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Old 01-17-2012, 04:53 AM
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Arrow Prelude – AuJeunotte

This is a re-post of the first section of AuJeunotte's Prelude. the rest follows below...

***

“The prophetess is here!” the whisper ran like wildfire through the streets, proceeding the simple, closed carriage as it moved through the tangle that is Sharn. The whispers easily outran it’s progress while people from every part of the city it passed through petitioned the unseen inhabitant for blessing, prophecy or, even, just the chance to look upon her.

“Please touch my baby. Then I know he’ll be strong.” “Will my lover cheat on me?” “Bless me, great one.” “They’ve been missing for 5 days. Are they okay?” The jumble of words creating a moving chorus through the city. And in each case, the pale hand would reach from behind the curtains to touch, bless or answer, regardless of the supplicants obvious wealth or lack of it.

Finally the noisy cavalcade reached the upper city and pulled up to a well-appointed building whose ornate sign carried a dangerous looking grey dragon. The footmen of the establishment sprang into action. Unsure who this dignitary may be, nonetheless, their training required the crowd to be restrained. And so restrained it was.

The last cries of supplication fell silent as the door opened. It stood there empty a moment until a savvy footman brought a stool and a helping hand to stabilize the delicate ankle that appeared from the dimness.

Finally, when all was in place, the woman that belonged to that oh-so-dainty foot, stepped from the coach and there was an audible gasp from the crowd. She had pale skin, with a touch of golden undertones and God’s perfect blessing of beautiful countenance, and golden hair cascading down her back, so shiny and glorious that some would have sworn it had a metallic gleam to it. But for the slight portliness of fine living that enhanced her womanly curves, she could have rivaled the greatest beauty of the age.

She absently fingered the coiled grey amulet that resided between two perfect breasts and the footman, still holding out his hand to aid her, began to sweat. The amulet bore an uncanny resemblance to the dragon on the sign and she smiled and spoke to no one in particular.

“Ah, The Grey Dragon Inn, wonderful! I feel right at home.”

Gracing the crowd with a dazzling smile and a wave she took the proffered hand and descended gracefully from the carriage. Her movement towards the door of the establishment was slowed as the crowd piped up again. Hands reaching in supplication, so many voices that the words were almost indecipherable. And each of them that cried out received a nod, a touch and a word of encouragement.

Finally, she made it through the door and as the sounds of the crowd were shut behind it she sighed and leaned against the pillared entryway.

“How do they always know when I’m coming? I’m supposed to be the prophet...”

The star struck footman snickered, which brought another quick smile to her face. A smile which dazzled the approaching innkeeper, turning his bluster into a genuine smile and a bow.

“Great lady, I don’t believe we have a reservation for you. May I have your name, so that I may find out which of my lazy, good for nothing servants, neglected to put it in the book?”

“AuJeunotte Kindflame”

The innkeeper’s eyes grew wide. “The prophetess? Did you see something about this place?”

She nodded. “Yes indeed I did, and have come here to find out what the visions meant. If I may stay a few days, it is easier to get a reading when I am spending time in the environment.”

He nodded quickly. “Of course! Of course! You will give us warning if you find trouble?”

“Always. That is why I’m here. To help those who need help.”

“Right this way great lady. I have the best room for you.”

“Wonderful! Oh, but, how much will it cost? Perhaps I should take a smaller room in such a fine establishment?”

“No NO! I wouldn’t hear of it. Your stay here is free, my lady. I wouldn’t dare to charge one so blessed!.”

“You are too kind.”

With a bright smile and a flourish, the innkeeper lead the way to the grand staircase.

Later, ensconced in the opulent room, with her feet on the table and a glass of the finest wine the inn could boast, June sighed.

“Now this is more like it.”

A sip, and then she pulled a tattered newspaper from the ornate little bag beside her, grimacing at the bold headline screaming it’s message from the top. “Local Inquisitive Murdered!” Her voice, however, was thoughtful.

“Now, why is this important?”
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Last edited by Rhakir; 01-17-2012 at 06:29 AM.
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Old 01-17-2012, 04:56 AM
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Default An Old Friend

Within an hour of her arrival, there were at least half a dozen dinner invitations from local businessmen that had heard the prophetess had arrived in Sharn. The young steward that brought them up to AuJeunotte’s room blushed deeply when he presented her with the cards and hastily drafted letters. There was even a small bouquet of posies. How sweet.

With a sigh she ran her hands over each one, reading it carefully for a clue as to it’s importance. Those that seemed nothing more than the usual attempts to get sex, readings or prophecy for the price of dinner she discarded.

No sooner had AuJeunotte closed the door behind the departing steward, there came another knock.

“My lady,” a pleasantly deep masculine voice called from the hallway. “Might I have a moment of your time?” The voice was rich and warm and smooth.

AuJeunotte paused. There was something strangely familiar about that voice…

She paused...familiar. That could be good or it could be bad.

Her mind raced, but as she heard the clearing of the throat on the other side that let her know he wasn’t leaving without an answer, her training in gracious behavior took over.

“I’m very busy, but I would certainly give you a moment...my friend.”

And she cautiously opened the door, bearing a sweet smile and the beginnings of a spell prepared, just in case...

“Hello, Junie.” The owner of the voice was taller than she expected, and she had to look up a little further to meet his eyes. The half-orc in the doorway wasn’t exactly handsome, but he was ruggedly good looking as half-orcs went. His head was shaved, and he had a bit of beard on his squared chin. His tusks were short and not overly noticeable. And his eyes...bright and blue and beautiful.

It took a moment for AuJeunotte to recognise the face, since it had changed a little bit in three years.

Mardu Tharashk.

The guard that had helped her escape her House was now standing in her doorway... He hadn’t changed much in three years, though he’d collected a few more scars, shaved his head, and grew a goatee. June noticed that he wore no rings or any other indication of taking a mate/wife/partner. He wore studded leather armour that only accentuated his muscular physique, and had a range of close-quarter weapons on his person; short sword, a hand axe, and some daggers.

“You gonna stand there staring at me, or are you going to invite me in?” he asked with a smile.

“MARDU!” With a squeal of genuine delight, she threw herself into his arms. “I have regretted every moment of the last three years at the thought that you may have been punished for helping me! Are you okay? Is everything okay at home? Have you been there? Come in and have something to eat!”

“I’m fine, the family’s fine,” Mardu smiled from ear to ear as he returned her exuberant hug. He stepped in to accept her invitation to eat. It took a lot of food to keep his powerful body going all day.

“I didn’t get punished. It’s all good, Junie. Things did get a little weird for a while, but everything settled down. I can tell you that the Triumvirate was pretty irritated. But they got over it. I ended up coming to Sharn as a result of the whole thing, but it’s been good for me. I work for the Watch now. Not as exciting as tracking through the Shadow Marches, but it has its moments.”

“What do you do for the watch?”

“I help train up the new recruits. Host knows they could use the help,” he says with a chuckle. “It’s not glamorous or in the spotlight, but I get to teach what I know and it pays the bills.” Mardu had been a decent tracker when June last saw him. Though he wasn’t Dragonmarked, he did have a knack for noticing details and gathering clues.

He ran a hand over his smooth scalp as he glanced at the small collection of cards and invitations that AuJeunotte left scattered on the occasional.

“Fan letters? Seems things haven’t changed all that much. You know, it was pretty obvious someone important came in through Terminus today. All the talk on the street was about ‘that woman’ and ‘I wonder what she can do for me’. You sure know how to make an entrance...”

She blushed charmingly. “It’s never on purpose. You know that. Just how it always seems to turn out.”

“Ah. I can believe it.”

She stood restlessly and gracefully paced the room, gesturing to the newspaper open on the chair. “Do you know of any things out of the ordinary happening here? Do you know anything about that inquisitive’s death?”

Before he could answer, though, she stopped and turned a tired smile on him.

“I know I’m doing the right thing, but it’s really good to see a familiar face for a change. Someone who doesn’t expect me to be larger than life. Someone who knows I’m just Junie.”

“It’s good to see you too, Junie. It does feel good to let your hair down every once in a while,” he said, self-consciously rubbing his scalp again. He picked up an apple and contemplated it for a moment.

“Things out of the ordinary? This is Sharn. Nothing is ever just ‘ordinary’ here. As for that inquisitive, Antos Keldoran, yeah, I know a bit about it. He was contracted by the Watch to look into some cases that were on the back burner. He came with good recommendations; I think someone served with him during the war. He would’ve been welcome at our House Inquisitive Services.”

Mardu stood up, still holding the apple he was about to eat. His expression became pained, as if remembering something best left forgotten.

“Antos was killed over in Cliffside, in the warehouse district. He was looking into some missing kids or something like that. I don’t know if that’s what got him dusted, but it was pretty brutal. We still don’t have any leads on the killer either. I got called in to see if I could find any clues or tracks, but the scene was cleaned up. Rainy night, no witnesses, deserted area right smack in the middle of a crimelord-owned warehouse district. I doubt I would’ve found anything even if I had a Dragonmark...

“Why do you want to know about that, anyway?” Mardu asked quietly, looking at June as if for the very first time.

A deep intake of breath and an absent pluck at the lace of her sleeve told him that her mind had turned inward. He’d seen that look before.

“It feels different. Out of place. Not natural.”

She looked up at him and grimaced. “Not that murder is ever natural. But there is something more than random murder behind this. I feel it.”

She looked around the plush stateroom as if seeing it for the first time and scratched at the spot on her right hip where the Dragonmark lay hidden.

“Why would I be here otherwise, really? Big cities are places where our house will have eyes and ears. I’m sure they probably know I’m here already.”

“Probably, but I won’t say anything if you don’t.”

She bent a gaze on him that was more piercing than her usual soft smile. “Can you take me to where it happened?”

“You sure do know how to show a guy a good time, don’cha,” he said taking a bite out of his apple finally. “I’ve got the day off. I suppose I can show a dear friend the city sights, since she’s dropped in for a visit. Though, you might want to put on something a little less...conspicuous. Not that I mind the outfit. It looks good on you. It’s just that we might not want to attract too much attention where we’re going...”

“Thank you!” Once again he had to field an exuberant hug. “Ok, what should I wear that won’t stand out? This is the docks, right? I know what will work.”

“A guy could get used to all the attention,” Mardu mused as he waited to see what she would pick out to wear. “Yes, the docks. Fairly busy area with lots of workers.”

She moved to the larger, not so nice bag the footman had brought up and delved into it’s tattered depths. A tangle of lace, brocades, silks, bright cottons and shoes tumbled onto the floor, until she finally pulled out a simple outfit of plain broadcloth. “Pants, for moving if needed. And I could pass for a boy if you thought that was wiser. Otherwise, just a poor woman. A hooker would get too much attention.”

Mardu rolled his eyes. “Gods, no. Not a prostitute. We want to blend in. And I’m not sure you’d actually pass as a boy. Might be best just to dress down a bit. You could be a business person checking on shipments or stocked goods...”

“Business person. Good.”

Then with the unconsciousness of those used to servants invading every part of their life, June began to disrobe...

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Mardu snatched up the duvet off the bed and held it up between the two of them. His cheeks were coloured deeply as he turned his head to the side and averted his gaze, even though the duvet blocked his view. “Warn a guy, wouldja?”

She paused in her changing at his reaction. Her voice registering actual surprise. “Does this bother you? I’m sorry. I didn’t think...”

Awkwardly she quickly finished dressing and then “knocked” on the outside of the duvet. “It’s safe.”

Once he lowered the duvet she grimaced and held out a hand.

“I guess things are different now. We’re peers, and I like that. I just need to think more carefully. I’m sorry...Now, is there anything I should know? Can you tell me while we’re on our way down there?”

“Peers. Right,” Mardu said as he took her hand. “I like that too.”

He took a moment to appreciate the outfit she had selected. It would certainly pass as business attire. Shards, with her looks, she’d pass as a business owner.

“There’s not much to tell, really. But I can brief you about the area and some of Keldoran’s history on the way.” June noticed he took on a different tone of voice as he slipped into Watch Training Officer mode.
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Old 01-17-2012, 05:01 AM
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Default Cliffside

Mardu filled June in on the area where they were headed to as they left the hotel and boarded a sky-taxi. The taxi, little more than a boat with sail-like wings and rudders, glided effortlessly through the air towards their destination. The magic that was woven into the vessel allowed it to interact with Syrania, the elemental plane of air, to keep it aloft. In fact, it was this very reason the City of Towers reached so high into the sky; Sharn was built upon a manifest zone to Syrania.

The Cliffside ward made up the lower edge of Dura, built on and into the cliffs that drop toward the Dagger River. The waterfront district, full of businesses that catered to the sailors that pass through Sharn’s port, could be a rough and tumble place. Legitimate services could be found in Cliffside - ships needed supplies and repairs, goods needed to be stored, captains needed someplace to hire crews, and sailors needed a bed on dry land to sleep once in a while - but other businesses have sprung up simply to meet demand. The less-than legitimate services included bordellos, taverns, casinos, and other shadier entertainment for sailors to spend their off-duty hours and wages on. The Watch found it
difficult to maintain order in the ward, and Cliffside was one of the most crime-ridden areas in all of Sharn. Several crime bosses in the city operated businesses in the area, catering to legitimate business as well as offering fronts for smuggling and trafficking in illegal goods and services. In particular, the halfling Boromar clan had a large presence in Cliffside.

Fortunately, they were able to travel unmolested. Mardu’s presence alone seemed to discourage any unwanted attention, and June was the picture of authority, a businesswoman on a mission.

As for what Mardu could tell June of the inquisitive, it was all second hand knowledge. Antos Keldoran was a decorated war veteran, retired from the Brelish Army, First Light Infantry Battalion. The dwarf served as an advanced scout, going behind enemy lines to gather intelligence and report on troop movements. From what Mardu heard, Keldoran was a damned good soldier and earned quite a few medals for his service. After retiring from the army about ten years ago due to a leg injury that nearly left him crippled, he decided to put his skills and talents to use as an Inquisitive. With the financial help of his brother-in-law, a fellow soldier from the First, he opened up his own business in Sharn.

A few weeks ago, Keldoran was asked to investigate the disappearance of several young children from a few orphanages in the lower wards of the city. Captain Hadris of the Watch took the recommendation from a few of his men that had served in the Brelish Army and knew about Keldoran. Several days ago, on the morning of the first of Therendor, Antos was found dead in Cliffside...

“And this is where they found his body,” Mardu said as they stood beside a massive warehouse owned by House Riverine. The area had been cleaned already, and there was only the faint traces of bloodstain in the flagstones. There was a street light not twenty paces away, an everburning lantern that would have bathed the area in a soft amber glow after the sun had set. At nearly noon when the two arrived via sky-taxi, the lantern atop its pole was barely noticeable.

“Keldoran had been run through from behind, the weapon that killed him pierced cleanly through his leather armour,” Mardu continued in teacher mode. “He had a crossbow in his possession, and his sword and knives were all sheathed. For all intents and purposes, he was ready for combat, but it looks like he was caught completely unawares. No easy task to sneak up on a trained army scout, even if he was retired.”

“So, the question is, did whoever killed him, kill HIM specifically, or just someone who stumbled upon their shady dealings. And if him specifically, was it for past things he’d done, or for his current investigation.” She took a turn around the location, opening herself to perception, feelings, looking for the one hint that may have been missed, even a little further away from the body.

The world faded away around her and all that existed was finding the why for this poor dwarf’s death. It’s significance. Her demeanor in investigation mode seemed almost spooky. The intensity of her focus blocking out all distractions. Speaking under her breath and working out causes and effects. Occasionally she would scratch at her hip.

Something wasn’t quite right with the scene. Though she couldn’t quite put her finger on it, June could feel it, like a someone had walked into a familiar room and moved something only slightly, and she hadn’t discovered what it was yet.

Shadows from a couple of large cranes spread out across the street and the building adjacent to them. A few workers were likewise casting shadows across those. A network of intersecting darkness was starting to stand out to her. A pattern was emerging. Harsh lines seemed to soften and curve into arcs and loops. The gentle breeze seemed to pick up momentarily, causing the pattern to almost ripple. Scrapes in the stonework across the road were part of the pattern as well. Even the clouds above were part of the woven tapestry presenting itself to her senses...

If only she could see the whole pattern!

A sudden urge to climb overcame June and she started looking about for a way to get a bird’s eye view of the area. No! A dragon’s eye view! She spied a ladder leading to the roof of the Riverine warehouse behind her. Without a word, she started her way up, Mardu scrambled behind her to keep up.

Once she made it to the roof some twenty feet higher than the street, June cast her gaze, and her senses, out to the scene below once more.

Like markings in soft sand, the pattern started to emerge, just barely noticeable at the edge of June’s consciousness. The Draconic Prophecy was unfolding before her, unfurling its wispy tendrils as shadows and scratches in the stone and the flagstones in the street and the walls of the buildings all coalesced together. It was just there, just barely beyond her ability to see, let alone comprehend; like a word on the tip of her tongue that she couldn’t manage to speak.

She focused her senses even more, willing the pattern to emerge more clearly. Lines sharpened, the pattern moved and writhed like a thing alive. Then suddenly, without warning, a terrible throbbing started in her left temple, and she began to sway...

“I’ve got you,” Mardu whispered in her ear. How he came to have an arm wrapped around her, or why she was sitting on the roof weren’t clear to her at the moment. The only thing she could feel was a splitting headache that made even her teeth ache. And the feeling that there was something she was supposed to understand, something she was supposed to realise, but just couldn’t.

“Are you alright? What happened? What did you see?” Mardu asked in a soft voice as he cradled June. His concern for her well-being was tempered by his curiosity.

“It encompasses everything. Writes it’s words on the stones and the skies. We are all part of it’s grand pattern. I can see and not see. I can touch it, but not understand. I have so much of the dragon in me, and still not enough yet.”

She tried to fix her swimming gaze on him. “It’s alive. Almost thinking, the prophecy. It moves and shapes. Writhes and tells.”

“Okay, you’re officially weirding me out,” Mardu said with a hint of humour in his strained voice. “I’m not quite sure what you’re talking about, but it sounds like you saw ‘something’...”

She closed her eyes and leaned into him to hide the light exacerbating the pain. “The center is not here, where he died. It’s around the corner and towards the docks. Downhill and over about two streets. I will need your help to get there.”

“Okay, let me give you a hand up to stand.” The half-orc easily lifted her to a standing position, but kept his arm around her in case she wavered again.

Her voice became just a bit plaintive. “It hurts too much.”

Worry was plainly visible on Mardu’s open expression.

As he helped her up, her unsteadiness stabilized a little.. Until it was time to take the ladder from the roof... That was an adventure in and of itself, as Mardu went first with June coming down slowly just a rung or two above him. Essentially, he cradled her all the way down. Once they made it to the street level again, he helped her make her way, never once taking both hands off her at any given moment. Fortunately, there weren’t that many people in the immediate area to take notice of their slow progress.

She didn’t speak again, instead focusing on keeping it clear in her head and not throwing up from the pain, until they reached the area that had seemed the center of the prophetic vision.

“Here.”

‘Here’ was an empty loading dock leading out over the water. It was only about ten yards long and half again as wide, made of weathered wood with stone pilings at the corners on the water side. Right now, the water was very low, and there was a drop of about a dozen or so feet to the top of the gently lapping waves. June stood at the end nearest the path they came down, right at the edge over the water.

Fortunately, the cool breeze blowing in off the river helped to clear the fog of pain in June’s temples. It was becoming much easier to concentrate again.
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Old 01-17-2012, 05:02 AM
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Default Cliffside (Continued)

Mardu knelt down and examined the wooden deck more closely.

“There’s traces of blood here,” he murmured as he ran his fingers over a fairly wide area that must’ve been the pool formed where Antos fell. “Most of it was washed away with the rain, but I can still make out some of it. He must’ve bled out right here.”

Glancing over the side of the dock, June noticed something in the water. It looked like a small wallet or case of some sort, no bigger than a deck of cards. It was right below where she was standing, and looked far too new to have been there long.

“I found something.” Without waiting for Mardu, she lowered her light body over the edge and into the water. “HOLY DRACONIC TITS! That water is cold!”

Mardu laughed despite his worry for June’s hasty plunge.

“Do dragons actually have tits?” he asked as he peered over the side at her.

“Only Holy ones.” She laughed back up at him, her voice unsteady with the shivering. Then she went to work. Carefully fishing out the small case so as not to harm any evidence on the outside, she also took a moment to look under the water for anything else that may have sunk. Aside from the normal detritus that washed up around docks, there wasn’t very much remarkable in her area. Though, there were some clothes that were snagged on some of the rocks above the current water level.

“There are some clothes up there,” she gestured. “Can you reach them?”

Mardu quickly checked the area and found an access ladder to the far side.

“Over here, Junie,” he called as he made his way down. With his long arms, he was able to reach at least a pair of dark trousers.

She moved to follow him, reaching for the clothing he couldn’t. Her shorter arms, however, were unequal to the task. “Hmm..” She looked around, finally settling on a muddy piece of driftwood to push the clothing up into Mardu’s reach. Muddying herself considerably in the process. She spoke through shivering lips. “Good thing I’m not wearing the silk.”

“Come on out of there,” Mardu said reaching over to her. He easily lifted her up onto the ladder so she could climb up after him. Once they reached the top, he drew June into his arms to warm her up.

“You okay? You were about ready to collapse not a minute ago, and now you’re diving into the Dagger! Host, woman, you’re reckless! What was that all about anyway? Some old clothes?!”

“No. I’m not THAT frivolous.” She turned her back to him and cuddled into his warming embrace. Then held up the small case and really looked it closely for the first time. “What do you think of this?”

Mardu looked at the item in question. It was made of wood with brass fittings and hinges. It appeared to be some sort of case, but there wasn’t much to it as it was fairly thin.

“Looks like there’s a catch on the side,” he said, just as June’s thumb triggered it. The thin case popped open, splashing them both in the face. The inside of it had filed with water from being submerged. The small scraps of paper within were soaked, and a few pieces that had ink were blurred and smeared. But there did appear to be a few legible markings within...

“It looks like a roll-up case,” Mardu commented, realising the papers within were for making cigarettes. But someone had written on some of the pieces.

“Hmm... can you read Dwarvish? This looks like a partial list.” She began to translate to Common, the contents. “Rhysson Alton, something--ril Landru, Mathis Ele--something-or-other.”

“A little, but those don’t look like words I know.” Mardu peered at the writing, squinting to make out the fine marks through the layers.

“You’re the ...sort of... local. Does this mean anything to you? They seem like names.”

“That’s it! Those are some of the missing children’s names!” Mardu squeezed June closer, realising that he still held her in his arms. “You’re a genius!”

“Dangit. I wish I could make out more of the ink. Or had a spell that could.” She leaned into his squeeze to get warmer, but then sucked in a short breath. He felt good.

Her mind stalled on that thought. “You feel good.” Then her face colored and she apologized. “Sorry, that just came out.” Later, she scolded herself internally. Later she would figure out what that meant. Later, but not right now.

As if realising what this must have looked like, Mardu gently released her from his embrace, careful not to push her away in the process. June could feel the reluctance in his muscular frame.

“Well, if not with spells or anything, we could always do things the hard way. Ask.” Mardu offered her a grin, somewhere between a genuine smile and a terrified expression of guilt. And something else...

“I think..I should dry off and change. Then we can try to make sense of the ink.”

“I was thinking we could probably check with the Watch. I’m sure there are records of some kind for when Captain Hadris hired Keldoran. Maybe we can find something there?” Mardu seemed hopeful. He also couldn’t tear his eyes off of June...

“Right. Maybe we should get you changed first though. That would be a good place to start.”
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Old 01-17-2012, 05:09 AM
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Default Matters of the Heart

Her heart was pounding and the conversation was minimal as they made their back to the hotel. The raised brows of the innkeeper at her wet and muddy attire were swiftly taken care of as she plied her charm. A smiling explanation, “I was so curious about the docks... but didn’t realize the boards get so slippery!” quickly took care of his concerns and then, they reached the door of her room.

“Ur...you could come in. It... a...I’d...” she fell silent and flustered, waiting for his response.

“Thank you,” he said with a strange sort of calmness. “I’ll just make sure you aren’t disturbed while you clean up and change.” It looked like he would say more, but apparently decided against it...

“You know”, she said straightening in pride, “I’m not a little girl anymore.” And then she went in and shut the door behind her.

“You’re telling me,” Mardu said under his breath to the closed door, but June didn’t hear him.

The changing took longer than usual. For some reason she wanted to look better than normal. When she finally opened the door again, much later, the simple clothing she’d worn had been replaced with her favorite, softest, yellow silk with lace. Not ornate, but flattering and golden and touchable. Hair brushed to a golden sheen and shoes not necessarily made for lots of walking. However, in the nerves of the moment, she’d missed a dot of mud on her nose.

She waited, nervously, for his reaction.

Mardu looked her over from head to toe appreciatively. Not in a demeaning way; rather he was simply trying to memorise every inch of her. Without a word, he reached out with a finger to gently wipe the last trace of mud off her nose.

“You clean up nicely,” he said trying not to crack a smile or laugh at the dot of mud. “Truly a vision to behold.”

“I was thinking, while I was waiting out here in the hallway for you to get ready,” he said reproachfully, “that we should probably check out Keldoran’s office. We might be able to find some information there. I think the we’ve still got someone on a detail there, so we should be able to get inside. Might be worth a look, considering the Watch Offices are probably their usual state of chaos...”

Only her long term training as a diplomat kept her face from showing the chagrin she felt.

“That sounds like a very good idea.” She swept past him. Speaking over her shoulder to him so he couldn’t see her reaction.

“Innkeeper, would you call a vehicle for us?”

“At once, Prophetess!” came the prompt reply. The owner was doing all he could to provide his esteemed guest with the best service possible. Though he did spare a moment to give Mardu a less than friendly look; he didn’t seem to approve of the casual familiarity the half-orc seemed to share with the prophetess, or he possibly blamed the muscular warrior for June’s alleged slip off the docks. Either way, it was apparent the innkeeper did not like Mardu.

Given that Mardu had grown up in the Shadow Marches where half-bloods were fairly common and openly accepted, he’d discovered the hard way a whole new world of prejudice and intolerance when he moved to Sharn. He’d often received such looks when in the company of the ‘fairer’ races, let alone the fairer sex. Fortunately for the innkeeper, Mardu was too preoccupied at the moment to take notice.

After a short wait, a sky-taxi was ready to whisk the pair off from the platform at the back of the inn. It was a different vessel this time, but the design was similar. This one had a covered deck, however, so passengers would be protected from wind and rain. Mardu offered a steadying hand to the golden beauty as she stepped aboard and took a seat.

“We’re headed to Cavendish Tower, Dava Gate,” he told the pilot as he sat across from her. With a nod from the pilot, they were off.

“By the way, about the clothes we brought back with us,” Mardu said to June as if continuing a conversation from earlier, “I asked the innkeeper to wash them while you were changing. I had a pretty good look at them though. Nothing special about them, other than they were a man’s style, probably for someone a lot smaller than me. Lots of pockets, but nothing in them. Looks like they were recently discarded. I’m not sure if they had anything to do with the murder, but it looked like there might have been some blood on them. It seems too much of a coincidence to ignore. Maybe the murderer changed clothes and threw those off the dock after dusting Antos?”

“Maybe. However that seems rather odd since they didn’t have anyone coming after them.” She pondered a moment. The puzzle putting the “slight” out of her mind for a time.

“What if the person in the clothes, probably the murderer since they had blood on them, was someone or something that could disapparate? Dissolve or disappear? A summoned creature maybe? Passing as human? Then discarding the clothing would make sense since it would be a more useful clue.”

“Maybe it was a Changeling? They may be able to change their body’s appearance, but not their clothing,” Mardu speculated. “Maybe it was trying to lure Antos, a Changeling pretending to be someone he knew or trusted?” Then he shook his head, dismissing his own idea. “Nah, too cliché...”

They debated the idea hotly through the rest of the flight and finally landed at their destination. June smiled at Mardu as the sky taxi maneuvered into it’s berth.

“I like that you can think critically like I can.”

Mardu offered a toothy grin in response. To some, the sight may have been more than a bit off-putting, but June found the smile genuine and reassuring.

And then the door opened and it was time to exit.

“Keldoran’s isn’t too far away, just on the other side of the tower, at number five,” the half-orc told June as they headed off. It was obvious he felt the tension between them again, but he held his head high and walked on, determined not to say anything that might hurt the golden beauty at his side. Gods, he felt the fool...

Thoughts of what to say tumbled through Mardu’s head as they made their way around the tower past other pedestrians about their day’s business. But his gaze lingered on one pair in particular, a very large human in chainmail accompanying a halfling in business attire. The tracker’s brow furrowed as he tried to remember why the pair seemed so familiar. But before he could recall, they had reached their destination.
KELDORAN INQUISITIVE SERVICES
Number 5, Cavendish Tower, Dava Gate
Together, June and Mardu stepped up to the door and knocked...

“If no one answers, do we just go in?” Her whisper was so low that Mardu didn’t hear it the first time. He was staring down at the steps, apparently lost in thought.

“What?”...

”If no one answers, do we just go in?...”
__________________
Pessimism is just an ugly word for pattern recognition...

Necessity is the mother of moral reletivism...
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