produce similar results. Still not having any clue where the missing families might have gone, they head back to the warehouse district to question the purveyor of dried foods.
Hobert seems eager to share with them his suspicions that the theft was orchestrated by his personal guard captain, Garret. Hobert has only circumstantial evidence, and was unable to gather any further information from Garret’s wife. Tyree finds this unusual, since the other men seemed to have taken their wives with them. They thank Hobert, get Garret’s address, and head back to the poor section of town to speak with Irene. She is very wary of opening the door for strangers, especially a giant and a mage. She speaks with them through the small slit of the open chained door. Her good-for-nothing husband has walked away and left her all alone. His crazy schemes to elevate them to high society never work out, and she hopes he is gone for good this time. Tyree gives her a silver to thank her for her time. At the site of silver, a sudden change comes over Irene, who seems much more willing to cooperate. She calls for her daughter to give them one last pieces of information. The shy girl comes to the crack and repeats her story, just like her mum tells her to. The night her father disappeared, the same night the merchants were robbed, she saw him meet up with an elf that had a shiny black cloak. It was dark, so she didn’t see much of his face. Corryn begins to suspect a mage must be involved. He resolves to research the symbol, but by this time it has gotten very late, so they decide to retire for the evening.
The morning brings a day of research at the library for Corryn, while Tyree, Armon, and Broga decide to pay a visit to Vaeta to see if she has any missing staff like the other victims. Vaeta works the store on her own, so she doesn’t have any staff to speak of. Getting desperate for leads, Tyree shows her the slip of paper with the coat of arms. Vaeta’s seen it before, but doesn’t know what it means. It appeared on the sign of a supplier of illicit merchandise, which masquerades as a laundry cleaners. The three decide to check out this “merchant”, thinking he must have something to do with the crimes. For several hours they sit at a small fruit stand across the alley from the laundry cleaners, watching young elf women enter with baskets of dirty clothes and leave with clean ones. Eventually they follow a pair of gossiping elves back to an opulent mansion, where they are blocked by a gate and a guard. Feeling lost and hopeless, they make their way back to The Paper Dragon, hoping that Corryn had more luck.
Although Corryn is able to confirm that the coat of arms is in fact not the Orlesian Royal seal, he isn’t able to determine what it is. He does discover that taking a well known coat and making changes to it has been used historically to mock the nobility. Takes this information to the local guard headquarters, hoping that the guards have more evidence in the case and he could fill in the missing piece. The secretary informs him that the detective assigned to the job is out on the field and not expected back until the morning. Corryn leaves a note for the detective, then to rendezvous with the rest of the group. Back at the inn, Felayne is getting anxious to leave Verchiel, since her puppies are getting older every day. They resolve to stay one more day, and let the local authorities handle the case if they aren’t able to solve it in that time.
Bright and early, Corryn gets a knock on his door. A Templar, who introduces himself as Emeric, asks for what information he has in the burglary case. Corryn shows him the slip of paper and explains about the missing staff. Emeric asks Corryn, and his friends if they’d like, to accompany him to another crime scene, as he has need of his special skills. Emeric also brings along five Verchiel guards, so he seems to be expecting trouble. All ten of them leave town headed west on the Imperial Highway. After a few miles, Emeric leads them off the road to the south, following some deep ruts made by wagons that seemed to be very heavy. Just far enough into the trees to be blocked from sight, the tracks abruptly stop. Corryn senses that powerful magic was used here, a blood magic spell that can transport inanimate items across long distances. Tyree and Dog notice the faint smell of blood, and conclude that the horses pulling the wagons were slaughtered to fuel the foul magic. The pair also locates the well concealed tracks of the people who could not be transported by the spell, that lead further south, into the deep forest of the Dales.
Following the tracks leads the group to an unexpected sight. Two drunken guards stand watch over a stockade under construction. Several buildings have already been erected, and between them, women walk with baskets of cloth and food, while children and dogs run between them shouting and playing. Tyree easily escapes their notice, and returns to his companions, the Templar and the city guards waiting back in the trees. Given the news of what awaits them, the Templar confidently walks right towards the location of the drunken guards. Corryn prepares for battle by casting his rock armor. Suddenly the previous noise of children, dogs and gossip ceases.
Once out of the trees, only armed men await them. The Templar declares that the thieves should surrender themselves in the name of the Maker. The men do not heed his warning, and are soon involved in a small melee. Preferring to assess the situation further before engaging in combat, Tyree, Broga, Armon and Corryn sneak around the side of one of the barns. Tyree and Armon begin to scare the men into surrendering with words alone, fearing that they are enthralled by the suspected maleficarum and not wishing to hurt them. The Templar and the Verchiel guards make no such distinction. Four of the men surrender outright, leaving the battlefield to take up positions at two of the buildings closed doors. Just when it seemed it would be over quickly, more men and their dogs arrive from the west. After the Templar cuts one of them clean in half with his great sword, a figure appears out of nowhere, a bald elf with a facial tattoo and a shimmering black cloak.
A swirling vortex of blood centered on the elf leaves the Verchiel guards mortally wounded, and they are easily dispatched by the men they were fighting. Seeing their anathema, the Templar and the Maleficar meet in the middle to do battle. Upon reaching the elf, the Templar uses what makes his kind so feared by mages. A globe of blinding white light flashes around him, causing all of the elf’s protective enchantments to be dispelled. This leaves both of them vulnerable for a time. The elf takes advantage of this to inflict major damage to Emeric, who begins bleeding from his eyes, nose and ears. After taking some gruesome hits from the Templar’s great sword and Corryn, Armon and Broga’s attacks, the elf sucks the life force from two of the men who surrendered, healing himself and causing them to collapse. He also encases himself in a blue shield, making it very difficult for Broga and Armon to hit him. Seeing them struggle, the Templar uses his Maker given ability again, but this time catching Corryn in the radius, who does not appreciate it. The elf realizes he won’t last long if the Templar keeps taking down his defenses, and adjusts his strategy accordingly.
Corryn recognizes what the Maleficar does to Emeric, but is powerless to prevent it. The next great sword swing cuts through Armon’s armor. Hoping that killing the source will break the enchantment, Armon ignores the painful wounds and continues to hack away at the elf, red-steel sword growing ever redder with each slash. Since Tyree has been successful in frightening away several of the men, the elf is quickly running out of volunteers from which to siphon life-giving blood. Getting desperate, the elf tries to cast a difficult spell, but nothing happens. His subsequent attempt is more fruitful, causing everyone near him to become paralyzed. Unfortunately, Armon, still stubbornly clinging to life, breaks the hold before the elf has a chance to flee. He mercilessly puts his red-steel right through the elf’s heart, then holds his breath to see if the Templar will end his life. Emeric walks up to him, raises his great sword, then brings it down with a heavy stroke to remove the head of the dead Maleficar. Armon, grateful for being alive, is still disappointed that he did not get to perform the beheading himself.