Hammers clang on molten iron and hot steel sizzles as it is tempered in oil. The blacksmiths of Tulpaar Village work hard producing quality works for sale. Iron pans and steel pots for cooking. Iron and wood furniture for homes. Hinges for nearly every manner of door from the average home to castle gates. The smiths of Tulpaar are said to be the most excelled when it comes to blacksmithing. They are renowned for their craft. However, the village has been plagued with disappearances that could threaten their livelihood. Ecks and Willow are currently on assignment to solve the mystery of the disappearances and save Tulpaar before it goes to ruin. They have returned to Tulpaar after informing the White Sage, Xehtus Alpex, and High Captain Beatrice Ashcroft of their situation. During their stay in the neighboring town of Tulpex, the mysterious disappearances have affected the merchant town as well. Where the main street should be bustling with merchant carts selling their wares is now nearly desolate. More than half the number of carts is no longer in Tulpex and that number continues to decrease. Ecks and Willow noticed there are fewer carts on their second visit to Tulpex. They recall the ravine were dozens of them were dumped and the undead merchant girls that once operated them. Something dark is happening in the area. They need to find out who or what is behind it and put a stop to it.
“What is it?” Ecks said, noticing the worried look on Willow’s face.
“I thought we’d be able to get Betty’s help but because she and Amanda are on assignment. We’re on our own,” she replied.
“Don’t worry about it. We’ll be fine. Besides, we can’t keep running to your big sister every time there’s an issue,” Ecks tells her. “We got this.”
Willow looks at her partner. His gentle smile always puts her at ease. Before meeting Ecks, Willow would rely on her sister Beatrice to help her whenever she was in trouble. When Beatrice became Captain, this decreased and even more so when Beatrice was promoted to High Captain. Because her sister was constantly busy, Willow didn’t know who to turn to when she needed help, especially when the other knights and squires avoided her because of her sister’s position as High Captain. Then along comes Ecks, the one knight who didn’t shun her. If anything, he has helped build up her confidence is many ways. She no longer hides away when confronted by her peers and has even stood up to a few of them. However, Ecks has yet to get Willow to be less reliable on her sister. Whenever she considers asking Beatrice for help, Ecks finds a way to remind her that she has to forge her own path away from Beatrice. Willow smiles back. The last thing she wants is for things to go back to how they used to be. “You’re right,” she says. “We got this.”
“Now that’s more like it,” Ecks said. He has helped Willow in a number of ways since partnering up with her. She’s more confident and outgoing. He just needs to do something about her dependency on her sister.
“So, what’s our next move?” asked Willow.
“Hmm, we can’t report back to Tremont and Elanor just yet. The best thing for us to do right now is gather more information about the disappearances. There’s got to be someone in Tulpaar that knows about them other than Elyzah.”
“Yeah, but Elyzah’s our best lead at the moment,” says Willow.
“Which is why we have to pick her brain again, find out if there is anything else she knows,” Ecks suggests.
“Oh, that’s right. When I interviewed Elyzah, she mentioned something about an illness that started right around the same time merchant girls started going missing.” Willow informs him.
“Really?” replies Ecks. “How about you find out more about this supposed illness.”
“Alri—wait a minute! Me?!” Willow said surprised. She had quickly caught on to what Ecks is suggesting. “Uh uh, no way! I’m not dealing with that weirdo again!” she protests.
“Well I can’t do it. It’s a women’s clothing shop. It’ll look weird if anyone sees me go in.”
“Yeah, well the last thing I need is for her to play dress up with me again!” Willow shot back loudly, catching to attention of two blacksmiths working in a shop. They crane their necks to watch the pretty blonde stroll by. The men’s wives stab at them with their eyes.
“Come on, it couldn’t have been that bad,” Ecks said amid the two slaps that can be heard behind them. “Plus, we have to give Elanor and Tremont closure of some kind.”
Taking a moment to think, Willow realizes that she had made a promise to Elanor. She can’t disappoint her. Sighing, she says, “Yeah, I know. Alright, I’ll go talk to Elyzah again.”
Ecks smiles. “That’s the spirit,” he says. “While you’re hanging out with your girlfriend, why don’t you ask her to do something about your outfit. You starting to draw attention.” Without skipping a beat, Ecks turns down a side street, leaving Willow on the main road.
“Hmph, it’s only because of that little harlot that attention is being drawn to me anyway,” Willow said as she walked, unaware that Ecks has left her. “You know what, I am going back to that shop and give that midget a piece of my mind. The nerve of her!” Finished with her short rant, she expected a remark from Ecks but got none. Thinking he is ignoring her, Willow whips her head around. “Don’t you ignore…me?” Her voice trailed off when she realizes her partner had departed unannounced. She scans from side of the street to the other and back again. Willow quickly becomes frustrated. This is not the first time Ecks had left her alone in a strange town without her acknowledgement. She lost count after more than a dozen times. She scans the area. There is no sign of him. Just a matronly woman who covers her little dog’s eyes as she throws a disgusted look at Willow. “Dammit, Ecks!” she grated out through clenched teeth. Willow then stomps down the street, cursing her partner who deserted her in a strange town yet again. Two young men were about to approach Willow but quickly rescind their decision when they see the daggers in her eyes.
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