Close to the Heart (Astarte)


Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#1
Laelia: HP = 61, PP = 47, EP = 56, Status = Fine besides the rain... And the dagger driven past the hilt into her chest

It started, as it always did, with a story. Wild stories, impossible stories, the sort that Laelia might have passed off as fanciful rumor before, but now... Now, with her very life force being drawn from her by the dagger still wedged beside her heart, now if fate opted to smile down at her, it might be her salvation.

There were legends everywhere, of course. Some of them had begun walking Donevrion openly again all too recently, and new ones had been born among the flames of war. The recent past was important to Laelia now, however. Her search for a cure to her ailment had taken the young kitsune far, had caused her to reach far where once she had been all but sedentary. Ever since the cursed blade had afflicted her and left her all but crippled, she had sought every scrap of knowledge, seen every expert... And yet, she had no answers. No one had recognized the make of the weapon, even when it was recreated with all too accurate illusions from what had by now been burned into her memory. No one had been able to tell her how to free herself of it, no reclusive sage or holy man or back alley sorcerer.

The answer had to lie further back than the present, originating much like the blade itself from the distant past. Artifacts of the past had been her area of study, her passion, and now it might be her only salvation even if it had been what had put her into this predicament in the first place.

Unfortunately, it was most certainly not going to be an easy journey, nor one without its own perils. That fact sat like a weight in her thoughts as she trudged through the muddy earth, raindrops pattering against the hood of her cloak - or against her bare head if she had opted to travel without one. It was cold, barely above the point where the rain might have been snow or sleet. It was well past the end of summer now, and travel was becoming harder by the day, but still she had to move on, though exhaustion made her limbs leaden with every step.

She was in Northwestern Crolia, in lands that had seen elven and human habitation for thousands of years. The roads were well traveled, the pine woods on either side of the path she walked well used to passage and the occasional bout of logging to feed the hungry fires of people looking to avoid the cold. Everyone that she had passed was in a hurry, gearing up for the winter and complaining of the weather and bandits and all manner of things. It had not been an easy journey. It wouldn't have been if she were healthy, and with fatigue constantly sapping her Laelia had taken twice as long as anyone had said it ought to.

Through a mountain pass she had gone from the roads still maintained by the cities belonging to the kingdom of Therion, around the coast for a hundred miles North and East through all but barren lands, then through another pass that let out onto tundra for another two score miles before she had been able to turn South again and enter more hospitable country. The seas were too treacherous and her purse too light to book passage on a ship, and too few were coming and going to this part of Crolia at this time of year to make the voyage cheap enough that she might have been able to work for it in a reasonable amount of time. No carriages or caravans came here, not at this time of year, and few enough travelers passed this way. She had gone by few villages and not a single town since leaving the lands she was familiar with. The last had been a fishing village located along the coastal tract, a small but dense collection of small huts populated sparsely by odd, insular folk who had done any business in gruff tones and made little secret of the fact that they wanted her gone.

Now, however, as she trudged through the muck on the dirt path, with narry a stone set to keep it from becoming a river of mud, she sighted civilization on the horizon. The woods gave way to an ancient crumbling stone wall, looming like an ancient specter just a few more miles ahead. Gargoyles stood atop the gatehouses, leering demonic figures resplendent with moss and the wearing down of centuries of hard weather, and watchtowers appeared every so often along the wall. Beyond it, slowly rising on a hill, were rows of buildings, some of stone and others of wood. They were ancient, all of them, but not in the wholesome way that she might be familiar with. Many parts of Therion were ancient, and the Academy was ancient, and if she had been lucky enough to see it Gods-Reach was ancient. This place might have matched any by age, but it was to a distinctly different effect. This place looked as much like a ruin as a place where people lived, a remnant of a bygone era, and the figures she saw moving across it looked more like ants crawling across a carcass than they did the bustling population of a thriving civilization.

The land flattened as she drew nearer, the last mile or so mostly a flat plain where it looked like crops had been grown, but now lay fallow after the harvest had come and gone. That left no cover from the drizzle falling down around her, but the skeletal trees and occasional hearty pine growing nearer to the road had offered little before anyway.

Beyond the town lay her real destination, past it and sitting on the side of a mountain like a bloated tick. An ancient, crumbling ruin, a castle which she had read a dozen names for and heard a dozen more. All of them spoke of its curse, of the lingering darkness that walked its ruined passageways, of the evils that may have caused it and of the folk who gone to loot it. As far as she could tell, few returned, and most of those who did came back maimed of body and mind alike, raving of impossible horrors. Some legends said that a vampire had taken up residence there long ago, had ruled over the land around the fortress as his own personal empire for centuries before a brave hero for whom she had heard countless different descriptions had finally slain him. It was said that his minions and his ghost still walked the halls, slaying any who would come to pillage the place of its remaining wealth for their trespass.

Other tales said it was a liche, or a maddened spirit of Badaria's first king, or a wicked faerie, or a demon lord risen from Hell, or a dragonborn tyrant. Still other tales spoke of tragedies that had played out there, of loves lost and betrayals and all manner of things that worked wonderfully in a storybook or as the script of a play, but made little sense if used to explain why it was supposedly so dangerous. Legends whirred about the place, but as many as she had been able to find connected to this secluding, crumbling land, Laelia had found one thing to be almost universally in common. The legends always spoke of dark artifacts of mysterious power, and more often than not of something that stole the very life from a person's body.

The kitsune had heard many names for this place in her research. Blacktower. Raven's Keep. The Blood-Soaked Palace. Aekarian. The Ashen Throne. Numenrioun. The town, however, always had the same name, and it was one that she had seen on a sign post that had looked ready to collapse at any moment; Horibyrg. Whether or not Laelia wanted to actually stop at the decrepit village, however, was up to her. It was growing late, and though she couldn't see the sun through the dark haze hanging in the sky it was surely well past midday. Even so, she might prefer to avoid further dealings with people and instead continue on towards her true destination, exhaustion be damned. The choice, ultimately, was hers.
 

Astarte

Tentacle Monster
Dec 28, 2014
353
18
#2
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia was miserable, though that was hardly an unusual feeling these days. Not only was it raining, her simple travelling cloak only just keeping her from being soaked through and leaving her simply unpleasantly damp instead, but fatigue was already setting in. She used to make trips like this regularly enough, often even into the much more treacherous terrain of the amazon, and she could walk twice this far without any serious strain. While she couldn't claim to have been a prime example of physical fitness, she'd certainly kept herself in shape. Now though, sometimes it felt like she was barely above the level of a cripple, the artifact blade she was now so desperately seeking a method of removing from her body sapping all of her strength away.

She'd made progress on fighting its effects, at least enough to function mostly normally, but unfortunately little at finding a way to remove it. Of most notable effectiveness was an alchemical formula she'd developed to push her even beyond her previous level of ability, but it too was taxing on her body, too much to use regularly. So that left her in her current state, struggling to make a trip even the bookworm types back at her academy would have been able to make with only a little complaining. She had a promising lead this time though, or at least a more solid one than she'd had in months.

It could all be stories, but one thing she'd learned through years of studying ancient artifacts and ruins was that stories were rarely only stories. There were so many about this place, so ancient that nobody could even agree on what it was called, that there had to be some shred of truth. No experts she'd been able to track down could help her, so she had to assume that modern knowledge was useless. The tomb where she'd found the blade had been ancient, and while the tomb itself had held no useful knowledge, she could only hope that the answers she was seeking could be found in equally ancient places.

The kitsune stopped in her tracks as she crested the last hill between her and her immediate destination, observing the town in the distance, and then the distant castle on the mountainside. She was familiar with ancient places, and she could tell at a glance that this place was likely as old as any of them, save perhaps some of the amazonian ruins. Compared to other such ancient cities though, this one seemed to have little care put into maintaining and preserving the ancient architecture. Perhaps they simply lacked the means, so far from the main centres of population, but the crumbling walls made her feel like she was walking into a ghost town. Only the sight of people moving about—barely visible as more than little specks at this distance—was enough to convince her otherwise.

Of course, she wasn't certain she'd receive a warm welcome here, she certainly hadn't in the last village she'd passed through. The dreary atmosphere wasn't helped by the rain, and she was tempted to just pass by the city entirely. If she was in perfect health she probably would have, but she'd quickly learned not to pass up a chance for a good rest, not when the cursed dagger embedded in her chest could act up at any moment. Another few moments and her body began to shift, tail shrinking back into her body until there was nothing left, and her fox-like ears similarly vanishing to be replaced by ordinary human ones. It was always uncomfortable doing this, her balance never quite feeling right and her hearing dulled, but she'd gotten used to it after years of wearing this human guise.

While Crolians weren't as xenophobic as their southern neighbours, Laelia had found that strangers tended to react more favourably to her human appearance, especially in such remote communities. Another moment and her silver-white hair shifted into a more muted brown, her eyes transitioning from gold to a pale green. She didn't want to stand out, since she wasn't planning to stay for long. No longer than it took for her to have a decent night's rest, maybe pick up some supplies before she left. The blade at her side might draw some attention, with the unusual design of it and its twin—the spear that made up its other half, currently strapped alongside her pack on her back—but there was little she could do about that. She wasn't about to wrap them up or otherwise conceal them, not feeling comfortable without Chrysanta close at hand in such unfamiliar and potentially dangerous lands.

Her preparations made while she was still safely out of sight, or at least too far for close observation, Laelia continued her trek down the muddy road. She glanced along the crumbling walls and old watchtowers as she drew closer, looking for any sign that there might be town guard on watch, or who might try to bar her entry to the town proper. If nobody stood in her way, she would continue into the town proper, looking for any sign of an inn or anywhere else that she might be able to rent a place to stay. Her purse was beginning to get rather light, but she was sure that she still had enough for this.

Barring any visible signs or obvious places, she would try to find someone who didn't look too likely to take offence to interruption, doing her best to politely get their attention. "Excuse me. Would you happen to know of anywhere I might be able to rent a room? I've only just arrived in town, and I'm quite tired from the trip."
 

Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#3
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia: HP = 61, PP = 47, EP = 56, Status = Fine, Weakened

The walls were manned, but sparsely. No banner hung upon the walls or over the gate, and the men walking the walls were clad in grey clothes and maile, hoods drawn over their conical helmets and their tabards bare save for a black cross. Normally the lack of iconography might suggest a fresh conquest or bandits, but from what she had managed to discover before coming here the curse of the ancient castle had passed on to its owners. Every noble family who had come to claim lordship over this town had died out within a generation, often from tragic accidents, wasting illness, or mysterious violence. It was unclaimed, and had been for over thirty years now, leaving the town to be managed by a democratically elected council by the last reports she had seen.

The men on the wall were grey of complexion and had rugged, craggly faces. Most looked fairly old, not middle aged yet but certainly past their prime. They were armed with longbows and swords held belted at their hips, the old double edged style of blade that was still popular in many places even as more advanced ranged weaponry was beginning to spread into Crolia. The gate was closed, and did not open as she drew near. Bows were trained on her with arrows nocked before she could have made the gate in a hundred paces, though the strings were not yet drawn to loose their deadly shafts.

"Who goes there!?" A loud, curmudgeonly voice called from the gatehouse, and a man to match it strode - or perhaps more accurately limped - out into view up on the wall. The other five men near enough to Laelia's current position to take concern with her were all evidently experienced soldiers, or at least could play the part well enough to pass off as such at a glance, but this man was almost too grizzled to be believed. One eye was half closed by a scar running across his brow, and his sallow face was so craggy that she could have traced the lines across it for hours without retracing a step. Much of his head besides his face was hidden by a grey hood, but he went without a helmet and what little she could see suggested a receding hairline or pure baldness. He walked bent and with a cane to assist a limping gait, but his voice still had the power to carry even if it was growing strained and high with age.

"From where do you hail, stranger, and what is your business in Horibyrg? We've not had many travelers in these parts lately, and didn't expect any with the season's change. You'll not be able to get back the way you've come until the spring thaw, so if I was you I'd turn right back 'round and be on your merry way!" The old gatekeeper spoke more in a grandfatherly tone than a threatening one, as if seeking to offer genuine advice. Still, there were bows pointed at her chest even as he spoke, and the men holding them didn't look particularly nervous about the prospect of using them. The old, one eyed figure leaned over the barrier of the wall at her, peering at her suspiciously, and as yet the gate remained closed.
 

Astarte

Tentacle Monster
Dec 28, 2014
353
18
#4
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

While Laelia hadn't been expecting a warm welcome, not after the last village she'd passed through, she hadn't expected these people to be quite so wary either. Her eyes could pick out several archers already watching her, though fortunately they didn't seem openly hostile, holding their bows ready but going no further than that. Her hand lingered near her blade for a moment, the gun built into it a nasty surprise for anyone who might think they had her outranged, but she quickly recognized them for what they were. A town guard of sorts, or perhaps more accurately a militia, she wasn't entirely certain which, but she didn't want to start a fight with them.

"I apologize for the trouble," She called back to the voice that shouted down at her, pulling back her hood to properly meet the gaze of the speaker before holding her empty hands up slightly in a placating gesture, to ensure that everyone on the wall knew she wasn't reaching for a weapon, "I've come quite far, from the Academy. Your city has quite a long history, though poorly documented, and I'd hoped to do some studying of the place while I was in the area." It wasn't a lie, merely an omission. She had come from the academy, and she did intend to study the area, she had simply chosen not to mention the precise target of her studies.

With all the ominous stories surrounding the old castle, she wasn't sure that bringing that up at this time was wise. These people might not take kindly to perceived looters, or anyone who might stir up trouble there, so it was a topic she'd much prefer to bring up when she didn't have several archers staring her down. She could only hope she'd presented herself as harmless enough, most people didn't seem to feel particularly threatened by scholars after all. Her weapon were unfortunately quite visible, but it would have likely been even more suspicious to be travelling the roads alone and unarmed.

The kitsune shifted nervously as she waited for an answer, eyes on the bows being held by the men on the walls. She felt quite vulnerable, if they decided something was wrong with her, unlikely as that might be. She didn't dare raise any kind of defences, displays of power of that sort likely to be seen as hostile. She could only wait and hope they chose to let her in, or else she'd be stuck taking the long way around the town to reach her destination, and likely camping out in the rain again. Finding a decent bed for the night, and a roof to sleep under, would be very much preferable.
 

Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#5
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia: HP = 61, PP = 47, EP = 56, Status = Fine, Weakened

The old man peered down at Laelia, his eyes narrowing and brow furrowing. The men on the wall shuffled nervously around, arrows still to hand, but still no shafts were loosed. "Ain't nothin out here worth a study, stranger... Ain't nothin! And ain't nothin out past here but fishing villages and mountains neither, so my guess is you heard some damn fool story 'bout that castle. Well forget it! There's nothin left out there - nothin at all! - but ghosts n' bones. Best to leave both of 'em be."

He fixated Laelia with a piercing stare with not an ounce of sweetness in it, the sort of fatherly glare that she had lacked growing up but seen adopted often enough on older patrons and perhaps even her mentor when she or another young person was being unruly. After a few moments his expression eased, though it didn't soften, and he continued; "Like I said, if I were you I'd be out of here at first light tomorrow... But we ain't about to turn away a weary traveler in this weather." He turned to one of the men beside him, "C'mon, get that door open. Don't need to bother with the whole gate, she ain't even got a horse to worry about."

After a minute or so of awkward waiting, the door set into the side of the gate clicked and then opened. Two man in armor stood in it, and if Laelia approach she would get a closer look. Spots of rust were readily evident on the chain links, and spots where the armor had been damaged and repaired gave them a sort of patchwork quality. The scabbards of the swords and leather quivers at their hips were also fairly aged, and as she entered the town through the thick oaken doorway she could see spots of woodrot on the gate itself. The crumbling grandeur of the aging village held up as much when viewed up close as it did peering at it through the gloom and the rain from far off, and once she entered the opening square what she saw there didn't do anything to give her good reason to change her mind.

Beyond the gate was an empty area, perhaps seventy to a hundred feet across from where she stood and maybe twice that wide. The streets were made of crumbling cobblestone, with bits of dirt showing and tufts of scruffy grass or weeds poking out obstinately in the cracks between the paving stones. Off to the right was a large, squat building, possibly a stable or a barracks for the garrison, and off to the left was a similar building that was a little bit closer simply because of where she was entering the town from. Across the way the wider area gave way to streets closed in by more squat buildings, though judging by the faded signs hanging from them they were the lucky shop owners to get property right in front of town. More than half of them were boarded up now, and of those left some of them looked dusty and dim, as if they had been abandoned but the owners were unable or unwilling to shutter their property. There was but one road leading into town from here, sloping upwards towards a level area some ways distant, and it was still wide enough for two large carts to pass one another without trouble.

The nearby men closed the door hastily once Laelia was inside, and made to get back to their posts up on the wall. Two other men, both with halberds rather than swords and bows, remained nearby, one on either side of the gate. The nearer of the two, a stout fellow with a boil on the left side of his nose and narrow dark eyes glared at her, but the other was too far away for her to get a good look at him and seemed intent on ignoring her. As yet, none of them had given her any direction to someplace where they could stay the night, and no one exactly looked like they wanted to talk to her, but she could try to approach someone if she wished. The guards and the old man remained up on the wall, the spokesman returning to his post inside the gatehouse and out of the continuing drizzle, but the halberdiers weren't going anywhere and were right at hand. She didn't see anyone out of armor, at least out in the streets or in the square, but some of the shops had lights shining dimly through the windows. Nermal's Confections and The Iron Emporium might not sound exactly like taverns or inns, but someone inside might be able to tell her where she could find someplace to rest. Alternatively, she could just walk up the street and see what was to be seen.
 

Astarte

Tentacle Monster
Dec 28, 2014
353
18
#6
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

"Thank you." Laelia replied simply after a few tense moments. She'd had to fight the urge to correct the man, to tell him just how much in this town itself—before even considering the ancient castle—would be of great interest to someone like herself. Unfortunately she wasn't here for that, as much as the place did interest her she didn't have that much time to waste. He had all but confirmed her suspicion that the people here weren't too fond of anyone poking around the old castle though, so she'd have to avoid being to overt about that. Or perhaps he'd simply been concerned for her safety? He'd been difficult to read.

Once she'd been allowed inside she pulled up her hood again, keeping her already damp hair from getting completely soaked as she searched for a place to spend the night,and get out of the rain until then. She considered asking someone for directions, but decided that the less people she interacted with the better. She knew she was being a little too paranoid, that it was unlikely anyone would care much about what she did, but she'd spent so much of her life deceiving people about her true nature that it had become almost second nature to hide whatever she could.

She wasn't in any particular rush, only the inconvenience of the rain giving her any motivation to hurry. She planned to stay until morning regardless, and morning wouldn't come any later if she took some time to look around first. This city was as old as any she'd ever seen after all, even if much of the ancient structure seemed to be in disrepair. Her curiosity had been piqued, and while she knew she couldn't spend as much time as she might like looking around, she still had the rest of the evening. Or until the rain made her seek shelter, which was more likely to happen sooner. She had little money on hand to spend, so she had no desire to look at the shops, simply wandering down the main street and taking in the architecture, while keeping an eye out for any signs that might be an inn or tavern of some sort.
 

Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#7
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia: HP = 61, PP = 47, EP = 56, Status = Fine, Weakened

Taking what little protection her already soaked hood might offer, Laelia set off through the dilapidated village in search of a place to rest her weary bones for the night. Exhaustion tugged at her, weighed her down and made her want to sink to the ground and rest on the spot, but even her supernatural heritage wouldn't totally protect her from the effects of the elements on her body, and she would undoubtedly be drenched and achy when she managed to get back to her feet. There weren't many people walking about, though whether that was from the rain or because of the population's apparent xenophobia or something else entirely she could only guess at. Those few she did pass as she tromped away from the gate either gave furtive glances and scurried away upon noticing her, or stopped and glared, watching her until she passed.

The streets displayed the same signs of decay as the rest of the place, the cobblestones often cracked, sunken into the earth, or shattered entirely while the mortar between them was more crumbled or hastily patched up than not. The buildings were even worse up close than they had seemed from far away, more often made of stone or brick than wood - an odd rarity in Crolia for those not leading lavish lifestyles - and as crumbling and patched as the streets she walked down.

There were a few places that might have been inns or taverns before, at least judging by the names, but were now boarded up and abandoned. The Whisper Fiddle, Dire Boar Pub, Sleepy Loaf Inn, Rengle's Rest, The Blessed Blossom... All closed down, colorful signs faded and rotting where they hung and windows and doors boarded over. They weren't the only ones either, though the other closed shops seemed more like shopping points for visitors or travelers passing through than places for them to stay. The inns tended to be more wood than stone, but still favored more solid construction than was commonly seen, many being fairly low to the ground and squat buildings.

After a brief walk down the main street, passing only alleyways and shops along the way with no easy path going deeper into the city, Laelia finally came upon a few places that were still open. Two, in fact, that were directly across the street from each other. The one on her left, 'The Marked Man,' had a few people standing outside of it, smoking something with a harsh, acrid smell, and though it wasn't the merry bustle she would have expected from a popular local tavern, the bubbling noise of numerous conversations going on at the same time suggested that it was well populated. The light inside sputtered irregularly, suggesting a fire lit establishment, and the smoke curling up from the chimney only reinforced that notion. Beneath the smell of the vile plant the people outside were smoking, her sharp nose would detect wood smoke, fried food, and ale.

The other tavern, 'The Scholar's Board,' had no one outside, and indeed no marks to say it was a place where she could stay besides a connotation of the name and the "Vacancies" sign hanging beneath the title board, but pale light filtered through the windows and she could see someone moving around within. It was a taller building, four stories compared to the average three, but was as wide as any of the others. Ivy climbed the front of the white stone building, roots digging into the rock and mortar, and despite the drizzle and the darkness she could see flowers blooming along the vines.
 

Astarte

Tentacle Monster
Dec 28, 2014
353
18
#8
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Now that she was inside, Laelia realized that this town was perhaps even more run-down than she'd expected. Nobody was particularly welcoming either, though neither were they overtly rude in any particular way. She got a few odd looks, but she'd gotten used to that several villages ago. Nobody stopped or harassed her, so she was free to look for a place to spend the night. It took some time, half the buildings she passed seeming to have been closed up or abandoned entirely, and she began to wonder whether she might have better luck finding a way into one of the boarded up buildings for the night rather than finding an inn that was actually still in business. Not the most comfortable of places to sleep, but she'd dealt with worse before, and it would at least be mostly dry.

Fortunately it seemed that would be unnecessary as she finally came across a pair of potential places, opposite the street from each other. She was tempted to go for the one on her left, "The Marked Man", if only for the sake of her coinpurse, which had been getting all too light lately. It certainly looked like it'd be the cheaper of the two, and the usual clientele of such a place didn't particularly bother her. She'd worked in an inn for a few years, she'd seen all sorts who frequented them. The other had immediately caught her interest though, from its name alone.

The guard at the gate hadn't reacted particularly positively to her claim of being a scholar, so she hadn't expected to see a place supposedly targeted towards them. Or perhaps "The Scholar's Board" was merely a name after all, and she was merely overthinking it? Regardless, it couldn't hurt to at least check. If it turned out to be too expensive for her, she could always simply decline and take the other option. Wrinkling her nose slightly at the smell of whatever the men down the street were smoking, Laelia made her way to the front of the ivy-covered building, tentatively pulling the door open and stepping inside.
 
Last edited:

Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#9
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia: HP = 61, PP = 47, EP = 56, Status = Fine, Weakened

The front door of the Scholar's Board was a solid oak construction worn down by long, hard years but still fairly sturdy. It was painted a deep dark green, and the paint job - unlike many other things in this town - was actually apparently being upkept. It was unlocked, and Laelia entered to find it awash in the same sort of light she had studied under at the Academy. The lightstones hanging from swinging settings were in the same spiraled formation in the square room, leaving dark corners, but where those at the Academy had always been meticulously replaced and repaired several of the ones in this room had darkened, leaving patches of long shadows in various points in the room. The walls on the left and right were lined with shelves laden with books and the rear wall had a rack that was half dominated by a wide rack filled with scroll cases, while the other half had a presently unoccupied bar.

The center of the room had a number of tables, at one of which sat the room's only occupant. Sitting fairly close to the door but initially facing away from it was a young man with dark, messy hair that was cut fairly short. He was fairly thin, narrow shouldered, and tall, giving him a lanky look that was only reinforced when he turned and stood up upon Laelia's entry. He had been reading a grey-covered tome, but he abandoned it and took a step closer, folding hands with long spidery fingers in front of him as he turned to face Laelia and adopted a nervous looking smile. He was without any deliberately grown facial hair but sported bit of stubble on his chin and neck,

"Oh! Uhhh.... H-hello! Welcome to the... Scholar's Board. I'm Raeglyn, how may I help you tonight?" He said, his voice wavering slightly and his gaze not quite able to meet Laelia's fully. He jumped before she could respond, dark eyes going wide, and added; "Ahh-ah, of course! You must be cold, it is... Raining. Please! Come in! There's a, uhhh, fire in the back here." He gestured towards a wide doorway on the left hand side of the room, which went into a room with a flickering orange light emanating from out of sight from her current position near the door.
 

Astarte

Tentacle Monster
Dec 28, 2014
353
18
#10
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Entering the building was immediately nostalgic for Laelia, even though she hadn't even been gone from the Academy for that long. While she could pick out a number of differences at a glance, the similarities to where she'd spent so much time studying were strong. It certain;y wasn't as well kept, but everything was still in much better condition than most of the rest of the town seemed to be. Her eyes were drawn to the room's only occupant a moment later as he stood and she immediately drew parallels to a dozen different students she knew from the Academy, even if most were only passing acquaintances at best.

"Thank you, that would be most welcome." Laelia replied once he gave her a moment to speak, lowering the hood of her cloak once again and giving him a polite smile. She briefly wondered if she'd missed something in her efforts to alter the more unusual aspects of her appearance given his apparent nervousness around her, but she passed off that thought just as quickly as it came.

"My name is Laelia, and I only just arrived in town after a long trip," She introduced herself after taking a few more steps inside, just enough that she wasn't blocking the door on the off chance that someone else might enter, but followed if he began to walk towards the back room he indicated. "I was simply looking for a place to stay while I'm here. I believe the sign outside said that you have vacancies?"
 

Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#11
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia: HP = 61, PP = 47, EP = 56, Status = Fine, Weakened

The young man, Raeglyn, let his eyes widen as Laelia drew off her hood and revealed herself. He stood gawking for a moment after she gave him a look at her smiling face, but quickly closed his mouth and coughed awkwardly. "Uhhhh.... R-right, yes.... Just umm... R-right this way!" He continued, before turning on his heal and walking towards the room with the firelight. He banged his toe on the bench he had been sitting at inadvertently in the process and almost tripped and fell on his face, recovering only with a desperate reach towards the table and a surprised gasp. He straightened quickly and awkwardly and turned to Laelia to grin nervously, red in the face from his stumble.

"R-right this way!" He repeated, and this time led her through the rear doorway without further incident. Laelia found herself entering a kitchen of sorts, with a fireplace away in back that was emitting light and, more importantly to her weary frame, warmth. Raeglyn moved aside to let her by, and answered her question; "Yes. We have a number of rooms available, i-if you're interested."
 

Astarte

Tentacle Monster
Dec 28, 2014
353
18
#12
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia didn't give any obvious reaction to the young man's stumble, stifling the brief urge to laugh and keeping her composure. She didn't want to make things any more awkward than they already were, and she'd long since learned the value of tactfulness. It was always worth giving people a good first impression, and she'd had a lot of practise before being accepted into the academy. Dealing with drunks every day had made her quite adept at keeping up a pleasant face regardless of the situation, and cultivated quite a bit of patience. By comparison this was easy to ignore and she followed without comment, by all appearances acting like nothing had happened. "Thank you," Laelia was quick to move to the fire once they reached it. The warmth did wonders for her tired body, not to mention how soaked she was from the rain.

"How much do you charge per night?" she asked after a few moments simply basking in the fire's heat. "I'm not sure how long I'll be staying, so I'd prefer to pay by the night. I'm doing some research here, and I'm not certain how long it will take." She was still concerned about the price, being rather low on money as she was. Not many places she'd passed through recently had been very welcoming, much less had any decent work for her to take up, and the funds she'd brought had begun to dwindle. She'd hoped to be able to ply her trade as an alchemist, but judging by the reception she'd received so far she wasn't certain anyone here would accept either. Regardless, she was certain she could afford one night's rest in a relatively nice bed. She'd need to be as well rested as possible by morning, since she had no idea what she would find in the old ruins she intended to search. She had enough experience to be wary, and camping out on the road had taken its toll on her body.
 

Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#13
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia: HP = 61, PP = 47, EP = 56, Status = Fine, Weakened

"F-f-four coins a night," Raeglynn replied softly, standing behind her as Laelia stood by the warming fire. The heat pierced through the insistent cold that seemed to have settled into her very bones, and though the damp clothes didn't feel much better against her when warm the chill at least began to creep out of her. "W-w-we do accept Theronian coinage... I-if that's all you have. I c-can offer you a m-meal tonight for the price of your room, but if you w-want breakfast that's a c-coin e-extra, and a w-warm bath is another two. Hot w-water is hard to come by these days," The young man continued, stuttering more often even as he laid out fairly mundane information, and his voice practically cracked as he quietly added; "W-w-w-WE could... W-work something out... I-if you're... Short on money. A-and you can f-f-feel free to u-use the b-books on the sh-shelves for your r-research... W-while you're... Here."
 

Astarte

Tentacle Monster
Dec 28, 2014
353
18
#14
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

"Hmmm..." Laelia made a show of considering the prices, but the facade nearly broke for a moment in her surprise at Raeglynn's quiet addition. Was he... propositioning her? It wasn't as if this was the first time, having dealt with a few advances during her time at the academy—and plenty more back when she was still working in a tavern—but she hadn't expected it here. She didn't intend to go through with it now any more than she did then, but her interest was piqued.

"Oh? Did you have something in mind?" She gave him a curious look, playing the 'innocent' angle for all it was worth and acting like she had no idea what he was suggesting—if he even meant what she had assumed he did in the first place. She knew she was making assumptions, but at least this way she wouldn't look like an idiot if she was wrong either.

I'd been hoping to find look for some work tomorrow if I could, I'm actually an excellent alchemist! Oh, and I do mechanical work too! She unashamedly bragged, keeping up her best 'cheerful and perhaps a little airheaded' attitude despite her exhaustion. It was one of her favourite ways of dealing with new people: Make them think she wasn't too perceptive, that they could lure her into doing what they wanted. She wasn't entirely sure it would work with someone like this, awkward and unassertive as he'd so far shown himself to be, but it was worth a try all the same. If things went well, maybe she could squeeze something out of him without having to give up anything. "If you had another suggestion though, I'd love to hear it!"
 

Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#15
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia: HP = 61, PP = 47, EP = 56, Status = Fine, Weakened

"W-w-well, uhmmmm..." He trailed off awkwardly, but then cleared his throat and continued; "It's just... I sort... Run things on my own around here... And uhm... It can be... Stressful... T-t-to have to everything yourself... Y-you probably know how it is." The innkeeper trailed off again, letting Laelia continue with her boasting about her skills.

"Ahhh, a-an alchemist too! W-well, I don't know what you mean by... M-mechanical work, b-but rumors say that the m-mayor is ill, o-or something like that. I-if you could do something about that, maybe you c-could get some c-coin for it," Raeglynn continued thoughtfully, apparently forgetting his own offer in the meantime.

It would be several seconds of silence later or a reminder from Laelia that would bring him back to that particular awkward subject, and if she didn't make it after his mention of the mayor she might be spared what he said next; "W-well, I need s-some help cleaning u-up... A-and stuff. I could offer you the second meal for free as well, if you just... Uhm... Y-y'know... Cooked them both yourself. T-that kind of thing. Uhhhmm... I-if you wanted to help m-me catalogue some things, I could cut your room price in h-h-half... Or... Uhm..."

Raeglynn had begun to play with his hands as he spoke, twisting them bending his fingers against the palm of the opposite hand, first one way and then the other. Laelia heard a few audible cracks come from his joints in the process, but as he trailed off again he stopped, one hand gripping the other.
 

Astarte

Tentacle Monster
Dec 28, 2014
353
18
#16
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

"Ah, of course." Laelia nodded in understanding despite not actually fully understanding. She'd never really had to run anything alone, never been solely responsible for anything more than herself. Of course she could sympathize, her recent solitary travels had been hard, but the business aspect was a little beyond her experiences. The closest she'd been were working in the tavern back home, where she was far from in charge of anything, and the not-quite-a-business she ran back at school providing potions. Usually for other students who wanted to keep what they needed quiet. It was nothing illegal, everything she made could be bought in shops too... sometimes people just didn't want rumors to start when they were out buying a morning after potion. That was all mostly a secret though, and she could probably get in trouble for it—not that there was anyone who cared out here.

"Mechanical work, like... carriages, ships, things like that. Or guns, even. More complex tools too, kind of like my weapons." she motioned to the sword at her hip, though she didn't draw it unless he actually asked to see it—And if he did, she was always more than willing to show off her baby. It didn't explain much, but the weapon was certainly visibly distinct from an ordinary sword. "A lot of it is still theoretical. The mayor though, you say? Maybe I should ask about that in the morning..."

Laelia cocked her head slightly, arms crossed as she considered that value of pursuing that particular lead. It wouldn't likely help with her mission, but having they mayor in her debt would be very useful indeed if she was going to stick around for any length of time. Maybe it would get the rest of the townspeople to act a little less cold towards her too. Remembering Raeglynn's other comments though, she turned back to him with an inquisitive look. "You mentioned something else though, something I could do for you?"

Once he'd finished, Laelia simply nodded thoughtfully. "Hm... Yes, of course, I could help out. Just let me know what needs to be done. I am quite exhausted from my trip though, so I'm not sure how much use I'll be for anything too intensive tonight." She wasn't a stranger to cooking or cleaning, though she'd never been particularly skilled at the former. She could cook simple foods, could probably even figure out a few more complex dishes if she had directions—cooking was a lot like alchemy, right?—but it had never been a strong suit. Still, she could manage what he was suggesting.
 
Last edited:

Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#17
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia: HP = 61, PP = 47, EP = 56, Status = Fine, Weakened

NPCs
Raeglynn, innkeeper
Thomas the Younger

"O-oh... Okay!" Raeglynn replied when she explained what she'd meant about mechanical work. Technological advances had been spreading further North for decades now, albeit slowly in many cases. There was some resistance, especially where weapons were concerned or existing infrastructure based upon sorcery accomplished much the same thing, but the simple conveniences offered by more advanced weaponry, tools, and methods that didn't involve decades of instruction or extremely rare natural gifts were often sufficient to wear away that resistance in time. Here though... Everything she had seen had likely seemed primitive by comparison to what she was used to further South and West, and not even with the benefit of the older magical equivalents to offset it in many cases.

"L-like... The machines? From the South? I've never seen one... Mm-my parents always told me that... That kind of stuff was e-evil, b-but I never believed them about it! I've always wanted to see some of it," the innkeeper said, his voice shaking a little less and infused with a bit of passion in turn. He glanced nervously at her hip when she patted the weapon hanging there, however, and even edged back a quarter step or so. He wouldn't ask to see it, robbing her of the opportunity to show off her work for now, and his nervousness quickly returned.

The young man's apparent fear of armaments would not stop him from continuing in his explanations, and after her response he nodded without showing much reaction in his expression or mannerisms. "O-okay, so... Well, how about this... If you h-help me with the cataloguing tomorrow... B-before you leave... And help me clean up the k-kitchen after b-b-b-breakfast, I'll let you stay for three c-coins, with dinner tonight and b-breakfast t-tomorrow. Sound good?"

Raeglynn's question was still hanging unanswered when the door banged open, and a surge of howling wind brought back the wet chill that she had escaped upon coming into the inn. "Rags! Raaaaags! Where are yah?" Called a young, masculine voice, and Raeglynn both visibly tensed and let out a resigned sigh. "I'm in back!" The innkeeper called, turning to face the doorway leading back into the inn's common room, and noticeably absent was any tremor in his voice. "In the kitchen!"

The door slammed closed, cutting off the wind and the pitter patter of rain, but the soft squelch of wet boots tracked from the door towards their location, and a moment later a narrow figure stood in the doorway leading into the kitchen. They threw back a hood, revealing a youthful face that was still more freckled than weathered from work, and Laelia would notice a missing index finger on his right hand, with the remaining digits long and thin like a spider's legs, albeit not in the freakish manner one might expect from a mutant or the like. A bowl of dark red hair covered his head, and he was clad in a faded grey cloak that was as thoroughly soaked by the rain as her own, a damp buttoned shirt he wore beneath that looked like it was normally white, somewhat dark trousers that his cloak had protected above the knees, and the aforementioned brown leather boots that were tracking mud and wetness with every step.

"Wha'd'you want Tom?" Raeglynn demanded, annoyance rife in his voice but the nervousness he had maintained throughout speaking to her gone without a trace. The thin young man smirked back and strolled in a step or two before stopping as he spotted Laelia. He eyed her for a moment without speaking, but then his smile widened and he looked back at Raeglynn as he leaned against the counter. "Well... Well... Well! Howsit Rags the wreck gets the first cute girl to come through town in a dog's century?" He asked teasingly, and something in what he said seemed to spark outright anger in the up until then calm innkeeper. "What. Do. You. Want. Tom!?" Raeglynn demanded through gritted teeth, but his ire only seemed to amuse the redheaded young man.

"Well, I was just looking to get a drink with - from - an old friend... A normally lonely old friend whom I happen to know is hard on the times~" He said, and that at least mollified Raeglynn somewhat. He peeked past the lanky innkeeper at Laelia again, and offered the disguised kitsune a charming smile. "Hello love! My name's Thomas, Tom to me friends! Thomas the Younger if we're to be all official like! Who are ya and where ya hail from?" The questions were delivered in a cheerful, upbeat tone that Laelia hadn't heard from anyone else in the town as yet, not even Raeglynn's enthusiasm for learning had quite matched it yet, but it was up to Laelia how she would respond to the sudden intrusion.
 

Astarte

Tentacle Monster
Dec 28, 2014
353
18
#18
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

"Yes, exactly." Laelia nodded to Raeglynn, though she was a little surprised by what his parents had told him. It wasn't as if they were the only ones to think that way, but it still managed to surprise her every time. Technology was a source of fascination to her, and she had found her own natural talents—both the mundane and the supernatural sort—were well-suited to working with it. "I don't think it's evil, it's all just made by people after all. Depends who's using it."

She simly shrugged noncommittally, though she did catch his reaction when she motioned at her weapon. "Ah, don't worry about that! I travel alone, so I need to be able to protect myself, but I'm not planning to use it here." She was a little disappointed that she wasn't going to get to show Chrysanta off, but he didn't seem very comfortable with the idea, even if he'd expressed a desire to see something mechanical, so she let that opportunity go.

"Yes, that sounds good to me." Laelia nodded again, satisfied with his offer. Really, what he was suggesting was no different than what she'd done back at the academy, or working at the tavern before that. It was a small price to pay to have a nice place to sleep and better food than what she usually had on the road. She didn't need to eat or sleep as much of a human did, but with the artifact in her chest constantly sapping her strength she needed to take every chance she could to rest and replenish her energy.

Any more talk was interrupted though, by someone else entering the building. Raeglynn seemed to know him, though based on his reaction she wasn't sure he particularly liked him. She turned to face the doorway to the kitchen as the sound of footsteps grew closer, greeted by the sight of another young man, probably similar in age to Raeglynn, though it was quite difficult to be sure. Laelia remained silent throughout the exchange between the two, though she took note of how Raeglynn didn't seem to stutter at all when speaking to this Tom. Was that a sign that the two had known each other a long time, or that it was she who caused him to act so awkward?

"Laelia," She gave her name in return after his introduction, keeping herself polite for the moment. He hadn't left the greatest first impression despite acting the most cheerful of anyone she had met, seeming quite blatantly interested in something very specific from her. She'd made incorrect assumptions there already though, so she was willing to ignore it for the moment. Perhaps she was reading too much into everyone's words? Maybe he was just being nice, and she simply wasn't used to this kind of forwardness? Regardless, he'd been acting quite rude towards her host, and while he'd been seemingly cheerful about it, Raeglynn didn't seem to react in kind. "I've come from the Academy, quite a long way to the east now. I am a scholar myself, so this seemed like the natural place to look for shelter for the night. Raeglynn and I were just making arrangements for that."
 
Last edited:

Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#19
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia: HP = 61, PP = 47, EP = 56, Status = Fine, Weakened

NPCs
Raeglynn, innkeeper
Thomas the Younger

"That's always w-what I thought!" Raeglynn agreed, his stutter fading more as he engaged in something about which he seemed passionately interested. "It isn't inherently anything... It's just a t-tool, right?" That wouldn't ease his discomfort at the sight of her weapon, however, and even her reassurance - which he received with a nod - that she had no intention of using it wouldn't prevent his nervousness from returning.

That would lead into the final offer, which Laelia would seemingly accept, before the intruder would come upon them as loud and boisterous as he was for someone his size. "Laelia..." Thomas said, her name spoken at a slower pace than he normally seemed to use, as if he were testing the way the word left his lips. He hadn't interrupted her as she answered his series of questions, and left a brief pause during which Raeglynn would open his mouth to speak. Thomas cut him off before the first syllable could fully enter the air; "Ahhh, an Academy girl? Ol' Rags got lucky lucky with you then~"

The cheerful teasing was back, and Raegylnn blushed and closed his mouth, a fist clenching at his side as Thomas went on without stopping. "Made all your arrangements already eh? Hope you didn't sucker my buddy here too much~ He's got enough trouble keeping this place running, and 'e never could keep his head when a pretty girl was in front of him!" He added a bow at that point, and Raeglynn's expression became some sort of fusion of blind rage and total shame.

Luckily his teasing ended there, at least for the moment. "So, if you're all done then, I wouldn't mind warming up a minute and having a few pints, eh? I'm in a generous mood tonight Rags, come on! You can start whipping up a meal too, eh?" Thomas seemed more hopeful than demanding, and his requests left Raeglynn calming again. "Fine," The innkeeper grunted after a few seconds, and then strode over to the cabinets and began rummaging around. In the meantime, Thomas strolled over to join Laelia beside the fire with boots a-squelching, not making any real effort to force her to give him more room directly beside the warming flame but taking any distance that she offered without fully invading her personal space.

"So, what'd ya come here to study? The old castle? It's not often we get you scholarly types coming around here, and when we do it's always them ruins they come fer," He asked conversationally without looking directly at Laelia, instead raising his hands towards the fire. The warmth was beginning to seep comfortably into her body, shifting her exhaustion from bone-tiredness towards the urge to sleep. There were a number of chairs that she could pull up and sit in now that she was starting to dry off, the padding on them worn by years of use but still serviceable looking. That might leave her nodding off, however, and among men she had only just met within the last hour...
 

Astarte

Tentacle Monster
Dec 28, 2014
353
18
#20
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia made a pointed effort not to remark on Thomas' comments to Raeglynn. They obviously knew each other, and while it didn't seem like Raeglynn liked the teasing, she wasn't sure it was her place to try to step in, if she even wanted to. She had only just met both of them, and she was hardly attached to either. Raeglynn had left her with a better impression despite his awkward manner, and they clearly shared some similar inclinations, but that wasn't enough for her to try to intervene here, especially without any assurance that he even wanted anyone to do so. For all she knew she might only make things worse, especially if they were already bad, and she wasn't planning on staying too long.

She made no comment as the two continued to speak—While Thomas spoke, mostly—uncertain of how to interject in a conversation like this. Even when Thomas addressed her directly she wasn't entirely certain what to say, especially with how much of a reaction he seemed to be drawing from Raeglynn. All she gave him was a simple nod, inwardly breathing a sigh of relief when he changed the subject to food and drink

"Yes, the ruins and other old structures here are my main interest." She finally spoke up again once Raeglynn had gone to start on the food and Thomas asked about her reasons for being here. There was no reason to hide that information, everyone seemed to suspect it already anyway. "The castle is intriguing of course, but it's not the only interesting thing out here, and I've heard a lot of warnings about it. I'm confident in my ability to handle myself," Laelia once again tapped the hilt of Crysanta's sword half, now that Raeglynn wasn't looking, "And while I'm not one to put too much stock in ghost stories, there's got to be something to all the warnings."

Even as she spoke she took a few steps over to grab a chair, pulling it closer to the fire and taking a seat. Already she was feeling tired, the heat of the fire perhaps a little too soothing. She didn't want to start dozing off, so she left a little more distance between herself and the fire than when she'd simply been trying to dry off, but she didn't give the matter much more thought than that. As long as her mind kept active she was sure she'd be just fine. "I don't suppose you'd know anything about that you'd want to share? It sounds like I'm not the first one to be interested in the place, the man at the gate also tried to warn me away from it. Is it really that bad?"

She wasn't certain what sort of answers she was expecting from her questions, certainly nothing concrete. Stories of places like this were often so mired in superstition that it was difficult to find the truth in them, and this castle seemed no different. It was dangerous, she was certain of that much, but what she hadn't been able to figure out was what made it dangerous. If she knew that she could prepare. For now though, she was mostly just interested in getting a meal sorted out and getting to bed. She'd take any information she could get, but she'd worry about figuring things out in the morning, after she'd helped with the work she had agreed to.
 
Last edited:
Itt Corporation | Impossible Farming Transport Simulator | Law Of The Jungle Ep.329