The heroes arrived at the Mayor Gargen Stonefellow’s mansion.
A twelve foot tall wall, made out of a grayish-colored cemented fungi mush, encircled the mansion. The mansion, a three story tall building, was built with the same fungi mush, carved directly out of the Burran mushroom foundation. Here and there were remnants of blue, red and yellow pigments that at one time decorated the outside of the mansion, but the images faded long ago. The heroes noticed the building grew smaller towards the upper level and made it appear to have a terrace high above, but there appeared to be no doors or railings. The heroes also noticed that there were no windows in the upper levels.
It was mid-morning.
“So, what’s the plan, big man,” Nolofinwe asked.
“We need to know how many guards and servants we’re dealing with,” Roman responded. “We need to recon the area and find entry points and figure out all possible ways to sneak in. Perhaps we could gather servant clothing’s and get in. Nolo, I want you to do your shape shifting thing, maybe a cat, and go around the left side of the wall. Maggie, I want you to investigate towards the right side. It looks like that’s where the gate entrance.”
“What? You want me to go?” Maggie asked with trepidation in her voice. “By myself?”
“Yes,” Roman said firmly.
“Um, ok. But…”
“You’ll be fine,” Roman interrupted her. “I believe in you.”
“Right,” Maggie sighed and slowly walked towards the right of the wall.
Nolo knelt down, whispered some ancient word unknown to his friends. His body began to glow and shrink until there was nothing but a pile of his clothes, tools, and packs. A black cat with white stripe above its eye emerged out of the pile of clothes. It meowed at Roman and Arien and raced off towards the left of the fungi-made wall.
“And what ‘bout me, honey?” Arien asked Roman, ready to act.
“You stay here with me,” Roman replied. “We stay hidden in this alcove and wait for them to return.”
“What?!” Arien was indignant. “I should go out and…”
“No. The less of us involved the better. We wait.”
Arien huffed and folded her arms across her chest.
Nolo-cat arrived at the rear of the mansion and discovered the servant’s entrance. Close to the doorway was a large dumpster meant for trash and waste. A woman servant was disposing waste from a chamber pot into the dumpster. She ignored the black cat with a white stripe walking past her. Nolo-cat took shelter in the shadows of the buildings across the gate and he sat watching. When the woman was done with her task, she used a key to open the servant’s entrance door and stepped through. Nolo-cat waited close to an hour but nothing else happened. He returned to Roman and Arien before he was forced to change back to a human.
Maggie snuck along the wall. When it bent, she peered around the corner and saw that Roman was right about the main gateway. It was about seven yards from where she stood. For a moment, Maggie was tempted to run back to her friends, but she knew better to return with such little information. She continued walking along the wall until she came to the gate. There she was able to see the whole palace and the court yard around it. The grounds were mostly barren with green and red lichens sprouting in spots. The windows of the palace were all barred. A large ornate wooden door led into the mansion. Maggie noticed an armed Halfling walk passed one of the windows inside the palace.
Behind the gate and to the left was a guard house. Standing in the small building was a short, beardless and bald dwarf who did not seem ashamed of his overly large pot belly. He was not very handsome, even for a dwarf. Yet with all the faults of his physical appearance, the dwarf did seem very comfortable with the halberd in his right hand.
The dwarf immediately noticed the petite half-elf woman and couldn’t keep his eyes off her. Maggie hesitantly approached the gate. She was timid and meek, fidgeting with a strand of red hair. She wasn’t sure whether she was acting or actually nervous.
“Um, hello there,” Maggie squeaked to the dwarf.
The dwarf instantly puffed out his chest and cleared his throat. “Hi, can I help you, little lady?”
“I, um hope so,” Maggie looked down and moved some stones with her feet. “I, um, well, have you seen my puppy dog?”
“Have I seen a dog?”
“Yeah, I lost my puppy dog. I think it ran away somewhere around here.”
“I’m sorry, little lady,” the dwarf frowned, “I haven’t seen any dogs around here. You might want to find it before nightfall, before we let out the bears.”
“Hmm. Scary, big bears.”
“Oh, okay,” Maggie said. She looked like she was about to cry. “I hope I can find him then. Bye.”
Maggie continued walking along the wall and was about to turn the corner when she heard the dwarf shout at her.
“Hey, little lady!”
Maggie froze. She thought of running or disappearing in the shadows. She even thought of cutting the dwarf’s throat and escaping. She heard Roman’s disapproval growl in her head.
Maggie turned around and saw the dwarf guard gesture for her to return.
“I told you there ain’t no dog running around here,” the dwarf said.
“Um, well, maybe he ran down this…”
“What’s your name, little lady? What’s your dog’s name?”
Maggie instantly recalled a play she remembered.
“My name is Dorothy.”
“And your dog’s? What does he look like?”
“My puppy dog’s name is Toto. He’s black and fluffy. He’s so cute. I just need to find him.”
The dwarf rubbed his chin. He kept looking at Maggie’s hand that was twirling her red hair. He wanted so badly to smell her hair.
“I know Toto ran this way. I think he even ran through the gate,” Maggie said.
The dwarf snorted. “Not likely. I have eyes like a hawk and…”
“Oh, please, please, please, can I look around the palace, pretty please. I won’t cause any trouble, I swear.”
The dwarf couldn’t resist her teary eyes. He sighed.
“Well, I can’t let you in, but you know what. I’ll go look myself, just for you,” he smiled. “Wait right here. I’ll be a few minutes.”
The dwarf left the guard house and walked out the court yard looking for a nonexistent dog. Maggie was frustrated. The dwarf distrusted him and she just wanted to get back to her friends.
Fifteen minutes passed before the dwarf returned.
“I’m sorry, Dorothy, I didn’t see your dog. I even checked the bear pens. Thankfully I didn’t see anything in there either. I just don’t think he’s here.”
“But he has to be. I just know it. Maybe he got into the house.”
“I seriously doubt…”
“Please! Would you just check for me. Please, please, please,”
The Dwarf sighed again. “Alright, alright. Wait here. I’ll go check.”
The dwarf left again and entered the mansion through the large ornate wooden door. Maggie quickly raced back to her friends.
Nolo had changed back into a human when Maggie returned. She was out of breath and stressing out.
“Report,” Roman said to Maggie.
She quickly told her encounter with the dwarf.
Roman seemed disappointed with the report. He expected more from the half-elf.
“What kind of thief are you?”
“Not a very good one,” Maggie snapped back. “Besides, I’m a grave robber, not a thief.”
“What the hell is the difference?!”
“Nolo, turn into a dog,” Roman commanded.
“What?” Nolo was surprised by the order. “A dog? Wait, now. Can’t we talk about…”
“No time. Mags said the guard will be back anytime. Do your thing and go with Mags.”
Nolo rolled his eyes and changed into a black, fluffy dog.
“Your name is Toto,” Maggie told Nolo. She ran back to the gateway with Nolo-Toto at her heels.
The dwarf had not returned when they arrived.
“Oh good, he’s not back yet. Okay, Toto, squeeze through the gate and go to that door over there. When it opens, run in. Got it?”
Nolo-Toto barked in response. The little black, fluffy puppy dog ran across the court yard and crouched along the mansion wall, right at the doorway entrance.
The door opened. Nolo-Toto waited for the right moment. A leg stepped through. Not yet. The dwarf’s body came through. Maggie waved to the guard with a smile. Nolo-Toto’s rear-end wiggled. Wait for it. The dwarf waved back. So close. His other leg came through. Now!
Nolo-Toto rushed past the dwarf and snuck into the mansion. The dwarf never noticed.
The dwarf hurried over to Maggie. “Dorothy, I’m sorry again. I didn’t find your dog in there.”
“My name’s Sharg. Um, you know, um, I’m off tonight and was wondering if….”
Nolo-toto found himself in a small waiting room that had a table and chairs next to the walls. He saw a couple of closed doors. One of them started to open. Nolo-Toto quickly ran to hide under one of the tables, but it was too late. The servant that had entered the waiting room saw the little black dog.
“Well hello there,” the servant said, knelling down towards Nolo-Toto. “You must be that little puppy Sharg was looking for. You sure are a cute little guy.”
Nolo-Toto sighed mentally, embarrassed with his predicament.
“Come on out from under there. Here, you want some scraps?”
The servant took some food from the tray he was holding and held the food out to the dog. Nolo-Toto snarled and the servant backed away.
“Oh, okay. Not very friendly, are you. Well, guess I can’t blame you. Maybe that little girl Sharg mentioned is still here. You wait here, okay?” The servant left the mansion to retrieve the dwarf guard.
Nolo-Toto noticed the servant had left the door he originally came from open. He raced through and entered a large chamber with a statue in the center and a flight of stairs at the far end. Nolo-Tolo was tempted to investigate more, particularly up the stairs, but he feared of getting lost or trapped. The idea of getting trapped somewhere and being forced to change back into a naked human did not appeal to him. He ran back into the waiting room.
The servant exited the mansion and shouted to Sharg that he had found the dog.
“Really, Bandar?!” the dwarf shouted back. “That’s great news. He must have been hiding from me.”
Sharg let Maggie through the gate and both of them ran to the mansion and entered the waiting room.
“See, there he is,” Bandar point at Nolo-Toto sitting under the table. “He’s not the friendliest dog.”
“Toto!” Maggie shouted and Nolo-Toto leapt into her arms.
“Now, here’s the plan,” Maggie whispered into Nolo-Toto’s ear. “Once we’re outside, I’m going to let you go and you need to run around like crazy and make these guys give chase.”
Once out in the court yard, Maggie released Nolo-Toto. He was a very bad puppy. He followed and stayed at Maggie’s heel and even licked Sharg’s face in friendship. Maggie was not happy.
“Don’t know what Bandar was talking about, but this dog is really nice,” Sharg said, scratching Nolo-Toto’s ear.
“Say, um, have you given any thought about tonight? Will you be at the Night Glow?”
“Maybe,” was her response.
Sharg looked disappointed.
Maggie and Nolo-Toto returned to Roman and Arien to give a full recounting.
“So what’s the plan now, big man,” Nolo asked, while putting on his clothes.
Roman thought of all the different strategies and plans that could possibly work. He wanted more time and information, but they had very little of both. He preferred the idea of a night operation, but he had no interest in dealing with bears. He thought about getting sleeping poisons and chunks of meat for the bears, but that was a risky game that could fail and cause worse problems. He thought about sneaking through whatever sewage system the mansion had, but realized Maggie and Arien probably wouldn’t follow through with such a disgusting operation. Perhaps scale the walls? Someone would fall, Roman thought. He knew there was only one course of action. He remembered an old adage his mother once told him, ‘You can’t catch a tiger cub, unless you enter the tiger’s den.’
“So, what’re we doing,” Arien asked.
“A little B and E,” Roman replied.