Wicken was always a fine place to live… the seasons came and went as really the only marking of the passage of the years. Winters forced villagers to huddle around their hearths and those of their neighbours, or to enjoy the smiles, laughter, and singing over mulled cider in the Smiling Pig Tavern. Winters soon became warm springs, but Wicken was far enough from the city — the one known as ‘the Blight’ — to enjoy clean air, so villagefolk could enjoy the newly arriving warmth and greenery. Summers were a blur of festivals and heat, lazing in the fields of barley, and waiting for the harvest and orchards of sweet apples to ripen under the sun. When harvest-time came, and the nights began to draw in, the larders were filled and made ready for a cosy winter.
The peaceful hamlet lay beyond the city walls, a small group of cottages that in spring and early summer were a riot of wisteria: the heady perfume dancing across the meadows around the hamlet itself. At its heart lay a church with a grand spire - this church was built within and about a stone circle, and once a year the locals would thank the older pagan gods for the harvest — a week of celebration would be held. Cider would flow, pigs were roasted, and thanks were made. Even old Father Gromwell, the great painter of angels, joined in with the celebration; he believed the old gods still walked the world.
Yes, Wicken was a fine place to live. Until they destroyed it.
One autumnal day, the soldiers arrived. They rounded up the locals, took them away in wagons, and despite their heroics and bravery, even the strongest of the villagers were taken. The last sight of Wicken was in the warm sunset light, as a group of men with crimson robes over their bright armour strode into the village like conquering heroes.
Since that day, the life of those taken has been a blur. Transported in chains to the city and unceremoniously moved from holding cell to holding cell, until, at the last, a handful of Wicken villagers (maybe the last alive who could be called that) arrived at the notorious prison hulk ‘Redemption’, a stitched mass of boats crushed into one, a place without hope, where people go to die. Those very few who have survived to now have found themselves convicted, imprisoned, and condemned... one more nameless, forgotten victim in the Blight.
Audria's world had shattered.
All of her memories were of the small village, the oldest barely a year old. She'd been happy there. She'd painted and laughed and sang and played, but now? Now there was only the gnawing fear and bleak hopelessness. Each day had seen her grow more withdrawn and frightened as they traveled through the Blight. The reality of the city, a festering pile of buildings and smoke and fog, had shaken her to her heart. There was no hope, there was no escape, and there was no relief. There was only torment and pain.
Rough hands throw the door of the cell open and shove a young girl into the cell. Anything of value she'd long since lost in the long, grueling journey from Wicken to this place. She wears a sackcloth dress with rope belt cinching it in at her waist. As she recovers from her tumble, she futilely tries to cover her scar-covered arms and legs. Dozens of thin, silver lines stand out even on her fair skin, clues to what her time before waking up in Wicken was like. If not for her long hair, the scars from the burns she'd suffered could also be seen peeking out of the top of the dress at the base of her neck.
As the guards chuckle and make the customary vulgar comments, they walk away and leave Audria alone with something that had been growing stronger since that horrible night when her world had shattered. A soft, glowing voice whispers to her in her solitude. It begs her for release, for her to remember. It hungers to burn, to char the flesh from the bones of any who'd touch her, from any who would be her enemy.
She shies away from that voice. She is not a vengeful person. She does not want to kill, only to wake from this nightmare. She does not want to remember a past that had left her burned and scarred for the Villagers of Wicken to find one cold night. She fears the voice and what it offers.
Alone in the damp darkness of the cell, Audria silently weeps as she prayers to whatever goodly gods are listening for salvation.
Moira's tarrying in Wicken proved… costly. This is what I get for staying in a lynching town. Shoulda headed out when I had the chance.
Thrown into the pit of a prison ship, Moira tries to replay the events that have led up to this moment, from the beginning. Her happy childhood--her village wilting of plague—closing her father’s eyes--her peripatetic wanderings across the rural districts—many funerals--her stay in Wicken, a tenuous vision of an earthy paradise irrevocably lost—the red-robed soldiers smashing into the Smiling Pig, ignoring her attempts to calm them down, to talk about what they wanted—she remembers glancing at her sword-hilt but, confronted with so many naked blades, she unclasped her baldric and let her blade and drum slide to the floor—she remembers a mailed fist and the multi-sensory experience of sound, taste, scent, red flashing lights, and incredible pain that accompanied the snapping of her nose—blood on the grass, boots all around, arms hauling her up—seeing Redmane, calling out to Redmane...
And now she’s here. As her eyes adjust to the dimness (or as she regains full consciousness) she glances around at her surroundings--at her clothes and belongings--at her body. Wiggling her toes and fingertips, she’s relatively sure that she’s physically intact.
Though I wouldn’t put it past Frog God to be like, “nope, roll d20 on the maimed table to see what’s missing. Oh, you got a one! What’s it say… your head? Roll a new character.” Meanwhile: are we chained or restrained in any way? Solitary confinement, or a big prisoner pit? Equipment’s gone, I imagine? Moira’s going to be piecing together what she can.
Perception to take a look around: 1d20 + 3 ⇒ (2) + 3 = 5
Moira has trouble seeing her hand in front of her face. As she peers into the darkness, she begins whispering half-remembered snatches of ancient legendary poems…
"In my thirtieth year of age,
I had drunk deep of my disgrace,
Left somewhere between fool and sage,
From all the grief I had to face…"
excerpt the opening of Francois Villon's Le Testement trans. Eridan
And as she chants the lines, her mind begins to reassemble itself. “You’re not the first person to be punched in the nose by soldiers or by fate. You’re not the first to lose everything… not the first to lose everything several times… and then end up in prison. Get up and look around… if you can.”
|Alexis Von Brant|
Curiosity had always held its sway over Alexis and a chance conversation with one Tully Redmane lead to something Alexis had never thought she would have the opportunity for, honest work. Hard work but it is honest work. No need to take from peoples tables and pockets.
The delightful smell of apples filling her nose, as it has for the last few months is violently disturbed as is seems a taste of home sours everything.
For the first time instead of running away from the thing that threatens everything Alexis knows and cares for she runs towards it. Ducked low and swinging wildly with the dagger but tall men in armor are far better protected and trained than she is. Within moments she is smacked in the side of the head and as her vision goes dark Alexis can hear the noise of the little town she did not think she would love but does being rounded up like cattle. Why?
Far from compliant though the journey from the sleepy little village of Wicken to the salty smelling air of the sea mixed with the unwashed reek of a large city. Plagued by dreams of a fire that stole everything away once and of the men in red who did it again. Any chance Alexis gets she screams, "Why?.. What did they do to you?.. Take me back dammit!" at anyone not it the same position she is in.
Little effort is needed to keep the rage burning just under her skin, fury keeps her warm enough. Constant screams of unchecked wrath erupt from her little cell. Born from all of the grief of losing a home far to many times in so few years.
Darkness... the gentle slopping of water from somewhere beyond the tight confines of the wooden cell... the awful creaking as water-soaked timbers grind and bend against each other; the small isolated cell in which each of Wicken's folk find themselves is as far from those joyful summers of the past as can be. And above it all, pervasive - as much a feeling as it is a taste or a smell - the acrid stench of sulphur mixed with pollution... human pollution. Yes, this truly is a low place.
The passage of time is utterly beyond comprehension now... it is days since the last sight of daylight, meals - when they come at all - are irregularly timed, and there is no human contact. If the end came now...
...would it be a mercy?
He dimly remembers that morning some time ago when he was ripped from his sleep by the pounding at his door. He opened it innocently, and was immediately tied and tethered to a long train of villagers bound for parts unknown. Having come quietly, and early in the ransacking, he was not as abused as some.
Aishe missed his masterwork crossbow almost as much as his freedom in those early days. Purchased with hard earned cash - with the black cold iron bolts, each lovingly blanched over a campfire with a thin silver coating. They were more than his weapons, they were his tools, and extension of him, and now he was without them. He wonders, if he ever gets free, how he’ll manage to acquire such finery again.
But his overriding concern now is food. The irregular supply is insufficient, and already he can feel himself weakening. It won’t be long before he’l have no chance overpowering the guard, not that he had much chance now. Unequipped and weakened by the imprisonment already long - and of course the cell door which never opens...
He spends his time counting. Counting the stones that make up his cell. Counting the rivets in the door. Repeating it backward. All by touch. Anything to keep his mind from descending where his body already lays. The pit.
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How does a story end?
A man is born. He grows up.
He remembers his first life. He lived in a provincial, some might say backwater, township. He learned under the tutelage of a caring but exacting father. His mother was a stranger to him. He played in the apple orchards.
A man falls in love. He has a family.
He remembers that feeling. When he closes his eyes he can still capture that day. The sunlight, crepuscular rays filtered through unwashed windows, held captive a thousand motes of dust. Her back had been turned to him, reaching for a box on a high shelf. Let me help you with that, he had wanted to say. Lovely weather we're having, isn't it? My, that's a lovely dress you're wearing today, Theophila. A hundred other pleasantries might have sprung to mind. If only he had had the courage...
A man dies.
He remembers that, too, the day she had passed. He had passed with her, though he did not realize it at the time. Even a cut flower retains its vitality for a short time, ere it withers. He had not known.
A man's second life begins.
The leaves had begun to wilt, the petals to brown and wither. All around him, the world had drained of color, and he had persisted on in some grey-washed existence. He passed through the motions that were expected of him, like some prized flower on display that pretends as though it is not dying inside. But the rot had set in, and it had begun to consume him.
At least, until Thea. A man's grief can take him to dark places, drive him to unspeakable acts. Grief can drive a man mad. But from madness, beauty can be born. And such as it was with her. He had almost been of a mind to show them. But would they understand? The woman. Keening. He had had a spark of hope in her.
But then he had died again. His shop was one of the first, as it sat on the periphery of town. He had heard them, in his panic had gathered Thea and what supplies he could carry, and set off running. They had caught him of course, shot him in the leg with an arrow and sent him, them stumbling into the stream.
Don't leave me, she had seemed to beg of him. Stay.
But he could not, for he was already dead. And that was the worst thing, worse even than dying again. That she could not understand.
And so his third life began. Here, in The Blight.
Once a man dies, is that not the end of his story? He had always thought so. But now he knows better. Though there are no more pages to turn, a story, well, it goes on. It lingers. If a man can die once, twice, when does his story end? When shall his suffering cease?
He has asked himself these questions countless times. One hundred? One thousand? One million? If the end came now, would it be a mercy?
He doesn't believe in mercy anymore, not even its possibility. If he is already dead, what is the worst they can do to him?
He despairs to know.
She would die here, of that she is certain. She is already dead, a small corner of her mind thinks. As hunger and the relentless grinding darkness wore at her, she began to lose herself.
Wicken had all been a dream. Yes! All a dream, a foolish dream by a foolish girl. She had always been here. It had to be. That was the only reason for goodly folk to be punished and die needlessly. The goodly gods wouldn't abandon her and the others if they had been good, right?
After a month, or was it a year? She began to sing. The words were soft and echoed gently off the beams and runners of the ship like blossoms bumping into a stone in a stream.
A pretty little spark did dance,
On the matchstick's head.
Oh, how that spark did preen and prance,
Until it was dead.
How sad was I when the spark did die.
How dim it seemed, the blackened sky.
How empty my hands without that light.
Oh pretty little spark do come,
Come back to me.
A big churchman his face drunk-red,
Came to snuff the spark.
A witch, a demon, he did said,
My heart be pitch dark.
How I laughed when he, the fire did kill.
How he cursed when found not a rill.
How exciting it was, that black thrill.
Oh pretty little spark do burn,
Burn him to ash.
Time crawls... and as darkness robs the captives of their sight, hearing becomes the dominant sensation. From beyond the cells there are other, barely perceptible above the incessant creaking of wood, noises - muffled voices that occasionally rise to shouting... or screaming before abrupt silence, footsteps from above somewhere and, now becoming as insistent as the complaints of the wood, the scratching of rats. And then...
Doors to their cells crash open and, silhouetted by lantern light that is painful to look at, men come in... brutally, and with fists used to remind anyone who resists where the power lies, the villagers are bound, hooded and moved through the darkness - along the tight confines of passageway, and pushed up a series of steps.
So, this is where it ends.
The rope hangs tight about necks, and musty black hoods cover faces. In the background, there is the steady walk of the executioner. Perhaps it is for the best. Any attempt to move hands, to attempt something... anything, is useless for they are tightly bound, as are feet and legs. The bindings are strong, too strong for limbs weakened by imprisonment and ill treatment. Somewhere beyond, the sound of hymns wafts over the water. The time has come: a clock strikes in the distance. One, two, three... the count to noon goes on... seven, eight... the bells toll steadily...
Twelve then silence.
The captives brace for the coming fall, the snap of bone, the crushing of windpipe, the severing of spine. Whatever the hereafter might bring.
When the door opens, Aishe is ready. He leaps upon his attackers, thrashing wildly with fingernails sharpened on the stones and teeth tearing into flesh.
Or at least that's as imagined by the feeble man who teeters into the guard and nearly falls at his feet with the effort it took to just to stand. He had successfully sharpened a few of his nails, but two were already missing, and another fell out in his stumbled rush toward the door as he steadied himself on the wall.
Malnutrition and madness remove the best intentions.
Aishe is bound and the hangman's noose rests around his neck. He wonders for a moment if his life will flash before his eyes, and if it will be a pleasant one. He decides it will, but far too short.
He struggles against his bonds one last time, but his muscles respond with merely a shudder. He soils himself, being unable to stop it in his weakness.
He's ready for what is to come.
|Alexis Von Brant|
The waiting is driving her mad. Thrashing around her little cell and screaming at no one until she feels that her throat is broken. Wearing herself out with aimless wrath leaves a young girl sprawled out on the ground twitching at any sound. Her stomach twists and continues to scream at her, now used to consistent meals.
Lifting her head and glaring at the men who come in fully intent on earning the beating that is to come. Doing what little damage she can and grinning around the flesh on the guards arm as another kicks her in the chest, stealing her breath. Hands grab her and Alexis refuses to walk. Carry me you bastards.
Struggling as much as she can through the halls. Though it amounts to nothing as the ropes come into view. Adrenaline races though her veins and she gives one last attempt to flee which is ended quickly with a punch to the back of the head. Hmm, there are two grounds.
Mercifully a hood is thrown over her head. No one but Alexis needs to know of the silent tears running down her cheeks. No one but her and he unforgiving Gods. I hate you all!.. Pharasma I do not want to die like this. I was finally happy.. Do I deserve this? I swear I will do better if you let me live. Let me leave this place. I do not want to go to the Boneyard.
Feeling the noose settle like a mantle the priest wear. The weight of it nearly makes her knees buckle. Swaying on her feet and waiting for the end. Mama. Papa. I hope I see you there.
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When they finally come for Moira, she’s about to try a Hideous Laughter and dodge past—but there are so many of them. So before she was able to get very far into the ol’ “Have you heard the one about the priestess of Calistra and the halfling?” verbal component, she drops the plan and decides to go quietly. The fist to the face mid-sentence might have something to do with her change of plans, as well.
After the sting wears off and the hood’s thrust on, Moira’s actually feeling kind of hopeful. Any change is better than that cell. Maybe they’ve realized that I’m not who they’re after and I’ll be set free. She hustles along, trying to cause as little trouble as possible. I’ll be alright! This is the way to freedom…
But when the rope slips over her head, she is suddenly furious and starts thrashing out. It’s far, far, far too late for that. She screams from under her hood, “You have the wrong woman! I did nothing! I’m innocent, you scum!"
Realizing that insults aren’t going to get her anywhere, she changes tactics. She’s always been highly charismatic, maybe she can talk her way out of this if she’s careful—maybe if she finds the right deal to cut. Looks like the Calistria joke is on her this time. A silent prayer (she’s never been one to pray before) and a deep breath, “Calistria, if I can use your powers to get out of this, I’ll always be a devoted, lustful little lass for the rest of my life, I promise!” Out loud, she starts trying to sound seductive, saying that it’d be a shame to waste such a pretty gal on the gallows, wouldn’t it? Maybe a comment about how ropes make her feel sexy. I mean, she’s desperate. I’m just going to leave the further details out of this.
When nobody responds, except for perhaps a cruel laugh that has no kindness in it, that offers no hope, Moira realizes she’s toast. She feels utterly, deeply, completely miserable. It’s not so much that she fears death—it’s that she always assumed she’d have more time. Sickness. Wounds, even, usually grant a space. The more horrible wounds even cause enough pain that the transition from life to non-life is less intellectual, more animal, somehow cleaner than this. Usually there's some knowledge that death is immanent—even hearing the howling of a wolf gives one a second to imagine what might come next. But to go from fantasies of freedom to certain doom in an instant, a rope around her neck, to not have known to savor even those last moments in her cell—it’s too much.
In a flash she remembers who she is, who she has become—she remembers to deal with this in a professional manner. Oh, I always thought I’d skip all that crap about being sad and angry… I thought I’d be able to die with dignity. A little late for that, but here goes. She steadies herself. In a soft and low voice, muffled and muddled by the hood, she sings a song she's sang by many a grave, one of her favorites, counting time by the tolling of the bell...
"Because I could not--
stop for death--
He kindly stopped for me--
The Carriage held but
And Immortality…" Dickinson again...
Time slows to a crawl. Every second feels like an eternity. Maybe this is immortality. This is how to live forever. Maybe everyone lives forever in the asymptotic approach to oblivion. She has more than enough time to think how useful that thought would have been at certain bereavements she'd supervised. How interesting, the itching of every strand of the ill-wound rope, how rich, the must of the hood. How long between each ring of the bell. Life everlasting.
The resonance of the noon bell seems to go forever... and all is still - awaiting the wrenching of the lever, the opening of the hatch and the long drop into oblivion that never comes. Instead, the sound of hurried footsteps precedes the slamming open of a door... and then those musty hoods, presumably worn by a legion of unfortunates who preceded the villagers in this room, are hurriedly removed.
A handful of lanterns, each flickering with an emerald green light, illuminate the drab room - where, to either side of the still bound villagers, two rows of gallows dominate the chamber. Blinking, and with their eyes struggling to adjust to even the dim light after so long in the pitch dark, the villagers make out the vague outline of a tall person working on their bindings. A broad Castorhage accent, with feminine tones, admonishes the blurry figure at the rear of the chamber, "Enough of the theatrics Gryme... these folk didn't need to be put through that!!!"
The only other voice in the room snaps back, "You were late... and have you seen these people's warrants? Have you seen who wants them dead?"
Coming into focus now as a tall woman with her hair tied up into a ponytail, the woman who removed the villagers' hods turns to 'Gryme' - a leather aproned man partially disguised by an executioner's garb, "Fine... fine... just keep an eye out... I don't want anyone interrupting us here". Looking around the room now, the villagers see the others who have survived this long - filthy, weakened and showing signs of beatings - Salom, Moira, Audria, Alexis and Aishe are all here... there is one other, a tall feline-featured humanoid who is only now having their hood pulled cleared free. Equally bedraggled, partial starvation hasn't reduced the stature of the imposing figure... and now strange memories flood back, tales of the beast of Wicken... of the feral creature on the periphery of the village... of Rigo...
Audria sways dangerously on her feet as she tries to figure out what is going on. She barely noticed being dragged from her cell and it wasn't until the rope had almost choked her that she was even aware of the hood and the noose.
Then she realizes what is being talked about. A thin, desperate hope flares to life within her. Hunger and thirst gnaw at her as relief that they weren't about to die floods through her.
Then she sees the Beast.
She'd heard the stories, but they didn't really prepare her for the sight of him. She tries to get away from him, but only succeeds in stumbling into the person next to her as her legs buckle.
"Wh-what is going on," she asks, the first words she'd spoken since going silent some weeks ago. Her voice is rough, like the rusty surface of an iron vessel, and thready, little more than a hoarse whisper.
As his hood is ripped from his face, Aishe blinks in the dim light. It takes a few moments to convince himself he’s not dead - but when he does it’s because he still feels the pain, an empty stomach, the delirium of dehydration. He glances at his companions, the last to remain alive. He wonders if Moira will mourn them all for a fee.
He chuckles aloud, but it ends in a dry hacking cough which ripples through his body. His mind echoes Audria’s question, but he can’t quite frame it himself.
He tries to even out his breathing as he waits for a response.
The feline spits as Audria speaks. "The villages crimes caught up with it. That is what happened, murderous b#**!." The feline spits, somehow managing to get spittle to form despite being thirsty and unfed. "Without knowing who is guilty and who is innocent, the city has undoubtably decided the world is better off without the village of Wicken. No doubt it is correct. At least Donar died before this happened."
Donar was an old Dwarven Paladin who lived a few miles from Wicken, and hadn't been seen much the last couple of years.
One. Two. Three. Salom counts numbly, all too ready for the end. His only thought, a word:
But wait, there is more. He blinks in the grim, jaundiced light.
"The villages crimes caught up with it. That is what happened, murderous b#+*@."
A pained smile spreads across his cracked lips.
""Without knowing who is guilty and who is innocent, the city has undoubtably decided the world is better off without the village of Wicken. No doubt it is correct."
He would have laughed if he could, but his throat is sandpaper, his mouth ash. So, the animal lives.
"There's the folly. Thinking the world capable of improvement. It's still as soiled a latrine as it was before." He sniffs the air with his busted nose. "I daresay we are not helping."
"The travelers Audria, Aishe, and Alexis. And my dear Ms. Keening. What a delight to see you again. You look younger each time. Pardon my appearance. I fear I hadn't time to comb my hair."
He looks to his captors meaningfully, wondering if this is yet merely an extended execution.
|Alexis Von Brant|
Audria flinches from the strange monster's curse. Tears begin to well up in her eyes as she clings to Moira.
"B-but I've never... I would never... i didn't kill anyone. I didn't hurt anyone. I just sang and painted," she sobs.
"You sang for murderers and painted for them. Lie down with a goblin dog, and you wake up with a rash and fleas." The white and black tiger says, spitting again.
Aishe examines Rigo with bloodshot eyes, No wonder the village feared it.
But in the end he's not sure what to think. He's seen many a strange thing on the road, and here was one more. But oh, how he longed for the road now!
What was the name of those beasts with human bodies and animal heads? Weren't they evil? But no, this is all feline, not just the head.
He's so lost in thought he nearly misses Salom's greeting, but at the speaking of his name, his head jerks up a little and he peers through the darkness of the room and his won mind at the others.
He tries again to stand up straight. "There is good and evil in every town." he croaks almost a whisper as if to answer the great-cat. Which are you?
"What do you want with us?" he manages to add through cracked lips looking at their captors.
Coming more into focus now as the captives’ eyes finally adjust to the sickly light, the woman untying them is hurried in her actions and in her speech… terse and matter of fact, she ignores Rigo’s distaste towards the villagers, Alexis’ questions as to who brought them to this place of execution and, rather conspicuously, Audria’s tears… whatever is going on, it is clear that the woman cares little for ‘small talk’. Nodding to ‘Gryme’, who - with an imposing physical bulk - takes guard at the door such that no-one will interrupt these moments, the woman introduces herself as Eleanor Shank…
”We don’t have much time before I need to get clear of the boat”, she looks up at the ceiling as the sound of footsteps from above echo dully through the timbers, ”So I’m going to have to be quick about this. Know this, I don’t know who you are, or what it is that you did that brought you to the ‘Redemption’… and it’s not my business – that’s your past and your own care. What I can offer is a new life, another chance… I have a proposition for you, a way off this boat and the return of your freedom”.
There is a pause… a catch, there’s always a catch…
”But you will need to do something in return… something that will make Castorhage a better place”, Eleanor looks to the group. Maybe she is attempting to gauge their response… whether they will choose a way out of here, whatever that may entail, or the finality of the gallows…
Once Rigo's paws are freed, he rips the ropes open on his legs with a casual swipe of his claws, leaving bits of rope to flutter down to the ground. "Castorhage is already a better place, having rid itself of the den if filth that was Wicken. But as you have released me from mistaken inclusion in it's demise, I see no reason not to help you help it further. As long as what you wish is indeed a good thing for the city." Rigo rumbles, stretching his long muscular body. Unlike the rest, he's fully armed already, claws gleaming on paws and feet, not to mention the large heavy teeth that look like they could pierce flesh and crush bone without much effort.
That one carries a lot of hate. he thinks of Rigo.
Aishe rubs his pained wrists lightly as the ropes come off and his hands come away bloody. Does anything work right? he wonders of his body as he takes a deep breath to calm his nerves.
”If the choice is death or servitude, sure, I’ll take servitude for a while.” he says calmly, wondering just what servitude is going to entail. He suspects they won’t be chopping firewood, moving heavy loads, or the other easy work as he’s done in the past.
A return? To what? Salom thinks glumly, pondering whether this should count as a continuation of his third life, or whether he should chalk up that last one here upon the gallows, and start counting on to the fourth. Perhaps he'd make it up to nine. He thinks about the feline, wondering which life it is on now.
But as the woman speaks, there's no disguising the feeling that tickles and tightens his throat, dancing down into his stomach and along his spine before shooting out to his toes and fingers. Is it possibility? Excitement? Hope?
"Naturally," he croaks back at Eleanor, "Quid pro quo. What've you in mind? Window washing, shoe shining, or are we to replace the necks that so recently occupied these nooses?"
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"I-I don't... I don't understand. Wh-why are you saying such things," Audria asks Rigo, her narrow shoulders trembling and her gray eyes bright with tears. "Are you going to kill me? Ar-are you going to kill the others? Wh-what have we done to you?"
She clings to Moira like a sailor to flotsam in a stormy sea. She closes her eyes and shivers in fear, her voice beginning to rise in hysterics.
"I... I don't want to die. I don't want to die! I don't want to die!" she chants over and over again.
Salom glances at Audria. Her presence had only barely registered. But her tears stir a feeling in him, memories of another child lost in the world. He determines it likely that children would receive no mercy in a place like this.
"Hush child," he says, uncharacteristically gentle. "We've no answers yet, only more questions. But you are with those you know and remember, and that's certainly an improvement, isn't it? Dry your tears, be a smart young woman, and listen."
Salom's words, as gentle as they were, cut through Audria's panic like a cold, steel knife. She still trembles and her shoulders still heave with silent sobs, but at least her hysteria has abated. She wipes the tears away and looks from Rigo to the woman, Eleanor, that was freeing them.
|Alexis Von Brant|
Glancing at the large humanoid feline with a chip on his shoulder and the sobbing painter then refocusing on Eleanor. Shaky feet take her towards the woman and placing herself between Eleanor and Audria, "I want off this damn boat and I have questions."
Tugging fruitlessly on her bonds, "I want my things too." Gesturing to the other survivors with her head, "Them too. Then off this ship followed by an explanation of the debt for our lives. "
Terror. Ecstasy. Life resumes its regular pulse. Like the sounds of the world cresting across a swimmer surfacing in a river, the universe breaks in on Moira.
First, she puts an arm around young Audria, and strokes her hair reassuringly out of a sort of reflex, immediately trying to console the girl. But her mind is elsewhere.
She processes Salom’s ironic flirtation and Rigo’s fury. Gods, how are we going to get out of this mess...
We’re not going to die just now. We can’t blow this chance by arguing. What’s the best way to get out of here… got to be quiet. Got to get Alexis on board—we’ll find out who sent us here, but now’s not the time. Aishe’s the only one talking sense right now. The catfolk and Salom need to stop squabbling. Ok. First Audria. Then Eleanor. Then Salom. Then the Beast. Alexis and Aishe should be able to help.
“Shhh, now, shhhh, Audria, you’re not going to die. I’m not, either. We’re going to get off this boat and I’m not going to leave you until we’re safe, ok girl?” Despite the calculations that set her to quiet Audria first, Moira finds real feelings surging through her when she looks deep into the tear-stained eyes of the girl who had so recently been playing the Blustering Reel in the Smiling Pig. She means it when she says: “I won’t leave you. You can stop crying because we are going to keep each other safe, alright?”
“Allow me to introduce myself: I am Moira Keening." She reflexively reaches for her long-lost cards-- Hells! "I have some skill with song, sword, and spell, and am at your service. We’ll do whatever you ask of us. Just let us know what to do.”
“Salom, my friend, could you make an effort to be polite to Ms. Eleanor, for our sake?” She turns to Eleanor, “Don’t mind his banter—it’s his way. He’ll follow where you lead.” Gods I hope he will… vouching for a half-mad toymaker you've just met who recently escaped the noose? Why did you say that? Why do you believe it?
“Excuse me, sir—my name is Moira Keening. I heard rumors of your story in Wicken. If half of what I heard is true, my heart aches for your sufferings. I would hear your story as soon practical, and while I cannot offer any true solace, know that my sympathies and skills are at your disposal if they can do ought for you, and as soon as I am released from whatever tasks Eleanor sees fit to place upon us. For now, though, it might be expedient to leave off roaring until we escape the ship. You’re frightening the child.”
Posts flying fast and thick, how fun!
Moria, horrified at Alexis' boldness, reaches for her and whispers, "Ms. Von Brandt, now is not the time to set conditions. You're a spirited woman and I value that--but please be polite to our one chance at escape, if you would."
Eleanor Shank hisses at Audria to be quiet, "No-one is dying today... less'n you quieten down and don't raise the suspicion of the guards. Far as them up top are concerned, six dead men and women walking came to this cabin... 'Gryme' over there, he did his job and made sure that you didn't walk back out". The woman's voice is harsh but not totally uncaring, "Now, our charade is going to be for naught if them upstairs hear a dead girl crying... don't you think?"
Returning to the question as to what may be asked of the rescued captives, "None of you are from Castorhage right? You're accents are too rural... so maybe you don't know that much about the city. You've heard of the isle of Festival though? The pleasure island in the Great Lyme river? No... I suppose not". Eleanor then goes on to inform Salom and his companions that "...the isle of Festival is infested with a cancer that needs to be drawn".
The distaste in her voice is palpable, "...Wererats"
"I represent a group of concerned citizens - we have been fighting a war against the rats of Festival for some time, but somehow the rats never seem to be defeated. Indeed, they are growing in strength. A colleague of mine, a brave soul, has recently gone missing on the island... I need people to to Festival, find out what they can about and, if possible, rescue him. Anything else you can find out about the rats of Festival can only be of a help in our fight..." Without being asked, Eleanor Shank tells the group exactly why they, over anyone else, is being offered this way out, "Why you? I would have thought it obvious... you are not from here, you have no history... as far as any rat is concerned - you are nobody". What goes unsaid, is the fact that in Shank's mind, these sorry folk - dragged from the precipice of their own deaths - are utterly expendable.
Aishe nods, but too quickly, and the room swims a moment and he slows, taking in more breath and trying to calm his mind.
"I'll go. But I'll need some gear, food, & water, or I won't get far - unless we're meant to be beggars for information." he looks down on the sorry state of his clothes and body, "In which case I'm ready now." he proffers.
Wererats! Well it could have been worse I suppose. A rescue mission with slim odds is better than the hangman's noose. he tries to reassure himself.
He looks to the others and wonders idly if any will chose the noose over this task. His eyes rest on each in turn. I suppose not.
"Yes. I'm ready and willing."
Moira says this with all the confidence she can muster, but the bedraggled woman clutching Audria nearly as intensely as Audria is clutching her looks distinctly unready for much of anything.
The big cat doesn't respond to Moira, but he does at least stop glaring at Audria and the rest. When the woman explains her need, he chuffs and has to put a paw over his mouth. "You're sending a Tiger after Wererats? Well, you do have a good sense of the ironic, or the absurd, as the case may be." Despite his own lack of food and water, he doesn't beg for either, too much pride. He also forces his body to behave, and move as it should, though it takes all his willpower. It does help that he's survived for years on what he could take down by his own claws, so his body is used to extended periods of time with scarce food. "How are we getting out of here human?" He asks Eleanor, still moving and working his poor body, as well as sharpening his claws on the wooden beams, peeling back curls of wood as he gets a nice sharp point on them.
|Alexis Von Brant|
Stifling a glare at being called rural. Was I there that long? Taking a breath and a step back and dropping much of the rage from her voice, "Thank you for the chance at life. I was not ready to die, much less like that. I am more than willing to have this be the price of my freedom." Tilting her head towards Aishe, "He is right though. Beggars will not get very far."
Moira's mind is still racing.
Things seem to be heading in the right direction. Looks like Aishe is bleeding again. I’ll see to that once we’re well clear of this place. Hmm. Maybe discreetly offer a Prestidigitation as well. Maybe that sooner that the Cure Light. Poor Aishe—we’re both getting caught in our own jokes:
"But if you won't mess your pants, what good are you?!"
He's proved his worth, I guess. Hope he doesn’t mind me telling that one at the tavern someday, gods willing I get a chance to clink glasses with him again. And I gotta figure out how to keep that cat from eating Audria. And Salom. And the rest of us. But especially Salom. At least this Rigo seems to be as hungry for wererats as for his former neighbors. And I gotta figure out how to keep Alexis from going Rogue on our rescuers, awful as they are.
Moira takes a deep breath.
It's gonna be an interesting day.
Salom tries to follow his own advice and listens carefully to what Eleanor has proposed. He notes how she describes the rats as a "cancer," and her endeavor to deal with them a "war." He doesn't give much care for rats, one way or the other. But he knows where this is headed, and it strikes him as infinitely more advantageous to mark as friends those present, those with the power to release them from this prison, rather than take sides with the rats of this Festival who are doing them absolutely no bloody good locked away within the ships. It wouldn't do any good to inquire into motives. It simply doesn't matter.
At least, for now.
"Splendid! I've always wanted to visit a pleasure island. What is the dress code? I fear I've misplaced my tuxedo. Although as "nobodies," it would perhaps be better to be inconspicuous, yes. To that end, we shouldn't appear as recently released inmates, nor vagabonds, hmm? What is the most ordinary that one can appear on Festival?"
With 'Gryme' hurrying her on, Eleanor explains how things will proceed from here, "It's the middle of the day out there, and even though the Canker stil lies thick on the Lyme, there is no hope of getting you off of the Redemption unseen... no, your escape comes later tonight. Until then, I'm afraid I must leave you to the hell of the prison hold", she pauses for a moment as the muffled sound of voices comes from above, ...there is someone that you will need to befriend down there. As chance may have it, there's a rat down there awaiting the inevitable bribe that will set him free. Find him, make him your ally and bring him with you when you escape - you play your cards right, the rats will take you into their confidence. The filth, he's a halfling as many of his kind are, is called Ammos - Ammos of the Grast family".
The way that Eleanor emphasises 'the Grast family', it is obvious that this is a big deal... a name that must surely mean something in Castorhage.
"On the tolling of the midnight bell, there shall be allies onboard to unlock the hold - the main grate opposite the aft sail will be open and a jolly boat, big enough for all of you with Grast, will be immediately below. Make haste and follow the current to Festival... the Canker is unlikely to lift before tomorrow so you will have to follow the lights, the music, the smells... to the island".
Knowledge Local: 1d20 + 4 ⇒ (9) + 4 = 13 (knowledge about the Grass family or Ammos)
"Please, before you go. Food. Water at least - it's been too long."
Regardless of what is received, Aishe goes back to the pit of his cell, if not willingly, with understanding. He'll be free soon... or so he believes.
He tries to sleep until midnight so as to be as fresh as may be when freedom comes.
The sound of voices coming from beyond the door, gruff and sounding a little inebriated, spurs Eleanor into action. Herding the group towards the door that they had, whilst bound, hooded and stumbling towards the end, entered the cabin through she reminds them, "Ammos Grast, you need to get him out of there with you... and, once you are established on Festival, send me a message. There will be three vials on the boat, don't worry too much about what is in them, just whisper a message into one of them and break it open". She takes Salom's hand in hers, "Agaric... Uriah Agaric, that's who you're looking for... he's a tall man, distinctive with a swan tattoo upon his neck. I pray he yet lives..."
The last sight the captives have of Eleanor Shank is of her clambering down into the space below the gallows as 'Gryme' hurries them along the passageway back into the depths of the vessel. Still wearing his hood, he hasn't removed it at any point, he remarks - almost inquisitively - that the folk from Wicken must have done something to upset someone high up, "Lord Paladin Occularis Thornrage... that's whose name is on your death warrant. Your corpses were to be sent across the river to the Capitol for further interrogation... 'Kill first, ask questions later', if you get what I mean?"
About hundred feet along the passageway, 'Gryme' directs the group down a set of stairs into an iron-lined corridor... and to a hatch, lifting a grate, he directs them to jump in... back into the abyss...
The hold beneath the grate - already slamming shut above them - lies knee-deep in filthy water with, at least, forty prisoners trudging about in the murk, squabbling, talking, or sobbing. Many of these prisoners show foul sores from too much exposure... everything is damp, and the walls are slippery with black mould. A roof of iron bars stares down from a twenty-foot height, and guards occasionally walk across a catwalk above. Two flotsam islands have been constructed by the prisoners, allowing a select few - already sizing the group up - to stay dry.
Audria stays close to the others, not liking the looks everyone was giving them. The last few minutes have pulled her back from madness, and the awareness of what is going on leaves her cold and terrified. An easy mark for some of the less savory types here in the hold of the Redemption.
"How are we supposed to find one person in this," she asks quietly, more to herself than anyone else.
So much for sleeping. Aishe thinks as he splashes into the water. He finds himself yearning for his old cell, and he laughs aloud.
”Some pickle we’re in. I say we avoid the dry spots - they look like trouble. Let’s find our rat.”
He looks throughout the room from where he’s standing, to see where a halfling wererat might be. He hopes it’s not on dry land…
Perception: 1d20 + 6 ⇒ (2) + 6 = 8
Hrm. The rat hides well... Maybe one of the others will have better luck.
Rigo stretches, and looks around. His eyes penetrate the dark as if it was not there, looking at each individual in turn. Anyone that meets his eyes finds him staring back, silent challenge in his eyes, fangs gleaming in the dim light. He begins to move around, his white and black fur like a ghostly apparition in the dim light.
Perception, Sight: 1d20 + 3 ⇒ (8) + 3 = 11
As he moves around, he sniffs for the smell of a halfling that isn't quite right, one that smells like a rat and a halfling at the same time.
Survival, Find Scent: 1d20 + 6 ⇒ (19) + 6 = 25
|Alexis Von Brant|
Dropping down into the pit and barely keeping her footing, ending up on her hands and knees. Wincing and standing up, "By getting to know people I guess." Trying to catch Audria gaze, "You ok?"
Waiting for some sort of response before looking around.
Perception to spot our rat: 1d20 + 3 ⇒ (17) + 3 = 20
"Good idea, Alexis. I'll ask around. And maybe I'll be able to drop a hint that will bring him right to us."
Louder, Moira turns to the room, and flashing her winning smile, says, "Hello, lads and ladies, it appears that we're really in the soup tonight, eh? Who knows a good joke? A tall tale? Elves with legends? Dwarves with heroic songs? A halfling who knows the old story about the rat that got away with the cheese? Might as well try to take our minds off our sorry, sodden situation."
Diplomacy to charm the crowd: 1d20 + 3 ⇒ (13) + 3 = 16
Looks like I forgot to put a rank in diplomacy... some bard. Next level I'll pull my weight as party face, I promise!