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Old Nov 9th, 2020, 03:55 PM
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Scene 0 - A place at the edge

Synkel, at the edge of the desert
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It is dusk, the most beautiful time in the desert. The barren cold of night has not yet come, but the stifling heat of day has passed by. The temperature is falling so fast that you can feel it on your or nose, depending on how fuzzy you are skin, a kiss of relief with every moment, bathed in the orange and pink and purple of stray clouds lit beneath by the setting sun.

Synkel has always been a city on the edge. There is no civilization to the west; it is rocks and dunes for weeks of travel. The great river Iteru lays to the east, but it usually can't be seen from the city. Of the Five Cities, Synkel is the only one that can't draw its water from that life-giving river. It is too far, and too high upland. Instead, great underground aqueducts bring water from the mountains to the south. That Synkel can even exist is a remarkable feat of ingenuity! But that makes the city's position the most precarious of all, sitting as it does, at the edge of the desert, at the edge of Domantine civilization.

Most people in the city can not see the river. But you will catch a glimpse today. You are headed to the Heights, a stony hill where a number of grand estates sit. Many of the leading families of the city live there, and you are heading to one. Winding up the stony street, you turn and see a mere glint of the faraway river, reflecting the last rays of sunlight. And then the sun is too low, the river vanishes from sight, and you are at your destination.

You find yourself at the foot of the gated Dukas estate, which sprawls up the hill above you, a complex of dozens of buildings. You announce your purpose at the gatehouse, and a guard motions you to a nearby outbuilding. Rakes and barrows lie around it. Apparently, it is a gathering place for the day laborers, who are now gone, along with the day. Inside stands a short mostly-bald man, perhaps in his early 50s. He holds a long rod with the golden eagle atop, indicating a position of authority in the household. His mocha skin suggests he was born locally.
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"Welcome, my name is Nechotas, I am Master of the House." The name is a Domantinized version of an Anyketian name, and his title confirms your suspicion: he is not a member of the Dukas family, but is effectively the head servant. "You are here to answer the call for aid? The Lord will meet all who come, tomorrow. Terms of service will be established then. Those who agree to the work will be housed in the estate, but if you require temporary room, you may stay here tonight." There is no obvious place to sleep in the building - it is effectively a grand shed. The walls are simply a papyrus-woven canvas that can be rolled up or down as the heat and wind require. Yet there is a marble roof overhead, supported by elegant columns, and the floor is clean-swept. And even as you look around, wondering if this is your best option for the night, a trio of servants enters, bearing wine and fruits and a tray of cured meats. It is a shed that is more luxuriously provided than many homes you have visited.

"You will of course not disturb the family tonight," Nechotas gives a stern look to the adventurers, "but if you need assistance, you need only call." He motions with his rod to one of the wine-bearers, who takes up a silent vigil near the entrance of the building. The Master of the House also makes a subtle gesture to the nearby gate house, which houses a number of guards, who keep a wary eye on the visitors.

Nechotas does not look like he intends to stay long, but he does hover about until it appears that all visitors have been situated, either in the work-shed, or guided to a A tavern of middling quality, if you'd rather spend a few silver to sleep in a bed, rather than on your bedroll in a shed made of marble .resting-place, back down the hill a half-mile away.
OODMWelcome to the game! We're going to be setting the scene in the next few posts. I want the narrative to get a taste of who you are, what you want, and how you're connected. We'll have a few rounds of posts doing a bit of scene-setting here in scene 0, and then we'll start up the adventure proper in a new thread for scene 1

What I'd really like to see in this post is two things:
1) what is the first impression that people get of your character? Outward appearances, immediate mannerisms, and so on.
2) where did you come from, in the most immediate sense? What were you doing prior to this?
It's less "required", but you might suggest how you heard about the job, and why it's appealing to you?

Since some of you must enter before others, interactions and connections with other PCs will come mostly in the posts that will follow.
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  #2  
Old Nov 9th, 2020, 06:55 PM
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Haemon the physician
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The path to the Dukas‘ estate in the „Heights“ was well known to the physician, who as usual tried to make the ascent as quickly as possible, ignoring the sweat upon his brow and the ache of his legs and back. Had he still been a wealthy man, Haemon would have walked slowly enjoying the privileges of his place in society and his advancing, if not already advanced, age. He would have been escorted by two servants at least, one to hold a torch or rod to light or clear the way before the Elean respectively and the other, behind him, to carry his things: his satchelgylios full of ointments, bandages, a few cathartics and some potions, his precious bookrolls that he never left behind, the waterskin that was full of a tepid liquid that could only generously be called water and whatever gifts he might be bringing the one he was visiting. Unfortunately, the middle aged man was no longer wealthy and there were no privileges to be enjoyed, thusly he walked as fast as a man still in his prime would, refusing to accept that his prime was long gone.

Had he not been sweating like an Anykhetan worker in the sun, the dropping temperature only a slight comfort to his burning muscles, one might have described the physician as noteworthy, if not impressive. Despite not being especially large, the man‘s stature signified some sort of greatness, whether through a good education, some aristocratic bloodline or some secret wisdom he possessed was not readily apparent however. His skin was somewhat less toned than that of the native Anykhetans, those that weren’t covered in fur that was, and one could have easily mistaken him for a Donantine had it not been for the full beard he wore proudly. Despite his age there was not a single grey hair among the dark brown, almost black, ones to be seen in both his beard and his unfortunately receding hair, which was for the man a source of certain pride. He openly thanked the gods for their blessings every day and secretly dyed his hair with the extract of special roots once a week.

His family had been living in Anykhet for many generations, a great many years before the Donantines had even thought of expanding their Empire to this corner of the world, and despite this fact Haemon dressed as if he were living in Elea, much like his ancestors had done before him. Just like any self-respecting Elean he would never leave his home without wearing a chiton that reached just above his knees, a chlamys to protect his bare arms from either the scorching sun of the day or the icy cold of the night, high sandals and a petasos, a wide brim hat that all but the most foolish or poor wore in Anykhet. On this occasion he also wore his old linothorax that had seen very little use since the Pax Donantiana prevailed in all lands under the Emperor‘s care, at least until some ambitious nobleman or capable generalstrategos sought to rid the current Emperor of the burden of rule. Such civil wars were becoming more and more common, but they were fought in faraway lands, which meant that Anykhet‘s importance became in turn less and less. One could see it everywhere. A mere century ago Anykhet had been the richest imperial province, subject directly to the Emperor himself. The Anykhetans had always had gold aplenty, but their greatest treasure was the bounty of the fields next to the great Iteru and the inconceivable amounts of wheat and barley they produced, enough to feed the ever-hungry populace of the Donantine Empire‘s capital. The Donantines had been certain that the gods would favor them forever, but nothing could have been further from the truth. The fields had started growing arid, the people grew ill, died or left and the eternal battle between Iteru and the desert was seemingly slowly coming to a conclusion. Set was reclaiming what he had been deprived of for thousands of years and nothing seemed able to save Anykhet that had once been known as the land of the black soil.

Haemon took a deep breath and banished such thoughts from his mind. There was no use in thinking how things might have been different had not the Donantines offended the gods with their greed and hubris. Drinking some water from his waterskin, the physician looked around him. His feet had brought him to the estate of his friend and benefactor, Alexandros Dukas, even without his mind consciously directing them. How could they not have, since he, his daughter and his elderly female servant had stayed as the master’s guests at this very estate for three whole months? Haemon had during that time tried to find an acceptable house for him and his family at Synkel, but he soon realized that he lacked the necessary funds. In the end he had to make several compromises in order not to be a burden to his host any longer. No garden with medicinal herbs, no atrium to let the sun in, no painted walls or statues of bronze and marble, not even separate bedrooms and storerooms. No, truly nothing of the sort. A typical Anykhetan house with a single room, built of mudbricks and straw, and a small storage area at the back. Haemon was well acquainted with such houses, for he had often visited them to treat some of his poorer patients, but he had never expected that he would be living in one. The gods had been especially cruel these last years, but they had been cruel to all. Even the great and powerful had felt their wrath, even the mighty Alexandros Dukas.

When Iufaa, his noisy new neighbor had sought him out at his house to inform him of the noble daughter’s disappearance, the Elean had been truly shocked by the news. So many young people had vanished lately, but to think that one of the most respected aristocratic families of the city would be affected too… It was horrible! Alexandros must be in shambles. To lose his daughter, Ismene, like that… He must be going crazy. I know I would. In the end, the physician thanked the gods for sparing him from such a fate, even if he lived at a house meant for servants and workers, and immediately set out to visit his friend in his hour of need. It was the least he could do. The gods hated no one more than those who failed to show proper gratitude to their benefactors. Haemon was no Periandros and he would prove it.

Nechotas, Alexandros‘ chief servant welcomed him at the door, though the fool pretended not to recognize the Elean. Haemon believed that Alexandros was too lenient with the servant, who obviously thought himself as mighty as his master, but it was clear that he enjoyed the family’s trust, thus it was not a guest’s place to say anything about the matter.

"Are you blinded by your shining rod, Nechotas, or have you grown drunk from your master’s wine? Do you not recognize me, Haemon the ohysivian? It was not so long ago that you saw to the needs of my family, may the gods repay your master’s generosity a thousandfold. Let me come in, I have no intention of bothering Alexandros, though your master may grow angry with you if he is not informed of my arrival."

First wiping the dust and sand from his chlamys and chiton, Haemon took a few steps closer to the servant.

"How is your master? I never expected that… Ismene… Who would have thought? I came the moment I heard. Amalthia hasn’t stopped weeping ever since she heard the news. I am sure I will be able to find her." I just hope that I will find the girl still alive. Poor, Alexandros. Why would the gods treat you so?

 
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Last edited by Elanir; Nov 10th, 2020 at 12:55 AM. Reason: Changed the post somewhat to show that Haemon has been misinformed about Ismene‘s disappearance.
  #3  
Old Nov 10th, 2020, 10:22 AM
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The Desert Storm
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Raemka strode up the path to the Heights. The tabaxi was an imposing figure—tall, strongly-built, dark-furred, bristling with weapons. Like most pit fighters, his clothing was minimal, The spectators liked to see what they were paying for. Especially the noble women.just a few strips of white and blue cloth and light brown pants. From time to time he stopped and cocked his head, listening intently. In the distance, Synkel was coming alive, as it did every evening. But it felt... different. Subdued. Guilty. Ever since the children had started disappearing, Synkel had become a joyless city.

Raemka was not deaf. He had heard the rumors. At first it seemed to him that it was just a case of children running away from domineering parents. In his experience, that happened more often that people liked to admit. But as time went on, and more and more children went missing, the rumors got darker. "Kidnapped," they said. "Slavers," some opined. "The Curse," a few muttered ominously. When he enquired about the Curse, all he got was shaking heads. Thinking back to his own family in Khem, Raemka wondered how the citizens of Synkel could continue going about their normal business. Still, he wasn't a local. It wasn't his business to tell people how to behave.

Aten disappeared below the horizon just as Raemka arrived at the gates of the Dukas estate. At first the guards didn't want to let him through, despite the letter of introduction he bore from Livianus, the master of the arenas. He didn't blame them. Besides, it gave his eyes time to adjust to the darkness. Staring out into the night, Raemka answered their questions simply and without rancour. Eventually, word must have come through from the house, and they let him through.

He was met, at an outhouse, by an Anykhetian house servant. "Welcome, my name is Nechotas, I am Master of the House. You are here to answer the call for aid?" Raemka nodded and presented his letter of introduction. Nechotas gave it only a cursory glance. As the man prattled on, Raemka dropped his pack to the ground, and began to divest himself of his weapons, leaning them up against the side of the outhouse. Firstly, a Domantine shield of superior quality; it had been a gift from a grateful magistrate in Nekheb, whose life Raemka had saved... twice. Then his Anykhetian battle-axe, his light crossbow, and his javelins.

By that time, Nechotas seemed to have finished. Raemka had a quick look inside the outhouse, and observed a familiar face. "Haemon!" he called out. "Is someone dying, then?"
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Old Nov 10th, 2020, 10:31 AM
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Heliae Eshe
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Heliae stood at the base of the hill, their head slowly rising upward to assess the climb. They exhaled, slowly, as if it were the first time doing so for the entire day. Could this ascent be the last before finding new purpose? How strange it was, to search for one to serve, when Heliae had spent their entire memory dreaming of freedom. Now that the dream was reality, it was almost too much to bear.

After the exhale, came a single, sharp inhale. With this, the young Druid’s foot lifted from the dirt, taking a single step, towards what, they were not sure. Purpose, perhaps. Another fool’s errand, more likely. With each step the sky turned from burnt orange to a deep, navy blue, and with the change in color came the cool air the exhausted so longed for. Heliae continued to climb at a moderate pace. While they were young and their body able, it was indeed the close of another day of travel, which had been blisteringly hot. Their gate was graceful, and their tall and lean frame seemed to glide. The only indication of Heliae’s weariness was the slight hunch to their shoulders, a permanent affliction from too many nights sleeping on the desert’s sand and rocks. As they kept pace, Heliae could feel the cool air wicking away the dew-like drops of sweat along their hairline. The damp large square scarfshemagh became increasingly cold as night fell on the desert.

The gated entrance to the Dukas Estate was now in view, and Heliae stopped for a moment’s breath. Unsure of who would greet them, the former servant knew better than to show any signs of weakness, no matter how excusable, to nobility. Heliae removed their dusty and sweaty cowl, revealing their face, which was an uncommon mix of two pigments. Their face was a puzzle of caramel brown and almost translucent tones, resembling spilled ink on paper. The elders used to say that Heliae was a cursed child, and would almost always mention their appearance when talking about The Curse. This is arabic, which I used a translator for. My apologies if it's not correct!fatat dhat wajihin, they would call to her. The girl with two faces.

Thick, black bangs unfurled from the scarf, slightly waved from the layers of sweat and dirt. Heliae flipped it from their face with a flick of their neck, eventually attempting to smooth it, unsuccessfully, with the heel of their hand. Born a girl, and now of mature woman’s age, Heliae’s appearance suggested neither strongly male nor female. Their facial features were soft, though slightly angular due to their slim build. Their hair was short, but there was no indication of facial hair, and long black eyelashes fluttered around electric blue eyes. This confused most people they interacted with at first, but for Heliae, the ambiguity was where they found comfort, not constricted by any set of societal guidelines for a particular gender. It was one way they could always be free, master or no master.

The druid had heard of Lord Dukas’ plea for help... a young woman in need of protection, in travelers’ camps frequented by their kind. Places filled with folks like Heliae, who were going neither to, nor from, just going. For the past few years, since their release frok servitude, Heliae had reluctantly been traveling, keeping to themself and honing their druidic practice.

Heliae sought purpose and was growing tired of being alone. They were slow to trust others, but after spending 15 years in service to another, as Ruby Zemanthe’s companion, Heliae greatly missed being needed. It was a complex existence, being the girl, now woman’s, companion. What began as enslavement progressed into true friendship. Their relationship could have possibly turned in to more if they had been different people in a different time. The day of Heliae’s release, on Ruby’s 25th birthday, was truly bittersweet.

Heliae shifted their thoughts away from Ruby, back to the task at hand. Heliae could see the gates now, with buildings and lit torches sprawling beyond. With less than 20 steps, they would be at the entrance to the Dukas Estate. As they approached, a man named called out in greeting. There was no turning back now.

“Good evening, Nechotas. Indeed, I am here to answer the call. I am Heliae Eshse, of-“ they paused for a moment. Unsure of where, exactly they were from now. “-formerly of service to the Zemanthe family. I come to offer my services of protection to this house.”

Nechotas motioned to the evening’s accommodations, hardly lavish, but more comfortable than the traveler had seen in some time. “This will do just fine, thank you. Please extend my thanks to the Lord and his family for their generosity and hospitality.”

Walking through the gate, a servant extended a hand with a cup in it, offering wine to Heliae. They gave a slight nod and shook their head side-to-side in reply, tapping the waterskin tethered to their bag. I hate being waited on.

Across the room, Heliae spotted a man and immediately recognized him from their time with the Zemanthe family. Making their way hesitantly, Heliae approached Haemon, the physician. They had met some time before, perhaps a decade or more ago, and he had created them a slave to keep their patches of fair skin from burning in the desert sun. They were grateful for the care, but almost hopeful he would not remember, as the encounter had not been entirely positive in Heliae’s mind. It was clear the man did not appreciate Heliae’s less-than-traditional relationship with the Zemanthe family. He was with another, a tabaxi, whom Heliae did not recognize.

Unsure of whether Haemon would remember them, Heliae opted for a simple greeting to the pair. “Greetings, gentlemen, have you too answered the call for protection of Lord Dukas’ daughter, Ismene?”
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Last edited by NightCheese; Nov 10th, 2020 at 06:16 PM. Reason: Grammar
  #5  
Old Nov 10th, 2020, 08:57 PM
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Evening. Dukas Estate, Synkel.
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"Tozzing nobles... this one family's estate is larger than the entire Academy!"

Standing at the gatehouse, looking up at the palatial estate of Alexandros Dukas, Applecore muttered under her breath. A few terse words with the guard stationed there and she pushed past him to the outbuilding. Into the space came a physically imposing sight. At nearly one full 1 fathom = 2 meters = 6.5 feeturgye, the woman stood above all others present in both height and bearing; the first thing that may be noticed even before her appearance is her haughty gaze as she appraised the surroundings and those present. Her half-lidded, almost sleepy eyes revealed gold paint swept across and past her eyelids as they quickly moved over Hmm... A young one, but perhaps not so young to be threatened by these disappearances. Older than Academy age, at any rate. I wonder why... he? she? why they were invited to this assignment? What skills or insight do they posses?Heliae and Hmph... no question about this one. All those weapons and exposed muscles surely makes a statement. If we come to violence I hope his bite is at least as bad as his presentation's bark.Raemka, but lingered on The Elean healer... Haemon. I suppose it makes good sense to bring a physician along, there could very well be a component to this problem that needs his expertise. And he seems to treat the Domina with some familiarity... and condescension. I didn't think him a noble...?Haemon with a flash of recognition.

Once silent assessments were made the woman seemed to remember the multiple packs she was carrying and hefted them near to where Raemka dropped his belongings, her gait odd and off-kilter as the packs didn't seem balanced properly and the mace hanging from a loop on her belt banged against her leg. Dropping two large, bulging bags they hit the ground with hefty metallic clanks emanating from inside and she unstrapped a spear, leaning it against the marble post. The mace joined the pile, along with an ornate looking shield. The messenger bag strapped across her chest stayed put as she stretched out her back. Dark-skinned and freckled, the middle-aged woman's auburn locks cascaded freely down to her rear, constrained only by a bright blue head scarfkeffiyeh tied around the back of her head instead of covering it entirely, as was traditional. She carried more fat than muscle, though that is not to say she didn't look powerful. Her green dress is plainly cut and free-flowing to the knee, though the bare shoulders leave more skin exposed than might be considered "appropriate". A Those who are familiar with the Old Gods of Anykhet would recognize Mesiddica, protector of women.stylized owl is embroidered onto the dress's right hip and she wore multiple Piercings in her nose and bottom lip, large circular earrings, a choker, and an upper arm bracelet in the form of a snake.adornments of rough-worked gold.

Stepping over to the servants she spoke her first word in front of the group. "Water." It was a statement, not a question. Her voice carried out confidently, deep while still retaining a distinctly feminine tone. Once a cup was offered to her she gulped most of it down, splashing the rest onto her face and wiping down her forehead, cheeks, and neck. She refilled the cup with wine and only then did she address the head servant. "Kyai Applecore. If we are forced to sleep out here than I suppose it shall be so. Will your guards be on alert all night? You've had no change in staff the past weeks? And Ismene is here at the estate, is she not? I've lost too many students this week, tracked down one family after the next, only to be met with failure and despair. I am not going to lose this one now that I've finally gotten ahead of this... this... whatever this is!"

Once her questions were answered to her satisfaction Applecore approached Heliae, Raemka, and Haemon. She stood freely and straight, putting one hand on her hip and looked over them once more while sipping her wine, as if searching for something she missed the first time. She intended the smile and nod to be friendly, though it undoubtedly still carried the unmistakable superiority she seemed to continuously exude. "Kyai Applecore. Headmistress for Synkel's Academy of Education and Knowledge." She turned to Haemon, addressing him specifically. "Physician Haemon. I did not expect to see you a part of such a risky proposition, yet it seems you may have a personal concern for Ismene and the Dukas family? I'm glad we'll have the... skills of one such as yourself. If you can keep up?" There was a hint of resentment when she mentioned Haemon's skills and the jab at his age was obvious, though Haemon might know from previous interactions that that was considered friendly small talk for the blunt Dulamah.

Eventually she turned her direct questions onto the young human and the tabaxi. "And you two? You have singular interests as well? Or were you invited purely for your talents?"

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Last edited by MoldyNolds; Nov 10th, 2020 at 09:04 PM.
  #6  
Old Nov 11th, 2020, 03:09 AM
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Dunyazad
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Old Dunyazad knew the winding hallways of more than one estate within the Heights. Resided there on a number of occasions, even. But today, she trekked from across town, so she'd set out early, knowing the time it would take at her pace.

The old, crumpled woman thought back to how she’d come to enter into the Heights, alone, not entirely owned and not entirely free: two heads of a noble house had clammored on the ground before a servant, weeping and begging. "Go to her. Go to Ismene! Go and see her safe!" Lady Porcia Tertia Balbii crawled on the harsh stones before the housemaid - the altrix - grasping incessantly at Dunyazad's withered hands. And she was the more subdued of the two.

"You belong to the House Balbii and you must obey! I command. I demand!" Lord Sabinus of the Balbii was pacing around the room, garbed in his last good set of court robes, flailing his arms and occasionally knocking into something. A great jar half-filled with rice, or a standing candleabra. It was unlit, fortunately. "Use your witches' curses! We don't care, damn you!"

"Please, we know you are of the deserts. We do not mind that you are a desert witch. You have always been modest. Please! Go to Ismene!" The Domina wasn't letting go of the servant's hands now. She clung to them firmer and firmer, the ribbons of her ornate headdress flitting about her as she plead. She'd stopped blinking and instead streamed tears down her hastily-painted face.

Dunyazad was in fact a model servant, but for once, her silence wasn't entirely by choice. She blinked at the scene unfolding around her. For the first time in so, so many years, Dunyazad was shocked.

"What is it?! Too proud?" Lord Sabinus seized upon Dunyazad's hesitation. His outbursts were worsening. "You want more pay? You want gold? Have it!" He clutched two handfuls of coins from a small, nearby coffer and threw them at the old servant. She winced reactively, but Lady Porcia didn't even seem to notice as they bounced off of her.

At least the majordomo had the sense to clear the once-decorated receiving hall of other servants and exit himself. To say that two nobles groveling before one of their servants was unbecoming would be an understatement. But they'd just lost their eldest child and grief laid low even the highest born. Otho was the boy's name. He was only the last of a growing number of disappearing youth. And Dunyazad had reared the child herself. He'd been too grown to have an altrix for several years now, but if the old servant had any guilty flaw, it was that she and her charges were too bonded. Too much like real family.

"Please, Dunyazad. You raised the boy. He could be out there all alone! He could need help!"

"Coin isn't enough?! Fine! We'll grant your freedom! Just go!"

The truth was twofold: they had indeed lost their eldest, but as Synkel faded, so too did House Balbii fall into ruin. Run out of money and friends, in both the Five Cities and in Domantine proper. They needed Synkel to survive, if only for themselves. They needed to send aid to the Dukas, if only to seize upon a desperate moment to gain favor. And they needed to find their missing heir if only because, at the prospect of losing everything, the only thing of any real worth was their family.

"Please, if you must hate us for being of the Empire, we accept it. We've heard the stories of what happened to your peoples. But do not allow Otho to suffer for it!"

"Freedom isn't enough, eh? Want to see us ruined?! You'd get a real laugh then, wouldn't you?!"

Through all their shouting, which may as well have been to themselves, Dunyazad could only manage a whisper - a low, rolling gravel of a whisper: "I will go."

The nobles' roars and wails stopped immediately. After a brief silence, and their outbursts had fully passed, the mother and father began to sob faintly.

And so Dunyazad passed by the house of the elven moneylender who was, in an open secret, a quarter bugbear. By late afternoon, she passed by the breadmaker that cheated on their spouse with the supplies courier, so the neighboring herder's daughter said. And as dusk neared, she passed by the clerk-filled plaza surrounded by once-opulent government buildings. It was nice to walk upon the sun-bared stones, uneven in pavement as if in one final defiance of being stolen from the mountains and carved into domestication within the great city. Strange, though, to travel with such a heavy pack, and not having kitchens and closets and a small village of staff readily on-hand. As shadows claimed the streets entirely, Old Dunyazad did not find herself looking east to the river, like so many idealists and tourists, but south to the mountains that watered the city, out of sight. She took one last look to those mountains before she approached the doors of the House of Dukas.

"I am come on behalf of Lady Porcia Tertia and Lord Sabinus of the House Balbii. House Balbii answers the call for aid to Lady Ismene," She offered plainly. It would be an odd thing for nobles to send a servant instead of a retinue of trained warriors, much less... a crumpled old woman. But with her servant's cowl up, she followed the dress and etiquette codes of their kind, and was expected to be let in without any real difficulty. "Yes, Nechotas. I alone am sent from the Balbii. Yes, unorthodox, perhaps. But you understand these times," She said to the head servant. She'd only encountered Nechotas a few times, silent and in passing while trailing after their respective masters at some overbearing function. But there was a familiarity of station. If Nechotas heard rumors of the Balbii's looming destitution or of Dunyazad's spellcraft, then her lone appearance on behalf of the noble house would surely reignite those rumors.

Dunyazad couldn't help but approach the shed as she had for the past many decades - quiet as a sand mouse, with neat and orderly steps, her hands clasped together before her, and her head bowed. She still wore the simple, green robes and brown apron of a Balbii servant - the color pattern was out of fashion by several cycles, now - and her hair was pulled in a tight bun and suspended with wooden hairsticks. She was small, and looked smaller with a chest strapped to her back. And when she spoke, her voice was both soft and course, low and with an earthen rumble. "This area shall be fine, thank you," was all she said with a bow. In all, she still appeared and behaved much like a lifelong servant: quiet, composed, and with a subtle sense of knowing.

As the others were conversating, Dunyazad mostly kept her distance with her eyes low. She listened to everything but appeared as though she were merely waiting. All the time in the world, as if not even there. Her kind - the lowborn - were made to blend in with the walls, and so too did they learn to see and hear as walls do.

It was strange to be waited on by other servants so she waived them on with a faint hand gesture. She set down her chest but relied heavily on her gnarled wooden cane and kept it in-hand. Her wrinkled eyes settled upon each of the others that had answered the call for Ismene - some familiar, some new, and some infamous. Only after Kyai Applecore began to chat did Dunyazad approach, almost meagerly. "Esteemed Kyai. The academy flourishes in your guidance, and so too does Anykhet prosper." When the tall Dulamah looked down at her, at a mere four feet and a few inches, Dunyazad finally craned her neck up to peer at them with foggy eyes. Her mouth widened and her jowls pulled back, creasing her face a thousand and one times on either side. She smiled warmly. "Hello, little one."
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  #7  
Old Nov 11th, 2020, 05:26 AM
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The Desert Storm
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"Kyai Applecore. Headmistress for Synkel's Academy of Education and Knowledge."

Raemka stiffened as the dulamah introduced herself, but gave no other sign of recognition. He watched her surreptitiously. Yes, this was the one—the one the Domantines wanted dead so badly. "I am called Raemka," he said, responding to her questions. "I have no personal interest in this matter, so I must suppose that it is for my skills that I have been brought here. I'm sure Haemon can explain what those skills are." His voice was deep and rumbling, like a rockslide.

He pulled aside one of the lengths of canvas and stared out into the night, only half-listening to the conversation. He was unsettled. What was the point of all these guards? Curse or no, the threat to Ismene was something these guards were not equipped to handle. Free to make his own choices, Raemka knew what he would do. He would hail himself to the main house and spend the night on Ismene's roof. And yet, the house servant, Nechotas, had been insistent. They were not to disturb the Dukas family tonight.

"I am here in case the guards fail."
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  #8  
Old Nov 12th, 2020, 04:41 PM
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The outside of the insideNechtos monitors each of the aid-givers as they arrive. He is well-trained. He makes his opinions of each individual quite well known while for the most part standing ramrod straight and studiously blank-faced.

Haemon gets a small nod of respect from the Master of the House, and he adds, "You are welcome here, healer. The Lord will be well-informed, rest assured." Raemka fits the expectations of a guard (albeit an impressive one), and so his entrance is easy and natural and goes silently unremarked. Heliae's entrance, on the other hand, fits few expectations. Nechotas does not remark on their entrance, either, beyond the simplest greeting. But the raised eyebrows and a look down the nose give an unmistakable impression of heavy judgement. Haemon might wonder what exactly the Lord will be well-informed about.

Applecore enters to interrupt the silent judgement. The Master's judgement is less silent here. He audibly huffs as the Headmistress asserts herself into the room, and treats herself to the offerings before addressing the group. He accidentally raps his rod on the flagstones out of irritation, but he answers the questions that are thrown out. "The guards of course will keep you perfectly protected as long as you remain on the grounds. Our staffing is not of concern. Yes, Ismene remains safe and secure," he gives a small look to Haemon, "the rumors around town notwithstanding. Those of you who take the position will be introduced to her tomorrow."

Finally, Dunyazad enters the gates. Nechotas does not obviously judge her as he judged the last two. Instead, the smallest look of confusion passes over his face. "Mistress," he greets her respectfully. "YOU are here to..." but he cuts off the question as she walks with purpose. He nods and guides her to the gathered group.

A few minutes of conversation pass, and it becomes apparent that the gathering is as large as it will become. The head servant motions for the gates to be closed, and then he addresses the group. "No more will arrive tonight. If that is all?" He looks about the group to see if there are any last minute issues. He gives the sense of impatience - he is not here to offer explanations, only to ensure hospitality. Once necessities are met, he says,

"Then I will bid you good night."
OODMGreat introductions all! Now that we're gathered, I'd like to establish a few relationships within the narrative. I don't want to overwhelm your posts, so in your next post, please

1) continue naturally with whatever interactions or conversations are underway
2) introduce a positive existing relationship or impression you have with one of the other PCs. This might be a story you heard, a kindness you saw, in interaction you had, or a deep long-term relationship. Give the reader a sense of that.

I've asked you guys to also think of a more... I dont' want to use the word "negative" - I don't want to introduce a bunch of inter-party strife. But a little tension, and difficulties to overcome, can always make things interesting.challenging relationship with one of the other PCs. Please hold off on that for a moment.

 
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Old Nov 12th, 2020, 09:17 PM
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Heliae Eshe
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Thankfully, before Heliae had a chance to speak, Raemka answered the goliath. As the tabaxi opened the canvas, revealing the night sky, Heliae's gaze slowly followed. They listened to the wind coming through and could tell based on the smell of the air the force of the wind that the desert was calm tonight. Almost eerily so. Though the druid had only in been in the presence of others for a few moments, they already found themself longing for solitude. Heliae studied the tabaxi for a moment, puzzling through how they recognized him. The Desert Storm, it must be him…

Heliae’s concentration shifted as the Dulmah’s voice cut the air of the quiet corner. “Or were you invited purely for your talents?" They looked over their shoulder, and then up, as Applecore stood nearly a quarter meter taller. Heliae knew that this would be part of the job. A team was being assembled, and they would need to be part of it. That included small talk. Come now, Heliae, answer her. Heliae found the very air about Applecore to have a hint of arrogance that left Heliae uneasy.

However, one of the few things Heliae disliked more than arrogance or demands from strangers was rudeness from themself, so they mustered a response for the headmistress. “I was not invited. I heard the call at various camps and bazaars, and thought my previous experience with providing protection and knowledge of the desert could be of use.” Heliae took a small sip from their waterskin, returning its plug and wiping their hand on their pant leg, which they extended in greeting. “I seek to protect the desert from The Curse, whether that be those that live in it or the land itself. The name’s Heliae Eshe.”

Their appearance and voice likely confused the others, as the two did not seem to match. Heliae’s voice was soft and slow, almost intentional. They sounded like a woman, but their hair and dress implied otherwise. Their slight build and straight hips made it hard to discern. It made no difference to the druid, as they were the most comfortable this way… unassuming and in between.

Turning back to Raemka, Heliae nodded to the outside. The lanterns and fires dotted the desert night, the sun now behind the dunes for its daily rest. “It seems foolish to assemble a team of protection for Ismene, only to keep them all under cover, no? I’d much rather be out there, myself.” Heliae looked the tabaxi up and down, quickly, and the memory came back, in fragments, like specks of dust in the air. They had seen Raemka before, yes, in a fight. Or after, Heliae couldn’t exactly recall. Raemka was a known fighter in the city and they had heard the tales of The Desert Storm.

Perhaps it was the visible strength he exuded or seeing a commonality in their disinterest in the presumed measuring up of one another, but Heliae felt drawn to the tabaxi. While they had been traveling for years on their own, and could work with the desert to survive, they by no means were considered a skilled soldier or fighter. While Raemka and Heliae’s skills of use were seemingly opposite, someone like this could be of great value as an ally to the druid. Maybe, just maybe, coming away from their self-imposed seclusion would not be entirely intolerable.

Heliae’s eyes scanned the room a single time, then came back to the tabaxi. “Are you acquainted with the others already, or have you come alone?”
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  #10  
Old Nov 13th, 2020, 09:45 PM
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The Desert Storm
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Turning back to Raemka, Heliae nodded to the outside. "It seems foolish to assemble a team of protection for Ismene, only to keep them all under cover, no? I’d much rather be out there, myself."

Raemka nodded, distracted. "Hrmm. Foolishness, yes. As those that travel the wastes know, danger does not wait for you to be ready. What if the girl is taken tonight?" The thought seemed to agitate Raemka, and he took a half step out of the outhouse. "I am just a pit fighter. It is not my place. But if it was my daughter, or my sister..." He left the statement hanging.

He turned to face Heliae. For a moment, he struggled to focus on the young Anykhite, as if unaccustomed to such intimate conversation. "Did I hear you say you'd spent time in the desert?" A slight smile creased Raemka's face. "It is beautiful, is it not? The stars at night..." He paused as, frustrated by his inability to find the right words, his smile turned into a slight frown. "And even during the day, looking out from the tops of dunes there are strange patterns in the sand."

"It is beautiful, but dangerous too. Cruel. In one breath it offers hope, in the next breath it takes it away." Raemka slowly took in Heliae's appearance. They reminded him a little of Aat, his companion and partner-in-crime back in Khasut. The same lean, ambiguous build. The same quick movements. The same desire for companionship after having been alone for too long. Younger, though. Thank the gods. Aat had led him on a merry dance.Not as confident. "It is wise not to judge things by their appearance, don't you think? In the desert, that can get you killed."

Heliae’s eyes scanned the room a single time, then came back to the tabaxi. "Are you acquainted with the others already, or have you come alone?"

"I know Haemon, yes. But then, I think everyone in Anykhet knows Haemon. He does good work." Raemka seemed to find this amusing, and his low chuckle reverberated around the outbuilding. "And I know of the Kyai, by..." He hesitated, unwilling to say too much. "... by reputation, of course."
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Last edited by Menzo; Nov 17th, 2020 at 05:46 AM.
  #11  
Old Nov 15th, 2020, 02:56 AM
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Haemon the physician
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Seeing Raemka being led to the very same place Haemon himself was waiting, pleased the physician, but he decided against showing it. The TabaxiTa-bash-ke was a master of the arena and his mere presence inspired confidence in the Elean that with his help things would in the end turn out all right. That didn’t mean that he would welcome him with a smile. The last time they had met words had been exchanged, words that could not be easily forgotten, at least not by the stubborn Elean. It seemed that Raemka remembered as well, for his way of greeting the man who had treated his wounds more times than he cared to count was one of irony – or at least that was the way he interpreted it.

"Haemon! Is someone dying then?"

The physician‘s eyes met those of the gladiator, his gaze icy. "That is a strange thing for one so well acquainted with death to be asking. There is always someone dying, Raemka, you know that. Treating the wounds other cause feels like trying to dam the great Iteru, hopeless, but I will keep on trying nonetheless."

The concern for Ismene‘s fate and his friend‘s state of mind seemed to wake a belligerence in Haemon instead of paralyzing him with sorrow and he would have continued the exchange with this killer for pay, but the arrival of more people silenced him, which was probably for the best.

Heliae, the freed servant, arrived and softened the Elean‘s heart. He was glad they were healthy and well. They, he pondered, would have been clearly a „she“ for my old master. He followed the philosopher Aristoboulos‘ system of strictly categorizing the world. A man born a man was forever a man and a woman remained a woman no matter what she felt and thought about her own identity. Nothing could change what nature decreed. Black and white and nothing inbetween the two extremes. An attractive version of the world, surely, but sadly inaccurate. There is such great diversity among us if one only has the eyes to see it. Why, even the gods gave birth to two-sexed child of Aphrodite and HermesHermaphroditus, who are we to think we know better?

"Greeting, Heliae. I trust you are doing well. I heard of your manumission. A truly admirable and certainly deserving act. I am glad you are here to share this family‘s pain with the rest of us."

Then, Kyai Applecore appeared, his Meline, and it was as if the sun had risen in this part of the Dukas‘ estate, blinding everyone with the intensity of its radiance. Haemon had oftened wondered how a barbarian woman who was named after a thing without worth, a woman who was rumored to have scoured the streets to find something that could alleviate the hunger of her empty stomach, could command such authority. The Elean chuckled silently. No, he was wrong. An apple core was not a thing without worth. It was the beginning of a great apple tree that could nourish dozens. In Meline‘s case it was a spiritual hunger her apples sated, which was all the more worthwhile. Unfortunately, this tree was covered in thorny vines. If only she had been more modest, like a proper Elean woman.

"Meline, if you know me at all, you know that I will not stand idly as a friend and benefactor suffers. I will do all in my power to ensure Ismene’s safety. Why do you speak of her being here however? I heard that she has already been taken like so many others." There was confusion intermingled with hope in the physician‘s face. Could Iufaa have been wrong? Oh, he would teach him a proper lesson if that truly was the case. Then, the kyai‘s last words caught his attention and Haemon’s expression hardened once more. "Don‘t worry, teacherdidaskale, I am more than capable of keeping up. I will not ask you to carry me on your back." He didn’t say it, but he knew that he didn’t have to. Only beasts of burden carried others on their backs.

Nechotas must have guessed Haemon’s lack of reliable information concerning his master‘s daughter even before his exchange with the Dulamah scholar, but apparently he took his time before correcting him. Many servants were like that, relishing any little power they had over their betters. Still, the news was so unexpected and so welcome that Haemon‘s stern facade melted as he sighed with relief. "The names of Demeter and Kore be blessed, I am so glad to hear this, Nechotas. I truly believed her gone…" Smiling for the first time ever since hearing the rumors concerning Ismene‘s disappearance, the physician felt generous enough to share his smile with everyone present. "I should have known better that putting faith in the gossip circulating in the city."

Feeling partly sorry for his unkind remarks, Haemon tried to think of a way of mitigating their impact, when another figure slowly approached them. It was that elderly servant of the noble Balbii family, the one he had thought a female dwarfnane some time back. What was her name? Dounase? Douyazo? No, something more exotic. Dunyazad! To hear haughty Nechotas call her a mistress when he obviously thought so very little of Heliae and the kyai surprised, even amazed, the Elean. What was the reason of this respect, what was her secret?

"Chaire", he welcomed her in the traditional Elean way, avoiding to mention her name, but also not wanting to call her servant. "It seems we shall spend the night here. Please, come sit near the fire. I trust no piece of cloth or fur to chase away the night‘s cold as well as firePrometheus‘ gift."

As he saw the elderly woman slowly walk towards him, Haemon’s eyes sought those of Heliae. He would have liked speaking with them about their new life of freedom. Did they stay in contact with their noble friend? Were they still as close as they had been? Seeing however that Heliae approached the Ta-bash-ke, he preferred to wait instead of following them. Eleans were rumored to be too curious for their own good and he wouldn’t have such malicious rumors confirmed by being indiscreet.
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Old Nov 16th, 2020, 06:55 PM
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Evening. Dukas Estate, Synkel.“I was not invited. I heard the call at various camps and bazaars... The name’s Heliae Eshe.”

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Applecore stared at the young human with the outstretched hand for a moment, unmoving. Her eyes scanned over Heliae, taking in the other's stance, movements, and yes, even the odd skin pigmentations. The stare wasn't mocking or petty, but it was full of judgement... of appraisal. "You were not invited by another and instead invited yourself because you knew your talents warranted your involvement?" The raised eyebrow added weight to scrutiny and she continued to hold it, seemingly waiting out Heliae's outstretched hand just to see how long it would be offered freely.

Eventually she took the druid's hand and shook it firmly. "Anykhet needs you, Heliae Eshe. If we're ever to prosper once more as we did in generations past, we need more bold people of singular drive. Don't lose that." Holding on to their hand, Applecore pulled it slightly from side to side, looking over Heliae once more. "And... exactly what talents are those? You don't seem the type to jump in the pit with the Ta-bash-ke, over there." She jerked her head towards Raemka.

***

"Hello, little one."

The Dulamah went from a commanding presence to a shaky, hesitant girl in an instant. Her eyes shot wide and she stared at the diminutive altrix for several long seconds before uttering in a cracked voice, "It's you..." The old woman from the alley. All those years ago... She alone knows the weak girl I was before.

Once she had recovered, Applecore spared a quick glance to the others present while reaffirming command of her faculties. A small, close-mouthed cough ensured her voice would once again resonate with confidence, although there remained a hint of subconscious deference that she couldn't seem to dispel. "Dunyazad. It seems the Gods deem old acquaintances reignited on this pursuit. Still cowtowing to noble children? I fear Ismene may be too old to fill her head with the embellishments of our near-extinct cultures." She pressed the offensive now, possibly as a defense mechanism from being confronted with her childhood savior and exposing a vulnerability. "You know, if you spent less time filling those children's heads with fairy tales and instead bewitched their influential parents to join the protests against Domantine occupation you could say that Anykhet prospers with actual conviction instead of empty sentiments..."

Internally realizing she may have crossed the line into blatant hostility, Applecore turned her face even further downward and stared at the ground before meeting the Leutakimah's eyes for a fleeting second once more, her insecurities exposed to the woman who saved her, before turning away and picking at the food that was offered so she didn't have to face Dunyazad.

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  #13  
Old Nov 17th, 2020, 03:53 AM
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Dunyazad
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Dunyazad nodded at Haemon's invitation to join them at the fire, much like a servant would, but she also smiled as she dipped her head, most unlike a proper servant. "You are kind and the gods are indeed generous," was all she said. The Elean looked over to who may have been the youngest of them. Heliae. In truth, Dunyazad was as curious about them as the others. Eager, almost, to comment on the times they'd crossed paths as servants, as if to gauge if they remembered her at all.

And then there was Raemka. His motives were curious enough, as a child of Anykhet who survived the empire's fighting pits. She was certainly eager to see Applecore's ideology meet with Raemka's history and seemingly absent sense of allegiance. But to hear him reflect on the desert at night... there was a hint of a poet to him then. Was there more to this wandering tabaxi?

Dunyazad watched over the Kyai's mannerisms as she spoke, keeping that same smile, almost as if an audience merely watching a show. After Applecore's remarks, but just before the moment of silence was too long, Dunyazad chuckled - a low, throaty rumble that almost could have been a coughing fit - though any open chuckle from a servant was as out of place as her unbridled smile.

"Yes, it would indeed make for a poor altrix to serve anything but the child's becoming, wouldn't it? Even in the telling of stories. How wonderful it is, then, to see a thing so simple as a string of words nourish the psyche of a child, who then achieves greatness." She only smiled then, casting her gaze downward in so much deference that her eyes may have been shut altogether. Though if that smile was out of joy or coy, it was difficult to know. When the dignified Kyai commented on fairy tales and the overt resistances to Domantine occupation, the much smaller woman tutted and shrugged her brow, though not necesarilly in disagreement. She peeled a gnarled hand from her cane and waved it in a rolling motion in the air, as if to hurry the topic along. Arguing with her kin about their peoples' survival, both spiritual and tangible, was nothing new to Dunyazad. "The full maxim read as: Boulders arguing as to whether the roll down a hill makes them slave or conqueror to the slope forget that they are of the hill all the same. It was an excerpt of a popular dialogue among Domantine philosophers, often used colloquially to illustrate a moot point, or debating minutia while missing a larger idea. Dunyazad didn't care much for Domantine literature, but held onto a few favorites throughout all her lessons to noble youth, if only because the earth motif reminded her of home. Boulders arguing, and all that. History is no less history when dressed in deeds told at the bedside as much as read under sober candlelight." With her wide smile and low gaze renewed, she changed the conversation in a hum, "Oh, but it would not seem often that those whom chase after Pheme, as they say, enjoy the Academy's support. Would you share with the uneducated, then, what the bookrolls have to say on the mass disappearance of a place's youth?" Applecore had already indicated that she didn't know the cause, but Dunyazad lobbed an opportunity for the gold-painted Dulamah to put what knowledge and theories she did have on display before the group, after having retorted herself into a corner.
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  #14  
Old Nov 18th, 2020, 04:24 PM
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The outside of the insideNechotas takes no offense when the group turns to talk amongst themselves rather than to him. In fact, he prefers it; it's a sign that things are going smoothly in the house. He departs with little ceremony and much alacrity. He does not appear again that night, though at one point more wine and water and a small tray of date-sweetened pastries arrive. At another point, a pair of large brass braziers are produced and lit, as are an additional set of small oil lamps. This is not a place to set up a campfire, but the occasional breeze brings a chill. The guards do not bother the group and the servants come and go unobtrusively, all as you'd expect in a well-run estate.

The night passes as the group talks, and eventually sleeps. Their open-air accommodations will call to them to wake early the next morning.
OODMOK, I think this will be the last of my scene-zero free-form updates. Unless I hear objections, we'll gather one more round of player posts, and then I'll transition us to the next morning in a new thread.

As I've previewed, I'd like you to use this last post (at least in part) to establish a relationship that will more more I don't want to use the word "negative" - I don't want to introduce a bunch of inter-party strife. But a little tension, and difficulties to overcome, can always make things interesting.challenging. Maybe you've heard things about this person, maybe you've had interactions. Maybe they said something just now that you found problematic! Share some insight about your perception of them, and what it is about YOU that makes this relationship something that might require some work.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2020, 02:18 PM
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Evening. Dukas Estate, Synkel.
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Moving away from the little altrix, Applecore couldn't help but chide internally. Why does that woman have to be so damned... so... reasonable?! Is she so daft she can't even see I'm ridiculing her? The truth in fact, one that Applcore knew deep beneath her surface thoughts, was that Dunyazad was absolutely correct. She was enlightening the children of Synkel in much the same way that Apple was, perhaps even more subtely and successfully. And for all the knowledge at her fingertips, the Kyai could not explain the disappearances. Or even get ahead of them, it seemed, until tonight.

With fresh wine and a mouthful of fruit the Dulamah stomped away from the group until she found herself approaching the tabaxi, Raemka. Still full of bottled lightning, unsatisfied with Dunyazad's calm and casual discounting, she needed an outlet. And this brute could do the job... She took a stance next to him as he stared off into the darkness of the Dukas estate. "So... Raemka. You mentioned earlier your "skills" lay in if the guards should fail, and based off of your... obvious physique it seems you fancy yourself some sort of warrior. Please enlighten me, are you so confident in your abilities that you can succeed where an entire estate's worth of trained guards will fail? If all of them are killed, what can you do that they could not? One more sword at the end of one more muscled arm seems an effort in futility, no?"

The comments were an unconcealed attempt to get a rise out of the pit fighter. Applecore needed to release the indignation that dwelled within her...

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Currently GM'ing: 1,000,000 Ways to Die in the Weird West (it's publicly viewable!)
Current Characters: Prince Brucían Pough | Rolf da Minek | Kyai Applecore
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