Post by conumbra on Jul 10, 2013 13:38:31 GMT
Lucrezia Dreyal, of the Dreyal family
2475 AS: Summer, Atheese, City of Spirits
The Pillar was the first thing she saw as the Bridge of Nations
pulled into Atheese's harbor. In truth even though she was currently retching over the side of the ship, it was hard to miss the massive structure that had catalyzed the city's founding. The Pillar towered over the city, overshadowing every single building within, even rising higher than the mountain Atheese was snugly nestled against like a lover. Or a corpse, depending on who you asked. The structure was enormous and took at least 5 minutes for even the fastest sloops to sail around. A few times people had even tried shooting at it, but no cannon made so far could damage it.
She retched again over the side of the boat, wishing that she had decided against that meal of sauteed minzo
(beef) before the journey. It and the ship's rocking motion were not agreeing with one another, and for the moment her meal was losing. Despite living in the Plutars, she had rarely been on a ship. She'd been kept securely within the Dreyal family estate in Jambha for most of her life, guarded zealously by her father's staff of trained bodyguards, each one having been ruthlessly checked out beforehand. Her father had once boasted that there was not a man who worked for the Dreyal family that wouldn't slit his own throat if ordered to do so on a whim. He'd carefully watched his budding daughter, his protege, slowly bloom into the heiress of the Dreyal family fortune and guardian of the Bank of Dreyal's interests.
Of course, if her father had had his way, she'd have taken the reigns at maybe 35, 30 at the earliest. But her father hadn't anticipated the assassin that had crept into the estate and ended his life with a lethal dose of majraveen. This had forced her to take control much earlier than she had wanted to, and as much as she loathed to admit it, she had not been experienced enough to begin management. So she had put a temporary council in place, all composed of some of her father's most power-hungry and greedy men. Hopefully they'd be too busy trying to undermine each other to do much damage to the Bank as a whole. The reason she'd given for leaving was because she was "seeking expert advice". This was true, in a manner of speaking. She did need advice with the bank, but she sought help with other matters as well.
She took out a handkerchief, wiping away the last remnants of the vomit that clung to her mouth before tossing the rag into the water. It was night as the ship approached the harbor; the Pillar shined so brightly during the day that no ship could approach or leave the harbor. Even tonight the Pillar glowed with a soft white radiance from reflected moonlight. The symbols that traveled up and down the white marble pillar's length shown with their own silver light, their constantly changing forms creating a hypnotic display for any who wished to look up. She chose not to; the Pillar was unrelated to her task at hand and so it held no lure for her.
She fingered the necklace held above her breasts; the last gift from her father before his death. Gold and rubies, displaying her family's colors in the shape of a gull in flight. Her dress was similarly colored; a deep ruby red with strips of gold thread sewn in long lines down the sides and arms of her dress. She wore her family's colors with pride; her father's death had not changed that.
The captain, one Lorenz Fayon, approached her as she leaned against the wooden railing. He was slightly wrinkled with age, but she trusted his experience and his personality. When she had spoken with him he had seemed like a man who would not betray his passengers. Considering she was outside Atheese and not Laksh, her trust had been well-placed. He wore a pair of blue breeches with a beige jacket, both bleached from their extended contact with the sea's spray. He clasped his hands behind his back and gave her a knowing smile.
"First time sailing I see." he said.
"Is it so obvious?" she replied, sarcastically.
"Only people I've seen throw up like that are first-timers or people who get nauseous easily. You don't look like the second type miss, begging your pardon."
"You're right of course, I have never sailed before."
"Why start now?"
"Because I need help, captain." She retreated from the railing and looked at him. "And it appears that you do as well. Tell me, how long have you been addicted to mortash?"
His eyes widened and he was unable to hide the look of surprise that crossed his face before it transitioned into one of controlled anger. She had him now, she knew. "I have no idea what you're talking about" he said.
She traced her hand along the railing. "Don't act stupid captain I know you're quite addicted to it. It was the makeup, by the way. I noticed it after we set sail. Sloppily applied, I probably wouldn't have cared if I hadn't noticed where it was; around the eyes and lips, likely to conceal the tell-tale black veins that spread out from both. I may be a banker's daughter captain but I am not unaware of the popular substances on the street. They can turn a profit just as well as anything else. Your hold is also not as full as it should be. Most of the money you make on trading is going towards feeding your habit, leaving you with less to buy goods. You're losing money fast, captain."
His rage had gotten more and more pronounced. He was barely keeping it under control. Another symptom of mortash addiction was an increased temper shortly after the sense of euphoria wore off. He placed his hand over his own pistol holster, preparing to draw it, before she spoke. "Now captain I didn't say that so I could reveal it later. What you use your money for is none of my business. How much money you have is
The captain looked confused for a moment, but didn't retreat his hand. "What do you mean?"
"I represent the Bank of Dreyal. I can set you up with a loan structured around a series of regular payments every month or so for the foreseeable future. The interest would be very low of course, and would continue to stay low as long as you agree to provide discreet services for us. Otherwise...well the market is very fickle Mr. Fayon and we may hastily require what we invested in. You understand, yes? I would hate to see your business get into...difficulties."
His rage increased for a few moments and he even began pulling out his pistol. In response she moved a section of cloth away, revealing her own holstered pistol. A rifled wheellock, it had been a gift her father had received when he had helped negotiate that deal with the Falorans for some supremely accurate cannons. She considered that one of the worst decisions her father had ever made, but it had gotten him this supremely crafted pistol, so at least some good had come out of it.
After a moment, the captain thought better of putting a hole in her head and put his weapon back. "Very well Ms. Dreyal. I shall look into your bank. Now if you'll excuse me, I must take control of the wheel and sail us into port." He turned away with a huff and left her smiling out over the open water.
As she stepped off of the ship's ramp, she placed a coinpurse full of money for him to stay in port until she returned. He looked at her for a moment, but nodded and pocketed the purse. She had several like it hidden over her person, sewed into pockets in her dress that were hard to notice. She stepped down off the ramp and looked around at the docks. Unlike other cities Atheese's docks were quite alive at night, bolstered by the development of sunstones, small stones with light spirits infused within, which produced artificial light when it got too dark to see. This, coupled with the pillar's blinding radiance during the day, made it so that most of Atheese's business was done at night. She watched the various merchants clustered around the docks, competing to sell her clothes that would keep her hot or cold depending on the weather, or perhaps an umbrella that shielded one from gunshots, arrows and crossbow bolts.
None were related to her reasons for being here, but she did purchase a sunstone for light and a pocketwatch that kept perfect time. She would have that tested later of course, to determine if she had been swindled. If she had, then perhaps that particular merchant would soon enjoy a nice swim. She scanned the bustling marketplace, full of people in all sorts of colored dresses, trousers, shirts and skirts. Among the wanderers she saw several people dressed in heavy robes wearing expressionless metal masks. From what she had heard these were people who attended the Grand College. Unfortunately the college's location was kept intentionally hidden to safeguard it from harm and she had been unable to discern its location back home.
Still, she figured the college must be some sort of great building, and so she began to walk down Atheese's main thoroughfare. The bustling crowd, each person with his/her own sunstone, glowed like a shimmering river. The various two-story buildings around it contained shops on one floor, housing on the second for the shopkeepers. People bustled around in the night, floating from shop to shop or simply heading home to sleep through the day. After an hour of not finding the College, she instead began tailing one of the masked men as best she could. He was likely to return back to the College at some point, so she could follow him back to it. Now all she had to do was pretend to be a shopper with too much money. Shouldn't be that hard
, she thought as she began following him.
Post by Timeon on Jul 11, 2013 21:34:38 GMT
She followed the man for half an hour, until he stopped facing a wall in a narrow street. He began to trace a finger along the wall, humming to himself as he did so. At first Lucrezia figured he was muttering a spell, but then she realised he was probably just in a good mood. Eventually, the man stopped, turned towards her, and waved before Lucrezia had time to duck her head out of the way. Transfixed, they held eye contact for what seemed like a lifetime. Then the man continued to trace his finger along the wall.
There was an eerie glow in the air before him, then a section of the wall slid away. The man passed through, and the door closed behind him.
When Lucrezia studied the wall, she found it to be plain and unremarkable. She even put her ear to it, to listen for something, but heard nothing.
"Oi miss." someone said behind her. She swung on her heel, but saw nobody. "Up here."
An crusty old man was lounging on a balcony above. He raised his mug in salute to her.
"How did that man get through here?" Lucrezia asked. "If you help me, I can pay you. And I can pay you well, sir."
The old man shrugged.
"Nobody gets into that old College unless they're invited. Just saying, missie."
"I doubt you are correct." Lucrezia answered courteously. "And even if you were correct, then I shall be the first to do so. Good day."
Her next step was to ask around for hands for hire. She even got in touch with an old contact in Atheese, who sent her a couple of stealth specialists. Money really could buy anything. In the back room of an inn, she interviewed them that same evening.
"... so you're telling me you want to get into the Grand College?" one of them inquired politely, eyebrow raised.
"You heard me correctly, sir." Lucrezia said, leaning forward ever so slightly across the table between them.
The two stealth 'specialists' glanced at one another awkwardly, then the other slouched back into his chair and sighed.
"People like you think you get whatever they want in life, for the right price. Well. That's not how things work when it comes to spirits, Miss Dreyal."
"I thought you gentlemen were specialists in your field. Can you not find me a way to access the College? At least put me in touch with one of its members?"
"They are a... secretive order, to say the least. They've got no need for friends outside of their circles, Miss Dreyal. Many have tried to bypass their wards and runes, but the entrances to the College change daily. Some doors become inactive, new ones are opened." the man shared another look with his friend. "And the few times somebody has managed to get inside, they've either not come out again... or they were dumped into a canal."
"It's all about runes, Miss. And to be honest, all the books about runes are in the College. Because the College is not careless. I'm sorry, but unless you have some logical plan in mind that nobody has thought about before, Miss Dreyal, then we can't help you. No matter how rich you think you are. No human can just waltz in there."
Post by conumbra on Jul 14, 2013 3:05:58 GMT
Lucrezia furrowed her brow as the specialists she'd hired explained how difficult it would be to get into the college without an invitation. Truly, it seemed that getting into the college without permission would be both dangerous and difficult. Besides, she needed to get inside with the College's permission, otherwise she'd never be able to get the service that she required from them. She hated admitting this to herself, but she didn't know enough about runes and spirits to perform the ritual on her own, which is why she required the College's help in this matter. She could perhaps learn the system and meaning of the runes they used on the various entrances through trial and error, but that would take precious time. If she took too long than the temporary council back home might start getting ideas about their place in things.
The wheels turned in her head as she contemplated her options, which were not very many. She had quite a lot of resources she could use, but none of them would be sufficient for this. She sighed and placed a hand on her head as she thought.
"Thank you gentlemen, you may see yourselves out." she said, her mind working to come up with ideas.
One of the two specialists, coughed, and held out his gloved hand to her, open and expecting payment. She reached into one of the smaller sewn pockets, reaching in and taking out a small coin-purse, much smaller than the one she'd given the captain back at the docks though still full of coin. She stared at it for a few moments, her eyes widening as the wheels snapped and produced a new idea within her mind. She quickly handed it to the specialist before her pause became too awkward.
"That's what you receive for your advice gentlemen, and I'd like it if you forgot this exchange ever occurred."
The specialist grinned and gave her a small nod before he turned to the other one. "Let's go Marsel, looks like this room was empty after all." The two grinning specialists left the premises, leaving her with her thoughts. She waited for a few minutes before following them out, careful to make sure no one would suspect the two of them had met. She might have use for them later on, but for now she would approach this problem from a more familiar angle.
She was soon walking down the part of the city the locals dubbed Mangled Row. The name had nothing to do with the slipshod nature of the dwellings within, though most looked like someone breathing heavily could knock them over. Built from collections of irregularly sized wood and rusted nails, the buildings within Mangled Row were built quickly and for the cheap. No, the name came from the danger posed to everyone who walked, worked and lived within the area, because while the areas surrounding the docks and the main thoroughfare were filled with merchants selling infused goods that were -excepting a few- useful, the ones in Mangled Row sold goods that tended to be very dangerous, for maker and buyer both.
Lucrezia recalled one memorable time that her father had accepted a gift delivered by a man unknowing of its origins in Mangled Row. A statue of a guard dog that was supposed to stand sentinel and alert the owners of any trespasser, it instead started up with an ear-shattering yell whenever anyone so much as walked in front of it, intruder or no.
It got so bad that several of the estate's windows and all of the glassware had to be replaced when they shattered. Eventually her father had thrown the statue into the ocean, even as his own ears bled. He swore never to receive gifts from Atheese that he had not personally checked out after that. And that had been one of the less dangerous things to come out of Mangled Row, if half the stories were true. That was the main reason the houses were built so cheaply; no one wanted to spend much money replacing them when someone's experiment inevitably went awry and caused every building within a hundred feet to explode.
Put simply, Mangled Row was where you wanted to go in Atheese if you were desperate, curious, suicidal, homicidal, or a combination of all of them. It was the curiosity that Lucrezia was banking on that would draw some of the College's members out. Some of the things produced in Mangled Row were downright inspired in their insane or contradictory uses for spirits and their powers. She hoped such a place would prove intriguing to the College's members, so she could speak with one. She wasn't all that worried about criminals, despite the very shabby housing. No smart criminal would ever venture into Mangled Row; most understood that their lives were on the line the longer they stayed within. And for the stupid ones, well she was confident that she could handle those.
She strolled down the cobblestone pathways of Mangled Row, past several of the ramshackle shops and houses selling everything from clothes that set themselves on fire to nails that could be hammered into water, among other useless or dangerous oddities. It took her almost an hour of searching in the night, her sunstone glowing ever dimmer as the morning gradually came to Atheese. If she didn't get back into the inn soon she'd be blinded when the sun's light struck The Pillar.
Then, just as she was going to stop the search for now, she came upon one of the College's members, decked out in a dark blue robe. He was facing away from her, so she wasn't able to see his mask until he hurried in front of him, leather shoes slapping against the cobblestone as she ran to get in front of him. She stepped out in front of him and barely stopped herself from recoiling in horror; as it stood she put a hand over her mouth when she came face-to-face with the horrific face of the mask.
If she hadn't been focused on other things, she supposed that she would have considered the mask an expert work of art. The ceramic mask was, for the most part relatively human. Except for the large spider that was moulded into the mask and was frozen in the midst of biting through the mask's eye, part of the spider's legs poking holes through the eye and reaching out of the socket, digging into the skin around it. Through some trick created either by the mask itself or by the man, small spiders and other insects were in constant motion over the mask, crawling out of the constantly screaming mouth or the open nose, or burying themselves in the other eye, seemingly disappearing from view before returning a second later climbing out of one of the other two orifices.
Even though she couldn't see the man's expressions, the way he stood seemed to betray the fact that he was grinning underneath that mask. She steadied herself and tried not to look directly at the mask as she spoke.
"Excuse me sir, but I would like to speak with you for a moment."
"And what can I do for you Miss Dreyal?" As he spoke there seemed to be second voice overlaid just underneath his natural one, deeper and smoother than his normal voice, which was somewhat monotone.
Her eyes snapped directly to the mask as he said that, suddenly unconcerned with its appearance. "And why do you think that's my name?"
"Well what else would it be Ms. Dreyal?"
"How do you know?"
"It is wise for all men and women to be aware of their environment." he spoke as if repeating a phrase he'd heard many times before.
She calmed, reminding herself that this man was just trying to upset her, throw her off balance. "Be that as it may", she said "I have a service I wish to provide you."
He actually laughed at that, a hearty laugh that -mixed with that other voice- sounded like the ravings of a madman. Several other walkers around them gave a wide berth at that, moving to hastily get out of the way.
"Miss, let me give you a lesson. When the Grand College of Spirits require a service, we go to them, not the other way around. And we certainly don't require help from some girl barely out of her seventeenth birthday. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've found something I'd like to study. Good day miss."
He turned away from her, moving around and away from her. Before he got too far away, she called out to him. "I don't want to help you! I want to be your backer!"
Post by Timeon on Jul 16, 2013 20:02:46 GMT
The mage halted mid-stride, and regarded Lucrezia with a tilted head.
"And what's in it for you, madame? What are you trying to bribe us for?"
"Bribe implies a one-time deal. This would be a lasting arrangement. I wish to be a part of a pacting ritual. The spirit will be of my own choosing. Additionally, in the future I may have use for some of you." As if as an afterthought, Lucrezia added. "None of you will be forced to do anything that goes against the College or will put you in danger, of course."
"And you think we haven't heard of all this before, madame? Perhaps the College already has a source of income... or two. Or three. Who do you represent? What's there to you, other than money?"
"True, you likely already have financial backers, but I'm not talking about something so mundane. I know for a fact that you require food, water, clothing on a regular basis. Those robes are custom-made, you would require a dyer for them as well. For inducting new members, you must acquire new materials for the masks, even if you already have the craftsmen yourself. You require items to be infused, plus a few oddities from Mangled Row on occasion. I can promise you that I can get these things for you, without the College having to lift a finger, and unlike some of your other sources, you won't have to pay me anything."
All the curious eyes in the Mangled Row began to unsettle Lucrezia. In cue, the masked stranger shuffled to a more private location, under the shadow of a large government building. Without an audience, they were able to speak more freely.
"You were saying, madame. Why are you so eager to strike this deal?"
"I represent my own interests and my interests are the Dreyal Bank's interests. I desire a spirit for my own reasons. An increase in standing, greater abilities, more power, I'm sure you're aware of those things. If I benefit, the Dreyal Bank benefits. And thus, so do you."
"And how are we to trust we won't end up involved in the politics of Jambha? Or that we become enemies of your enemies? Do you misunderstand the purpose of the Grand College? We are not another card to be played in a foreigner's selfish games. In exchange for free food and clothes?"
"And you receive much more than simply free food and clothes. You receive time. Every hour my men spend gathering your food, gathering your clothes, is an hour you don't spend doing it yourself. You receive far fewer distractions than you normally would, leaving you more time for your 'research'.
The shadows began to coalesce around the masked magus.
"You misunderstand us, Miss Dreyal. You don't know who we are. You don't know what we do, or where we have influence, and where we do not. We are what we are because of our privacy, and our secrecy. If we link ourselves to you as you suggest, if you get yourself into trouble, or die of sickness, assassination... or old age. Then what, Miss Dreyal?"
"And you misunderstand me, sir. You would not deal with the Dreyal Bank, but with me. I would be the only one to know of our...entanglement. The workers I hire will not be told of who they are helping, nor why they are doing these things. If someone attempts to figure these things out, then they will be removed. When I die, our involvement dies with me and no one is any the wiser. If I am first, tortured, then I would sooner die than give up my allies. It is bad for business in general, and I am not afraid of death."
A semicircle of light cut across the wall of the building behind the magus. It slid inwards, revealing a passage. A little stream of similarly whimsical magi poured of it, to surround Lucrezia.
"Bold words, for a little girl." one of the newcomers hissed. "But one thing we learn in the College is to look for potential in the most unlikely of places. Let's say the College is interested. We'd first need a test of your dedication. A favour."
Blinking away her surprise, Lucrezia addressed the ring of magi.
"I understand. What would this favour be?"
"We must transport goods and individuals to the Aras Isles." another magus piped up, his bovine mask distorting his voice to a monotone. "As you know, they are under Faloran military occupation. The enemies of the Dominion are the friends of all binders. Especially our College."
"That sounds easy." Lucrezia said. "Is there a catch?"
The magi exchanged glances.
"An ally of ours, an old benefactor, he has started to display Dominion sympathies. He will be one of the individuals we seek to transport to the Isles, except we wish that he does not survive the journey..."
"I understand." Lucrezia said with a nod.
"Good." was all they replied with. "Return in a month. Then all shall be ready."
Post by conumbra on Jul 20, 2013 3:43:02 GMT
Lucrezia smiled ever so slightly and gave a slight bow and curtsy, only doing the absolute minimum to show proper civility and dignity. These were powerful men, true, but they were only human as she was. They had weaknesses, just as she did. She would find them, and then exploit them when she didn't need them any longer. Her first job once this was all over was to find out how they'd learned of her arrival, or of even who she was. If there was a spy, he/she would be found and dealt with. Or subverted, she wasn't prejudiced.
"Very well gentlemen, I shall have everything ready for your voyage. May I ask what you're transporting?" she said.
"You do not need to know Miss Dreyal. Suffice it to say that we are sending the Aras Isles supplies, and that is all. As for the people, prepare supplies enough for 30 men to survive the voyage." The leader, the one in the bleeding bovine mask, said.
"Alright, but if I am to dispose of this troublesome individual I will at least need to know what he looks like, so as to direct my men to the proper target."
"All you need know is that the man is rather portly and is completely bald. There should be no one who appears as he does on the voyage, you may trust us in that, Make sure he's removed as quietly as possible. Poison, a push overboard in the night, we don't care how it's done, just that it's done quietly."
And where am I to meet you after everything has been set up?"
"Simply wait, Miss Dreyal, and we shall come to you." The men from the Grand College turned away from her before she could speak back, disappearing into the hallway behind them. She tried running through after them, but the semi-circle of light winked out with a flash, and when her eyes cleared she could see no trace of it in the stone wall left behind, no matter how finely she looked. Seeing that the sun was already starting to rise and gleam off the Pillar and that her sunstone was growing dimmer by the second, she hurried out of Mangled Row and back to her inn, ready to sleep off another day and begin her preparations.
She failed to notice the hawk that followed her every move.
A month later, Summer 2475, The Shadow Docks,
Atheese stood by on the docks as the ship she had selected was loaded up with all the equipment the College had provided to her. Or at least, she'd assumed they had, as when she went to visit the ship exactly one month from her meeting with them, the crates had appeared on the decks beside it, without explanation. Of course, she'd had one of her men attempt to open one, to his detriment. After he lay a finger on the locking mechanism his body had violently exploded. There had been no explanation, no warning, and no preparing. One moment he was bent over the crate's lock, the next his entrails and blood were coating everything in a 50 foot radius.
It'd taken her hours to clean the man's brain matter and blood from her person. She'd returned with a dark red dress with the emblem of a gull in flight on her right shoulder, sewn out of gold thread and with its eyes dotted with tiny rubies.
Seeing no way to circumvent the solution, and not wanting to chance what might happen if she tried destroying one of the crates, she gave the go-ahead for he men she'd hired to begin loading the cargo onto the ship she'd selected, known as the Deadly Sting. A ten-cannon frigate loaded up with nine pound cannons built to the Faloran standards. But her weaponry hadn't been why she'd chosen the ship. The ship was known as a Pericola nascosto, or a hidden danger. She could fly the flag of any power currently sailing the seas; Faloran, Malvernian, Dominion, Nalbinian or other flags could all be seen flying from the ship's mast. Additionally, the ship had been carefully painted and crafted so as to make her seem like she had no cannons at all. Enemies thinking she was a harmless merchant vessel would be in for a nasty surprise. To help fuel the illusion, 6 ballistae were mounted on the ship's deck and were completely usable in case of an emergency.
Her men happily loaded the cargo as she watched, trying to gauge what could be in each crate by the sounds they made when they were handled, or how heavy they seemed to the workers. She had a rough idea of what they were sending, but nothing specific. She looked around, wondering when the ship's passengers would arrive. The ship would have to leave soon.
Right now, Lucrezia and the ship were in an ever-shifting part of the city known as the Shadow Docks. As the sun passed through the sky, the reflection it cast off the Pillar occasionally created periods of shadow over the city during the day, which criminal used to facilitate illicit deals. Late in the day however the shadows grew to encompass a certain portion of the docks. Smugglers and pirates hotly contested this area, for it meant that goods and shipments could be easily loaded while they were in shadow. Then, when everything was ready the crew would set off in the night before anyone knew what was going on.
This area was known as the Shadow Docks, and occasionally the fighting grew so fierce that cannons were fired. Before the dispute could get too dangerous though, the Grand College always stepped in and made sure the dispute had been settled, no matter what it took to settle it. She'd heard rumours of captains owing enormous sums of money to the Grand College, or even that one of them sold his first-born son to them to avoid their wrath.
Her crew were currently taking advantage of that period, but they wouldn't be able to for long. After a period of time the harbour masters would be patrolling the seas and their window would be closed. She was about to consider finding another member of the college, when suddenly a circle of light appeared beneath her feet. With quick-thinking, she was able to jump out of the way before the light cleared, revealing a staircase leading down through the wooden docks. That should not have been possible; underneath the wood was just water, there was no way there could be a hidden passage. Yet there it was, right in front of her.
Slowly, men and women came up the impossible staircase and walked onto the dock to the ship, ready to board it. A few of the men moved to stop them but she made them back down with a gesture of her hand, so they were let pass. There seemed to be no consistency amongst them. Some were men, some were women. Some were dressed in clothing rivalling her own dress, and some were barely covered in rags. She did notice that there seemed quite a lot of pacters (which she could only tell because of their familiars) and binders (which she could tell through their tattoos) but there were also men and women who didn't seem to have anything strange at all about them, including the portly bald man she was supposed to have killed. As he got on board she made hand signals to her men, ensuring that they knew he was their target. The ones that were in charge of his removal nodded and went back to their work, remaining inconspicuous.
The last man to come up the staircase walked towards her instead. An incredibly well-dressed man, he wore a dark green shirt and a darker green vest over top of that, from what she could see. His chest was mostly covered by a metal breastplate. Adding to the look of capability around him, at his side was a long straight holstered at his right side. Walking beside him was his familiar, a large black cat who easily came up to her waist, but who seemed entirely unconcerned with her.
"I trust everything is order?" The man said.
"Yes it is" she said, without missing a beat. "You should have ample provisions for the journey and all the supplies will be loaded within the hour. Once that's done, my men will set sail as soon as night arrives. You should arrive in the Aras Isles without any incident."
"Good, Challa doesn't, particularly like long voyages." He petted the black cat silently for a moment, then said "Oh don't act indignant. The last time you were on a ship you stayed in the cargo hold for the entire trip with your eyes closed."
He looked up at Lucrezia "We'll be fine, no matter what Challa says. Oh, and the man from the College told me to give this to you."
He reached into a pocket and pulled out a piece of paper with two words on it: Mangled Row. She understood what it meant, and so ripped the paper up and tossed it into the water as the man left, the large cat following him. Still, she could not leave just yet, she had to wait and make sure everything was done properly before she trusted the ship to set sail.
An hour and a half later, as Deadly Sting was leaving Atheese's harbour, Lucrezia stepped down Mangled Row's street once again, her slippers clipping against the cobblestone streets. She retraced the steps she'd taken a month ago, eventually ending up in the same out-of-the-way area that her favour had been introduced to her. Seeing the same bovine-masked man, she stood and crossed her arms.
"Well, I've done what you asked. The voyage has been created without a problem. Your man will be dead within hours of the ship setting sail, and all the supplies and people should arrive at the Aras Isles without incident. Now I have completed your request as you required. I assume my dedication has been well tested?
Onboard the Deadly Sting
Kusalan was a Librarian and he was going to help undo the worst atrocity done in the history of humanity. Oh sure, there had been that thing with the Shatterbridge being destroyed, but that had merely ended lives. The Burning Man's arrival in Kutanda had caused the destruction of centuries worth of knowledge, most of it seen nowhere else on the planet. Because of him, the Great Library had been reduced to cinders, its tomes and scrolls incinerated. Right now, he was taking a ship to the Aras Isles; once there he could make his way to Kutanda and hopefully retrieve some of the lost knowledge and take it somewhere safe.
He knew his prospects of finding knowledge untouched by the Burning Man was slim to none, but he had to try. All of his order had to, it was their purpose to locate and safeguard knowledge that others had tried to destroy, and the the Great Library's burning was the greatest event of that magnitude anywhere that they knew of.
He wore a nondescript black robe that covered most of his body, leaving only a portion of his face visible to others. This was for a reason; he didn't want others to see the tattoos that layered over his chest and arms. Of course, he'd have to ditch this robe when he got to Kutanda, in case the outfit was recognized there, but he'd brought spare clothing in case of that. He was prepared, or at least he thought so.
He put his hands against his head as another massive headache overtake him. They were coming more and more often; the spirit trapped within him was growing emboldened, trying to push past his mental defences. He had to keep himself constantly prepared, and had to do heavy meditations before he could even think of drifting off to sleep, lest he be overtaken. He was gradually growing better at fighting back the spirit, which was why it was increasing its attacks in a desperate attempt to win. But he would not let it; he needed this power for his cause. Besides, it seemed fitting to use a spirit's power against the most evil spirit humanity knew.
He busied himself by looking through the orders given to him by his masters before his departure, making sure he knew exactly how to get to Kutanda and whom to contact once he got there. The lantern in his room died down, bathing the room in darkness. He opened up the lantern's glass side and cleaned away the soot from the wick before he placed his forefinger and middle finger around it. A spark shot between them, igniting the wick and forcing him to retrieve his fingers lest they be burned.
He closed the glass and returned back to his orders, studying them as the ship rocked back and forth on the waves.
Post by Timeon on Jul 21, 2013 17:34:44 GMT
Grand College of Spirits.
With legs crossed, Lucrezia Dreyal sat in the middle of a room lit only by a few candles. It was mostly empty, but still felt claustrophobic to Lucrezia. She was sure that every so often, she could hear whispering. Whether it was from nearby students of the college, or the result of something else, she could not tell.
Across from her stood the binder with the bleeding bovine mask, a blue turban wrapped around his head. His mask distorted his voice, making it sound comically ecstatic, and sometimes desperate. When mixed with the man's words, it created an unnerving effect, because the binder could talk about killing, rituals or pacts like a sweet-talking whore.
He pointed at two chalices, one to Lucrezia's right, and one to her left.
"You may chew the mortash, and when your mind wanders the spirit realm, it will be more firmly anchored there. For some, it gives them a greater mastery of the world beyond sight. For others, the mortash clouds their judgement, and creates corridors of fear which spirits exploit to destroy them. Whether you use the mortash or not is up to you. I always use it myself."
Lucrezia nodded, looking to the other goblet.
"That." the man stated pleasurably, his voice high and whimsical. "That is where you shall pour your blood, with which you shall craft your familiar. Should you survive, of course."
"If there's nothing else, I'm ready to begin. I will not use the mortash."
"Ready? Oh, no you're not." the bovine-masked man chuckled darkly. "Nobody ever is, not their first time. The spirit realm is like a lucid dream at times. And I wager you have not trained yourself to master your dreams, let alone the realm of our strange friends. But sometimes, experience is our only reliable teacher. Remember, fear is the corridor malign spirits use, Miss Dreyal. Be fearless. And wise."
Lucrezia Dreyal closed her eyes, focusing on the silence between her thoughts. It was difficult, but she had been practising steadily every day to reach the state where one's consciousness floats in darkness, empty of chatter. From there, the void was all. Once she reached it, she simply was.
Everything simply was, and always had been, and always would be.
There was no awareness of her body, nor was there much awareness of who she used to be, either.
Forever was interrupted by a faint sound of music, like a sad violin. Somebody laughed.
Now take your first step, beyond the first veil. Surrounded by a single ray of light, the bovine-masked man appeared in the darkness, playing the violin. Off with you, Miss Dreyal. Do not dawdle.
It was like being submerged in cold water. The shock was absolute, and a dizzying array of colours assaulted her. After another eternity, Lucrezia focused, finding herself in a vague copy of the room she had been in.
So, this is the spirit plane. A vague copy of the mortal plane. They really do overlap.
She focused once again, intending to send a call for a spirit that matched her needs. Her mind custom tailored the terms of her pact, sending that out across the spirit realm. Any spirit that picked up that call could view her terms, and consider them. If a spirit was interested, it could trace those terms back to their source - Lucrezia.
But by subtle accident, Lucrezia let a tinge of fear trickle through with the pact. The words came back to her.
Remember, fear is the corridor malign spirits use, Miss Dreyal.
That was the great tragedy of it - fear multiplies fear. And realisation of that fact makes one more afraid. It leads to a spiral, which gets harder to break with every second. Some know them as panic attacks, interrupted only by passing out, or the intervention of another. Here in the spirit realm, there was no passing out, and nobody to calm Lucrezia.
And realising that as well made it worse. She was losing her grip, losing her control.
Alone here, she would be consumed, and a spirit would possess her body, and turn it into a chimera.
Lucrezia felt a faint feeling, like a thousand tiny legs crawling towards her from somewhere dark and divided. Little eyes blinked at her curiously, mindlessly, hungrily, enviously.
I CAN SAVE YOU. Something cackled. REACH OUT TO ME. QUICKLY.
Post by conumbra on Jul 22, 2013 0:39:02 GMT
Lucrezia could feel the fear rising up inside her. Even in the spirit realm her heart still beat faster, her skin still sweated, and her breathing still grew shallow and quick. She felt for the first time the absolute loneliness. She knew no one was here with her, and that if she screwed this up, no one would save her. Perhaps that's what she really needed, someone to comfort her, to keep her safe in this strange world. She'd been completely unprepared and what better idea than to have a guide who already knew it? She turned towards the eyes, but did not look at them, and considered holding out her hand, accepting the spirit's offer.
Then she recalled what she'd seen
Her father had not sheltered her from the more oftentimes more gruesome aspects of his profession. She'd seen him order a man's throat slit, only concerned with how the blood would fall on the dining room carpet. She'd seen him ruin men's lives with a wave of his hand and well-worded contract. She'd seen him pry confessions from a pacter about a certain crate of platinum by torturing the man's familiar, first breaking its wings then branding its feathers. She'd heard the screeching and the yelling, smelt the burned flesh of both man and beast. She'd asked her father why he'd done that, and he'd replied "For myself, dear daughter. Always for myself." She knew right then, as she did now, that when it came to one's own interests, nothing was forbidden.
She opened her eyes and remembered what it truly meant to be a Dreyal.
"You think I need saving?" she said, softly, as her hand moved to her side.
"You think I need saving?!"
"I am not some mewling bade cast to the wolves. I am the head of House Dreyal! I do not fear your kind, spirit, no matter your power. I will not be manipulated, not by you, nor anyone else. Leave and never return, understand? Begone!"
Post by Timeon on Jul 24, 2013 11:12:29 GMT
There was a feeling that Lucrezia could only describe as shock and disappointment emanating from the presence of her would-be saviour. It began to fade away, no doubt intending to find someone else to toy with. And as quickly as the panic spiral had started, it ended, leaving Lucrezia trembling in eternity, quite safe, for now.
That gave her the confidence she had sorely needed. She had faced down madness, and had crushed it under her heel. The bravado of many people was often revealed to be paper-thin and pathetic when put to the test, but Lucrezia had been tested, and she had persevered.
She forgot to remember where she was - where was she now? The thought was confusing, because she was nowhere, and everywhere, really.
Be careful how deep you stray. someone had told her. There are many veils, each stretch-
Lucrezia tripped. Her being felt like a ladle of syrup, being pulled downwards to accumulate somewhere else. Somewhere vast and white was where she emerged, and she felt very small there. There were loud whispers travelling directly over her in the great empty void, discussing eldritch nonsense. Nobody had noticed her yet. Nothing had seen her. The discussions raged through the white void, disregarding the insect that quivered beneath them.
With a gasp, Lucrezia righted herself, and found herself back in the Grand College.
Or it seemed like the Grand College - she realised she was still in the spirit realm, but she was nowhere near as deep within it as she had been before. Here, she was in control.
Concentrate. Remember what you came for. Like a dream, focus your attention. Do not doubt your own will.
She sent the terms of her pact issuing out through the spirit realm, this time, without fear.
And she received an answer. Into the room around her, shapes began to materialize.
"She has assets."
"She has willpower."
"She is determined."
They bickered and talked.
"She is mine."
"She will serve my needs."
"No, she is mine!"
Lucrezia Dreyal threw her head back and shouted.
"You will be silent!"
The spirits bickered no more, and Lucrezia found that she could focus her eyes on their distinct shapes, encircling her in the room of the Grand College.
One of the spirits was a featureless purple humanoid, without eyes or nose or mouth. It only had a giant grin on its face, and the muscular body of a man, arms folded behind its back. It had a scent of power and command, and subtlety. With a graceful gesture, the purple grinning humanoid took Lucrezia's hand into its own and bowed low.
"My service will be a service of respect and adoration. I will fulfil your whims and your desires, and smash the skulls of those who displease you gladly. I will put your mind and wits to the test, and reward you for your genius. I am complex, and you will never know me entirely. I am a covetous one."
Also in attendance was a spirit who stood on four legs, appearing as a morbid cross between a crab and some mammal. It hosted two pincers, and antennas arching from its skull. Despite its fearsome appearance, it radiated wisdom as well as danger.
"I will ward off your foes with illusion, and blind them to the true dangers they face. I will teach you about life and about death."
There was an avian spirit in humanoid form, with violent eyes and a cunning warrior's aura.
"I will show you the weaknesses of those who oppose you, and humble them. I will teach your enemies to adore your tenacity."
Beside it stood a female tentacled spirit wearing a mask, breathing perfume into the chamber, promising pleasant conversation and the verbal equivalent of mortash.
Finally, levitating above the ground, a being made of stone and water fixed Lucrezia with its azure eyes. It had two arms on each side, brandishing strange instruments.
"I have explored the bottom of the oceans. I will show you what others cannot."
Post by conumbra on Jul 24, 2013 21:37:13 GMT
Lucrezia stared at the various spirits that had approached her, and had actually obeyed her commands. She was surprised for a moment, as the spirits each spoke of their virtues and what they could do for her. This was how it was supposed to be; a discussion, a deal-making process, not some sort of auction. She pulled her hand away from the purple skinned humanoid, regarding him with a cold stare. An obvious attempt to earn her favour, one she did not appreciate.
She pondered for a moment, her mind going through the various possibilities. Of course the spirits had spoken in vague, poetic language, to do so otherwise would have made this far too easy for her. In a way she relished the challenge. Here was finally a kind of person, no, a kind of entity that she had not encountered before. It gave her something new, an experience previously unknown to her. It gave her a rush. These beings would serve her needs, not the other way around, and the challenge would be finding which spirits would do just that.
After a few minutes, she turned to the purple-skinned humanoid.
"I know enough about spirits to understand that after the process you would be able to speak within my mind and understand my thoughts, yes? Then why would you ever think I desired a being I cannot understand? If I am to give another entity access to my mind and my thoughts, I do not wish to have someone such as yourself. I require an ally. You say that you are covetous; you would not be a servant or an ally, you would be a threat, a rival living within my mind. How foolish do you think I must be to consider pacting with you? Leave."
She dismissed the spirit, moving one to another, the masked one, scenting the chamber with perfume. As she took a whiff of the scent her mind reeled, assaulted with strange images she was not aware of. She took a step back from the masked spirit.
"You would provide me with more of what I already posses. I did not come all this way just so I could be given more, I came here to receive new abilities. You would enhance, but you would not expand what is there. Leave."
Next she turned to the being of stone and water, the one possessing strange tools. "You will show me what is underneath the waves, what other spirits cannot show? But my interests lie above, on the surface. And what use is showing me what others cannot if I cannot use what is shown? No, you are too specialized. Leave."
That left her with the other two spirits, the ones that had given her interesting proposals. She could not decide whether to take them up on their offers, and so she stared at both of them, regarding their forms.
"You", she directed her query to the two remaining spirits. "your offers intrigue me. But is all that they have done, intrigue. Now, explain to me exactly what you will be able to do for me and how you will do it, or leave as well."
The avian advances with a rapid motion.
"Humans are formed of links. They are built of flesh and bone, they are machines. Predictable. Some are less predictable than others. You are a sharp blade. I can direct your blade to the soft underbelly of your enemies. You will be graceful, a flawless series of motions. You will be feared and loved for it. For that is the human way."
The freakish crab spirit shifted simply slithered back into the shadows. Hot breath at Lucrezia's shoulder forced her around. The spirit had shifted shape, retaining many of its former features, but appearing upright.
"The unexpected. Trickery. Illusion. And when your enemy lies prone - brute force." The creature's pincer shot forward, stopping not far from Lucrezia's face. "My appearance is deceptive. Beneath my shell I hide many secrets. Secrets I may guard with force. I offer you the skills to gain knowledge, and with those skills the strength to wield such knowledge."
She thought for a few moments about the two spirits and their offers. Both were tempting, but they offered skills completely different from one another. One offered martial skill, the other offer illusion and deceit. Well, she knew what she was going to choose. So she turned to the avian
"You would make me into a warrior, skilled of blade and skilled at finding weakness. But I do not desire to be a warrior. I desire to lead, to manipulate, to control. I do not wish to get into fights without the assurance that I shall win. You would enhance my martial skills and not much else. Leave."
Too proud to argue, the avian spirit bowed and backed out.
Now she regarded the crab spirit, the one of illusions and shadows.
"You would gift me with illusions and trickery, as well as brute force? You would provide me with skill necessary for obtaining knowledge? You interest me spirit. Very well, I am considering making the pact. But if you say you are so fond of illusions, why not help perpetuate one? Do you agree to not form a familiar? I wish for others to be unaware of our power."
"I could provide you with my spark, while remaining here in this world, but I will be of little use to you. There are other ways. Give me a body, and I will teach you how to hide our capabilities. Most human vessels learn this trick, in some manner or another. It would be wise to give me shape and form."
She thought about it for a minute or two, weighing the possibilities. "Very well, but I shall choose the shape of your body. You may advise on what would best suit your capabilities, but I will have the final decision."
"Shape and form are malleable. They are nothing to me. Very well, Miss Dreyal."
"Then we have a deal, spirit. What shall I call you?"
"The first human I bonded with named me Lokan, it is as good a name as any."
"Then Lokan you shall be."
Post by conumbra on Jul 28, 2013 17:53:53 GMT
Lucrezia looked around the inside the wavy indistinct room she and Lokan were standing in. No matter what she'd read on the pacting process, few really went into great detail about what happened to truly solidify the pact. Most had described their experiences before and after the pact had been put in place, but precious few had described what happened during and those that had merely spoke of an "ecstatic experience" and other such flowery words that meant nothing to her. So she was woefully unprepared for this stage.
"So," she said "what happens now?"
"Let me show you." Lokan said.
Abruptly the spirit rushed at her; she instinctively braced her arms in front of her head, but it did no good. Lokan simply sunk into her skin, his form becoming translucent as he dove into her body, soon disappearing completely within her. She had no time to process this before her mind was...attacked was really the only word she could use.
She was assaulted by memories, doubts, fears, sensations with no human analogues. She experienced all as if they were hers, even if they were not. She remembered being birthed within the spirit world, tasted the buttered mushrooms the hired chefs prepared, feared being enslaved to a human mind and doubted her father's warnings. She felt the golden thread within her dress and ran from predator spirits that wished to consume her form. She burned, drowned, froze, nearly died in dozens of ways. She smelled the ocean breeze at morning and heard wolf spirits howl at midnight.
She witnessed her father's lifeless body fall from his chair as his eyes bled.
She watched, her words unheeded, as her human pacter lured a young girl back to his house, violated her, then strangled her as she tried to scream.
As the images and sensations flashed, their minds grew closer and close together. For a brief moment they were one, a single being of flesh of spirit, like each but better than either. They screamed in joyous rapture as their minds melded, linking in a way not even lovers could fathom. The enormity of everything was almost too much for them to bear, and they might have died then and there, were it not for a sharp pain on their...NO...her arm. The feeling was so jarring compared to everything else that she was jerked back to reality, her vision clearing of the foreign memories. She barely remembered what she'd seen now, only bits and pieces if that.
"Welcome back to the world of the living Miss Dreyal." the bovine-masked man from the College said.
She shook her head, remembering what she was doing there, why she had came. Something pressed within her mind, a presence she had never felt before. Then it hit her; the fear she'd experienced, the creatures she'd seen, the creature she'd pacted with. It shook her, and she could barely keep it together, her eyes scanning he entire room, her breathing getting quicker.
Be still Miss Dreyal, the process is nearly complete.
Without even having to think, she knew who it was; Lokan was the one she had joined herself to, let inside her mind. Only time would tell if she had made the right choice.
"Now kindly hold your arm over the chalice on the left and we shall begin the process of creating the familiar."
She took a deep breath and did as she was asked, holding her arm steady as her blood dripped into the chalice. That was her blood, her own life dripping away. It unnerved her, seeing part of herself leave her body, never to return.
She managed to remain still as the chalice filled with her lifeblood. Once it was almost completely full, the man from the College reached into his robed and retrieved a set of bandages, which he used to cover the wound. Strangely, even though she'd read that the spirit's mind was now within the blood, she had not felt anything as it presumably left her body.
"Stick your hand inside the chalice and imagine a form that pleases you. The blood will form around your hand into the desired shape, with the spirit you have chosen inside."
She stared warily at the chalice full of blood, wondering how it would feel. She took a deep breath and slowly lowered her hand inside the surprisingly warm liquid. When her hand was covered, she searched her mind for images, things the familiar would be shaped like. She had heard inanimate objects could be familiars as well, but she discarded that possibility. She would not lose her most important resource to some lucky thief. No, her familiar would be able to defend itself if need be. She came across an image of an animal her father had shown her once, as part of a trip to Renen. The so-called snake charmer had called it a cobra when her father had asked about it. She had seen them; they were relatively small, had large fangs for defence and looked quick and hard to catch. Yes, that shape would be perfect.
She concentrated on that shape, imagining the cobra's body, how its hood expanded, how it moved, how it struck, how it looked. Slowly, she felt the blood around her hand hardening and beginning to climb up her arm and over her dress. Every inch it moved, it grew more solid and more distinct, its colour changed from a dark red to a beige colour. The cobra's head came into view, exactly as she'd imagined it to be. Fully formed, her new familiar curled around her neck.
And now everything is complete. We are bonded, and only your death shall separate us. Ah, to have a form in the human word once more. How I have missed this!
Taking her hand from the empty chalice, she grinned at her success. She had secured the aid of a spirit, which would greatly benefit her. She had secured an arrangement with the College, gaining a powerful, if somewhat surly, ally, and she'd managed to obtain a new employee for House Dreyal in the form of Captain Fayon. Overall, her trip had been well worth it.
The bovine-masked man bowed to her. "Congratulations on your new acquisition. Now, unfortunately that is all the time we have for you today. My friends will show you out." He pointed to the door, where a number of other masked men stood. "They will lead you back, with one caveat." Her vision was suddenly obscured as a piece of cloth covered her eyes. "You cannot be allowed to remember our layout, I do apologize."
As she was lead away from the room, down what she assumed to be a hallway, she heard the man call out in that same distorted voice "Don't forget about our little arrangement Miss Dreyal! We never will!"
The cobra did nothing but hiss at her ear, over and over. It almost sounded like laughter.
Post by conumbra on Jul 31, 2013 15:58:04 GMT
2475, the Next Day
Jambha, City of Swords
Lucrezia stood on the deck of Captain Fayon's ship -an 8 cannon frigate called the Sea Siren- as it pulled onto port, and regarded the city of her birth. Unlike Atheese, which was nestled right against a mountain, Jambha had been fortunate enough to be given some space on a large, flat outcropping. The city's designers had been meticulous about its design, and they continued to be meticulous today. The city was divided into 8 "rings", the outermost one containing the poorest parts of the city, and the innermost one containing the Doget's fortress, with each ring's overall wealth growing as you progressed from the outermost inwards. As the city grew, more rings would be added. Right now, there wasn't a need for a ninth wall; the only things outside the eighth were the docks themselves and a few isolated slums set up by the truly destitute.
Each ring was outfitted with a dozen cannons pointing outwards and angled to reach as far as they possibly could. The walls also had numerous ballistae scattered around the battlements, which could be used to fire traditional bolts, flaming bolts or specially prepared bolts filled with a special substance known as liquid fire. Cannons for destructive power and ballistae for accuracy; a worthy combination, or so Alexhil had said.
Jambha's harbour was filled with ships from all over Solumaros. Frigates, galleons, sloops and other stranger kinds of ships were all in abundance. There were Faloran, Malvernian, Nalbinian, Plutarian, Sali and even a few Dominion ships. She thought she even managed to spot a Tenkou ship, though why that was here was anyone's guess.
Everything was bathed with the light of the rising sun, the piercing light from the sun bathing the entire display in an orange glow.
You know I find that there are few things, within the spirit or human worlds, that compare to the beauty of a sunrise.
She was still getting used to communicating with the spirit mentally; she had to think as if she were going to speak, but then not speak at all. It was strange for her, though she'd probably get better with practice.
I haven't noticed it, but I suppose you're right. There is some aesthetic appeal, certainly. You can understand beauty?
How could I replicate it if I did not know what it was? To be a good fake, you have to understand the real thing. So, what will you do now that you're here?
Well, first thing, I've got to clean house.
Yes, remove the bad elements from my enterprise. It's time I took control.
How long until you do so?
Oh, it won't take too long. A day at the very most. I've prepared for this day. You didn't think the only thing I did in Atheese for a month was plan a voyage did you?
No, I suppose not. Well what did you do then?
Sent some letters to my majordomo. Hopefully if he followed my instructions everything should be ready.
Ready for what?
She paid the carriage-driver his due, stepping off to take a good look at her estate. She didn't know why she'd expected it to change during the month she'd be gone, but it was reassuring nonetheless to see it still standing. This was her home, where she'd grown up. She had thought herself safer here than any other place; her father's death had shattered that particular illusion. Still, this place represented, if not safety, than a sense that here was where loyalty was prized above all other.
She moved up the gate, the guards instantly recognizing their employer and opening it for her. Past the gate was a garden of flowers of every colour imaginable, and some that were almost impossible to believe. Roses, tulips, petunias and stranger things. She was surrounded on either side by flowers, clustered together size so that it produced a slanting slope of colour, the tallest flowers nearest to the visitor and the shortest ones farthest away. Besides the central passageway there were smaller paths branching away, promising other artistic delights if she only delighted to take a detour. There were rock gardens, miniature jungles, intricate statures strategically place for ivy to climb over, and other such things. The house was kept out of sight through the careful planting of willow trees, imported all the way from Otticia. She took a deep breath, indulging herself with the sight for a moment before passing through.
How long did it take for your family to gather this display?
Oh several generations. The garden was started by my great-great grandfather and his plans for it were only completed by my father a year or so before my birth. Other families collect statuary or paintings and display them in huge galleries. We display our success by forcing nature herself to conform to our wills. Some day I should take you on a full tour of the garden.
I shall look forward to that.
She stepped through the low-hanging willow branches, and only now managed to see the home itself. A 3 story mansion made out of red brick, the home was polished extensively till the white marble balconies beneath each upper window shown in the sunlight. In front of the building was fountain 3 times taller than she was, the stone carved deliberately so that each of its four levels was held up by birds that then let their water flow off their backs and into the level below. It started with starlings, then went to gulls, eagles, and finally herons, each coloured to match.
She strode up the steps, the guards opening the large wooden door for her. She stepped onto a red carpet edged with gold thread over top of the marble floor which led up the set of stairs in the middle of the entry hall. Overlooking the hall was a chandelier that had been meticulously carved out of a single massive piece of crystal with the aid of a spirit, causing the light its candles produced to ripple through its form and produce a constantly moving suite of rainbows within it. Standing in the middle of the stairway was her majordomo, Nicholas Fervine, come to greet her.
Nicholas was a lean man, wearing a crimson waistcoat over top of a beige shirt with baggy sleeves, as well some brown trousers. His light grey hair was kept short as was his moustache, and both were kept impeccably trimmed. There was not a inch of him that looked out of place; even the wrinkles that he had looked carefully considered. He walked down the stairs to greet her and gave the perfect one-handed bow, kept exactly low enough for the situation.
"Milady, it is good to see you again...and I see that you've brought us another guest. Don't think this one will be needing a bed though." He chuckled softly.
Lokan slithered quickly out of her arm and rested on the ground, staring at Nicholas and hissing at him. This one is dangerous. We should remove him.
No Lokan, he is as loyal as a man can get and he has proved that loyalty dozens of times over.
So you trust him with your life?
I trust no one with my life.
"So," she said "how could you tell?"
"The bulge in your sleeves milady. I judged it too big to be a concealed weapon of any sort, so it must have been a live animal. The only animal you would wish to hide from others would be a familiar, therefore a new arrival."
"Very good job Nicholas. Now, have you done what I asked you to do?"
"Oh yes milady. As you guessed, with your departure the Bank of Valin has begun making little inquiries into a possible take-over of the Dreyal family business. The "temporary" council was hesitant to go ahead at first, but when they saw the letters from you claiming that you were making plentiful use of Laksh's brothels and were generally acting like a spoiled brat, well they reconsidered."
The Bank of Valin was the Dreyal family's chief competitor, within the Plutars and abroad. Headed by Antonio Valin, the bank's assets rivalled and likely dwarfed her own. It didn't help at all that, due to her father's involvement with the Shatterbridge incident, the Bank of Valin was much more widely spread within the Dominion. Oh sure, she had offices in the outer provinces, but not within the Interior, where the real value lay. That galled her, more than any mere sense of competition between the two could have; that the were allowed within yet she was denied the prize was infuriating.
"You have copies of the messages they sent, yes?"
"Of course. Once you were gone it took some work to get them to trust me, but they did. The messages they and the Bank of Valin sent back and forth are carefully locked away."
"Excellent, everything's worked out. Send out the invitations, it's time to have a dinner."
Be ready Lokan. Tonight you shall see a work of art.
The letters had been sent, and 4 of the five temporary council members were in attendance, along with the Bank of Valin's representative, Grigori Vichente. She did not know where the fifth council member, Pietra Abate, was but right now it didn't matter. The message would work well enough without her.
For tonight she was wearing a golden dress with a train at least as long as she was tall. Silver thread spiralled up her sleeves, down the bottom of the dress and flowing like waves down the train. Rubies studded the bodice of the dress. Her family's crest, the gull in flight, was stitched onto the back out of silver thread; the gull's eyes made from a cluster of 3 stars rubies each. Emeralds were strung together with gold thread through her red hair, sparkling with each movement. Lipstick and blush were applied, causing her skin to stand out even more. Her hands were covered with long red gloves that reached to her elbow, with her right hand also bearing his signet ring, crafted from pure gold. Around her neck was necklace of black pearl. Normally this dress would have been worn when meeting incredibly important clients or during official functions.
Tonight however, she was an empress taking back her empire.
She sat at the foot of a large table that was long enough to seat 20 but for now seated only five. The other council members, each portly men in various states of hair recession, looked awkwardly around, as if waiting for this grand joke to have a punchline. Each of them drank their tea, as was customary for formal dinners. The only one who didn't look confused was the Bank of Valin's representative. Grigori had not been offered tea, which seemed to have rankled him but apart from that brief breach of etiquette, he seemed to have become focused on the meal in front of him. Lucrezia however was busy thinking about the method of her father's death.
Majraveen was an extremely unsubtle poison, mostly because of its effects. Shortly before death the victim's eyes and nose began bleeding profusely, an effect not seen with any known disease. Most intelligent people knew its symptoms when they saw them, so it was hardly a poison used if one wanted to hide a murder. It was used as a statement, a threat, or a message. The poison was completely odourless but it did have a bitter taste that couldn't be removed through cooking, so it had to be disguised within already bitter foods or drinks.
Tea, for example, served perfectly.
The council members and Grigori had each brought two of their own guards. Lucrezia didn't have anyone in the room that was loyal to her besides Nicholas, who currently had a wheel-lock pistol and sword holstered at his belt. Some might have questioned her not having more loyal guards in the room.
Those people would have failed to realize she only needed one.
The council members started writhing in their chairs, blood beginning to trickle from their eyes and noses; their tea cups were sent flying to the floor, shattering. Nicholas took that as his cue to get to work.
Quickly, he moved behind one guard and snapped his neck, dropping him to the floor. The other guards stood shocked, and moved to intervene. Reaching down he brought his sword out of his sheath and in the same motion sliced it through the second guard's belly. Making a motion with his other arm he brought a dagger into his offhand and sent it flying straight in another guard across the table from him. As another guard to his right began loading his pistol Nicholas rushed forward, slicing at his throat. He then lunged forward, skewering that guard's pair.
Leaving his sword within the fifth guard he made a motion in his sword-hand, dropping another dagger which he then sent flying into the face of another guard opposite from him. He drew his pistol, firing it at the seventh guard, which dropped him too. Seemingly out of weapons, the eight guard took his time in loading his pistol, confident that Nicholas could not harm him.
Nicholas proved him wrong by drawing another dagger from a hidden sheath against his leg and leaping across the table. Rushing forward just as the man finished loading his gun, Nicholas stabbed him in the face. Taking the guard's sword and gun, he fired the gun at the first of Gregori's guard, then ran forward, used the sword to cut off the guard's hand before slashing his neck. He then bowed to Grigori and left the room through a side door. Lucrezia stood up after finishing her plate, bowed slightly to Grigori and spoke softly "You are excused Grigori." She turned and left the room through its main door. The former council members still sat in their seats, bleeding from their eyes and noses.
She had deliberately spared Grigori's life twice now, and he knew it. She didn't need to speak the message to him; it was perfectly clear.
Now let's get more comfortable Lokan. We've got work ahead of us.
Post by Timeon on Aug 2, 2013 14:29:54 GMT
Arrentus, western Jovinium.
Captain Lorenz Fayon's ship docked along one of the many piers of Arrentus, the principal port of the Republic. The vast sea had two main centres of trade - the Port of Sojo, in Sali, and Arrentus.
For that reason, Lucrezia Dreyal had come, eager to cement her edge over the Bank of Valin in this corner of the world. With Nicholas Fervine at her side, and a small company of ceremonial guards, she disembarked from the ship, leaving her familiar, Lokan, behind. It was illegal for a free spirit to enter Faloran territory, though exceptions were made for spirits aboard ships, to facilitate trade.
"It's bitterly ironic, is it not?" Nicholas Fervine observed, looking to a Malvernian vessel being unloaded by chained slaves. "They'll let slaves wander about, but the Falorans won't permit a spirit like Lokan to spend even a couple of hours on their soil."
"They're hypocrites, yes. And they're the worst kind in that they don't even realize it. We are at least honest with ourselves."
At one of the offices near the docks, Lucrezia Dreyal announced herself and was let in by a pair of shifty-eyed guards. She was let into a meeting room where several men and women already sat deep in discussion.
"Ah, the representative of the Bank of Dreyal." someone commented. "Be welcome. We have all been waiting for you."
"Indeed." a moustached and elegantly dressed gentleman said, fingers clasped comfortably together. "Let us discuss our mutual interests. The expansion of the Bank of Dreyal, and the rise of the Red Sun Shipping Company."
Lucrezia Dreyal allowed herself a seat amidst the strange and exotic faces. There was Salimons, some Malvernians and even some Samari present, and some who looked and sounded like they were from Bhakhtar, which struck her as odd.
"What you have suggested by letter implies your Shipping Company will cut all ties with the Bank of Valin."
"Indeed." the moustached man said once again, smiling pleasantly. "Our Shipping Company dominates trade in the western half of this sea, and has a monopoly in the Port of Sojo. If we excluded the Bank of Valin from our dealings, you would have exclusive access to Sali."
Lucrezia Dreyal was somewhat shaken, for the deal went far beyond what she could have hoped. The Red Sun Shipping Company was a formidable force, an organization built from merchants from various nations.
"Who do I have the pleasure of speaking with? It seems you speak for the Company, sir."
The moustached man rose and offered his hand.
"My name is Martuk. You guess correctly."
Lucrezia wearily shook his hand.
"State your terms."
Martuk seated himself back down.
"The world is changing, Miss Dreyal. Can you feel it?"
She exchanged a weary glance with Nicholas, but nodded agreeably to Martuk.
"There are opportunities to be seized, Miss Dreyal. I contacted you over the Bank of Valin because you have a reputation. The Bank of Valin is torn between its shareholders, but you are not. I believe in getting what I want, as do you. If we merge our strengths... well. I need say no more. And if over time I learn that you are a trusted business partner, when our interests truly intertwine, then maybe I can share with you what makes the Red Sun Shipping Company so special."
Then Lucrezia heard Lokan's voice in her head, alarmed, and disturbed. It was an uncommon emotional state for a subtle being like Lokan.
Mistress, a spirit just came on board.
Who is it? A spy? Lucrezia asked, tearing her attention away from the conversation in the room.
No. A winged spirit from the Aras Isles, that tells us our operation there has been compromised. The College pacters have been slaughtered. There is enough evidence there to trace our dealings to the Plutars. There are survivors, witnesses.
Lucrezia was outraged.
Who killed them? The College said it had no enemies, that their university branch there was legal, and secret. I even visited it myself, Lokan.
I think the College lied to you, Miss Dreyal. Falorans did the killing, and from what this spirit says, it is saying that the Falorans discovered the cult, but the College did not speak to us of a cult.
Post by conumbra on Aug 6, 2013 19:20:19 GMT
As Lucrezia heard Lokan's words in her head, it took a conscious effort to keep her face clear of surprise. Only a small twitch of the eyes betrayed her shock. Something like this required immediate attention, but she could not simply remove herself from the negotiations. So she spoke back at Lokan.
Keep the spirit there as long as you can, I must remain here for now. I shall rejoin you as soon as possible.
As you wish Miss Dreyal, though I would not take too long. It appears...agitated.
These things take time Lokan, but I shall remain as brief as possible.
She gave a smile that didn't reach her eyes at the rest of the attendants.
"Apologies for the brief interruption Martuk, let us continue. You talk of the world changing, of us joining together, but you offer few specifics. You are correct; we can achieve impressive things together. The only oceanic entrance to Sali is also quite a tempting prospect. But there are always two sides; what would you desire from this arrangement?"
"By merging our strengths, we destroy competition. We create a monopoly." he smiled and whispered to a servant, who began pouring wine for all in attendance. I considered offering this same deal to the Bank of Valin, but they are less likely to bring about what I hope for. Which is control of the Mesegian Sea."
Lucrezia saw the wine being poured but did not drink it, mindful of what she had used wine for in the past. She kept her face carefully neutral, despite the implications of what was being said. What this man was proposing was likely one of the most profitable things ever devised! The prospects, the opportunities...she could not stop picturing them.
"You wish for control over the entire Mesegian Sea? A difficult task, even for someone as privileged as you. Why do you think you can accomplish this? Others have tried before."
"Never before have the peoples of the Mesegian tried to work together. Not like this." Martuk said, looking across the varied faces at the table. "Many of us believe the wars are pointless, and trade beneath the notice of the Archons or Salimon nobles, or Republican Senators. I have a vision of stability, prosperity, and peace."
"Hmm, a worthy goal to be sure." She knew these people were being entirely selfish. Stability prosperity and peace were all conducive to trading and profit. Still, she was doing this for selfish reasons herself. "And you are correct, the wars being waged are pointless and restrictive to trade. Very well, I shall join your little arrangement, on one condition. I have heard the Sali use ships clad with iron. I wish for one of those ships to be delivered to Jambha's harbour and handed over to me."
Martuk focused his gaze on one of the Salimons in the room. He held that gaze until the woman inclined her head, then he returned to a smiling and charming man once more.
"Consider it done."
Lucrezia saw how Martuk and the woman interacted without ever speaking. She could see how the smiling and charming man she saw before her was merely a mask. The real Martuk was someone to watch out for. Still, she was pleased with her new acquisition. She raised her full glass in a toast. "Thank you for your generosity, I'll be sure to remember this moment in my years to come. To prosperity." She toasted, but did not drink. "Now, for the specifics, how would you sever ties with the Bank of Valin? Even divided, they are somewhat prickly. They may try to enact retribution."
Martuk waved his hand theatrically in the air, all smiles as usual.
"That's where you will be coming in, I think. These are details to discuss over weeks to come, but by the end of it all, I hope to see the Bank of Valin absorbed into the Bank of Dreyal. They cannot withstand both the Red Sun and the Bank of Dreyal. I have isolated them. Their allies will soon be ours, because all those motivated by money will always fall in line with the winning side."
"For there to be a monopoly, there has to be no competition." he said, then downed his wine.
"You speak wisely Martuk and I applaud your efforts. I shall discuss this further with you later. For now, I must retire back to my own ship. I have some urgent matters that I need to take care of."
"Of course. We will speak again. Thank you, Miss Dreyal."
"You're welcome Martuk."
She stood up from the table and left the room, Nicholas opening the door for her on the way out. As the two of them left the building, Nicholas spoke up.
"Miss, it is hardly my place to speak but-"
"Speak Nicholas, you are not a slave. You may voice your opinions if you so wish."
"Very well. Miss, it seems to me you've wandered into a nest of vipers. They will bite you, surely as they did the Bank of Valin if you do not march with them."
"I know Nicholas, no one in there is to be fully trusted. If I am not useful to them, they will discard me in search of someone else. I shall be on my guard with them, never you fear. Right now though, we have something important to tend to."
"And what would that be Miss?"
"Something from my past has decided to rear its head again."
Lucrezia stood in front of the spirit that had landed on her ship, looking it over. "So, you say there are survivors and witnesses to our operations there? Do you have anything more concrete than that? Names, appearances, occupations?"
The spirit looked like a winged rat, but it looked off. Feathers constantly fell from its wings, only to vanish when they hit the deck, and its fur was matted with clumps. Its eyes swept the deck, never staying in one place for more than a second before looking at something different. Its tail had been bitten in half and one of its ears was missing, but there was no blood. It chittered. "Dauntless. Dauntless."
She thought about this for a moment. Dauntless didn't sound like a person's name, so it must have been something else...a ship's name perhaps. The Falorans had been there, so it had been a Faloran ship. Someone on-board, or multiple someones, had observed them. "Very well. You said the Falorans that killed them discovered a sort of cult, yes? What was the cult doing?"
The creature squealed, and Lucrezia was not sure if it was ecstasy or fear. It sounded like a mix of both.
"He mocks us all, the father mocks us. His son wished to spread his gifts, and receive the package from Kutanda. But Dauntless. Dauntless."
She mulled over the spirit's words. If she'd understood correctly, the cult was supposed to receive something from Kutanda, but Dauntless, or perhaps the people on it, had stopped them. She wondered what the package might have contained, but that was later. She still had more questions "Who is this 'father' you speak of?"
The spirit shook its head wildly, and began to chitter with laughter. Then it screamed and flew off, leaving one of its white feathers on the deck. As she picked it up, the feather crumbled to dust.
She looked at the spirit as it flew off, still puzzled. What was really troubling her though was that she hadn't even asked a spirit to go and look over the Aras Isles voyage. She'd washed her hands of the matter as soon as it had been sent off. That meant that an unfamiliar spirit had come and informed her about her own operations without any prompting. She didn't know why, but something had scared it. She turned to Captain Feyon. Her next course of action was obvious.
"Captain, prepare to set sail for the Aras Isles as quickly as possible."
"As you wish, Miss Dreyal." He moved over to the crew, commanding them with his passionate voice, louder than a hurricane. For the first time in her life, she was troubled. She'd never known any spirit to react with anything like that. And what had it meant by "Father"? Who, or what, was the "Father"? As she leaned against the railing, her hair flapping in the wind, she busied her mind by thinking up ways to keep her involvement would hidden. If it meant destroying the Dauntless outright, then she'd do it. This was a very delicate situation.
Post by Timeon on Aug 10, 2013 21:05:56 GMT
Lucrezia Dreyal strolled through the streets of the town of Aras, on the largest of the Aras Isles. It was mostly deserted, the populace having fled in the wake of the chaos that had consumed the island. A fire had eaten away at part of the town, and Lucrezia spared a moment to imagine how it had happened. Perhaps during a battle with the Falorans?
Her mercenaries soon rounded up the few townsfolk that remained in Aras, and assembled them in the main square.
"So, who here cares to share with me what has occurred here? For those who are able to help my investigation, there shall be rich rewards, and a brighter future. I can fund the reconstruction of your homes, and feed your families. All I need in exchange is to learn more about whoever is responsible for ruining you."
Her honeyed words must have struck a chord, because the townsfolk immediately started trying to talk over each other.
"... pacters, came promising us safety! In exchange for service!"
"... all a lie!" another said. "Eternal grins, perpetual pain, all for what?"
"Damn them all!" a woman wailed. "My sons, taken from me!"
Nicholas Fervine fired a pistol into the air, causing the townsfolk to cower and wail, and then fall silent.
"Let's be professional about this, gentlemen. What pacters? What promises? What services? What is this about grins?"
One of the folks stepped forward, shakily slightly.
"Miss." he said, lowering his head before Lucrezia. "Missionaries came, saying they wanted to ease our suffering and keep us safe, all in the name of the Smiling Man. We agreed, eventually. One day we woke up fevered and ill, and the Smiling Man said he would save us all, in exchange for our blood and service. Those of us who said yes got mad grins, and were helpless to disobey, else we suffer horrific fates."
As the man began to sob, Lucrezia wondered if the Grand College of Atheese was really responsible for this atrocity. She had never condoned this.
"What of the Republicans? Of the Dauntless?"
The townsfolk exchanged worried glances.
"Republicans came, marines. Said they wanted to resupply. But the Smiling Man was offended by them. They suspected something was wrong. So he killed them."
"Not all of them, I am sure." Lucrezia said through narrowed eyes.
"No, not all." one of the peasants said hatefully. "Some of them escaped, taking our guard captain, Mercus Vitina. Aboard a ship, the Dauntless. They were going to Senusa."
"Names." Nicholas said. "We need names."
A woman nodded, skulking forward.
"I followed them. I heard them. Taniel, milady. Taniel and Levi were their names. Republican scum."
"Where is the Smiling Man?" Lucrezia Dreyal asked.
"Within us all, every time we laugh." the woman said, allowing herself a gap-toothed chuckle. "Perhaps it was a practical joke after all. The joke is on all of us."
Post by conumbra on Aug 12, 2013 4:02:36 GMT
Lucrezia didn't know how to respond to the woman's strange remark. The Smiling Man was obviously something they believed to be quite powerful. That could mean any number of things, but by the name it was likely a spirit. She knew of the Burning Man, the Archon of one of the Dominion provinces; perhaps the Smiling Man was a spirit like the Burning Man was. The name would fit, but that would mean the Grand College had brought over some strange spirit for...what exactly? What purpose could that have served them?
Lokan, have you heard of this 'Smiling Man' before now?
I have not Miss Dreyal, neither as a spirit nor as a human. The implications are troubling though, are they not? The Grand College responsible for illness, potentially hiding powerful spirits from the world.
I've honoured that deal we made, so I can't imagine this is retaliation for it being broken. Do you think they were working against the Dominion here? It would be isolated enough for it.
Then why would they engage in the Falorans in battle? If they were working against the Dominion, surely the Faloran Republic would be a boon to them.
Maybe...we don't have enough information yet. I'll be looking into this though, that I assure you.
I would expect nothing else from you, Miss Dreyal.
She gave a curtsy to show respect to them, and spoke to the crowd, making sure to get the descriptions of Taniel and Levi as best the villagers could remember before she tackled the issue of supplies. "I shall see to it that ships will arrive within 2 weeks. They shall provide food and building materials to help you rebuild. We can spare some of our supplies. If all goes well you should only have to wait a week for the ships to come, but I would advise you to ration your supplies anyway!"
She had to shout out her last sentence, as the went into an uproar when she told them she'd be sending them food and supplies within a week. Most of the small crowd grew large smiles and celebrated amongst each other, hugging and shouting. One of them, an older woman with wrinkles creasing her face, raised her hand, and the others grew silent. "How do we know you'll keep your promise?"
Lucrezia took a deep breath "Frankly, you don't. I give you my word, but I know that's not much. I am offering you food and supplies, and am not requesting anything of you in return. If I don't fulfill my promise then you'll have lost nothing."
She heard no other complaints, only a silence as the people waited for her next word. She pulled aside one of the mercenaries and told him to bring the captain a message. He was to set aside some of their food (they'd restocked back in Falor so they had enough to give), preferably the food that was already stale or was going to be stale in short order. No sense giving them their good food after all. The mercenary nodded and ran, carrying back to the ship. Lucrezia smiled and told the people
"I must return to my ship, however I shall leave Nicholas here behind to oversee the handouts. I must write a message back home for your food." The remnants smiled and nodded thankfully at that as she and another mercenary walked back to the ship, her mind puzzling out the implications. At least now she had names. Taniel and Levi were the man she was after; they were the loose ends. Without them around, she would be safe. Well, she would be safer without the villagers, but her letter would see to that.
Back on the Sea Siren she dipper her quill into an inkwell and wrote out the message she would send back home.
Dear Achille Jormano (he was her chief moneylender and was in control of her assets while she was gone)
I arrived in the town of Aras, and have seen an opportunity for the Bank. At the earliest opportunity send a frigate or galleon stuffed with food and building materials, several if adequate protection can be arranged. Once the food arrives, it shall be handed out to the remaining villagers. Ensure that only the food that is handed out is dosed with Trychsone powder. The rest will be pure and will be used to feed the workers while they rebuild the town. Once that is complete, send this message back for more instructions.
Sincerely, Miss Dreyal.
She created a little flourish at the end, sprinkled some sand on the paper to dry the ink, then rolled the paper up and tied it with a red ribbon with her family seal attached to it. She then opened the birdcage that hung from her room's ceiling and opened the latch. The gull inside did not throw a fit or try to escape; these were well trained birds, plus they weren't fully in control of their own minds anyway. She grabbed the docile bird and tied the paper to its leg with several strings to ensure it didn't fall off. Ruffling the feathers near its neck, she pulled them aside to reveal an iron collar attached to the bird's neck so tightly that the bird's skin had partially grown over it. It could not be separated from the bird without killing the creature. She leaned in, whispered "Jambha, Achille Jormano, head moneylender of the Bank of Dreyal". Suddenly the bird's former listless gaze was replaced with an attentive stare. She walked over the window, opened it and set the gull flying. With that command, the bird would fly to the exact person and place she'd specified. It had been her own idea after Lokan had told her once about navigation spirits that hung around sailing ships. The spirit within the collar played with the bird's mind, guiding it to its precise destination.
She grinned, happy with the message. Trychsone powder was a slow acting poison that didn't kill the poisoned until several days later, ensuring that she wouldn't be suspected for the death of the townsfolk. The dark green powder was derived from a particular species of plant that grew on the northern slopes of Jovinium. Until the time of death, it acted like a particularly virulent case of pneumonia, until the second-to-last day where the victim began coughing up bits of lung. The poison was easily remedied if one ingested a small amount of chalk up to an hour before eating it, ensuring one could make a poisoned drink or meal seem safe without incurring any harm themselves.
What would be done with the town was something she had not figured out yet. She might hand the empty town back to the Dominion, or perhaps the Faloran Republic. Maybe even Malvern, or even make it a Plutarian colony. She didn't know for certain what she'd do with it, but she did know the villagers had to go. The Trychsone powder would see to that. Smiling, she closed the window and st back in her chair, awaiting for her ship to depart to Senusa.
Lokan, you have seen me make use of infused items in the past. Do you find this disagreeable?
I find it hard to believe you care for my feelings.
You're right, I don't, I'm simply curious. I have not seen a spirit's reaction to such items. What do you think of them?
Personally I do not care about them. Do with them what you wish.
Oh? Why is that?
Miss Dreyal, do you feel sadness when someone in Bhaktar dies?
No, not particularly.
Exactly. I did not know these spirits, so their use in the process does not make me feel angry, sad, happy, or any emotion really. I suppose I might if a spirit I knew was in one but by the time the ritual is completed it's impossible to tell what spirit is within the item, so one can't know either way.
Thank you for that Lokan.
It was my pleasure Miss Dreyal. It has always been my pleasure.
Lucrezia sighed to herself; today she was set to meet with an 'assassin'. Well, he could hardly be called such after what had happened. It had all started out so perfectly too.
She'd managed to get the Sea Siren past the blockade, claiming to be a trader from the Plutars who'd simply been entirely unaware of the situation in Senusa and would leave the port as soon as much of their goods as possible. The ship captain that had met them outside Senusa had regarded her as some sort of crazy person, but he'd seen no reason to deny her entrance to the city under siege. In his own words she was "welcome to this shitpile for as long as you want to stay, though only soldiers and the insane are still here".
She'd docked, managed to find rooms for her and the mercenaries to stay for the moment, then had set about finding someone who could be of use to her. That had been a lot harder to do than finding rooms. It turned out that when a city's under siege most of the assassins and hired killers tended to flee. The only ones left were either too confident that they'd survive if the Dominion invaded, or were too dense to care.
Right now she could not decide which of the two the man was. At first, he'd seemed to confident; he'd introduced himself as a fellow pacter, and that he could use his familiar to get into the Dauntless and remove Taniel and Levi. The familiar had looked well enough for the job; a long white worm with rings of teeth at its mouth. She'd paid half the money for the job, promising the rest of the money when the two were dead. She wasn't stupid, she'd demanded proof. The familiar would have brought back some personal memento from one of the two men.
Well, that's what would have happened, had not one of her own men seen the man the villagers had described as Taniel wandering around the city, apparently drunk. She'd fumed when she'd heard the news and demanded to speak with the assassin again, which was why she was currently waiting in another inn (she wasn't stupid enough to hold meetings in the inn she was staying at). This was where Lokan's power came in handy.
She had tapped into his own power; it had felt strange, almost like trying to pull a river with her fingers. With her will she'd solidified the river, turning it into ice and letting Lokan's power flow through her. The spirit's power had enabled her to change her appearance, or at least that's what it would seem. Lokan had told her it was simply an illusion, and that he couldn't actually change her physical form. Right now she wore long flowing locks of ebony hair, her skin was several shades paler than it actually was, her eyes were brown and she seemed at least to wear spectacles over her face. A far cry from the Lucrezia Dreyal most others saw. She'd worn this same appearance when she first met the assassin.
The man walked into the inn. He looked nervous, as well he should be. His head was covered with a beige cloak that hid his face, but he was rubbing his hands and looking around the room. Before he could think about leaving one of her men caught his arm and dragged him to the table, only letting him go when he was standing in front of her.
"So, you've failed." she said, allowing no room for weaseling out.
He nodded quickly "Y-yes, unfortunately I did. There was extra protection I could not get around and unfortunately Taniel woke and slew my familiar's body, costing me heavily. I will have to create an entirely new familiar because of this."
"Not my problem. You'll receive a bonus once your job is complete, to cover the extra expense. Since you don't have a familiar, I suppose you'll have to do this on your own. Unfortunately because of you we can't try that trick again. So, just make the Dauntless explode."
He stood still for a moment. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me perfectly well. Set the ship's powder charges alight and make the ship explode. The Falorans will think it's just Dominion sabotage."
"And why should I do that? That's liable to kill me just as much as them. Or maybe I could just turn you in"
"Because if you don't, then I will search this entire city for you. Senusa's under siege, and you're not getting out by sea until this is finished. And good luck trying to turn me in, rest assured that the Falorans have not seen. So it's either you possibly die doing this..." she pulled out one of her wheel-lock pistols and pointed it at him. "or you certainly die right here and now. I know which I'd rather go with. " That was true, she'd made sure to only put on the illusion when going to see the assassin. The Faloran soldiers had seen her real appearance, while this man had not.
"Ah, yes, I can see your point. I'll...make sure to do this Miss Dreyal, thank you. You have been very persuasive." He nodded before hastily running out of the inn. She holstered her pistol and sighed.
Do you honestly think he'll go through with it?
Of course. What other choice does he have? Hopefully when the Dauntless goes up in flames it'll take Taniel and Levi with it.