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  #1  
Unread 7th of February, 2011, 12:00
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Chapter 5: What you are in the Dark

The storm grew stronger.

The rain didn't fall on them, it beat itself against them in an expression of fury, the wind howled promises of nature's unforgiving violence in their ears. It was a storm of rage, a storm of power, a storm that could kill.

The Band of Bards were travelling in the foothill of a remote part of the eastern Freelands when the weather turned. Within minutes a wall of black clouds raced from nowhere to cover the amber afternoon sky, transforming day into abrupt night. Gusts of air pushed at them with disembodied hands as the group stumbled down a trail on the verge of being washed away by the torrential rain, lit only by the streaks of lightening screaming across the heavens.

In this weather any makeshift camp would leave them in as much threat as if they remained moving, so the group continued on, searching for a stronger shelter they could make use of.

It was Yavan who spotted it first, his elven sight reaching further and deeper within the gloom than either of his more human companions. To the right, a path branching off from the trail and the dim glow of yellow-orange light glimpsed through the trees.
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Unread 10th of February, 2011, 02:55
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The torrential rain poured from the heavens with physical force - Rina could feel the hundreds of drops battering her with each step - and after their force was discharged they waterlogged the poor bards. Water ran down the acrobat's face and coldness seeped across her shoulders as they grew wet beneath the deluge, despite her heavy cloak. Already her fingers were numb; much longer in the open and the rest of her would be soaked and freezing as well. The storm involuntarily reminded her of another downpour, which had come upon them near the small town of Tolatakiva.

She shuddered, and not from the wet chill around her. Baron Sanguis and his horrid Feast of Karthes would haunt her to the end of her days, she was certain. But this storm was different, as well - more furious in nature and (hopefully) shorter lived than the steady, week long rain prior to their performance. Yavan's gesture broke off her thinking and she peered through the leaden air in the direction he indicated, her heart near leaping at the sight of the warm glow.

"Let us go! Who would refuse fire and shelter in this weather?"
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Unread 17th of February, 2011, 04:19
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Bailey can barely hear Rina over the roar of the storm. Something about "fire" and "shelter". If Yavan has discovered signs that there is an inn or other habitation down this little side-path, and if he manages to lead them all to it before the path is washed away, she will be the first to buy him a hot toddy and drink to his health!

At first she had found the storm exhilarating, and didn't pay much heed to the physical discomfort - what’s a little rain and wind after all? But an incredible amount of water has fallen in a relatively short period of time, and Bailey knows that in this terrain flash floods are a devastatingly real possibility. And even she finds the frequency and nearness of deadly lightning strikes and thunderous explosions unnerving. She has nearly jumped out of her skin on a couple of occasions.

BOOM!

There goes another one!

Bailey finds herself grinning in spite of her better sense. Those sizzling purple flashes of lightning are simply amazing!
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Unread 25th of February, 2011, 02:35
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The rain howls and the wind pounds while the trio slogs their way along the lee of a hillside, attempting to gather what natural shelter they can from nature’s eruptive temper. Their sodden cloaks are gathered tightly about their chilled skin. Each time the dazzling flash of lightning is followed closely, perhaps too closely, by roaring thunder. In elven myth, the storm represents the chase of fleet-footed lightning by booming thunder.

In reality, Yavan just wants to get out of the storm. His hand strays to his pack for the hundredth time, making certain it is sealed well enough to keep the water out. He has seen what a little water can do, warping and cracking wood and forever changing the sound. His instruments are some of the last remnants he bears of home. To lose them feels akin to losing his past.

Another flash, another roar, and Rina and Bailey follow his gesture through the tempest and toward the faint hint of solace. They redouble their efforts, moving as swiftly as their tired feet will carry them, while nature rages overhead.
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Unread 28th of March, 2011, 12:53
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The building hulks on top of a bluff of rock, thrust up from the surrounding land, immobile and indifferent to the storm. Although it was clearly a house, the large sprawling manner of a country lord, it had the thick stone walls and high narrow windows which betrayed the building's fortress ancestry - and ability to revert to that at need. The impression of the grim weapon of war, glimpsed in flashes of silver lightening, was contrasted enough by the warm light glowing from a handful of the windows to draw them in.

Up close the building sheltered them from the worst of the fury of the storm, which continued to howl unabated above them, it took the bards only a few scant moments to locate the door, a giant ironclad oak thing. Even though Rina made liberal use of the lead knocked affixed to the surface for that purpose, it took a few attempts and almost a dozen minutes before they elicited a response.

A previously hidden section of the door at eye level slid open, revealing a narrow stream of light and a pair of bloodshot eyes. A voice - presumably belonging to the same person as the eyes - called out, gravelly and carrying the sharpened edge of complaint that only is possible from decades of watching younger generations waste their ill-deserved youth.

"Yes, yes. What is it now? Who are you?"
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Unread 1st of April, 2011, 07:40
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This isn't what Bailey was expecting. The fortified manor house, the huge iron-bound door, the blood-shot eyes peering out at them through the window slit...

Why, what does the fool on the other side of the door think we want in weather such as this? she wonders, annoyed. She had thought to find an inn or hunting lodge at the end of the trail, with a welcoming fire burning brightly on the hearth. She is quite disappointed to find otherwise.

"Shelter, sir!" she says, stating the obvious. "We seek shelter from the storm! My friends and I are merely travelers caught on the road by bad weather." She wipes away a drop of rain-water that has trickled down to the end of her nose, and then thinks to transform her frown of annoyance into an innocuous smile, hoping to assure their potential host that their intentions are benign.
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Unread 6th of April, 2011, 01:18
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Rina nods her sodden locks in agreement with Bailey's assertions, water running down her wide cheeks. How she despised these storms, the more so since it seemed ever a harbinger of woe. She could not help but think of the night they had entered Karthes, in the midst of just such a storm. Better maybe if they had never heard the name, though it would mean that horror would still haunt the night rather than just her dreams.

She pressed her lips together against the revulsion, shivering with cold that had only little to do with the weather. How Yavan lived with those memories was something she hadn't yet asked. But that evil was gone from this world. They were in need of shelter, and shelter was here. Surely this place was nothing more terrible than a strategic outpost against some long conquered threat.

"Yes," she calls against the fury of the storm, "just a place to dry out until the storm passes."
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Unread 13th of April, 2011, 23:35
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Sheltering in the lee of the manor-fortress spares them from the worst of the storm. The rain pelts the weathered stone above like a fusillade of tiny arrows and the wind gusts and swirls along the face of the bluff, but it is at least less miserable than trudging through the heart of the tempest. Yavan dislikes the sight of the fortification. Were it a ruin he could at least expect spectral haunting of the long-dead, but that it still stands and is inhabited gnaws at him. These lands are not safe. It would take a good reason, a terrible reason, for brigands or the mountainfolk to avoid plundering this estate for whatever riches it might still bear.

The eyes revealed behind the wooden slat in the door do little to relieve his reticence. Yavan stands behind Rina and Bailey, pale amber eyes watching bloodshot ones. The water drips off the hood and hem of his cloak, making its own tiny storm upon the flagstones at their feet. The elf shifts his feet and resists the urge to check once more that the covers for instruments he bears are safe.

Why is it always at night?

Kathes, shades on the road, the demoness of Eastbrook—it is always at night that evil comes upon them. Sometimes they stumble upon it, other times it sets upon them, but it always marches their way irrespective of intent. First it was Beronas and Ilia and Morgan. Once they had passed it was Rina and Korbi, then Calliste, and now Bailey. Yavan is the common element.
He wonders what he has done in this world to deserve such a harsh fate and when his penance will be served.

Most of all, as he stands there in the shadow of a grim giant, he wonders what terrible thing will happen to them this time.
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Unread 28th of April, 2011, 01:46
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Bailey stares hard at the immovable door. The eyes peering out at them through the door slit have glazed over and now appear vacant and lifeless.

"Hello? Are you all right in there?" she asks in a worried tone. "Please let us in. It is very unpleasant out here in the storm! We promise that we do not intend any harm. Hello? HELLO??"
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Unread 29th of April, 2011, 14:24
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The slit in the door slammed shut, cutting off the thin ray of light and leaving the bards alone in the cold and dark. Moments later, the door itself creaked open, and a wave of dry warm air rushed out to embrace them. The owner of the bloodshot eyes was revealed to be an ancient seeming man, hunched over from his long years. His sharp eyes peered at them each in term, before he stepped aside to leave the portal open.

“Well?” He snapped at them in his gravelly voice. “Are you just going to stand there until the gods invite you in and the cold air kills me?”

Once inside the man shut the door and pulled back a bar with a thud before slipping off into an alcove, leaving the companions alone in the entrance foyer. The floor is made of serviceable stone, but the wealth of the building is revealed in the marble clad walls, bare of adornments but clean and rare for this region.
A steady stream of muttered complaints come from the doorway until the man re-emerged a few moments later, laden down with an armload of linen. He eyed the stone floor around the group, now wet and muddy with them not having a chance to strip off soiled outer clothes.

“What?” He demanded, gesturing to one of other doors in the room. “Are you just going to stand there dripping water and mud and the-gods-only-know-what-else all over my floor? It would have been easier to leave you out in the rain and keep everything clean.”
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Unread 30th of April, 2011, 22:59
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Abashed and feeling guilty now, Bailey hastens to open the indicated door, trying in vain to keep her sodden clothing from dripping any more muddy water onto the stone floor.

Is this the master of the house or one of the servants? she wonders, shooting a confused glance in Rina and Yavan's direction. Surely the master would not be answering his own door at this ungodly hour! But then why is she allowing herself to be cowed by a mere butler or footman?

"I beg your pardon, good sir," she says, holding the door open for him so he can trundle past with his armload of linen. That is as much of an apology for the muddy floor as she is willing to offer the old relic!

"My friends and I are grateful for the hospitality," she continues, then struggles for a moment to come up with a polite way to ask where they are and who owns the place. Mother always harped on and on about learning the social niceties, but Bailey hardly ever paid much attention. "Er, may we inquire as to the identity of the esteemed lord of this fine manor?"

She hopes that sounded all right!
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Unread 4th of May, 2011, 04:20
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"Leaves falling red, yellow, brown, all are the same,
and the love you have found lay outside in the rain.
Washed clean by the water but nursing its pain."

Rina utters the snippet of rhyme as the old man's tirade washes over her like a drier, more irritable version of the storm they had just quit. She tries hard to keep the smile from her face, so much did the man's demeanor remind her of her grandmother when she was but a child. Of course, then it had been sand and dust the old woman hated, rather than rain and mud. In any case, at least it was warm and dry in here.

"Our pardon," she says, reaching for some of the linen he carries to dry herself off, "grant us a moment to remedy the situation."
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Unread 8th of May, 2011, 20:24
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The room they entered was barely large enough to fit all three of them, so the ancient man stood outside the entrance. A row of coat hooks run along the wall, one of which was already occupied. The cloak was a deep red with silver thread embellished along the edges, impressive even in it's current mud covered state. Beneath it a pair of boots were tucked neatly against the wall, any clue of their nature buried deep beneath he mud caked upon them.

“The lord of the manor?” The old man's wheezing voice came to them. “Do people these days just march up to homes and bang upon the doors demanding entrance ignorant of whose land they trespass on? Never would have happened in my day, people had respect for others. My father, may his soul rest easy, would have taken a switch to anyone who dared such a thing.”

The man carried on, exalting the failings of the current generation compared to those past, and the dire and improbable punishments that were carried out to ensure a higher standard of manners. Drying themselves and removing the most offensive bits of mud, the bards found three pairs of slippers hidden within the linen.

Once they were ready, they re-emerged to find the mud from before cleaned and the old man examining them. After a moment, he gave a grunt, the closest thing to a noise of approval they'd heard from him so far.

“Well it will have to do I suppose, you can't expect too much from elves. Leave your things here and I'll have them taken to room for you, you can wait in the parlour. Don't dawdle, step along!”
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Unread 14th of May, 2011, 03:45
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Rina gratefully accepts the invitation and apologizes for their ignorance, her dark eyes scanning the interior and admiring its beauty. She was excited to have stumbled into such splendor, used as she was to the often slipshod lodgings they made due with. The cloak and boots by the door made her wonder if the lord had a visitor or if the lord himself had been out in this mess.

"We apologize for any inconvenience, of course, but perhaps we can make amends later with a song. We are performers, after all."

She indicates the cloak and boots she had noticed by the door.

"Perhaps the lord and his guest would have a request? Yavan is very widely learned."
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Unread 22nd of May, 2011, 20:37
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Dry feet! Bailey wriggles her toes inside the downy warmth of the slippers she'd been given and heaves a contented sigh. Now for a hot drink and a comfortable chair, she thinks hopefully, her mood much improved. She hadn't even let the old man's rude remark regarding elves bother her, although she had caught Yavan's eye and mimed an exaggerated grimace in a show of mock outrage.

She decides to let Rina take over the conversational burden from here on out since she is much more gracious and well-spoken than Bailey could ever hope to be. Besides, Bailey is almost wholly caught up in observing and inspecting her surroundings. The stone floors, marble walls, and dim lighting remind her of past expeditions. Or maybe she just wants to explore old ruins so badly that any stone structure will do!

She lags behind on their way to the parlor, despite the butler's warning to 'step along' and not dawdle.
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Unread 23rd of May, 2011, 20:25
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“The Lord does not entertain visitors,” the old man sniffed, uttered the word 'entertain' with unhidden disdain as he led them through the halls of the building.

Lingering behind, Bailey examined the architecture of the building. It only took her a few moments to identify the keep, it was in the style built shortly before the fall of the Alothian Empire. She had seen the ruins of several of them in her studies. This particular building, like many of the surviving ones that she had seen, had been modified in the intervening generations, and from what she could see in her hasty survey of brickwork and room layout, had been several times.

What was off about the place, was that the most recent to that of a Manner, seemed to be one that had last been constructed almost two centuries ago.

With her prolonged study, Bailey had dropped some distance behind the others, and as such was the only one in a position to spy, in one if the windows lining the hall far above their heads, the shadowing shape of a figure following her companions.
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Unread 25th of May, 2011, 02:11
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Rina smiles sweetly at the old man's back, amused by his ire and disdain and fully prepared to soldier on in its face. She tries to keep the humor out of her voice, having no wish to return to the less than hospitable storm. She glances quickly at Yavan but his features told her nothing of his mood.

"So the Lord has been out in this weather, then? He must be a man of adventure, for certain."
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Unread 2nd of June, 2011, 05:15
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What in the name of the gods is that thing up there?

Bailey's curiosity about the manor's architecture quickly shifts focus to the strange shadow lurking in the window above. She moves cautiously closer to the wall, trying to become as inconspicuous as possible but staying in a position where she can still see the dark figure.

Rina's voice drifts back to her as the butler continues to lead her companions down the hall.

The shadow is trailing after them, keeping pace!

Now Bailey is wary. Shadows don't lurk around windows like that for any good reason! The lighting is too uncertain for her to guess what sort of creature the thing may be, man or beast. She can't even say for sure how large it is. But one thing is for sure - she definitely sees it as a threat.

Without making any sudden moves, she follows after it, sticking close to the wall and keeping the shadow constantly in her sight. Meanwhile, she mouths a silent message to her two companions:

"Don't look now, but there is some kind of shadow creature watching you from above."
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Unread 2nd of June, 2011, 21:42
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The man kept his back to the group, loudly sniffing again.

"I think you shall find that the Lord's business is none of yours," He said, somehow finding a way to sound even more offended than before. "Is this what the people have come to, invading homes and wilfully spreading mud. At least our other guest has shown some sliver of civilised behaviour."
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Unread 4th of June, 2011, 02:23
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The old man's tone tells Rina another diatribe is coming on even before he completes the first two words. Her grin starts to spread almost immediately - after all, his back was to her - and she resolves to let his words go in one ear and out the other. Except . . . except, even as he speaks, she finds words coming into that other ear - Bailey's words, to be precise. Her mind barely registers the rest of old man's words.

The beginnings of her smile fade instantly as fear suddenly clutches her heart and the name Karthes bobs from the still waters of her mind, in letters as red as blood. Without thinking, she looks up, trying to see what Bailey warned her of. Was this lord another demon in disguise, trapping the unwary like so many flies in his web? Even as the thought crosses her mind, her limbs tingle with energy. She had no intention of meeting such a fate quietly.
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Unread 9th of June, 2011, 22:45
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Rina easily spotted the shadow as it followed them down, with Bailey continuing to hand back. It was hard to tell from the distance and the angle, but the way the figure moved, something about it seemed off, not quite as it should be. However, before they are able to tell what, the shadow moved from sight and Bailey rejoined the group.

The old man led them to a chamber that radiated warmth out into the hall. Pulling the door open revealed a room lit by dozens of candles and a massive fireplace. A table with seats dominated the centre, an endless row of tapestries hung from the walls, while several cushioned chairs were located in front of the fire.

As they entered, a man rose from one of them, turning to face the group and dropping into a stance that was only one shade away from being a military parade attention. Everything about him spoke of a military bearing. His face, weathered in a way only a lifetime of outdoor living can give, was adorned with a magnificent – if greying – set of sideburns and mustachio that was the current 'thing' in the Officer Class across the Freelands. His tunic and leggings were predominately red with black pipping, and upon the shoulders were golden triangles.

The man glanced at each of them in turn, and if his eyes rested upon Rina for a moment longer than the others, there was no trace of recognition in them. For her part, recognition washed over with in a silent wave. The military man before her was a stranger, but the features behind it were familiar. Memories of a man she had encountered in Anorav arose. She had seen the same face peer at her from behind the visage of a drunken leeching noble, and an ancient beggar crone.

Rutiles, a conman and thief. A flick of her gaze revealed the bracelet of golden orbs that their last encounter centred upon still hung from his wrist.

“This is our other visitor,” the old man said. “He also sought shelter from the storm.”

“Colonel Muntab,” the man said, cutting off the end of each work and speaking two notches louder than was comfortable in the enclosed space. “Late from the Duke of Kitch's 3rd Heavy Foot, at your service.”
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Unread 29th of June, 2011, 00:41
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Yavan trails a step behind the servant, letting him lead and grouse in equal measures to his contentment. The elf ignores the barbs and castigation hurled in his vicinity. Honor he might have, but a dry bed and avoiding an early death by the grey cough are also important to him. Pride is supposed to be one of his people’s downfalls, and in some ways Yavan is no different, but it starts and stops with his art. If a crotchety head servant wishes to bemoan his fate, and besmirch Yavan’s, the elf will do nothing to aggravate him. His companions trail further behind him, and Yavan casts a glance over his shoulder seeing Rina grinning. Even when her lips are not curled skyward, her eyes always carry a hidden smile that makes Yavan think that she and the world share a jest the contents of which none others are privy to.

Moments pass as they march through the halls. Their footfalls on stone send echoes that make the chambers seem bigger than they are. Yavan wonders how many could live here as well as how many actually do inhabit these walls. The thought of spending another night in a too-empty fortress sends chills down his arms. Yet they turn, at last, and enter a room to greet a fellow guest.

Yavan eyes this Colonel Muntab with caution. It is not his bearing or habiliments, both of which bear the easy wear of a man that has trod many miles in his boots. It is not the too-loud way that he introduces himself, Yavan excuses that for a man used to barking orders for four hundred men to hear, not four. It is not even the singular question burning in Yavan’s mind of how an officer could be found so far away from his company. There were no men that Yavan knew to take up the mantle of command that ever ceded it willingly. No, it is the way his companion and constant foil, Rina, acknowledges the introduction. She reacts by not reacting. There is no crinkle of the brow, no arched eyebrow, no twitch of her lips. The smirk she bore as a result of their peevish host had vanished.

And then, in a heartbeat, her face is as lively as it ever is.

“A pleasure, Colonel,” Yavan says, dipping his head in a bow. “I am Yavan a’Nyere, singer and bard of Färavel, at your service. These are my companions and fellow musicians, Bailey Trouvere and Rina Semarkhet.”
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  #23  
Unread 7th of July, 2011, 02:55
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Rina's face stays frozen while her thoughts swirl wildly behind her almond eyes. Colonel Muntab he said, in his too-loud clipped accent, but he was no more a Colonel than Rina was a Princess. Rutiles, he had called himself when last they met, and she doubted now if that were even his real name.

Conman, thief, and liar were more apt sobriquets - qualities which, truth be told, Rina had a certain admiration for. No, it was not his profession that galled her. It was his lack of respect for a fellow rogue. That, and his refusal to be charmed by her witty banter as they had exchanged their mutually stolen goods.

There was nothing in his face or bearing to indicate he'd recognized her, yet she would not be fooled a second time. He'd displayed considerable talent at their prior meeting, and she felt sure he knew her. The thoughts of revenge that play through her head range from playful to deadly, and yet in the end she remains undecided.

Instead, she smiles brightly as if she doesn't know him at all. Yavan, ignorant of the entire previous exchange, makes the introductions with his usual formality.

"Colonel, did you say?" she asks, taking his proffered hand with a watchful eye and a wicked smile. "I must say, you have a rather light hand for one of Duke Kitch's Heavy Foot."
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Unread 10th of July, 2011, 00:21
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What was that shadow...?

It is the only thing on Bailey's mind as she follows the group down the hallway.

Was it an animal?

That doesn't seem right. The way it moved... It walked on two legs, didn't it? It was hard to tell, but certainly that was the impression that Bailey got. No, not an animal.

A person, then. The shadow had seemed to move like a humanoid. But what would somebody be doing out on the roof in the middle of a thunderstorm?

Weird. Bailey would almost think she had imagined the whole thing except that she knows from the expression on Rina's face that her fellow bard had seen it too. And besides, Bailey knows only too well that there are some very strange and inexplicable things in the world. Mostly living underground in deep, dark dungeons, judging by her own experience. But who knows where else one might encounter such things?

Her musings are momentarily interrupted when they arrive at the parlor (or the study or whatever this room is) and find another guest of the manor. Colonel Muntab... Bailey usually distrusts military types on sight, and she can't see any reason to change her policy for this one. His over-loud introduction is annoyingly typical, and a clear indication, to Bailey's mind, that he has a habit of pushing his way into situations that don't concern him. The military always does that. Why, back at the ruins of Targov's Tower...

"I must say, you have a rather light hand for one of Duke Kitch's Heavy Foot," Rina says.

Bailey can't suppress a loud guffaw at that! "Don't you mean, 'one of Duke Kitch's Heavy Feet'?" she snickers under her breath.

"Think I'll just take a seat over here," she says out loud, and plops down in one of the overstuffed chairs by the fire.
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Unread 24th of July, 2011, 17:05
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itches
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Rina only felt it because she was ready for it, as the faux soldier very lightly grasped her hand, one of her rings began to rotate around her finger. The touch was so soft it almost didn't exist, and it stopped with the object still in place.

"The surprise of meeting a lady of such quality in this place must have stolen my strength for a moment," he said, his voice dropping below a near shout for the first time. Releasing the hand, Colonel Muntab turned and marched a step over to Yavan, somehow contriving to ensnare the elf's hand in his own vice-like grip.

"A group of troubadours?" he barked loudly again, squeezing Yavan's hand in the rough painful hold of a fighting man. "My luck must be turning, ha ha. First I find shelter here from storm, then you lot turn up. You'll join me in a song later of course, ha, we will sing the weather away!"

Seeing his guests introduced to each other, the ancient door keeper turned to leave.

"Well if you're all quite done," he snorted. "I'll have refreshments provided and return show you to your rooms when you're ready to retire, what I'm sure will be some godsforsaken hour of the night. Until then try not to destroy any furniture."

Distracted by the man's exit, Bailey looked back to find a platter of fruit on a small table by her chair. She hadn't noticed it when she sat down, but it must have been there.

"A delightful old chap,” Colonel Muntab bellowed, releasing Yavan's hand. “Every time I want something, I turn around and he seems to already be there, ready to help." The last being said with a quick glance at Rina.
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