The druid wiped his mouth on his cuff and nodded. Still pale around the nose, he began to cast his healing spells on the brutally battered body. It took quite a while till the gaping flesh wounds slowly began to close. Piece by piece, the broken bone fragments moved back to their original position and with some good will one could vaguely guess first facial features and details again.
"Why is this taking so long?" Tibicus was obviously upset and walked impatiently up and down. "Hurry up!"
The druid did his best but he had never treated such kind of wounds before. "Tibicus, I don't think these wounds were caused by human force," he cocked his head towards Tibicus without taking his healing hands off Beefo.
"Of course they are! Don't talk silly. This here is a feather of his Emberwing. While that feathered fowl destroyed half the city, Fridolin had smashed his face in," mocked Tibicus. "And then, he made off with the gold and the hat."
"You're even dumber than I thought, Tibicus!" rasped a weakened voice from further down. The three friends turned their eyes on Beefo, who slowly regained consciousness.
In a single bound, Tibicus jumped onto his archenemy and grabbed him by the collar. "Come on, talk to me you filthy maggot, where is my hat? Where is it hidden?"
Beefo distorted his face in pain, spitting a whole load of blood on Tibicus' hands and then put on a mischievous smirk. "You want your hat back? Forget about that. It's gone. Forever. They've taken it with them, along with Fridolin, that traitor."
"Who? Speak up, who took him? Where is my h..."
"WHAT HAPPENED TO FRIDOLIN? Where is he?" Tabea loudly interrupted the knight.
His eyes still focused on Tibicus, Beefo replied: "It looks like the little one is showing much more empathy and compassion for her fellow friend than you Tibicus."
Turning his head to Tabea, he continued: "You're always worried about the people around you, aren't you? Let me tell you, being a good soul all the time has its downsides as well you know? But thanks to your trusting heart, we could infiltrate your little hunting squad quite easily. HARHARHAR!"
Tibicus threw Beefo back into the dirt. "What do you know? Answer me, or my sword shall judge you!"Panting, Beefo tried to sit up leaning his weight against his shaky arms. "Well, not that it would make any difference but why should I miss an opportunity to point out your own stupidity so let me tell you a story about your friend Fridolin:
When I first met Fridolin, he was a mess. A foundling without a roof over his head and emaciated like a mangy stray dog.
A disturbed and mute child. Not a word came over his lips when I took him under my wings, but in his eyes, I saw a great opportunity. He had a gift.
If you looked behind this boy's fearful gaze, you could sense a strange aura of trust and comfort radiated from his eyes. In short, he was an uncut diamond and should turn out to be a great gain for my business.
I personally took care of his training.
From me, he learned how to handle different weapons, the filigree movement of a paladin and which spells to use at which time.
My highest priority, however, was the training of his, let's call it power of persuasion. Already as a teenager the ladies lay at his feet and nobody could really turn down a wish if he only put on his innocent look.
I had created the perfect infiltrator.
As you might have figured out by now, it was no coincidence that he met Tabea one day. My plan worked perfectly and this naive silly-billy got lost in his eyes immediately. Everything else was easier than stealing candy from a baby.
His weapon skills allowed him to quickly adapt to your hunting-style and made him stand out as a reliable partner. It didn't take long and he was an substantial member of your team, it was almost too good to be true to see how quickly he climbed the ladder of your trust."
Scandalised at that story, Tabea gasped for breath. But before she could throw anything in, Beefo continued:
"Actually, I had planned to leave Fridolin with you only for a short time, just to use him to lure you into an ambush, to kick your butt and beat you hollow, which would have allowed me to keep reminding you about that disgraceful defeat and my brilliancy for all eternity.
But then someone made an offer that I couldn't refuse.
I don't know how he found out about Fridolin being my undercover agent in the first place, but I honestly couldn't care less given the amount of gold he was willing to pay. Anyway, when we sealed the deal, Fridolin's mission extended from a few months to, well, you know best, several years.
Fridolin continued to play his role perfectly. For him only the mission target had changed. His new order was to steal the Ferumbras' Hat from you."
"Go on..." so far, the story made sense to Tibicus. He felt stupid and embarrassed, but in the end it only confirmed his previous suspicions about the paladin.
"However, I had underestimated your personality Tibicus. You stubborn codger, you were the hardest to crack. It took ages until you finally had built up enough trust to open your trophy chamber for Fridolin.
By then, the gold we had received for the mission in advance was almost used up, which is why I wanted to seize the chance to make some extra money on the side.
I ordered him not to take any other valuable items out of your room, as it might have raised your suspicion, but for sure I enjoyed accepting every single one of your under priced sell offers while feasting on your pain and sorrow. I know how attached you are to your rare items. HARHARHAR"
Tibicus felt how Beefo's words ignited his anger. "And then, after he had delivered the hat to you, Fridolin returned to keep an eye on me pretending that he knew nothing about the ransom?"Beefo spat out another load of blood:
"You're almost correct. Actually, the hat should have been handed over to our client the same night he had stolen it but the storm put a spoke in our wheel. Even Captain Fearless refused to set sails. So the hat stayed here in Venore for the time being and Fridolin stuck to your heels again."
"But why did he try to steal from me at the Yielothax ?" Tibicus asked.
"I don't know. Fridolin already behaved strangely after he had delivered the hat to me. He seemed lost in thoughts, asked questions instead of simply obeying my orders and wanted to know who the client was, but as you surely know, discretion is a big asset in this kind of business."
Tibicus drew his sword out of its sheath and placed the tip on Beefo's throat. "I know, but now you'll tell me who's behind it!"
Beefo swallowed, single drops of blood ran from his nostrils onto the shining blade and dripped off to the ground.
With a pensive face, we continued to talk: "You know... We were just about to take care of Fridolin after he had helped your two friends escape when those creatures rose to the surface. I had already wondered how long it would take for him to claim the hat, after all we had let the agreed deadline pass and have not heard from him since.
Look around you, Tibicus, look at me! His henchmen brought the apocolypse. They incinerated my men and burned half my city to the ground because of an expired deadline. Trust me, this man is not to be trifled with!!"
Tibicus felt his strength diminish, slowly he lowered his sword to the ground. Hot and cold showers rushed through his body. Sweating and chills seemed to go hand in hand. A cruel suspicion spread inside him. Had his adversary really been so stupid and greedy to get involved in an unthinkable deal with the evil and madness himself? He had to know the truth.
With a dry mouth, he turned to Beefo: "T.. tell me his name..."