Ayen was beginning to feel deeply conflicted where Waylon was concerned. On the one hand Waylon Wood was a dangerous murderer who took no issue with killing absolutely anyone in cold blood. In fact he did much of his killing for money. On the other hand he was charming and handsome and when he laughed he made Ayen feel a little bit weak in the knees which despite his own endless charm and many years spent flirting was not an experience he was familiar with. It seemed wrong to still capture him after everything. Yet, Waylon was still a murderer and that bounty was still enough to buy a house on the nice side of town. For all he knew, Waylon was attempting to disarm him with his charm and Ayen didn't intend to fall for it.
Still, in all of their encounters one thing was true: Waylon could have killed him. He was easily the more skilled fighter. If Ayen wanted to catch him, he was going to need help.
Earl Tybee's vineyard wasn't too far outside of West Catoig. The road there was a bit muddy today and Ayen was glad there weren't any carts to go splashing by. Though, it was odd that no one seemed to be coming or going. There was nearly always someone coming into town from the vineyard. There was a constant flow of wine and grapes going out while sugar and yeast went in. The vineyard was in view when Ayen heard shouting. He could just make out some sort of commotion within the grounds. Then smoke began to rise from one side of the house.
Ayen ran down the road and through the gate. One wall of the manor burst outward sending bricks flying out across the vineyard. Something massive and green leaped out, shaking the ground as it landed and sending everyone screaming. Ayen stopped and stared unable to process what he was seeing.
"Get out of here, mister!" A man came running and grabbed his arm. There was panic in his eyes. "I saw that thing eat a man," he said. His voice broke. His mind seemed to replay the moment as his eyes widened and he covered his mouth with a hand as he ran off, presumably to vomit.
Knives drawn, Ayen continued on only to stop again as he realized that he was not, in fact, hallucinating. The creature that had broken through the wall and now sat atop crushed grape vines was a massive toad.
It was the size of a house with a mouth wide enough to swallow a horse. It was gray-green and covered in bumps with glassy, bored looking, eyes. The thing seemed perfectly content to sit there on its pill of wood and vines while people screamed all around it. Laughter burst from Ayen's lips. He stood laughing until his eyes burned with tears. Never had he seen anything so completely ridiculous.
"Hey!" A bottle of wine crashed just short of his feet. He looked to receive a scowl from Keyleth. Her hair was in many braids today while her clothes were stained with wine. "Why are you always there when there's trouble around? The least you could do is help!" she called from down the path.
"Play it a lullaby!" Ayen called back.
She glared and shook her head, but she did take out her lyre. Ayen wished he'd brought his bow but he didn't expect to be facing a giant toad today. He hadn’t been expecting a fight at all. It might have gone well from there if it weren't for the servants and field hands who took it upon themselves to protect their master's home. The toad didn't seem incredibly pleased with being prodded with machetes and shovels. Its irritation grew and Keyleth's lyre seemed to have no effect. Smudge had climbed onto one of its legs and was nibbling on it and that wasn't helping either.
"I'll handle it!" Ayen shouted over the chaos. "You stop your duck before it gets swallowed whole."
"Smudge! Come back!" Keyleth called to the bird.
One giant tongue came darting out of the creature's mouth and knocked down a row of people trying to cut through its belly. Ayen wasn't sure how much help he could be in the case of such a thick hide, but before he could find out he was stopped by a woman in sorcerer's robes who came running out from the wine cellar. Her dark hair was a disheveled mess and her clothes were just as stained as Keyleth’s.
"Leave him alone! He's harmless!" She waved her arms trying to get the crowd's attention. Ayen put the pieces together.
"You must be Tessa," he said.
She looked him over, taken aback at being identified. "I am. Who are you?"
"A friend of Keyleth's. I suppose this is your beast."
"He isn't a beast," she insisted with far more whining than was necessary in Ayen's opinion.
"I heard he ate a person,” he pointed out.
"Well," she huffed. "Well, it wasn't his fault."
"I find that hard to believe."
"He's only a toad and now he's been made giant. Do you expect him to keep eating insects?"
"Aren't you the one who made him like that? Shouldn't you have had a plan for what he should eat?" Ayen drew back at the look he got. Tessa's clenched jaw and tight fist suggested she was about to turn him into a giant toad.
"Tessa," Keyleth came to join them, potentially saving Ayen's life. "Can you do anything?"
Tessa sighed. "I'm not sure he will listen to me now."
"Can't you make him little again?"
Tessa shook her head. "I tried. It just won't work."
"Well, he can't just be left to eat people," Ayen said. They both gave him unfriendly looks.
"We're not going to kill him," Keyleth said.
Ayen gaped at them both. "You're joking right? She said she can't make it a normal toad again and it's going around eating people and destroying things. What exactly are you going to do about that?"
"There's a lake through the woods that way," Tessa pointed. "Maybe it would like the lake."
"That's a great idea!" Keyleth clapped her hands together. "Follow me. I think I know what to do!"
Keyleth took off running with Smudge at her heels. Tessa followed with her red robes streaming behind her. Ayen looked at the chaos and wondered how the hell he ended up here, but he would feel guilty if he left them to get eaten without at least trying to help so he ran along to join them.
"Get it to face this way," Keyleth commanded, taking her lyre in hand.
Tessa seemed to be attempting some sort of magic that wasn't working so Ayen threw a rock instead.
"Hey, stupid frog!" he yelled. "Over here." He earned himself some scowls from Tessa and Keyleth and possibly from Smudge, but the toad turned its head.
Keyleth began to play what started out as a lovely tune, but quickly had Ayen covering his ears.
"What is that?" Tessa asked. She had her hands pressed to her ears as well and her nose was scrunched tight in disgust.
"I'm trying to piss it off!" Keyleth called over the music.
"That'll do it," Ayen agreed. The toad turned on the spot. It's giant head cast a shadow over them."Now what?"
"Run for the lake," Keyleth said. Then she took off running, again her duck companion followed.
Ayen grabbed Tessa, who was a second too slow on the uptake, and they ran after her. It was just in time for the toad to make its first leap and land just short of the group. They all stumbled as the ground shook, but they made it without falling. Smudge began to fall behind and Tessa scooped him up in her arms. Keyleth's terrible playing seemed to do the trick as the toad didn't give up the chase.
Trees were knocked over and uprooted in the toad's path. It was a narrow miss with every leap. Then they reached the edge of the lake. Ayen thought for sure the toad would crash into them, but instead it leaped right over into the water. Keyleth stopped her terrible playing, trading it for a lullaby.
The toad settled into the water and began to sink down into the mud. Keyleth kept playing until it closed it's heavy eyes and disappeared into the bottom of the lake.
Tessa yawned and Ayen saw that she had settled on the ground, still cradling Smudge like a baby. The duck had fallen asleep and Tessa looked ready to join him as her eyes drooped.
"That lullaby wasn't meant for you, Tess," Keyleth laughed.
"I know," she smiled sleepily. "But your music always moves me."
"You shouldn't listen so deeply." Keyleth helped her up with arms around her shoulders. The moment lingered a little too long and they both ended up blushing and flustered.
Ayen looked politely away, surveying the damage they had left behind. The forest was destroyed along the path they had taken. Ayen could see the destruction left at the vineyard on the other side.
"Sorry about the forest," Keyleth said. She glanced at him and then the trees with a deep frown.
Ayen shrugged. "I was more worried for us than for the trees."
"That's not very elven of you, Ayen."
"Take it up with my mother."
Keyleth rolled her eyes. They started the walk back through the destruction. The girls walked arm in arm, but Ayen suspected that Tessa was playing up just how tired she was so that Keyleth would keep hold of her. Smudge seemed to have fully recovered, after all. He was thankful that the toad situation was remedied, but there was still the matter of what he had come to the vineyard for in the first place.
"So you're going to be needing a new place to live now that half of the estate is rubble," he said to Keyleth.
"I still owe Tybee a lot of money," she sighed.
"I had an idea about that, actually," he said. Then he told her about his plan to catch the infamous Waylon Wood.
Ayen Fenfir is no common elf, but that won't stop him from pretending to be one as he tries to hide from his past. Life as a criminal isn't easy, but when Ayen sees the bounty for turning in an assassin, known as 'The Angel', he finds himself caught between romance and a chance to retire from his life of crime. 'Don't try your luck in West Catoig' is what they always say, but Ayen has yet to discover just how unlucky West Catoig is for its more humble citizens.