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A grin split like a bough, branching and growing as she clutched the bounty in her hands.

“Thanks man, these look pretty, uhm, pretty tasty.” Her eyes lingered perhaps too long on Zino: straight as a razorblade, tight as a tourniquet and dry – there was something about the way of speaking and those mannerisms, too serious, that stirred memories in their oubliettes, rattling the bars and riling up thoughts Stormy would rather not be having. Then it was broken, and things were smoothed over again.

She gave a mock salute Michael, almost dropping some of the food, “Sure thing Mikey, jus’ minding my manners.”

Turning back to Koda, she handed some food, or tried, but he didn’t seem very interested, in that or anything, so she shrugged – Perhaps later then, my dude – and began chewing on a pale green leaf, tinged with purple. It was similar to rocket, or perhaps basil, in texture and taste, save for the odd anise and… something else running throughout; pretty trippy.

Everything still seemed quite dream-like, all haze and hues, just a touch from being real. The monolith, black as jet and sin, only added to the fantasticality of it all.

The story unfolded, and Stormy shuddered, seeming to shrink further inside her cardigan, her mask pulling her down. She was powerless. A brazen tirade left worry settling in Stormy’s gut like pebbles in a lake. She smiled when Koda at least held some food; he looked as though he needed something.

If one was paying attention, they might have noticed Stormy visibly deflate, the crushing tension somewhat lessened when the others didn’t seem to share in the Brazen boy’s fervour.

“Bee Bee hun, I agree with Mikey here,” She walked closer to them, speaking softly, kind, not pitying, “And besides, it’s in the past now, like, attacking him ain’t only dangerous, but it won’t change much, y’know? And it’s real mean, to boot.” Her mouth opened to say more, to try and clarify her addled spew, but it was then she felt a tug on her shoulder.

“Hey hun-” the sentence was cleaved; the diaphanous and congealing swathe of shadows only vaguely resembled Koda. And then it didn’t. Mortality clarified in an instant – this was a dream no longer.

Pain devoured all. Explosion of agony from an arm. White needles blinded her. Black spots crept in. For as real as it all was, it slipped away: overwhelming.

The sunlight kissed her fluttering eyelids, warm and gentle. Halos shimmered in the darkness. The breeze brushed past, carrying smells of rich earth and the tinkling of rushing water: almost the sea. Almost. Stormy opened her eyes, and the hazy smudge of his face vanished behind the real world.

Words of leached wood ash and crystal veils. From her rock, she watched, for a time, before, stretching, draping down like a willow, smiling at her feet, where the others’ words spilled like sliding stones. Through the shroud of her hair, she turned to Koda, and her returning smile proved fleeting, skittering away once more. Something of his aspect robbed the words from her, and she turned back to the group.

“Mikey-Michael, hun,” She called, pushing up off her knees to stand, nodding briefly at Zee-zee with a wink, “I can jive with whatever, but before we go, or, do, uhm, anything? I think I’d like some food, for myself, and uh…” She cast a quick glance over her shoulder, returning with knitted brows, “He seems to need it, y’know, a real lot? We can move and eat, it’s cool and all. ”
Isaac Camphor

The room was white.

Light rebounded and scattered off every hard surface, of which there were many. Far away, extractor fans and AC units groaned and whirred to keep the lab air cool and clean. Microscopes, pyrex containers, twelve-channel pipettors, blood agar, tiles, linoleum, and strained underlings all glistened in the iridescence of the halogen lamp. Pure. White. Perfect.

This world was locked away from Dr Camphor. Behind glass screens, tunnels, decontamination and protocol. He was shackled by will and stubbornness, to the LCD computer screen in his office. He could only watch them through the full height, one-way window that served as a wall. A pristine lab coat hung on the door behind him, waiting.

His eyes glinted like lancets. Number twelve surgical scalpel blades; unyielding crescents.

Answers lay wrapped and tangled in data, raw and processed alike. Dr Camphor seemed intent upon breaking it with his glare, bending it to give up its secrets, understanding and dominating it. He scrawled a mess of ink upon a pad of paper, and underlined a previously scratched ideogram.

A thudding at the door, and its immediate opening.

Dr Camphor whirled round. However, his flaying glower was blunted by the sight. Standing there, a man, or maybe a woman, in full S.C.A.R.E. armour.

“Are you doctor Isaac Camphor?” came the modulated projection of voice.

He chewed the inside of his lip. “I am.”

“Come with me.”

And then the armoured figure turned and began striding off. Dr Camphor put on his glasses, locked his computer, and lastly, squeezed his bursting notebook into his back pocket.

He muttered only a single word before following.

With dawn breaking, shafts of sunlight slipping through the cracks in the curtains, spiralling specks of dust were illuminated. Distant clangs came from the kitchen followed by sharp inhales of breath. The whole inn was waking up. The timbers stretched and yawned.

In the room, it was quiet. Idani, were she awake, might have noticed the proprietor leave, tiptoeing over mischievous floorboards. She might have heard the slowing turning the key in the door, the lifting latch, and the woman teasing a crack just wide enough to fit through, and then slipping out, a faint rustling of her dress as the only sound of her departure. Breath escaping in a yawn. A shift in the sheets.

Were that tiny girl awake, she might’ve counted the seconds that passed until the woman returned. But no, the woman had been careful; she had been quiet as a mouse and gentle as a mother’s touch. Secrecy shrouded her. Time went missing.

Idani sat up, her slight gasp chasing away the phantoms of a dream that seemed to have been strangling her. While she had no cause to think of it in such a way, the pit in her stomach told her of nightmares. She grumbled, rubbing at the back of her head; taking a few quick glances around the room. The kindly Miss has probably already set about her day. I should be on my way, soon. The Drasilian girl checked her sleeve, finding her dagger still in its proper place. Then she wiggled her toes, still within the confines of her soft leather boots. That didn't do me any favors. She hopped to her feet, stretching and replacing her hood before grabbing her makeshift pillow and slinging the strap over her shoulder; familiar weight thudding against her hip.

There's no excuse for me to be so tired. Though she did little to recall how long it had been since a roof had been over her head and something more hospitable than grass beneath her as she slept. Travelling did have its rigors, but Idani thought she was well past feeling their strain the following day. Yesterday was hardly anything difficult. Today will be better, regardless. I have Oakheim ahead of me, and a lot of planni-

Her thought was interrupted, the door opening and the barkeep lady stepping in with a tray that Idani eyed with reserved longing and a holler that would have easily set her to skittering were she still in the grips of slumber.

“Rise and shine!” The woman stage-whispered, “I fetch’d ya sim fud.”

A broad, broken smile upon her face, the woman swept in with a pewter tray, filled with plates of sizzling bacon and plump sausages, a loaf of bread still steaming from the oven, cheeses various, oats, dried fruits, fresh fruits, fruit syrups and jams, churned butter in a little ceramic pot, a pitcher of iced water, a pitcher of warm, clove-spiced mead, and a tiny metal cup of a thick brown liquid that steamed the most.

“Ach,” she pressed her ring into the small of her back, massaging it, “That bed be doin’ nuffin fer me old back.” The she shrugged her shoulders and huffed.

“Eat ap!” the woman chortled, sitting at the foot of the bed and setting the tray next to her, “Got a lut fer yer to hear, ‘fore yooz be settin’ af.”

Idani waited, patiently, until the woman had rubbed the knot from her back and taken a seat; the tray properly sat and permission given. She didn't think much about what she grabbed, but she began eating. Voracity was not usually in her nature; or, at least she liked people to think it absent. It was bacon, first, followed by a sausage.

"Again," she said through half-chewed bits of breakfast, "you have my thanks. I hadn't expected food, as well as board." Idani gave a smile, after she had properly swallowed, and allowed herself a moment of restraint. Instead of continuing to gorge, she took up a piece of fruit and nibbled at it. "What sort of things, if I may inquire?" That had her curiosity, to be certain; forestalling the urgency she felt at thoughts of Oakheim. By the time I arrive, it should be well near the middle of the day. I suppose a few minutes couldn't hurt. I owe it to her, after all.

“Oh, jus’ an ickle gift, a lucky charm, cud say,” She drew a small brooch from her skirt pocket, a rose flower of opalescent ivory, with two emerald leaves by the clasp. It would be slightly like soap, or carved jade, had Idani touched that before. “I fink et neds tah see the road again, been locked away so long an’ all.” She handed it over. “Et kept me safe all them years, mebbe et’ll be the same fer yerself, I hope. I see a lotta meself in yer, troof be tol’. Wear it proud.”

Idani eyed the brooch with interest. She wasn't used to having nice things simply handed to her, at least not over the last six years. Her eyes might have widened, her control slipping for a moment. The kindly Miss spoke, and despite the Drasilian's girl fixation on the twinkling emeralds and lovely ivory; she listened to every word. "I will do what I can to ensure its travels are as safe as my own, dear lady." It was put gently into her hand, bringing a smile to Idani's face that could melt the ice from a snow troll's eyebrows. "And I hope it keeps me safe, as well," her heart strings had been adequately tugged on, and Idani couldn't help but want to embrace the old world-worn woman. She took another sausage and plopped it into her mouth, savoring the slight pop of the taut skin and the juice and grease beneath. "I..." she wasn't the type to trail off, but Idani was searching hard for the words.

"I think you and I are much alike, Miss. I hope, one day, that I can stop back by one day." It was a strange truth. Despite her only spending a few restless hours on the floor, Idani had felt true kindness from the matron of The Traveler's Respite; an unspoken kinship, beyond what they had acknowledged in common. "When I do, you will be hard pressed to keep me from begging to stay!" She gave a hearty laugh, at that; a musical sound, many had said, through her years.

“More than you realise, I think,” then the woman cleared her throat, and swallowed a smile, “Right, next bit, important, sah you listen, ‘ere. A Magi and her Watcher are likely heading to Oakheim, stopped in las’ night. Might be able tah meet them on the road - mebbe even travel pass Oakheim with ‘em, wherever your business tek yah.”

A Magi and her Watcher, though? An interesting prospect. Mayhaps they will be interested in this book. As the thought crossed her mind, something railed against it. Strangely, she reconsidered. Maybe it's not for them. After all, I found it. Doubt a wandering Magi has as much coin as I want, anyway. Either way, protection on the road is always a bonus. I'll have to seek them out.

"I'll do just that. Thank you! I will be certain to find them, along the way," she took a deep sigh, one not entirely feigned, "I'm going to miss you, Miss. The brief time we spent together has been unexpected and not unwelcome." Idani Umbele adjusted her satchel, taking another small bite of fruit before turning. "I will not be forgetting you, any time soon. I hope you will let me sing for you, when next I pass through!"

* * * * * * *

It might be interesting to note that at some time between the woman leaving Idani alone, and then returning to her with breakfast, Aleora and Karl had left the inn and set upon the road to Oakheim.

Aleora’s head hung as she road, he brow ever so faintly furrowed, and for all her grace, something seemed to be sapping her usual poise.

Karl sensed this, upon returning from scouting ahead, “Reshi, what is the matter?” Morning mist had left dew on her beard.

She sighed, and looked up at Karl, a smile lapping at the shores of her cheeks, thawing her icy façade, “The dreams, Karl, I am afraid of what they foretell, when I find them.”

“All the stars are sucked from the sky, trailing coils shape into a hand that reaches for a candle flame and snuffs it out. Then there is nothing – an empty sky and total darkness. Afterimages of an incandescent hand dancing across the blindness. Then I am elsewhere, and I see men of bones and rotten flesh, dressed in rags and ancient fashion, dancing, or fighting, and one, with a crown, it approaches a robed figure, and gives it something, or perhaps steals, I could never get close enough – when I try, they would vanish, and a door would appear. If I opened it, inside golems are standing amongst great swelling dunes, sand continually falling, never stopping, burying them. The door always closes after that, except at this point it’s not a door, but a book, and it laughs, then vanishes too. And then…” She faltered, trailing off, or catching herself, “Then, then… I think that is all that is apt for you to know.”

He grunted.

“It is always the same Karl, never flinching –”

“You will figure it out,” gravel and thunder rolled from horseback, “You are one of the best Dreamers the Demense has had in centuries.”

Aleora smiled. I know what it means, Karl, I just hope I can change it.

A rock offered itself up as a stool. Stormy gladly obliged. Lichen and moss cushioned her seat. Damp seeped through her dress, but it was bearable; her legs sighed almost audibly, and she deflated, sinking down and downwards. Her feet pulsed inside her boots, and she longed to throw them off and lay down for hours, but they had more to be done.

She tilted her head to Koda, “That would be stealing, dear; even if we were back Lightbridge I’d advise against it,” her eyes scanned the people, smiles plastered on the whitewashed walls they had instead of faces, “And things are different here. We don’t know the rules.”

Tickling upon her hand. Looking, she saw a Ladybird, ruby and encrusted onyx – its hair-like legs brushing along her knuckles, a teasing breath. She brought her hand level with her eyes.

“Hello there,” She tipped her head in a curt nod, “How do you do?” She brought her hand close to her ear and bobbed her some, before bringing it back in front of her, “I never expected to see something quite so beautiful here. It’s odd, how something familiar as you can make this world even stranger.”

As she was staring at the bug, the Brazen Boy came back with what looked like food, and a story of convenience wrapped in his words. She only paid half mind, the bug crawling along her fingers now, but her eyes were fixed upon what Michael held. Her stomach complained. “Soon,” she rubbed it.

A twisted tune made Stormy look at Oedipus. Her face was blank, but her eyes shimmered. “Someday he’ll be free like you,” she whispered to the insect on her finger tips. It cleaned its mandibles, and Stormy smiled.

Then someone new: beaten silver and slender lines. Stormy waved once, and offered closed smile, before focussing on the bug once again.

“Seems there’s another,” It began buzzing the tiny glass wings, “You’re off then? Good journey friend – this talk has been nice.” And with that, the ashen films became a blur, and it was gone with the wind.

With the escapades of the rest many footfalls behind them, the group arrived at Silverbrook.

Stormy had wandered between everyone by random, self-absorbed chance, gravitating around Koda. The path had climbed its way up a hill, meeting a large chunk of stone, crumbling under the passage of time and the plants that now dug their roots deeper into the crevices.

Beyond it, the town rose up. Thatched hovels and leaning shacks of wattle and daub shambled towards the central square of stone and brick buildings, huddling close, clawing for the monolith that spewed smoke from great, red-clay chimney stacks. Close by were the drab-coloured canvases of a market, shouts and smells spreading like ink in water. Crofts crept over the surrounding hillsides, like pilgrims to the holy land. A grey quagmire tangled through most of the village, brackish liquids nesting in its grooves and divots. Flagstones paved the way for a single thoroughfare that barged through to the square and then left the town in equal hurrying.

Windows glinted like staring eyes, all focussed upon the party, this squabble of strange and strangers, as they approached.

Stormy squinted and frowned at everything, chewing her bottom lip. Occasionally a humming escaped her.

Perhaps an actually beautiful sight was the winding stream of quicksilver and liquid crystal. Its song even reached them. It came from the valley, the same direction as the flagstones, between two treeless slopes, threading through the town and taking off into the trees. Dotted along its banks were the statue-like fishermen.

As they grew closer, the ever-smiling and clean denizens looked at the party for maybe a handful of seconds between them all.

“Perhaps it is festival time?” She trilled to Koda, pitch rising at the end of her question. Her smile guttered momentarily, cheeks twitching, aching, and then it slipped; it fell from her demeanour: snuffed. Everything had an odd quality, as if it was being observed through grey-tinted glasses not quite in focus; it was all hazy and dull, outlines and edges seeming not so sure in themselves.

Stormy bent over, rubbing her calves and thighs, careful to be away from the churned mud paths. She shrugged at the question Michael asked, “I’ll go with whatever’s groovy.” Though, her stomach too audibly rumbled.
Dusk was creeping in, slowly pulling back the honey rays of sunlight towards the ruby stained horizon. Farmsteads and lonely cottages leaked lamplight and chimney smoke, as families settled down for the evening, safe and warm from the encroaching night.

Stalks of wheat and barley rustled as a chill wind passed them. Waves of blue-cast grass lapped at the dirt wagon trail. It was nearly empty.

Two figures road along abreast. One was a cloaked silhouette that seemed to shift and break, like the smoke of a guttering candle, riding a massive black destrier, muscled and powerful, its breath misting against the air of the waning day. The other was atop a slender mare of pure white. This rider was also smaller, and wore riding dresses too fine for the locality.

They seemed to be engaged in conversation. A wayside inn came into view, and the pale rider slowed, enough to make the other circle back and slowly draw up back next to them. A voice like gravel and sliding rocks crashed from the horses.

“We should ride on into the night, Reshi. Our horses won’t throw shoes on the wagon trail.”

Then came the response, careful and patient, like a glacier – it spoke in inevitability.

“There is only so much haste required; we will arrive when we need to.”

“Then at least let us camp in the forest.”

“You know I do not sleep so well without a bed, and I need to again before entering Oakheim.”

There was a grumble, like a rockslide, but silence resumed, save for the beating of hooves upon hard packed clay and earth.

The Traveller’s Respite, a leaning, three-story building, each floor distinct from the others, but no less well-crafted, spoke of the hasty capitalisation of being the final stop along the Eastern route to Oakheim. Smoke billowed from inside a large circle of wagons in the yard behind, orange light dancing upon the canvas, and merriment and music spilling out of every recess.

The two stopped outside, the woman handing her reigns to Karl. As he led both beasts to the stables, Aleora entered the common room. It was a bustling affair, with shouted conversations and sloshing drinks, underneath a thick veil of pipesmoke and plucked strings. She didn’t garner much attention this late into the night, though a few lupine eyes followed her.

A woman rushing around behind a bar, polishing the surface and pulling drinks.

“Aye lass, how kin aye ‘elp?” Several of her teeth were missing, and the rest seemed in some state of decay. Her face was creased and shiny.

“I would like to buy food and board for the night.”

Almost immediately the woman shook her head, flicking her oily locks from side to side. “Neh kin do, full.” She set a flagon in front of a man who was slumped over the bar.

“Oh, dear me, that is a shame, what am I to do?” As Aleora said this she began stroking her chin very slowly with her left hand, her ring on full display. The proprietor’s eyes went large and glassy, and she began waving her hands and stammering, rushing over to Aleora.

“Oh, nay me thinks aboot et, ye kin haf may rum, free of charge fur sucha leddy as yerself.” She did her best to give an ingratiating smile, but with so many teeth missing the end result was quite the opposite. Nonetheless, Aleora smiled gracefully, though it did not touch her eyes, and bobbed her head ever so slightly.

“How fortunate.”

The room was adequate; the mattress was stuffed with goose down and it had well-fitted boards, though there was a pervading odour of port and cheese. Karl and Aleora began preparing for sleep in silence, their travelled packs hauled to the foot of the bed. Karl set up his bedroll in front of the door, sword tucked next to it.

“Reshi, when will you tell me why we are here.”

She looked at him and tilted her head, dressed in a pale blue nightgown.

“You have followed me this far, dear Watcher, I only ask for your trust one night longer, and I shall tell you on the road tomorrow; there are things I am still unsure of, and perhaps tonight my lady will grace me with their elucidation.”

He was frowning at the floor. She walked over and brushed her lips against his forehead. He seemed to soften, his shoulders dropping.

“I would not keep so much from you if it was not a necessity. I trust you above all else, oh watcher of mine.”

He nodded slowly. “Very well, good night Reshi.”
Yes. I am thinking.
Name: Aleora Scryer

Age: 30+

Ageless in her grace, she could be a blossoming cherry of a girl or jaded wisewoman. One thing is for certain, the azure pools of her eyes hold wisdom – they are tempered ice-sapphires, and hold not so much kindness, but rather… pity? Fair haired and beautiful, with defined facial contours, she is often dressed in a travelling cloak, and underneath that, her sky blue shawl, with increasingly intricate, but distinct, bands of gold embroidery ascending around its base, above which sprawls a beautiful scene, inlaid in finer thread, denoting her station as Dream-twined and travelling member of Izia’s Archive. On her wedding finger she wears a signet ring of glassy stone that seems to have a trapped inside the falling sky and rushing streams of lightest blue. The bezel holds a symbol, six, interlocking circles inside a larger, singular hoop.

Personality: Intelligent, apathetic and self-absorbed

Occupation: Dream diviner, finder of lost artefacts, and travelling Magi

After it became apparent that Aleora possessed the unique ability to just “know” things, the Magi living in their town sent word by letter, and soon she was whisked away from her family to the Demense. A bright and capable student, her time there might be difficult to piece together by asking her friends, such was her studiousness and independence.

After her trial she went on to become an indispensable follower of Izia, gifted the ability of foresight through her dreams and through casting bones, she travels with her Watcher, Karl, when her premonitions demand it. Otherwise she oversees the excavation of artefacts, both powerful and benign, to either lock away, destroy, or archive.

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