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(Double post)
The summer’s early and vibrant light ripped through Falk’s sealed curtains, but neither the morning rays nor the incessant pounding of Mira's fist upon the room’s heavy door alerted him of the new day’s arrival. The hunter’s meditation session ended prematurely, his flimsy concentration broken by a chorus of cries in the night’s late hours. The inn’s walls were deceptively thin, and it seemed that sleep brought with it unspeakable horrors for both his neighbors. Falk discontinued his meditation, leaving him feeling perhaps a little weaker than normal, but he knew any further attempts at achieving his curious form of rest would be foiled by the mumbles and shouts in either room beside his own. Even without his neighbor’s nightmares, Falk knew he simply couldn’t return to rest, for his mind was completely enraptured with the mysterious Brithian he'd met. Though a total stranger, Falk felt as though he knew him, or at least of him. A vague recollection, or some fleeting familiarity.

The skeleton turned his attention to the rough leather book sat at the room’s quaint desk. In total darkness he flipped through the pages, each containing a queer combination of forbidden, dark knowledge and quaint journal entries, complete with dates, sketches, and titles of literature he intended to seek out. It did not do a hunter well to travel encumbered by books, equipment, and other items, so Falk simply took note of whatever knowledge he needed from a tome and copied it into his journal. It was a sloppy method, to be sure, but the only one available to him. Through his notes, Falk slowly began unraveling the enigma of Valkav. There was only a vague mention in each instance, references to a nameless Brithian travelling the lands, bearing some dark curse. He, or sometimes recorded as she, took many forms, and even more names, but in every instance of his appearance The Stranger carried with them a distinctive lute. What puzzled Falk more than anything was just how wide in time these appearances occurred. The Tome of Bunnir, a text Falk stumbled across in the ancient Four Pillars City, dated back over two millennia, but even this wasn't the first reference of The Stranger. The stone tablet mentioned a cat-like human who arrived in the king’s court, speaking in riddle-like prophesies which predicted the king’s descent into madness. The king ordered The Stranger’s execution almost immediately for such blasphemy, but after the public hanging the royal slowly fell into insanity after claiming he was visited again by The Stranger. At the time of copying it, Falk was interested solely in the cat’s resurrection and apparent immortality, similar to his own curse, but now he was not so sure of the relationship. A more recent text, Zanitha’s Tales, was perhaps not as reliable, but nevertheless relevant. Zanitha was a scholar who traveled the land, collecting folk tales from various cultures and publishing them in her anthologies, often adding her own dramatic flair to enrapture the reader. One brief tale Zanitha gathered from a small human fishing village in Crysteria, revolving around a beggar boy’s rise from poverty to become a great minstrel. The boy was visited by a travelling Brithian who showed him kindness, despite the cat culture’s cruelty towards humans on the island; the Brithian visited him on occasion, giving him coin, advice, and even teaching him to play the lute before disappearing altogether. The boy grew up a successful minstrel, always crediting his abilities and songs to the Brithian, though none believed his stories. However, on his deathbed surrounded by family and friends, the now-ancient minstrel was visited by a Brithian carrying a lute, but he looked to be a young man. In his age-addled mind, the bard claimed it was the Brithian who saved him as a boy, though his loved ones cast the cat out. The cat came to be known in Crysterian culture as The Stranger, though the people today doubt his very existence.

Falk wasn’t entirely convinced of the stories either. Surely, history was filled with many odd cats, and it was all too likely the connections he drew were simply coincidences. The physical appearance was constantly changing, along with names, time, and age. But then again, hadn’t Falk named the Brithian himself? The pounding on his door drew the hunter from his thoughts as he slammed the journal shut, turning to the window. The morning had crept up on him. He gathered his belongings, strapped on his belt, beckoned Grey to join him on his shoulder, and headed downstairs, the last of their party to arrive. The sunlit tavern floor hit Falk like a warhammer to the head; the skeleton rarely occupied the waking hours, preferring to live when most slept. It was in the night he felt most safe, his malformed shape and unnaturally still chest cloaked in darkness. He felt vulnerable in the day, as if all eyes were burning through him, right through the facade. Falk observed his new companions as he approached the table, spilling into a seat near the end. He spotted a familiar face in Lady Wolfram, but was surprised to see the Brithian bard among their ranks. The others, a male and female dwarf, he hadn’t seen before.

“You lot look like hell. Heard at least two of you screaming all night, pleasant that,” Falk said casually as he drummed his fingers on the table. The raven on his shoulder puffed up and imitated one of the voices he heard in the night, croaking in a tortured voice, "The sand, sand.” Falk turned to Talis at the head of the table. ”Well, Talis, any more demands from the Talon Company?”
Falk and ‘The Stranger’

A collab between Shiver and Tangle

As the rest of his new companions walked, and in one instance crawled, up the stairs, Falk instead chose to settle in at a small booth by an open window. He didn’t need much sleep as of late, so he decided to take in the sounds of the sleeping city. After the commotion caused by the Viceroy’s death, and perhaps more significantly the lynching mob von Wolfram had gathered, a blanket of silence had prematurely fallen upon Ardent’s Fall, as if a fresh snow muted the ambient noise. It was likely the city guard forced everyone into their homes following the murder, and locked up those who wouldn’t end their celebrations on such short notice. Though Falk welcomed the solitude, he couldn’t help but miss the bawdy tunes of the city’s minstrels. He even loved the cat bard’s drunken shanty, and couldn’t help but tap his foot as she sang despite their perilous situation. Falk went many days on the road before hearing a melody of any kind. He didn’t like to linger long in small towns filled with superstitious locals, he could no longer play his flute, and the birds refused to sing for Falk in the wild. No, they all fled save for vultures, ravens, and other dark creatures, and sadly his raven couldn’t carry a tune.

Even the tavern had grown silent; only a few patrons remained on the warm ground floor, either sullenly sipping at their mugs or sprawled out on the dusty ground. Mira, the barkeep, hummed silently to herself as she cleaned up after the drunks, sweeping the floors. She gently kicking one who had fallen asleep, and the brash man ogled and attempted to charm his gracious host as he woke, though she kindly rejected his advances. Falk felt a flare of anger – insolent, lecherous degenerate – but even the drunkard’s antics couldn’t sully his mood. He was part of a team now, however brief it may last, and though they had barely met the lone hunter felt their comradery. With a warm feeling in his empty ribcage, Falk turned back to gaze out the window.

“My… are we feeling disconnected from the world,” A voice spoke softly, and as clear as day. It came from a male sitting in the other seat of the booth. He had made no sound, or reflection in the glass that could harold his sudden approach.

The male appeared to be a mortal of Brithian descent. The keyword being appeared. While it is true that Brithians often had massive genetic variety when it came to species of cat, they tended to resemble large cats that were capable of living in well enough in the cold, and large in size. This one broke that norm several times over. For one, on first glance the man bore a feminine look to him. A long mane that hung loose past his shoulders on one side of his head while the rest was tied back by a ribbon. It wouldn’t be hard to mistake him completely for a female with a few drinks or just a quick glance. All together, though he appeared to be a desert cat. A serval. Large rounded rectangles for ears, and an angular face.

For clothes… he had the attire of someone whom had been in the desert. He wore no shirt, but a simple red shoulder drape that wrapped around his neck and shoulders, hid his chest and fell down his left arm. His pants were incredibly baggy and bore vibrant hues of red and gold. They were held up by a silk belt, and the ankle’s cuffs had been tied off. His eyes are a pale yellow color, that stared to the other with humor. And sitting in the seat next to him, towering over his head, an arch lute.

He remained silent, judging the other’s reaction with a soft smile, then continued. “I couldn’t blame you. A fate like yours is rare and often unheard of. Often.”

Falk shifted in his seat uncomfortably. He hadn’t heard the man approach his table, nor did he enjoy the company. Grey cawed at the Brithian and flapped away, preferring to nest by the fireplace rather than Falk’s shoulders. Evidently, he wasn’t the only one unnerved by this uninvited guest. The hunter’s blood ran cold when the cat spoke, obviously aware of his hidden nature. Was it that obvious? Who else knows? Did he tell anyone? It was times like this that Falk wished he kept his knife on his belt rather than his boot, for he’d very much like it in his hand. For the moment, the hunter’s eyes substituted his dagger as he stared at the man in silence.

“Two cats in one day? To what do I owe the pleasure?” Falk said stiffly, ignoring the Brithian’s comments. If the cat was indeed some sort of undead hunter, he’d need to proceed very carefully. The skeleton had dealt with their ilk before, and in each case they were no laughing matter.

“Yes, two cats. Did you plan on adopting,” The cat chuckled softly before waving the tavern keeper over. While she made her way closer, he began to fumble through a coin purse. He mumbled softly to himself as he dropped some ancient and incredibly dated coins onto the table, and fished out a few -proper- coppers. Once he had enough he offered them off to the lady, “A loaf of bread and some pork if you have any please,” The feline chirped with a smile.

His gaze returned to Falk. Though he remained quiet for now. His ear twitched, flicking a few earrings through the air as he listened to the woman’s footsteps. And once he felt she was far away enough he spoke again. Though this time, his smile grew slightly wider.

“No pleasures. I’d offer to pay for your meal, but… well you don’t have the stomach for it.”

Falk did not laugh at the Brithian’s joke, feeling far too vulnerable for the cat’s quips. He noticed the coins that fell from the stranger’s purse, bearing ruined faces of rulers long past he’d only read about as a youth. Curious that one would carry around such antiquated currency, perhaps as a sort of memento, though the hunter felt that this odd creature wasn’t keeping them as part of his collection. The Brithian’s next comment secured Falk’s suspicions; he knew, and that made the skeleton shiver. If it weren’t for the padding in his clothes, one would hear his bones rattle. Had the two been at some solitary tavern on the road, Falk would have cut the cat down right at the table, but here? No. Too many witnesses, too much attention drawn to him.

“You’ve a keen eye, friend. Tell me, what gave it away? I’m always looking to improve,” Falk replied, crossing his arms.

For the moment… the nature of the feline’s smile changed. It did not change in shape, it made no visible movement. Rather, the emotion changed behind it without a single twitch of a muscle or a word. It went from humor to a small pang of pity as the creature shook his head slowly.

“I am afraid I cheated in some ways. But… if I had not known before our conversation. Then I’d have to say it’d be my ears. Nothing falls short of a cat’s ears.” He dropped his coin purse on the table, then one by one pinched the coins and dropped them back inside.

Falk leaned back into his seat. If this Brithian was in fact a hunter of the undead, he certainly enjoyed taking his sweet time. Though the cat could simply be playing with his prey, a trait unlike the others Falk had encountered. They simply charged headlong towards him; with the gods on their side and good steel in hand, how could they ever lose? This Brithian, on the other hand, carried no weapons at all, or none that Falk could see, unless a lute could be considered one. Perhaps he misjudged, and this was simply some knowledgeable companion of the drunken cat upstairs. What struck Falk as odd was how the stranger had discovered his condition. Very few knew of his fate, and those who did were sworn to secrecy by his father at the risk of execution. In the annals of his family, he simply disappeared. Even then, he was certainly not recognizable as the swarthy Vasan Greyward by any eye.

“Hmph, I’d like to hear how you learned this. What’s your name, stranger? I’d tell you mine, but I’m sure you already know.”

The cat’s smile faded for the moment while he calmly lifted his coin purse by the drawstring. He watched as the loot closed it off, and moved it to secure it back to his belt. If he was a hunter of the dead, he was definitely delibrately taking his sweet time. He looked as if he was about to speak. But was quickly cut off as a platter of fresh bread and cutlets of pork had been plunked down in front of him.

“Ah! Thank you dear,” The feline chirped with a warm smile to the woman. Once she left, he returned to his ritual of silence. He sliced a piece of the pork with his fork, and brought it to his jaws. He quietly chewed. Slowly. Then swallowed.

Finally he spoke.

“Pork… it’s sweet, and savory. Full of juice that explodes in your maw when you bite down. Fit for warming a man in the cold of the night, and fighting back the pain of hunger. Unfortunately, one of those sensations are lost upon me, as they are you.” The cat hummed softly.

He smiled again and cut another slice delicately. He showed no desire to add context as he moved to the next topic. “Mmmph…” he mumbled through another bite, “You’re welcome to call me anything you like. It won’t make much difference for me later. The other cat called me ‘Old Man’ though.”

This would definitely be an odd nickname to give someone like him. He looked quite young actually. A male probably just entering his thirties.

A tinge of hunger struck Falk as he watched the cat chomp away at the plate before him. Of course, he didn’t need to eat, but like an amputated limb that still ached, so too did Falk’s absent stomach long for some form of sustenance. Just like his parched throat cried to be wetted, his eyes begging to close, and his loins… Well, Falk’s humanity was long gone, but he still remembered what it felt like to be alive. Perhaps one day he would return to flesh, or maybe just forget what it was like in the first place. Either way, he wasn’t fond of the cat’s teasing. The Brithian’s mention of their shared curse certainly caught his attention, and he cocked his head. “Really? You don’t strike me as an undead, though looks can be deceiving,” Falk muttered, giving a slight nod to his own appearance.

Old man? A glamor of sorts perhaps? The hunter considered this as he gave the lithe creature a second scan. An odd name for an odd cat to be sure, though Falk wasn’t entirely convinced that the other cat bestowed the name in an unironic fashion. “Old Man? Could have fooled me. Wouldn’t mind picking up a few of your tricks, Old Man. Hmm, think I’ll call you Valkav. I had a cat with that name as a boy, looked just like you, just little smaller,” Falk said with a slight chuckle. “You said no pleasure, so what business brings you here?”

The cat drew another sliver of pork from his plate. His eyes never blinking, remained fixed on the skeletal male across the table. He lazily licked the morsel from his spoon. Those many barbs lining his tongue easily caught the scrap by the flesh and drug it into his maw. He didn’t chew this time, only swallowed.

“Just thought that I’d give you some insufferable company,” the cat chuckled as he pondered the name he was given. “Valkav… I like that. However… that is oddly... “ he trailed off for a moment. His head rolled from side to side in a steady tempo as he tasted over his words.

“... intimate. The cat you speak of. You loved the creature. Though it was a wild animal, and doing well on its own… something about it fascinated you. Perhaps it was a graceful predator? Perhaps you were a boy with a kind heart for animals. Regardless… the two of you grew quite close. You were inseparable. As dog to his master, you were cat to his boy. Every night, he’d lay by your chest. When you shook and fretted in your sleep from night terrors, it licked at your nose. When morning came, it’d paw at your ears. Where you went, it went. Sadly your father grew careless. The hounds cornered my feral kin, and tore him to pieces. Those ravenous, clacking, lusting jaws did horrid work. Rip and tear till it was done. Till his pelt was removed from his flesh. And till his mewling ceased. And all that remained were torn limbs, scattered organs, and tuffs of matted fur. Perhaps if he was in a more suitable environment, he’d have been safe. He left his mark though… like all of my kin they do not die without a fight. It destroyed an eye from one, and caused the eventual act of mercy to the other.”

The feline’s eyes had not left the other, though his smile did fade. He remained quiet for the moment. Then he sat up straight. “Very well, Valkav it is. Perhaps I’ll fill that empty void where your heart is supposed to be.”

“Now then… to address the curse. There are similarities… but there are discrepancies. I am alive… but not quite. My condition is unusual. It is no curse, it is no blessing, and it certainly is no boon. I’ve come to terms that this will be how I remain… till the last of the stars fade to black. Fortunately, you needn’t to come to such conclusions.”

Falk had almost grown used to the cat’s company, until he released his sick little tale from the man’s youth. He hadn’t thought about the feral cat’s demise in a long time, the memory of blood and violence both repressed and replaced with so many other deaths, but his new companion’s vivid knowledge of Falk’s past chilled him. As Valkav ended the story, the hunter felt disgusted with the man seated across from him. He shook his head and moved to leave, but something drew him back in. You needn’t come to such conclusions.

Slowly, Falk returned to his seat.

“Well then, enlighten me of how I might avoid your fate, Valkav. The night grows late, but that is of little concern to kindred spirits such as us, yes?” he replied bitterly. His mind was racing with who, or what, was sat before him, happily chewing and teasing. Falk had read more than his fair share on undeath, immortality, and curses in the past few years; he was growing to become something of an expert. Yet nothing he learned even hinted at the nature of this omnipotent Brithian. Perhaps he was some sort of mind reader? Or maybe Falk had truly gone insane, visioning his childhood cat as an anthropomorphic creature that signaled his first steps into total madness. Either way, he found himself repulsed, yet enraptured by every word that spilled from Valkav’s mouth.

And like that, the cat’s friendly smile returned with a blink of the eyes. He tore into his bread, a bit awkwardly as a cat obviously lacks the correct teeth to eat something like this easily. “Though you control your path like many others, the winds guiding your sails will not lead you to the same mistakes I’ve made.” He paused, and repeated the word mistake to himself. Like he was unsure of if he’d even call it that. There was a shrug.

“My ailment is of no one else's will but my own. And by my word, I’m bound. It’s a pittiful existence. To be forgotten with time, again… and again… and again… again. With not much more than my songs as my breadcrumbs. But it is mine. And I enjoy it when I have it.”

The cat then grinned, quite broadly. He gave the skeletal man a wink, “But shouldn’t you be more concerned about yourself?”

“Nothing is more easily broken than words,” Falk muttered, thinking back to the Lanzknecht’s Oath. The Brithian’s riddle swirled in his skull, a riddle he hoped to unfurl in time, perhaps a piece of the puzzle to the being’s mysterious nature. Falk had never been one for mincing words, typically blunt and to-the-point, but something in Valkav’s words drew him further, both mentally and physically, leaning onto the table. The cat enjoyed playing this little game, and Falk would play along, but perhaps not as willingly as Valkav would like.

“Well, despite what you say, it seems to me we bear a similar burden Valkav. Knowledge is knowledge, and what helps you may help me.” Falk shifted closer. “Besides, I’m sure if you knew how I could shed my burden, you’d have already told me, right old friend?” he continued wryly.

The feline smiled, and shook his head slowly. “I don’t do spoiler’s sweetheart,” the cat chuckled softly. He raised a hand, and with a flick of a wrist a tarot card appeared. He rotated it between his index fingers. First, it showed death - dressed as a fool and laughing with a bow in hand. Second it showed a Hanging Man, bound upside down by the ankle from his own will and at peace with his decision. And finally, it was blank. The cat laid it down on the table and scribbled his new name on it. Afterwards he pushed it towards the skeleton and slipped out of his seat.

He slung his long lute over his shoulder, and looked down to the man with a soft smile. “I’ve traveled further from the border’s of my kingdom than any man under my charge. To lands where my title and birth right of King sings no tune, and fades away in silence to the ears who listen. I stepped barefooted and without steed across scorching heats, so nature may humble me to the hardships of life. I waded rains and sundering winds till the color of my clothing faded, and the rags I wore had all but rotted. I treaded lightly to lands unknown, of vivid color. And there I saw it… A beacon of light. A grand city of immortals. City of gods. Tomb of the damned.” With that, the cat cut the recitation of the story short.

“It… is typically not my style… I prefer giving parables. I enjoy watching people squirm as they search for the meaning. But I am afraid this one will strain you more than any other story I may tell. With that… I bid you a good night. And… please… do not tell Raux of my presence. I’ll see her again soon, but not now.” Valkav gave a brief nod and made his way out through the tavern door.

“So long, old friend…” Falk muttered as he watched the cat saunter away. He turned to the window to catch one last glimpse of Valkav, but he didn’t get one. Almost immediately, the hunter retrieved his battered journal, scrambled towards the end, and started scribbling away. The riddles, the cat’s appearance, the card, everything he documented as best he could. Falk was a fairly learned man, having read much both modern and ancient literature, but none of what the cat said alluded to anything he possessed knowledge of. Perhaps with time, the meaning would come, but in the moment, Falk was lost, a ship adrift on a foggy night in foreign seas. Like it or not, the man was fully enveloped in the cat’s game now, and though he wasn’t squirming, he certainly felt… Uneasy.

Falk closed the journal, satisfied he’d taken note of everything worth writing down; he even made a rough sketch of the cat in charcoal. The hunter kept the card in hand though, twirling it absent-mindedly as he thought. Falk was tempted to rouse the drunk bard from her sleep and demand an explanation of her curious comrade, but he decided against it. There was little to gain, and more than likely he’d just look mad. Eventually, the cloaked skeleton made his way upstairs to the room the Talon Company had so graciously covered for him. The room was modestly decorated, a little plain perhaps, but Falk was easily impressed after spending years resting beneath trees. He settled down on the soft bed, his unblinking eyes staring at the rafters. He wished he could shut them, just for a moment, a brief respite from the world. More than sex, food, or drink, Falk missed sleep, that blissful dream world where one could escape from this one. For him, there was never any escape, only the tenuous meditation he barely managed to achieve that was becoming harder and harder to achieve. The skeleton sat up and began clearing his mind of the day’s events, of his thoughts, of everything. This was as close to sleep as he’d ever come.
The Streets of Ardent’s Fall

The murmurs of the crowd begin to permeate the area, and so to does a light rain. You feel the rain wash over townsfolk and cobblestone alike. As you look at the crevices in between the bricks you notice the trail of blood riding along the rain water.

You notice a number of guards making their way towards the estate in formation with weapons and shields drawn. You can still hear whispers of panic throughout the crowd, and among many of the low-ranking guards. You wonder to yourself what this commotion is coming from, but your thoughts are quickly tuned out by the sounds of familiar church bells. Their melancholic song rings throughout the city, and overhead a flock of crows seek refuge from the intense sounds.

Upon looking again towards the Viceroy’s Estate you see it. It’s marvelous antiquity serves as an oxymoron or some kind of cruel joke. It is an affront to the onlookers for what seems obvious now. Investigating the building you notice the window to the Viceroy’s balcony opened wide with the drapes dancing like wild fire in the wind, and hanging from the balcony is Viceroy Cadby himself.

His shirt is torn, nearly off, exposing his gut as abrasions and cuts dot his exposed skin. His eyes are rolled back into his head, lifeless, and his face stained with a blue tint.

Lucilia pushes her way through the crowd of people, her armor still clung to her body as she finally broke through the crowd and looked up at the dead viceroy. She looked around, the guards were in a panic and as were the people. This was a delicate situation, a most delicate situation indeed. The Wolfram turned towards the crowd and raised her hands to try and get the people to become silent before raising her voice, ”Please remain calm! I know this situation is dire, but we must remain calm and collected if we want to know what happened. Now please, we will launch an immediate investigation into the situation.”

Baffled at your presence, the distinguished guard turns to Lucilia. “Ah, Lady Wolfram!” In a hushed tone the guard continues, “I had heard of your arrival. I am truly sorry that it has come at a time such as this.” The soldier quickly realigns his posture, now standing straight with a fist over his chest.

Her head turned towards the decorated guard with the cape, and ordered ”I have been in company not twenty minutes ago with the Viceroy and Lord Caldwin, can you find me the Gudeiur?”

“M’lady, I assure you that we are investigating the matter. I implore you to seek refuge in the barracks tonight. I will assign an active patrol to your care. I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to stand down in this matter. We are searching for Caldwin. Here,” the guard turns whistling to some of the guards patrolling the area. “I’ll have my guards escort you to safety.”

”I am not some defenseless dame! And furthermore it is likely that the killer is still around. I want all entrances and exits to this city covered! No one in or out until we find this noble killer.” Lucilia snapped, unafraid of the situation nor the guards and his men. This city may not be claimed by the Wolf Pack but she would have to find the swine who did this or the peasantry would panic. A panicked sheep is one not easily controlled.

The guard captain looks on at Lucilia completely unsure of the protocol for this situation. Puzzled, he nods his head before standing back behind Lucilia. He motions towards the guards that awaited his orders. The group of them head inside of the Viceroy’s Estate through the public entrance.

The crowd, however, still seemed panicked. The presence of a Wolfram surely wasn’t helping matters. Had she just said that she was with the Viceroy just minutes ago? Whispers stirred about the crowd as the eyes of the common folk pierced right through Lucilia.

Falk could almost feel the nervous energy among the crowd, like electricity jumping from one person to the next. He didn’t know the man whose body was on gruesome display, but judging from the crowd’s reactions, he was a man of great importance. Not anymore Falk mused. The man’s blood was dripping into the streets, suggesting that he’d been killed only just recently. The killer couldn’t have gotten far. Falk gripped his sword tighter. He spotted an authoritative figure in glistening wet armor push their way through the crowd and address the sordid lot. A woman, judging from his figure. She addressed the crowd, and Falk couldn’t help but feel a mixture of admiration and jealousy; the woman possessed the confidence he once had, to stand before a crowd and rally an investigation, despite not having any real jurisdiction in the matter. The woman didn’t even wear the ridiculous captain of the guard hat. The rain began pulsing down on his heavy cloak as Falk moved closer towards the scene of the crime, vigilant eyes scanning the crowd for any sign of the killer. He caught the exchange between the woman and the captain, shocked she wasn’t put in chains on the spot; but then he recalled the value of a royal name. The woman was practically untouchable, even if she held the bloody dagger in her gauntleted hand. Nevertheless, they were on the hunt for one Gudeiur, and Falk’s purse was feeling empty. “Blood’s starting to congeal. If you don’t hurry, porky’s killer there will be back home before the rest of these yokels. You’re gonna need a hunter,” Falk said coolly from beneath his mask to the armored woman. “Or a spare blade, from the looks of this crowd.” As if sensing the timing was all wrong, the now-soaked raven perched on his shoulder croaked “Heh-low.” Falk turned his head and quickly shushed the bird before turning back to the regal woman.

The noble woman gazed upon the man who had come up, not knowing whether to be offended that he referred to a noble, whose corpse he stood in front of, as ‘porky’ or to be amused that a crow could talk. She raised an eyebrow before looking to the guard and back to the man. Lucilia walked towards the man, ”Firstly, you will refer to Viceroy Cadby as that, as a peasant should. Secondly, it would seem that we may need help in the investigation, while I shall hire you, momentarily as a bodyguard-“

“But my lady,” The guard captain tries to interject. Stepping forward he looks on before him at this apparent mercenary with disdain. “My men are more than capable of-”

”Let me finish, fool!,” Lucilia snapper towards the interrupting guard captain, before continuing, ”I wish to employ your served because I feel that the guards men will need their manpower for searching the city for the one who could have done this.”

Peasant? Falk’s blood boiled. He fists clenched his fists so hard his thumb popped out of place, which brought him back to the moment. Who was he, really? A disgraced noble, no royal name, no holdings, nothing, dressed in rags fit for a beggar. So, peasant was not far off from the truth. Falk let this slight pass. The guard attempted to interject, but the woman cut him off with even more scathing remarks. It seems he’d landed a job after all, though he certainly didn’t enjoy the title bodyguard. Falk didn’t have time to celebrate his little victory, as the crowd began edging closer despite the shield-bearing guards digging their heels into the ground. “Well, my lady, we might need the whole city guard here to make sure you’re not strung up with Viceroy Cadby.” Shouts of murderer filled the air as the drunken citizens flew into a violent fervor, throwing sticks, rocks, and whatever else they could get their hands on, though the trio were shielded from the debris by guards. Falk finally drew his bastard sword, though he kept the steel pointed at the cobblestone.

The Wrangled Drunkard

Aria had decided to get some rest after the excitement of the festival only to find Az-Set laying nonchilantly on her Cot after she had locked the door behind herself. Or was it the seductive kind of lying down. She couldn’t ever tell, casualy dangerously sexy was basicly his default apperance. His only appearance now that she thought about it.

”What are you doing here, now?”

”Town and a night like this is bound to have something interesting happen. I, my dear servant, am simply making sure you don’t sleep through it.”

”What makes you so sure that...”

And then the screaming started. ”Ah, there it is. Now, on you go and investigate. And before you try to worm your way out of it, I’ll remind you that you swore to 'find out what this talon company business in Artend falls, that you find so interesting for some reason, is all about'. This could be related to that could it not.”

”It could also not be relevant at all. Do you want me investigating every vaguely unusual sound I hear now? Because I can, and it would be really boring for both of us.”

”Not at all. Only the ones I find it interesting. It’s in the deal, I remember even if you do not.”

”Oh fuck me. 4 years and I’m still...”

"What was that first bit, hmmm?”

"Nope. No. Not dignifying that with a response. I am going.”


The Streets of Ardent’s Fall

Raux ambled her way slowly down the street with a sweeping swagger to her step. She walked a straight line like a fly could fly straight. That was all over the place. But that did not matter, most of the streets were full of drunks. And at some point… the cat had found a fresh bottle in her hand. How strange. Regardless, she bit down on the cork and twisted it off.

The cork was dropped to the ground to make way for the fluid to brush against her tongue. The sweet taste of honey was quickly overpowered by the foul taste of alcohol. She retched, quickly spitting up what had made its way into her jaws.

“How do people drink this horse piss…” she mumbled to herself, her blurry eyes fell on the people shuffling on the streets. Like her… they had the pleasures of experiencing alcohol. Unlike her… they were roaring drunk and wandering aimlessly. This was quite pitiful to the Brith, who felt they could use a cause to help take up their time.

So… she inhaled. And with a surprising lack of slurring in her voice, she chanted out with a musical fever a few words that’d quickly gather the attention of both brithians and sailors. For that moment, her soprano voice echoed in the air over, and silenced all the bothersome noises while her hypnotic bardic performance began. Oh how sweetly and gently would her song pull at their attention, and draw them in with a desire to follow and sing along in merriment.

“OOo-ooo-oh we’d be all-llll-lll right, if the wind was in our sails,” Her voice rang out. She playfully rolled a few words, turning her voice into a beautiful yet rustic instrument of its own. One born of a long lived sailor. Somewhere down the line she had emptied her current bottle, and picked up two more bare ones. They were worn on her fingers and cracked rhythmically into a tempo.

“OOoooooh we’d be alllllllll right, if the wind was in our sails!~” As she repeated herself, a few men walked up beside her. One, a human with leathery skin burned repeatedly under the fury of the sun over the seas. He was beating on his chest and drunkenly humming a tune. The other, who Raux now leaned on, was a fellow brithian belting along with the chant.

“OOoooooh we’d be alllllllll right, if the wind was in our sails!” Come the third, quite a group had lifted themselves from the sides of the streets or pulled themselves away from the back alley and their… various reliefs… to join in the song.

“AND WE’LL ALL HANG ON BEHIND!” It was a motley group… but it did exponentially swell in size as sailors from various races and backgrounds took to the streets to join in on the merriment wherever this brithian lead. Together their song was resounding through the air, assisted with various methods of creating musical sounds. Chest beating, tapping on glass, or carrying empty barrels to drum on with their knuckles.

And we'll ro-o-oll the old chariot along!
We'll ro-o-oll the golden chariot along!
We'll ro-o-oll the old chariot along!
And we'll all hang on behind!

Following along behind the swelling crowd of drunken singers with a look of bemusement on her face. Az-Set, she imagined, was loving every second of this ridiculous display. When the cat’s herd wobbled into the confrontation in front of the Viceroy’s Palace she clambered her way atop one of the market stalls to get a better look at what all the commotion was about.

There was a weight in the brith’s lyrics that was difficult to ascertain. It was one part liberating and another part constricting if such a feeling was even possible. While the sailors and the drunkards felt bound to Raux’s enchanting rhythmic magics the growing animosity within the crowd was still palpable. As the brith guided the sailors towards the mob it seemed that some of the tension was alleviated. Ceasing the storm of rocks that had pelted the guards’ shields many in the crowd had turned their attention to Raux and her singing. Everything was quite contradictory; what an odd night indeed.

Among the confusement a man ushered his way through the crowd gracefully. His hand glided across backs and waists as if each member of the crowd had been familiar. His was a complexion the color of sand. He wore loose fitting garments: a white long sleeved shirt with modest ruffles lining the collar and buttons, a slim black coat hugging his thin frame, and a red sash that covered a good portion of his lower body looping around a brown belt.

The man made his way toward Lucilia and the guard captain. As he did so it became apparent that he was missing his left forearm completely. The sleeve of his black coat was tucked inward neatly at the bicep. He eyed Raux and felt himself smirking at her antics.

And seeing the effects of her efforts, with the crowd drawing to a calm, if not confusion. Raux, slowly began to lag behind her group before the attention fully settled on her and made her more memorable than she would like. The singing cat’s body disappeared within the shuffling sea of singing drunks. She stopped singing, but that did not stay the merriment her little herd had.

He stood behind Lucilia nodding to her in greeting before stepping out ahead of her.

“Good people, of Ardent’s Fall, I hear your cries for justice” he began. His voice managed to echo throughout the plaza. “I assure you that the Talon Company will be working diligently to get to the meaning of this and bring those responsible to justice for their heinous crimes.” He looked out at the crowd his hand extended.

“While I understand your pain and your frustration it is imperative to the pursuit of justice for our fair city, that you all return to your homes as the guards have instructed. We do not yet know of where the perpetrators of this crime lurk or if they still roam among these streets. Protect your families, and stay inside until further notice is provided to you.”

The lull of Raux’s performance managed to pacify the bewildered crowd well enough that they were in no condition to protest the man’s words. After all, Mikael ibn Da’ud was a protector of their great city. His Talon Company was a great boon to the city, and if they were investigating the matter then surely it’d be resolved promptly.

And speaking of Raux… she was temporarily nowhere to be found. Temporarily being that she was not seen inside crowd. Instead she seemed to be stumbling in from a direction that did not make much sense from her last location. A good choice for someone not trying to be publicly known as much more than a common minstrel. “Lassy… mind…” she paused as she moved to cover her muzzle with a hand. Quite an audible belch could be heard leaving her jaws. “...mind tellin’ me how in the blazin hell you threw a lynching party for yourself.”

Lucilia let out a very clear look of disgust at the bard, taking a step away and looking back towards Mikael.

Raux raised a brow to the glare she received from the noble, and clicked her tongue. Though her head was starting to clear up as the alcohol started to work its way out of her body… it still was quite a chore to stand on her own. So she pulled the longsword and sheath from her belt, and tacked it into the ground like a cane to prop herself with. “Riiiiight… well my obnoxiously assertive lordling... locking down a town by -your- orders after seeing that mob of pissed faces? Looks like a downright good idea if you plan on having your head kicked about like a ball.”

Her eyes snapped to the cat, narrowed and judging of the words that the bard had presented. ”I am Lucilia Von Wolfram, peasants such as yourself and the crowd should not question what is best for the situation. And-“ she took a step towards the bard and raised the back of her hand to slap her, but she hesitated, not wanting to touch the dirty creature before her, ”-and I would recommend you watch your tone in front of me unless you want to be the one whose head is rolling.”

“I know who you are, and frankly your title ain’t worth a pitcher of piss to me. I’m not of these lands sweet heart, and you’ve got me to thank for calming the crowd enough to keep them from decking the streets with lordling giblets like a blood fueled holiday, ye highness,” The Bard drawled, freely letting her own annoyance poison her words.

The crowds began to disperse slowly as various weapon-clad guild members, all doning uniforms with a color pattern similar to Mikael’s, consoled stragglers. Among these guild members was the elf you’d met before, Talis Cleverfoot. Her red hair was tied back in a ponytail, and her small crossbow hung from her belt. Her larger ears distinguished her as a wood elf. She, and many others in the group looked less than thrilled to be walking the streets so early in the morning.

Mikael turns to Lucilia with an expression of bemusement staining his face. “I suppose staying out of trouble wasn’t an option…” He sneered, but his tone was at least somewhat jovial. Looking out at the whittling crowds, the man continued. His gaze remained fix forward now, but his attention was turned to the guard captain. “Asher, your men will follow Lady Wolfram’s instruction to the letter. Understood?”

“Yes, m’lord,” Asher nodded in compliance before straightening his stance.

“Good, and by the ten, get that damned body down.” Asher again nodded to Mikael’s commands before rushing off to rendevouz with his men.

“Any commands in particular, m’lady?” Mikael’s eyes playfully wandered to Lucilia as he feigned respect for the formalities of nobility. “Other than establishing a retainer for drunken sailors all out of wars to fight,” he noted as he studied the raucous swelling crowds of seafarers.

”I have already made my instruction clear, the city is to be under complete lockdown until we find this noble killer. Now, tell me, Mikael, why might the Viceroy have disliked you and your company? He spoke very ill of you before I departed back to the inn,” she inquired before continuing, ”Do not assume I am pointing fingers at you or your company, but it is something I must confirm.”

“I rarely make false assumptions, m’lady,” his voice was sharp, but there was a coyness to it. “I’m well aware of who you’d see hang for this. Under normal circumstances locking down the city might work. Unfortunately, it won’t do any good here. With the festival having come to and end our guards couldn’t possibly house the absurd number of travelers that now occupy our docks.” Sighing to himself, Mikael’s hand traced the outline of his jaw; unlike many men in Astoria, he was clean shaven.

“As for the Viceroy’s distaste for me and my guild?” Mikael looked to be recalling a particular memory. “That requires time we don’t have. Sadly, for the people of Ardent’s Fall, Viceroy Cadby wasn’t the most... apt politician. He prefers, or rather preferred, the art of swordplay over wordplay. He sought to let his prejudice and his pride take hold of this city, and cripple it. Luckily, for Cadby’s legacy more than anything else, my company and I did his talking for him. It often left his pride bruised, and his perceived wisdom threatened.”

The noble let out an aggravated sigh before turning to Mikael, ”Keep those at the docks entertained, I will be investigating this matter personally. Newly hired guard, come with me and we shall investigate his office personally.” With that she motioned for Falk and the guard captain to follow her into the palace.

“That’s not how our arrangement will work, I’m afraid. Falk, here, for example is already working for the Talon Company- same as you.” Mikael nodded to the armor clad warrior before turning his attention back to Lucilia. “I’d had other work for you all to carry out, but this must come first. Admittedly, starting with the office might prove fruitful. I’ll have the body sent to the mage academy, and it’s possible going there could provide some insight.”

If Falk still had eyebrows, one would be raised. “So, I guess that makes us partners, my lady,” he said at her side, obviously humored by the notion. Still, something in his posture suggested his words weren’t entirely true; he lent her more respect than the hunter would to most. Despite his scathing words towards the viceroy, he still respected regal titles. “Will I be paid for services rendered? I’m sure the mob would have ripped you to shreds had it not been for me.” Falk’s concealed face made it difficult to determine whether or not this query was in jest.

”Frankly, you just stood there and drew your sword and the guards held the crowd back. Thus the answer is an astounding no.”

Before Mikael can continue, Talis walks towards the group. Her hazel eyes study Lucilia, Raux and Falk. She wasn’t quite sure what she should make of these new allies. “Gudeuir’s personal guard Evangeline is staying at the Temple of Cristo, in the merchant district. The guards say that Gudeuir is nowhere to be found.”

“I see... any other word, then?” Mikael, looked to have a decade on the elf. His deep brown eyes met hers with a trusting gaze.

“Cadby’s children have been notified of what’s happened. They’re at the guard barracks,” she responded.

“Good work Talis. This...certainly postpones what I’d intended for our new friends.” Mikael walked forward motioning for Talis to follow. He turned back to Lucilia. “I’ll leave following up on a few of the leads to to you all Lady Wolfram. We can’t do all of the work for you, after all. Meanwhile, the myself and some of our other guild members will work on finding Gudeuir and maintaining order at the docks.”

“I expect consistent progress reports. I’d recommend, at least, getting some rest before you begin the investigation.” Mikael and Talis headed off to the west, no doubt back to the guild or the docks. “Oh, and do try not to kill each other. This city’s had enough murder for one day.” Mikael’s hand extended lazily over his head to wave off the group.

”Oh, how convenient. So, in addition to our original debt, we get the pleasure of investigating Viceroy Cadby’s death, and free of charge I’d assume. I can see why the man wasn’t fond of your little company,” Falk grumbled as the two walked away. His voice had a peculiar quality about it; though the Vicelles accent and regal air were mostly restrained, what struck one as odd was the lack of natural pauses in a sentence. Falk didn’t drone, perse, but something was certainly lacking in his cadence. “Mikael’s right, though. We’ll need our strength for tomorrow, the gods only know what they have planned for us.”

Lucilia stopped, everyone would seem to be insistent that they went to bed and get rest when there was much work to be done. It would be a lie if she had stated that she was not feeling the effects of exhaustion, especially after having traveled to the city for most of the day. With an audible inhale, she turned back to Raux and Falk then proceeded to walk past them, ”I expect everyone to be up at first light. I will not wait to begin this investigation.”

The ragtag group of adventurers made the short walk down the battered cobblestone road back to the tavern. As lamplighters went about extinguishing street lamps, the coastal city was illuminated only by the sliver of dull moon peaking from behind the rainclouds. They passed a small city watch patrol on their return journey bearing torches and steel, but aside from that, their trek through the dark city was quiet and uneventful. Each of the members wordlessly went their own way after passing through the tavern’s foyer; though they knew not what tomorrow held for them, they were certain the day would not be easy.

Subject to change!

Greetings all! Looking forward to getting this RP up and running. There's a whole lot of interesting characters I can't wait to see in action, and I'm sure that Famotill has something fun planned for them :D
'So this is the Baron... Interesting... I thought he'd be taller.'

I KNEW I SHOULD HAVE STUCK WITH 6'2. Not even gonna lie though, laughed out loud when I read that. Good post Grizz!
If y'all wanted to do a big collab post in the pirate pad I think that wouldn't be a bad idea, just to get a lot of the dialogue out of the way!
Now if only some of my Owl homies could post >:(
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