Ieasha Foxglove

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80 posts. Alias of stormraven.


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Emi moves with Reiko, her scarf whipping towards the same Sczarni.

SWIFT: Cast Enhance from Eldritch Pool
MOVE: As needed
STAND: Scarf Slash

STAND: Bladed Scarf (20/2x)
MODS: Enhance
HIT: 1d20 + 6 + 1 ⇒ (10) + 6 + 1 = 17
DAM: 1d6 + 3 + 1 ⇒ (3) + 3 + 1 = 7

HP: 22 / 22 | AC:16
1st (2): x
Eldritch Pool (4): x
+1 Enhancement to scarf for 1 min

Emi shadows Reiko's movements, using her as a human shield. As Reiko attacks, the beautiful Varisian girl emerges from her shadow and dances a bit further, keeping 5' of space between herself and the Sczarni weapons. She utters a phrase of power and a fan of garish colors assaults the eyes of several Sczarni.

MOVE: Move + draw scarf
STAND: Cast Color Spray - Will DC:14

Spell Effects:
2HD (or less) - Unconscious, blind, and stunned for Rnds: 2d4 ⇒ (4, 2) = 6, then blinded and stunned for Rnds: 1d4 ⇒ 2, then stunned for 1 rnd.
3-4HD - Blinded and stunned for Rnds: 1d4 ⇒ 1, then stunned for 1 rnd.
5+HD - Stunned for 1 rnd.

Emi will move slightly past and forward of Reiko giving her and the Sczarni 5' of space and then try to hit as many baddies as possible with color spray.

Victahana takes Marcus' hand, as if it were a strange thing and acknowledges his thanks with a nod.

"Good luck."

So, I imagine your plan is to return to town, do a little dinner, sleep in your rooms (unless you specify something else), and then... what? If you have some specific plans for the next day, lay them out, because I will be fast-forwarding.

"Weaknesses are hard to spy,
you must look the devil in the eye.
By harvest moon or bright sun
This is foolishness I've never done."

The witch pauses in her dance - her limbs held at curious angles - and thinks on Marcus' question.

"The river has hidden places:
beaver homes, mud-holes, and other spaces."

"But the foolish rabbit cannot run
anywhere beneath the sun
no hidey hole, no hidden lair
can 'scape the sentinels of air."

"Fool's hopes plague the heads
of men that are already dead."

Jak Howell wrote:
Jak doesn't miss a beat, pointing at the witch-woman with a wink, "Hey, not a rhyme!"

The crazy woman gambols on the shore and smiles at Jak.

Zeke wrote:
Zeke struggles with what Victahana says. "So Blackest can hear, if don't hear?"

"To confuse the demon's ears

and drown out what he may hear
speak in persistent rhymes
they deafen like a church's chimes...

She gestures with her stick at the crows,

"Words passed beneath the sky
What bird eyes spy
What bird ears hear
to him they quickly fly"

Lyrica wrote:
"...have you made any deals with this demon?"

The witch's gaze rakes the Paladin, the stick twitches in her hand. Her voice is filled with sarcasm. "Yes, all the time."

Marcus wrote:
"I'm not much for riddles, but you seem to be, so maybe..."

She scowls and pokes Marcus with her stick.

"I speak no riddles,
at start, end, or middle...
Rhymes are blessed, hold them dear,
Proof against the blackest ears.
Deafened as by church bell chimes
hide your words, in holy rhymes."

Marcus wrote:
"Can you help us find this creature?"

Victahana jumps away and looks at Marcus like he's crazy. She glances at her little stick, wishing it were a log to beat him with. It takes a long time before she can manage an answer.

"Fate may guide your way...
But what role do you play?
No axe in Albridge stanzas can be heard...
The wise read warily the prophet's words."

"On the morrow, the demon comes, to collect his due.
You can't track him, but he'll find you."

Marcus wrote:
"Jak, will our weapons work against this thing?"

Jak can't answer that until he sees Black and makes a successful Planes roll.

Jak Howell wrote:
Jak rubs where the stick struck, glowering at the woman as he mutters, ”Be a damned shame if you spoke plain, woman.”


Jak Howell wrote:

He puts words to the obvious, ”I’m confused. Mr… “ he catches himself, bracing for the anticipated stick-strike, ”… the trap-layer struck a deal with the wolves. Making deals isn’t something I’ve heard demons do… but you’re saying that’s what we’re dealing with here?”

Does the use of crows as watchers/spies give us any more insight into our opponent?

It isn't emblematic of any demon or devil you've heard about.

She taps Jak lightly on the crown of his head, 'knighting' him. It seems to mean 'yes'.

Jak Howell wrote:
At mention of Demons, what does Jak know of them? Does he know the difference between them and Devils?

Yes, you would. Jak knows that demons are thoroughly chaotic evil which makes them hard to predict and lovers of mayhem and violence for its own sake. They are just about the worst sort of lower planar creature to deal with due to a (putting it politely) 'lack of impulse control'. They are also very hard to fight being immune to electricity and poison, resistant to acid, cold, and fire... and, depending on the type, resistant to weapon blows.

Jak Howell wrote:
He listens for her reply for Ezekiel, but can’t help muttering. "I’m not really sure she means the deal-makers when she mentions the wolf. She could be talking about Black." He watches the witch for any signs that his observation has merit.

From the woman's frown, Jak's speculation is wrong. At the mention of Black's name again, she pokes Jak with her stick and shakes her head.

"Sentinels stand amid the rows,
show care in words or be a feast for crows."

She waves her stick in the direction of an oak tree. Three crows sit amid the branches, silently watching.

Ezekiel Druiminn wrote:
"So how would the wolf avoid the snap? And why does the trap take their cubs, I mean kids and family?"

I have to agree with Jak, it's good hearing from you again. You've been missed.

The witch seems well pleased with Zeke until he falls from the analogy by saying 'kids and family'. She glances out at the trees again.

"Their season run, the trap is sprung.
There's no undoing what can't be undone.
The toothless wolf that fights its fate,
Will see its cubs taken - soon or late."

Jak Howell wrote:
Jak watches the exchange between Lyrica and Victahana, doing his best to get a sense for the woman. He can’t help but add a clarifying question to Lyrica’s. ”Yah… what were the traps? The deal itself? Or were the traps what made the townsfolk need to seek help in the first place? Furthermore, the people who came asking you for help ended up making a deal with a devil calls himself Mr. Black. He ended up ’subverting the natural order’… what can you tell us of this Mr. Black.”

Victahana hisses at the mention of Black's name and glares at Jak.

"Other powers than earth there are,
traveling farther than distant stars...
Demons come to spread their woes,
Never doubt how far they'll go."

Lyrica Strom wrote:
Sense Motive 16 (Is this normal behavior for her?)

Now that is an intriguing question... Having never met the woman before it is hard to say what is 'normal'. Your intuition tells you Victahana has a loose screw or two, so this is reasonably normal for her. However, there is something deliberate in the way she is speaking, it isn't just a sign of her kookiness.

Lyrica Strom wrote:
"Are you saying that the debts incurred by the town's folks were well laid traps that they had little chance to avoid? How much do you know about these traps, my dear?"

The strange woman watches her skirt swish in the river. She picks up a long slender stick floating by.

"A hungry wolf will dare the trap,
His choice made, he awaits the snap."

It is hard to say if Victahana is 'agreeable'. She keeps an eye on Lyrica and continues to play hopscotch in the mud. Lyrica's phrases are emphasized with a Splip... splorp... squelch from the witch's leaps.

Assuming Lyrica finishes her statement after not receiving any sort of agreeable acknowledgement.

Victahana ends her game and steps into the river to wash her legs and the lower part of her dress.

"Bloody debts are dearly paid,
when wolves are snared in traps well-laid."

She looks out over the corn fields and the trees near at hand and frowns.

Grab your torches and pitchforks!

Our illustrious heroes follow the river east for a couple miles until they spy a rough mud and wattle hut clinging to the side of the ravine, just below the crest. Down at the river side is a middle-aged and wild-haired woman. She dances along the edge of the river and punctuates her hummed song periodically with a wild jump and a splash of mud. It seems she's been at the game for awhile as the lower half of her body is coated in mud.

"Fish, little fish,
Good on a dish...
But best in a atream
where other fishes teem."

Your move.

None of the details points to a particular entity that you can identify.

The Tull woman responds, "Yenamro is a he. You met him, in a way. He was the last man the doll attacked, the one who nearly laughed himself to death. He's recovering at his own home - hard by his fields." (house closest to the Waveharp marked field)

Jak views the rhyme, scribbled in blood. It is a doggerel, childish thing:

A deal, blood-sealed, a bargain struck
Fate awaits without a turn of luck

Angels of grace have turned their backs
For evil's embrace we call Master Black.

Lyrica receives a series of negative responses, either head shakes or words to that effect from everyone present. The Tull woman's eyes follow Marcus and Mordecai as they leave even as she points out, "I looked at what remains of that creature - fine china and colorful silks. I doubt more than a couple of us have any bits of silk at all. That's a costly fabric in any community. Bone china is also hard to come by on the farm. I don't recall seeing anyone with silk in those garish colors. Most everything bought from outside is brought in by our farmers returning from the markets. So, unless they bought it and transported it into town themselves, there would be a record of it at the surveyor's office and word would have gotten around." She thinks for a moment, "We have had wandering merchants come through... but not in many months and they tend to carry more practical items."

Search results later.

She points to the mountains to the northeast, in the vague direction of Dies Drear. "Most everything came from that way. I can't say what they were. I don't know anything about the dead... 'cept they should stay in the grave. Father Galt said there were zombies." She thinks briefly. "The fighting was all north or northeast of the village, among the fields. I wasn't in the fighting but most of the men, and some women, fought with whatever tools they had in hand. Many people said Mordecai and Father Galt did the village proud."

The bluff was to give her a shot to spot the thrust of some of Marcus' statements - standing in opposition to others. Basically, it was a chance for her to detect the underpinning suspicions. It wasn't about Marcus trying to outright lie to her. Even if she made the check, it wouldn't have had great impact on her reactions, just plant the seeds of doubt.

Jak Howell wrote:
Jak pauses, lost in thought, "Hold on a second. You said there was a day when a few people... your husband, Philmore, a few others... just changed. When was that? Also, who’s your pa?"

"Well, it was the day the town finished the spring plantings in the southern fields... so that was a week and a half ago. And that was about a week after the last of the undead were destroyed." She looks curious at Jak's follow-up question. "My pa is Sassel Whithe, a freehold farmer gifted land by my husband. We were tenant farmers before that." The deal struck seems obvious, Fruhand got himself a young and pretty wife, and the Whithe family became landholders.

Jak Howell wrote:

He looks over at the group, "Maybe a quick check of the house is smart."

He shifts back to Mrs. Fletcher, though, concern etched on his face. "And while I completely understand your desire to watch over your home in your husband’s absence, today is no day to be alone. Surely your husband would put your safety over the safety of your house? We need to talk to him. Quickly if possible, and I really would prefer if you came with us."

"I'll be pleased if you'd make sure the house was safe." She points to the Tull compound just across the track. "My husband, you'll probably find him there. I... I'll be fine here."

1d20 ⇒ 10

Jak Only:
You have to wonder if your charms are slipping. :) You sense Mrs. Fletcher wouldn't mind going along, if only for the company. But a stronger compulsion is keeping her overseeing the house. At a guess, her husband may punish her for disobeying him. But its pretty clear to you that she isn't hiding anything. She knows nothing about what is happening in the town or who is involved.

"My husband left me in charge of the house, sir. I'll not abandon it. But I'll take it as a kindness if you look around."

You are free to look around but she won't leave the house. Her husband's words outrank your insistence.

1d20 ⇒ 4
1d20 ⇒ 17

"Fruhand's fields are rich. We've only been married for a year... so I really don't think of them as mine, to be honest." She thinks on the second question. "His crops have been good since I was little, to hear my Pa talk on it. What kind of event could help with crops? I know every farmer in the village has talked to the witch at one time or another." She makes a symbol to avert evil. "Maybe she did something?"

The girl looks to each person with wide eyes, and seems to think frantically about the question. "I... I really can't think of anything I know. There was the moon changing and the dead walking. It's all been a nightmare. It was scary but everyone was courageous and said we could handle it... but after the dead were stopped... I don't know... I was relieved, a lot of us were. But some people seemed, I don't know, even more worried maybe - even though the threat was gone. Fruhand was so confident at first. But some time after the fighting, there was a day when he just lost his heart. And others too looked changed. Philmore withdrew. Yenamro - Master Waveharp - started drinking a lot..."

She looks to you with hope in her eyes, "But that could just be that he, they, were putting on a strong front and then when the danger passed their true feelings came out, right?" If she is lying, it is a masterful job.

"Fruhand is with the elders, taking stock of what's happened. I think they're at the Tulls but they could be checking on the injured... I just don't know. How could I help you understand this?" She seems genuinely confused at the idea.

Don't worry, you don't need charm at this moment.

She nods and speaks distractedly, clearly missing the appellation Jak pinned to her, "It's horrible, so much death. Has the world gone mad? Why is this happening?"

Jannys refills Jak's drink. "Make up your own minds about Victahana. If you're asking me who I think is capable of this sort of murder - I'd say no one is. But if I had to pick someone, I'll pick the crazy woman who does all sorts of strange."

OK, what's the move. Back to the Inn/Tavern? More questions?

Marcus Braun wrote:
Aerik and I met Victahana today--do you really think she's dangerous? I didn't much understand what she was talking about, but I didn't get a sense that she would want to harm anyone, especially for no good reason.

Jannys looks skeptical. "She's the only one 'round this town that does things unnatural, or so folks say."

Lyrica wrote:
"Oh, Janys." Lyrica replies reassuringly in an effort to allay her fears. "I wasn't thinking of anything unnatural? I was thinking of something ancient and historical that may be a part of the natural landscape. I wasn't thinking there would be anything unnatural in the fields. Do you know if there are any historic ruins in the area?"

"You're talking about something that butchered a man. Natural or unnatural makes no difference. Outside of what I've already said... I can think of nothing strange around the town."

Jannys smiles at Jak and then her looks pale at the mention of something unnatural in the fields. "I... There certainly aren't any caves openings or we would have seen them. And I don't ever recall seeing anything larger than a normal hump like you'll see in any of the other fields. There's an old oak stump in his nearest field - pretty close to the near edge. That's been there forever. If there were stones, they've probably been piled into one or another fence. You don't leave rocks in a field unless you don't mind turning the ankles of the cattle or breaking a plow. If there's something unnatural I bet the witch, Victahana, put it there!"

Jannys merely shrugs, "I don't recall."

Jak wrote:
"You talked about his farm prospering... was that before he bought other folks' fields?"

"Yes. His farm had a string of good years. He wound up with enough money to buy out some of the neighboring fields."

Jak wrote:
"The good father said that there was some grumbling when he did that... whose fields did he buy?"

Tamor grimaces at that but leaves the answering to his wife. "That's true. There was some bad blood there for a little while but none of those folks would have killed Philmore. I assure you." Seeing that Jak still wants the names, she sighs, "He bought Old Man Meek's plot, one of the Arvour family fields that touched on his, and... the Scrips farm."

Jak wrote:
"What kind of folk are they? I know back in the Drear, people feel more than a little bit of ownership for tools and land that's been in their family for a while."

"Well I guess Drear folk and Albridge folk are the same that way... because there was grumbling and anger. All those folks are farmers - but they didn't have Phil's green thumb. Meeks is an irascible old fella, one of the oldest in town. He was a hornet's nest when Philmore wanted to buy him out. The Arvours are a pair of sisters. They were more upset than mad as I recall. It was family land and they hated parting with it.. but they weren't having any luck with it. The Scrips are married with three children. They might have hated losing the land but they were living strictly hand-to-mouth at that time and Philmore made them a good offer. It got them out of farming and into milling."

Jak wrote:
"Did the previous owners seem agitated or act differently lately?"

"Lately? No. Even Meeks stopped shooting daggers out of his eyes years ago. It's been maybe five years since Philmore bought them out."

If Jannys senses anything leading about the ranger's question, it is well concealed beneath her surprise, "Uh, I suppose we worship the same Gods as you... but maybe not. Most of us follow Erastil or Gozreh - the Gods that most touch on farming and community. But we've got a few that worship other Gods or even no Gods. Father Galt serves Desna, but his sermons and help are non-denominational... and no farmer objects to a little luck now and then."

DM Stuff:

Jannys frowns, considering Jak's words before speaking, "Philmore was a shy man. I think he found it hard to make friends... more so after his farm started to prosper. It caused some bad blood and possibly he felt guilty about it. Lately, for several months at least, he's been even more withdrawn. It looked like he was worried or maybe brooding about something. He never told me what it was. He said a few weeks ago that maybe he ought to give back some of his fields or put them in trust for the town's benefit. I don't think he ever got around to doing it."

Jak Only:
Nothing she says sounds false to you.

Jannys blinks at the question, "I have no idea. He was a sweet man."

At the Mud Hut...

The crazed woman cocks her head curiously and smiles at Marcus' words. Then she slowly steps backwards into her lightless hut.

"Darkness falls, the end of days.
Visitors be on their way."

True to her words, the sun kisses the horizon.

The strange woman pulls at her wild hair, smoothing it - a mockery of primping for a lover. She twirls like a child. Her eyes fall on the Druid and she hoots:

"Visitors once I had...
young and old, lass and lad
Come you far from mountain lands
To hear these words... "Sybil I am!"

Laughter bursts from her and is immediately silenced. She looks out over the field of corn behind Aerik.

The mud-spackled woman opens her mouth in an exaggerated 'O' and circles the ranger slowly, pointing at him with a knobby, dirt-crusted finger.

"Strange ones go and strange ones come
the woodsy men - proud Wahika's sons.
Stranger still, she comes from fields and water
Sybil of Albridge - Gellantra's daughter!"

The door opens in a rush. The dark gap is filled with a scrawny, wild-eyed, middle-aged woman. She looks as if she rolls in mud to bathe and uses bracken to comb her hair into a tangled mess. She grins at the ranger.

"My home is blood. My house is bone.
How then could I - from me - roam?"

The woman looks curious and concerned as she approaches the shack. Seeing the look on her husband's face, she casts hard eyes on the new-comers, memorizing faces and equipment. She avoids the group as she steps onto the porch. She heads through the door and receives a curt directive from her husband: "Close the door."

Our heroes hear the squeaky door shut, followed by a solid bolt being thrown, securing the structure. Through the dirt-grimed window, Nyssa watches, fearful, all pretense of supper forgotten.

Marcus Braun wrote:

Marcus enjoys the company of his family, but knows he can't stay long. He gives the healing elixir from Ezekiel to Sara.

Well, this should speed his recovery a bit. Thanks...for looking after the children.

With that, the lumberjack heads off in search of his companions.

Sara pushes the elixir back into the lumberjack's hands. "That's a kind offer, Marcus, but you may have more need for this than Eluon does. He's doing fine. I'd rather you keep that potion to ensure you make it home to your children."

Marcus finds his family in the Assembly Hall - involved in cleaning up after the evening meal. His children rush to him for hugs before returning to their tasks.

Sara, it seems, keeps everything running smoothly. She gives her brother-in-law a hug. Her eyes constantly watch the room, ensuring that the young ones perform their appointed tasks.

Her comment is a distracted aside. "The trick is keeping them busy. Give them something to do and they have less time to stew in grief or fear.
Eluon? He is healing up. Merl has finally agreed he can join the town watch."

The Strom and Howell women stand together, providing what support they can to the overwhelmed even as they weep over a lost mother and lost friends. The Brauns and Balatins - together when the Mist struck and the dead came for them - swirl around Sara. She has always been their anchor, and she tries to be that now. She consider her daughters, somewhere in the maelstrom of flames, and looks to the Ranger who blames himself for the loss. "It wasn't your fault; the Mist was too quick. You brought Eluon home otherwise... he might be in there too." It is all she can offer without going to pieces.

Ezekiel Druiminn wrote:
Rowan wrote:
"The blood must come out!"
As Rowan works on her own arms, Ezekiel helps Olivia clean the blood off as well. Olivia's and himself cleaned off, he watches as Rowan keeps scrubbing. Finally not able to take it, he moves over to her to embrace her. "They're clean, Rowan, your hands are clean. Please stop it, for Olivia you have to remain calm!"

Her body as frozen by the Wahika as her emotions are frosted over by the horror at the Finiose hut, Rowan stiffens and shivers in Ezekiel's arms. Hip deep in the stream with her one-time lover, something in Ezekiel's appeal gets through to her, perhaps it is her duty to her daughter. Her cold lips touch his ear sharing words meant only for him. "My hands will never be clean, Ezekiel. My wrongs go too deep - pain and blood. I have wronged you, and Gav, and dear Pru and Aerhart, and even Olivia. I'm so very sorry. You don't know."

She gently pushes free from his embrace and stumbles up to the shore in her sodden dress, her voice is more her again, "I'm sorry, 'Livi. I went to pieces there, for a moment. I should have handled it better. I'm fine. You'll be fine. Your uncle and I will see to that."

Standing in the freezing river, the Apothecary realises that as much as he has been imprisoned by his love for this woman for twenty years, she has been equally trapped - in a cage woven of guilt for the choice she made those long years ago.

Rowan fails to recognize the Apothecary at first. It's almost as if she takes his question to be one from her very own mind; Perhaps it is. She casts her eyes across the gore-strewn room. "This is the Reckoning... for my misdeeds, for my wrongs. And they have all paid the price."

After a moment, she truly sees her old flame. "Ezekiel? Of course. We must get Olivia from here. This Hell is no place for an innocent girl." She staggers to her feet abruptly and drags her shocked daughter with her. Rowan push/carries the dazed girl through the door. When Ezekiel clears the house, Rowan pushes the girl into his arms. "Keep her safe. There is something I must do."

Coated in blood and staggering like a drunk, Rowan makes her way to the river's edge and wades into the freezing stream. Manically, she throws water over herself and scrubs viciously to wash off the gore. The dark stream runs red for a time then clear... and still she scrubs. She dunks and scrubs her hands and arms many, many times. Between each dunking she looks them over. Her hands are pale and clean.

"The blood must come out!" She plunges her arms in the icy water yet again and scours them furiously.

Allegra's eyes never stray far from the tablecloth-shrouded corpse in the kitchen even as she listens to Lyrica speak. Patient as her father, she chooses her words carefully. "You should speak with Papa, if he wakes. He knows more of godly matters than any of us... But I think Sarenrae, or her Avatar, has spoken truly. Many have fallen this night. Only you can decide if you will rise. And only Sarenrae will judge if you have proven your worth." With regret, Allegra takes on the mantle of her mother, the stern motivator, "If you are to be a Paladin than be a Paladin. Ours isn't the only family grieving or in need. Evil may still stalk the village and Papa doesn't need three or even two nursemaids. Sarenrae bade you prove your worth, I think you should do it."

Galvanized into action, Allegra gets up and looks on her mother no more. She goes to the bedroom, "Mel, you are in charge of Papa. I'll be about the village trying to help. if he takes a turn - come find me." Without waiting for a response, she throws on an apron, slides a dagger into her pocket, and heads out into the night.

Patient with people like her father was with plants, Allegra doesn't push Melodica to do more than she is able. Instead, she steps cautiously into the main room and pries her mother away from the fire, lays her down, and covers her with a tablecloth. Melodica had already witnessed enough horrors this night and her last memory of their mother shouldn't be another nightmare for the youngest Strom girl.

Marcus sprints past the animal paddock near the Howell house. The field is littered with the contorted bodies of the family's herd of mules. Perhaps a third still live and the smell of the death has those few foaming at the mouth and their eyes white with fear. Marcus presses on, running down the hill. He sees the townsfolk littering the main 'street'. He doesn't stop to see who is who but instead pivots hard to his right and lurches toward the Balatin residence, where he hopes to find his children alive.

Jak holds his torch towards the house looking for... he knows not what. But the sepulchral quiet of the town, minus the single wailing voice, fills him with dread. Judging by the torches coming across the rope bridge above him, at least some people are about. On the far side of the stilt house, Jak sees a torch approaching and very quickly makes out Marcus' bearded and care-worn face. He imagines his face looks little better. In the blazing lights of their two torches, they survey the house.

The earth amid the stilts is churned up, exposing a deep pit. The house's front door is half off its hinges. Multiple sets of deep, bloody claw marks have shredded it before tearing it free.

A bone-snapping crunch comes from the thatched roof. Jak and Marcus look up and are greeted by several pairs of expectant and fear-filled eyes... except for one. A pair of bright green eyes is filled with immeasurable rage. Sara stands on the sloping roof in a torn nightgown with blood dripping from her arms and side. She holds a woodsman's long-axe low in one hand. It drips more gore than she does. On one side of her, clinging to the roof-line, are four children - her two boys Bernal and Ryal, and Marcus' Heather and Eras. The eldest of both families, Bernal and Heather, hold gore-tinged short blades at the ready. On the other side of Sara is a large jagged hole in the thatching where she clearly chopped an exit for her family to escape onto the roof. Filling the hole is a fetid, putrefying corpse of what was once a woman dressed in a tasteful gown. The creature's long claws and cloven skull paint a vivid picture of events.

Heedless of putting her bare foot on the rotting corpse, Sara shoves the beast back through the hole. The remains clatter down inside the house. Sara buries the axehead in a roof strut to give her a firm grip and then motions for each child in turn to crawl down to her so she can lower them to Marcus and Jak waiting below.

Once the children are safe, Sara frees her axe and re-enters the house through the hole in the roof. After a minute she emerges through what remains of the front door - the wound to her side bound, a cloak thrown over her nightgown, and the axe still firmly in hand. Her rage becomes a mask of sorrow as her husband is helped down the hill by Aerik. She goes to Eluon and sags against his teetering form. It isn't clear who is supporting whom. She whispers to him through her tears, "El, I've lost our girls. I couldn't... There wasn't... I couldn't... I'm sorry."

This map updates the position of the characters and shows the houses that were slate-wiped or nearly so.

MAP: Dies Drear (Update)

Allegra hugs her sister tightly with dry-eyed grief. Her only comment is a non-sequitur in a world gone wrong in incalculable ways, "Lyr... you're wearing armor. Mama won't like that." She bursts into tears.

From the half-floored rafters above, in what passes for the family's storage loft, Melodica looks down on her sisters. She rocks back and forth, wrapped head-to-toe in a comforter. She stops rocking when she sees her father's foot outside the open door. Her voice is a hushed monotone. "I'm alive... I made it through the window in time. Hanna didn't."

Ez wrote:
The pain in his chest flares for a moment, one he knew none of his medicines would cure. Realizing he wasn't alone, he turns back to Elsbeth, hoping she hadn't notice. Knowing it was inevitable without sounding rude, Ezekiel gives in to what he knows is to come. "I have indeed met Mara, but only in a professional setting." Ezekiel leaves the opening for Elsbeth. It was the least he could do for her... He catches another glance of Rowan.

At 42, Elsbeth had seen many dramas unfold in Dies Drear over the years - the little heart-breaks and the great tragedies. The star-crossed affair of Rowan Ruske (now Finiose) and the Apothecary was closer to the latter than the former - made more heart-rending by Ezekiel's unwavering fidelity. It was romantic, gallant, and tinged with sadness - and Elsbeth Rallo wasn't the only woman from her generation who thought so.

Elsbeth places a gentle hand on Ezekiel's arm to regain his attention. The touch matches the soft look in her eyes, "If you're... when... When we have you over to supper, if you'd like to have company other than a pack of my children, I could certainly invite Mara or another of the townswomen over." she pauses briefly, "If you'd like that... Just think on it."

On the verge of saying more, she reflexively wipes her hands on her dress and changes the subject, "Speaking of my children, I should really find out what they are into - trouble, no doubt. Good evening, Ezekiel." She quickly heads towards her home.

Sara broods like a threatening storm-cloud as Marcus unfolds his plan. Her thoughts and emotions bounce back and forth....

Taking care of the children isn't a problem. Cassi and Heather are thick as thieves and have been begging for a sleepover for weeks so they can whisper about boys. But lumbering at night is dangerous work. But, Fey Birch is valuable and perishable. And Marcus didn't have to share the stand with us...

Sara finds it hard to be mad at Marcus; he was sweet and sincere. No doubt those were the qualities that attracted Mira. There isn't a rascally bone in that man's body - clearly not a Howell - so that's a point in his favor...

She accepts the hug with a smile, the storm vanishing. "Alright. You can borrow my husband for the night. The children will stay over. Cassi and Heather have been begging me for a sleepover anyways... Brace yourself - they've both decided that 'boys' aren't completely icky." She lets the thought of coping with his daughter's pubescence hang in the air, "Now if you boys come back stinking of liquor and nymphs, I'll kill you painfully and slowly with your own axe. And you don't want to know what I'll do to my husband."

She looks to the children, particularly the girls on the verge of womanhood. "Make up beds for Heather and Eras, they'll be staying the night." The girls' squeals alone would deafen bats, then the excited whispering begins...

Sara gives Marcus a grim look, "Welcome to every parent's nightmare."

Sargiva 'Sara' Howell-Balatin is one of the most seasoned mothers in the Drear. When her own mother died some years back, she helped to raise her four younger siblings, including the notorious Jakwin. While she couldn't stop his excessive mischief, she certainly had skill at curtailing it. Adding to that, she and Eluon had four children of their own and the Howell blood was strong in them. They were a noisy, willful, slightly mischievous lot.

And then Mira died that horrible winter. There was never really a question if Sara would act as god-mother to Marcus' children when her sister died. Their daughter Heather was Cassi's age and Eras was book-ended in age by Sara's Bernal and Ryal. What were two more mouths and hearts at a table as large as the one Sara set?

So Sara knew how to handle children and how to watch them for signs of impending trouble... and that skill wasn't useless among the 'grown up kids' that most men were. As Marcus cut through the small crowd on his way to find her, she could already tell he was up to no good. She gives Ryal a final, determined swat on the behind for putting the muddy frog down Anka Guthwite's dress. It sends the boy running with a yelp. Then she stands up and wipes a muddy hand idly onto her apron. The other hand still holds the frost frog.

As he approaches, Marcus appreciates the woman helping to raise his family. Her slender body has broadened a bit and her face is strong, if one can get past the sharp green eyes. She has that indefinable 'something' of the Howell women that instantly and painfully reminds Marcus of his lost Mira.

Her voice is laced with justified suspicion, "What? You're going to tell me something I'm not going to like, aren't you?"

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