The slums had been normal just two weeks ago. All of a sudden, signs of people growing delirious or getting sick started appearing out of nowhere. Since no one could figure out the cause, it spread until the entire area had been hit by it, almost like a disease. However, it did not spread to the rest of town, impacting mainly the impoverished citizens in this area, so the town acted slowly, almost as if turning a blind eye to those they deemed unimportant.
As the slums turned into a district of ‘crazies,’ the rest of town had started avoiding them, effectively ignoring an issue that didn’t matter to them. The residents had no choice but to deal with it themselves. Those most affected roamed the streets in a delirium, causing all sorts of peculiar sights to behold, while those with only mild symptoms tried to lock themselves inside to avoid being entangled in the madness.
Then one day, some cloaked figures passed by. They claimed that the residents had been afflicted by a drug called GateDown. Passing out samples of it, the residents clouded in judgement readily accepted the explanation. The sample drug had in fact given them the same sense of delirium and high that they had experienced before. For those heavily affected already, they were intoxicated by the sensations, despite the harsh side effects that were felt afterwards. As they continued to accept more and more of the drug, they grew even worse, devolving into a constant state of madness while constantly searching for the men for more.
“But how did GateDown affect the whole district in the first place?” Eryn questioned the old lady.
“The water. It seems like our drinking water had been spiked with it. We didn’t notice it before, but there had been a strange, earthy taste to it. Those that stayed here most of the time and didn’t go out to work elsewhere had been most affected.”
“That’s horrible. How could someone do that?” Eryn said with her face downcast.
Listening to this story, I started getting sick to my stomach. This problem had affected everyone who lived in this area, young and old. It was as if the ones responsible were enacting some kind of plague to destroy the community. I chewed on my thumb in irritation.
“How have you been holding up? You seem surprisingly sane compared to what’s going on outside.” I noticed that the old lady looked pretty normal comparatively.
“The rest of the residents banded together afterwards. Since the town wouldn’t help us, we examined the water source and came up with ways to filter the water. After getting some of the stuff out, we found that the symptoms lessened somewhat. We have no choice but to do this because the town has locked us out. Anyone caught drawing water from other areas is being punished.”
Getting up and walking over to the kitchen, the old lady grabbed a jar from the counter and showed us. The jar contained a brown, powdery substance clumped together that had been left to air dry.
“This was in our well water. We thought it was dirt at first, but it had a distinct taste to it.”
“Madam, please tell us anything else you know about those men or anything you know about that drug. I’m a magic knight, whose sworn duty is to help the people of this kingdom. Please let us help.”
A few tears started welling up in the old lady’s eyes at Eryn’s earnest offer before she smiled lightly and grasped Eryn’s hand.
“Please. Please save this town.”
Eryn and I had found the old warehouse that the old lady had mentioned. Several residents had seen the cloaked men take their supplies here, but they were powerless to stop them. Those that tried to resist were quickly taken down and given a large dose of GateDown, being left to wallow in delirium. Afterwards, no one rose up against them.
It was strange that the town had decided to abandon part of their citizens and let the cloaked men reign free. Eryn and I went back to town to the local Lord’s office, but he had refused any visitors. Guess we’d have to let the guild know about this suspicious activity.
As we scouted around the building, Eryn had put up her Mirage spell to keep us hidden. A few cloaked men guarded the entrances, so we went around to look for other ways to enter. On the side of the building, there was a balcony on the second floor that looked unguarded. The two of us walked up to it while Eryn chanted a spell.
“Gust of wind – provide a draft that will send us into the air!”
A tornado formed underneath us, slowly levitating our bodies into the air. After we were high enough, the two of us jumped onto the balcony before Eryn cancelled the spell. A cracked window allowed us to peer into the warehouse.
Men who looked like bandits were transporting barrels of material and dumping out the contents into bins. The objects that rolled out were small, brown nuts. These nuts were cracked open, and the inside was taken out, where they were then ground into a fine powder. The fine powder was scooped into vials and boxed for shipment. The way to create this drug was surprisingly easy, so it was no wonder the cost was so low. The properties of the drug must have been inherent to the raw material.
We stood there staring at the processing as we verified who we would likely be dealing with. With so many people around, it would not be easy to capture them all without backup. We may just have to wait for help to arrive.
Leaving the building, we carefully made our way back to the busy end of town. We were able to avoid the crazed residents because we kept quiet and hid ourselves with Mirage the entire time. Eryn went off to send a message to the guild in the capital requesting for backup.
As I waited for Eryn to come back, I paced around an alley impatiently. I really wanted to help the people in the slums, but we would be going in shorthanded. And there was also the question about that drug. What the heck was it that could drive people mad like that? And for what reason? There were so many questions about this issue that I couldn’t wrap my head around.
“Hey bro, you’re looking a bit antsy. How about something to drive those worries away?”
Huh? A random rough-looking person had approached me. Looking at him questionably, he pulled out a vial containing a brown powder. I instantly recognized it as the same thing that was being made at the old warehouse.
“…GateDown, I presume?” I said in a hushed voice.
“You know your stuff. Tell you what. I’ll pass this over to you for a measly 3 coppers. Just go light on the dose so that you don’t cause a scene.” The man smiled wickedly at me.
After thinking for a bit, I reached into my item box and grabbed a few copper coins. Turning my body away from the man, I put my hand behind my back and opened it, as if beckoning the man to come and take them discreetly. Moments later, I felt the coins being removed, and the weight of a vial replacing it. By the time my hand wrapped around it and I turned around, the man had already disappeared.
Eryn chose that moment to reappear, so I quickly stuffed the vial into my item box. I’d look into it a bit later.
“Hey, what’d the guild say?”
“Not looking good. No one has returned yet, so I don’t know when someone will be deployed. Best case is a few days maybe, since most jobs usually don’t take more than that.”
“What do we do? Keep watch on them in the meantime?”
Eryn nodded. We weren’t going to start a fight that we couldn’t win and risk having them escape. Guess it was time for an old-fashioned stake out. We returned to the spot in which we were spying. The men had continued working there as usual, so it looked like no one had been tipped off to our presence yet. During that time, we continued to gather information on what they were doing. Eryn used her wind magic again to pick up on their conversations.
“My nose is getting irritated from this smell. How much longer do we have to do this?”
“As long as the boss asks. We’re rolling in the dough just for grinding these nuts. What more can you ask for?”
“I know, but it’s making my head all fuzzy. If only we could get masks like those guys in the cloaks.”
“Shh, I don’t know who they are, but they took out Derrick in one blow, so they’re not your average guards. Better not to piss them off.”
“You two! Stop talking and get to work!” A guard walked by to hush the two men.
Looks like the workers were lured in with the prospect of a hefty wage. That didn’t excuse them from making such a dangerous product, but it didn’t look like they’d offer a lot of resistance. It would be better to focus on capturing the guards.
As we continued to listen, little tidbits of shipment destinations and potential buyer names popped up. I recorded them down in my notebook to investigate later. There was nothing we could do but pass on that information to the guild. During a stretch of time when nothing interesting seemed to be happening, I remembered the purchase I made earlier and pulled out the vial from my inventory.
“Claude, what’s that?” Eryn pointed to it.
“Supposedly, a vial of GateDown that I obtained from a random person on the streets.”
“And why do you have that?” Eryn leered at me suspiciously.
“Was curious. I mean, I have no idea what this drug people are calling GateDown is, so I thought why not get some to examine it?”
“Probably could have found a less shady way…”
“Yeah, yeah. I know.” I uncorked the vial and brought my nose to it.
An earthy smell came from the powder. It was very strong and had a sweet but peppery scent also. That’s weird. I recall this smell somewhere before, but it couldn’t be…
“Claude! Over here quick!” Eryn waved me over.
Some of the cloaked guards had gathered together and started conversing.
“I think we’ve just about finished up the rest of the raw stock. Since that captain doesn’t want to provide us with anymore, there’s no point in us staying here.”
“Yeah, time to pack up and clean up our traces. We’ve done plenty of testing on the scum living here to know its potency. The boss will be pleased.”
“What about the vendors around here? They-“
“Forget about them. Our boss wasn’t selling it to make chump change. He has bigger plans.”
“Big plans, huh. But seriously, poisoning the kingdom?”
“Shush. Not our role to question. Let’s get everything wrapped up by tomorrow and get out of here.”
That was not good. It seemed like they were planning to abandon this location soon. Eryn and I looked at each other shocked at what we found out. The slums had just been a test site to understand the effects of GateDown. Now that the results had been verified, they were moving on to the next stage, presumably a large-scale attack on the kingdom. If we let them go now, who knows what may happen next? I briefly imagined the scenes in the slums taking place in the capital.
“We have to stop them here.” Eryn finally spoke.
“Can your magic stop all of them?”
“Maybe, but that’s if the guards aren’t able to use magic. I haven’t seen any signs of them being mages, but it’s hard to tell.”
I placed my hands on her shoulders and looked into her eyes. “Since we’ve come this far, I’d rather not have any regrets. I’m with you. Whatever you decide. Just tell me…what do you want me to do?”
Pausing for a moment to consider her words, she clenched her hands into a fist.
“Let’s go cause some havoc.”