Close to the Heart (Astarte)


Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#21
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

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

NPCs
Raeglynn, innkeeper
Thomas the Younger

"Heh..." The single weak bark of laughter that Thomas let out was without confidence after Laelia confirmed his supposition, and though his eyes drifted towards the weapon at her hip he displayed none of the fear that Raeglynn had displayed. He didn't turn to follow her as Laelia moved off to grab a chair, and did nothing to assist her. Raeglynn saw what she was doing and made to help move the chair for her hastily, dropping a few pots into a messy pile on the counter in the process, but Laelia could easily move her chair into position near the fire before he got there if she didn't feel like humoring him. Whether she let him help her move the chair or not, Laelia would be free to take a seat while Raeglynn returned to the counter.

Laelia would see Thomas straighten slightly when she addressed him, and the young man spent a few seconds more in silence before turning to face her. With the firelight behind him, the redhead's visage was dramatically menacing as light and shadow deepened the lines of his face, but he was still smiling at her. "Share? Yeah... I know a bit about the old place," said Thomas, his words once more coming a bit more slowly compared to his usual animated delivery.

"Lottsa folks come around, thinkin' they'll find some kinda treasure up there... Looking to discover some piece of ancient lore or somethin. A few do come back with a shiny or two. The rest come back mad, and most don't come back at all.

"Few years back, a guy named Elminrey was a big preacher. Told folk all about the gods. One day, he got it in his head to rouse some folk to go up to the castle, finally burn the house down and raise it to the ground. Not a one of 'em ever came back, an' after a few days some other folks went looking. They didn't come back neither, cept one.

"You wanna know what he found? Death. Pure and simple. Mangled bodies strung up like they was scarecrows, or torn up and spread across rows like they were part of a vinyard."

He stopped then, eyes darting aside to glance at Raeglynn, who had stopped working on food again and was staring at him open mouthed. It took a moment for his gaze to come back to Laelia, but when it did he spoke distantly; "Bit more recently, some other adventurer type showed up. Said he wanted to break the curse on the old place, or whatever. Came by, asked for a guide up there. Got the only one who was still around who'd gone up and come back again... But I guess whatever's up there doesn't give second chances. Nobody ever saw either of 'em again. You want a piece of advice, Laelia? Don't go up there. Stay the night here, wait out the storm, read a few old books with Rags here... And go home. Go home and don't worry your pretty little head about ghost stories, true or not."

Thomas turned around to stare at the fire, putting his back to Laelia, shoulders slumped and head dipping downwards. He would be fairly unresponsive for the next few minutes almost regardless of how Laelia opted to take his story, and Raeglynn wouldn't opt to fill in the silence with anything but the sounds of his efforts to make them something to eat. Raeglynn would respond to Laelia if she addressed him, but if the kitsune didn't have anything to say the room would lapse into relative silence for the next few minutes while Thomas continued to stare at the fire. Eventually, however, Raeglynn would come over bearing a small cauldron that he would hang over the fire.

"I think I'll have that drink now, eh Rags? Give the pot a few stirs and come have a pint, my share!" He said, to which Raeglynn tersely nodded. "You wanna come too lass? You're more than welcome!" Thomas said, directing his gaze towards Laelia once more and acting as if nothing had happened. How she opted to respond to the invitation was up to her, though the soothing warmth of the fire called to her invitingly and her weary frame wanted nothing more than to simply rest and relax.
 

Astarte

Tentacle Monster
Dec 28, 2014
353
18
#22
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia frowned as Thomas began his story, already knowing from the change in his tone that she wasn't going to like what he had to say. She was proven right in her assumptions as he told her of several cases, all relatively recent. That part worried her the most, that this happened only a few years ago at most. It wasn't her first time hearing such stories, far from it. She'd read about quite a few, heard a few ghost stories from the locals on the few occasions she'd been part of an expedition searching old ruins.

Up until the one that had ended with this cursed dagger embedded in her chest she'd never put much stock in them. She understood that there were dangerous things out there of course, but curses—ancient of not—were still a form of magic that could be studied and understood. She'd never bought into superstitions for that very reason. In most cases, nothing ever came of it, and she'd gotten... complacent.

That didn't mean she was going to take such stories at face value though. She had learned the hard way what could happen if she did. It was worrying because of how recently this happened, that it was only years meant that the story hadn't been twisted by being retold so many times, as such stories often were. Something dangerous lived up in that castle, or had a few years ago, but that was within her expectations. Danger was something that she had resolved herself to face already, she'd exhausted any available means of solving this from the comfort of a library months ago.

"I really do wish that was an option." Laelia replied with a sigh as Thomas finished, her voice subdued but still loud enough to hear. She wasn't lying either, she really didn't relish the idea of exploring this place alone. She was running out of leads though, and she didn't have time to hesitate. How long would it be before this constant drain left her unable to continue her search, or simply killed her? "I don't have a choice though." She left it at that unless asked, falling into silence shortly after Thomas did. While she didn't feel any particular need to keep her situation a secret, she didn't like to talk about it excessively either. She wasn't even sure why she'd spoken up at all, she had simply felt the need to state that this wasn't just a matter of curiosity to her.

"Yeah... I think I will, thank you." Laelia spoke a little morosely as she forced herself to leave the comfort of the chair and fire. She needed something to take her mind off of this now anyway. She needed to be rested and ready to set out tomorrow, but she could wait a little longer before heading to bed for the night.
 

Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#23
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

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

NPCs
Raeglynn, innkeeper
Thomas the Younger

Thomas merely gave a noncommittal grunt to Laelia's suggestion that she had no choice, and neither he nor Raeglynn would inquire further as to why she was so desperate to explore so dangerous a place.

Despite his dramatic tale, Thomas would clap his hands together and smile at Laelia as she accepted his offer for a drink. "Excellent! C'mon Rags, lets go!" He said, and Raeglynn - with a sigh - gave the pot of food a few half hearted stirs and then followed as the traipsed back into the common room. No one else had come in, and Thomas' wet bootprints were still on the floor, prompting Raeglynn to scowl at the sight of them.

The rest of the room was exactly as it had been, an odd mix between library and tavern common room, though it was to aspects of the latter that her two male companions headed. Raeglynn headed behind the counter while Thomas went over and pulled out a stool, offering it to Laelia before taking one for himself, though she was free to take her own that wasn't directly next to him if she wished. The redhead would give her her space even if she did take up the offered space beside him, and either way he would drop a handful of slightly tarnished silver coins on the table. Raeglynn promptly produced a trio of mugs, and one by one filled each to the top with an amber liquid that frothed near the top.

He slid one of the mugs in front of Laelia, a heavy pewter thing inlaid with ornate, detailed pictures of a drake launching itself upon a knight holding up a shield and clutching a blade. It looked old but well kept, similar to the interior of the inn in which she'd found herself and contrasting with much of the exterior of the gloomy town. "Cheers!" Thomas said, raising his own mug, of similar construction to her own but with a rearing horse bearing a cloaked rider holding up a sword amidst a detailed inlay depicting a forest path behind him. Raeglynn's was a bit more garish, depicting a scarecrow with a jack-o-lantern on its head hanging in a field, a crescent moon hanging over it. The liquid contained within was hoppy and smooth, albeit still with the slightly acrid taste present in any alcoholic beverage, and left a warmth spreading from within that replaced the warmth of the fire that she'd left a bit more recently than her exhausted frame liked. How fast and how much she wanted to drink was up to her, as for the moment Thomas and Raeglynn sipped their drinks in silence save a pleased murmur from the talkative redhead.
 

Astarte

Tentacle Monster
Dec 28, 2014
353
18
#24
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

It was harder than Laelia expected to actually force herself to stand again, but the walk to the common room was a short one. She took the stool Thomas offered her without comment, giving only a brief nod in acknowledgement. She wasn't feeling up to much more conversation at the moment, and was conscious of the fact that she'd need to limit herself in what she drank. One would be all, whether she was offered more or not. These two didn't seem the sort to try to take advantage of her so far, but she'd had to stay at some less desirable places in her travels, and she'd picked up a few habits along the way.

"Thank you." Was all she said as she took her mug, taking a moment to examine the image upon its surface. It looked like a scene from some heroic tale, though she was curious whether it was simply a generic design or from some specific tale. There was nothing distinctive about it that she recognized, meaning it could be any one of dozens of tales of heroes slaying dragons. Perhaps even a local tale? Or at least local to the craftsman who made it, she had no idea if it had even been made here, or if it had come along with some merchant from other lands.

Pushing aside that curiosity for the moment, Laelia stopped to adjust her glasses, using the motion to mask how she gently tapped the side three times with her finger. The glasses had been a gift from a friend at the academy, and they were more than a simple method to improve her vision—in fact, they didn't even do that in the first place. Her vision had no problems that needed correction, being even better than an ordinary human's when she wasn't altering her eyes as she was now. She simply thought they looked good on her, so she'd taken to wearing them all the time, rather than only when their enchantment was needed. The series of taps the trigger to activate the magic they were imbued with.

They were mainly intended to detect other enchantments or magical effects, but they could also analyze chemical compounds of mechanical structures. She'd taken to using them to check food or drink before accepting them, having become a little suspicious of the people she'd been dealing with in the past few months. Thomas and Raeglynn hadn't given her much reason to suspect them, but there was no reason to become complacent either. Recharging the glasses would take little effort once she retired for the night regardless, so it wasn't as if she was wasting more than a few moments' worth of time.

If she found nothing amiss, Laelia would join the other two in sipping her drink, being sure to pace herself. Normally she wouldn't be too worried about her ability to handle a single drink like this, but the draining effects of the artifact on her body likely left her a little more susceptible than usual, as did her exhaustion. She fell into silence as well, simply enjoying the warmth slowly creeping through her tired body. It wasn't quite the same warmth as the fire, but it was a good substitute for the time being.
 

Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#25
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

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

NPCs
Raeglynn, innkeeper
Thomas the Younger

Laelia's glasses allowed her a detailed, piece by piece examination of the contents of the mug she'd been handed. It all played out invisibly before her, like schematics appearing in thin air, written in glowing letters and numbers that seemed to fade into existence formed of blue light. Yeast, hops, wheat, cranberries; all things one might expect were present. Fermented to form alcohol, albeit not in any great amount. A few herbs; Small amounts of mint and springfig, even smaller amounts of impurities from the barrel it was stored in and the pipes that it ran through. There wasn't anything out of the ordinary in the drink she'd been given, and with her paranoia assuaged the disguised kitsune was free to start taking her sips.

For a few moments the three sat in silence, sipping at their drinks while a cavalcade of sounds played around them. The wind howled outside irregularly, bursts of whistling wind giving mournful cries through the streets, all while the clacking pitter patter of rain falling upon stone and wood at a constant rate. Snippets of the noise coming from the more populous tavern occasionally made it through to them, hidden beneath the crackling of the fire in the other room.

It didn't take Thomas too long to break that silence, however, and did so in cheery fashion. He began talking to Raeglynn, seemingly filling him in on the antics of others in a gossipy manner. Unless she had something to add to that, Laelia would be allowed to remain in her silent state while the two caught up, and there she would finally catch wind of a sense of camaraderie between the two. Thomas, at least in his stories, was bold and adventurous, playing up the role of the daring rogue who spent as much time flaunting disregard for authority and order as he did thwarting neerdowells. Raeglynn, in contrast, played the straight man, the one who rolled his eyes at Thomas' antics but still shared in hearty laughter when he told his tall tales. Raeglynn came across as the pragmatist, the worker, the one who gave up his dreams for more practical pursuits but still found some semblance of fulfillment in his life, while Thomas was the one who had never had enough, always needing to do more, experience more, get more.

After a while, and a finished drink, Thomas would offer Laelia a second. Whether she accepted or not, he would get another for himself and Raeglynn and suggest that go back to the fire. There they continued their conversation, with Thomas growing ever bolder in his storytelling while Raeglynn prepared their meal. The two continued their camaraderie, and Laelia, purely by accident, found herself nodding off once she was resting back in her chair by the fire...

She was alone, shrouded in darkness. Then she wasn't. She was somewhere she'd never seen, but so familiar, surrounded by people that she didn't recognize but whom she felt like she knew. A pale man in stately garb of a fashion long abandoned, a man made of bone, an angel with flaming red hair, a group of dark men led by a woman, a hulking figure shrouded in blood... So many, all familiar. Emotions swirled through her, ones she hadn't felt for any of these unfamiliar figures but that she felt like she would. Pain, joy, heartache, fear, relief, amusement, hatred... So many emotions, all passionate, but she couldn't understand why she felt any of them.

Thomas and Raeglynn were there, suddenly. They flickered back and forth, sometimes whole and smiling, others mangled and covered in their own gore, faces twisted in final agony. The scene changed, and she was entangled with someone. Sometimes it was Raeglynn, sometimes it was someone else. One of the dark figures, the stately man, others... Sometimes it felt forced and painful, others it felt like bliss. Sometimes the cursed dagger embedded in her chest remained, and other times...

"Laelia!" A hand on her shoulder flooded her with sensation, piercing reality pouring into her like molten steel and forcing the kitsune to awaken. When she did, she found Raeglynn staring at her with mild concern, his hand on her shoulder. She was in her chair by the fire, warm and comfortable besides a bit of stiffness and her remaining exhaustion. Thomas was sitting, slowly feeding himself stew. "Are you okay? You nodded off... The stew is ready if you still want some," He said once she had made it clear that she was awake again, straightening up but still looking down at her with concern on his face.
 

Astarte

Tentacle Monster
Dec 28, 2014
353
18
#26
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

There was nothing abnormal about the drink she'd been given, which did much to put Laelia's mind at ease. She'd never even thought to do something like this before, back when she'd been at the academy—or even before—but some of the places she'd been travelling through had made her take precautions. She didn't really know more than the basic process of brewing any sort of alcohol, but she was at least a decent alchemist, so she was fairly confident in her ability to pick out anything suspicious when all of the ingredients were laid out for her like this.

Suspicions assuaged she began to sip at her drink, only a few moments behind the other two. She had never been a heavy drinker, not like some people she knew at least, but it was nice enough, especially in her tired state. She tried to listen to Thomas' stories, but her mind kept wandering to what she was going to be doing tomorrow. Occasionally she would break into a small smile at something that was said between the two, but her mind wasn't entirely there.

What Thomas told her about the place sounded like local superstitions, the kind there always were about anything this ancient, but she knew better than to assume that was all there was too it. She'd paid the price for those sorts of assumptions once already, and she wasn't keen to repeat it, but that didn't change the fact that she needed to go. She had found precious few leads as strong as this one, even if it was likely not directly connected. She was working on limited time too, and she had no idea how much was even left.

Laelia declined a second drink when it was offered, instead opting to return to her seat by the fire until the food was ready. As much as she had been trying to stave off sleep for a while longer, it didn't take her long to doze off in the comfort the warm fire provided. What she saw in her dream was nonsensical, but scared her nonetheless. Figures of people she'd never seen before, emotions seemingly connected to the ones she was seeing yet entirely alien to her. It was as if she was someone else entirely, until finally she saw faces she recognized, even if she had only just met them.

What came next was even more disturbing, the scene changing as quickly as if she was just flipping through pages in a book. They were the same people, Thomas and Raeglynn and the unknown figures she'd seen initially. Sometimes they were fine, other times they were dead in brutal fashion, and near the end it was even scenes of passion—sometimes pleasurable, other times painful. Sometimes she knew she was herself in them, the pommel of the cursed dagger gleaming proudly on her bare chest, yet in others it was absent. Was that still her, or was it the one who she'd began these visions as?

Finally, she was torn away from them, waking with a start when she felt a hand on her shoulder, somehow more vivid than the other sensations she was feeling. Her hand was halfway through the motion of reaching for her weapon, pausing just over her midsection when enough awareness returned to remind her where she was and for the voice speaking to properly register in her mind.

"Ah, thank you, I must be even more tired from my trip than I thought." Laelia quickly collected herself, rising from her seat once she was able and trying to push the remnants of her unusual dream from her mind. One of her friends at the academy had tried to tell her how dreams had meanings before, but she'd never really put much stock in that either. Dreams were just dreams, as unusual as this one had been. Nothing more. "Yes, I think I will. I should probably head to bed for the night afterwards, though."
 

Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#27
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

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

NPCs
Raeglynn, innkeeper
Thomas the Younger

"Alright," Raeglynn replied simply, having no argument to prevent Laelia from making her exit after they left. Thomas glanced at her and smirked, but said nothing. Within moments Laelia was sitting at a counter with a steaming bowl of stew in front of her. It was thick and chunky with its contents, and eating it only enhanced the pleasant warmth emanating from her core... And the exhaustion she felt as her body diverted some of its limited energy to digestion. Her kind normally didn't need to eat as often as a mortal would, but the cursed dagger embedded in her chest had largely robbed her of that advantage garnered from her supernatural heritage, among other things.

Raeglynn excused himself, mumbling something about getting a room ready, and a few minutes later he returned and held out a brass key on a small ring to her. On the ring was a tag with the number one scrawled onto it, and he offered it to Laelia as he said; "Here... For your room. If you could just, uhhh, hand over the coin before you go to bed..." He trailed off awkwardly and glanced aside, prompting Thomas to snicker softly. The redhead had been eating ravenously, and was nearly halfway through his second bowl of stew by that point. His snickering earned a glare from Raeglynn, who grunted; "You'll be paying for the stew, by the by." Thomas merely snickered again and didn't argue, leaving Laelia free to eat what she liked before heading to bed.

The young kitsune would have ample time to make any preparations she wished for the night, seeing to her gear or taking any security measures that she desired before settling in. The room she'd been given was fairly small and didn't have much to it, just a bed in the center and a reading desk by the room's only window. The door had only one lock, which proved to be a fairly simplistic device. She would fall asleep quickly once she settled into the downy bedding, the sound of the wind and rain her lullaby, and would awaken some hours later to morning light streaming in onto her. A knock sounded at her door a few minutes later, and once she opened it she would find that Raeglynn had brought her breakfast. He blushed, stammered something completely incoherent, and hastened out of the room, leaving Laelia with a plate of egg and potato hash that had been treated with pepper and spices and two strips of crisp bacon.

She could come down at her leisure to find Raeglynn rifling through the shelves of scrolls. He blushed again upon seeing her, and when he spoke the stammering was back, albeit not as bad as it had been the night before; "O-oh, L-l-l-laelia... I uhhh, already... C-cleaned the k-kitchen. S-sorry... You can still help me do the c-cataloguing though, right?"

Should she hold to the agreement she'd made last night, Laelia would find his indexing system rather... Unique. He had a set of categories and organized the volumes in them by supposed dates rather than titles or authors. It became a bit complicated when whatever she was handling had no obvious date on it, requiring Raeglynn's help, but he seemed perfectly content to slow his own work to help her figure out something, displaying the passion and confidence he'd displayed at various points last night rather than the stammering awkwardness he so often addressed her with. Some of the scrolls and tomes she handled over the next few hours were so old that they risked crumbling when she touched them, and they ranged over an extensive variety of topics.

Of particular interest to her were ancient scrolls she sorted on the art of draining life, and enchanting weapons to do the same to their victims. Some of the symbols on it were familiar, similar to ones she had seen on the tomb where she had discovered the dagger currently buried in her chest. The works were incomplete, however, and were unsigned and undated. If she asked Raeglynn about them, all he could tell her were that they were at least five hundred years old, had been left here by a traveling sage who had gone to the castle and, at least far as he knew, not come back. The other volumes had been lost, one crumbled to dust and the other vanished when Raeglynn was only a boy, leaving only the fragment that she had discovered. What she did have spoke of complex magics, of spells to channel life force into magical energies, of building up a charge over time for use when great power was needed. Unfortunately, only part of the how, little of the why, and nothing about how to manipulate such an enchantment was on hand in the scrolls she'd stumbled across.

Many of the other things she read concerned the castle and its legends. There were children's story books about it, amalgamations of legends, records of those who had gone to plunder it or taken it over for a time, even a few first hand accounts of those who had gone in and come out again, though Raeglynn seemed to doubt their integrity. None of the supposed first hand accounts were younger than two hundred years.

The task of cataloguing would take the entirety of the morning and a good chunk of afternoon, but eventually Raeglynn would declare her debt paid. From there, she would be free to do as she liked with the rest of her day, returning the key or electing to stay another night in Raeglynn's inn. The ruins awaited, dark and imposing off in the distance, and the day wasn't much better than yesterday. It sprinkled irregularly and the wind still howled and bit, while the sun was shrouded by black clouds. Whether or not she wanted to spend more time in town, however, was entirely up to Laelia.

(Subtract 3 coins! Get room! Get 2 xp for helping Raeglynn out.)
 

Astarte

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

"Ah, yes, of course." Laelia nodded to Raeglynn, fishing a few coins from her coinpurse to give him in exchange for the key. It was feeling worryingly light now, so unless she happened to get lucky and find something valuable out there—And she wasn't even confident anyone from here would want it if she did, not with the stories surrounding the place—she was going to need to look for some work when she returned. She took the food gladly though, the smell reminding her just how hungry she'd been feeling. That was something she'd had to get used to after the effects of the curse, needing to eat as much as an ordinary human would.

It was most likely just her body needing to make up for the extra energy burnt off to feed the constant drain from the artifact, but for the first month or two she had often been surprised with how hungry she'd be after a day of simply searching through the library for any scrap on knowledge regarding her situation. Eating only made her feel even more tired, but she needed to ensure she was ready for tomorrow.

When she finally retired to her room for the night, Laelia took a moment to examine it a little more closely before answering the call of sleep. This was another habit she'd picked up in travels after staying in a few too many shady places. She doubted Raeglynn was the sort she needed to worry about, he seemed rather nice really, but this took relatively little effort on her part, and it helped her sleep more soundly. Using her glasses once again, she examined the door's locking mechanism before placing her fingers against it and allowing a little of her power to flow into it, changing it. It was a minor change, causing two of the parts to fuse together and become immovable, preventing even the proper key from unlocking the door. She was sure to pick something easily reversible, not something delicate, so it would be a simple matter to reverse in the morning. She followed a similar process with the window, merely causing the latch holding it shut to enlarge slightly so that it wouldn't open. Someone could still break in of course, but that would at least be likely to wake her up.

After the final task of replenishing the energy she'd drained from her glasses when using them she removed the leather travelling clothes she was wearing and let herself simply fall onto the bed. She was asleep shortly after, her exhaustion quickly taking over. Fortunately there were no dreams this time, at least none that she could recall by the time she awoke to the morning light. She simply lay there for a few minutes, not wanting to leave the comfort of the bed, until she heard a knock on the door.

"Ah, just a moment!" She called, quickly pulling on enough clothes to be properly covered once again before answering the door, a quick touch and brief manipulation undoing the modification she'd made to the lock the night before and allowing her to open the door to meet Raeglynn. She wasn't sure if his blush and stammering were a result of her somewhat dishevelled appearance or simply his ordinary reaction when speaking to her, but she gratefully accepted the breakfast he brought her regardless, with a quick "Thank you!" as he hurried away.

She ate quickly, eager to get on with the work she'd promised to help with so that she could get to her own task. It only took her a few more minutes after that to make sure she reversed her alteration to the window too, and then get herself properly presentable—being a shapeshifter had some perks there—before heading back downstairs to meet Raeglynn.

"Yes, of course. And thank you for the meal." She replied to his stammered question, not entirely surprised by the fact that he'd apparently already finished some of the work she was supposed to be helping with. He seemed the diligent type. The actual cataloguing process was familiar, even a little nostalgic, though Raeglynn's unique system took some getting used to. She needed to ask him where to put things a few times, when there was no clear dates recorded, and found him much more approachable in this setting than he had been the night before. It was as if he just forgot about all that awkwardness when he was talking about books. That was something she could understand; even if she'd never had too much of a problem talking with people, she felt more comfortable like this too.

She came across a few old scrolls of interest as well, referencing multiple methods of draining of life for various purposes, but all were frustratingly incomplete, not even an author for her to follow up on. Of particular note were a few symbols she saw among them, symbols whose meaning she didn't know but that she recognized from the very tomb where she'd found the cursed dagger. Their origins were interesting when she asked Raeglynn about them, though it was unfortunate that the name of the sage who had recorded them was lost. Either he never returned from the castle, or he found what he was looking for and had no reason to return here. She could only hope the latter was true, because whatever research he'd been pursuing seemed very similar to what she was seeking.

She would have to ask Raeglynn for permission to copy what there was if she returned empty-handed. All that was left was incomplete and worthless alone, but every little bit could help. At the very least she needed to record those symbols, if she could show those to other scholars they might be able to point her to related works at the very least, or possibly even tell her what they meant. Either could potentially be incredibly helpful to her. There were references to the castle itself too, of course. Most were just stories, the truth impossible to pick out from the fantasies without more concrete information, but they confirmed that these superstitions had been around for a long time. The few first hand accounts from explorers were interesting as well, though ultimately failed to provide anything solid for her.

Laelia quickly lost herself in the work, something all too familiar to the life she should have still been leading now, and it was already well past noon by the time they'd finished. That was longer than she'd intended to wait before heading out, a trip of several hours still ahead before she even reached her destination, but there was nothing she could do about that. She was already running short on money, and she wasn't confident she could find anywhere in town willing to give her paying work on such short notice even if she spent the rest of the day looking. She needed to head out today, even if the idea of arriving at night worried her a little. She'd be able to return to her natural form once she was away from the town and regain her natural night vision with it, so the darkness wasn't a terrible issue, but she couldn't shake the feeling of uneasiness.

"Thank you for your hospitality." She flashed Raeglynn another warm smile as she retrieved the key from her pocket to hand over to him. "I need to be on my way though, and I'll likely need to make camp if I wish to get any work done, so I won't be back tonight."
 
Last edited:

Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#29
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

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

NPCs
Raeglynn, innkeeper
Thomas the Younger

(The Map!)

Raeglynn seemed to become increasingly comfortable with her the longer they worked together, even when she seemed enthusiastic or smiled at him he only blushed slightly and kept his stammering to a minimum. It never quite reached the levels it had hit the night before when he'd had his apparent annoyance at Thomas to bolster him, however, and it all ended when she flashed her final smile and offered him the key back. The innkeeper stared at it for several seconds before reaching out to gingerly take it, and when he spoke next his apparent comfort was nowhere to be found.

"Oh! Uhhhh.... R-r-r-right!" He stuttered, pausing as his hand closed over the key resting on her palm. He held it there a moment before hastily taking the bit of metal from her grasp. "W-well, uhhh.... R-r-right, uhhh... Y-yeah, you, uhhm... W-well, you... Y-you... It w-was... Uhm... A p-pleasure m-m-m.... M-m-mee... M-m-m-mak-king y-your... Acquaintance. R-really... Uhm... If you're ever a-around here a-again, p-please! F-feel free to... D-drop in."

He trailed off, staring straight at her without blinking wearing an expression somewhere between a pleasant smile and absolutely terrified. As she went to leave, however, he called out just as she was at the door; "W-wait! L-laelia!" He rushed over, holding out a piece of parchment, "n-nearly f-forgot... I f-found this while we were... W-were w-working together. It's, uhm... It's a map. It's not very complete or very detailed, but it... Well it shows a lot about the t-terrain.

"This road here connects to the one heading North from the village," he pointed to the labeled road on the map, "it's the only way into the castle itself. The walls are supposed to be crumbling but I wouldn't want to risk scaling them. Legends say there are paths along the sea cliffs here, but you'd need a boat, and those waters... No one fishes there, or sets out to sail, and the waters are half covered in ice flows most of the year. It's very dangerous. There's supposed to be a path in from Raven's Run, that's why it's called that you see... A woman who once ruled the town from there was chased out after it was found out she was... She was... Well, it doesn't matter. She fled into the woods through some sort of secret passage leading into an abbey that no one's ever found, and it's been called Raven's Run since then. Terrible place from what I hear, full of wolves and sinkholes and thorny bushes and the like. No one likes to go hunting there, the game is all skittish or dangerous, and of course everyone says it's haunted. I'd stay out of it if I were you!

"A-and the bog here, Terryn's Bog, definitely keep out of that. Stretches East for miles and miles, until it hits the mountains practically. Foul place, even the herbalists seldom go gathering there. Haunted too of course, no surprises there... But I'd almost believe the local superstitions about that one, strange lights appear out there some nights. I'd almost swear I saw someone carrying a lantern, wandering through it one night, but I couldn't quite get a good look. I peer around through my telescope sometimes you see... From the bell tower of this church in town. Keeps me occupied... R-right, so j-just... Uhm... Stay on the road, it'll take you r-right up to the gates. You can go to the keep or the castle or the manor from there, easy."

Having grown calmer as he poured over the map with her in the doorway, Raeglynn's awkwardness once more made a hasty rally as he finished, and he once more ended up just staring at her in dumbfounded silence for several seconds. When it was time for final goodbyes to be issued, however, he would jump and then make an awkward sort of bow at the waist. "R-right... W-well... Uhh.... B-be c-careful, would you? I've.... N-never m-met anyone... Q-quite like y-you!"

Raeglynn went red as fresh blood after saying it, but had no more distractions to offer or excuses to try and keep her around longer, leaving Laelia free to take her leave. The rest of the town was as dreary and dilapidated as the entrance, and that appearance was only magnified by the slight drizzle she had to wade through and the sometimes knee-deep puddles she had to avoid on her way to the North gate. The people she passed took it in turns to pretend she didn't exist or glare at her, and no one made any effort to stop her as she ultimately left the old village and started on her trek North.

Free to return to her normal, more familiar form, Laelia would find some comfort perhaps in the renewal of her slightly better than human senses afforded to her by her vulpine heritage. The rain would let up slightly, but the road she followed wasn't paved and had largely devolved into a muddy track across which she was forced to trudge. It ran straight a ways, flanked on either side by farmland first, then thin woodlands that looked like they were mostly new growth. She could see a few buildings among the trees, ruined and abandoned mostly, some old and some... Not so old. She could take a rest in one if she liked, and would disturb only a few vermin in the process who could only chitter at her in annoyance as they hastened away into the woods or deeper recesses of their abandoned homes. Whether she did or not, it would be almost an hour after leaving town before Laelia saw the first signs of the bog that Raeglynn and his map had mentioned.

The smell washed over her before she really saw any of it, but eventually a denser clump of trees just sort of tapered off on the right hand side of the road, the North Woods just sort of ending to make way for a festering marshland that stretched unabated for as far as her eyes could see off to the East, and for quite a ways North as well. The stands of trees she could see past it were bigger than the ones she'd passed already, at least by her estimation, and the shade beneath their bows was darker than anything off to the left. There remained nothing of note to draw her from the road over the next hour, and the road grew increasingly more ill-traveled the further she went along. The days were growing shorter, and the sun was already starting to sink towards the sea by the time she crested a short hill and caught her first good look at the castle itself.

It was an ancient ruin, but had evidently been well constructed as the walls largely still stood, even if portions of them had crumbled inwards. The outer wall was massive, nearly as large as the walls surrounding Therion, albeit nowhere near as long. Therion lacked the cliffs below them, however, cliffs that no siege tower big enough to approach the walls could ever ascend, and too jagged in most places for ladders to make the climb appealing. A wide earthen ramp led up to the gatehouse to which the road she followed ultimately led, though she couldn't see all of her remaining path from where she stood as several more hills still blocked portions of it from her vision. The gatehouse itself had two stout towers, each with no less than three levels from which archers or sorcerers could stand behind the cover of crenelations while unleashing death upon those below, and in the middle was a solid block of wall that ran well into the fort itself, a tunnel shrouded in dark and no doubt lined with kill-holes from which any attackers could no doubt expect all manner of ill welcome. Given the supposed era of construction, it was all no doubt warded, and given the expense of its physical construction those wards would have been made to not only last but grow stronger with age; not even the most powerful sorcerers on Donevrion could have made a brick of those walls shift, and if the magics were truly well crafted then not even dragonfire could have scarred that stone. Such spells would even have guarded the fortress from many of the effects of time, though those at least were showing their course by now.

Inside, she could see the secondary wall, another bastion from which defenders could strike out with minimal fear of reprisal. Full staging areas stood atop towers from which full siege engines could launch their loads upon any attackers, or entire battalions of archers could fire in volleys with longbows at anywhere within a thousand yards of the cliff faces that served as the castle's primary line of defense. She couldn't see the manor she had heard of from here, nor any of the grounds, but she could see the last bastion; the keep. Located past the secondary wall rather than within it, the spire stood like some dark reflection of the Tower Goldspike, a jutting finger of black marble or granite that reached towards the heavens defiantly despite the ages since it had been built. The other main portions marked out on the map, the grand gardens and the manor, were hidden by the wall at the moment.

The plateau on which the castle had been built was massive, and she could only see portions of it. Raven's Run stretched off to the East, a black wood that left Laelia's stomach twisting uncomfortably at the mere sight of it, as if the forest itself stared back at her with some level of malicious intent. Somewhere within was supposedly an abbey, likely a ruin mostly reclaimed by the woods by now, in which a secret passage into the keep could be found, but where that might be she could only hazard a guess at. To the West, she could barely see where the cliffs met the sea instead of land, a bay drifting inland allowing the frigid ocean to lap at the stalwart wall of natural stone, and as promised there were chunks of ice drifting in the water. Past the ocean lay a section of flat land, undoubtedly ice cold, but again supposedly offering an alternative route into the castle itself even if Laelia couldn't see it at the time.

As she stood and deliberated her chosen path and perhaps had a few seconds thoughts, however, Laelia heard sounds carried to her on the wind. Shouts and screams, some of either at any given time, distant but close enough for her to ascertain a direction and guess a distance; Up ahead along the road, down the slope she had just ascended, and over the crest of the next hill. It wasn't far off, about ten minutes hike and much less if she hurried... But she would have to choose to follow them first. Pain was mixed among the noises, and though there had been many distinct voices in the chorus at first they grew less numerous by the moment, together suggesting some kind of danger. Whatever was happening lay directly along the path to the castle, but only Raeglynn's advice and lack of reason to seek an alternative had kept her to that path so far. Laelia would have to choose what she wanted to do, and do so quickly, with swamps to her right and Raven's Run beyond, or the woods between her and the ocean to her left... Or Horibyrg behind, and beyond it the road back home.
 

Astarte

Tentacle Monster
Dec 28, 2014
353
18
#30
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

"Ah, thank you!" Laelia gladly took the map Raeglynn offered her, listening to his explanation. As he said it wasn't very detailed, and it was likely quite old, but it was certainly better than nothing. There was a road leading all the way there at least, though she wasn't certain whether it would be much help after so long in disuse. At the very least it would take her most of the way, and from what Raeglynn was telling her there were supposedly other ways in. They weren't the most reliable directions, since presumably nobody had used them in hundreds of years, so she'd likely waste a lot of time looking for them, but they were worth considering if she couldn't enter through the front.

She listened to the rest of his explanation with interest too, making note of each place he mentioned. The abbey would be a convenient way to sneak in, but the forest looked big. Apparently nobody had ever found it, making her wonder whether it was simply that everyone avoided the forest or if some kind of magic was hiding it. Either way, finding it was too big a task for her alone, not if she wanted to reach the castle in a timely manor. The path along the cliffs was more possible if she could use her powers to bypass the need for a boat, but she'd leave that option for if the main entrance was barred to her. What he told her of the bog was also interesting, piquing her curiosity, but she didn't have the time to waste investigating that. Maybe on the way back if she had time, but even then she'd stick to the outskirts. Ghost stories or no, dangerous creatures tended to live in places like that.

"I'll be careful, don't worry about me. This won't be my first time in haunted ruins. I'll keep your advice in mind though, thank you." She flashed him another smile, trying to be reassuring even though she doubted it would help. She also didn't mention how the last of those trips to supposedly haunted ruins had ended for her. "I'll try to stop by on my way back, though I'm not sure how long that will be. It might take me some time to find what I'm looking for."


Laelia pulled up her hood immediately upon exiting the building, making her way directly towards the road out of town that would lead her to her destination. She received no better reception from the townspeople than she had the day before, but she did her best to ignore them as they passed. The day was equally dreary was well, leaving her to wonder if it ever stopped raining her or if she'd just come at a particularly bad time.

Once she had gone far enough from town that she wasn't worried about observers—and after taking a second look to make sure—she stopped, pulling down her hood and briefly closing her eyes in concentration. Almost immediately she began to change, her hair first returning to its ordinary bleached white and her fox-like ears replacing the more human ones she'd temporarily adopted, joined shortly after by her tail. Immediately everything seemed louder, and looked more vivid when she opened her eyes again, also returned to their natural shape and coloration. It took her a moment to adjust, but it was refreshing too. As if she'd spent the last day wearing a veil over her eyes and ears, muffling sounds and blurring her eyesight.

That done, she pulled her hood up again, struggling a little as usual to cover her ears without hampering her ability to hear too badly by pressing them against her head. The rain had started to let up a little, but it was still uncomfortable to get water in her ears, and the road was not in particularly good shape. It was mostly just a muddly trail, even worse than usual after all the rain, but still better than nothing. At least it kept her moving in the right direction, slowly but surely. At this rate it was going to be dark by the time she arrived, if not before, but with her natural form restored her night vision was good enough that she wasn't too worried.

Laelia wrinkled her nose a little as she got within smelling distance of the bog, a little glad that her sense of smell wasn't as sensitive as her sight and hearing her. It wasn't anything unusual for such a place, but it was still unpleasant and she'd be dealing with it for some time yet. Based on Raeglynn's map, the bog covered quite a distance from her to the castle. Once she passed the treeline and could actually see it she realized Raeglynn hadn't been exaggerating about how far it extended. She couldn't see any end to it, and somehow she doubted that she'd be able to even after ascending up to the castle. There was nothing else interesting to see for the next hour of her travels, only more bog, more trees, and the road getting even worse.

Laelia paused as she finally got a proper look at the castle. It was certainly imposing, and she doubted even an army could successfully storm it if the walls were manned and the gate shut. The engineer in her was already examining the walls for any sign on weakness that could be exploited, and even for all its age she couldn't find much. It would be a different story if it were on flat land, but its position atop the cliffs would make siege towers or other traditional methods of scaling walls ineffective. She wondered just how strong the wards laid on its walls were. Were they powerful enough to stop an airship from flying overhead? How much cannon fire the walls could withstand? Neither of those thoughts were relevant to her current situation, however. From what she could tell the walls were empty and the gate lay wide open, though the path up to it was terribly exposed. If anything was watching, it would certainly see her approach long before she reached the walls.

Looking at the forest to her right only made her more certain in her choice not to go looking for the old Abbey. The place practically screamed danger, but the trees were massive and the vegitation thick, so much that even her eyes couldn't penetrate far into the darkness within. She'd never find her way through such a place with the tools she had on her, and she had no idea how far it stretched to the north and east. The west looked almost as uninviting, frigid ocean full of ice and rock. She would still take her chances there before the forest with the powers she had. On foot with nothing to aid her it might as well be suicide, but she had ways to improve her ability to climb or even fly, and the seaside cliffs would likely be far enough from the walls' wards to allow her to do so at least part of the way. That would be her backup plan then, if something stopped her from taking the direct route. Somehow, she was getting a very bad feeling about the path up to the gate, but it was still better than the alternatives.

Just as she was about to continue on her way though, her ears perked up, catching some distant sounds. Her hood was pushed back as they rose to full height, trying to better narrow in on the source. It sounded like people, perhaps fighting something—or each other—but who could be all the way out here? Thomas and Raeglynn had said nobody from their town came this far. The sounds were still quite far off and out of sight from where she was, and if she wanted to reach their source before whatever struggle she was hearing was over, she'd need to move quickly.

Reaching down to a pouch on her belt, Laelia withdrew one of the small vials within, taking only a small sip from the substance within before resealing it. This was what she had developed mostly to fight the weakening effects of the artifact's draining, but she had also found a bit of a quirk with it. Her theory was that it had something do do with her nature as a shapeshifter, perhaps her form was more malleable than a human's, but if she channelled even a little of her power along with it she could direct the strengthening effects, even allow her to go beyond the ordinary limits of her shapeshifting. This time though, all she wanted to do was give herself a bit of a boost, directing as much as she could into her legs. As soon as she felt it take effect she started down the hill as fast a she could could keep a steady pace, heading towards the source of the sound, only slowing down when she reached the top of the next hill, hoping not to make herself known before being able to see the conflict herself.

Just using Transformation X=5 for Body (For 2 EP after Engineer's reduction, and 0 Upkeep). Mostly for the +5 bonus to Speed, and putting the bonus from Soul's Strength into Dodge because I don't think it can be given to speed.

So +5 Speed, +20 temporary HP, +15 to grapple, weapon attack rolls and dodge, +10 to Reflexes and weapon damage, and +5 to Focus, Willpower, AV, pleasure damage dealt, Perception, and Stealth.
 
Last edited:

Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#31
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia: HP = 81/61, PP = 47, EP = 54/56, Status = Fine, Transformation X=5 for Body (+5 Speed +20 temp HP +15 grapple/attack/dodge +10 reflexes/damage +5 AV/PP dealt/Focus/Willpower/Perception/Stealth) Upkeep = 0

NPCs
Raeglynn, innkeeper
Thomas the Younger

Laelia's reassurance and promise to return seemed to brighten Raeglynn up a bit at least, but that was about the last bit of happiness Laelia might expect to encounter that day as she set out for the castle.

Rolls
Perception: 4d10+5+2 = 20 (lol) vs ???

By the time she arrived at the hill, weariness was beginning to set in, the familiar bone weariness with an undercurrent of the uncomfortable drained feeling one normally got after a hard day's work. She had hardly done anything that the average person would consider exceptionally strenuous, but the dagger buried in her chest ensured that even minor efforts were doubly costly. The power that she called upon after hearing the shouts, stored in potion form, suppressed her exhaustion mildly, but she would still feel it as she hurried along. Mud splashed against her legs with every footfall as she hastened down the hill, gravity aiding her but the dampened earth making every effort to slow her progress.

More troubling was the ascent of the next hill, a somewhat steeper one than the last she'd climbed, forcing Laelia to slow slightly or risk exhausting herself even with the strength added to her legs. The sounds grew slightly more distinct as she grew closer, but also fewer at the same time, and beneath the shouts the sounds of pained cries were rapidly fading. It was hard to tell, and the wind picked up as she approached the top of the next hill, a howling gale that slowed her, deafened her, and set a chill piercing to her bones all at once.

When she did crest the hill at last, eyes stinging from the frigid wind, Laelia found herself looking out over a scene of pure brutality. The hilltop itself was small but after a short slope the terrain leveled off into a plateau of sorts. There were many marks here, recognizable to one such as herself who sought out ancient places as signs that this place had often been used as a campsite over the ages. Rings of blackened stones, sections of odd growth where the grass was strangled and small depressions where tent spikes or the like may have been planted, and pitted areas that had been shoveled over for latrines were common across the sweeping flatland. A sweeping view of the surrounding countryside and the castle might allow a general to direct a siege from here quite easily. It was occupied now, albeit not to capacity. A small encampment where a few squat tents were clustered together around one of the firepits sat about twenty yards from the top of the hill, sitting directly beside the road on the right side.

There were three tents in all. One had been smashed into twisted wreckage, and blood was smeared over the canvas and seemed to be emanating from it. Another was at the final stages of burning, though there was fairly little smoke and no scent of it that she could detect, the wind shifting near the crest to carry both away from the direction she'd come from. The last was intact, though a bloody handprint sat ominously upon its side, rivulets of blood drawing lines down the canvas. The tents looked like they might comfortably hold 4 to six, depending on the size of the individual and how comfortable they were being close together. There was a spit over the fire with what looked like a rabbit impaled upon it, though the remains were now blackened and the fire was low.

The first corpse sat at the bottom of the slope right before her, its head mangled beyond all recognition though the broad shoulders and lack of curves suggested that it had once been a man. The carcass was clad in loose, mostly dark clothing; black trousers and a white buttoned shirt beneath a dark coat that had been opened. A deep gash ran from collar to waist, leaving gore staining the white fabric, and Laelia could see ribs cracked by the force of the blow. The dead man's head had been almost utterly destroyed, bits of skull and brain matter splattered across a ten foot radius around him, but what had done it was hard to say without closer inspection. A saber sat in its scabbard, having never been drawn, and along the slope Laelia could see several wooden shafts sticking out of the dirt with fletched tips, likely arrows or crossbow bolts.

There were two more bodies within sight, both closer to the tents. One, a dark haired man in similar garb to the first wearing a pointed cap, lay facedown in a pool of blood, arms splayed out above his head but no marks upon any part of him that Laelia could see. The handle of a stout crossbow that was missing one of the arms was clutched in one hand, and a quiver of bolts was tied around him by a shoulder strap and would have hung from his waist were he standing. The other looked to be fairly tall and was lying on their side facing away from Laelia wore what seemed to be the uniform of the group, and sported long red hair tied into a ponytail. He too was covered in blood and lying in a pool of it, and a few feet away Laelia could see a severed arm clutching a hatchet, and an intact crossbow was lying at his feet.

Bloody boot prints in the grass went from the fallen pair into the midst of the tents, where another body in similar garb lay on its front, this one slimmer than the first three. It too had no marks visible on it and was sitting in a pool of blood, with long blonde hair splayed out around it. Another hatchet and saber were in either hand, and blood coated the bladed portion of the head of the hatchet. There were five or so smears of blood leading away from the tents as well, each joining in a trail that ultimately followed the road down the slope of the hill on the opposite side of the plateau.

There were also a set of tracks in blood, smaller and farther apart than the ones leading from the first body through the camp, heading off away from the road and towards a stand of small trees. Laelia could already see where they ended, a pair of legs splayed out, and if they were still attached to the rest of the body it would be propped up against one of the trees. She couldn't see anything but the legs from here as a tree blocked her line of sight, but the pool of blood near him was still fairly small... And seemed to be slowly growing bigger.
 

Astarte

Tentacle Monster
Dec 28, 2014
353
18
#32
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

How tired she was feeling from the short run was quickly forgotten as Laelia reached the top of the second hill, looking down on the scene below. She shivered, whether from the bone-chilling wind that had blown as she neared the top or the grisly sight before her she wasn't quite certain. She only froze for a moment before instinct kicked in and she drew her weapon, Chrystanta's spear half held at her left side while her right hand's thumb hovered over the switch that functioned as a sort of safety for the revolver integrated into the sword blade, a release that allowed all of the mechanical components inside the weapon to move—mostly just deigned to prevent any accidents while it was stowed away or she was using it simply as a sword.

It wasn't her first time seeing bodies like his, she'd even had to fight other people herself on a few occasions, but she'd never seen a massacre like this. More worrying was that despite how fresh it was, how she had heard it happening as she approached, there was no sign of whatever had done it. Some beast, surely, but she didn't like the idea that it was certainly still nearby. That fear kept her focused though, eyes scanning for any sign of movement and ears now standing to their full height, alert for any sound.

She was looking at a slaughter, but unless she had scared it off with her approach—unlikely, considering how many men it had already taken down—it was likely not far off right now. Many of the bodies were mauled, but it didn't look like there had been any attempts to eat them. Some looked to have been dragged away, bloody trails leading further down the road, but for the moment everything was silent and still. Normally, she would expect wild beasts to simply eat their prey on the spot if there was no other danger around, and if the attacker—or even attackers—was dragging them off to its lair, it would likely take all of them. That meant that whatever had done this had some other intentions she hadn't considered, or more likely was still here, lying in wait for her as well. She had been more concerned with speed than stealth after all, even if she'd tried to avoid being too obvious.

Carefully making her way down the hill, she kept her sword in front of her, ready to fire the revolver withing at anything threatening. She didn't like this, unable to shake the feeling that she was being hunted. She couldn't simply avoid this either, not unless she wanted to venture into the woods or the bog. Neither was an appealing choice, both would put her at a significant disadvantage if she was attacked. There were too many places for a predator to hide in the woods, and the dense foliage would limit both her ability to shoot and to wield her weapons together in melee. Too many trees or vines for them to get caught up in. The bog was more open, but her footing would be terrible. She could guess that whatever had done it was a lot stronger than her, some of the injuries she was seeing looked like a lot of force had been put behind them. Fighting something like that on unstable footing was just asking to be thrown to the ground, even if she was able to block.

No, her best bet if she wanted to keep going was just to pass by as stay alert for danger. If she was lucky it had already left, content with merely killing these men, whoever they were. If she was unlucky, at least she'd be fighting it on the most advantageous field around for her. The muddy road was hardly ideal, but it was the best option she had. She was beginning to understand why this place had got such a reputation, if even the forests around it were home to such dangerous creatures to take down a group so obviously well-armed.

If Laelia made it to the camp safely, her first course of action was to investigate what looked to be the most recent kill, see if they perhaps still lived, as unlikely as that seemed. Otherwise any clue of what killed them, or who these people even were. She hadn't been able to see the body in its entirely, only a pair of legs, but the pool of blood beneath it had still seemed to be growing, marking it as a very recent death. She could only hope that she wasn't getting in over her head here. She was confident in her skills, but she would not have fancied her chances against a group like the one she saw dead before her. If whatever had killed them was that strong, she was worried about her own chances. What other options did she have, though? None that she liked. Going around was far too dangerous. She could turn around, flee back to town, but if she had been seen she doubted she could outrun anything that might chase her, not with how quickly the dagger's drain exhausted her when she exerted herself. Head-on seemed like the method most likely to succeed, but she was worried nonetheless.
 

Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#33
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia: HP = 81/61, PP = 47, EP = 54/56, Status = Fine, Transformation X=5 for Body (+5 Speed +20 temp HP +15 grapple/attack/dodge +10 reflexes/damage +5 AV/PP dealt/Focus/Willpower/Perception/Stealth) Upkeep = 0

NPCs
Raeglynn, innkeeper
Thomas the Younger
>:3
???

Rolls
Perception: 4d10+5+2 = 24 vs ???

Creeping through the camp only allowed Laelia to get a better look at the carnage. The looks of horror on every face she could see... And every corpse that still had a face. The second body in the first pair, which had been lying on its side, didn't. Something had hacked it off, or torn it off, or melted it off somehow. It would require closer inspection to figure out how exactly, but where the person's face had been there was now only blood over the bone, eyeballs hanging obscenely on their connecting nerves.

Deeper through the camp, she saw the wild tangle of bootprints among ground that had been stamped flat by passage naturally, telling of the panic that had occurred here. There were slash marks on the destroyed tent, and as she passed it she saw that there was at least one corpse within, though she couldn't make out any details. Near the burnt tent was a bit of burned, shattered glass around a dark patch on the ground, though there were no signs that the flaming oil had done any harm to whatever had caused this.

Luckily for her, the only sound and movement detectable in the camp other than her own were caused by the wind, which whipped about in howling gusts, dragging her cloak and hair about with each shift. The path to the pair of legs was straight and short, and nothing seemed to be among the trees other than the body she approached, which grew more distinct with every step. As she drew close, a shoulder appeared, leaning against the tree.... A shoulder that moved, bobbing slightly at a rapid pace. Then a head, attached near to it, where a man with his hair cut so short he was almost bald turned his head toward her. His eyes were wide, but still saw, and his mouth was wide as he gasped in breath. His complexion was almost bone white, and as she stepped around the tree Laelia could see a deep gash across his stomach that had opened him up and which blood poured from in steady bursts that grew smaller by the moment.

His right hand was over the wound, and his left lay limp at his side, the hilt of a saber sitting a few inches from unmoving fingers. "K.... Ksch.... H.... Hel.... H-help... Me," the maimed figure gasped, his voice rhaspy and barely above a whisper...
 

Astarte

Tentacle Monster
Dec 28, 2014
353
18
#34
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia did her best not to look too closely at the more gruesome displays as she made her way through the remains of the camp, all but jumping at every noise by the time she'd gotten this far. There was most likely nothing she'd be able to learn from them that she couldn't already tell at a glance, she'd never learned medicine of biology, and she was having enough trouble keeping composed as it was. Unfortunately getting closer didn't reveal anything she didn't already know, it only confirmed that whatever had killed them had struck quickly and by surprise. There had clearly been a panic, and several weapons were left unused, swords still in their scabbards next to their owners bodies.

It was eerily silent, the sound of the wind putting her on edge every time she heard it, fearing it might be the sound of some kind of monster swooping down at her. Her closer look at the camp also confirmed that they hadn't killed whatever had done this. If it was a group that had attacked, either none had died or the others had taken the corpses. If it was only a single creature, there was likewise no clear sign that it had been significantly injured, though it would be had to pick out from the rest of the blood if it had been.

As she drew near the body in the trees though, her eyes caught signs of movement. The kitsune froze for a moment, sweeping her blade around to point the revolver barrel towards the source, only to realize it was a person's shoulder. Likely connected to the legs she was approaching, based on the position, and movement meant they might still be alive. She hastened her pace forward, though she didn't lower her weapon or let down her guard. It could be a trap, bait left here to lure her in.

When she saw the man, however, she couldn't simply stand by either. She had little knowledge of medicine, but even she could see that he was in a bad state. Considering how much blood was soaking the ground around him and his deathly pale skin it was fairly obvious that he was near death from blood loss alone, much less whatever else might have been damaged by that gash across his stomach. Laelia frowned as she considered her options, lowering her blade just enough that she wasn't pointing at him. There was very little she could do for him, especially out here in the wilderness. She had a single healing potion on her, but she doubted that would be enough to save him. It might delay the inevitable a little longer, but without proper treatment or real healing magic he wouldn't last long. If she'd had proper equipment and enough materials she might be able to brew something strong enough to help him, but he didn't look to have that kind of time, and she only had basic equipment and a small amount of ingredients on hand. Still, she couldn't just leave him here to bleed out without trying, and he might be able to tell her what had attacked them if he was more coherent.

Locking the two ends of her weapon together, she held it pointed away from him in her right hand as she carefully knelt down next to him, still alert for any sign of movement. She still wasn't convinced that this wasn't a trap, that whatever had done this to him wasn't lurking in the trees, waiting for her to lower her guard.

"Here. Drink this. It's not much, but it should help a little." She did her best to make her voice calm and soothing as she fished a vial out of the pouch at her side with her left hand, quickly checking it was the right one before uncorking it and bringing it to his mouth.

Trying to give him her healing potion. And hopefully she won't regret giving away her only one later.
 

Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#35
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia: HP = 81/61, PP = 47, EP = 54/56, Status = Fine, Transformation X=5 for Body (+5 Speed +20 temp HP +15 grapple/attack/dodge +10 reflexes/damage +5 AV/PP dealt/Focus/Willpower/Perception/Stealth) Upkeep = 0

NPCs
Raeglynn, innkeeper
Thomas the Younger
>:3
???

Rolls
Perception: 4d10+5+2 = 17 (lol) vs ???

Altruism earns Laelia 2 xp....

Kneeling down beside the man while her ears flicked about, seeking any sign of oncoming danger, though for the moment all she heard were the man's gasping breaths and the mournful sound of the wind howling through the trees. He obeyed blindly as she upended the bottle, pouring the sour draught down his throat. He sputtered slightly, some of the potion pouring out from between his lips along with trailing rivulets of fresh blood, but as the healing potion reach into his body the effects were quick. The magic inherent in the potion didn't require digestion to work, and though it didn't seal his stomach wound entirely it did put it on the mend and restore a bit of color to his skin.

It wouldn't necessarily save him, he had still lost a lot of blood that the potion wouldn't restore all of and infection was still a worry in the more long term, but he was stable enough that he wouldn't die within the next few minutes. The man groaned and leaned back, head rolling as his eyes closed, but his breathing went from desperate gasping to a steady wheezing. If she were concerned that he'd passed out, however, she needn't have been, as he opened his eyes again and stared wide eyed at her.

"Monster... Where is it? Attacked my mates an' I... Came outta nowhere... Just walked up," he gasped, speaking quickly and glancing around with wild eyes.
 

Astarte

Tentacle Monster
Dec 28, 2014
353
18
#36
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia allowed herself a short sigh of relief as the potion did its work. As she'd suspected it wasn't enough without further treatment, but at least it seemed to have alleviated his pain for now. She still wasn't sure what she was going to do with him, this was the limit of the aid she could provide on her own. Regardless of her own worries however, he seemed a little more lucid now so this was was her best chance at figuring out what had gone on here.

"I heard the fighting, but by the time I got here it was already gone." Laelia replied, glancing around nervously as she spoke. It hadn't struck yet, even though she'd left herself vulnerable for a moment, so she wanted to believe that it was gone. That would be careless of her though, she couldn't assume she was safe. The idea of camping out here was starting to feel like a very bad idea, but perhaps if she could fortify a room or small building up within the castle walls it would be enough?

"What was it? This... Monster?" She finally asked, after a brief hesitation. She didn't really like the idea of making him talk about what had done this to him and his friends, but she needed to know everything she could if she wanted to make it through here alive herself.
 

Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#37
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia: HP = 81/61, PP = 47, EP = 54/56, Status = Probably Not Fine, Transformation X=5 for Body (+5 Speed +20 temp HP +15 grapple/attack/dodge +10 reflexes/damage +5 AV/PP dealt/Focus/Willpower/Perception/Stealth) Upkeep = 0

NPCs
Raeglynn, innkeeper
Thomas the Younger

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>:3

Raenan the Bandit currently deceased

Rolls
Perception: 4d10+5+2 = 26 vs 27. Uh oh...

Glancing around... Nothing. The woods were quiet, the blanket of leaflitter flitting about in the wind, but only a few feet at a time and only in small places. The rain had left the rotting leaves heavy and moist, but the tree branches crackled and stirred. Nothing else moved but what she might expect.

"We didn't deserve this," the man mumbled, his own eyes darting around. "Didn't deserve this... We never killed nobody if we could help it! My boys an' I... We din't kill no one! Not unless they took up arms on us! We didn't kill no one!" His voice steadily rose until he was speaking at a hoarse shout, but then he settled back to draw in heavy breaths. "Din't kill nobody... Din't kill... Nobody," he mumbled, swishing his head around, scanning the trees as sweat formed at his brow despite the chill of the air.

"M'name's Raenan... Walked the highways I did," he said softly after a few moments, eyes settling on Laelia. Still nothing but the wind, no matter how fervently she looked about or scanned with her ears. "My boys an' I... Plus... M'sister Abi... Abigail." He looked around again, but then focused on Laelia again. "We din't ever earn this... The lockup, sure... The noose, maybe... We took on some honest work... From time to time... But never... We never... Did anything to deserve this!"

The more he ranted the more insistent he became, and the more energetic, but his last outburst caused him to let out a pained cough and settle back, heaving heavily. Blood ran out the corner of his mouth. "It came outta nowhere. Wasn't no one or nothin behind us 'cept that town, and we din't get followed from there. Din't see no one comin outta the woods, and we would from up here wouldn't we?" Raenan explained slowly, eyes occasionally darting around, "Just sorta walked up over the hill. One minute he ain't there, then next one he is... Big ugly motherfucker. Thomas goes over to him, all polite like, askin who 'e is. Was wearing these... These work clothes. Like a farmer, or a gardener or somethin... Had this... This mask, and this big knife, an'... An' this chain.... An' on it..."

Raenan trailed off. His eyes focused over Laelia's shoulder. Rustling leaves flitted on the wind, the branches cracked against one another.... Clink. It was soft, a single sound, metal against metal. Raenan opened his mouth to speak as his left hand shot up, grasped Laelia by the shoulder and wrenched her aside. "He's!"

CRUNCH

There was a whooshing noise accompanied by the rapid clink of metal on metal just before the crash, like something heavy on a chain being hurled through the air. Then what looked like a bear trap slammed into Raenan and closed over his face, sending bits of skull and assorted gore hurtling in all directions, some of it splattering against Laelia's front. It crushed most of his head, leaving his lore jaw hanging off unhinged on one side and a rent in his skull, and dug deep into the wood of the tree he'd fallen against. A long chain attached to it went taught as something tugged, ripping out a chunk of bark and wood in only one strong pull... Along with a good portion of Raenan's head. His body ragdolled, dragged a few feet before the crushed portion simply fell away, leaving him just sort of ending a bit above the neck.

The chain led into the woods, and silhouetted against the grim sky was a grisly figure. At least seven feet tall, the hulking man was stocky and muscular, clad in overalls and a long sleeved grimy shirt of some sort of checkered pattern. Leather boots went halfway up to their knees, and leather gloves that ended a couple inches past his wrists. The chain attached to the trap he'd just used to kill Raenan was wrapped around his left arm up to the elbow, and seemed to wrap around his arm of its own accord as he dragged the gore-encrusted contraption back over. In his right hand was clutched a dirty, chipped, rusty blade, too long to be a knife but curved and not long enough to be called a proper sword. A pair of sheers and a hatchet hung at either side on a belt tied around his waist, and a rake with jagged metal teeth was slung over his back. Long, wild, raven black hair surrounded his head like a dark halo, trailing down his back. The figure's skin was ruddy and covered in grime, though all Laelia could see of it was their neck, for upon their face was a mask... A mask made out of pale human skin, blood still oozing down the man's chin from where it was tied by what looked like barbed wire around his head.

Whatever Laelia might make of the monstrous man's appearance, the kitsune had better make some sort of decision quickly. The figure began to lumber toward her, moving at a walking pace but covering the ground swiftly in long strides. The chain wound itself upwards, the trap shooting into his hand as he drew even with it, crossing nearly twenty feet in less than two seconds while the arm holding the blade swung comfortably at his side.
 

Astarte

Tentacle Monster
Dec 28, 2014
353
18
#38
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia frowned as the man spoke, still scanning their surroundings as much as keeping an eye on the man. They'd been bandits of some sort then, though if what he was saying was true they weren't quite as bad as some she'd encountered. He didn't seem to be lying either, not with the sort of desperation he was showing. It wasn't too surprising, though she assumed none of them had talked to the townsfolk on their way here. If they had, they probably would have known how lousy a place this would be to set up. Even if they didn't believe the stories, the fact was that almost nobody ever used this road.

The description of their attacker was worrying too. She wasn't sure what to make of it. For how big the man supposedly was she wouldn't have expected him to be able to sneak up on this camp. Magic, perhaps? Teleportation and invisibility were both abilities she'd seen before, and the possibility made it even more vital that she rely on her hearing here. She nodded slowly, straining to pick out any sound that might indicate movement when she heard a sudden clinking sound. She made the connection immediately, Raenan had said something about a chain, and he seemed to immediately recognize the sound as well.

Before she could even turn around to face the source of the sound, the wounded man had lurched forward and grabbed her by the shoulder, shoving her aside. Her eyes went wide as she saw the weapon strike him, what looked like some kind of bear trap on the end of a chain closing around his head with a sickening crunch. She froze as she was splattered with gore, watching his head simply be crushed by the strange weapon. Her hand was visibly shaking when she finally forced herself to stand, finally seeing the attacker her he dragged Raenan's body a short distance before finally tearing the head from his body entirely.

Adrenaline and training took over where her mind was still reeling from what she had just seen. She didn't dare look down at herself, at the gore that had splattered over her clothes, instead focusing on the threat in front of her. These people had been bandits, normally she wouldn't have been too worried about someone who had killed them, but one look at this man was enough to convince her he was no friend to her. It was like looking at some strange mockery of a gardener, from the menacing weaponized tools, but what she saw on his face might have made her sick right there if not for the adrenaline running through her body. A mask made from human skin.

In one practised motion she gripped Chrysanta with both hands and twisted to release the lock between them, separating them once again as she brought the blade up in front of her, squeezing the trigger and firing a pair of shots from the integrated revolver even as she retreated a little further into the woods, taking cover behind the trees. She was much better in a close range fight than at this distance, but she was hesitant to try to get close to this man, to leave herself open to that weapon he'd just killed Raenan with.

All conventional logic told her that she was the one with the gun, that she should be able to put a man down from this range easily, yet she wasn't so confident. If she could keep him at a distance though, maybe she could wear him down. He wasn't moving slow by any means, but he wasn't charging towards her either. She just needed to make sure she kept in cover, with something between her and that deadly bear trap weapon.

Taking two shots with her pistol (12d10+18 Attack, 4d8+9 Damage each, ignoring 15 AV and any "Strong Against" property on armour.), then retreating and trying to use the trees for cover in case he throws the bear trap again.

Possibly relevant modified stats
Speed: 40
Dodge: 10d10+14
Grapple: 8d10+15
AV: 14 (3 Natural, 6 Worn, 5 from Buffs.)
Reflexes: 30
Focus: 16
Willpower: 22

Miscellaneous Bonuses/Penalties
+2 to Perception checks involving Sight or Hearing, no penalties for darkness.
+5 to Resistance checks when using skills.
+5 to checks made to resist being disarmed and to parry checks (And +5 max Parry DC) while wielding Chrysanta.
+5 to Spell/Power attack rolls while wielding Chrysanta.
-5 to Resistance checks to avoid being Blinded or Deafened, and an addition -2 versus being Blinded by bright lights.
+5 to Pregnancy rolls.
+5 to PP Damage taken.
+8 to PP Damage taken through her ears and tail.
1.5x Corruption gain.
 

Tassadar

Panda King
Moderator
Nov 10, 2008
16,038
83
#39
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia: HP = 81/61, PP = 47, EP = 54/56, Status = Probably Not Fine, Transformation X=5 for Body (+5 Speed +20 temp HP +15 grapple/attack/dodge +10 reflexes/damage +5 AV/PP dealt/Focus/Willpower/Perception/Stealth) Upkeep = 0 7/9 bullets loaded

NPCs
Raeglynn, innkeeper
Thomas the Younger

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>:3

Raenan the Bandit currently deceased

Rolls
Attacks: Both end up being exactly 99, hitting.
Damage: 29 and 26 across two attacks, for theoretically 55 damage.

Laelia's speed is 40, and she started 20 feet away from ???
She is now 10 feet away from ???

Attack: Miss.

The handgun built into Laelia's highly customized weapon let out a crack, a belch of flame, and kicked in her hand as she squeezed the trigger. It repeated the sound and motions when she fired again, taking scarcely a heartbeat between shots and placing them within a few inches of each other. Both rounds thudded into the approaching figure's chest just to the left of his center of mass, a small spray of blood issuing from each point of impact... But the two rounds had no visible effect upon the masked gardener. He didn't even seem to notice them as he strode toward her, the hand holding the knife rising. Any normal man would have been on the ground, a lung popped and mangled by the two shots, or possibly even two holes in his heart, but even as the wounds bled he trudged on seemingly unhindered.

Perhaps wisely, Laelia opted to take the wise man's course when confronted with such danger; she turned and fled, weaving between the trees to avoid dying as Raenan had. She could hear the chains clinking as she hurried off, but as she took cover behind a tree and turned around to seek the man now stalking her he was nowhere to be found... Until the clink sounded off to her left instead, and she ducked just in time to avoid the trap hurled at where her head had just been. It bit into the wood instead, tearing into the short ash tree's trunk and yanking out a sizeable chunk as it was pulled away.

The tree cracked ominously behind her, and she felt weight shifting, but the man in the mask was now hardly more than ten paces away and closing fast, reeling back the trap and raising his knife, the two holes in hist chest bleeding but apparently not bothering him in the slightest...

She had barely taken her eyes off for a second at a time, and her hearing hadn't lost the steady thumps of his footfalls. They'd been there one moment, and then just... Gone. Or more accurately, stopped where they'd been and started up where he was now, with no discernible break between them and no sound or sensation indicating that some magic had taken him from one place to the other. The stand of woods she was in was small, barely more than a hundred feet in diameter, and she was rapidly running out of trees in the direction she'd been heading. The open land leading back to the camp and the road was closest, she would have to go through the woods if she wanted to find some direction she hadn't seen before, going right - past the mad gardener - to head towards the bog or Raven's Run, or straight -back the way she'd just come - to head towards the castle.

The choice was hers, and she had better make it quickly as every striding step drew the gore-coated gardener closer, knife raised and trap rewinding for another throw...
 

Astarte

Tentacle Monster
Dec 28, 2014
353
18
#40
Re: Close to the Heart (Astarte)

Laelia let out a shaky breath as she watched the figure continue towards her, seemingly not even phased by the two bullet wounds in his chest. She'd suspected something like this, but actually seeing it was far more terrifying. He was obviously bleeding, but she should have hit something vital with those shots, or at the very least caused some significant pain. The gun she'd built into her weapon wasn't small-calibre either, just one of those shots should have been able to stop a man even of his size in their tracks. He certainly shouldn't just be walking forward as if nothing was wrong.

She dashed back into the woods, trying to keep as many trees between them as she could, only to lose track of her pursuer within moments. She nearly panicked, eyes darting back and forth as she tried to spot him, only to be saved by the telltale clinking of his weapon, ducking behind another tree just in time. She watched in horror as the weapon tore a sizeable chunk out of the solid wood of the tree, not wanting to imagine what that might do to her if it hit her.

Suddenly she only heard silence from the direction she'd just seen him, and he was nowhere in sight again. Instead, she heard him behind her, as if he'd just taken one step to cross that entire distance. It was like no teleportation magic she'd ever seen, but she couldn't spare the time to try to figure it out. She couldn't run away if he could do this. The trees provided her cover, but they also made it much harder for her to keep track of him. If she couldn't keep her distance and her bullets didn't seem to do anything the only option she saw remaining was to try to take him down at close range. The idea of getting close to him terrified her, but it was better than trying to run. She knew she wouldn't make it if she tried that.

Linking her weapons once again, Laelia quickly shifted from running and hiding to a head-on charge, hoping he might actually be surprised by the change in tactics. She led with a jab at his wrist with her spear, quickly following it up by reversing direction and bringing the bladed end down towards his other arm. Body shots didn't seem to slow him, but maybe crippling his limbs could buy her time to just bleed him out. If he had blood surely it was important, and enough wounds could eventually bring him down.

Shifting her weight by sweeping left foot out to her side, she used that momentum to sweep the blade around in an arc aimed for his throat, firing off another shot from the pistol as she did. She couldn't aim the gun well while Chrysanta was in its merged form, but at such close range it usually didn't matter, and she wasn't even hoping for a hit, just a distraction. Finally she let the momentum of her swing and the recoil of the shot carry her in a half-spin, stabbing the spear's tip towards his shoulder as she righted herself to face him once again. She couldn't afford to take a hit from any of his weapons, so she needed to keep moving. Keep dancing around him like this and hopefully cripple him before he could do her any harm.

Closing the distance and activating Whirling Death, then attacking with Flurry and Storm of Strikes. Also firing another shot from the pistol to gain +10 to attack rolls.

Flurry Stats
Sword Attack (x2): 9d10+38
Sword Damage: 2d6 + 31
Spear Attack (x2): 9d10+37
Spear Damage: 2d8 + 26, Ignores 2 AV

All attacks ignore the "Strong Against" property of armour, and each successful hit gives the enemy a -10 attack penalty for their next turn.

Possibly relevant modified stats
Speed: 40
Dodge: 10d10+14
Grapple: 8d10+15
AV: 22 (3 Natural, 6 Worn, 13 from Buffs.)
Reflexes: 30
Focus: 16
Willpower: 22

Miscellaneous Bonuses/Penalties
+2 to Perception checks involving Sight or Hearing, no penalties for darkness.
+5 to Resistance checks when using skills.
+5 to checks made to resist being disarmed and to parry checks (And +5 max Parry DC) while wielding Chrysanta.
+5 to Spell/Power attack rolls while wielding Chrysanta.
-5 to Resistance checks to avoid being Blinded or Deafened, and an addition -2 versus being Blinded by bright lights.
+5 to Pregnancy rolls.
+5 to PP Damage taken.
+8 to PP Damage taken through her ears and tail.
1.5x Corruption gain.
 
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