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South of Mancera: The Everwatch Incident, Part Six
”But,” asks Elennalura, “What happened to you? Why not leave the town behind if it is so terrible?”

Alex sighs, pensively. "My father is dead now; I have no other family left but Rulf. Rulf is my cousin - my mother's sister's son - and he risks his life and his inn every time I show up in his cellar. He's been very brave. I hate these men - Farnell, the Protectors...Arrow especially. They took me, you see. They think I'm dead. I should be, after what they did...they arranged my father's death, I'm sure of it. His heart was never stronger...and he wasn't taking any medicines either. But he was found dead of a heart attack, and a bottle of heart medicine beside him that I had never seen. No one would believe me when I said it had to have been murder. The house...I know Arrow set the fire. I was bound and gagged when he did it, for that was the night the so-called Protectors decided to take me into custody." Her eyes are like fiery coals of hate.

"I swore on my father's grave I would kill that man with my own hands."

Her fingers touch the edge of her scar. "And this reminds me of that oath. Not to mention," Her mouth quirks in a painful, bitter not-smile, "it keeps Arrow from ever recognizing me or wanting to touch me again."

She sighs deeply. "You should rest," she says. "I don't know what business you have here, strangers, but you should get it done and over with as fast as you can. The longer you stay here, the more of you will get eaten up in this place..."
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South of Mancera: The Everwatch Incident, Part Five
"Thank you," Alex says quietly. "I understand your distrust of me. Bide a while, and I will try to prove myself to you."
Rulf goes up the stairs, and shuts the cellar door. Alex turns and shoves the table against the wall. Beneath the table there's a trap door. You follow Alex into a tunnel which leads from beneath the inn. You come up from the tunnel into a room smelling of dust.
You can hear water close by, and Alex whispers, "This is an old warehouse; the running water foils the hunting hounds and seeking spells that the guards use. We've got it set up to rest."
She guides you to some pallets made up of lots of blankets piled on top of bags of grain
Elennalura sighs inwardly, wishing only briefly for tents under trees, but at least she can hear frogs and running water from here.

Alex seems to have set her own sleeping pallet up near a window, but she doesn't lie down to rest, instead propping herself up in the corner so that she can see out the window without allowing herself to be seen.

Her voice is quiet as she says, "Let me try to explain what has happened in this town."

After a long moment, she begins. "It comes down to money, in the end. The city has always been in a bad spot money wise - we're right on the edge of the border not only with those Sanganese bastards but with the crazies down in Adelghani too. The mines belong to the Crown, but they've also always been a strong part of the economy here. The river...that's been our life blood. Without the river, we would dry up and blow away and be nothing but a tiny mining town, I think."

Her eyes roam the scenery outside the window. "For years my family has served the Council - my grandfather was the Mayor, and my father nearly won the place of Mayor after him. When he lost it to Farnell, we all thought it was simply a piece of bad luck and Farnell's own good strategy, politically speaking. He got the poor on his side, you see..."

She glances at you. "He did that by endorsing the creation of the manufactory. There were so many men out of work...miners who'd been injured badly enough that they couldn't work in the mines any more, their women and children...we had a bad problem, even under my grandfather, with thieves and beggars. The streets were filthy with them, and really you either had to pay the Thieves' Guild for their bloody "insurance," or you walked the streets heavily armed and in groups. They hunted the streets in packs..."

"But then Farnell managed to get the Council to allow the building of the manufactory - and suddenly all those men had jobs. Their wives could work; their children could even find a place in the factory. Suddenly there was more money in the town - and the thieves were evaporating. Not all of them, but a large number just...vanished. Probably because they didn't need to steal bread to feed their babies any more. They weren't rich - but most of them had never wanted to be rich, they just wanted to be able to feed their children. Then, when Grandfather passed away, Farnell had all these people behind him, saying that his vision was what the town needed to run the thieves out for good."

She sighs. "At first it looked like they were right. Farnell got Mayor; the Thieves' Guild got sloppy, and one night there was a big raid. Next morning, a dozen men were hung for leading the thieves. I wasn't at their trial, but I'm given to understand that the legal forms were observed. And at the time, no one even thought twice about how quickly the Guild had gone down, they were too happy to know they could for once walk the streets without fear of being ganged up on by ruffians."

"Then Farnell hired these new guards - the Protectors as he calls them - they aren't part of the City Watch. They answer to him and only to him, but he's managed so far to keep that little fact a secret from anyone outside the city. Most especially from Royal authorities. He said the Protectors were only to help the Watch, he said he didn't want to hire them on city payroll so that he wouldn't have to raise taxes..."

Her teeth show in the rising moonlight. "Yet the taxes are double what they were under my grandfather, and half of those taxes go to Farnell."

"It's gotten worse in the last five years. To be honest, things have gone downhill quickly since the two new factories opened. They seem to always be looking for workers...they'll hire anyone - man, woman, child, doesn't matter. But I don't know what they're doing with all those workers. I mean, things get made, but no one ever sees the workers again. They live and sleep in the factory dormitory, they eat there, and they don't leave. If they've got family in town, the family gets brought regular bags of money - the paycheck, they say. It seems awfully strange to me though - why not take a day of rest every week?"

"Then this...mania...people were starting to ask a lot of questions, just like I do. Why weren't there any of the laborers coming back out of the factories? Why was the river starting to smell bad? It doesn't harm the boats that use it for travel, but let me tell you, it's not safe to eat the fish from the river any more. Something's wrong, but when people started to ask, this priest turned up."

"At first it seemed just a passing fad, a really strong move towards Pelor worship, nothing to pay attention to. But then suddenly every other cleric of every other god just up and left town. We all saw them walking out, it was like a huge pilgrimage was going on, and none of them would answer anyone about why they were going."

"Then it got bad. The Protectors doubled in number, and started collecting weekly "taxes" which go straight to the Temple. It's an enforced tithe...with the muscle of Farnell behind it. More and more, the Priest and the Mayor seem to be working together. They started outlawing things - they widened the definition of vagrancy to include people performing in the street, or putting out a beggar's bowl. At first people were fine with that - it got a lot of the beggars off the streets and put to work, for their benefit. Then, the laws started getting passed about prostitutes. There were a lot of respectable women that were just fine with those laws, because for a while, the whores were getting out of paying any taxes at all, and making a huge profit off the respectable ladies' husbands. But now...now they claim that there is no difference between a whore and a musician or an actor...and the people are getting scared. Last week, Mama Woodwright's daughter was hauled off to jail for singing while she hung out the washing...! And she hasn't been seen since. Her Mama tried to find her at the jail, but they say she's not there and that she never was...it's horrible."
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South of Mancera: The Everwatch Incident, Part Four
"Pelor just doesn't restrict these things," Felina said, looking at the other two.
Half the edicts that are on the board are rationalized with such phrases as "you can't tell a street singer from a whore" and other nonsense…well, nonsense to a free thinking person. All the townspeople around you seem to be buying into it.
"Something tells me this isn't about Pelor," observes Elennalura. Felina nods.
Pale shakes his head, but in agreement with Elennalura. "Not at all. It is blasphemy to attribute such to his worship."
A man near the sign steps up to you. "Pardon, me, brother, sisters, but can I assist you in any way? It is my duty to explain our ways to newcomers, if you have any questions please let me help you." He seems an earnest, kind looking fellow, thin and tall with balding light brown hair.
Elennalura smiles, "Yes, brother. Please do explain. We are new here and do not wish to offend anyone."
"It would appear that I am not wise to the ways of Pelor," adds Pale, with more than a hint of irony in his tone.
Elennalura raises an eyebrow in Pale's direction, but says nothing.
"I am sure that innocents such as yourselves would not offend," he says kindly, "You see, it is only that we are trying very hard to...clean up our city. Until recently, there was a great deal of illicit trade going on, and I'm sad to say that women sold their bodies on the very steps of the Temple there..." He shakes his head, looking very sad.
"The High Priest of Pelor has spearheaded the campaign to purge our city of illegal and immoral acts," he says, gesturing to the temple, "and the citizens and the Council have felt moved to donate the new decorations and other changes to the structure. The High Priest objected at first, but at last felt it needful to give in to their insistence."
"He has done many great works for the common man of the town," he continues. "Every evening at sunset, during service, he heals the blind and cures cripples...he is a powerfully holy man."
"I see. The whole city must be chipping in to arrange for such beautiful decoration!"
The man nods, although his eyes search you for a moment as if wondering if you are being humorous. He says, "The High Priest conducts service here every sunset, if you would care to attend. It is a most moving and enlightening experience."
Just then, a pair of people dressed like farmers wander up to the signboard. The man bows to you, makes a brief apology and farewell, and turns to them, offering to read the various edicts to them, which they appear glad to accept.
Felina gives Elennalura and Pale with a knowing look. "Indeed. I'm very interested to meet this great holy man of Pelor."
“Shall we attend before we head to the cousin's house?” asks Elennalura.
"I would be interested to witness his service." Pale looks like he’d also like to witness the High Priest falling off a cliff, but his tone is bland.
"Let's go meet with Rulf's cousin first. We should have plenty of time to catch the evening service then."
Elennalura finds a quiet area with nobody paying attention and reads the note, which says, "Don't come to the front, but come to the back door, at fifth bell.”
"I suggest we unobtrusively find an alley around back and make our way to the door."
"Agreed."
As fifth bell is rung about an hour before sunset, your timing is just about right.
In short order, you arrive back at the Scarlet Swine. You see Rulf standing in the door, clearly checking for you. As soon as he sees you, Rulf waves, whispering, "Come on, get in!"
Elennalura enters quietly; Felina makes her way quickly over, and Pale calmly walks in after her.
You find yourself in the kitchen, which is quite busy. Rulf herds you all down a narrow set of stairs into a cellar. There, in the light of a single lantern, a figure sits at a small table, dressed in a dark cloak. The figure stands, and nearly towers over you all - whoever it is, is a bit over six feet tall

Rulf says "These are the ones I want you to take to the safe spot, Alex."
Elennalura remains still by the steps. "What do you mean?"
"Safe spot?" Felina looks wary as she approaches a little closer.
"You are not taking us anywhere without an explanation." Pale crosses his arms, still on the stairs just above Elennalura, and frowns.
The figure lifts gloved hands, and pushes back the cloak covering the face. The face that looks out at you was beautiful once - but the horrifying burn scar across half her face will never be healed enough to permit beauty again. Wisps of blond hair escape from her braid. In a low voice she says, "Trust me, there are few places in this town where a woman is safe from...certain parties."
Rulf reaches over and squeezes the woman's shoulder. Alex tilts her head, touching the unscarred side of her face to his hand for a brief moment.
"What do you mean? What will happen?" Felina frowns.
Looking at you, she says, "The High Priest may spout all day long about cleaning out the whores and thieves, the beggars and tramps...but the Protectors are nothing but bullies in pretty uniforms, and looking like you do," she nods to all three of you, "You're safest if you have a place to sleep where they can't find you."
"Can it not be healed?" Pale asks Alex.
She glances at Pale as he asks this question, and turns her face away a moment. "I don't want it to be healed," she says.
To Elennalura, it just seems like she's lying because she's so hurt about the scar; but Pale and Felina can hear under her words, not only hurt, but a very deep hatred. Pale doesn’t quite know the reason, but Arrow's face comes to his mind as Alex struggles to regain her composure.
"I could do the same to Arrow if you like,” he says, quietly.
Her eyes snap to Pale's. They are, you see now, very pale amber in color, and nearly glow with the intense emotions. The fury and hate hit you like a blow to the face. "Arrow is mine to deal with," she whispers, her tone like daggers.
"Suit yourself." Pale shrugs. Felina puts a hand out on Pale's arm. The hatred in the woman's eyes is palpable.
Alex blinks and twitches a moment, as if shaking herself out of a bad memory. "Come on, I've got a place to hide you all. It's only good for night use, but it's safer than letting any of the guards know where you're really staying."
Rulf speaks. "Will you go with her? I've got to go back upstairs soon or I'll be missed."
Felina looks at Pale and Elennalura. "I think we should."
"And why do you want us to go with you?" Elennalura hesitates because of the half-sensed lie. "Yes, what benefit is it for you to help us?"
Alex looks impatient. "I told you, you don't want the guards knowing where you are of a night. They like pretty women...pretty men, too, some of them. If they take you in the night, no one's going to save you." She looks uncomfortable. "I just don't want anyone else to get caught."
"You refuse our help. What makes you think we need yours? I am not saying that as a petulant child to snap back at you. Be truthful with us,” Pale says sternly.
She starts back from Pale as if he slapped her. "I...didn't intend it that way. I apologize."
"You owe me no apologies. Your actions do me no favor or harm. I trust you as much as I trust anyone else in this township."
Alex hesitates a moment, then says, "Rulf will get in a great deal of trouble if you stay here. He's...important to me. Also, I really don't think it would be fair if I didn't at least try to warn you and get you away from the dangers of this place."
Felina frowns, "I trust her more than Arrow. You know how he looked at me. That wasn't simple desire. I know what that looks like."
"That is true, but we only have her words to go by."
"I suppose we come to the choice of whether or not we think we are capable of getting ourselves out of any trap she may get us into,” says Elennalura, frowning slightly.
"Then I will take her words." Felina steps forward. "Please lead the way, my lady."
Pale sighs.
Felina turns around. "Perhaps I would be safer with Arrow then, Pale? I think the odds are better with the woman."
Elennalura, trying to lighten the mood, teases, "Fear not, Pale. I'm sure we can find you a nice dour rock to commune with along the way."
"A rock is less likely to have ulterior motives. Very well. I will go with you."
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South of Mancera: The Everwatch Incident, Part Three
Getting into the city is not at all hard. Everwatch is a very quiet city - in fact, it's quieter and cleaner than Ceranna. It's smaller, but that's not the entire explanation. The buildings are almost all built the same - reddish stone on the bottom floors, timber and whitewashed brick on the top floors. Only a few buildings are taller than two stories, but not many are one story. The streets seem to be, not quite deserted, but not as busy as you'd expect them to be. It takes you a few minutes to figure out what it is that is so odd. There are no beggars, no bums; no children sweeping street crossings or running about looking for odd jobs. There are also no street singers, no whores, no "vagrants" of any kind, only respectably dressed folk, pursuing their respectable business.
Where would you like to go first in your search for information?
There’s an inn you can go to, where drinks are relatively cheap and the customers might talk in exchange for some free beer.
“I'd suggest we talk to some locals,” says Elennalura, “The local inn is always a good place to start. Why don't we head on over?”
Pale nods and Felina gestures for Elennalura to lead the way.
The inn is called the Scarlet Swine, has a sign with a very red pig on it. The barkeep there knows Elennalura, and greets her in a friendly way as you come in. Elennalura returns the greeting.
The simple tables of the common room are perhaps half full at this hour, just before lunch. There's plenty of space, and a couple of rather large tradesman types sitting at one end of the nearest table, who seem to be enjoying bowls of stew with their mugs of beer.
"Well, good to see you!" the barkeep says, "What can I get for you? Care to try the wines again?"
"That sounds lovely.”
The barkeep grins, “And what are your two companions having?"
"Nothing for me." Pale waves away the offer casually.
Felina smiles, "I'd be happy to sing for that glass." She blushes slightly, "I'm a little short on coppers, I'm afraid."
The barkeep frowns. "I'm sorry miss, you must be new here. I'd not dare take that offer - 'tis against the law, y'see.”
Felina looks confused, "Against the law? To sing for my supper?"
He nods, looking over your shoulders at the door as if concerned someone might overhear. "Public performers, ma'am. The Council, they say it incites unrest in the citizens, like. There's a lotta talk lately, about turning away from bad ways, like. Not sure I agree with it, but no one asked old Rulf for his vote, eh? I just pay my taxes, and keep out of trouble."
Elennalura breaks into the potentially awkward conversation, "It won't be a problem, this round is on me, Felina." and promptly pays for the drinks.
Felina frowns, but nods. "I understand sir. I wouldn't dream of giving you trouble." She takes the glass of wine. "Thank you, Elennalura."
Elennalura innocently asks as she counts out coin, "Are there rooms free tonight, Rulf?"
Rulf murmurs to Elennalura as he takes her money, "If you need a place to stay, here's not the best now. Got a friend over near the river, though, that might be..." he shrugs.
He seems to be happy enough to serve you, but he also seems watchful, as if afraid of someone unpleasant coming in next.
Felina leans in and smiles sweetly at Rulf, "So, Rulf. This seems to be a respectable enough town. Anything interesting ever happen here?"
Elennalura gives a short nod to Rulf and slips an extra coin across the bar.
He gives Felina an appreciative glance and smiles a little, and then assumes a more serious tone. "Plenty of interesting things...historical monuments...religious plays...lots of music at the Temple."
"Sounds very... respectable. And whom would one talk to if they were feeling somewhat... unrespectable?"
“Go out of town, like.” Rulf shakes his head sadly. "Council's gotten real god fearing' lately. Guess it was the old Mayor's dying' that did it, him having' a heart attack so sudden like."
"Knowing that you are obviously an upstanding citizen and wouldn't dare be involved in anything shady, where might we go for a smidgen of entertainment?" Elennalura winks at Rulf.
Rulf's brows wriggle in concern, a weird expression as he tries to cover up his worry. "Now, I wouldn't rightly be knowing...but I've a cousin over the river way. He only comes by here in the evenings after work, though."
Elennalura leans in closer, "Oh? And who is this cousin of yours?"
"Oh, you'll meet him...if you can hang about a few hours, like. And be 'round back when my night man gets here."
Felina smiles, "Hmmm... very well. Sounds.... interesting at least."
me* He gives Felina a look that gives her the idea that Rulf is not telling her everything; your impression is that he isn't lying per se, but he's doing his damnedest not to say more than he has to; he's also extremely nervous and would really prefer to speak more on this subject when not "in public" if that makes sense.
Felina winks, "All right bartender. I suppose I can hang about for a while, music or not, as long as my friend here is paying."
Elennalura's money covers apparently a flagon of wine and a pair of slightly battered looking pewter mugs.
Felina walks over to a corner table where they can watch the room without folks noticing so much; with the tables only half full, she's able to find a relatively secluded table.
Pale is just trying to "feel" out the room. He can definitely sense the agitation from Rulf. He's scared, but not of you guys,
Felina watches Pale, seeing that he's trying to get impressions from people.
The two tradesmen are more stolid, apparently just tired and wanting to eat their food in peace.
Felina leans over to Pale and whispers, "So, what do you feel?"
"Nothing that is not already obvious.”
Perhaps twenty minutes after you seat yourselves...
Rulf had calmed down after you sat, but his emotional state spikes sharply, impinging on Pale’s mind very like a scream would affect the ears. You're able to suppress your own reaction to his sudden, and very real, fear. When you glance his way to see what caused the fear, you see two men walking into the inn and up to the counter.
The two men are young, dressed in matching livery of a very dark maroon, with silver bits of decoration.
Pale nudges Felina in a subtle manner. Felina looks in the direction of the men.
One is blond; the other has dark brown hair. They are both passably handsome. The blond one steps closer to the counter, while the other remains a few paces back, scanning the room in a casual way.
Rulf smiles professionally enough and says, "Good afternoon, Guardsman Arrow, how can I help you?"
The blond speaks, and his tone is cool and a touch condescending. "You know why we're here, Rulf. It's Collection Day, or had you forgotten?"
Pale can feel a sinking dread roll off Rulf as his face pales just a little. "Why - of course not! I just...expected you a little later in the evening, your usual time of course...that's all, you just surprised me a little."
"Why don't you go get the payment, then? Wulfgar and I can wait here..." Arrow's voice is silky with menace.
Rulf quickly goes into the back.
Arrow turns about and leans his back and elbows against the counter, looking about the room. His eye lights on Felina.
Felina smiles charmingly at him.
Pale acts (well somewhat of an act) bored and disinterested.
Arrow saunters over to the table where you sit.
"Good afternoon, my lady," he says to Felina, ignoring everyone else at the table utterly. His eyes wander over her, as if he can remove her clothes with his mind. "And what brings such a lovely as yourself to visit our humble city?"
Felina smiles back, "Oh, just passing though. I was very much hoping someone would come over and speak to me." She leans forward giving him a view down the front of her blouse, "My companion here is a bit of a... stick in the mud." She seems to pout ever so slightly at that last statement.
Pale looks at her lazily then goes back to staring a distant section of the wall.
"And are you a...traveling professional?" Arrow asks Felina. He wets his lips a bit, an unconscious gesture.
Felina's eyes glitter, "Indeed sir. I, however cannot seem to find any employment here."
"Well, naturally not, with the City Fathers all taking it into their heads to force everyone to share their religious mania," he says, his tone sardonic. "However...if you're free for a bit of...private employment, perhaps we can come to an agreement?"
Pale can tell that Arrow is not just interested in Felina for sexual purposes; there's greed and a gloating about him that indicates he has something up his sleeve. The Will save indicates you're able to not clobber him on sight; he may be more useful if you don't beat the crap out of him yet.
Felina smiles up at him, "Most certainly. Where would you like your private performance, good sir?"
Just before Arrow opens his mouth to reply, Rulf comes huffing out from the back, carrying a small (but clearly heavy) chest.
"Here it is, Guardsman."
Arrow looks momentarily irritated, then smiles at Felina, like a wolf grinning. "We'll have to resume our conversation later, my lady. I'm sure I'll see you again soon enough."
"I hope so."
With a nod to you, he returns to Rulf. He takes the chest, effortlessly, and hands it off to his partner, Wulfgar, who carries it with equal ease. As Arrow hands Rulf a slip of paper with a sardonic flourish, you see a concealed blade at the back of his neck for an instant as his jacket flexes with his motions.
The two men leave, and Rulf seems to nearly collapse with relief.
"I think it's time for a refill," Elennalura mumbles as she leaves the table and heads for Rulf.
She reaches the bar and hands him the flagon. "Good customers of yours, those two?"
Rulf gives Elennalura a sort of incredulous look, then his eyes shift to Felina and Pale, and he gives a very slight nod.
"No," he says. "They're part of the Protector's Guard; the new City Guards I guess you could call them. Gods know, the old City Guards haven't half the power..." He bites off his words and gives Elennalura a tight grin.
Elennalura nods. "Another new gift from the Council, I take it?"
He bares his teeth - you can't call the expression a smile at all. "Oh, yes. Lord Taravel is most concerned that the citizens of Everwatch be kept quite safe..." He nearly growls. Then he straightens and looks around, as if remembering where he is. "Look, this isn't a good place for me to talk about this at all, ok?"
He slips his hand into his pocket as he refills the pewter flagon, which has just a bit of sweat on it. He hands you the flagon, and your fingers detect the crinkle of paper stuck to the bottom. He refuses to meet your eyes or speak again just now.
"My apologies and blessings upon you and yours... and the council, of course." Elennalura slides one more coin across to Rulf. He takes it with a curt nod
As you take the flagon back to your table, bells begin to sound out in the street. No sooner do the bells cease chiming than people begin coming into the inn, demanding food and beer in cheerful voices.
Elennalura pockets the paper, assuming it isn't safe to read it in such a public space.
Felina looks over at Elennalura, "So, seems our bartender here is under a lot of pressure from these guys."
"It does at that. I think we may have gotten what we can from here, unless one of you thinks you can get someone in that crowd to talk. My suggestion is that we finish up here and move on."
"I would not question anyone so openly and among so many others."
"Agreed. Felina?"
Felina nods, "Yes, but I think we should check back on him. He did mention a cousin of his that he seemed to want us to meet. That man may be of some help."
Without much more discussion, you decide to check out the Temple, since it seems to be quite the tourist attraction.
Finding your way to the Temple is not at all hard.
As you approach the area, you notice that there's a very large plaza laid out in front of the Temple; at the center of the plaza is a huge monolithic stone, some kind of relic from ancient times perhaps, standing alone in a circle of grass, ringed about with a wall about four feet high, and on top of the stone wall another two feet of decorative looking iron fencing.
Pale and Elennalura, at the same time, realize that this building was once probably a central temple of the sort seen in Ceranna City - the kind of place where all gods have a shrine of their own in some little niche of the interior, a place for unity...but it's been completely overhauled to suit the worship of only one god, and that's Pelor.
The roofs are coated in shingles of beaten gold; there are sun symbols everywhere. The temple seems to be glorifying Pelor not only as Giver of Light but as Conqueror of Darkness. As beautiful as it is, it strikes a note of menace as well.
Pale says slowly, looking up at the edifice, "I would not think Pelor would wish for this."
You can see that the temple is quite the center of attention in this area at least, and there is a signboard near the temple, with quite a lot of papers attached to it.
Each paper outlines a different restriction or warnings: No wearing scarlet, no public singing or dancing...it seems like whoever is running this temple is very down on anyone enjoying themselves.
Felina reads the warnings and frowns deeply. "Pelor doesn't restrict these things."
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South of Mancera: The Everwatch Incident, Part Two
Once the tale is done, Talia rests her hands over her face a moment.
"Even though I have heard this once, it still greatly distresses me," she says quietly. Her eyes look pinched.
Felina's concern deepens and she frowns as Elennalura finishes her tale. "This is deeply disturbing." She looks to Talia, "I assume you know of some way I can help since you called me here."
"I am hoping you and I between us can convince the King to listen to the problem."
"I see. I will be glad to speak to him. I'm sure I can convince him of the importance of this problem."
"As of yet, the poison seems to remain in one area, but you can understand the... difficulties... the city could face if the Shannon River were to become contaminated. Perhaps that will help him decide?" Elennalura offers.
Felina nods, "That is a good point. Is King Cyril available?"
Talia shakes her head. "He has been closeted for three hours with Sir Aravallen. You might be able to talk with him after they are done..."
Elennalura frowns at that name. It's the same name as the owners of the factories.
Felina frowns. It looks as if she has a bad taste in her mouth, "Aravallen... what does he want now?"
Talia looks concerned. "Something about permits or restrictions that he wants lifted..." Then she looks horrified. "Oh, gods. He wouldn't be trying to gain Royal sanction for his factories, would he?"
Elennalura busies herself with a loose stitch on her embroidered sleeve, having little patience for matters of state but understanding their importance to others. In such settings, no serious accusations can be made. Though Elennalura has her suspicions, it is proof she lacks right now…but Elennalura cannot yet voice her suspicions.
Felina wrinkles her brow, "And what would be wrong with royal sanction of what he does? I know none of us care for him as a person, but there's nothing wrong with making a profit."
Talia shakes her head. "Of course not. But something...bothers me about that man. I can't pin down why, though."
Felina makes a face. "The man's only concerned with profit. Well, profit and women, but I can see where one would be concerned about his methods. He's the type to shirk safety in favor of making a few more coppers. I see what you mean, Talia."
Talia nods.
"Anyway, let's go ahead and let the King know we are waiting to see him. We'll speak with him after Aravallen leaves."
With Talia's clout behind them, the Seneschal gives no trouble about the matter - and the women find themselves waiting in a sitting room. The room has two doors - one to the hall way and another to a room suitable for meetings. After about another hour spent waiting, the door from the meeting room opens, and out comes Thorn Aravallen, looking smug, and the King.
Aravallen bows to them all, courteous but careful not to leer for a change. With the briefest of courtesies he takes his leave. The King looks at Felina with a small smile.
"I could hope that this emergency meeting business means you've found a husband and need my immediate approval for espousal..." He grins then. "But I imagine that's not the case."
Felina laughs, "Not yet. Actually, we have a more immediate matter that needs attention. This is the druid Elennalura. She's been investigating some troubling matters in the South. Princess Talia and I believe this matter is of great importance."
The King looks at Elennalura, one eyebrow raised. "Really? What's going on then?" His manner is deceptively casual, almost grandfatherly.
Rigidly proper, Elennalura relates her tale of poisoned waters.
When she is done, the King strokes his beard for a moment. "Certainly this bears closer investigation," he says, "but are you certain that this poison would spread up the river so far?"
Showing the first hint of humor since she stepped in the door, Elennalura quirks her lips into a half-smile and replies with a glint in her eye, "Forgive me, your highness, but I AM a druid... it is rather my calling to know the ways of nature. I speak with as much certainty as I can muster when I say that I found no containment methods being used, and no way to stop the eventual poisoning."
He gives her a small bow, acknowledging both her humor and the truth of her words.
"Still, I must ask that you investigate more closely. You say you spoke to the people of Everwatch, and they reported no ill effects?"
This gives Elennalura pause. A moment's thoughtfulness passes over her face. "There were... no reports of ill effects, no."
"Something strange is going on then," he says. Then he sighs. "But I can offer you no help, other than a writ of limited Crown authority. I can empower you to go have a look - but I won't empower you to arrest anyone or take any action. I want this to be information gathering only, ladies. I have no resources to spare to bail you out of trouble...so don't get into anything you can't get yourself out of." He shakes his head. "The timing on this could have been better. A week ago I'd have had resources to send with you - but I just committed to a project that will take all my magical resources for a month."
"We will make do with the writ, sire. Thank you for what help you can give us."
"Do you think you could write that up for three of us, Your Majesty? I'd like to have Pale with us in case we run into trouble." Felina pauses, "I assure you we'll try not to kill anyone this time."
At this statement, Elennalura's eyebrows raise a notch and her eyes shift slightly in Felina's direction before she can control herself.
Felina notices the movement, "Of course last time, it was because someone had kidnapped and threatened to kill my son. I'm sure I can control myself in a less personal situation."
Flushing ever so slightly, Elennalura composes her face back to neutrality. "Of course," she concedes with a nod.
The King goes to the door and gives a short set of orders to the guard there. After a few minutes, the Seneschal comes in, accompanied by two pages carrying various implements
Swiftly the Seneschal writes out the writ as specified by the King, who dictates the limits of the authority you're being given. The pages quickly make a copy of the original, the King puts his seal on both of them, and in perhaps fifteen minutes Felina is holding a rolled up, sealed copy of the writ. "This should suffice," he says to her.
The King starts for the door. "Pardon the brevity, but I have a great deal to set in motion if I am to make good on the promises Sir Thorn just wrested out of me."
Felina frowns but simply nods. "We will see you when we have more information, Your Majesty."
Elennalura salutes formally as he leaves.
Talia asks, just before the King leaves, "What did Lord Aravallen ask you to do, your Majesty?"
The King looks at her, but Talia lifts her chin, clearly she's not going to apologize for being a little nosey.
"He asked that I work to ensure that the entire city has light after dark. Not just street lights but lights in places like the docks. He presented some very compelling evidence that convinced me this was a good idea. However it means that I and the Royal Mages will be very busy designing and setting up enough devices to accomplish this goal."
"It might interest you to know that one of his main points was that there is already a problem with soot in the air over the city, from so many torches and fires."
Felina raises her eyebrows, "Interesting... We'll have to wait and see how he profits from such a project."
The King laughs. "Oh, he will find a way. That is what he is best at, after all. At least he pays his taxes honestly."
And with that, the King is gone.
Talia turns to Felina and Elennalura. "Go, and return swiftly and safely," she tells you, hugging each of you in turn.
Elennalura smiles warmly, honest affection showing as she returns Talia's hug. "Let us hope our next meeting can be over something as trivial and enjoyable as embroidery, yes?"
Felina hugs her back, "You and your little ones stay safe as well."
Felina finds Pale and between herself and Elennalura, they explain the situation. "Will you join us in determining the truth of this situation?"
"I will. The last thing this city needs is something more to weaken it considering the other events taking place."
The question now is travel. How to get all the way to Everwatch quickly and quietly...and Elennalura says, diffidently, "Would anyone care to let me teleport us there? So long as Pale's equipment isn't too heavy, we should be fine to take all three of us and my hawk."
Felina grins, "That would make our journey a whole lot easier."
"That would make things much easier. Time is always of the essence it would seem."
"Excellent. Once everything is in order, we can depart. Shall we organize ourselves and prepare to go?"
All right, arrangements are made then - someone to watch over Keros while you're gone, the usual "if I die, give Cervil NONE of my stuff"... the normal things.
"I'll go get my armor and weapons, just in case. I've become a bit paranoid about leaving the city without them now."
Right, I'll have Keros stay at the palace with Talia's kids if that'll be ok
Pale is already armed and armored given all the past events.
Felina gets the hat of disguise for Pale, so he can conceal the fact that he's wearing armor; he uses it and changes his appearance to a traveler's outfit, otherwise he'd look very conspicuous in his priest's robes.
Felina will dress in normal (non nobility) clothing so as not to clue anyone off that they're doing an investigation. She'll use her shiftweave shirt to make herself look like a traveling bard and she'll bring her lute.
Elennalura calls her eagle to her and gathers her things, ready to leave as soon as the others are.
"Are we ready to depart, then?"
“Yes,” replies Felina. Pale nods.
Elennalura says, “I need a tree.”
Pale leans over to whisper in Felina's ear, "Your friend here has spent too much time alone in the woods I think." Felina whispers back, "Technically she's Talia's friend, but I think I agree with you there."
Her hawk makes a soft noise that resembles nothing so much as avian laughter.
"I'm sure I remember there being a stand of cedar wood near our destination, is there a cedar nearby?"
In fact there is a grove of them on the grounds.
Elennalura leads the group to the cedar grove and prepares to cast the spell.
Elennalura asks Pale to touch her hand.
Pale touches her with the end of his mace. "Is this sufficient?"
Elennalura looks extremely amused at his reticence. "Unfortunately, no. Hand holding will suffice, however."
"If I must." Pale takes her hand.
Elennalura takes their hands to forestall any further argument. Felina just laughs.
"Off we go. This may sting a little, Pale." Elennalura swallows a giggle.
The smell of cedar sap surrounds you all as Elennalura steps forward. Just when you think you should be running right into the limbs and trunk of the tree, everything gets very misty and dark, and there's a slightly nauseating sensation - like being on the loop-the-loop in a roller coaster, but without the other sensations)
When the mist clears from your eyes, you find yourself standing in a grove of cedars. However you know you aren't still at home, because the noises are far different, and there isn't manicured lawn around the trees.
"Everyone's limbs intact?" Elennalura teases, pointedly looking in Pale's direction.
"The only limbs you need worry about are your own and the trees, druid."
Felina simply laughs and looks between the two of them. "We should get to work. We must prevent any further damage here."
Felina is the first to notice the lights beyond the trees, and catch the sound of laughter and music in the distance. Elennalura stifles another grin and sets off.
"It looks like there's a village ahead." She sets off after Elennalura
Indeed, this is the village just outside Everwatch itself. This town isn't on the river, and the people remember Elennalura and greet her with friendly smiles.
Elennalura returns the smiles and waves, and moves further through the village.
The inn is the only place open in the evening, so that's where you are for now.
"The river is along Everwatch proper, we will visit there tomorrow. I know the inn here. We should be comfortable enough there for the night."
Felina nods. "Sounds like a plan."
"What exactly are we going to do to address the situation here?" asks Pale.
"For the moment, we are going to get settled in some rooms and assess what we know and build a strategy from there."
"We're supposed to find out what exactly is causing the poison in the river. This is strictly information gathering." She gives Pale a significant look.
Elennalura nods in agreement. "Tomorrow, I will show you both the river."
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South of Mancera: The Everwatch Incident, Part One
Elennalura has been off in the south for a couple of months, investigating some nasty rumors about poisoned plants and animals in villages along a small lake just off of the Shannon River. The source of the Shannon River is far to the south, very close to Everwatch; this village is a hundred miles or so downstream from there.

She discovered that the rumors were true. The main river seems to be fine, but this little split-off area, the stream feeding the fresh water lake and the lake itself, are poisoned. Fish are dying, their gills clogged with clay and silt that doesn't seem to be native to the area. Creatures that eat the fish are sickening and dying, and showing signs of having been poisoned. Plants along the shore are becoming twisted and sickly, or dying off altogether. Even the farm folk near the lake are affected - a young girl was badly injured by a maddened goose. She might recover the use of her left hand, but she might never again use her eye. Elennalura did what she could, but whether it was enough remains to be seen.

Elennalura was able to examine the dead goose. This was good, because she was also able to forbid the villagers to eat the creature. It showed unmistakable signs of lead poisoning - the poisoning may have been what caused its mad behavior. The fish also show signs of lead poisoning. Elennalura checked as far upstream as she could, and found more of the same. Apparently some stroke of luck or the gods has thus far channeled the filthiest waters to this placid lake. However, there are signs that if whatever is dumping these poisons into the water isn't stopped soon, the pollution will spill over and begin tainting the entire river - eventually even beginning to affect the folk of Ceranna City.

Here's the worst part. When Elennalura tried to talk to the people on the river, she encountered a strange reticence. They kept insisting nothing was wrong and nothing ever had been. She went further, all the way to Everwatch, and people there insisted that things have never been better. The town is clean, quiet, and prosperous - the fields are fertile and seem to be fine - but there are these factories...and Elennalura found herself being quietly managed, gently prevented from "worrying over nothing," and utterly unable to approach the factories to investigate them personally. All the information she could gather was the public story and endless reassurances.

Then she came back to Ceranna...and met with more of the same and even veiled ridicule from the people she tried to talk to about the situation. Finally, she has come to Lady Felina - on the advice of Princess Talia. If nothing else, at least Felina will listen to Elennalura's story, and maybe give her some support in the noble circles?


27 Ula

Felina dresses for tea, wearing one of her own styles, not the regular Manceran gowns. More of a Grecian style without the corsets etc...
Now, it is a bit unusual for Talia to do a private tea. Unlike Aric she is very comfortable with public functions and all the social details she has to deal with as Princess; so a private tea means something's up, something she wants to talk to Felina about without a lot of strangers around.
When Felina gets there:
The table is set for three, meaning one more person than just Talia and Felina. Talia greets Felina and makes a little small talk, and just a minute or two later, Elennalura comes in. Now, Felina met Elennalura way back during the end of the Zon Kuthon situation - she helped Talia with the roses, back then.
Felina stands and greets her, "Elennalura, right? It's nice to see you again."
"The pleasure is mine," Elennalura replies, reaching to clasp hands.
Felina notices right away the thin-ness in the druid's hands. Close up she can see signs of weariness. This woman has been traveling hard for some time, although she hides it well.
Felina looks slightly concerned, "Please, won't you have a seat. I'm sure Talia has something important to tell us since she's made this a private tea."
Elennalura complies, gratefully.
Talia smiles, and pours the tea and passes around some of the food before speaking.
"I asked you here," she says to Felina, "to hear what my friend has to say. Elennalura, please, go over again what you found in the south."
With a small frown of concern, Elennalura begins. "Well, as I am not one to beat around the proverbial bush, I shall get straight to it. The water in the south has been poisoned." She continues to explain what she has learned.
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The Font's Effects: Felina's Recovery and Journey Home
The mountain crumbles before our eyes. The Raven Queen is buried along with the entity that resides within the great machine. Pale stands next to me with a supporting arm around me, and I lean heavily on him, my strength sapped by Font of Life’s power. “It’s over. We did it.”

Relief floods through me and with it goes the adrenaline that seemed to be keeping me going. A wave of dizziness hits me and my legs go weak. The world around me starts to fade and the voices near me suddenly seem so far away. I hear my name being called somewhere in that distance, and I feel strong arms around me. Then blackness, soft and warm, surrounds me and the voices are lost to me.


************************

The darkness peels back its layers, and voices emerge. I hear my name, and I open my eyes. Pale. He’s alive. I reach for his hand to make sure he’s real. It’s warm and solid in my grasp. I manage a smile before the darkness claims me again.

************************

I awake to the sensation of rocking and soft cloth surrounding me. I open my eyes to find myself inside the wagon. Someone has taken off my armor and put me in normal clothes. I’m silently thankful as my armor is not the most comfortable to sleep in. I try to sit only to find myself too weak to do so, the effort itself seeming to take its toll on my energy. I feel a presence at my side and suddenly Pale is there.

“Easy. You will not do yourself any favors by moving too quickly.”

I look at his face. He’s calm and collected as usual. It puts me at ease despite my inability to sit. “I feel so weak.”

“You should. You have been out for quite some time now, not to mention the toll the Font took on you.” He takes down a waterskin and pours out a liquid into a nearby cup. He then slips an arm beneath me, easing me into a sitting position. “Here. Drink.” He presses the cup to my lips, and I take a long slow drink. It’s sallamir tea. I drink the cup dry not realizing how thirsty I had been. Pale pours me another cup, and I drink it down as well.

My thirst sated, I feel the pull of sleep once again. “I’m so tired, Pale…”

He eases me back down onto my bedroll, pulling a blanket over me, “Rest, Felina. I will be here when you wake.” And with that an easier, gentler sleep steals over me.

*************

Week by week my recovery progressed. I slept less and less and found myself more and more wakeful. I began to feel stronger. Before long I was walking without the assistance of a staff or Pale. But Pale was always there. Brewing me tea, bringing me stew, helping me to sit then stand, walking with me, and sometimes even carrying me when I’d pushed myself too far. By the time the golden spires of Ceranna could be seen in the distance, I was almost completely myself again. The barest hint of weakness still remained, but I knew with Pale’s help, I would overcome it.

As for now, the golden spires draw me home. Ever closer to Keros. My beloved son, if only in spirit.
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A Dark and Stormy Sea
As the alarm bells ring frantically and the guards scramble to find the intruders, everyone in the party manages to melt into the trees. As quickly as possible without drawing attention to themselves, everyone collects their mounts and meets on the road leading out of Maison Rouge. The west road is crawling with guards, as is the south road. The north road has a guard post where all traffic is checked. Only the eastern road is unguarded at this moment. It leads to the old docks that once served the town.

The docks are abandoned now, the warehouses and buildings dilapidated and forlorn. But the moorings and piers were built extremely well, and are still sound and solid after twenty years of disuse.

Cervil pulls the folding boat out of his packs and murmurs its command word before tossing the item towards the water. In moments a vessel rocks gently in the water, with room enough for everyone and the horses as well. Aric manages to coax the nervous beasts into the hold, but tells everyone, "I will have to stay below with them to keep them from freaking out."

Everyone realizes this may be true but it's also a cover for Aric to get some time alone. He's had quite a shock this day, and no one can blame him for needing some time to think over the things he's learned about his background and bloodline.

Violet eyes the wheelhouse. "I think I know how to steer one of these," she tells the others. "It's a lot bigger than the last ship I piloted, but how bad can it be?" With that she tears her skirts away, leaving herself clad in a vest and a couple of petticoats, and clambers up the steps, where she starts poking around.

Cervil glances about and digs in his scroll cases. After a moment he holds up three rolled parchments, scans them, and mutters the spells inscribed there. A gust of wind starts to blow from the land toward the open water, and vague shapes form around Cervil. "Take orders from Violet, Felina, or myself," he commands the shapes. "Get us on the move - open the sails." The unseen servants move off, their presence marked only by bright scarves that appear around their "heads," apparently envisioned into place by Cervil. He stalks off below decks, muttering about cabin space and needing to lie down for a long nap.

Felina turns to Pale. "I want these chains off," she tells him forcefully. Without a word, Pale removes the offending links and unlocks the bracelets as well. He hands her the chains with a small pat on the shoulder, and goes over to Violet to perform the same service for her.

Standing on the deck alone, looking out over the water, Felina lets the slender, serpent-like chain slide through her fingers. It hits the water with barely a ripple. The bracelets follow a moment later, making only a small splash as they strike the choppy water and sink out of sight.

To the south and west, dark clouds loom, and distant thunder rolls.
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An Officer's Obligations - Thorns of Obsession
Aragar regards me for a second before taking my hand and shaking it formally. “His name was Patrick Sereval, as I said. I can tell you some things about him, but obviously knowing where to find him is the hardest part.”

“Patrick was very fond of roses, in fact he had his own tiny garden of them at his old flat. He grew a very specific cultivar of dark purple roses, known as the Twilight’s Passion. They are very demanding plants, requiring exacting care. At first, his hobby was merely that, a hobby, something he was proud of, and something that often got him a lot of attention from the ladies. He never gave anyone those roses, preferring to bring women to his flat to view the roses rather than cut them. It was the roses that were our first clue to his... changing tastes.”

“We had a very, very bad winter - storms were terrible and parts of the city had to be evacuated. Patrick stayed with me through the storm since I had a place that was safe from the floods and winds. When he returned to his flat after the blow was over, he was devastated. His entire garden had been obliterated - the storm winds ripped the roof right off the entire building, dashing every one of his roses to death on the stones. And try as he might, he couldn’t get even one more rosebush to take. The rest of the winter was horribly cold, the coldest we’ve ever had, at least that anyone human can remember - the docks suffered from constant ice slicks and we even had real snow for a couple of weeks. Patrick was sunk in gloom over his roses, though, and did nothing but curse the weather.”

“A year passed, and Patrick kept trying to revive his garden, planting new strains of roses, even trying new, less demanding flowers. For some reason nothing would grow on that roof any more. Patrick became more and more dour and frustrated. He began to compose music that made people ill to listen to, angry songs, songs full of rage against fate and nature. He began drinking heavily, and I suspect he might have begun abusing other things as well.”

“Then, that winter, a year after the big storm, he went missing for a day or two. When we found him, he was in a back alley, fevered and delirious. He looked like he’d been mugged and left for dead. I took him in and got him patched up. It took him the rest of the winter to recover.”

“Then, he went off for a while, telling me he was going shopping and that he might need to stay overnight with his supplier. I offered to go with, but he refused, and became evasive when I tried to find out where he was going. He left after some harsh words, a little miffed at me. I was of course worried...but if I had known...I would have been much more than just worried.”

He sighs. “Patrick returned in the morning, smiling and jovial as he had not been for almost eighteen months. He wanted me to help him get his flat back, and help him set up a garden again on the roof. I was perhaps a little skeptical about things, but he seemed so positive, so happy, I couldn’t bear to bring him down by voicing my doubts. I helped him set everything up. This time he had just one large container. He told me he’d been trying too hard, and needed to focus all his energy on just one plant. I left him puttering over the soil as the sun went down that day.”

“Then, he didn’t get out much for a while. He slept late, stayed up later, and seemed to never really want to go anywhere. He turned down jobs and performance gigs, but he was never late on his rent. He would gladly have company over, but he never went visiting or attended parties. Then the first accident happened.”

“The landlord for the building Patrick lived in came to inspect the place. A surprise inspection apparently, and in the evening, just after sunset. Patrick had taken to spending some time with his lone rose bush, around sunset every evening, talking and singing to it. Or at least so I’d heard. He called it his “alone time,” and didn’t want anyone around during that hour or so. It seemed a harmless enough foible...Well, the landlord went up there, doing his inspection. Patrick says he didn’t even know the man was there, that he never saw him. But somehow the landlord ended up tripping and falling...right off the building. He fell into the street below and broke his neck on impact.”

“The worst part was, the fall didn’t kill him. He died days later, paralyzed from the neck down...he couldn’t even speak. He had no next of kin to speak for him, and the priests found their healing magics blocked. Everyone wondered why, until the man died...evidence came out after his death that the man had had a child-selling racket on the side. He was, apparently, quite vile, and everyone assumed that the gods had taken it in hand to give him a humiliating slow death, and not allow him to be healed.”

“Danna and I were suspicious though. After all, Patrick had been up there...but we couldn’t bring ourselves to really question our friend. He was so convincing in his shock over the man’s death. We wanted to believe him, so we did.” Aragar makes a face like he’s bitten something sour. “And Patrick knew we would believe.”

“Again, we should have seen the signs. Two days after the landlord fell, the rose bush was luxuriant with growth. The day after the man died, the first buds began to appear. Patrick claimed he’d found the perfect fertilizer for the roses, and that this special fertilizer was the only reason for the sudden and luxuriant growth.”

“He also stopped playing his lutar. His fingers were constantly bound up in little bandages. He claimed the rose thorns kept snagging him as he worked on keeping the rosebush in prime condition. Again, we were fools...and believed.”

“Accidents began to happen a lot in that neighborhood. Sometimes only minor ones, causing a great deal of pain but no lasting damage. There were no more deaths for two years that we knew of. Then Patrick began to court Danna.” Aragar’s fist clenches, but his voice remains even, his tone remains matter of fact.

“She was fascinated by him all along I think. It really didn’t take much effort for him to attract her, and then instead of pursuing her, he hung back. Once he had her attention, he began to play hard to get, which she of course found irresistible. I could see him manipulating her...and I couldn’t do a thing about it. When I tried to talk to her about it, she rounded on me and accused me of being foolish and jealous.”

He grimaces. “Of course I was jealous but I wasn’t a fool...! But Danna stopped listening to me. She started carrying about a rosebud - one so dark a purple it was almost black. She had a new one every couple of days. I knew they were seeing each other by then. It made me...irrational.”

He coughs. “One day I saw her here, in the office. She was twirling a single dark purple rose, humming to herself. Humming! Danna, who couldn’t carry a tune and never hummed because it embarrassed her! When she stepped out of the office for a moment, I searched her desk. There was a note from Patrick...he wanted her to meet him on the roof of his building at midnight that night. “For a special consummation of our passion,” he said. I felt sick...but as I said, I was irrational. I left the office, not saying anything to Danna, and then set myself up to spy on the two of them.”

“So I saw everything.”

Aragar pauses a moment, breathing deeply. A sheen of sweat has broken out on his brow, but he doesn’t make a move to wipe it away. “The rose bush - Twilight’s Passion - was in the center of the roof. It was so luxuriant it looked like it had been there for ages, and was practically covered in buds and open blooms. You could hardly see the thorns. Patrick paced the roof, waiting for Danna. I could hear him muttering, but I couldn’t understand anything he was saying.”

“Then Danna arrived. She stepped out onto the roof, into the moonlight, and called Patrick’s name. I saw his head snap up, and when I saw his face...that was when I started moving. I was close, yet too far away...but I started moving anyway, praying that Desna would grant me the luck to get there in time.”

“He had a knife. No, not a knife...a butcher’s cleaver, a huge sharp thing designed to chop straight through bones. His eyes were black as the night, and his face didn’t look human anymore as he snarled into Danna’s face and charged straight for her.”

“I was too slow. Too slow, too stupid to save her...he reached her just as I reached the roof, and with one mighty swing, he damn near decapitated her. She fell sideways, blood spraying...I’ll never forget how blood looks under a full moon...and she fell into the rosebush.” Aragar passes his hand over his eyes. “The thorns and branches of it...twisted...and I swear the whole bush writhed to embrace her. She didn’t even have time to scream. The damn thing drank her blood...I swear to all the gods that’s what I saw...and then, worse. Right before my eyes she shrank into nothing but a dry husk of skin...”

“And that wasn’t the worst part. Patrick stood there, the cleaver on the ground beside him, twitching as a horrendous expression crossed his face. He was getting pleasure from watching her die...! Climaxing even as she drew her last breath. I think that made me lose my mind more than a little. I flung myself at him, grabbing for the cleaver. He got away... just vanished in a blue glow of some kind that I couldn’t see. I turned on his precious roses then, and hacked the filthy thing to pieces. It tried to pierce me with its thorns, but somehow I managed to keep the thorns off me long enough to chop my way to the roots.”

“As I attacked the roots of the bush, I swear I heard screaming... but I wouldn’t stop. I chopped and chopped until the whole bush just fell over. It began to shrivel and writhe on the stones of the roof. If I’d had a torch right that moment, I would have burned it on the spot. But I didn’t. I looked down into the dirt where I’d all but torn the thing out by its roots trying to chop it apart.”

“There were human skulls among the roots - the skulls of children. About that time, I think I blacked out. I came to on the street, with the City Watch around me asking me questions.”

As Aragar concludes his story, a name rings clearly through my mind. Percival... This Patrick must be the cultist who leaves roses and love letters behind. The one who, no doubt, has broken into our manor, stolen the blood samples we had, and left behind a rose in Talia’s room. A shiver runs down my spine, and I swallow. “So, how will I know Patrick? What does he look like? What kind of... women does he fancy?”

Aragar blinks at me, seeming lost in his memories for a moment. Then he shakes his head and goes over to his desk. After digging around in the desk a moment, he comes back and hands me a small portrait - a thin piece of wood with a small painting on it. The painting shows a man smiling and holding a bouquet of red roses. If I didn’t know better, I might think the painting was of Aragar himself, only slightly blonder than the man that stands before me.


I take the portrait in hand. “Your... brother I see...” I sigh, “I’m so sorry.”

Aragar gives me a glance. “Yes...he was my half brother. Or at least the Patrick I once knew, was my brother...I no longer grant him that honor. I’ve had information that he still hangs about with artists. Not musicians, now...he knows that his name and face haven’t been forgotten and he knows that I’d hear of his presence. I am nearly certain he has not been in the city for a while. He disappeared of course right after Danna’s murder. But he came back for a short time...at least so I believe...causing some mischief among the noble ladies of the city for a time.” Aragar quirks an eyebrow, a knowing glance passing between us. He knows that I know what incident he is talking about. “But he vanished again just after the end of that - incident. Now, however, he’s back in town, I’m sure of that. I have made some friends among the painters of the city, and that’s where he has chosen to take refuge this time. As for what sort of women he prefers... he really isn’t all that choosy. Danna was a brunette - dark brown, loosely curling hair - if you think that might help track him in some way. I had word he was seen in the Brush and Daub, buying drinks for everyone. That was some time ago, at least a couple of weeks.”

Aragar shakes my hand once again. “Good luck finding him. And if you corner him...dispatch him quickly. Although I might prefer to exact revenge on him personally, I also am old enough and wise enough to know better than to prolong the life of a mad dog.”

He turns away. “Make his death quick. It’s more than he deserves, but it’s the last thing I can ever give him as one who used to care for him.”
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An Officer's Obligations - The Deal
I headed down to the Blue Star Watchers to see if I could find a Cloak of Charisma. As luck would have it, they had one slightly singed cloak that I quickly snatched up. While I was there, the quartermaster informed me that the guild master had wanted to see me. Wondering what I had done to attract the master’s attention, I quickly headed up to his office on the top floor.

I knock and hear “Come in.” from the other side of the door. I step inside and see a tall, thin, human gentleman sitting behind a large desk on which stacks and stacks of paper are scattered. His hair is light brown and graying at the temples. His eyes are light green and his skin is tanned and weathered. Clearly, he is no stranger to life on the road. He has a long face and a mobile expression. He flashes a vibrant, charming smile, “Ah, Miss Felina! I’ve been expecting you.”

I’ve never actually known the guild master by name, and in my time in the city the mastery has changed once or twice - the position is for life, but adventurers do have that unpredictable yet often short life expectancy...

As I glance around the room, I notice a floor harp and a lutar, an instrument crossing aspects of guitar and lute, standing in one corner of the office. He’s dressed in blue and wears the golden Master’s medallion around his neck. He immediately gestures to me to have a seat in one of the comfortable chairs that sits near the fireplace. At his gesture, I notice that he has long, thin, graceful fingers. Musician’s fingers. At the moment, a strange blue flame flickers on the hearth, and I notice that it gives off a cool, soft breeze, lightly scented with juniper, rather than warmth. The guild master takes the other chair near the fire and sits back, regarding me for a moment.

“I’m sure you don’t know me very well,” he begins. “My name is Aragar Longfingers. Feel free to simply call me Aragar, if calling me Master makes you uncomfortable.” He grins roguishly. “Many of our brethren have a problem with that title, I’m quite sure. I’ve asked you to come see me because I have been following your recent exploits with much interest.” He steeples his fingers and rests his chin on the index fingers. “Much interest indeed...and I’ve an offer to make you.”

“Generally, our members are a loosely affiliated group of folks, as you know. We don’t ask much of our general membership, and we don’t try to keep tabs on anyone, which is just the way most of them like it. However, the stronger an adventurer gets, the bigger his enemies might get...and the more dangerous it can be to befriend him.” He smiles reassuringly. “I’ve never been one to be scared off by anyone’s reputation, or by their friends or enemies. As I said, I’ve been watching you and your friends for some time, and you’re becoming more interesting all the time. I also think you’re becoming more influential, and in that I think I see a way for you to benefit the rest of the guild as well as yourself.” He sits forward, his hands dropping as he rests his elbows on his knees and regards me with a frank expression.

“The Watchers have more than one rank within the guild. Mostly we don’t tell anyone about the upper ranks of membership, because the greater portion of our members don’t care or will never attain the level of expertise and connections that the upper ranks really need. You’re an exception, and you’ve definitely qualified on both of those counts. I’d like to promote you to an officer within the guild.”

I sit back in my chair somewhat surprised. I take a moment of silent thoughtfulness before answering. “I appreciate the offer to promote me, but I have to ask. What kind of responsibilities does an officer hold? I’ll be honest with you, Aragar, I do not like to be held down. I enjoy my freedom. Will the perks of being an officer outweigh the problems?”

Master Aragar nods. “That I can understand. Basically, at this point, you’d be a junior officer; all we’d really ask you to do is the occasional bit of guild work. Most of your time would be your own, but you would be asked to make a point of checking in with us at least once a week if you’re in town. In the event of you going out of town - for instance, going on a dragon hunt - you’d also be asked to file a set of basic instructions for if something untoward happens to you. It’s not that we need to know where you are at all times or that we absolutely must have access to your skills at any hour - it’s more along the lines of being able to recover you should something bad happen, because at this point the guild will be investing some amount of time and effort toward keeping you alive.”

He smiles. “The perks, as you say, are not exactly bad. Your guild dues go up - but you get paid a premium for every job we ask you to do, plus expenses. If an assignment comes through us that is specifically for you, we no longer take a cut from that as we do with general membership jobs. For instance - you might recall that rat business over the summer? The Watchers helped in that effort, and the folk who did work with that got paid the advertised amount. But the advertised amount was basically the amount left after the deduction the guild takes off the top. So for every rat killed, a Watcher got paid, say, a gold - and the guild got 5 silver. The actual employer was paying a gold and a half for that work. All the guilds work this way, but it’s not something a basic member even needs to know.”

“The rundown, in hard figures, amounts to this: your guild dues become 50 gold a month. But, if you take jobs from us, the dues can be taken out of your payment for jobs rather than out of pocket. You also can pay six months or a year in advance, if you come across a large treasure during your adventures. You can use the guild exchequer for personal savings, for letters of credit, and to cash in letters of credit from other sources. A regular gold merchant will charge you ten to fifteen percent for such a cash-in; as an officer you’re charged two percent. We can already identify anything you bring in, no fee; and things like standard healing, curing, restorations are also free for officers. Resurrections are something that gets charged against your member standing, however as an officer, we will find you and resurrect you unless you specifically instruct us not to.” He gives me a somewhat embarrassed glance. “This last bit may not be as useful to you now... but officers also get legal counsel any time they need it - the guild lawyers are quite good and their services are part of what your dues pay for. We also have transport options, should you need to travel on guild business - things like teleport, fly, mounts, all that sort of thing.”

He flashes another roguish, charming smile. “Of course, every member has different needs, so I’m willing to discuss with you what you need to be comfortable as an officer for us. If you’re willing to consider it.”

I sit back and tap my finger on the side of my cheek as I ponder the offer. After a time, a slow smile spreads across my face, and I look up at Aragar, “I have but one request before I agree to become your officer.” I catch his gaze and hold it.

He gives another charming smile in return, and bows his head slightly. “Please enlighten me, my lady.”

I glance over at the instruments and back, “Play for me. I spend the majority of my time entertaining others. No one ever seems to play for me anymore.”

Master Aragar looks very surprised, then thoughtful. Then slowly he begins to smile – a true smile, not the stage smile he’s been giving me up until now. His grin is boyish and mischievous and, I dare say, downright cute as he stands and gives me a deep bow. “It would be my pleasure.”

He brings the harp and lutar over to the seats along with a tall stool. Setting the lutar in the seat of the armchair he’d been using before, he seats himself on the stool and gets the harp in tune. After a moment of studying my face, clearly thinking about what to play, he lifts his hands and begins to pluck out a simple melody. As the song continues, I quickly realize it’s a fugue, a rather classical piece. He finishes the song and then picks up the lutar. With it, he plays several of the more popular songs that I myself have played in my shows at the Blue Beer’d. The lutar is similar to the lute, as I noticed before, but the strings are steel and the sound box shaped such that it grants strange echoes and resonances to the music. His final piece is a haunting melody I’ve never heard before, a tune sad and yet somehow luminous. It raises the hairs on the back of my neck and sends shivers down my spine.

I hold my breath as the last notes of the song fade. Not wanting to break the mood, I exhale quietly. “That was beautiful. What was that last tune?” I look at him, eyes still holding the faint sadness of the song.

He smiles. “Something I wrote a long time ago. I don’t play it often, but it turns out to be quite well suited to this instrument. I got in Gilderhall, when I was younger.” He holds the instrument out to me. “Take a look if you like.”

I take the instrument carefully. My fingertips explore the steel strings of the lutar as I pick out a few chords. “I like the sound of this instrument. I bet it would be well suited to Zaldanan music.” My fingers fly across the strings playing out the opening to a familiar Zaldanan tune. The wonderful sound makes me grin, “Very nice indeed! It seems the gnomes have a talent for making more than just gonzleblowers.” I chuckle. Before I know it, an idea is forming in my head and a slow sly smile spreads across my face. “I’m sure a fine instrument such as this could be included in an officer’s salary...”

Master Aragar’s eyebrows go up. “Really.” His tone doesn’t sound negative, just thoughtful.

He walks over to the window and looks down into the street. For several minutes he’s silent, obviously thinking. Finally, he turns back to me. “I know where I can get one,” he says, “but it will take time - it might be winter before I hear back from my supplier, and if that’s the case it could be spring before I have the instrument in hand to give it to you…”

“Or, you could track down the only other person in town who has a lutar like mine.” He isn’t grinning when he says this. “I’m quite certain he could be - relieved - of it.”

Suddenly, my thoughts are warring with me. The idea of having a lutar now is tempting. Why didn’t I inherit that famous elven patience, dammit? I glance over to the lutar and ponder. I want the instrument now, but... I look back to Aragar. “In what manner to you mean ‘relieved’? I’m not keen on taking some else’s instrument. Now if this person no longer wants it or uses it...”

Aragar gives me a grim smile. He suddenly seems to age a great deal, laugh lines becoming lines of worry and stress, and his smile falls into an expression of weariness. “The instrument I speak of belongs to someone who... shall we say is no longer in good standing with the guild. He used to be an officer, in fact... before his change of vocation.” Aragar looks out the window again. His voice is toneless. “His name was Patrick Sereval. He was one of our best. He could be the charming center of attention at a party, or all but invisible when skulking about to do a little spying on someone. He could be utterly forgettable for a month, or completely captivating for an evening. Women adored him, and he adored them, but always in a manner that was quite difficult to quite believe in... he never had a lover, simply admirers. He was successful, he didn’t waste money, he was prompt with dues and never openly insulted anyone. He had more virtues than any five priests put together... and only one vice.” Aragar’s eyes close. “And we never knew just how vile that vice was, until it was too late.”

“About twenty years ago, my predecessor in the Mastery of this guild - really, one of our first Masters - was a quite remarkable woman named Danna Maringal. She had many, many talents, most of which she devoted to furthering her own wealth and that of the temple of Desna - she was a cleric of that faith. But her actions were also good for the Guild. She was, however, among Patrick’s many admirers. After two years of admiring him from afar, she got determined about getting closer to him. Danna was... a stubborn woman. Very strong willed. And eventually she got what she wanted. We all knew when she finally got through to Patrick. For a few days, she was the happiest woman I’ve ever seen.”

He pauses. His face is turned from me, but I can see the tension across his shoulders. After a moment, he takes a deep breath. “Then she died.”

“We don’t know for certain what happened. We do know that Patrick was with her that evening. The public story is that an assassin, some old enemy of Danna’s, surprised the two of them while they were together, and murdered them both before making his escape.”

Aragar clenches his fist. “I know better. Patrick killed his own lover. Very quietly, I’ve been looking for him, for years now. I know him far better than I care to think about, but I also know that I can use that to find him. If he ever comes within my reach again, he’ll pray to be handed over to the Watch.” Aragar’s voice shakes with fury for a moment, before he pauses and again regains his composure.

“I know where he has recently been hiding out,” he says when he can continue. “And I know he was forced to leave this latest bolt hole without most of his possessions. Most likely, he didn’t take his lutar with him this time. Since his lutar is the twin of mine... let’s just say I’m sure it would suit you. And he certainly no longer deserves to own it.”

My face turns grim as Aragar tells his story. I can just glimpse a gleam of moisture on the guild master’s cheek as the light catches the tears. He turns back to me. But when he faces me fully, he is as composed as he was when I entered the room. “In fact,” he says, “if you find Patrick for me, I’ll consider your first year’s dues as officer paid in full. And you can keep anything of his you like, except his head.” He makes a rather alarming expression - a grin but one full of hatred. “That part of him is spoken for.”

I stand and set the lutar in the chair I had been sitting in. I walk over to Aragar and extend my hand. “You have a deal, Aragar. With the blessing of the Lady in the Room, we will avenge your Lady Danna. Now, come tell me about Patrick. If I am to have any chance of capturing him, I must know him. I warn you though, leave nothing out. My life may depend on what you know.”
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Returning from the Waterwood - The First Watch
Our return from the Waterwood is going by faster than expected. Good news since I am to sing at a wedding in a few days. I'll have time to take a day off before the event if we keep making good time. It's been two days since we left that strange place. Violet and I are taking first watch tonight as we camp. Violet. Thank the gods for her strength. She practically hauled me away from where I had left my breakfast on the forest floor when Cervil fried those giant bugs. I'll never forget that stench. Even now the thought makes me a little green. Pale managed to get himself covered in the smell while harvesting the dragonfly organs. Every now and then I catch a waft of it coming off him when the wind changes directions. I've been trying to stay up wind of him. I hope he's not offended, but by the way he's kept his distance, I think he understands.

I've been watching them all on and off tonight. Cervil seems quite content. To finally see the fruits of his magical studies like that must make him quite proud. Even now he smiles faintly in his sleep, and I wonder if he dreams of lightening and fire from his fingertips or if he dreams of a woman.

I see two who are very likely dreaming of a woman. Talia must be the force driving Aric and Shadow home so quickly. They've been the ones to wake us early and ride us late into the night in an effort to get back to Ceranna. I can understand their love for her. Even I've developed an affection for the lass, like that of a little sister.

Bixley has fallen asleep sitting up in her attempt to take watch with us. I didn't expect her to stay awake anyway. A smile comes to me as I hear her snore. I like her, despite what the others might think. I admire her free spirit and passion. I can tell she thinks highly of Pale even though he is constantly disapproving of her methods. Watching the two of them bicker has been a constant source of amusement for me these past few days. The reproachful glance Pale gave me as I handed Bixley back her flares, whatever those are, was worth gold. I almost choked as I held back the amused chuckle at his expression.

Violet stands watch at the edge of the camp fire's light now. As she stares out into the darkness I wonder what she's thinking. The life of a gladiator, as I understand it, is a simple life. To be thrown into all the intrigue and investigations we've been doing must be difficult. It seems this trip has been a welcome diversion for her. A chance to stretch her muscles and get away from the chaos of the city and it's machinations.

Pale sleeps soundly tonight. I've been studying him from across the fire tonight. His pallor has improved since he's returned, and his now black hair looks as strange to me as it did the first time I saw it when it was white. It reminds me of Erefor's hair. The first time I saw it black I couldn't put my finger on what it was that put me off, but that was it, I now realize. My friend reminded me of my husband, and I hated my husband. His eyes, at least, haven't changed. They're about the only thing about him that hasn't changed since I've met him. I study him a bit longer. What happened to him? What made such a dramatic change? Looks aside, whenever we've had a quiet moment on the road, his thoughts seem to be turned inward and his hand absently reaches up to touch his chest. I've seen him make a similar motion before. Usually it's accompanied by a grimace of what looks to be pain, but now he simply looks thoughtful. I remember the night he told us of his visions of the future. He showed us the horrible scars there. He had never mentioned that they pained him, but I could tell. Did the change that took place in him also take away his pain? I have too many questions. Perhaps Pale will be ready to answer them when we get back home.

I'm getting sleepy now though. A side effect of having taken up sleeping years ago. I never used to get sleepy when I tranced like a proper elf. Now sleepiness washes over me when I go too long without sleeping or trancing. Mother would be horrified. She raised me better than that. Then again, she raised me better than a lot of things I do these days.

I sigh and get up. It's, thankfully, time for the next watch.
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Tending Talia: Tops and Trousers
Written by Amanda and Sonja

Talia turns to Felina as Aric goes out the door. "So...shall we discuss the wedding first? Or training?"

Felina smiles, "It's up to you. What would you like to do first?"

Talia grins suddenly, a gamine smile that makes her look impish and fifteen. "Both! We can discuss silly things like colors while I learn how to move about in shockingly tight trousers!"

Felina raises an eyebrow. "Shockingly tight trousers, huh? Why don't we start with well fitted, and we'll move on to shockingly tight later." She looks over Talia, "Now, about what size are you? We're gonna have to find you some trousers first."

She rattles off her measurements for dresses, which at least gives Felina an idea.
Perhaps not surprisingly, she's a size or maybe two bigger than Felina. They're the same height, but Talia is...well, a little plump. Not in a bad way, but she's a well fed young lady who's never had to do anything enormously strenuous other than getting into her corset every day.

"Alright. Looks like we're gonna have to see a tailor. I don't have anything that will fit you myself. Unless..." She pokes her head out into the hallway in time to see on of the maids walking down the hall. "Ah, just the person I was looking for! Rachel, would you mind if Lady Talia borrows a pair of your trousers?"

Rachel blinks at Felina in great surprise. A tall young woman who some might call "rangy," she just happens to be one of those who'll be a close fit to Talia's figure.
"Uh, no, m'lady, I mean, yes m'lady...I'll get them for her." She hurries off to the servant's stairs, although not without a quizzical look over her shoulder.

Felina glances back over her shoulder at Talia, "I think we've just given poor Rachel the strangest request she's ever heard." She laughs.

Talia chuckles a little. "Indeed." She starts to rummage around in a chest at the end of the bed, sorting through various embroidered items. She's clearly been doing a LOT of needle work, to judge by the amount of supplies and partially finished stuff in the chest.

"Wow! Beautiful work! I imagine, though, you must be getting tired of embroidery by now."

"Oh, I don't know if I'd ever get so tired of embroidery that I'd never do it...but there are times when I'd really rather just be with Aric. Or at least be out of the house. For all that I hated being around my stepmother, at least she insisted that we go shopping or out to teas and making calls every day. I spent more time out of our rooms than in them, but then again..." she makes a face. "At that time I was on display. I was nothing more than goods to be sold off for the best advantage to my father. All I could hope for was some measure of success in steering that choice, so that I would be tied to a man who was not completely loathsome." She looks up at Felina. "I suppose you know more about that kind of thing than I do. I don't mean to bring up bad memories."

Felina gives her a soft bittersweet smile, "Yeah, I know all about that. I'm glad that you found Aric though. I know he'll be good to you. Better than most men. Most wouldn't even think of teaching you to fight or to roof walk. Aric, though... he seems pleased to be able to teach you. I can't see him ever being the type to tie you down either. He knows the value of freedom."

Talia smiles and looks out the window, staring at the high, puffy white clouds. "I hope that I have something to teach him as well..." She glances over at Felina. "After all, I know that he will most likely outlive me. I want to make sure that he remembers me." She colors a little, and looks down.

Felina walks over and lays a hand softly on her arm, "He will remember you. He loves you."

A small, wistful smile crosses Talia's face. "I hope so. He's going to have a hard time of it, and that more than anything scares me." She gives Felina a sideways glance. "I guess you might think I'm very cowardly, always afraid of things I can't even articulate. But that's why I'm trying to learn how to do some of the same things you and Aric can do. Maybe knowing how to protect myself, how to run and hide well, will keep me safe from the kinds of dangers Aric seems to throw himself at." She laughs, a short, somewhat bitter sound. "I can't profess to understand why he throws himself in the path of danger. But I won't let it stop me from being with him."

Before any more can be said, Rachel comes to the door. "M'lady, I have them..."

Felina turns, "Ah, thank you, Rachel. Could you also see about getting Lady Talia a couple of pairs of these in her size, please?"

The pants she has brought are plain homespun brown, made of heavy canvas, cheap and durable.

"Rachel, I realize these are very odd requests, and I appreciate you playing along. The pair I'd like to get her should be in a nice moveable fabric, perhaps a blue and a dark brown or black pair."

Talia goes into the bathing chamber and comes back in a shift and the pants.

Rachel blinks and looks at Lady Talia, a little doubtfully. "Er..."

They're a little long on her, perhaps two inches, but they're tight across the hips.
She is grinning like mad. "I feel kind of naked!" she says, giggling and blushing a bit.

"Wow, we're really gonna have to get you a top to go with that," Felina says.

Talia glances down. "I've seen women wearing these about in public before." She looks back up at Felina. "Or am I missing something?"

Felina laughs, "You've not seen respectable women wearing that in public. We'll need to get you something more suitable."

Talia wrinkles her brow, thinking. Then, "OH!" Her hands fly to her cheeks. "I - I thought those women were merely very good friends with the men they were...uhm...nevermind."
Cooling her blushes by furious fanning of her cheeks with her hands, she says, "Yes, whatever you think is best, Felina...I certainly don't want to give Aric the wrong idea!"

"Certainly not." Felina says grinning. "Come on. I think I might have a loose winter top that might fit you." She opens the door and proceeds down to her room.

Talia follows. Her feet make a shushing noise on the carpet runner in the hall, but she's nearly silent on the steps. Quite light on her feet, which might bode well for her learning the art of moving quietly and being unseen.

The two make it down to Felina's room where Felina crosses and opens a chest and begins to dig for the top she's looking for. "It might be a bit wrinkled. I don't have room to hang my winter and summer clothes in the wardrobe." She finds what she's looking for and utters an exclamation of success. "Here it is!" She holds up a blue crushed velvet blouse that laces at the top. "I usually wear a corset over it and let it blouse out, but it should be fine like this for you."

Talia takes the blouse and holds it up against her. "It's very nice. I wouldn't think..." she stops, blushing fiercely. "I'm sorry, I almost put my foot in my mouth."

Felina smiles, "Go ahead. You can be frank with me."

Talia reddens even more. "No, no...it would have sounded like an insult." She touches the fabric of the blouse again, thoughtfully. "You must be very successful as a bard to afford such nice things."

"I've worked very hard to make it on my own here in Ceranna. It took many years for me to reach the success I have now. I've always believed that hard work pays off in the end."

Talia makes a face. "My father would disagree. He always said that the best way to profit was to have an edge over everyone else. Even if that edge happened to be sword point." She gives Felina an apologetic look. "He always laughed, as if it were a joke. As I grew up I realized that although he found it amusing, he wasn't exactly joking."

Felina frowns slightly, "Your father and I would certainly disagree on a great many things... but that's neither here nor there." She motions to the blouse, "Go ahead and try it on."

Talia manages to get the blouse on, fumbling a little as she tries to be extra careful of it, as if it were gossamer and not velvet. It fits her, although it's a touch tighter in the shoulders and chest on her than on Felina. The color makes Talia's hair and eyes somehow deepen in color, complementing the slight flush in her cheeks.

"Ah, that looks nice on you. A touch small, but it'll do for our purposes until we can get you some tops of your own."

She looks suddenly apprehensive. "I just, ah, thought of something." She is blushing again, this time so much so that it looks painful. "How am I to pay for all this?"

Felina crosses her arms and gives her a lopsided grin, "Tell you what. When you're queen, we'll work something out. As for now, though, you're my friend, and friends take care of each other. So I've discovered..."

Her brows furrow. "Oh, but...are you sure that's alright? I...I hadn't thought about any of this..." She sits down on the nearest chair, frowning deeply. "The King was so generous, giving me plain gowns and then providing me with supplies to embroider them myself. He was very kind when I first arrived here, you know...he acts so much like an especially nice grandfather, it's easy to forget he is King. At least, within these walls..." She shakes her head. "But that's beside the point. When I was with my stepmother she provided for everything I needed and many things I didn't need...but of course now I can't draw upon my father's name or money." She looks at her hands. "I sold...what I could obtain...of my jewels. But I wasn't able to get to most of them." She looks at Felina. "It has just occurred me that I am literally at the mercy of the King and anyone else. I have...never had to earn a living. I don't even know how to earn a living!"

She rubs at her eyes, clearly trying not to burst into tears. "I can't accept your offer, Felina...I might not even become Queen, and then where would you be? No, I must figure out something I can do to...to make my way...or something."

Felina walks over to her and pulls her into a warm hug, "It's ok, Talia. We'll figure something out. I was helpless too once, but I found people to help me get back on my feet. To find myself. I know how you feel. I also know that it's not the end of the world. You have friends here, and we're going to help you any way we can."
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Tending Talia: For Her and Nothing More
Written by Andrew, Amanda, and Sonja

Aric gets up and sits on the window sill looking out over the city. Shadow stands, his paws on the window sill and barks at two birds as they fly by.

"Its alright boy." Aric says patting him on the head.

Getting up out of the window sill he leaps back inside and stands at the closet looking over the clothes he had acquired over the weeks there. Looking over his royal uniform his adventure gear and Brother Simon's robe, Aric looks over the clothes and back to Shadow.

"What do you think?" Aric asks.

Shadow tilts his head.

"That's always your answer." Aric says.

Aric pulls on his adventure gear and walks to the door. Opening it Shadow pushes past him. "By all means go ahead."

Shadow stops in the hallway growling at someone who has startled him.

At Shadow's startled growling, Felina turns, "Shadow, it's just me. See?" She holds out her hand for him to smell, "Yeah, I know. I always smell like someone different and that just throws you for a loop doesn't it?" Shadow peers at her, cocking his head to the side. Felina laughs.

Aric appears in the door way, closes the door and walks up to pat Shadow on the head, "Would you relax?".

Looking to Felina Aric smiles, "Morning I was heading for that jeweler to get something, could you tell me where the shop is located?"

"Going to pick up something for Talia I presume?" She looks up, "You'd better. Seems you've been in the dog house lately. No offense, Shadow."

"It's my own doing." Aric says, "I have been obsessing over this Shavris business. it drives me crazy that he asked for me and I do not know why. She's just been worried about me."

He hesitates for a moment then says, "I'm not sure what kind of things she would like so if you have any advice that would be most helpful."

He then steps closer lowering his voice, "Also she's been suffering a little cabin fever and I thought a great wedding present would be for her to have a polymorphic scroll or better yet an object like that hat you lent Violet recently. Any idea where I might be able to get something like that?" Aric felt out of place, the last thing he had ever given a woman was Elisabeth and that was when he was twelve.

Felina nods, "It's understandable that she should be worried. This business looks to be getting more and more dangerous. The hat of disguise I have was given to me as a gift, but I can certainly check around for you to find out where we might could get one. Of course, she's welcome to use mine until we can get her one of her own." She puts a finger to her cheek and taps it in thought, "As for advice... hmmm.... Perhaps a butterfly piece? A hair pin or a brooch... That seems pretty appropriate. Butterflies are symbols of transformation and new life. After what she's been through and the upcoming wedding, I'd think that'd be just the thing."

"Thanks." Aric says, "I might take you up on that hat offer. Talia has been getting quite nervous lately." He rubs Shadow's head and looking up says, "Have you heard from Pale?"

Felina looks down at the floor, a worried look crossing her face, "No."

"Any thoughts as to where he might have gone?" Aric asks, "I've been taking some excursions outside the city walls I could keep an eye out?"

Felina shakes her head, "I have no idea. I've only ever seen him here in the city. I've been checking the temple of Pharasma and checking back at the Forge and Furnace to see if he went back to see his friend, but so far I've turned up nothing." She sighs, "I just hope he's alright."

"Let me deal with this and we'll start tracking him. We can use Shadow to help track him. Other than a bottomless pit of a stomach he has a pretty good sense of smell." Aric says.

Shadow barks looking up at Aric who rubs his head smiling. "If it helps Talia could use some help planning the wedding," he suggests.

Felina exhales, "Maybe so. You could say I have some experience planning weddings quickly. I was only engaged a month before I was married, after all." She manages a small smile, "I'll go help her. Thanks for the suggestion, Aric."

Aric thanks Felina and heads to Talia's room, motioning her to follow.


As Aric walks up to Talia's door, Shadow rushs ahead of him, pawing at the door. "Ease up boy I'm sure she's there." Aric knocks on Talia's door waiting for her to answer.

Talia's maid opens the door just a crack. "Oh, Lord Aric..." She dimples at him. "I'll just let m'lady know you're here."

Shadow pushes against the door, and the maid lets him have his way. Grinning the wolf promptly flops to the floor just inside the door, giving Aric a one eyed yet somewhat smug look.

Aric returns Shadow's gaze then looking to Felina,

"Sometimes I wonder who he really loves more." Aric smiles and holds the door allowing Felina the chance to enter.

Felina laughs and follows him inside.

Aric steps in and lets the door close behind him. He finds a chair and sits down.

After perhaps three minutes Talia comes out from the bathing chamber. Her hair is still very slightly damp and she's wearing the least elaborate of the gowns she now owns. The dark blue sets off the paleness of her skin and makes her brown hair look darker. She smiles and gives Aric a small hug and a genteel peck on the cheek. She seats herself, and Shadow comes over to her and leans against her leg, accepting her pat on the head as a king accepts obeisance, making a satisfied grumbling sound in his throat.
"I'm sorry to keep you waiting, my hair took a little longer to put up today," she says. Looking at Felina she smiles, "I'm glad to see you today Lady - uh, Miss Felina. I hope you're well?"

Felina simply smiles and nods at her as Aric steps up to greet her.

Aric tries to maintain his concentration trying not to focus Talia's sheen from recently having bathed and says, "My lady I want to first apologize for the way I have been behaving over the recent days. I was not in my head and emotion had taken the place of logic and reason. I have been given many good things in my life and when good things do happen to me I tend to focus on the bad things trying hard to keep them from coming." Aric shakes his head break his sudden rambling, "What I am trying to say is that I am no longer planning a trip to the southern countries. I know now that the trip would be too much trouble and thusly defeats my reasons for wanting to go. I am here now for you and nothing more."

Aric moves closer to her dropping to one knee. "My love if you'll still have me I would like nothing more than to start this new chapter of my life with you."

She looks at Aric, her cheeks growing pink. "Aric, I should also apologize. I have thought a great deal about...our last argument...and I was also wrong to try to tie you down so fiercely. I do forgive you, if you'll forgive me." She takes his hands in hers. "I focus on my own fears and problems much of the time, but you deserve more than to see me fainting with hysterics all the time."

She tugs on his hands. "Stand up, dearest, you don't need to make your knees sore on my account." She then looks over at Felina. "I wanted to ask you this first, since you are so very free and so confident...do you think you could help me learn a few things?"
Looking between Felina and Aric she says, "I think it might be a good idea for me to learn to move in something other than a court gown. And perhaps even," she smiles at Aric, a dimple showing in her left cheek, "learn to roof walk."

Felina smiles at Talia, "Of course! I'll certainly be glad to teach you whatever you wish to learn and help you find some more suitable clothing."

"Nothing would please me more than to teach you this very special talent." Standing up Aric says, "My lady I will still be searching for this killer Shavris but I will have back up I promise. Also, Felina has given me permission to allow you use of a hat that you could use to disguise yourself for when you really need to get out. But please when you do be safe."

Talia looks up at Aric. "I think that perhaps the only way I can be safe out there, at least so long as my father is here, is to be by your side." She gets a determined look on her face. "I will try my hardest to learn, and I won't ask to go with you until I am at least able to look after myself. But I don't want to sit here doing embroidery forever."

Aric stands up. "I will be glad to teach you to fight we can even wait till after sundown if you'd prefer it that way. For the time being, Felina here has agreed to help you with any wedding plans you might need assistance with."

Moving to the door Aric says, "Unfortunately I must be going. I have cultists to seek out and dance lessons to complete." He lets out a brief sigh, turns and leaves. From the hallway, Aric can hear Talia suppressing a giggle.


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An Apology
Written by Clint and Amanda

Felina makes her way to Pale's room. Cervil is finishing the report of the DeSandra mansion excursion, and there's no more for her to add. She knocks on the door, "Pale?" She peeks her head in then steps into the room. "I wanted to say I'm sorry."

"I know we didn't get the right man tonight, but I just wanted you to know... I think you did the right thing. Shavris does deserve to die, and when the opportunity presented itself, you did what you had to do to make sure he wouldn't elude his punishment again. I'm sorry that the man we encountered tonight wasn't him, but at the same time, I guess it's one less maniac on the loose."

"You're right though. I wasn't ready to deal with the consequences that killing him would bring. I know it might not make much sense to you or to most, but the idea of being locked in this house. Not being able to leave.... it really scares me. I know that being here is definitely better than being in a jail cell, but at the same time it brings back bad memories that are all too familiar. Memories I'm not sure that I can deal with now. I argued with you out of fear, not out of any real objection. I guess I'm just afraid of losing my freedom."

Pale closes the book he is reading and his hands trace the embossment adorning the cover for a moment before he speaks, “I am not arrogant enough to think that you all have to defer to my judgment constantly. We all have unique experiences in our lives that have given us our own strengths and weaknesses, but I firmly believe what needs to be done is set. I am not speaking of right and wrong either. We have to be prepared to do what we feel has to be done regardless of the consequences, and if we find out what we did was the wrong thing then we will learn from it."

Felina frowns, "I suppose so. If we have to be captive just to make sure Shavris does not flee his punishment again, I guess it cannot be helped. That doesn't make me fear it any less though."

Pale responds, “Fear is quite natural, but we just have to act despite our fears when the time comes. That is all I ask.”

Felina pauses. Looking at the floor, her face goes distant as if recalling long lost memories. She slowly raises her hands to clutch tightly under her chin, "I'll try." Taking a deep breath, she turns and walks out of the room.
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The Dance
Written by Clint and Amanda

Felina and the others are in a large open room in the manor. The room was probably quite perfect for parties and mingling in it's day, but has been quite rarely used as of late. It is the perfect place, however, for dance lessons... "Violet, you're the lady, you're not supposed to lead.... Cervil, here. You know the dance, you'll be Violet's partner for now.... Aric, don't grip so hard, I'm not a weapon. That's better. Now step like this.... Violet, let Cervil lead.... Aric, slow your steps a bit.... Ok, you two, just step back and watch Cervil and I demonstrate...." The lessons continue for a while, and Felina eventually dismisses the group. "Ok, very good progress. I'll see you guys tomorrow if you want more lessons." The others leave, but Felina stays in the room. She stands in the middle, hand to her face, finger tapping her cheek in thought.

“So, how did everyone do?” Pale asks as he enters the room.

Felina starts slightly at the sound of his voice, "Oh! I didn't know you were standing there." She turns to face him, "I think everyone did pretty well. I was standing here trying to figure out how many more lessons they might need. That is, if they decide to come back." She shrugs, "Either way, I think they've got the basics down. So, what brings you down here? Did you change your mind about lessons?"

“In a way I did,” Pale states thoughtfully, “but in actuality I am here to ask if you might be interested in some lessons yourself.”

Felina looks incredulous, "You're going to give me lessons?

Pale actually smiles slightly at Felina’s reaction. “Why do you assume I am unskilled in the art of the dance?”

"Well... you just don't seem to be the type."

“Well, to be honest, I am not the type. Generally speaking that is, but you of all people should know it is unwise to assume things about people.”

A slight smile tugs the corner of her mouth and she looks down for a moment, "Yeah, I guess I had that coming." She looks back up, "So, what is it you have to teach me?"

“The dance is one that is sacred to the followers of Pharasma. Representing the integral nature of life and death.”

A smile quirks the corner of her mouth, "I should have guessed. The Dance of Fate or perhaps better known as simply, the Spiral dance. I've never had the pleasure of even seeing the dance much less participating."

“And now I am surprised that you have such knowledge,” Pale states approvingly.

Felina smiles slyly, "It is unwise to assume things about people."

Pale feigns a serious expression for a moment before speaking, “Although I have witnessed the dance many times and performed the separate aspects of it by myself, I have never performed it with anyone either. I would ask that my first attempt at a public performance of the Dance of Fate be with you. I can think of no one better to represent the aspect of life in the dance than you, Felina.”

Felina flushes slightly with pleasure, "I'd be honored. But... why would you want to do this? You seemed completely uninterested in dancing at all, and now you're wanting to do a performance. I don't understand."

Pale appears thoughtful for a moment as if pondering his words carefully and then speaks, “In all honesty, I am uninterested in dance of a mundane nature, but this is far more than that. I have always wanted to perform this ritual as it celebrates the intertwining relationship between life and death, and as such is most sacred to Pharasma, but there has been no one that has felt right to represent life to me. You have been through much lately, and things were revealed that you obviously did not want to be made public. Seeing that your secrets were revealed to me but not under your own terms, I simply feel it is right to put myself out for all to see as you did. Does that make sense?”

Felina is silent a moment, a questioning look in her eyes, "So, you're doing this... for me?"

Pale turns to look away, but continues to talk, “Well, to show you that I would never have you do anything I wasn’t willing to do myself, and you can think of it as helping me to honor my goddess in a way I have not before. So, it is for the both of us.”

Felina reaches out and touches his arm lightly, "That's incredibly thoughtful of you. I'll be honored to be your partner for this dance."

Pale nods, "I am glad that you accepted my offer."

Felina smiles, "So, how does this dance go?"

"We start far away from each other, as it is what most hope their life and death will be... Fate willing of course." Pale walks slowly away from Felina, and turns to face her with an intense stare.

Felina places herself at the opposite edge of the room. "Ok, now what do we do?"

Pale holds up the holy symbol hanging from his neck to show Felina. "Picture the spiral, and try to mirror my movements as we draw closer. When I look away from you, do the same." Pale takes slow deliberate steps in a curving path towards Felina.

Felina begins the steps watching Pale's movements and mimicking them in turn.....

************************************************

We stand at opposite edges of the cleared circle. Surrounding us the masked ball goers go quiet as the music begins. A different music than the other couples danced to. Slow and rhythmic the music pulses and the dance begins. Walking the outside edge of the circle we face neither the crowd nor each other. Stepping to the rhythm, we draw closer as we complete the first circle. The spiral dance begins. We face each other briefly then turn spinning in a circle as we continue to step forward and ever inward in the slow spiraling dance. The dance continues, our movements each mirroring the other, turning to face each other more and more as we move closer and closer. A step back here, a flourish of the hand there. A turn and another and another. We draw ever closer and soon reaching out, fingers touch and then another turn. Hands clasp as we walk in spiral together. Unclasp and we turn again alone. We spiral each other faster and faster spinning, reaching, and spinning again. Until suddenly his hand goes around her waist, her hand goes around his shoulder, hands clasp, and they spin together in a flurry of movement. The spin slows and slows again and finally comes to a stop. The Dance of Fate is complete.

Felina holds the pose with Pale. She tries desperately not to smile and break the mood of the ritual dance. She stares up into the whippoorwill’s mask and sees intense blue staring back. Does he feel the thrill of the performance? What must he be thinking?

Exhilaration fills Pale as the dance concludes and everyone applauds. Felina is staring up at him, and he returns her gaze. She is so full of life. I have embraced death throughout my life. It was as if I had resigned myself to a fate not yet handed out. I have done Pharasma a great disservice in the past by not doing my best to give my life the fullest possible meaning. Had I not met Felina, I do not know if I would have realized this. He helps her rise from the final pose of life passing and death taking over, and they both leave the dance floor.

As they part the gathered crowd and make their way back to a quieter spot, Felina breaks into a brilliant smile. "We did it! My gods I haven't done a performance like that in.... never! I feel like I can climb a mountain!" Felina grabs his hands, "Do you feel it too?! The rush of the performance?!"

Pale gives her a sideway glance and asks, “Though it may not be the same as you feel, I feel both quickened and serene at the same time. It is if I have somehow drawn closer to the Goddess.” He then turns to face her and continues, “In all your many elven years, you have never had a performance such as this?”

Felina shakes her head, "Not like this. Perhaps the goddess has touched us both tonight. But more than that, I think it was my partner that made this night so memorable."

Pale gives Felina a genuine smile, "Then I am truly blessed to have you as a friend, and I also agree that having you as a partner made this night quite memorable as well."

Felina's breath catches slightly as Pale smiles down at her. I can't remember ever seeing him smile like that. The transformation it makes is quite incredible. He looks... approachable.... handsome.... Felina exhales again as she shakes herself from her thoughts, "I am quite grateful to have your friendship as well, Pale. Dancing with me tonight in front of all these people. You didn't have to do that, and yet you did. In blessing your goddess, you've blessed me as well. I think this is just what I needed after all that's happened."

Pale’s smile soon fades as his normal somber expression replaces it, and he begins to speak in an earnest tone, “I am glad you do not fear the closeness of Pharasma’s power. Many fear her and only seek to give her lip service out of sheer terror. They think she will draw them to the grave sooner out of some petty human notion of spite if they do not, but to honor her is to honor the few moments we are lucky to have in life. You have helped me to realize this through how you embrace life, and I wanted you to see it from my side as well. I hope that others will learn to live life as you do and not to fear death as some unrelenting creature stalking them every second of the day.”

Felina sobers and nods, "People tend to forget that she gives life, not just takes it. It's something I noticed that even your own priests forget." She looks back up into the mask, back into the cobalt blue. "Don't be like them. Remember to take the time to dance with life from time to time." Realizing she still has hold of his hands, she releases them. "Enough of philosophy though. Let's enjoy the rest of the ball!"

“I think I can manage that with your help.” Pale gives Felina a deep bow, “I believe you should take the lead this time.”

Felina grins at Pale, "I'll be glad to."
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