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The Inquisitives Rhakir's PBEM game.

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Old 02-19-2012, 10:28 AM
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Default June has a dream

AN ADDENDUM TO TURN 4

The air taxi ride this time was filled with a silence that seemed to vasilate back and forth between companionable and awkward. With such quiet, after a long and busy first day in Sharn, June fell asleep. A sleep filled with dreams and memories of the first time she had met him. The day of her escape from her comfortable and monied prison.

It felt like yesterday.

Her seventeen year old heart was pounding as she stuffed the last of the things she considered truly important into the small brocade bag. Her three favorite gowns, skin cream, comb, soap, mirror, two pairs of fine shoes, pen, ink, paper, her mother’s glass perfume bottle wrapped in a small towel and the book.

Her current outfit clashed heavily with the opulence of the room. The sleeves were too long on the tattered, cotton clothing she’d borrowed from a grounds servant. And even though she’d put her hair up and tried to bind herself, she still didn’t really resemble a boy.

She hefted the bag and staggered under its unaccustomed weight. Damn, she’d need to lighten that to go any distance. She pulled everything out again. No, that dress was just too beautiful to leave behind. And that one she may need for business. She’d have to find some sort of business to go into out there. Oh, and the shoes...she just couldn’t bear to part with those shoes. She pulled out the heavy and well-thumbed copy of the Draconic Prophesy and smoothed its battered pages. No. This was the whole reason for her leaving such comfort and wealth.

She pulled the perfume bottle out and gently lifted the ornate stopper. It was empty, but still bore the scent of her mother. She closed her eyes and breathed in the calmness it always brought her. Her heart slowed and she sighed. She would become stronger. It would just be more difficult at first.

After shoving everything back in the little bag, she crept to the door and listened. Silence.

A gathering of courage, and out the door she went. Closing that part of her life away behind it.

Though situated in the Shadow Marches, the House Tharask stronghold was a veritable palace within Zarash'ak, the City of Stilts. At least it was in comparison to the general architecture of most other permanent structures. Like most buildings in the Marches, the stronghold sat atop raised platforms supported by massive wooden columns rising out of the swamp. The main body of the building housed the Triumvirate's offices, their living quarters, the House records, dining hall, kitchen, servants quarters, accommodations for guests, and AuJeunotte’s room. It wasn’t very large compared to some of the places June had visited, but it suddenly seemed vast, now that she wanted to leave unnoticed.

She was just turning the corner at the end of a long hall when she almost walked into two of the household guards. Both men wore the leather armour favoured by the protectors of the House. Each man was armed with sword and daggers, and each carried a horn to sound in case of trouble.

June swallowed down a yelp, ducked her head, and tried to look like she belonged there.

“Hey, watch where you’re going,” the human said as he brushed past. He apparently had little patience when it came to dealing with servants.

The other guard, the half-orc, studied her a moment with pale yellow eyes.

“Where you take that?” he asked with his thick Marches accent.

“The lady told me to take this to the kitchen.” She tried her best humble voice. Keeping her head down and servile. She’d noticed that most of the servants wouldn’t meet her gaze. Hopefully that would keep from drawing attention to herself too much, as well as as keep them from getting a full view and recognizing her.

While her head was down, she surreptitiously checked out the current “opposition”. How odd to think of them that way. Normally they’d be her faithful protectors. Her servants.

They were both muscular, although the human had a little portliness to him. Too much beer maybe. The half orc looked formidable, however, and her mind raced with plans and spells that may need to be utilized if this didn’t work.

None of this showed on the outside, though. On the outside, she was just a meek servant child. Or, at least, that’s what she was hoping they were seeing.

The human was about to point her towards the kitchens when the half-orc interrupted.

“Why not ask a servant to take that, my lady?” the guard said pointedly. He had apparently seen right through the disguise.

“My lady?” the human guard sputtered, taking a closer look. “What’s going on here? You shouldn’t be carrying around heavy things. And why on Eberron are you dressed like that?”

“You should go back to your room,” the half-orc intoned. At least he wasn’t being aggressive. But he did manoeuvre himself square in the middle of the hall to prevent her from slipping past.

Words of power began to form on June’s lips as she prepared to cast a spell, but a voice from directly behind her pulled her up short.

“Indeed, my little AuJeunotte,” came the soft female voice, “You should be going back to your room.” June whirled and came face to face with Maagrim Torrn d'Tharashk, triumvir of House Tharashk and the leader of Clan Torrn. The half-orc woman regarded her with a sad smile before addressing the guards.

“Malik, Slade, would you two be so kind as to see her back safely?”
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Old 02-19-2012, 10:29 AM
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Default This is long but fun

“Yes, ma’am,” the two men replied at once. The human, Malik, took the bag from June’s trembling fingers as they escorted her back.

“What is this all about, child?” Maagrim asked as she fell into step next to June and laid a hand upon her shoulder. The triumvir’s brow furrowed with concern, which only made the dragonmark across her face seem to stand out all the more.

Junes mind raced. She wasn’t certain about the abilities of the triumvir to see through her own attempts to manipulate. Did she try reason with this woman, first? It hadn’t worked on the other triumvir. But she was closer to the dragon, so perhaps she’d understand? But then again, if she didn’t understand, June would have given herself away, and it would become more difficult. She could say she was taking some clothes to the kitchen servant. Or she could say she had a boyfriend she wanted to meet.

Her mind kept going in circles until they’d nearly reached her room and the silence had prompted Maagrim’s hand to tighten on her shoulder in even more concern.

Finally they reached her door and June decided to test the waters first. Taking a deep breath she turned to face the powerful woman.

“What matters more? Money, or our people?” All her focus went into reading the honesty of the matron’s response.

“Our people, of course,” Maargrim said without hesitation. “But to ensure a healthy future for all of us, we do need money. That means some of us must give up our own hopes and dreams so that the rest may prosper. We each have a role to play, my dear.”

Her words sounded sincere to June’s trained ears, and the younger woman noted something -- was that a touch of concern? regret? -- in the half-orc’s tone. Maagrim had always been kind to the young sorceress, and had been like a favourite aunt to her for as long as June could remember.

“Now, I think you should change out of those things and put on something more presentable,” the triumvir said. “You will be entertaining a guest this evening. I think you should look your best. I’ll have someone posted by your door should you need to have anything delivered to the kitchens later on.” She turned to Slade and told him, “Please fetch your brother. I have a task for him.”

Maagrim regarded June again, a sad look in her eyes. “My dearest AuJeunotte, surely you know more than anyone else that we are all but tiny parts of the whole. One must look at everything around us to understand the patterns that shape our lives.” The half-orc bent to place a gentle kiss on June’s forehead. “I must be off. The Triumvirate meets to discuss House business, and this little distraction has made me late. I will stop in and see you before your guest arrives...”

June took her hand and stopped her a moment before leaving. “Triumvir...Maagrim, please, is this a business guest or something else?” Maagrim didn’t answer, just another of the sad smiles and then the door was closed and June knew she was a prisoner. The guard outside the door not there to carry things to the kitchen for her, but there to keep her inside until this “guest” arrived.

June didn’t change. Instead, she perched on the end of her bed and thought. This could just be more business. Another client who needed to find something. The regret in Maagrim’s voice, however, indicated something different. Not the usual.

Perhaps they’d finally found that highest bidder to marry her off to. She knew she’d only managed to avoid it so far (seventeen being old for such a catch to not have been married) because her value as a “prophetess for hire” had been greater.

What would be greater though? They’d turned down the offers of kings and high level businessmen already. Who was greater than that? Or perhaps it was not someone with money. Perhaps it was someone the triumvirate feared? Someone dangerous enough that the money didn’t matter.

That thought made her heart go cold. The more she thought on it, the more that seemed likely. That would cause regret in Maagrim’s kind voice. Moreso than just marrying her young relative off for money. That was business as usual and June had been raised to expect it.

Wrapping a shaking hand around the amulet that was her most prized possession, she took a deep breath and sent her mind into the prophecy. Its complex patterns were so hard to understand. But she had gleaned hints that had told her, her place wasn’t here anymore. Was this what it meant? Rather than running away. Being taken away? Was this a good thing or a bad thing? What was the pattern? How did it affect the prophesy?

All her seventeen year old passion and focus went into seeking that understanding. The lines in the boards of the walls. The patterns of her curtains. The motion of the air on her skin. Was there a place for her in this pattern anymore?

June stared at the wall in front of her for an eternity, trying to will the Dragon Prophesy to reveal itself.

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

Not a single pattern called out to her senses. She kept her eyes open, looking at every detail, then at nothing, then at the room as a whole, then shut her eyes tight to try and see the unseen. She tried listening to everything around her, then listened to nothing at all, trying to find an underlying message in the silence. She tried feeling and sensing with her skin, her body, attempting to feel the pull or push or tug of some greater force at work...

Still nothing.

Try as she might, it was as if the Dragon Prophesy was no longer visible to her. At least, not visible to her in that room, in that place or time...

In that room...Could someone be blocking her abilities to see the pattern? Or was she just too scared and worried to really be thinking clearly?

“Ah, you made it,” came a voice outside the door. “I was starting to think I’d have to go looking for you.” The young sorceress recognised Malik’s rasp from earlier. He’d apparently been instructed to wait while Slade looked for his brother. How long ago had it been? It felt like hours had passed.

“Maagrim was filling me in on what happened. You are hereby officially relieved of duty,” Slade’s brother said pleasantly with a deep, resonant voice. June found herself eavesdropping, trying to size up the new guard at her door. She didn’t know Malik or Slade, or Slade’s brother for that matter. But then, she never really found it necessary to pay attention to the servants and staff. She made a mental note to break herself of that habit if she got away from here. When she got away from here.

“Right. Don’t let her down. The Triumvirate will have you hunting down shards in the most mosquito-ridden parts of the Marches if you let her out of your sight. That girl’s worth a lot to the family.” Malik’s voice grew more faint the farther down the hall he went.

“Riiiiiight,” said the new guard at her door. June nearly jumped when he leaned on the door from the outside with a thump. He sounded big.
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Old 02-19-2012, 10:29 AM
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June’s mind raced, less concerned about the Prophesy now, and more with finding an exit strategy. She could try the window, but it was a direct drop into the swamp, about twenty or so feet below her room. Maybe she could rip apart her bed linens and make a rope to climb down. Or should she play sick, then hit the guard over the head with something heavy when he came in to check on her? She’d read something like that in a penny dreadful a servant left in her room once; the heroine smashed an expensive vase over the head of the villain and made her escape while the man lay unconscious.

June glanced at the only vase in her room, a delicate confection of spun glass and crystal; a gift from a Karrnathi admirer. No, that wouldn’t do. Maybe she could hit him with the chair instead...

On the other hand, she flexed a graceful but not powerful arm, could she even lift the chair high enough to do any damage to the brute on the other side? June sighed and leaned her head back against the comforter and thought.

Finally the realization that she needed to either take action, or get dressed for her “guest” spurred her to decision.

Charm. She would try charm. And if that didn’t work, then the drop to the swamp and hope she didn’t break anything. A guard would look askance at the bag so that had to go first.

She moved to the window and looked down. Only twenty feet but it seemed a mile from up here. The very dark water still, with no wind currently. Perfect. She leaned out to try and get a better look, hoping that once outside, she’d be able to find her pylon quickly.

A quick check to make sure the perfume vial was adequately cushioned, then a deep breath and out the bag went, falling into the darkness. The splash was small so she hoped it had hit one of the marshy knolls around.

She let the curtain fall back into place and then with another deep breath, she pasted on a charming, guileless smile and opened the door.

“Could you help me with something?”

When the door opened, June stepped back in surprise. The half-orc that was guarding her door was huge, rippling with muscles beneath a sleeveless vest and simple trousers. He automatically ducked and turned to the side to lever his frame through the narrow bedroom doorway.

He stood tall and forbidding, his muscular arms folded over his barrel chest. June noticed he was ruggedly good looking for a half-orc, with a narrow nose, strong jaw, and dark hair pulled back into a tight braid at his neck. He wore a pair of thick gold earrings that seemed to accentuate his remarkable features.

“My lady,” the man said, regarding her with eyes the colour of the sea at night, a deep, dark, fathomless blue.

“Ur... uh...could...could you help me with something?” she stammered in surprise. She’d thought he would be human since his brother was. But here, with the prevalence of half orcs, that was never any guarantee. Wait, Slade was a half-orc. Malik was the human. She really did need to start paying more attention to the servants and guards...

“My lady?” he repeated calmly.

She took a deep breath and calmed her frazzled nerves. All or nothing now, she composed her face into a slightly worried, gentle smile.. “I have an esteemed guest I will be entertaining tonight. I...it’s important that I make a good impression. I’d like you to accompany me outside to pick some of the Nightfire flowers that grow around the pylons.”

He opened his mouth, she assumed to disagree and she held up a slender hand.

“It’s important in these things that it be picked by my own hand. Otherwise, there is no intimacy to it. If you are with me, I’m certain no one will object.”

She looked at his eyes, then looked away. Their piercing gaze was too uncomfortable. Too...unfathomable. Unconsciously her demeanor became meek.

“Please. I need to do this.”

The half-orc tilted his head to the side studying June closely.

“Nightfire flowers. Right.” He glanced at the vase on the table near the door, overflowing with a variety of delicate flora. “If we’re going to go looking for flowers down there, I suggest you wear something a little more appropriate.”

She looked down at the boys clothes she still had on. “What do you suggest?”
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Old 02-19-2012, 10:30 AM
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“High boots, probably something good for walking in,” he said matter of factly. “Some heavier trousers to keep the brambles at bay. A leather vest to protect you from thorns and whatnot. And lose the flowing sleeves. The peasant shirt may be disposable, but it’ll get caught in everything down there.”

She gave him a closer look. Something wasn’t right here. Going down in what she had on would be fine for a short walk with a servant to do the dirty work. The outfit he described sounded more like something for a longer jaunt. Maagrim had given him instructions. Perhaps she was playing a deeper game than it seemed on the surface. It made sense if the “guest” was indeed, someone they weren’t exactly happy with.

“This is the best I have for going in the marshes. I assume that you will help me.” Her words were almost more a question than a statement, this time. It felt odd to talk to a servant like that. She’d get used to it though. He was an equal now. Or, at least, he would be in about half an hour if she did this right.

“I am yours to command, my lady,” the man said as he stalked over to June. Standing mere inches before her, she could see every muscle ripple beneath his loose clothing. It was almost too close for her, and he wasn’t backing away.

Without warning, he put a hand on her shoulder and simply said, “Sit.” He pushed her gently onto the edge of the bed.

Then, to her utter shock and horror, the man had the nerve to reach for the comforter on her bed and pull it out from under her. Was that the way it was going to be? Was he going to take her then and there?! Fear and worry began to course through June, and she was unsure of what to do next.

“We’ll just have to make do with what we have, my lady,” he said as he straightened back up and drew out a knife. June’s eyes went wide.

Much to her chagrin, he used the knife on the light comforter, cutting it into thin strips and creating some sort of pattern with the rest. He worked quietly and efficiently, slicing the fabric with a single-minded determination.

“There, this should do,” the man said as he collected the strips of cloth; the remainder he tossed to the bed next to June. He then knelt down before the trembling girl and gently touched her calf. “If this is all you have, it will have to do. We’ll just reinforce it and make it a little more durable.”

He began wrapping the long strips around her calves, from ankle to knee. Then he went to work on her sleeves, wrapping each forearm in similar fashion. “This should keep you from getting snagged on things. Have you any decent boots, my lady?”

With the remaining section of comforter, he fashioned an open-sided vest of sorts, and wrapped the last of the strips around her midsection to hold it in place.

“Thank you.” She fought to keep her voice from giving away the fear and reaction. “What’s your name?” She’d likely never asked that before, to her memory, but it seemed appropriate right now.

He smiled and let out a short bark of laughter. “I am Mardu. Mardu Tharashk, my lady.” Though his smile was a little intimidating with the short tusks and large white teeth, it was genuine and warm.

She smiled back, uncertainly. “I look like a floral footpad.”

“The pattern will blend in. Nobody will notice you to complain,” he replied confidently. Though June never would have thought that red and orange hued bedclothes would blend in with anything in the swamp...

“How do we get outside without the rest of the household noticing?” She grimaced. “Because I can guarantee, even if I fit in nicely in our red and orange swamp, I don’t in here.”

Mardu’s grin was almost disturbing in its certainty.

“Leave that to me, my lady.”

Mardu stalked over to the window and looked out, judging their location, height, and surrounding cover. His face was a mask of cool indifference, concentration, determination. He tested the window frame’s strength by pulling and pushing against it, then looked back out again, this time leaning fairly far out so only his legs were still in the room. June almost thought he would fall out!

“Do you trust me, my lady?” Mardu asked when he came back in.

“Do you know who my guest is?” She asked without answering his question..

Mardu tilted his head to the side again, crossing his arms over his chest. He seemed surprised that she was asking him.

“I believe it is someone of importance from Karrnath, my lady,” he replied gravely. “Of royal importance.” His expression clearly told June that he was wondering if this were some sort of trick.
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Old 02-19-2012, 10:31 AM
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Her heart stopped for a moment, but her voice was calm when she finally spoke. “Then I don’t have much choice but to trust you, do I.”

“You could stay if you like...”

The look she gave him spoke volumes about the stupidity of half orcs. “No. Thank you. I’d rather eat...anything disgusting...”

He glanced out the window, then back to her. “That can be arranged.” Then added almost casually, “My lady.”

She stood and moved to the window. “My bag is already down there. If we go this way, it’s certainly convenient in that respect.”

“Very convenient,” Mardu smiled again. “For picking flowers, of course.”

Without another word, Mardu lifted the chair from the small table and wedged the bedroom door closed with it. Then he went to the window and climbed out, holding on to the ornate frame, his toes on the tiny ledge outside.

“You’ll have to climb onto my back and hold on. I’ll get us down...”

She nodded and then, tentatively, not exactly sure how to do it right, clambered onto his broad back and held on for dear life. “I feel silly.”

Then as he moved away from the window, fear made her bury her face in his shoulder. “Host, what are we doing!”

“Just hold tight, my lady. I won’t let any harm come to you,” Mardu promised. His voice was calm and reassuring. Well, mostly reassuring.

To June’s utter horror, Mardu began to move. Quickly. The half-orc deftly began climbing down the side of the structure hand over hand, finding hand and finger holds that June would never have noticed. The building flew past them, and Mardu began to hang from the underside of the platform itself! Without hesitating, he worked his way towards the nearest pylon, pausing only to make sure the sorceress still had a firm grip. If she were cutting off his air with her arms held tightly around his neck, he never once complained...

June’s arms began shaking from the unaccustomed use, but fear made certain her grip wasn’t loosened in the slightest. She doubted he would notice their trembling, though, the way the rest of her body was shivering in absolute terror.

“Are we almost down?” Her voice trembled. Damn. There was no pretending right now.

“Nearly there, my lady,” came Mardu’s reassurance. He had begin shimmying down the massive wooden pylon now, again finding hand holds that were nearly invisible. June marvelled at Mardu’s nearly effortless climbing ability, despite being scared nearly half to death.

With a soft splash, they reached to murky swamp below. They were only ankle deep near the wooden support, but they could see the water lapping all around, and it looked deep. An alligator swam idly past, gazing at the newcomers with mild interest.

Mardu knelt down to allow June to slide off his back, then supported her when it seemed her knees were about to give out. “You’re safe now,” he said soothingly. “We didn’t fall. You’re at the bottom now.”

“Safe...” she stammered, gesturing at the alligator in ironic humor. “I’ll be ok. My bag should be here somewhere. I can’t.. ur..find flowers without it.”

“It’s more scared of us than we are of it,” Mardu lied. He glanced around and spied the errant bag not too far away, half submerged. “I hope there wasn’t anything breakable in there,” he murmured as he retrieved it and brought it back to June.

She went to her knees to open the bag and check it’s treasured contents. Gently pulling the fine cloth from around the little perfume bottle and the mirror. Her genuine sigh of relief at their wholeness was her best answer.

She looked up and smiled at him genuinely. “Thank you...M...Mardu. I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”

Mardu offered her the grimace of a smile again. “It is my honour, my lady. Now we’d best start looking for these flowers. Quickly.”

Mardu led June away from the pylon and into the swamp. The city rose up all around them, but hardly anyone looked down below to notice them as they made their soggy way. With no small amount of skill, the half-orc navigated a relatively clear path away from the Triumvirate’s stronghold. It was by far not a direct path, winding and twisting and doubling back from time to time, but it was only ankle deep at the worst, and clear of alligators.

Much to June’s surprise, the colours of her former comforter cum camouflage did blend in with the muddy, murky swamp. The grasses and reeds were brown and gold and red, thus providing a decent backdrop for her impromptu escape. Small turtles and fish swam away from their passing, and their splashing seemed much too loud to go unnoticed, but Mardu did not slow their pace. He apparently knew where to go. To look for flowers. Right.

It was growing late by the time they made it to the edge of the city. Small huts and cabins appeared with greater frequency, much lower to the water. Boats and flat-bottomed skiffs were tied up along narrow docks here and there. Mardu finally hauled June out of the muck and onto a weathered pier. Despite the afternoon warmth, June was chilled to the bone from slogging through the water. She shivered violently now that she was out of the swamp and onto something relatively stable and dry.

“Who’s dat?” came a squeaky voice from the nearest hut. An old human, nearly as weathered and faded as the wood of the pier, stepped out into view. Something about the wrinkles on the man’s face drew June’s attention, making her completely forget about being cold and wet and exhausted.

The swirls on the codger’s face seemed to move, almost flow with a life of their own. The gentle breeze seemed to follow the lines of his face, only to draw her attention to the long pole leaning up out of the skiff across the way. The coiled rope in the bottom of the skiff seemed to bring her attention back out onto the dock, flowing along the lines of the slatted pier now...

June followed the pattern of wood grain up to Mardu’s large feet, her eyes catching the seam of his boot, the fold of the wet cloth of his trousers, then the wide sash across his midsection. Her eyes jumped ahead, knowing where the pattern was leading her to, and she looked up into Mardu’s warm gaze.

Without thinking, her hand found it’s way to his face, to follow the lines there, around that gaze. “This is right. I’m on the right path.” He was part of the pattern now. Somehow.

“Kane, it’s Mardu,” the half-orc said to the old man without moving away from June’s light touch. “I came to borrow the skiff again.”

“Right. Shoulda known it was you. Yer gonna sink my dock one day, you know,” the old man, Kane, replied. “You got someone wit you? I smells me somethin...”

June ducked her head away from the old man, realising that it was already too late to hide her identity. He must’ve gotten a good look at her when she was following the patterns...following the Prophesy...
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Old 02-19-2012, 10:32 AM
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“Yeah, she’s a friend, Kane. She asked me to go looking for some flowers with her. That’s why I needed the skiff.” Mardu placed a hand on June’s shoulder and nudged her head up with his thumb. He silently mouthed the words, “It’s okay. Don’t worry,” to her before addressing the old man over his shoulder again. “We won’t be long. I’ll have it back before you know it.”

“Flowers, huh? Issat whut you kids call it nowadays?” Kane said with a chuckle. “Take yer time, boy. No need ta’ rush these things! Ah, to be young again. I hope she’s as beautiful as she smells, Mar’. Have fun you two...” The oldster waved over his shoulder as he turned and shuffled his way back into the hut, fading into the shadows within.

Realisation dawned on June then; Kane was completely blind!

Another realisation immediately followed; Mardu had somehow planned all this!

“Shall we be off, my lady?” Mardu asked as he led her to the skiff. With gentle hands, he helped her aboard and carefully clambered aboard after placing her bag near the middle. He quickly untied the skiff from its moorings, and used the pole to ease them out into the swamp...

She’d not had the chance to be on the swamp since she was a child, so the beginning of the boat ride was magical and fascinating. Whispered questions about the flora, fauna, rhythms and tides. Moving carefully, but excitedly from this side of the skiff to that. Her grey eyes danced with joy at the unaccustomed freedom.

Finally she moved to sit more sedately in the center and spoke with formality. “I’ve never had the chance to be free. Thank you for that. And for keeping me safe. I know you put yourself at risk to do this. I want to give you my bond, as a lady of House Tharashk, that if you ever call on me for help, I will do everything in my power to aid you.”

“Everyone deserves to be free,” Mardu said quietly. “It was the least I could do. And should I ever need your aid, I’ll be certain to look for you.”

She looked at her hands, folded in her lap. “I’m scared to be alone, but this is right. This is what the prophecy requires.”

“For now, you’re not alone...” Mardu looked as if he might say more, but decided against it.

A sigh, and then she fell silent, listening to the soothing patterns of the night. The lapping of the water, the dip of the oars, the whisper of the air and the quiet cries of the night creatures.

Eventually, Mardu steered them out of the swamp and followed a canal that led to the Glum river. The skiff managed the canal without a problem, but the river’s current was a bit too fast for the flat-bottomed craft to handle, and they had a fairly bumpy journey for a few miles. Eventually, the Glum widened and calmed, and they glided across the moonlit water. Overhead, seven of the twelve moons were already visible, three of them almost full, and the Siberys ring sparkled dimly across the heavens. The heavenly bodies cast a soft glow upon the landscape, offering enough light for Mardu to navigate with.

They passed a few fishing boats on the river, local orcs harvesting their nets or casting lines out for the large catfish that prowled the riverbed. A few waved to the pair as they travelled past, but most paid little attention, focused as they were on their livelihood. They also passed a couple of large river barges carrying cargo upriver to Zarash’ak. The alligators stayed close to the riverbanks, and weren’t much of a problem out here. At least there was no obvious sign of pursuit from the City of Stilts...

“We should be able to reach Urthhold by morning, if the current remains steady,” Mardu said, breaking the silence. “We should be able to find a ship that will offer you passage. Have you given any thought to where you will go, Lady AuJeunotte?” The last was barely above a whisper, as if the half-orc was afraid to ask.

She looked away from the river at his question. Meeting his eyes again to guage his veracity before she gave away this last bit of her plan. The honest depths reassured her and she spoke about her plans aloud for the first time..

“I had thought of going to Aundair to a place there where I could learn more about the magic in my blood.” Her nose wrinkled. “But Lala is a bit of a paranoid loon and her spy networks would probably know about me in a week at the latest.”

She looked out at the world around her again, missing his reaction to her familiarity with queens. “So, I believe I will go to Breland. It’s big. I could get lost there, I think.”

Her gaze returned to him. Her voice surprised, and thoughtful. “I’m glad I told you. It’s nice to think that someone in this world will know. That I won’t be lost to everyone here.” Her gaze became worried. “I hope they don’t try to hurt you to find out. Maybe you should go with me so that...”

The sad look on Mardu’s face stopped June mid-sentence. “I’m sorry, AuJeunotte, I can’t,” he said quietly.

A long silence followed his statement. June hoped he would elaborate, but he remained stoic. After some time, it seemed there was nothing else to say.

“It’s not like I don’t want to,” Mardu said after what seemed an eternity. "I just have other...responsibilities. I can’t just walk away from things like this. Not yet.”

She nodded, hiding her disappointment. It would have been nice to not face the world alone. “I understand. You will be safe, though?”

“I’ll manage,” he said without giving it much thought. “I’m more concerned about you. I figured you’ve been planning this for some time, so you probably already have some contacts. But I can get you in touch with some people that might be able to help you out at least.” Mardu studied the sorceress for her reaction. His look was kind and sad, but at least there wasn’t pity in the look.

Her face grew wooden. Plan? No. They’d said no to the information she’d given them about the prophecy and she’d decided to run. 2 days was all the time she’d had to plan. Her eyes were perhaps, a little wide when she looked at him finally.

“I have it in hand. I’ve met...a lot of people over the last few years.”

“Riiiight,” Mardu said, a sly smile spreading across his face. “Well, I can introduce you to a few more, just in case.” He looked out ahead of the skiff to get his bearings and suddenly announced, “We’re here.”
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Old 02-19-2012, 10:32 AM
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‘Here’ was not Urthhold. At least not yet.

They had reached a small cluster of huts and cabins very similar to the one’s on the outskirts of Zarash’ak. Small docks stretched out like skeletal arthritic fingers, grasping at the river that flowed past. A number of small boats and skiffs were moored here and there, bobbing in the current.

“We’ll put in up here and walk to the city,” Mardu said as he poled them closer to the docks. “I’ll be able to get you in unnoticed, but we’ll definitely want to get you changed out of those...um...clothes.” He’d forgotten about his impromptu costume adjustments and tried not to snigger at the sight.

“What? My outfit is not acceptable in such...ur...rarified environments?” She grinned and then got serious. “I only have what I had at home and it’s not really appropriate here. Unless the gardeners clothes are ok?” She began trying to undo the knots he’d made in the comforter accessories.

“I suppose we can acquire some new clothes for you. And maybe a decent pair of boots. I know of a few shops that are open at all hours. Hunters and fishermen don’t always work to a scribe’s timetable,” the half-orc mused.

“You know, boot fetishes are highly acceptable these days. I suppose that’s why you’re so open about yours?” Relief at having made it past the city made her a little silly.

“Wha--” Mardu’s surprised reaction was cut off abruptly when the skiff bumped into the low dock. He scrambled to keep them from bouncing back into the other boats, and managed to bring them in safely again. “What fetishes?!” he asked indignantly after mooring their craft.

“You always talk about boots. Back in the compound. Here... It’s quite clear that you have an unnatural fondness for them.”

Mardu let out a sharp bark of laughter.

“Is that what you think?” He folded his arms over his chest and chuckled. “I see it as a way to keep your pretty little feet from getting nibbled off by alligators or torn up by rocks. Who knew that would be considered a fetish.”

”Well, speaking as a woman, I can completely understand a love of fine footwear.” The laughter in her quiet voice finally bubbled to the surface.

The half-orc studied her before joining in the laughter. It seemed to release some of the tension that had been building up in them both.

“Allow me, Lady AuJeunotte,” he said as he lifted her off the skiff and placed her on the weathered pier. It was effortless, the way he simply placed his hands at her waist and moved her, like she weighed nothing at all.

“You’re really strong.” Her voice was a little breathless, as her unfortunate tendency to blurt out what she was thinking came to the surface.

Mardu climbed up after her, gathered her bag, and stood up tall. If he heard her compliment, he gave no indication. “We should get moving,” he urged.

“Yes, you’re right.” She sighed. “Not safely away just yet.” She fell into step behind him, still pulling at the red and orange rags binding her arms. “Should we get the rest of these off, first? I can’t reach all of the knots.”

Mardu stopped and looked at her arms. With the utmost care, he tugged at the knots and unwound the material, very, very slowly. He held her gaze as he did so, an odd look upon his face. But he said nary a word...

The silence of the night surrounded them, the darkness shrouding them from the rest of the world. For that moment, they were alone, just the two of them standing together with only the moon and stars to lightly illuminate their features.

Again she reached up to gently touch his face. “It showed me. You’re a part of my pattern now.” And before he could stop her, she stood on tiptoes and kissed him. He was initially caught completely off guard, but succumbed to the kiss after the brief hesitation.

“AuJeunotte...” he began, gently easing her back down afterwards, the feel of her lips lingering upon his. “Junie. I...can’t. Not right now. Things are...complicated.”

She interrupted him. “I know. But what’s an escape without a kiss?”

He chuckled again, a sad but light bit of appreciation.

“Speaking of escapes,” he said, breaking the moment of silence that hung between them, “We should probably get going before we’re noticed...” Always the practical one, Mardu thought to himself. Damn it all to Khyber...

“So, do you know how to use a sword?”

Mardu stared at her, trying to figure out if she was being coy or serious. He nearly tripped when the dock came to an abrupt end, but regained his footing as they made their way through the small cluster of shacks and huts.

“I know the pointy end goes into the other guy,” he said matter-of-factly. “But all I’ve got right now are small weapons. A sword would draw too much attention, and we’re trying to do the opposite.”

“Too bad. A sword fight after a daring escape and romantic kiss from a handsome half orc is how all the novels end.” She hugged him playfully from behind.

“I’ll see what I can arrange,” he said in good humour. But he found that he couldn’t bring himself to meet her eyes again. Not just yet...
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Old 02-19-2012, 10:33 AM
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They eventually made their way to a larger path that wound through the thick cover of banyans and palms. It was almost completely pitch black, but Mardu was able to navigate with unerring efficiency. When they came out of the shadows, they found themselves overlooking the coastal town of Urthhold.

Unlike Zarash’ak, this town was built on ground level. Most structures consisted of stone and mortar ground floors with wooden upper storeys. Most roofs were tiled, though a few were fashioned of thatch, and even fewer had panels of tin. The whole of Urthhold smelled of woodsmoke and fish and unwashed people. As early morning light started to brighten the sky, the town started to wake. The evening mist that clung to the cobbled and gravelled streets started to give way to the few people that made an early start to the day’s business. It was a good time to slip in and go unnoticed...

As Mardu hoped, the vendor he was searching for had just found a spot to park her cart for the day. The woman who was busy opening the tarp over her goods reminded June of Kane, weathered, stooped, and grey. She turned at the soft crunch of gravel behind her that announced she had company.

“I ain’tn’t opened yet. Just settin things up,” she said without looking up. Also without taking the rollup from between her lips.

“We can wait, Dora,” Mardu said cheerfully. At that, the woman glanced over her shoulder to see his familiar face.

“Mar’! Been awhile, boyo! An I see you gots yerself a little darlin’ there.” Dora smiled with half her mouth, showing tea and tobacco stained teeth, while still holding the rollup between pursed lips on the other side.

Once she realised who had paid her a visit, Dora was more than willing to engage in a little pre-dawn sales action. She carried a fine assortment of local attire, ranging from sturdy tunics and breeches to colourful sarongs and sashes. Mardu urged June to select something that wouldn’t stand out in a crowd despite Dora attempting to push the colourful merchandise. And though she carried no boots on her cart, Dora did stock a few sets of sandals and sturdy footwear that would be comfortable for the young lady in the heat. When it came time to pay, Mardu slipped the coins to the weathered old woman before June could protest.

As June smoothed the fabric of the simple, brown cotton dress and bright yellow sash (she just couldn’t help herself) she smiled a goodbye at Dora. “This is soft. I like it. Thank you.”

“It definitely suits you, Junie,” Mardu complimented with a grin. He didn’t object to the sash like she thought he might.

By the time they had settled up, the sky was completely brightened up; the sun was peeked over the treetops to splash brilliant golden light across the streets of Urthhold. As they turned from the cart to head off, a glint of silvery light flashed off to their left, catching their attention.

“What have we here?” said a rather scroungy looking man dressed in dirty workman’s clothing. He carried a long knife openly, threatening the couple he just watched pay a lot of money out. “Seems we gots some tourists out for a mornin’ stroll. Why don’cha share a bit o’ the wealth, me friends?”

Mardu growled, a deep rumble in the back of his throat that surprised the mugger as well as June. As he was about to reach for one of the daggers at his waist, both he and June heard another voice from directly behind them.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” purred a feminine sounding voice. “I’ll put an bolt right through your pretty little friend, ruining her brand new outfit. That would be such a shame, wouldn’t it?”

From the corner of her eye, June could just make out a short woman with hacked off dark hair aiming a crossbow at her...
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Old 02-19-2012, 10:34 AM
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Default Have we lost you yet?

June’s initial instinct was fear, she’d not fought outside of practice. But underneath that, building quickly, was a deep anger. How dare they spoil this moment. How dare they use her to harm him!

The world around her took on a slight golden aura as the dragon inside her reared up it’s (metaphorical) head and warmed away the fear with rage.

“You better run.” The words came out a whispered threat that contained a strange power for such a slight girl. The three others froze a moment in surprise at the change that overcame her. Long enough for her to take careful aim to miss Dora’s cart and the wood of the dock.

She raised her hands, palms itching with the warmth of the dragon begging to be let out. Mardu watched how the two muggers reacted to June’s threat, his whole body coiled like a spring, ready to act, but unsure of which way to go just yet.

The woman with the crossbow hesitated only a moment before pulling the trigger. In that brief instant, June let loose a cone of searing flame from her fingertips, aimed at the woman. After that, several things seemed to happen all at once; the woman threw up her arms to protect herself from the flames that enveloped her, which threw off her aim; the bolt, moving much too fast to be incinerated, sailed through the flames towards its target, but flew just wide enough to avoid hitting June, who was no longer exactly where she was when the spell went off; this was because Mardu had sprung from his position to push the sorceress out of the way.

When the dust settled, the woman with the crossbow fell to the ground as she gasped out her last breath, the flames still licking at her clothes and flesh. Mardu was hunched over June, who found herself on her side under his muscular frame with her eyes locked on the bolt sticking out of Mardu’s side.

The scroungy looking man with the knife surged forward, not wanting to lose such an opportunity, and brought the knife down in an overhand arc towards Mardu’s exposed back. Somehow, the swing was off and his wrist hit the half-orc’s back instead of the point of the knife.

“MARDU!” June gasped out, the blood seeping from his side making her woozy with fear and worry. Concern for him damping the dragon for a moment.

Very aware of June’s hesitation, Mardu surged up and forward, driving his shoulder into the mugger’s midsection to put some distance between that knife and the sorceress. As he lifted, the half-orc put all his strength into lifting the man off his feet. The man was caught off guard and let out a gasp as all the air was driven from his lings. He was thrown at least five feet and landed on his backside. The knife skittered away out of his grasp.

Mardu grasped his side where the bolt protruded, careful not to move it. Other than that, he gave no indication that it hurt or slowed him in the least.

Muttering a curse, the would-be attacker made a dive for the knife, ending up stretched out on his stomach, his fingers just barely touching the blade. “Dammit!” he swore, as his reach fell short...


“Mardu! Host curse them! Close your eyes!” Fear for him brought the dragon to the fore again, under a little more control this time. The flare spell left her mind to flash as close the the scoundrels face as she could get it.

Mardu resisted the urge to look behind him when June shouted, clamping his eyes shut against his combat instinct. He could see the spell go off through his eyelids, a flash that would surely have blinded him if he’d kept his eyes on the brigand. He waited for the right moment to move again...

The inept thief screamed as the flare went off just before his eyes. With an inarticulate gurgle, he clawed at his face with one hand, trying to rub away the painfully bright splotch of colour that seared itself across his retinas. He lurched forward with his other hand, finally finding the knife, but he wasn’t able to stand, let alone do anything else, just yet.

Mardu leapt at the man sprawled out across the ground, driving his elbow into the back of the thief’s neck. The blinded adversary shouted out as pain erupted in his neck unexpectedly.

“Is that the best you can do, Mardu?” someone said off to his left. Mardu looked up, but the sun was in his eyes and he couldn’t make out who the speaker was.

June whipped her head around and saw three men dressed in leather armour carrying short swords and bows. Her blood turned to ice when she saw that they wore badges identifying them as hunters from House Tharashk...
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Default Time for a fight

June thought it better that she not speak, just in cast they hadn’t identified her yet. Her heart quailed at the thought of looking at the woman she had just burned. Things were moving so quickly she hadn’t had time to face that, thank heavens.. But burning a street thug, and harming hunters of her own house. Those were two different things. And the man with the knife, should she finish what she had started so he didn’t try to stab Mardu? Her first battle and her heart was so firmly entrenched in her throat, she doubted she could speak legibly, even if she wanted to, honestly. Battle adrenaline gave her the speed to react before them, but she only stepped back, closer to the barrels (and the burned woman, but now was not the time to think of that) that would cover her and then held the spell she had prepared, to see what they would do.

One of the newcomers, a short, thin man with white-blonde hair, saw movement by the barrels, but said nothing. He kept an eye out in that direction, but gave no indication that he recognised June. The other two, a human with an eye patch and a half-orc, seemed to be focusing their attentions on Mardu.

“Been a long time, Mar. Fancy meetin’ you out here,” said Eye Patch as he drew out a short sword, testing its edge with his thumb. “I been wantin’ to settle that old debt between us. Looks like I finally get my chance to pay you back. How’s about I wait until you’re done playin’ paddy-cake with that guy, and we can have ourselves a nice long chat.”

The half-orc with him, a scarred and ugly man, offered a predatory grin full of menace as he drew out a wicked looking hand-axe. He hefted it in anticipation.

The thief Mardu had pinned wriggled up to look at Mardu.

“Seems you got other things to deal wit’. We’ll just let by-gones be by-gones an’ I’ll just be on m--”

Mardu didn’t let him finish the sentence, slamming his fist down on the man’s jaw with a loud crack. The thief went limp, the knife falling from his fingers again. Either he was unconscious, or he had the sense to stay down...

Mardu stood up slowly, watching the three men wearing House Tharashk markings.

“I thought you were cast out from the Marches,” he said as he reached up and pulled the bolt out of his side. He let the bloody length of wood drop while keeping both hands at the ready. He didn’t have any weapons in hand, but he was armed. But the trio across from him had weapons to hand and the sun at their backs. This was not looking good...

Eye Patch lunged forward, coming in low with his sword out wide. He swept forward with incredible speed for someone challenged by a lack of depth perception. His sword slashed a deadly arc as the last second, turning what looked like a tackle into a sudden dance of steel. The blade bit deep into Mardu’s left side, sending a spray of blood across his chest.

Junes heart went completely cold. The dragon inside roared, and so did she in fear, and anger and worry for the man who had risked so much for her. June stepped out from the shelter of the barrels and raised her hands. WHOOSH. Another cone of flames erupted from June’s outstretched hands, leaping into the faces of the two men standing back. They both tried to dodge the sudden gout of fire, but were both caught by the searing heat. Eye Patch twisted his body just enough to avoid the worst of the damage from the flames.

The white-blonde man writhed in agony, trying to put out the flames. He dropped to the ground and rolled, losing his hold on the crossbow he was about to use. In seconds, he managed to put the flames out, but his face and arms were blistered and charred.

Mardu took advantage of the momentary distraction June provided, wrapping his tree-trunk arms around Eye Patch’s neck and under his sword arm. Clasping his hands, he squeezed with all his might. This made it impossible for the grappled man to use the short sword again, as his arm was locked out straight. There was a sickening popping noise coming from Eye Patch’s shoulder and neck, and he gasped out in surprise and pain.

The ugly half-orc tried in vain to use his arms and hands to put out the flames. He writhed in pain as his clothing continued to burn, covering his arms, face, and chest with blistering wounds.

Eye Patch struggled to break free. He heaved at Mardu, trying to dislodge him, to get the muscular half-orc to release him. Try as he might, he couldn’t get loose from the hold, and every movement brought new popping noises accompanied by searing pain.

The dragon in control now, June again channeled the fire beneath the skin and sparked the Albino’s singed clothes. Attempting to reignite the fire.

The Albino yelped as he realised his clothes were burning again. He continued to roll in an attempt to extinguish them again.

Mardu held steady against Eye Patch, hands locked, refusing to let the man wriggle free. With a sudden heave, the half-orc squeezed with all his might, breaking bone and dislocating joints. Eye Patch convulsed once, then went still; his open eye stared at June, unblinking in death...

Meanwhile, the ugly half-orc, failing to put out the flames licking at his own clothing, began to run. He headed straight at June, but dodged around her at the last second as he aimed to leap off the dock and into the water...

The need for blood raging through her body, the dragon expressed itself more physically. Too angry now to even note the pain in her fingertips, she struck at the man running past her. Claws... there were claws? After the impulse to strike had expended itself, she held her hands up for a moment to marvel at the sharp, reptilian talons where her manicure had been.
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