Greta led the mannequins carrying Rafe and Moralie through the foyer of the inn and down into a basement that had been converted into a wine cellar, though there were no bottles of wine stored there- the racks were empty. There were shelves of racks that lined the walls just waiting to be of use. It was apparent that Greta had every intention of starting a collection before all of this mannequin business started.
Life had been pretty routine before this morning. She and her family were running the inn and were happy doing so. The money wasn’t rolling in, but it was enough to keep them happy. Greta thought everything was going according to plan until a strange fog rolled into town. People came out of their homes and shops to investigate. It had come so suddenly and without warning. Epherma was too far from the coast to be getting this kind of fog. It was bizarre because the fog had a purple hue to it, nothing like the fog the people had seen before.
Greta stepped outside and saw that people were suddenly dropping to the ground, gasping for air. People were dying all around her. She covered her mouth and ran inside. She closed the door hard behind her and prayed that none of the fog had entered the inn. She wanted to keep her family safe. It was then that she heard something fall to the ground in the kitchen. She ran to the disturbance and found that her husband had fallen, clutching his throat for air. He uttered one last raspy breath before he died.
Greta called out to her two sons who should have been upstairs cleaning the rooms. When they didn’t respond, she rushed up the stairs to find them. She frantically searched the rooms until she found both of them crumpled on the floor of room 215. She knew that the same fate had befallen them.
She fell to her knees and began to cry. She waited for her turn to die, but instead of death, she heard a voice that was soft and sweet. She looked at the ceiling as if the voice was coming from above her. The voice told her that she was spared the tragic fate of her town so that she could serve a purpose- his purpose. The voice told her about a group of four travelers that were heading their way later that day. It told her that she would receive these strangers in her inn and when the time came, to trigger the trap that would kill them. Greta asked how she was going to help. It was then that she felt a strange sensation come over her. It was as if the chilly hand of death had brushed her and left its coldness all over her body. The voice told her that she now had control of everyone that had died in town. It was up to her to kill the four strangers. Greta asked the voice if she did this would it bring her family back to her. The voice said that he would if she completed this task for him. Greta vowed to do her very best. The voice left her, but the coldness she felt didn’t.
Greta opened the door to the basement and allowed the mannequins to deposit Rafe and Moralie inside. They were roughly tossed to the hard stone floor and left to reorient themselves to their new surroundings. “You will remain here until I’m ready for you.” She commanded the life sized puppets to leave the room and she shut the door, locking it from the outside. She prayed that the voice would return to give her the next set of instructions. She was willing to wait as long it took.
Rafe and Moralie stood up and rubbed their elbows, which were surely bruised by their rough handling. Rafe immediately went to the door and tried to jiggle the knob. It was locked, as she suspected, but she didn’t think it would hurt to try.
“Damn that witch,” Rafe said. She gave the door a hard kick just for good measure. Her turned around and saw that Moralie was just standing in the middle of the room, watching her. “What?”
“Nothing.” Moralie shook her head and sighed. “It’s just that you’re cute when you’re angry.” She offered Rafe a smile, but it was not well received. The room was dark for one, and Rafe didn’t feel like being flattered.
Rafe faced the door again and thought about what she’d do to it if she had her sword. She was frustrated that she allowed herself to be disarmed so easily. She felt like she was making a lot of mistakes today. She tried the doorknob again to no avail. It was just as locked as it was before. She gave the door another kick; it remained standing.
“Honey, there are better ways to get a locked door to open.” Moralie walked over to Rafe and placed a warm hand on her shoulder. She kindly moved Rafe to the side and approached the door. She pressed her ear up against it and listened for any noise on the other side. There didn’t appear to be anyone standing in front of the door. “There isn’t a locked cell that can hold the likes of Miss Moralie Grey.”
Moralie took out some tools out of her pouch and began to work on the lock. She had learned how to break locks when she was a child. After she lost her family, she had to find a way to survive on her own. She ran into a group of thieves who took her in and taught her the art of thievery. Over the years, she honed her skills and became a first rate thief. She struck out on her own for a few years, stealing to live, living to steal, before she ran into Rafe. Moralie had tried to run a scam on her, but Rafe didn’t fall for it. Rafe told Moralie that she could use her skills on adventures. The pay was good and the game was fun. Moralie had been with Rafe ever since.
Moralie had cracked open many complicated locks in her time. A simple lock on a wine cellar door was a piece of cake. With a final click, the door handle fell to the floor. She waited to hear if anyone had heard the noise before she dared to open the door. When no one came running, Moralie signaled to Rafe that she was done.
“Great work,” Rafe said. “Now to find Zeke and Simon.”
“Do you think she has them, too?”
“I’m willing to bet she does.” Rafe stepped out into the hallway and glimpsed both ways before she made another move. She knew that going left would lead them back to the lobby. She wondered if there was another room to the right.
She quietly led the two of them down the hallway to their right. They took another right turn and came to another door. Rafe attempted to open it, but it was locked. She deferred to Moralie, who was ready to be of service.
Moralie knocked on the door and asked for Zeke. There was no reply from the other side. She asked for Simon, but received no reply. She assumed that maybe they were bound and gagged so they couldn’t respond. She went to work on the lock and within a minute, the door was unlocked. It creaked as it slowly opened. Rafe checked the hallway to make sure that no one was coming.
Moralie entered the room after waiting a few seconds to see if there might have been a trap. It appeared to be another wine cellar. She stepped down into the room and looked around as best she could given the lack of light. After a good scan of the room, she decided that there was nothing of interest here. No sign of Zeke or Simon. She returned to Rafe and shrugged her shoulders.
“Then they must be in one of the rooms upstairs,” Rafe concluded.
“Don’t tell me that we’re going to search each and every one of them, right?” Moralie knew what the answer was going to be. She did not like the idea of having to sneak around the inn when they could easily just escape out the front door. The look on Rafe’s face confirmed her fears. “Alright then, let’s get started.” She closed the door behind her and rejoined Rafe in the hallway.
Rafe led the way back down the hallway. They reached the kitchen and stopped, there was movement coming from inside. She mustered up her courage and peeked her head into the kitchen. Greta was at the stove and appeared to be mixing something in a big, metal pot. Rafe wondered what she was making; probably something nefarious and evil. It looked like Greta was distracted so getting by her would be easy. She signaled to Moralie that they could continue forward. They snuck by the kitchen with no problem.
Rafe and Moralie arrived in the lobby and stopped to gather the keys to the rooms. They were not enthused with the idea of searching all of the rooms, but they didn’t know what else to do. Zeke and Simon had to be here somewhere.
For the next thirty minutes they searched the rooms they had keys for, but Zeke and Simon were nowhere to be found. Rafe thought that maybe Zeke and Simon hadn’t made it to the inn yet. There was a chance that they are still out in the town fighting the evil mannequins. If that was the case, then Rafe and Moralie needed to get out of the inn.
With newfound hope, they descended the stairs and put the keys back where they found them. Moralie went behind the front desk and searched for anything that she could steal and found their weapons. She passed Rafe her sword and pocketed her fire daggers. There wasn’t anything else that Moralie wanted. There were a lot of pens and paper, ledgers, and books of no importance. Disappointed that she didn’t find any money, she joined Rafe on the other side of the desk.
“Let’s go while the gettin’ is good,” Moralie said. “We can wait for the boys outside.” Rafe agreed and headed for the door.
It was then that they heard a door slam in the kitchen. The innkeeper was talking to someone. “Hello? Are you there? Can you hear me?”
Rafe and Moralie walked over to the kitchen doorway and waited outside. They carefully peeked inside and saw that Greta was staring up at the ceiling talking to no one.
“I have them all and I am awaiting your instructions.” Greta wrung her hands as she paced. She kept gazing upward expectantly as if she would see something there.
“I hear you, innkeeper,” said the voice. “Have you prepared the potion like I asked?”
“Yes, it is currently brewing,” Greta walked over to the pot and stirred the contents briskly. “I don’t know what to do with it.”
Rafe and Moralie saw that Greta was responding to someone unseen. They couldn’t hear the other side of the conversation, but they decided to watch carefully and see how this played out.
“When the potion is ready, give it to the wizard. I think he’ll enjoy it.” The voice gave a slight chuckle. Greta thought it odd for it to sound so cheerful when talking about killing someone.
“Do you want me to give this to the others?”
“No, only to the wizard.”
“What do you want me to do with the others?”
“Have your mannequins have their way with them,” the voice commanded. “And then you can harvest their organs to make a great stew if you wish.”
Greta gulped. The voice laughed.
“I wish I hadn’t made so much of this potion if I was only going to give it to the wizard.” She picked up the ladle and stirred the potion some more. It was busy work, it gave her something to do. “Which one is the wizard?”
“The smaller one. He is a mere boy, but he is powerful. Whatever you do, don’t let him speak.”
Greta nodded her head.
“You have company.”
Greta turned around and saw a glimpse of two heads disappearing behind the doorway. She knew exactly who they were. She clapped her hands and six wooden mannequins appeared from a door that led to the basement. She pointed to the doorway and the lumbering mannequins went where they were directed. She didn’t know how the women had escaped, but she was going to make sure that it was the last thing they ever did.