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Oh gee! An age and a gender and interests and things. Yeah, I have those. Ain't no way I'm about to trigger an existential crisis by typing them all out, though. You can find out what a nerd I am on discord, okay?

Stay awesome, people.

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Epilogue: Part One

It had grown late. Before the nine students of Ersand'Enise knew it, the sun was sitting low in the sky, ready to impale itself on the towers of the White Walled city that cast such a long - and lengthening - shadow over this place. Perhaps they were more unified than when they'd started in this endeavour, bright and early the morning before. Perhaps they were less so. Truly, it was something only they could know.

Yet, the secrecy of things cut both ways, for the students could not have known the hearts of the Resistance. Perhaps they had drifted from their cause. Some had become little more than gangsters. Some, perhaps, believed fervently - enough to take extreme measures, for who can truly know the hearts of men and what they hold deep within, away from the sight of others, where not even magic can know all?

Days' travel distant lay the Realm of Parmoy, and it was now under the attack of the Grey Fleet: a relentless, ruthless force that churned up all those who resisted its march. Men, magic, and machines wound into that open sore, trying to staunch the bleeding, but also food, medicine, and the necessities of life. This was because of the Resistance. The cell in Ersand'Enise was but one of many, and its efforts kept those people alive.

Days passed, and then weeks, and Jaxan lent them his increasing aid. He found his sense of purpose and they did not, in fact, use his ability to generate aberrations as a form of revenue. Then, one day, he wasn't there. Instead, in his place, was a letter for the eyes of only Aras'thazan'in'tiimithal. It warned him of a vision. It warned him to run.

Finally, the layers of Jaxan's and his parents' relationship remained obscured in all but the broadest sense. The nine from Ersand'Enise could not have known the reasons behind Talthan and Emenii's lukewarm support for the Resistance. They could not have known the depth of the yasoi's disaffection with the nation of their birth and their belief in the victory, justice, and deliverance offered by its invaders. They could not have known, but Jaxan, at least, had suspected.

Epilogue: Part Two

The sun sat low in the sky, vast and reddening, like an overripe fruit. The people of Belleville bustled about the last of their daily errands, final deals being struck, smoke starting to issue from chimneys as dinner was prepared, shops shuttering for the evening, and crickets chirping in the long grass that eked out a living among the byways and alleys.

It was an innocuous part of this scene: a young man and a young woman - they could have been lovers, or perhaps siblings, or merely friends - walked down the Searoad, its swirling crowds paying them no manner of extra heed. They walked, and they talked. The young man turned and smiled towards the girl, her pretty red hair rippling in the evening breeze that graced the outside of the white walled city.

“Why did you spare the boy?” he questioned her, with an unfeigned curiosity. His tone was soft, and the man’s eyes met hers searching for an answer before she’d had the chance to respond.

The woman shrugged. It was an evasive gesture, though her answer was not. “He was… just so innocent, so nice.” She sauntered instead of walking, the sunshine warm and pink on her skin. “He’ll never grasp it and -” She sighed, twisting to regard him. “I didn’t wanna kill that goodness, I guess.” The walls of the city loomed before her: an impregnable white fortress she would never be allowed inside - never, in spite of the kind words of one young man who was. “We’re not the villains of this story.” She willed some certainty into it.

“That’s a fine reason, Cherii,” he uttered, wistfully looking up at the walls that were soon within reach, the end of the road. “The world is sometimes cruel and unfair, but that doesn’t mean we have to be.”

“But ruthless,” she replied. “We have to be ruthless.” Did her eyes flick his way? If they did, it was so brief as to be effectively imperceptible.

His gaze however, was steadfast upon the city - their city, if the ruthlessness they had to employ would deliver justice to them. “A loss of one thing, but in service of a greater gain.” He closed his eyes and exhaled, before looking toward her once more, his eyes shuttered windows to the soul that lay beneath. “Whatever we do, we do in service of a better world.”

She appeared to simply accept the statement and there was nothing more to it. “So, what happens next?” It was a simple question. The apple seller shook his head and sighed sadly “It’s better if you don’t know. Let us both spare some good in the world today.”

So it was that Cherii’cola’caliman passed from that meeting with her sense of goodness intact.

Epilogue: Part Three

“Before she’s here, we need to get our house in order.” Mycan locked the door and stood there at the top of the steps in silhouette. Uneasy glances were exchanged. Aras was poker faced, peeling an apple with his knife. He nodded, however.

“This again?” Naxen retorted. “Are we really about to open this can of worms and start pointing fingers at each other?”

“We six were the only ones who knew,” said Aras, breaking his silence, “so tell me, Naxen, how did they find it?” Mycan tilted his head and narrowed his eyes in a gesture universal to both yasoi and humans.

“It had to have been those greasy fucking Parmoyish!” declared Ashon.

“We never should’ve trusted them,” Miret agreed quickly.

“It’s that little psycho Eneden.” This, then, was Chasto, eager to shift suspicion. “I bet he’s struck a deal with the Hax’olop.”

“Or just taken it for himself,” Naxen snorted. “He would.” he shrugged.

On the eve of what might’ve been the most important thing to have ever happened to them, the Resistance Against the Tarlonese Invasion had just suffered a decimating setback. Eyes slid to the eldest of them, seated at the head of the table, eyes narrowed and arms crossed. He didn’t speak.

“They didn’t know which ship it was on,” countered Mycan. “They only knew it’d be arriving that day and that the crates would be marked.”

The old man scowled, taking out a dagger and spinning it idly but not absently on the tabletop. “One of you has betrayed us.”

What followed was an eruption of denials, protests of innocence crawling over each other like crabs in a bucket, desperate theories, excuses, pleas. Then, it happened: “Well, if it was anyone, it was Chasto! He’s Parmoyish!”

Nervous glances were exchanged. A handful of eyes went to Naxen. A new and dangerous door had been opened. “Convenient!” shouted the accused. “He who has been deflecting the most.”

“Isn’t your uncle baron of Yaruuma?”

“Aren’t you married to a Tarlonese!?”

“You never should’ve brought this up, Naxen. It makes you look suspicious.” The only woman among the group, Miret, spoke with cornered resentment.

Still, the knife spun on the tabletop. The old man watched it. He watched, and he listened.

“Nobody is a traitor,” insisted Mycan. “I truly believe they are not, but one of you spoke carelessly. One of you let something slip.”

The spinning blade on the table came to an abrupt stop, as the wizened man grasped it firmly. “Bullshit.” he spoke gruffly, and the arm holding the knife began to raise and point, before there was a stop. His mouth jerked open and three dark red specks - almost black - appeared on the tabletop. His eyes levered down to regard them with bemusement.


Epilogue: Part Four

Aras’ head dropped against the table and the knife clattered across the floor before it could be levied against the traitor. Foam and bile spilled from his lips as his ancient body slumped in his seat, lifeless.

Miret - the woman - let out a scream and could instantly feel their eyes upon her. Those darted around the room, now, a hornet’s nest disturbed - accusing, shouting silently, wide with shock and terror. “That doesn’t just happen randomly!” shouted Mycan. “One of you did -”

His eyes rolled back and filled with blood and he collapsed in a heap. “It was Naxen!” Ashon leveled a finger. “It was fucking Naxen! He’s been deflecting the whole time!”

“Yash spax!” shouted Naxen. “It’s someone else, trying to set us against each other!”

“Oh!” exclaimed Miret. now it couldn’t possibly any of us, now that it clearly fucking is! Very -”

“Ensa’Calop” whispered Chasto into the ear of Naxen from behind, before he began to throttle the man's throat with a full draw and a firm squeeze, making full use of his leadvein abilities.

Miret scrambled backwards, eyes wide. “It’s him. It has to be him!”

“What the fuck, Chasto? We don’t know if -” Ashon’s words were cut off by a scream as Chasto vomited up blood and fell backwards. It was all over his clothes, and Naxen’s, and the floor. Miret began running for the door. “It - it wasn’t,” Naxen tried. “I know how it looks but it wasn’t.”

“Help me, you stupid taca!” Ashon shouted at her, and she stopped at the base of the steps, coming about. Naxen threw up his hands defensively, backing away, but now they had him surrounded. “You traitorous piece of tiims’pax!”

The pair closed in on the traitor and there was naught he could do. His clothes were covered with blood, and his throat was so damaged that he could barely speak more desperate pleas to them. Ashon kicked his former - false - comrade to the ground and Miret finished the job, a clean stomp to the head, ending the man’s life.

They regarded each other for a moment, chests heaving, hands trembling. They hadn’t even taken in the room yet, perhaps because they knew and could not bear to look. Miret broke first, her lip trembling, tears spilling down her cheeks. She stumbled toward him for an embrace, but Ashon seized up, taking a step back and shaking his head, dazed.

Immediately apologetic, for she needed him, in truth, he turned back to regard her. For a moment, he locked eyes with her and they were bloodshot, he noticed, bloodshot from the -

He turned and ran, taking the stairs two at a time as she expired behind him with a choked cry. The wood thumped beneath his feet and mortal terror propelled him. The lock! The stupid lock wouldn’t - there it was! He rattled it open and it swung and -

For a moment, Ashon thought he felt a tingle behind his eyes.

An apple - partially peeled - rolled off of the table when something thumped against it. It landed on the floor and rolled some more, soaking up the blood of the Resistance and going still.

Ransom Demand: Fin.

It was late on a Taldes afternoon. Light streamed in through the enormous floor-to-ceiling windows of Arc-en-Ciel Hall and the footfalls of High Zeno Tannifer Marbrand clicked forbiddingly on the parquet as she walked. Two others scampered along in her wake, bringing her the day's final briefing before she headed home.

"We've received another request for information on the Kavanaugh boy."

"Who's sending all of these in? I thought he wasn't supposed to matter!"

"According to his documentation, he has a rather large... family."

"So it's all of his degenerate relations, then?"

"No, ma'am. I doubt they'd be literate enough anyhow."

"Well, then who? For the love of Shune..."

"Yesterday, it was a milliner from the Crafters' Quarter and an arms manufacturer from outside the walls. The day before, it was an accountant at Sealy's, a master of the tailor's guild, and the madam of a local brothel."

"And today?" inquired Tannifer Marbrand, eyebrow arched.

"It was a little girl named Genevieve Marais, from the Workman's Quarter."

"Yes, the one who lost her legs in that awful mess last year." The zeno considered. "And who was the first?"

"That would be one..." Marcel flipped through his little book. "Isabella Lowell, a student at the academy."

"The clothing designer?"

"Yes, ma'am. Originally registered as 'Moriarty', but she appears to have married. Enthish, I believe."

"But really, Dolores?" Tannifer rolled her eyes. "I should bloody well hope that I, of all people, would recognize an Enthish name."

"As you say, milady. Apologies."

"It's not for you to apologize for, Marcel," she huffed, but then she batted any further conversation on the topic away. "And she was the first and it was just the once, hmm?"

"Apologies Miss Marbrand," mewed Dolores. She bowed in deference. "She was the first - a tethered girl - waiting in Balthazar for most of the day. She came again the next."

"And nothing else?"

"Well," Marcel added mysteriously, "Until today."

"Out with it then, Marcel!"

"Sh-she came again today to inquire about Desmond Catulus."

There was a long, vexed sigh. "The mercenary?"

"The same, ma'am."

Her face settled. "Very well. Let me handle her."


It was dark and the water sparkled with moonlight. Kaureerah rode out on a small boat - just her and Tku - and it all seemed so unreal, so unnecessary. She had run from her home, but it hadn't been cowardice. She'd tried - gods how she'd tried - but they'd been determined to remain thralls and suffer in silence for someone else's sin. The options had been to remain there and live under her people's disdain and suspicion, or to risk running for the kekars' world and living as an outsider, but at least one who might make a mark, who might be accepted in some way.

Is that why I'm here? So people might accept me? The wind whipped her hair about and she spared a glimpse back at Tku, dismissing the thought for now. If she was not so very strong in the Gift, she was good with this particular aspect of it, and the boat moved quickly within the grasp of kinetic magic. Further she went from shore and she breathed in the tropical nighttime air, finally somewhat cooler, just for the breeze.

The waters below were not empty, however. She could feel, in their depths, how they churned with life. Some was the assortment of fish, corals, and molluscs one might expect, but most was something different: the writhing, gnashing hunger of hundreds of boat-sized threshers. Most were preoccupied with a different sort of hunger, but they were aggressive, they were strong, and at least three were coming for their boat at present. "Tkoo," Kaureerah said, "Eye need yoo too meynteyn aur speed."

She reached out once more with her senses. She knew the beasts of the sea, even if these ones were less familiar. They used sound and magnetism to navigate, and she was a master of the first. Switching positions with Tku, she dipped her hand, trailing, into the water. She cupped it in a specific way, and then fed the current into it. The sound that emanated was scarcely audible to human ears, distinctly audible to hers, and outright alarming to those of the threshers. The response was immediate: wherever they were, they jerked and spasmed and shot away. The three closing in on the boat turned back. Concentrating for the next minute or so, she continued to send out that pulse and it continued to do its work.

And then, as a great, sharp-prowed Tarlonese thiis'elaaz neared, she and Tku were alone again with the wind and the waves and the moonlight, the occasional spray of water dappling the eeaiko's clothing. Certainly, they exchanged a few nervous words. She helped the artist rehearse a couple of his lines. The Tarlonese ship approached and, once more, Kaureerah cupped her hand and let out a pulse of sound to drive the threshers back with discomfort. Sometimes, animals could be allies and even friends. Sometimes, just like people, they would not.

She remained behind as he climbed aboard. These Tarlonese were not friends; they were representatives of a tyrannical empire, no different from the Virangish who extorted these islands because they could. Yet, both were 'allies' and, the more that Kaureerah sat in that boat, bobbing tethered to a warship, the more that she soured on it. Two years ago, as some inconsequential water girl trying to find her way in the inland world, singing little songs and selling her body for money, she had spoken with people who thought that they could change things, who were trying to change things. She had agreed to help them, but what had she done? Truly, what difference had she made?

Always, she thought, we sacrifice the future for the present, forgetting that today's present was yesterday's future. On, she thought, and on the cycle goes and we tell ourselves that we had to, that we're moving in the right direction, that next time will be better. She had committed and would not try to change matters now. Against her growing disgust, she would hold her nose and watch her allies work with tyrants to help these people perpetuate their own oppression. This would be the last time, however. She swore it to herself, sitting on that bobbing boat, impotent and irrelevant. She loved life. She wished for peace, but this was running: this was what it looked like.

There, on the tropical atoll of Moatu Suva, one warm dorrad night, something broke inside of Neki Kaureerah Wenhan and not all the glue nor magic in the world might fix it. Perhaps it was her idealism, or it might've been her silence, for she was a maker of songs that had always said nothing. But... maybe it was her consent - her willingness to dully accept things the way that they were and do nothing. Fighting for a better world sometimes requires one to punch up at the giant instead of down. She sat there in a boat and breathed unsteadily in and out. Her fingers curled into her palms and her hands turned into fists.

They had sensed her and, from this, there could be no return. The door did not open to their knocks but, to their surprise, Ashon, Abdel, and Johann found it unlocked and beckoning them inside. The house was dark and dingy, curtains drawn, visibility minimal. There was some nice furniture, but it was worn and, in some places, damaged. Recent attempts at cleaning could not mask the deep-set stench or neglect and, a keen eye would notice signs of a recent altercation: a chair missing a leg, a shattered glass lantern swept into a corner, a door restored unexpertly to its hinges with fresh nails, bracing beams, and putty. Only light or a very keen sense for chemical magic would reveal the bloodstains.

Then, she was there: the one-legged woman who had to be the Tarlonese agent. She was young - no older than Ashon - and pretty, with freckles and long ever-so-slightly wavy red hair, big grey-blue eyes, and a lithe, athletic figure. There was no missing her dishevelled look, however. Her hair was greasy, hastily swept back, and there were bags under her eyes. A ragged rip showed along one flank of her shirt, and the singular knee of her shiny black tights. She was seated on an easy chair, regarding the interlopers warily. She had been so still as to have gone unnoticed at first. "I guess it was only a matter of time," she said, in a distinct Tarlonese accent. "You know, he didn't give me a choice. Please don't be like him." She was, for anyone who might've recognized her, Thantra'luuren'woi'etaar. She was, for anyone who might've recognized it, brimming with recently-drawn energy.

Niallus, meanwhile, had rebuffed the Resistance's attempt to establish trust and rushed off to pursue a woman who he was certain was Cherii'cola. Upon losing her trail, he had given up and now found himself trying sneak into what had been offered freely and declined. The moment that he made for the basement door, he found at least four sets of eyes on him. “That's the Tansoan Culture Club down there, elar,” said one of the people at the tables, firmly. “You need to be a member to enter.”

Dory and Lunara stood there on a small street just off of the Searoad, at loggerheads. The latter had ruined a plan of the former with her intervention, and Dory was busy silently resenting her for it. Lunara found herself suspicious of the apparent victims of a yasoi attack. They glanced at each other, the first only responding once his partner was fully healed. If Dory had been a pleasant surprise, this one reeked of Ersand'Enise, the way she questioned them. "Just scaring some Resistance spook outta here." He shook his head. "Ever since the knife-ears started pouring in, they've brought their crime and addiction and filth to our neighbourhoods," confirmed the second. "Not even safe for my sister and her kids to go out without an escort anymore." The first man nodded. "We're keeping the place safe, and your friend here helped us." He shot Dory a tight, appreciative smile. This, then, was where they stood.

The other girls, meanwhile - Xiuyang, Oksana, and Seviin - were not standing at all. After darting and dodging through the busy streets in the shadow of the White Walls, they arrived barely more than a minute after the boys, having seen their allies and counterparts enter the row house as they were still hurrying towards it. They had Maribet with them and, if partially recovered from her stupor upon breaking through her conversion disorder, she was still in something of a haze and vulnerable. More importantly, perhaps, they possessed vital information that Abdel, Johann, and Ashon did not. The former - the only one who might recognize Thantra - was just ahead of them with his skuggvars, reaching out with his senses as they arrived. Whether or not they were too late remained to be seen...

The final chapter of Ransom Demand begins now!

The remains of the warehouse still smouldered, its charred timbers poking up from the ground like cruelly amputated reminders of the encounter's violence, ashy smoke boiling off into the night air, and a severed support beam glowing with residual heat. Yet, thanks to the last-second intervention of Seviin, Xiuyang, Johann, and others, the damage to the surrounding neighbourhood was virtually nonexistent. Locals who had run and hid in terror began to come out of the woodwork. As a soft rain began to coat the ground and wreckage, they gathered in curiosity, hovering nearby until the much-feared interlopers from the White-Walled City were gone. They soon progressed to poking around, and then looting and cleaning.

Some longer-term residents spoke of Moli's Emporium, the previous year: a local business and success story that had been ruthlessly attacked and obliterated by invaders from Ersand'Enise. The academy had later claimed the mission to be both humanitarian and focused on preventing the creation of dangerous and illegal weapons, and some of the locals had believed them, but most knew better. It was more of the same; someone in Mudville started to get big, to make their own way, to provide gainful employment, and the mages came out to crush them, for it was in the name: a place called 'Mudville' must never outshine the White-Walled City. However, the situation had changed since the arrival, in droves, of refugees from yasoi lands. While their people had always been a noticeable minority, they now made up solidly half of the town: impoverished, seething, burgeoning, and in increasing tension with their human neighbours.

Yet, if feelings were mixed, there was some gratitude for the forced departure of the Colas. Even if they were homegrown, they had been thugs and gangsters. They had blackmailed, extorted, beaten, humiliated, and even murdered their fellow Mudvillians. If the two sides - criminals and colonists - had not destroyed each other, as some might've hoped, at least one was gone. At least the cruelty, arrogance, and recklessness of the academy's students was well marked. Most of the swelling slum's residents had developed strategies for not being caught in it and maimed or killed. That Ersand'Enise demanded the occasional blood sacrifice in return for the opportunities it provided was almost a fact of life at this point: resented but dully accepted. The Cola Brothers had been uniquely awful, and now they were gone. Now, thought some - particularly the human, eeaiko, and helegan residents, particularly the Tarlonese supporters - if the mages' rampage ended with the Resistance crushed as well, they might be free of two unique evils.

This, then, was what swirled through the sideroads, alleys, and tenements of the town renamed 'Belleville' that night, and into the next day. Only Seviin had hung around, compelled by her nature and duties to help clean up the disaster site. Once the rain stopped, she'd found a dry place and caught a few hours of sleep. She'd woken early and met her peers at the Seagate, only her fine - though slightly sullied - priestess' robes and familiarity with the guards preventing her from being barred or questioned. They filtered through, some holding a brief discussion on what should be done next. The clock was ticking and the Colas had proven to be a false lead: opportunists who'd overplayed their hand and been dealt with.

They had only two worthwhile pieces of information - hardly leads - at this point, and so the group divided itself up so as to best use their strengths. Most of the others were immensely wary of Dorothea after her display of dark magic and sadism the previous day, and ill-disposed to working with her. Despite their regard for each other, Ashon was insistent upon meeting the Resistance and Seviin equally insistent that her Tarlonese accent would set them on edge. Hence, they parted ways. Hence, Seviin found herself searching for the one-legged woman who'd been sighted with Jaxan slightly before his disappearance. She found herself with Xiuyang, Oksana, and Dory. The former pair quickly separated themselves from Dory, who was quick to become tangled up in a tense racial standoff. Oksana pursued her own leads through a ghastly hostel and these eventually led her to reunite with her allies. At a Red Pentact hospital, they learned what remained. The puzzle came together. They made haste for a row house in Miller's Hook, their goal in sight and a secondary one presenting itself.

The remaining five sought out the Resistance. Ashon decided to investigate the relatively new Cryin' Cyan: a bar not far from the Searoad where some whispered that Resistance members could be found. Niallus and Lunara followed a separate trail and soon found themselves tangled up in a contentious brawl by the docks where a Resistance agent looking to collect donations had drawn the ire of workers. Johann made his way through the market stalls along the great boulevard, generously splashing his money around in search of leads. Finally, Abdel hung back, keeping tabs on all of the others as a tethered is uniquely capable of doing. It wasn't long before Ashon had navigated his way to the heart of the freedom fighters' hideout - or were they gangsters? Niallus, through his well-intentioned meddling, soon found himself at the Cryin' Cyan as well, Abdel and Johann following a separate set of leads. While the Eskandishman failed a trustworthiness test and was pulled away by the spectre of revenge against Cherii'cola, Ashon, Johann, and Abdel learned what they needed and linked up for a final push.

Dory and Lunara were the only others who appeared cast adrift, having both been tangled up in the aftermath of a potentially-deadly and racially charged brawl. As that played out, the clock continued to tick. Their peers, who'd both taken disparate routes to what was - surely! - the final scenario of this wild goose chase, were without their vital support. Was this it? Was it all to play for? Was Jaxan even okay - alive!?

Only one thing was certain: they would soon find out!

@A Lowly Wretch

Rikard had promised the locals a lightning show for their parade and, with some semblance of his usual aplomb, he delivered. Inside, however, he was freaking out. There was no other way to accurately put it, as utterly unscientific as it was. They're hiding weapons of mass destruction: biological terrors. He drank, because he could and because he needed to, but it was not the gleeful thing he'd hoped for.

In truth, he'd joined this mission for a mix of research opportunity - he'd wanted to test the limits of a commandment spell on a particularly large creature - the sheer adventure of it, and a chance to continue to make a name for himself. It was important to build up some level of cachet as a mage, after all. he'd also done it for the money. He had little and less these days for his equipment, and a mage was little more than a warlock without quality gear and the knowhow that could be built by using it.

What he'd learned from Laure, however, had changed everything. Assuming this wasn't some sort of Perrench ploy - and why the hell would they choose him of all people: the fourteen year old who near-everyone belittled - there was now a clear moral imperative. The people on the Revidian side who he knew were likely in the dark as to the true horror, but perhaps they could be warned. Perhaps they could be brought around. This broke the Owl's Code, and very clearly.

Momentarily, he thought about speaking with Ayla, but things were a bit... weird these days between them. Leon wouldn't listen anyhow, and he couldn't actually find Ciro. Then, it came to him! Trypano: the least Revidian Revidian he had ever met, and she had a certain sort of outside-the-box morality to her. He'd seen her earlier, hanging about the fringes and stocking up for the inevitable fight. Gods, she came across as creepy. Why did she need to be so creepy? Her heart was mostly in the right place, he knew.

He endeavoured to find her.

Trypano stood in the docks where the others who were commissioned to this task alongside her had split up. Ever since they split up she hadn't seen nor heard from any of them. She certainly hoped they were seeing some sort of success to their investigation as she had only been stymied in her own efforts. Denied the opportunity to heal the wounded lest she create more of them and cause a scene she was relegated to simple chores, all to help ingratiate herself to a populace who would never trust her. In her cloak, masking the thing that lurked below, she simply stood and looked around. Much had been done but now she knew neither where everyone else had gone or what more she could do. She had half-contemplated leaving to find the wreck on her own accord but from what she heard the thresher in question apparently still haunts the remains of the wreck. This was definitely interesting given what the creature may possibly have gotten into but leaving to try and investigate it by herself was foolhardy. She was neither too arrogant nor too curious to rush the investigation as to the shipment that was mentioned in the letter to her simply because the opponent was not a foe of greater mind than her.

As she stood, the dark cloaked figure standing out like a lamp-post in the middle of a forest, she noticed Rikard in the distance seemingly searching for something. Without saying as much as a word she began to silently approach him, intent to inquire as to what he may be looking for and if she could lend any aid to that task as she was lacking in any purpose of her own here once she was within modest conversing range.

"Trypano?" Rikard whirled on the spot as she seemed to materialize like a black, crimson, and bone white phantasm from the darkness. His heartrate quickened for a moment. "That you?" He took a few steps forward, tentatively, trying to to make obvious any drawing he was doing... just in case.

"Indeed." She replied, the sea breeze mingling with the fabric of the cloak and the few strands of hair which seemed to hang loose from the hood.

"Have you had luck with your endeavors thus far?" She inquired, looming over the young man albeit unintentionally. Her tone spoke little of her intentions but what little that could be seen of her face looked... Tired. Not exhausted physically but weary in spirit perhaps.

Rikard glanced around and Trypano may have felt a sonic bubble descending over the pair. "Luck is... one way of putting it," Rikard replied, "though I guess it is." There was some distress evident on his face. It may have been of a different nature than hers, but it was present nonetheless.

Seeing as he prepared a sonic bubble to help isolate the conversation while it may have been prudent to move somewhere a bit more out of sight there was less issue in speaking freely here now.

"Regarding the thresher situation I've been informed that the creature still dwells nearby a wreck along the coast. One of the benefactors to this mission had written to me regarding cargo that had materials of interest to them. I am of the opinion that the thresher may have been affected by the materials that were indicated to me which is why this thing is of greater issue than a standard thresher." She notified him of her findings regarding the creature. It did seem to be that Rikard himself had happened upon some findings regarding their target potentially, hence his look of concern.

"I can assume you have found info regarding the creature? Or would it be a matter of concern aside from it?"

Rikard shook his head, all of his body language bleeding anxiety. "No. You're right. I've learned plenty." His eyes darted about. "Those 'materials of interest' are a bio-weapon of unimaginable power, or at least some of them are." He swallowed. "I met with some eeaiko." He paused for a moment, trying to decide just how much to say. "They mentioned a plague and were taking extreme precautions against it, but they were also very certain - they'd seen things, being people of the water, you know - that confirmed the plague was manmade."

The youth spent a moment nervously fixing his lapel, which had gotten flipped up at some point. He looked her right in the eyes. Gods, she was tall and creepy, but his experiences told her that she was good people nonetheless. "It was being carried on the Sant'Agata, for use against the Perrench." Finished, Rikard shrugged. "I'm telling you 'cause you don't strike me as another patriotic goon who believes imaginary lines on a map define good and bad." The fourteen-year-old rolled his eyes. "I'm right, right?"

Trypano listened close, following the details of his findings with keen interest. He held into question whether her allegiance to her country was not greater than her moral compass. He was correct to assume this though perhaps not for the reasons he might assume.

"That is correct. Even if I originally had such loyalties, not that I ever did, they would have evaporated some time ago." She turned to face the waters out past the harbor, folding her arms behind her though they still remained concealed below the cloak.

"You and I were both present for the incident in Rettan wherein the knowers made their presence known. Prior to that I had also spoken to Ahn-Dami and both aspects of Shune in the forked tower where I had first learned of the knower's existence and their shadow war with the gods on this world. Later, in an incident during the aberration-storm that took place in Ersand-Enise I as well as a select few others were temporally translocated by an unknown phenomenon. The location I had arrived was of this world's future, one set further than what even the others had arrived at." She turned to face Rikard once again, the gravity of the mood at hand much graver than even the biological weapons Rikard was faced with.

"I had not shared what I saw with many as I'm not even sure if anyone would believe me, let alone understand what it means. With the war ever on the horizon I wonder how much closer we draw to that ending." She was uncertain how much further down the rabbit hole Rikard was interested in peering. Whether or not he'd rather focus on the now and set aside matters of distant concern or whether he'd hear out what she has seen and consider their circumstance on the greater scheme of what is transpiring. With that said she stared back with her scarlet red eyes, only barely visible beyond the veil of her cloak, into his own.

"I hope I didn't need to specify but do keep the contents of what we're discussing secret, both regarding the biological weapons and the contents of my visit to the forked tower since both hold consequences for those who are found to have revealed it." A stray thought came about as she considered the matters currently on hand however, prompting her to look back out to the waters and ponder.

"Also, try not to eat any products of the sea. Depending on the nature of this "bio-weapon" you've discovered we'll need to see if it is airborne, waterborne or bloodborne in transmission first before a more formal containment procedure can be confirmed."

Rikard... was given pause, at all of it really. The food he'd eaten suddenly sat awkwardly in his stomach: a potential poison, and yet the eeaiko he'd eaten it with had been wholly in the know and taken great pains to prevent the spread of any condition. He hadn't sensed any pathogens either. That didn't make the unease fade completely, though.

In all honesty, he wasn't certain what to think. That Trypano was telling the truth as she saw it was clear, and a grim truth it appeared to be. He didn't need to know the specifics to hypothesize that some form of marhazannet was waiting in the wings. The only confounding variable was her level of sanity. She'd always been brilliant, but he had, only recently, started to become aware of how profoundly different her views on reality and morality were from... virtually anyone else's. Some of what she'd said had been corroborated. Some of it hadn't. Regardless, he decided to err on the side of belief.

"Well, if the ending is a bad one," he remarked, "then I think we oughtta change it - make sure none of that gets out, regardless of what one government or another wants." He'd heard talk of a 'miracle' in town, connected to Leon, and hadn't had the chance to explore it. He furrowed his brow in thought before glancing up at her. "Hey, do you know anything about what went on with Leon in the medical encampment?"

Trypano could see he took at least some of what she had to say in. While he was still focused on the now it was good that they were at least mildly aware of the circumstances. It would save on future discussions when it comes to catching them up to the why's behind her choices.

"While I doubt this will change much in the long run it serves no one any good to let a leftover hazardous material bring needless harm." She brought a hand up to her chin, cradling it in contemplation. "Still, another concern is how the thresher plays into the story at hand. A ship of importance shouldn't have fallen prey to a common pest so easily, lest something else was at hand here. I can only wonder if it's abnormalities and the contents of the ship are connected perhaps. There was plenty of unknowns to this tale, each new detail shining a light from a different angle on a shape only just starting to emerge.

"Sadly I was turned away from the medical encampment by a couple of the local militia. I was in the company of Taleja for a short bit before she was allowed in whilst I was denied entry. I cannot attest as to what transpired but given their primitive state of care I can only assume they performed basic magic which would have easily been mistaken for a miracle." While her tone was neutral the choice of words carried a harsh undertone towards these people. It was just a mild bit humiliating for one of her skill to be relegated to civil repair duties, like using a finely tuned astrolabe to hammer down a nail. Whilst it did build some measure of good will from the locals she knew well and true that favors done for others were oft in one ear and out the other whilst prejudices tended to cling like barnacles to the hull of one's judgement.

"Whilst I suspect that Taleja has a similar interest in the contents of the wreckage I know little else about how most others from our school are faring in this hunt for clues. You're probably the first I've been able to formally relay most of this info to."

Rikard considered. "Well, we should keep each other informed," he allowed, "arbitrary divisions or not." He nodded slowly, thinking. It was getting late and they were starting to look suspicious, standing here and exchanging information under a sonic bubble. "I agree, for what it's worth, that the animal must've ingested something that led to this, but I think we both agree that evidence trumps conjecture."

He pursed his lips. "I'm gonna try to track down Leon. I wanna figure out how he treated it and what he knows. Just... let's not be partisan. I think whatever's in there needs to be lost, and the fact that both Wolf and Serpent are trying so hard to get their hands on it makes that even clearer. " With that, he made a signal as if to start lifting the bubble.

Trypano left their conversation off with little else than a nod. She understood that they needed to proceed, further conversation better saved for when they've progressed their discoveries. She waited to see where Rikard was going since meeting and hearing what Leon had to say would be doing more than what progress she was making out her.

"I'm headed for the house," Rikard remarked offhandedly, after watching Trypano hang around like a lost puppy for a moment. "That where he'll be, and sleep is probably a good idea after that." He shrugged. "You comin'?"

"Nowhere else to be currently." She answered, following along with little prompt.

Tekah, Guy, Penny, Ciro: A Collaborative Episode

A Sailor's Folly__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _

The Jig is Up__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _

Fun with Revidians (Part One)__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _

Fun with Revidians (Part Two)__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _

The Boss__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _

A Royal Audience__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _

The Gloves Come Off__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _

Exuding Confidence__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _

Here Comes the Pain__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _

The Cavalry has Arrived__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _

I Love it when a Plan Comes Together!__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _

Crossing a Line__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _

Weight of Evidence (Part One)__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _

Weight of Evidence (Part Two)__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _

A Loyal Soldier__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _

Summary__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _


Morning in Belleville__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _

It was early morning in Belleville. The ragged shadows of rooftops stretched like a serrated edge across the city below the city. Many were still sleeping at this hour, but enough were up and already moving about. The lucky few lined up at the gates of the White Walled City, presenting their identification papers to the century and being - mostly - ushered through. Even fewer were those who went the other way. Yet, among them, was a yasoi gentleman. Was he a bloodchild? It was difficult to tell…

The first step on his journey was the Pelova neighborhood, formerly referred to as Moli’s Emporium. Although for the most part, it had been utilized as an alternative to the student dormitories, there were some wealthier individuals who had the fortune to live here. Some of those very people who had been involved in an altercation with the rampaging students from the City of the Bells found a knock at their door in the hours of Shiin. Many regarded the gentleman warily, given recent events, but none turned him away, nor did they refuse the words he bore. With those words, came reassurance, stipends and gifts. For every home he entered, he made sure to leave an apple behind. `

It was not so very long before he made his way to the next destination, his pack lighter thanks to his generosity and goodwill. The next stop was a quaint one, a buudvuud shoppe that had just started to fire up the ovens, and the smell was a delectable one. A rather large order was placed and, as the delicacies were hand crafted, the Gentleman spread word and arrived at his gathering point. A great yew tree stood there, its branches ancient and gnarled. It had been there and been ancient for as long as any alive could remember.

Sermon Under the Tree__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _

More and more people arrived as cloth and table were arranged and set up beneath it, and what began as a small gathering soon became a crowd of people that threatened to spill out onto the road. So many had gathered in an impromptu manner that it could not help but evoke some great mette’stiroi of years past. They supped, and drank, and danced, and laughed, and the painful memories of yesterday were replaced with a most pleasant warning, as the mysterious gentleman spoke to all. Most of all, he drew the attention of the freshly-arrived youngsters who knew little Avincean but much hunger.

“Seth’sil joith wes elai luum ciin laz’yii?” the man asked the gathering. For a brief moment, the general chatter stopped as they thought and considered the question. An older yasoi lady who’d brought her two grandchildren to the gathering chirped up first, giving a lighthearted remark “Ap’ya liin doam’elar, luuca?” she asked, and it elicited a small chuckle from most. The next response was different, and somber. A young lady, maybe 7 or 8 spoke next: “Tuulet soam pa haxé duul hal’oft…” and a similar silence to when the question was first asked hung over everyone for a moment. One of the grandchildren turned to the elder that had spoken first, and said something that resonated with many of the crowd.

“Alac soam hal’oft.” and the gathering was silenced once again, until the Gentleman presented the young lad with a crisp apple he pulled from his satchel, and spoke once more. “Pa yax oft,” came the reply, which once again started the murmurs.

“Sen’oft?” questioned one wondering child.

“Sac’eleiz lulus’oft,” snorted a man who might’ve been his father.

But then an elder spoke. She was easily a hundred years old - born before the bad times - and her gravelly voice somehow cut through the din. “Dii.” She shook her wizened head. “Hal’oft.” Her eyes rose to meet the Gentleman’s. Were they evaluative? Expectant? Hopeful? It was hard to tell.

He nodded at the elder, and began to speak once more. Some had forgotten who they were, the history of these lands and the people that once inhabited them, but some still remembered. They had left signs, after all, such as the ancient yew tree that they sat and conversed beneath. A gift from Ashilai’zenet’stiran, the first of a venerable institution that had been stolen and appropriated by those who lay claim to all within the white walls. The very same walls that held a name that was familiar to all who sat and ate, for the name of the city was written in the very tongue they spoke this day.

It was a story that they all should’ve known. Yet, it had been pointedly buried by the huusoi. For all of the Gentleman’s charm and knowledgeability, he might’ve sounded like a charlatan were it not for that tenuous thread of a few elders who’d been around before the Southern yasoi had become a broken people: who’d been around to learn these histories. Now, however, this piece of yasoi identity was restored. Now, however, these people left the gathering with a sense of purpose and belonging that they had been without when they entered. Each also left with an apple, for one must nourish the body as well as the heart and mind.

There was a rumbling disquiet, however, that his words had prompted amongst those gathered. From beyond the white walls of the city that had once been theirs had violence descended on the people of Mudville, in what seemed like an inevitable, continuous occasion. Moli’s Emporium had not sated the appetite for blood that yanii seemed to hold, and they’d struck again. A homegrown criminal association of yasoi named the Cola Brothers had been annihilated last night, and more than just them had been affected. Students of the school swung the hammer of Damy around as easily as breathing and with as little thought. Yanii or yasoi, it was once again left to the people of Mudville to pick up the pieces, but they tired of being nothing more than victims. How they tired of it! It was in this context that a handful came to him at the end. It was in this spirit that they entreated him to visit the new scar wrought upon their home.

The Last Drop of Cola__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _

It might’ve been an hour hence, when he stood there beneath a light drizzle, taking in the ruins. This was something that was clear. This was something that they should feel anger towards. “Why are you here?” a voice came from behind him, and he turned. He recognized a young woman from the gathering. A man, perhaps a few years her senior, stood beside her and one could guess that they were brother and sister.

“It’s a shame, luuca?” The Gentleman spoke with an incongruous calm, not the strong emotions that the sight should have elicited. He shook his head

“Plenty is,” grunted the man, crossing his arms as he surveyed the wreckage.

A silence sat over them for a minute or two, before he spoke again. Whether it was contemplation or empathy was difficult to distinguish.“Heavy is the hand that has never sown a field. We are killed simply for the crime of being small.” He spoke almost as if he was reciting poetry.

“We were big,” replied the woman. “Least people thought we were.” She shook her head. “Put a target on us, so we tried to make a buck off it. Better than nothin’.” She looked out over the wreckage, a tightness taking hold of her face. If she’d cried any tears, she’d cried them already.

“Big in the pond of Mudville. Small in the ocean of the White Walls.” he gestured toward the city that loomed large over Mudville with a tinge of disdain. “Every time we play house with them, they knock it down. They didn’t care if you took the boy, they saw a chance to practice a trade they know all too well: violence.”

The man with the sword seemed a bit less inclined than his sister to simply go along with the crafted narrative. “As did we.” He scowled, and his face felt unreadable. “Just messed with a bigger fish. There’s always a bigger fish.”

The Gentleman once again shook his head and smiled sympathetically at the man, procuring two apples from his bag “The difference is…” he paused for a moment, tossing the fruit to the siblings. “You did it for profit. They did it for fun.”

The siblings looked at each other. “Maybe,” the man allowed. “But does it really fucking matter?” asked the woman. “They killed us. I don't care who's right or wrong at this point, but they killed my brothers, my friends, and my…” her face tightened up. “My sister,” she managed to choke out. “They slaughtered us like goddamned animals.”

The man rested a hand on the hill of his sword. “They were working with the resistance,” he spat, “like you…luuca?”

The Gentleman paused. Conviction and confidence took his face as they spoke. “It does matter, because there is still good in this world. There are still those who care about justice, of righting wrongs done, no matter how recent.” he paused, turning to Arsii next. “Jaadas. For the souls of your kin who were wrongfully condemned.”

Cherii narrowed her eyes. “Juuras, for their deaths.”

“Upon those who committed the act,” intoned Arsii.

“Tan’daxii. For the people we can still save from this fate.”

The Best Revenge__ ____ ___ __ __ _ _

“You're one of them, then.” Arsii pursed his lips.

“I'll expand on my original question,” his sister continued, “that you haven't answered yet. Why are you here and what do you want?”

The Gentleman smiled at the pair, earnestly this time. They were sharp, even in the throes of grief. “The answer… is hopefully the same as you. The end of the resistance, and the cowards who support them from behind the walls that should rightfully be ours.”

“You’re brave to operate here,” Cherii observed.

“I wasn’t always. You have to be, around these people.”

Arsii made a sour face and spat. “So they are working together.”

The Gentleman nodded. “Two birds, one stone. Support the ‘right’ side, and keep us out of their city.” he paused for a moment, before shaking his head at the last words he spoke “Our city.”

Arsii nodded, glancing at his sister. “Sounds just like ‘em,” Cherii agreed. “So what do you want from us?”
“I’m fucking tired of it, moila,” Arsii admitted. “I’ll be honest. I’m no revolutionary. I wasn’t even a crook until they made me one.”

Cherii’s eyes went to his and her hand rested gently on his arm. “But we’ve done things you might not believe,” he continued. “The road to Damy’s hell and all of it.” He shook his head tightly. “Fuck.”

“I won’t sign up for a suicide mission,” Cherii declared, “and I won’t let him do it.” She crossed her arms. “The best revenge we could have is living.”

The Gentleman strode forward calmly and placed a hand on the young man’s shoulder, giving it a soft squeeze of reassurance. “It’s never too late to change course, moila. Damy has given us the will to choose our path.” before turning to Cherii and offering a hand to shake. “I would never ask that of you or anyone else, especially after all you’ve been through.” he looked down; whether in shame or empathy for their loss, it was hard to say. “But I cannot do this alone, else I would. ”

“We’ve less than no chance against them in combat, and if they’re with the Resistance, you can double that.”

Cherii shook her head. “No. It’s something else.” She regarded the gentleman steadily. “Luuca?”

He nodded and smiled, meeting her gaze. She’d been blessed by Shiin and Ypti, even if Exiran spited her oh so recently. “Ta. Even if we could do to them what they’ve done to you, it’s not the way. A complete victory takes time, as does true justice.”

Arsii crossed his arms as well, mirroring his sister. “I’m listening.”

“I know where they meet. A comrade passed the information along, but she looked too similar to dear Fortuna, so further infiltration wasn’t possible.” he spoke, gesturing to one of his legs.

“And why not you?” the bandit prodded. Cherii shrugged and inclined her head towards her brother in agreement.

“If I could have, I would have. Unfortunately, I’m known to some of them.” he shook his head in annoyance at this fact.

“And you’d rather not blow your cover,” the redhead observed. It was Arsii’s turn to nod.

He raised a hand in agreement with the statement, “I have a plan, if you’ll trust me. But it’s better we don’t discuss it here.” he looked around warily for a moment, but snapped his focus back to them. “I have friends behind the walls of our city. Let’s walk and talk.” he patted his knees, before gesturing for them to follow. “Oh, and don’t forget to have some refreshment.” He smiled, taking a bite of the last of the apples.


The family that Abdel, Niallus, Oksana, and Johann had so roughly questioned finally caved before the latter's empathetic display. It all came pouring out and matters began to piece themselves together. Johann was quick to fill the others in and a group decision was made to pursue the Cola Brothers, to whom most arrows seemed to point. If there were intriguing questions and some moral imperatives surrounding the Resistance, and the mystery of the one-legged woman and her involvement still to solve, the infamous gang of hoodlums still seemed the surest bet. After a few goodbyes and apologies to the family they had 'accidentally' terrorized, the quartet set off for a warehouse they'd been directed to, hoping to meet up with their peers.

Meanwhile, Ashon, Seviin, Xiuyang, Dory, and Lunara had put paid to the bandits who'd tried to rob them and, while two had escaped, the remainder were held at knifepoint or something like it. These were smalltime crooks and not the sort of people to risk their necks being defiant or threatening. They qucikly recognized that the people who they were currently tangled up with were rich and powerful and appeared to possibly have support from Ersand'Enise. Much as they might've resented those who dwelt behind the white walls, they craved their acceptance, wanted to join them, and feared them all at once. If the yasoi hoodlum currently before Ashon had thought to mock Lunara or rally support, he'd lost that notion at Seviin's casual display of power, Ashon's offer of generous monetary support, and Lunara's and Dory's apparent willingness to kill.

Meanwhile, the eeaiko who Xiuyang and the priestess had cornered shrugged at an offer Xiuyang had given to join her at his own risk. "Eye doon't see thet Eye heve mauch choice," he admitted, "Baut yoo aur sentenceeng yoorselves end praubebly mee too deth oor saumtheng lyke eet." he pursed his lips. "Eye waus paurt oof te Broosers. Wee cauntroolled thees paurt auf tauwn oonteel te Colas mooved een aun aus." He shook his head. "Yoo send mee elone too taulk too yoor peepel, Eye praubebly die aun te wey." His eyes flicked Seviin's way momentarily. Yet, there was no support to be offered or compromise to be had and, while he offered a few scraps of information, he was adamant that he would not turn on his masters without some reasonable guarantee of safety. When this was not forthcoming, he walked or, rather, stumbled away, desperate to find a binder for his inner ears.

At least his yasoi counterpart appeared to have fewer reservations. If he did not buy, for even a second, that the twenty-ish year old hyparishman was Jaxan's father, the bandit understood that he was powerful and had money, and that spoke louder than anything else. "Oh, you're either looking for the Colas or the resistance," he replied to a slightly threatening query. "The one is connected to the crusade against the Tarlonese land-grabbers, but they're rough and mean - almost criminals themselves. If you don't give them every spare bit of change you have, you're in bed with the land grabbers and an enemy of the yasoi." He shook his head. "Some of the local guys and I put together our own outfit to protect the people around here, but..." He scowled and clenched his fists. "Fucking Colas moved in on us and they're professional crooks if I ever seen any. They're the only alternative to the resistance and we've been forced out." He sighed. "That's why we robbed you kids." There was a note of apology in his voice. "Wasn't anything personal. Things are drying up and we're trying to fight the good fight here." He shook his head. "Even for the yaniis here. These assholes and their street wars are turning them against us yasoi, moila." It was not long before Ashon, as well, had learned about the warehouse and imbibed a warning not to go there unprepared, for the Cola Brothers were not to be trusted. With that, the group of five set off on the short remaining journey.

It was not long before the two parties were in contact through Abdel, using his tethered range, even if the others remained effectively apart. It was a frustrating matter of slow and imprecise communication funnelled through a single overworked mage, and as they both drew close to their destination from different angles, it soon became evident that, while figures matching the descriptions they'd expected were inside, the doors also appeared to be booby trapped. Communication began to break down. Decisions needed to be made quickly. The Cola Brothers - at least some of them - waited inside. A boy's life - and possibly their own - hung in the balance!


With little else to do and, once again treated like a kid, Rikard decided to investigate the cluster of... something that lay in the middle of the long narrow bay that Zengali nestled around. Skimming a few feet above the water on currents of magnetism, he made his way closer and the strange construction resolved itself into... some sort of houseboat colony partially made up of heavily-augmented floatmelons. They were gaily-painted and appeared actively inhabited. There were - he stretched out his senses - somewhere between eight and twelve energy signatures around the complex and voices rising in conversation and laughter. He caught sight of an eeaiko woman clambering aboard, carrying a net full of fish but, as he as he prepared to land himself, most of the energy signatures winked out suddenly and conversation died with them.

Rikard paused there, danger sense on high alert. It was, in truth, an idyllic place. Long ropes covered in seaweed and mollusks stretched far down into blue waters. Tropical fish clustered in the shade and artificial environment the houses had made, and seagulls bleated and circled overhead. Yet, it was deathly quiet, save for the bubbling of some sort of cauldron. He suddenly found himself feeling like an intruder and, just in case, gathered his energy to create a temporal anchor. It took him at least a couple of tries.

Quietly, he alighted on the central houseboat, abashed at the lack of a door and his invasiveness. From beyond a beaded curtain appeared five people, all eeaiko: the woman from earlier, standing by a hole with muddy - or bloody? - red residue, an old man channeling heat into a crucible, and a pair of children seated at a table. There was a fifth he had sensed but couldn't yet see. He cleared his throat, having drawn, senses on high alert. "H-hi, excuse me?" he began tentatively. "I don't mean to intrude, but I saw this place and was curious..."

The people seemed more surprise that someone came in so haphazardly, save the woman cleaning fish that spotted Rikard earlier. The old man, permanently hunched over but surprisingly wide, turned to the incautious young man, "You come in here, in the middle of our meal." He steps forward with his ladle, an old woman was sitting behind him with a cleaver, "and don't even take off your shoes before coming into my house." He began to raise his ladle to smack the young man.

Rikard stammered. "I-I... I didn't know you had a rule about that. Sorry!" He wasn't even fully inside yet! "Where I come from, we put our shoes on!" He boosted himself backwards, hurtling out of the door. "No offense, really!"

His swing was strong and practiced, he has beaten entire crews with this attack. But he was old and frail now, not even given extra energy from his family. How the patriarch has fallen. The swing cleanly missed and he yelled out "What?!" He was utterly gobsmacked at the dirtiness of this human, "I knew you humans were dirty but this is an offense to Yptee," He was righteously irate at this point, ready to chase him out of the port.

Then a tired voice rang over the old mans, "Oh quiet! You'll ruin the stew!" The old woman cracked a mussel open with her hands, "If the boy is uneducated, than teach him how to enter a house."

The man would argue is the sound of the shell breaking didn't frighten him, he yelled out to the boy, "Wash your face, hands, and feet before you even come in here. Don't want your sick rubbing off on us. AND NO SHOES."

Rikard's eyes darted about alarmedly. My sick!? In truth, he found it all a bit hypocritical, given that this place wasn't exactly sparkling, and he was tempted to leave, but curiosity got the better of him once more. It always seemed to and it rarely ended well. He rolled his eyes, sat down, and took off his shoes outside of the door. "Uh... not to sound rude, but where should I wash them?"

The eaiko woman Rikard saw earlier came out of the beaded door, peering up at him with with curiosity, "I'll show you the way." The woman started to guide Rikard to a blue melon, where their seemed to be a small station with an ever luxurious soap a bucket of water. She washed her hands and face quite normally and then more or less kicked her feet in the ocean, "I take it you know what to do from here?" she teased coy smile though she stood ready to answer if what the boy said earlier was true.

Rikard cleared his throat. "Uh... shoes off and scrub-a-dub-dub before entering?" She was... pretty hot, and he was somewhat distracted, but this person was also making herself available as a resource. He blinked. "Oh yeah, uh... why are you guys so strict with that? I'm just curious. Never seen it before."

The woman rolled her eyes at Rikard though her smile didn't break, finding his flustering almost endearing. "Pretty much!" she responded and stepped out of the way for him. His question was met with a momentary thought of her own, "Well, we are going to eat the our hands so they have to be clean. That's at least the way the people here tell us to eat the food." she answered before taking a look over his shoulder to make sure he was washing correctly, "That and the plague is going around." she nodded her head like the 2nd reason was much more important than the first.

Rikard's eyes widened. "The... plague?" He reached out to sense for any unusual fluctuations in body temperature or chemical imbalances, but the latter was not his best magic. He left his questioning at that, whatever her response might have been and, after washing up, was ready to enter the dwelling... properly, this time.

"Yep," she said with a matter of fact tone. "First it is a cough, then you go green, and then you die." She shrugged it off nonchalantly as she took a big step down into the house, "Be a shame if you caught it too."

Entering the dwelling was less chaotic, they now expected the young man and sat a bowl in between the kids. for him. The old lady from before cheerfully waved her cleaver at him before beheading a fish, "Isn't it so much nicer to be clean? Go on an take a seat and the little ones will teach you how to eat."

Teach me how to eat!? Rikard mused in quasi-alarm. Nonetheless, he remembered his manners. "Uh... yes, and I suppose one can't be too careful if there's a plague going around." He took his seat, cross-legged, between the rambunctious little eeaiko, and regarded the bowl of... food before. "Right, well, I'm all ears." In truth, he was. A plague, but people turning green? It didn't sound like anything he'd ever heard of and, given the thresher's unusual behaviour the immediate question popped into his head: I wonder if you're connected...

The little boy was excited for Rikard, especially because he had been put in charge of teaching the boy. The power he felt was exquisite. The girl on the other side of Rikard was more reserved but only in comparison to the boy. "Alright then-" the boy tried to think of something witty to call Rikard but stumbled. "friend? Yes, a people that can share a meal are friends!" he rebounded. "first you take your right hand, this is the only hand you are allowed to touch food with, if you don't..." A loud bang was produced by the old man to help with the theatrics. The boy and old man start to laugh and the girl takes over.

"Don't mind them they always liked to play jokes," she apologetically waved off her family's embarrassing quarks. "We eat with only our right that way one hand stays clean in case we need to do something," She reached to the mound of food in the center, grabbing a handful, "You take the..." She seemed to be having a hard time finding the words. Her avincian was relatively good but you could tell that she thought of what she said ahead of time and now had to wing it. "Bread? and you spread it in your hand to scoop of the stew." The little girl showed Rikard her doing it carefully and showed that not even an single drop of stew got on her. "Now you try," she encouraged Rikard.

"Yeah, sharing food." Rikard refrained, having little idea what was in there or how it would taste, but morbidly curious at the very least. He took the unfamiliar... bread and opened it into something like a bowl. Reaching out to scoop, he managed to keep his hand more or less out of the slop and, through some form of miracle, not spill a bit. A glob perched perilously on the rim but resisted the tug of gravity with a bit of help from the Gift. Somewhat proud of himself, he raised it as if in toast and lifted it to his lips. Then, he paused. "So, uh... wait. How do you eat this? Is it like... a stew?"

"Like this," the girl placed it on her the bread on her bottom lip, letting it go and eating it. The 'bread' releases very easily from the fingers, leaving only a little bit of oil on the fingers.

When eaten the stew is immediately meaty and well spiced. the bread is slightly sweet, nutty, and potato like. Fish comes in pretty strongly but it is no more offensive than a fish stew. It was an oily stew but not greasy in the slightest. What isn't balanced is the growing burn on the tongue. Not even the spiciest Retanese food he had tried wasn't of any comparison. It was growing by the minute, could the young man handle the heat?

Rikard managed to eat the stew easily enough. It sort of half-melted into the bread and it was... good: really good! The spice built up quickly, however, until his mouth was on fire. Now, normally, he liked spicy food. he could handle it better than most, but this was extreme. He got through the bowl - people appeared to back for seconds and third with their little loaves - and that was when he more or less broke. "Whew," he puffed. "It's good - really good - but it's..." He forced himself to breathe evenly. Someone had lit off fireworks in his mouth. He sucked air in and out. "Spicy," he managed. "You don't have any milk or anything, do you?" His face was as red as a radish.

The entire family had enjoyed the meal but even for some it was too spicy specifically the woman he met who went to pass him some fruit, "Swimming with a pail of milk is a little hard but this should help." The energetic kids were in charge of washing the bowls and left the central room.

"You do well under the heat kid. That was real spicy dear," the old man spoke up, holding his belly like he ate too much. He tried to laugh at Rikard's face but felt a belly ache from the first chuckle. Some peculiar things and oddities stuck out to Rikard in the high of the heat. Everyone ate a lot, it was deliscious after all, but their was still a lot of stew left. The same could be said about the 'bread' that was taken by the kids. They obviously made too much food for a family of 5.

Rikard grinned. "Well, I am adept in arcane magic," he joked, "though even that only helped so much." He took a moment to wheeze. The food was painful. That's all there was to it. He eagerly awaited whatever the kids were soon to return with. he looked about, trying to create a mental map of the place.

Then, it came back to him! He'd sensed more people, briefly, on his way in! He cast about. "Say," he chanced, "When will the others be back?" He looked at the cauldron meaningfully and indicated the extra bread. "Unless these are just leftovers to be restewed..."

"They are to be restewed," the old man shrugged off, not willing to give further reasoning. The old woman gave a playful smack to him, "Oh answer more sincerely, you'll only make him more curious."

The old man sighed, "Fine," he muttered, "We were going to deliver some eaiko that got washed up here because of the thresher." The children had just about made their way back into the room but they stopped upon hearing the conversation.

The woman sighed, "The Marquis hasn't been too kind to us and our people. We can't just watch our kin go hungry like that." She answered truthfully but Rikard could detect their was something else. Differences in their accents were starting to show, even if it was slight.

The youth paused and furrowed his brow. "Not to... pry," he began, "but did some of you arrive that way too?" They seemed to be a bit of a mixed bunch, to be honest, fromt he way that they dressed to the way that they looked and the way that they spoke.

The boy just gave Rikard a weird look, "What? we were born and raised here," he said proudly. his sister chimed in a yeah but her eyes were unsteady, darting to the woman then back to Rikard. She was not the performer her brother and grandpa were.

A silence took the room with the obvious giveaway from the little girl. The woman sat in it until she accepted she had been found out. "Mind taking this outside?" her accent, cadence, or even tone didn't change but it felt vaguely threatening.

Rikard drew energy only very slowly and subtly, just in case, but he didn't expect to have to use it. These didn't seem like bad people, but he recognized that he had stumbled into a secret. With a nod, he politely excused himself and followed the woman outside.

The woman headed up first, past the beaded entryway, past the main ship and all the way to the red floatmelon. She stayed silent for a little, looking at her feat as tossing ideas on what to stay. But eventually she broke the silence.

"So you're Rikard Ambrus," she started, "My name is Laura, I was tailing the Sant'Agata della Compagnia Rossa before the thresher attacked." She watched how Rikard responded, not drawing an ounce of energy in front of the young mage.

Rikard stiffened. "You... know my name," the youth remarked flatly, but then a bit of wonder - and respect - crept into his voice. "How?" He decided to tackle the small question first before reaching the larger one. He had his theories, however, and they were trying to burn their way out of his mind.

"Your name has been in a lot of people's mouth since you came in the top 3 of this year's trials," she answered somewhat straightforwardly but their was a small eyeroll at the boy not realizing his growing status. "The 'How' I want to know is how'd you end up in Zengali now of all times," she crossed her arms and looked at Rikard.

Rikard paused to consider. "Well, never thought I'd be famous," he remarked. Then he grinned. "But I won't complain." When she continued, he shrugged. "I thought it might be a good idea to blow up a beast like that and I happen to have some experience in the field." He crossed his arms, trying to look like a real professional. "A notice was put out and I took up the offer."

"So they let 14 year old mages come and fight a beast that has killed hundreds," her expression tightened in some disbelieve, though not enough to outright question him. She looked from the red floatmelon across the water to the port, "So which side did you come in on?" still crossing her arms but now she looked more at the humans working tirelessly on the port.

Rikard shrugged. "If those fourteen year olds are better than the adults, I don't see why not," he challenged, but then came the real question, and he was keen enough to place a Perrench accent. The boy shrugged easily. He could tell the truth here, which was good, because he was a liar of questionable efficacy at best. "The Perrench side. Rewards were better and I don't like pasta."

She looked at him with a smile then a laugh, "So sided that you don't even like pasta, now that's a lie," she wiped a singular tear from her eye before it could fall. "That's good, I could never hide this forsaken accent." She seem to think about what to say to him past that, he was on the same side but she was still hesitant to speak openly to him.

Instead, she started with the basics, "I imagine you have some questions then?" her arms opening up a little as she dropped the last of her fake accent.

"Well... yeah," he admitted, uncrossing his arms. "Like, for starters, why follow the ship? Are you in the navy or something? Like... a spy?" He glanced about furtively and dropped a sonic bubble over them. "I swear I won't say anything."

Her eyes grow narrow, staring so intensely at Rikard. The bubble came down and then she weighed her thoughts. Rikard could feel a very small use of kinetic energy inside of his bubble. She nodded to herself, "I'll have to believe you for now," she nodded to herself again still followed up with a small bit of kinetic energy used in the bubble. "Yes I'm a spy," she gave a wink at Rikard, only because it still felt cool to herself that she was a spy.

Rikard was about to respond enthusiastically - I guess we're on the same side, then! - but then he felt the kinetic magic and he froze. His eyes narrowed and he reached out with his senses. They were alone, but not. "I guess we can talk about when we're alone, then," he said innocently, shooting her a meaningful look.

She payed attention to the same kinetic signals again and then turned to him, "I mean, you already knew their was more of us, they are just doing their communication." Laure could tell that he wasn't a fan of the not visible thing but what could she do? "Want to continue or come back later tonight?"

He blinked. "You... trust them?" he prodded. "If you do, then I do." He shrugged.

"I know who it is so, yeah," she waved away the concern. This was basic communication they used. Shy comrades were the worst for correspondence. "I serve the Royal Crown of Perrence, and we were tailing the Sant'Agata della Compagnia Rossa because of a lead that came in and now we are stuck here as well." Laure offered.

"What was the lead?" Rikard prodded, suddenly alarmed. "What was it carrying!?" He kept his voice low, but the alarm was clear. Already, the wheels were turning in his head.

She leaned back against a rickety post, only to straighten up when she could feel it spelling her doom, "No need to get that excited. Normal, high value war chest stuff. though some of it seems to be from Callanast. though now we know that wasn't exactly everything." Laure gestured to the encampment.

The boy glanced there involuntarily, and his face shifted. "Holy shit...they're carrying weapons of...of..." Flustered, he struggled to find the correct word. "Biological warfare." His face became grave and serious, the enormity of the situation and the clear moral imperative settling upon his young shoulders like some great weight. Still, Rikard considered, in the way that he often did. "Well - wait a second - if the thresher ate some of the stuff in there..." He trailed off fora moment, regarding her expression for any insight.

Laure just shook her head, "It ate most of the ship and even from that it's worrisome. There is no telling what is happening inside of it." Her voice was leveled but a bit of genuine worry escaped at the end.

"Eshiran willing, it'll turn belly-up before we need to kill it." He let out a bark of nervous laughter and ended it with a shaky sigh. "Damn, that's a messed up situation. Makes me wanna figure it out even more." He shook his head. "Fuck. I need a stiff drink."

Her mind still seem to think on what fighting the beast would be like, her worry was almost palpable. But she shook it off quickly, snorting at Rikard. "A stiff drink?" she was going to laugh it off but went with it instead, "Maybe, but that will have to wait for the festival."

The sun was hanging low in the sky and it wa slooking like he'd have to head over soon. "You're headed there, then?" He furrowed his brow for a moment. "Say, is everyone in there part of your group?" he asked skeptically.

She shook her head no, "No to both, we aren't officially here so showing up at the festival would only cause issues. And they are just a nice family, if not a bit odd."

Rikard considered. "So, then... how many of you are there? Are you gonna be helping us fight the beast?"

"And get in the water with a Bluewater Behemoth with a taste for blood?" she waved off the unpleasant idea, "Only if the royal family themselves demanded that of me."

Rikard laughed nervously. "Yeah, for real. What are the chances of that." he scratched at the back of his head and looked elsewhere for a moment: anywhere else.

"I mean sending a boy here, sure. Sending even a high noble, maybe. But a royal family member on a life or death mission? That be a tale for the ages," she wiped away a tear from the thought. But somewhere, the boys mannerisms had her stomach turn. What if there was one?

Rikard shrugged. "From my experience, a lot of the royals are mavericks." He sighed. "You go to Ersand'Enise, you meet all of these high nobles and stuff you never thought you'd meet and you learn they're all kinda crazy."

The more Rikard spoke, the more Laure grew sure their might be a fucking Royal of Perrence here. It was absurd and flew in the faces of the 5 gods that they would be here. But he was such a bad liar, he couldn't be acting right?

"I couldn't tell you, never met someone above middling nobility and even then it was just to receive orders. Though I would have to say I don't believe any of the royal family of Perrence would be so unwise to come here. Right?" she asked, seeing if he really did know something.

"Penelope, Princess de Perrence, is here," he admitted. "She's rebelling against her family somewhat. There's a Perrench military guy here to protect her, but I think he's in over his head."

Laure strained her eyes, racking her brain for a Princess Penelope but nothing came up at all. Seems like this was either a case of false impersonation or a fib. She could understand, fourteen year old's do that all the time and this one especially. She decided to make a joke of it, believing this to just be a fib but swore to investigate this later. "Don't you mean a Perrench Guy?" she said with a thick Perrench accent.

He blinked. "Haha, yeah. That's actually his name, for what it's worth: Guy Attard." the boy paused and tapped his chin with a finger pensively. "I think he's half Djamantese and like... a sixteenth eeaiko. He was some sort of navy diver."

Many things just clicked for Laure. Many of them she wished didn't. Last she heard he was selling Eshiran's gold in Thalakos. Now he was here in Zengali. He had to come from the same way Rikard did then or else they would have met earlier. Which meant Penelope, Princess du Perrence, was a real person.

She covered up the surprise of the revelation the best she could with her built acting skills but they weren't her strong suit. "Seems my joke was a bit to close to the truth, apologies." she waved off the retrospectively bad joke, hoping the boy would fall for her act.

Rikard shrugged, and then there was a breeze and the sun setting and they were just standing there. "No biggie," he responded, "and, uh... thanks for the food and the hospitality and... all that." Had he understood? Had he not? It might've been hard for her to tell. Maybe he wasn't certain either, but what was certain was that things were winding down and he needed to get back to where he was going, but not without having learned something extremely valuable.

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