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  #31  
Old Jan 1st, 2021, 12:57 PM
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Haemon the physician
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"…I suggest double my usual guard’s salary, so 60 gold Solidus per month while you are on retainer."

Haemon cringed at the archon’s words though he made sure to keep his reaction hidden. He was accustomed to expect some kind of reward when treating those in need of his skills, but to have a price put on him -even if the compensation was generous- appalled him to an extent he was unwilling to admit. It was certainly alright for a laborer to be treated thusly, but not a former landowner with servants of his own, one of the most important people of his little corner of the world.

I cling so desperately to what has once been, but no matter how I wish it had been otherwise, the son of Kephalos is no longer a wealthy and esteemed citizen in a flourishing Anykhetan town. He is a middle aged man struggling to make ends meet in a city that doesn’t especially care for him. To see things otherwise is to deny the truth.

Many were the tales told of great lords and noble princesses who through the ravages of war, the will of the gods or some great misfortune ended up losing everything: their families, their fortunes, their freedom, sometimes even their lives. They made such impressive, heroic figures in the classical Elean plays, their tragic fates on stage forcing the spectators to lose their self-composure and weep for the characters – the greatest compliment a playwright could expect. Haemon sometimes compared himself to such figures in his heart of hearts, though when thinking rationally he did realize that his own story, a story that was true for hundreds of once prosperous Anykhetans, would be unworthy of inspiring even the current so-called „new comedy“ playwrights, much less the masters of the past. Honor and pride was all well and good, but one who was forced to labor for one‘s daily bread could barely afford them.

"You are generous, archon, I thank you", replied Haemon meekly, feeling as empty as a torn wineskin. "I would only ask to be occasionally given a short to look after my daughter. The servant entrusted with her well-being is elderly and I usually have to… supervise most matters of importance myself." It was a polite way of admitting that he didn’t have the means of hiring younger, more able servants to keep his daughter well-cared for, a truth that was already known to Alexandros Dukas if only he cared to reflect upon it. Still, a lord could not be bothered with such minor details, especially those concerning the people that worked for him. A friend on the other hand… but it took equal standing for one to be speaking of friendship and the physician was only slowly realizing his true place in this new world he had been forced to live. At the very least, to be employed by such a prestigious „master“ as the elder Dukas could perhaps offer him a more permanent position in the future, though he would not shamelessly barter like a fishmonger or a Dulemah for it. He was loath to abandon the last shreds of honor he still possessed. If he performed adequately, there might be a polite way to make the suggestion in the future.

"If it pleases you, noble Alexandros, I would like to spend some time with Nechotas. I know of no other person in your service that could better inform me about the matters of your estate. I trust I have your blessings to be granted some of his time?" And most importantly his cooperation, though this part Haemon left unseaid. The compliment of the servant being well-informed was true enough and one Haemon felt Nechotas had earned. The man was like a hawk, constantly looking for mistakes and swooping down to punish those that made them. What he lacked in good grace in the Elean‘s eyes, he more than made up in diligence. He was a despot to those under his command, as men of lower birth often were when given more power than they deserved, but he was a good servant to his master, which was the thing that mattered the most. If the daily routine of the family somehow endangered Ismene, Nechotas would be the man to point it out. Haemon, despite his personal dislike of the man, was even willing of offering him an olive branch for the sake of Alexandros‘ daughter… and his own.
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  #32  
Old Jan 3rd, 2021, 06:29 AM
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Dunyazad
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What were coins to a servant so close to freedom? The topic of payment was irrelevant to the aged half-orc, so when the lord granted her and Ismene's dismissal, Dunyazad held back a tut and merely bowed low. Her heavy, silvered hair was not as kept as it would be were she still at the Balbii's estate, so stray strands fluttered in the deference.

She followed after Lady Ismene, as was proper for any Domantine handmaiden, despite not being employed as any traditional servant. Once out of earshot, she reflected on a minor detail of what Lord Dukas had said: rooms. Plural. Not even the noble children of the altrix's previous charges had multiple rooms of their own. Then again, this was the Lord of Synkel, and to their knowledge, Ismene was his only child.

And so in such nontraditional circumstances, Dunyazad took a slightly nontraditional approach for herself: she spoke up first.

"Have you any preferences of our guardianship, Miss? It is most wise to keep the psyche exercised during such times, as Miss so demonstrates through literature. I am humbled to know many sagas and poems, should Miss desire the telling of a new tale. Only the type of story need be said." Aside from initiating conversation, Dunyazad followed much of the normal formality between a handmaid and a lady. Watching for any response to that formality would be an interesting enough probe to Ismene's personality.

Regardless of any response or not, Dunyazad waited a short while - no more than two hallways' distance - before beginning again.

"Her ladyship is most brave: so many of my former charges struggled to maintain such grace on any normal day, even before considering such trying circumstances," She said in her soft rasp of a voice. It would be inappropriate to question the conclusions of Lord Dukas outright, so the maid opened with a compliment and a soft lob of the topic. As a rule, the nobility loved compliments, often regardless of their overt reactions to them. And compliments were easy enough methods of gauging strangers all the same. "Poor Otho of the Balbii, to have been swept up in this tragedy. Certainty it is as your father says in his wisdom, that the young sir was taken against his will. He had become such a fine citizen of the empire, with such a future ahead of him, and so no reason to depart on his own. It should be a blessing for the two of you to meet, if you have not already done so, once this turmoil is seen through."

Thinking herself coy enough, a concern wrinkled across Dunyazad's face. Was she too focused on her subtle attempts to lure Lady Ismene's personality and opinions into conversation? Suddenly appreciating the gravity of being separated from the group with their charge, Dunyazad made a point to keep a shrewd watch on their surroundings. The Dukas estate was still unknown territory to them.

The magicks of her people had waned greatly in disuse over the years, but she'd found use for several charms throughout her role as an altrix. In secret, of course. Dunyazad is prepared to cast Suggestion on any physical threat to Ismene!One in particular she kept at the ready now.
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Last edited by cottontailwind; Jan 3rd, 2021 at 06:46 AM.
  #33  
Old Jan 4th, 2021, 01:18 AM
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Raemka of Khem
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The Kyai took the documents from Raemka without so much as nod or a thank you. She kept her eyes fixed on Dukas, although she did tuck them away into her shoulder bag with just as much, if not more, sense of possession than the noble had exhibited before turning them over.

Raemka's eyes narrowed at the slight. Whether intentional or unintentional, it still stung. And it reminded him of why he preferred to travel alone, and why he'd made so few friends—other people sucked. In that moment, he was struck by an almost overwhelming sense of homesickness, a desire to leave the troubles of the Elder Dukas and Synkel behind him and return to his family in Khem.

Instead, he pushed his chair back, so that it scraped across the floor as noisily as possible in the middle of the Kyai's speechifying. After a couple of seconds, he did it again. Then, with a nod to Heliae, and a slightly forced smile, he headed out to interview the guards.

As he approached the courtyard where Nechotas had previously made them wait, Raemka slowed and stopped, waiting for Heliae.


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  #34  
Old Jan 5th, 2021, 07:01 PM
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This interview is OVER!Raemka and Heliae seem to have already moved past negotiations, planning on how to approach the problem of security.

Haemon, more diplomatic but more conflicted, worried about his family. Alexandros Dukas smiles benevolently. "Of course! What is man, if not wise head of his family? I trust the five of you shall set effective watch. But that requires being rested and well-maintained. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The gods name us pater familias, and that is not a duty to be shirked. As long as you discharge your duties here, I'd expect nothing less."

Applecore accepts the documents from Raemka, and is all business. She asks who is the 'we' who generates this information and forms suspicions about the victims of the kidnappings. "'We'? Oh, why, the authorities of course. The Empire is quite well-informed, of course. That in your hand is all the best information of our entire network of investigators and informants." Vague, perhaps, but confident.

The Kyai then presses her luck, complaining about Domantine infiltration of her Academy. She puts all the force of her words and personality into the complaint, doing her best to impress upon Dukas just how grave the matter is. Already intimidating in size, she seems to grow in the appeal. Dukas's response is disheartening. A small laugh escapes. He covers his mouth, stifling it. "Oh. You're serious." Mouth covered, he meets eyes with Applecore, and a look of concern grows on his face. "The Domanine presence is a.... problem? At your Academy. Interesting. Interesting. Thank you. We'll be sure to look into exactly what the problem is." He looks over to Nechotas, and nods. The servant produces a small scrap of parchment. With a small smirk, he scribbles something down.

"Never good for the Community, conflict. I'm afraid my offer stands. If you are unhappy with it, you may exit. Otherwise, you may work under the conditions stated, Kyai." Not waiting for any reply, he turns and exits the courtyard. The group's task has begun.
Escorting IsmeneTaking the suggestions of others, the Altrix escorts Ismene back to her rooms. Gently, Dunyazad plies her with questions. Ismene remains quiet and respectful as he walks along the paths of her father's household.

She does politely perk up at the mention of stories. "Oh! Tales of old Anykhet. I would love to hear more of those. Father's library is... not well-stocked in that area. He doesn't approve of 'nonsense'. I've only caught snippits of the local tale of the origin of the Iteru River. Do you know that one?" She listens attentively to anything that follows, almost as if she is memorizing what is being said.

As the pair gets closer to Ismene's chambers, Dunyazad approaches the heart of the matter: Otho and the sad loss of so many youths. Ismene purses her lips tightly as the pair walks through the hallways of the family house, nodding mournfully, but saying nothing. When they finally reach her room, she gently shuts the doors behind the pair. She unseals her lips and lets out an exhausted exhale. "Taken!" She bursts out, though quietly, so as not to attract outside attention. She flounces over to her bed, and flops onto it. On her back and facing the ceiling, she continues.

"Taken. Ha! Of course they weren't 'taken'. Who'd want to stay here? Dying city. Taken! Otho is fine. He left. He chose to."
OODMOK, so at this point I'm going to hand-wave things a bit. Here comes the "getting settled in" montage. What is MANDATORY in your next post is two items:

1) a declaration of two things you want to do or learn in the next two days on the estate.
2) two rolls (appropriate to what you're doing, but skills or ability-checks of own choice) to help assess the success of each of the two things you're trying to do or learn.

You can construct as much or as little narrative as you like around that. If it takes some OOC coordination, that's fine. You have the whole first day in front of you, there will be a night, and then there's another day where you have pretty broad berth to explore and influence the estate and its denizens. If you want to learn something particular ('assess Iseme's pattern of behavior'), that's great. If you want to achieve some particular thing ('look for major holes in the security perimeter, and fix them if possible'), that's fine, too. Those are just examples, obviously.

Please describe HOW you try to do those two things that I'm asking for. As you describe the actions you take, feel free to take some narrative control over the environment and NPCs. You can assume in general that you are treated like 'honored guests'. You won't be allowed to break into the master's bedroom at midnight or raid the pantries for booze, but you are generally treated with respect and reasonable accommodation. If you're working together with another PC (as for example it sounds like Heliae and Raemka will do, at least initially), you can effectively coordinate your actions to use the Help action, if you choose. Mechanically, that's the same thing as each of you rolling separately, but you can both use the higher of the team's skill modifiers, and I use the higher of the rolls.
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  #35  
Old Jan 9th, 2021, 07:55 PM
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Haemon the physician
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The stars shone so brightly in the night sky, seemingly so close to where Haemon was studying them. This was the very first thing the Elean had noticed about the Dukas estate. Being located in such a prominent position of the „Heights“, when the sun went down the complex of buildings seemed to become a part of the heavens themselves, the rest of Synkel far down below. One got the impression that they were at one of the palaces of the gods on Mount Olympus, the stars surrounding them, full of stories to tell. There was Orion, the great hunter, next to him the Dioskouri, Castor and Polydeukes, patrons of wrestlers and protectors of sailors, on the other side the Pleiades, among them Maia, Hermes‘ mother, and Merope, the youngest of the seven sisters, the one who faded away after marrying a mortal king. The stars had always been Haemon‘s friends and guides, always ready to share their wisdom with those who knew how to listen to their celestial voices. Even as a child the Elean had been fascinated by the myriad tiny lights that kept company to Selene as she drove her chariot through the night sky. First as a young and then mature man, Haemon had attempted to understand them, measure, document and predict their orbits, unveil the secrets they kept. For almost four decades he had been studying the skies and not for one moment had the stars stopped to amaze him. How could they? They were proof that there was more in life than righting broken bones and binding wounds.

Turning to Applecore, who was sitting next to him, still studying the documents, the Elean smiled. "There is no wonder in my mind why you were chosen to not only tutor at but also become the head of the academy, Haemon‘s „nickname“ of Applecore, meaning „of apple“Meline. It is not only that you are studious and methodical, I can show you more than a dozen lesser scholars with these characteristics anytime. It is because you read between the lines and make connections others do not. You have truly been blessed by Athena… ahm… forgive me, Messidica I mean."

The physician was certain that Messidica was just another name for the Elean goddess of wisdom, but knowing that his opinions could lead to a heated debate, he quickly acquiesced. The Kyai had been such a great help to him, she deserved words of praise, not a lecture on the importance of the Elean gods, gods even the Domantines had been quick to adopt under strange new names.

"We should inform the others of our findings, though that can probably wait until tomorrow. It feels good to work with one‘s mind, I‘ll tell you that. When one only has to do with fevers and rashes, injuries and toothaches one can feel…" Swamped. I may as well admit it.

Pausing for a few moments, Haemon brought his kantharos to his lips and sipped his fragrant watered wine. So much better than I usually get, much like the one pater served his honored guest in our house in Paralimnos.

"Don‘t get me wrong, I enjoy my chosen profession and gladly assist anyone who has the need of my skills, servant and aristos alike, but it sometimes feels… mundane. I miss the excitement of a poem recitation, a glimpse at the mysteries of the worldcosmos, the sound of profound words that can change the lives of others, not merely buy or sell an Iteru perch" Another long pause and another sip of wine. "Anyway, I thank you for today. The way you intervened before and assisted me with these documents made all the difference."

Haemon‘s current feeling of happiness, blessednesseudaimonia was a recent one. The day, as he remembered, had not started all that smoothly. After Archon Alexandros left them to tend to his own business, the four unlikely companions, Dunyazad having already departed along with Ismene, shortly discussed the best way to proceed. Raemka and Heliae agreed to work together, as did Haemon and Applecore. It wasn’t a lack of trust that forced these alliances, quite the contrary in fact. Each one of them recognized a certain worth in one of the others and they had all come to the conclusion that to pair up meant to increase their chances of success.

The first step seemed pretty straightforward to the Elean. To familiarize themselves with the family‘s daily routine was the only way to locate any occasions where Ismene would be subjected to danger. Since only one man was responsible for everything that went on at the estate, the physician and the kyai immediately looked for Nechotas. Even if the chief servant had wanted to somehow hide from them, it would have been impossible. The two „guests“ only had to follow the sound of his commanding voice and that of his rod striking the back of any unfortunate servant who was too slow to comply with his wishes. Haemon frowned, but tried to remain courteous nonetheless. It was true that servants sometimes had to be punished, but as a physician he didn’t approve of physical injuries or torture. The body of all sentient beings was a gift from the gods and to treat it this way was offensive and sacrilegious.

"Chaire, Nechotas. We would like some words with you. Your master sees the need and asks you to comply."

In retrospect the Elean could have been more careful about his choice of words, even though the chief servant didn’t seem to mind their unwittingly harsh tone. Nechotas‘ expression remained the same, one of dignity and conscientiousness with just a hint of impatience as if meaning to say that he had more important things to take care of.

"Certainly", was the man‘s rather laconic answer, his eyes studying the kyai and the physician, just as their eyes studied him.

Haemon, having expected at least a show of resistance, was taken aback, but he recovered quickly.

"In order to ascertain that noble Ismene remains safe, we need to know everything about the family’s activities and daily routine. Even minor details could be of great importance."

Nechotas bowed his head in response, though his gaze reflected none of the compliance his gesture implied.

"Of course, I will be glad to share with you all appropriate information about the Master and the ladies."

Appropriate?, thought Haemon angrily. This is his way of telling us that he will tell us only what we cannot fail to observe ourselves.

"Listen, Nechotas, we are not some gossiping…", he wanted to say Dulamah, but considering his current company he changed the word at the very last moment, "fishwives haggling at the agora. We are here at the behest of your Master. Any information you divulge will remain confidential. Remember that Ismene‘s safety and the future of your Master‘s household are at stake. Should something happen to her because you failed to share vital information with us, I will make sure that you will be held accountable!"

The servant assumed an expression of utter sadness, as if he had put on one of the classical Elean tragedy masks.

"Alas, I am not allowed to share such delicate information with anyone, no matter how trustworthy. I am so sorry that I cannot be of more assistance. Perhaps, you could take it up with the Master, your friend?"

Haemon‘s Eyes grew wide with shock. The audacity! Nechotas was mocking him. Things would have probably ended badly, had Applecore not intervened...

 
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  #36  
Old Jan 10th, 2021, 09:44 AM
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Kyai Applecore
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With their initial meeting adjourned the Dulamah was frustrated to find herself in much the same position she was twenty-four hours ago, before even arriving at the Dukas estate. Hired by Alexandros, given lodging and coin, but still no hard evidence or even verifiable rumor of where we should be focusing our efforts... Gods grant me strength!

One thing she had now that she did not yesterday was help. The team she found herself surrounded with seemed committed to their pursuit, if not as zealous as she. Likewise, they possessed skills she did not that were sure to be useful wherever this investigation led. Dunyazad led Ismene away, talking in that way that made you think you were in charge instead of she. That woman... cunning doesn't even begin to describe the layers of subtle mental manipulation she employs... If anyone were to cozy up to Dukas' daughter besides me, I would have chosen the old woman. I just worry she can't protect the girl on her own. But I always have the hairband...

Turning to regard the tabaxi and the human with inkblot skin, she internally approved of their course as well. The brute has enough sense to know where to focus his attention. And he certainly has the physique to fend off any ruffians with designs on kidnapping, if that's what this mystery reveals itself to be. Her eyes traveled up the dark feline's rippling arm muscles for a split second before turning to Heliae. And the girl... so reserved, yet willing to take risks when the opportunity is presented. There is more there than she's willing to show us.

That left her and Haemon with the task of deciphering the sheaf of papers Dukas had provided. She couldn't help but develop a crooked smirk and roll her eyes as the Elean peppered her with praise. "Your flattery, while not unwelcome, is a bit conspicuous, Master Haemon. We've debated a number of matters on previous occasions and you've shown yourself to be insightful as well as convincing. There's no need to placate my temper. To your previous points I would rebut that the restorative arts are just as much mental as physical. Being able to successfully identify and safely treat hundreds of different maladies and injuries is not a job for the dim-witted. Although I suppose spending a lifetime in pursuit of mastery can cause the job to lose its challenge?"

Switching topics, Applecore considered Haemon's blessing. Despite his attempt to let the comment lie she couldn't help herself, though it was much less a "heated debate" and more casual conversation. With a non-committal shrug she broached the topic, "Athena... Mesiddica... who can say which is right or wrong? The divine choose the forms in which they reveal themselves to us, and those revelations are then interpreted by mortals through countless tellings to get distorted and embellished. The similarities between Athena and Mesiddica are not lost on me, especially the symbolism of the owl. Might as well toss in Thoth, Orunmila, Ogma, Odin, Saraswati... even Wenchang Wang from the Far East. When you distill religion down to verifiable evidence all you are left with are questions and doubt. Are these all the same entity that chooses different forms? Or that have had these forms thrust upon it by mortal fallacies? My personal experience was that of Mesiddica and no one else showing me the path I was to take, and when I beseech her for aid she answers."

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Originally Posted by Haemon View Post
Another long pause and another sip of wine. "Anyway, I thank you for today. The way you intervened before and assisted me with these documents made all the difference."
Coughing to break the weight of the moment, she shakes off the near-vulnerability she was approaching. "Yes, think nothing of it. The documents needed more eyes on them, and we were the two best suited to it."



When they found Nechotas Applecore's disdain for the man quickly reached a level similar to Haemon's, but perhaps for different reasons. To see an Anykhet welcome the barbaric practices of their Domantine occupiers and take to it with such... vigor... disgusted the Dulamah. This is why our culture is in danger. Because men like Nechotas are quick to join the Empire for the pittance of authority they receive in exchange for betraying their heritage. So much like Yorda... But she kept her mouth shut while Haemon raised the subject that had brought them and instead turned her focus to studying the man for tells. It became clear almost immediately that he had no intention of assisting or answering Haemon's questions, but the manner in which he refused could also inform them.

No stranger to reading the body language in people she had to deal with on a day-to-day basis, Applecore came to a conclusion about Nechotas that would inform her next move...

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Last edited by MoldyNolds; Jan 10th, 2021 at 09:45 AM.
  #37  
Old Jan 10th, 2021, 09:56 PM
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Heliae - Questioning the Guards
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Scrappppppppppppeeeeeeeeeeee. The tabaxi's chair ground against the stone, interrupting Applecore not once, but twice, with a sound so harsh it made their ears ring slightly. Bold move, possibly insulting the dulumah, though that task seems not such a challenge...Heliae thought.

With a half-smile and quiet chuckle, the young druid stood. Turning to face Haemon and Applecore, who were headed to review the documents, Heliae gave them a nod. Quickly then, they turned on their heels and trotted to catch up to Raemka.

Upon catching up with him, Heliae continued to walk quickly. The human's slight build made for a much less sizeable gate than the fighter's. They walked in silence for a few seconds, until Heliae thought it best to break the air. "I was thinking back there, about the disappearances... I am sure the nobility of the Emipire would not be, but as an Anyketian... are you familiar with the legend of Enaxi? Mutterings in the desert are that she cursed the Domanites upon her exile. " They looked up at the tabaxi as the two continued to walk towards the guards' quarters, looking for some sign of recognition. "I can't help but to wonder if the disappearances and the curse are connected. I am hoping to pass unnoticed later, to either the servants' quarters or Isemene's...both if I can be swift. I want to see what there is to see. Perhaps there’s nothing, but I think it would be wise to check for any signs of old magic. Maybe a cat, this time?" A slight smirk crossed Heliae’s face, keeping their face forward but moving their eyes up to the tabaxi, hoping the humor landed as intended. " There seem to be a few of those around... "

Heliae smiled as they offered the suggestion and was hopeful that the small joke might fix any possible rift that had been created between the two. The encounter earlier had been awkward, and they had been less than pleasant to the fighter. "I would appreciate it if you would forgive me if my behavior earlier was... unpleasant? I've been alone for quite some time and am not used to being around so many people. At the risk of being too honest, it makes me uneasy. "

The pair walked further still, towards the main entrance to the estate they had passed through just the day before. Two guards came into sight, standing on either side of the path. Heliae motioned to the door, gesturing for Raemka to go first. "After you, please. "

The two guards were leaned against the outermost wall, tossing a small stone between them for entertainment. It might have seemed odd to see those in such a formal position in a casual manner, but Heliae understood that one had to pass the time in the hot sun one way or another. Throwing rocks, while not an exercise of the mind like the druid would have preferred, seemed as good a way as any. As they rounded the corner, the two men spotted them and stiffened, gathering their composure. "Greetings, sirs. Please, be at ease. I am Heliae, and this is Raemka. " The druid chose their words carefully now, as to not insult them. "We have been tasked by the Lord with supporting your efforts in protecting the family. In particular, looking after Ismene in light of the recent disappearances. Master Dukas has made it clear that we should speak with you."

Heliae turned to Raemka, then, making room for him to begin the questioning of the guards. Best to not lead with questions of magic, and these gents seem more like the fighter’s crowd than mine, the druid thought.


Heliae - Later that evening
After the questioning of the guards had been completed, the sun hung low in the sky, casting a golden glow and long shadows across the estate. Heliae and Raemka sat beside each other on a stone wall, looking out beyond the estate, at the guards around the perimeter, and beyond to Skynkel below the hills. It was soon that the nobility would be taking their evening meal, and Heliae knew that now would be the best time to see about any magic afoot.

"I think it's time for me to see about that magic... you think?" The human rose to their feet, balanced on the edge of the wall. Much like earlier that day, they slid a hand into their satchel. As they whispered ancient words - almost silently - to themself, they twisted a lock of Ruby's hair between their fingers. Shutting their eyes, the druid repeated the chant, calling upon the desert to support their need for a more sleek and subtle form. When their eyes opened, Heliae had assumed the shape of a young cat, not more than one year in age. Its fur black as ebony and slick and shiny like it had been dipped in olive oil.

The druid stretched backwards, dipping their new feline belly to the warm stone and settling into its back legs. Then it rose, reversing the motion and stretching its back legs entirely straight. With one swift motion, Heliae headbutted Raemka and jumped from the top of the wall to the ground, but took a bit of a tumble with the landing.Ooof. I knew I much preferred the mouse’s body. Well, no changing it now… The druid shook the dust out of their coat and set off for Ismene’s quarters and the servant rooms, in search of any hints to the arcane.

The cat slunk swiftly along the walls, attempting to go unnoticed by any humans. While some did notice them from time to time, given that there were a few other cat residents within the walls of the estate, Heliae’s presence was not entirely unfounded. From their searching earlier, in a much smaller body, they did know the route to the servants’ quarters, as well as Isemene’s rooms. They had just about reached the servants quarters when a large pair of legs appeared in front of them, and then, two rough hands reached down and picked the cat up. " Well hello, new friend! I don’t think I’ve seen you before! "

The cat let out a short yowl in protest and leapt from the servant’s arms. Though the scratches behind the ears were alarmingly pleasant, Heliae had business to attend to. And so, the druid continued on, hoping to avoid any further distractions from the task at hand.


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  #38  
Old Jan 10th, 2021, 11:48 PM
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Dunyazad Tends to Ismene"Wanting to know the tales of our peoples...? Now that is interesting. Perhaps no better way to learn more about the girl than to keep close and observe her daily life..."

And so Dunyazad spent the remainder of the first day with Ismene, and between the daily chores of a Domantine noblewoman's handmaid, she recounted the tales of Anykhet. Old Anykhet. The true Anykhet, before the Domantine pantheon kidnapped their morals for its own. "We shall begin with Story of Nisa, the story of a young and educated highborn maiden (oh, it would seem not entirely unlike yourself, Miss...) and her journey into the vast world," The little half-orc began, steeping the noblewoman's tea. "She is the royal lexicologist, you see, and is charged with finding only the very best word beginning with each letter of the alphabet..."

In truth, there was no "Story of Nisa." She'd made up a new protagonist entirely and had been piecemealing together various tales across different tribes and clans. And so Dunyazad went on for the next day and a half, tending to Lady Ismene as any of her other handmaids while sharing this amalgam that was Nisa's Epic. She prodded for insights into Ismene's reactions and asked about what she would be doing at that particular hour of the day, had they not been telling stories, but... it was strange. Was that hesitance in Lady Ismene's reactions? Was she disinterested in Dunyazad's tales? Or could she tell that Dunyazad had patchworked together a number of differing tales together to form one just for her? Perhaps, as someone educated and curious, Lady Ismene already knew some of the stories of Old Anykhet, and took Dunyazad's liberties as patronizing...

Dunyazad Appeals to the Servants
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It was on the second day of their employ in the Dukas Estate that Dunyazad decided she needed another source of information on Lady Ismene than her ladyship herself. In the brief time there, there were only three servants with whom Lady Ismene regularly interacted: Spodumene, who assisted with meals and errands; Lobelia, who tended to the rooms, and; Irsha, the Housekeeper, who oversaw the servants' daily chores.

Spodumene? No: she was a human of Domantine descent. Less likely to break her mistress' confidence for a child of Anykhet from the outside. Especially not a fellow servant that was to be treated as an honored guest.

Irsha? Not likely: she was a lizardfolk and too much reminded Dunyazad of her previous Housekeeper, infamously stern and unyielding.

That left Lobelia. A meek river elf, likely from far to the northeast, on the other side of the Domantine Empire. How she'd come this far south at such a young age must have been quite the story.

So when Ismene left to take breakfast, Dunyazad excused herself and remained in the aristocrat's quarters. There, Lobelia was changing her mistress' linens for the day. Dunyazad joined in the chore, quietly, until... "You are mawja-tifl, yes? River elf? A sacred peoples here: in the land of sand and stone, water is life. And your peoples are blessed to be of the water," Dunyazad began, pressing the air out from under the first of many newly laid sheets.

Lobelia glanced in her direction but didn't make eye contact. "Yes, Miss. River elf," she said quietly in broken Domantine.

"Ah, but I believe Miss is reserved for your mistress, Lady Ismene, yes? As a guest, you would call me Madam Dunyazad. Though I have not fully attained my manumissio, so I am not entirely sure what you'd call me..." The look of confusion across Lobelia's face was telling enough. The girl was either too new to know anything, too young to know when to safely break confidence, or too new to the Domantine language to eavesdrop. "Oh, nevermind it, dear. You are doing a wonderful job," Dunyazad smiled wide -- sometimes an alien thing in the world of servants -- and they returned to their chores together in silence.

That left Irsha the Housekeeper.

A quick check on Lady Ismene found her preferring a book at the empty breakfast table to any more of Dunyazad's stories. The old Leutakimah went off in search of Housekeeper Irsha. The stones that made the hallway floors were perfectly even and well polished, easy enough to navigate, but these corridors were so long and winding that she had to rely on the walls to keep steady every now and then. Housekeeper Irsha and several other servants were preparing for the day in one of the kitchens. Dunyazad approached and began to help clean off a pale bulb of a vegetable she'd never seen before, casually, as if she'd done it every day for the past half century. She and Irsha made eye contact then, pleasantly enough, but the silent look from the head maid was clear enough: what are you doing in my kitchens? Housekeeper Irsha, teal-scaled and wearing an extra apron over her uniform, had the other servants leave the room.

"We are graced by your presence, Madam Dunyazad," the lizardfolk began in the typical, paced speech of a lizardfolk. That she didn't stop in her preparation of the vegetables could have been the slightest breach of etiquette to any other guest, but Dunyazad appreciated the complexity of their situation. She was, after all, still technically a servant. "Housekeeper Yusk, of the Balbii. That is your missus, correct? You must be quite special to not only survive under her watch but also to be sent here on such a mission."

"You are most generous and knowledgeable, Mrs. Irsha," Dunyazad bowed her head in turn, still cleaning vegetables. "Irsha is short for Irshareeshii, yes? The lizardfolk name meaning the ripple that reflects the sun... if the empire tongue had a palette for so many syllables..."

They shared a smile at the jab towards the Domantine. Good. An amicable beginning. But Housekeeper Irsha was as direct as Housekeeper Yusk was stern: "Why are you here, Dunyazad? Not here, preparing our stews, but here, assisting with this investigation?"

The older woman paused in her chore, then, thinking of what to say next. She decided to be similarly direct, and explained that, in truth, she cared little for the glory of the empire. Three things motivated her here: the Domantine children she'd reared that went missing; the children of Anykhet that have and could go missing in the future, and; her own freedom. "I am truly Blessed by the Mountains to have seen my homeland in my youth, and to be able to see it again, one last time, before I die. It is for the children of our peoples that I fear, to be born in the empire without ever having seen the mighty mountains catch the rolling storms. Or the last sands settle after a duststorm. Or hear the chorus of the valley swamps at night... You've seen them with your own eyes, haven't you? In your youth, before you came to be here," she gestured widely to the room around them. The estate. The entire city. "I can show you those swamps again, if you desire it..."

Housekeeper Irsha didn't have to say it. The longing was in her eyes. In her silence. In her consent to even hear out such an offer, that might otherwise be damning to her role at the estate. Dunyazad moved to sit at the small working table, directly across from the housekeeper. "Close your eyes. You will feel a slight... presence, in your mind. Accept it. But be warned, for seeing what one desires can indeed enliven the heart. But so too can it can damper the heart, at seeing what it has lost, and drift into despair... Is to see your homeland again truly what you desire?" Suddenly, she felt like a true aimra'at hakima, a wise-woman, making an offer laden with warning.

Irsha nodded at that offer all the same. And so Dunyazad Dunyazad casts Phantasmal Force on Housekeeper Irsha, creating the illusion of a (non-harmful) swamp in a 10'x10' cube around her! Dunyazad rolled an unnatural 20 on a History check to re-create the swamps!called upon her old magicks, that which she often only remembered in dreams and so rarely summoned into this drab world of empty Domantine rituals and hierarchies. At least, she hoped she could conjure up the lizardfolk's homeland. The Sunsalt Swamps. She'd never seen it herself, but she'd seen the leaves of the looming Raincatcher trees in a noblewoman's transplanted garden some years ago. She'd glimpsed the rendition of those swamps once, but they were done by a Domantine painter. Other than that, she was piecing it together from various fine details of stories she'd heard. "Now open your eyes. Can you smell the waters of the Sunsalt Lake? Do you see its sands and stones churning beneath the surface? Do you see the broad leaves hanging overhead, catching droplets from the fading rain? Do you hear them, the chorus of chirps and buzzes and whirrs, crying out to the sun as one?"

Irsha didn't say anything. She didn't have to. The tears coming from her eyes, as they darted around at invisible plants and bugs and shorelines, told Dunyazad well enough that the illusion had taken hold. She held onto the spell, sitting quietly across from the tearful lizardfolk, until the magic faded.

"This is why I am searching to unravel this mystery, Irshareeshii of the Sunsalt Swamps. Our children have been robbed of the the homelands we have known ourselves, and now they are taken from our arms. We must see them safe, and tell them the stories of these places in our hearts. Do you see as I see, now? Whatever misfortune has come upon this land now threatens Lady Ismene as well. Any secrets you may keep of her -- of her hobbies, her desires, of the hallways in which she walks in this estate -- please, entrust them to me, so that we might see this tragedy ended."


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  #39  
Old Jan 12th, 2021, 04:36 AM
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Raemka of Khem
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"...are you familiar with the legend of Enaxi? Mutterings in the desert are that she cursed the Domanites upon her exile."

"I've heard mutterings of a curse, ever since I arrived in Synkel," Raemka replied cautiously, uncertain whether he believed in curses or not, but not wanting to offend Heliae. "But I haven't heard the name Enaxi in connection with it. Who is she? Why was she exiled? I'm afraid I learned very little of the history of the Five Cities when I was a child. Too busy in my parents' fields, or exploring the back alleys of Khem, or engaged in some mischief. A wasted childhood, some might say." Despite that, the memories brought a smile to Raemka's face.

Noticing that Heliae was struggling to keep up with his stride, he slowed his pace and listened attentively to their conversation. 'Such a quick mind,' he thought, as Heliae flitted from topic to topic. He let out a deep baritone chuckle at Heliae's cheeky mention of cats. "It's a good idea," he agreed, "and not just for the purpose of spying. It would be interesting to see how easy it is to get in and out of the Dukas estate unseen."

"But watch out for jackals,"
he added, with a mischievous grin.

When Heliae offered their apology, Raemka waved it aside. "I should ask you to forgive me. I was too forward, and we had only just met." The reasons for this were too numerous and too... messy?... to burden Heliae with, so Raemka opted for the simpler explanation. "I'm just not good with people. I grew up in a big family. Really big. Five sisters, three brothers. Not to mention the whole extended family living nearby. So you see, there was no need to make friends. If anything, I needed time away from my family. I'd go exploring by myself just to get some peace and quiet." And then the drought had hit, and the farm started to fail, and it seemed necessary for them all to find other ways to make their way in the world. It had seemed perfectly natural for Raemka to leave Khem and seek his fortune elsewhere. And at first it had been wonderful. The beauty of the desert, particularly at night. Exploring. Finding the secret ways. Cresting a dune or hill and seeing a town or city for the first time. The strangeness of it attracted him.

But there was no denying it had been lonely, at times.

As they passed the outbuilding they'd stayed in before, Raemka collected his weapons and shield and buckled them into place. Probably no need for them yet, but he figured it would make it easier to talk to the guards if he seemed to be a fighter like them. And then Heliae was talking to the guards, introducing them both. He would have preferred it if Heliae had done all the talking, but it had been his idea to talk to the guards, so he supposed it was his responsibility to do it.

How would Aat have approached this situation? But that was no good. Aat would have robbed the Dukas estate in the night and been long gone by now.

"Uhh, okay, so, uhh…" Not such a brilliant start. "It's not our job to guard the estate. The Elder Dukas hasn't asked us to do that, and I don't see any point to it. I'm sure you're doing your job just..." His eyes were drawn to the stones the guards had been tossing between them to pass the time, and he came to an awkward halt. "Anyway, kids have been disappearing, and the Elder Dukas is worried his daughter might be next. If it's kidnappers or slavers, I'm sure she'll be perfectly safe under your guard. But if it's supernatural, well..."

"We only need to know two things, really," he continued, after giving the guards' imaginations sufficient time to process his last statement. "We need to be familiar with your patrols, particularly your night patrols. I don't want us bumping into each other in the middle of the night. And we need to know if you've seen anything different or unusual. Apart from us, that is." He smiled and laughed, trying to put the guards at their ease. "Don't worry about whether it seems to be related to the disappearances. Just anything out of the ordinary."



In the afternoon, Raemka patrolled the estate and its immediate surrounds with Heliae, looking for evidence that someone had already infiltrated the estate, or had spent time observing the estate. To his surprise, Heliae seemed to know much more about the plant life and animals of the region than he, Raemka is proficient in Intelligence (Nature), but Heliae has the higher Intelligence.though Raemka was certainly no slouch in that field. Pointing out and naming the various plants the pair came across helped to pass the time amiably, and Raemka showed Heliae how to look for tracks, and how to interpret what they found.



In the evening, Heliae and Raemka sat beside each other on a stone wall, looking down at Synkel. "I meant to talk to the others about this before," Raemka said suddenly, breaking the companionable silence. "I don't suppose you would have noticed, being new to Synkel, but the city has changed. For those familiar with Synkel, and with a keen ear, it is possible to hear..." He stopped. Hear what, exactly? "Desert cities come alive at night. I've visited all the Five Cities, and a few towns and cities besides, and they all have that in common. But now, when night-time comes, Synkel sounds muted, sluggish, as if struggling to rouse itself from deep slumber. Or like a wounded animal that knows it's dying. All its fight is gone."

Raemka watched as Heliae transformed into a sleek, black cat. He had to stifle a laugh as Heliae struggled to control their form. Cats never liked it when you laughed at them. To a cat, dignity was everything.

As Heliae disappeared into the night, Raemka offered up a prayer to Bastet on behalf of his companion.


OOCRaemka's two actions are:
1. Gather information from the guards. I'm using an Intimidation check (through vague references to supernatural goings on) to coax them into revealing whether anything out-of-the-ordinary had been going on around the Dukas estate.
Dice Intimidation check:
d20+1 (16)+1 Total = 17

2. Checking to see whether there were signs of anyone having already infiltrated the estate, or spent time observing the estate.
Dice Survival check:
d20+3 (16)+3 Total = 19


 
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  #40  
Old Jan 15th, 2021, 02:09 PM
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Documents and NechotasOnce the interview breaks up, the group goes their separate ways. Haemon and Applecore find a convenient place to sit and talk. Amidst the theology, they find some time to pour over the documents provided by Dukas. It appears to be a full and detailed report of some sort of fact-finding mission; an investigation, or at least a compilation of known-knowns. It has a list of names of all the youths who have disappeared under suspicious circumstances. It lists dates of disappearance (or last known contact). There are a number of statements from parents or custodians. Of those statements, most parents are convinced that their child was taken. Yet in none of the cases was there evidence of violence or disruption. None of the families have been contacted by malefactors - there is no hint of extortion or terrorism or using the youths as hostages. A few parents thought they saw signs of growing detachment or frustration or rebellion prior to the absence.

After considering this information for some time, Heliae decides to probe at Nechotas. The conversation is mostly Which you played out. Thanks!uninformative and unpleasant. In the words, at least, there was little to learn. But the Kyai watched, silently detached from the back-and-forth. The Master of the House is definitely irritatingly condescending, and concerned about efficiency to the point of unfriendliness. He may even believe he has somehow 'risen above' the Anykhetian rabble. But he really seems to believe that he's simply doing good work by assisting a powerful man. There is no hint that he knows more than he lets on with respect Ismene's safety, or is aware of some broader problem or conspiracy. If Applecore had to guess, she suspects that he mostly seems bothered that the situation is creating more work for him and the household.
Ismene's quartersIsmene seems interested in the stories of Anykhet. When Dunyazad misleads her by making up a tale, she can see the disappointment on the girl's face. Dunyazad rightly suspects that Ismene easily sees through her ruse. The rest of that day does not go particularly well. Ismene seems to regret her outburst suggesting that the disappearances were not what they seemed. She keeps herself quiet for most of the afternoon. The Altrix easily gets a sense of the daily routine, and it fits with her past experience of noble houses. Ismene treats her servants with kindness, and does as her family expects. Yet there is a detachment from the family. This is not unusual for teenagers, but notable nonetheless.

As the sun sets, a cat slinks into the room. It is Heliae, disguised. With their arcane senses activated, they can find nothing unexpected in the room. Turning to Dunyazad, Ismene gives a polite dismissal, "Thank you for your help today; that will be all that's necessary for today." Ismene then gives the cat a small scowl, "And you! Shoo, get out!" She opens the door, both giving Dunzayad a prompt to exit, and giving the cat a route to flee. Ismene's Domantine upbringing seems to give her less reverence for a cat than you might find in an Anykhetian. "Stupid! If you hang around much longer tonight, the jackals will take you. Get!" Dunyazad departs with dignity for the evening, while Heliae, pushed by a stern foot on the hind quarters, trots behind.
The servantsBoth Dunyzad and Heliae seem to have the same idea; both head towards the servant's wing. The pair walks together, woman and cat. Applecore had looked for magic outside and found none. Heliae verifies the same inside. Whatever is happening, it seems clear that they can rule out mystical activities within the estate.

That is, until Dunyazad finds her opportunity to press for more information. She summons up an illusion to beguile and persuade the housekeeper, Irsha. Heliae takes this as an opportunity to explore elsewhere in the servant's quarters.

Dunyazad presses Irsha. "Romances, hmmmm?" Irsha responds. After all the seriousness of the Altrix's appeals, the topic seems a bit frivolous. "People have their suspicions. About, perhaps, a secret. But that's mostly because she has turned down all the obvious suitors. Not even a thought given their way. No one has seen any hints, at least." What about hobbies? "Oh, the usual, I suppose. She'll spin, she'll embroider. But mostly she's a reader. Sharp as a tack! Don't let her act fool you. She's got strong opinions, and she's not one you want to argue with. Not if you don't like losing, at least. Smart as anyone up in the Heights, and probably moreso. She doesn't like to show it off, but that's part of the game. She's sly, that one." Does she have secret ways about the estate, or off the estate? This question makes the housekeeper more uncomfortable. "I... well. I shouldn't say so. No secret way into her room, certainly not. And the estate is secure. No ways through the wall, but over." That seems to be all she's willing to say. Dunyazad wonders about the reticence on this point, but she'd guess that the problem is that she, a stranger, is asking about some of the deepest secrets of the household. that is, you rolled well here.She does not suspect deception, as far as the answer went.

Heliae is That is, you rolled poorly. less lucky. In a thoroughly Domantine setting, there is simply not much indication of curses or native spirits, or Enaxi. The closest they are able to come is overhearing a pair of servants grumbling about the adventurers! "Strange folk, they've brought in." "Yes, the Lord is worried for Ismene." "Well he might be. But these adventurers will just make it worse, mark you me. They'll stir up the desert winds and bury us all the faster. Nothing but trouble. A curse on all sides, is what I think." The other silently nods, in an alas, and perhaps sort of response.
Nightfall, and the guardsWhile the others work inside, Raemka works outside. He spends the first day getting to know the guard outpost. He meets them, and while they are not friendly - this large desert cat's presence is an indication that their employer doesn't entirely trust them! - they respect the gladiator and his expertise. Raemka makes sure to hear each of their names a few times, and gets a count of their force. As far as he can tell, there are 8 on staff, five active at any point in time. Two always at the gates. Two on patrol, especially around the perimeter. One at the entrance of the family house. They rotate the positions. The guards do not seem to enter the family house - that is a private sanctum. Given the shape and size of the estate and the number of guards, he'd estimate that a patrol will walk by any given place in the wall every eight to ten minutes.

Eventually, Raemka manages to corner one of the guards, named Sabaf. What do the guards know? Has there been anything out of the ordinary? The guard seems quelled, and hesitant to answer, worried that it will be unsatisfactory. Raemka convinces him to say it, all the same. "No," Sabaf answers. "Nothing. We know something is happening in the Five Cities! We are on alert. We've heard rumors, everyone has. But... there has been nothing to see here."

It's a discouraging answer, and Raemka finishes the night stewing on it. He and Heliae listen to the city. Raemka says that desert cities come alive at night, but this one feels like it is dying. Almost in answer his thoughts, out in the darkness he hears the barks and yips of jackals - carrion animals, wandering, looking for death to feed on. They are so emboldened, in these declining days, that they even wander deep into the Heights. Unrestrained and hungry.

The next day Raemka walks the perimeter. While he's not used to cities, this sort of tracking is second nature to him. He looks for evidence of infiltration. Evan after pacing the perimeter multiple times, he can find nothing obvious. He sees the predictable footfalls of the guards, in their well-trodden circular path. There is wildlife - tracks of birds and mice. Even, here, it looks like the jackals have entered the grounds. Perhaps last night, as he heard them. Certainly not long ago. But there is no evidence of entrance by shoe, sandal, or footfall of human, tabaxi, or any other sentient creature that he knows of.

OODMWhew, OK, lots of stuff. I hope I didn't miss anything, and I hope you don't mind if I moved things in time or space a bit to create a narrative.

Let me give you another post in this scene, to respond to what I've given you, and if sensible, to regroup and discuss things as night falls at the end of day 2.
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  #41  
Old Jan 18th, 2021, 02:42 PM
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Haemon the physician
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The empty drinking vesselkantharos and the slight feeling of lightheadedness were certain indications in Haemon‘s eyes that it was getting late. The days -or rather nights- when he could have entertained several guests in his house‘s a room specifically meant for male guests where symposia took placeandron and leave to inspect his servants working the fields the moment the goddess of dawnEos showed her face, feeling none the worse for the lack of sleep, were long gone. Even if he still had a young man‘s stamina, who would be willing to drink with him and recite poetry all night long in Synkel?

"According to these documents there were absolutely no signs of trespassing or violence, no demands made and no corpses found. Even the most skilled criminal or rather group of criminals could not have abducted so many individuals without leaving any trace. One can be lucky once or twice, certainly, but the absence of evidence and witnesses in all cases cannot be accidental.". The Elean raised his head to meet the Dulamah’s eyes, his expression grave. "The only explanation that seems logical is that the youths have left their families on their own accord." Pausing for a few moments to let his words sink in, as much for his sake as for the sake of his scholarly companion, Haemon continued with the conclusions he had drawn.

"That doesn’t mean that there was no outside influence. Even a passionate adolescent maleephebos would think twice before leaving the safety of his house to aimlessly wander the streets of Synkel or, even worse, brave the desert and its dangers. No, they must have had assurances. Other like-minded individuals, a safe place, a future with a certain attractivity. And quite possibly assistance too. If we are to get to the bottom of this, we must look for an individual or a group of individuals able to come in contact with young persons of various social strata, individuals who would be admired and trusted by the youths. Teachers perhaps or beloved servants…" Realizing the unwitting insinuation the Elean paused for a moment before continuing. "…though I guess even a physician or some kind of spirit healer should not be ruled out too."

With a sigh, Haemon rose to his feet and took a few steps around the nearby table, thinking. "To be honest, I don’t think we should rule out anyone yet. Not even other youths. Perhaps the one behind this works through proxies. One thing is certain, we need to interview the families of the missing children. I would have included Nechotas, but the old fool seems terribly uncooperative and I doubt he is to change his mind anytime soon. The man is as stubborn as a mule!" Trying to calm himself, the physician turned to Applecore once more. "What was your take on him? Do you think he could be hiding something?"

 
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  #42  
Old Jan 20th, 2021, 07:16 AM
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Raemka of Khem
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Tired, and a little disheartened by his lack of progress, Raemka made his way to the quarters where they were being housed. As he arrived, Haemon was discussing the results of his own investigations with the Kyai, and espousing on the theory that the children had all left of their own accord. Raemka poured some watered wine into a drinking-cup and settled down on a chair in the corner. He sipped his wine slowly, sparingly. All desert travellers tended to acquire the habit of drinking that way, to preserve water rations.

He waited patiently for Haemon to finish. "I have always thought the children might be running away. It happens more often than parents like to admit. And who would know better how to leave an estate unseen than someone who had spent every day of their life inside it?" It made sense, and yet... he didn't like it. "But even so, twenty-four disappearances with no witnesses? It's too many. Sooner or later something unexpected should have happened. A neighbour returning home later than expected. A stranger passing through. Someone should have seen something. I can't help but feel that magic is involved somehow."

"As for my own investigations," Raemka added, with a deep sigh. "They have not been productive. The guards know nothing, and their patrols are about what you'd expect—frequent, but a bit too regular. There seems to be little preventing anyone from entering or leaving the estate unseen, particularly at night. If Ismene wanted to run away, I dare say she could already have done so." He took another sip of his wine, and wondered where he might get some food. He had been out all day, and was famished. "I have scouted out beyond the estate. There are no signs that anyone has been watching the estate in secret. The only oddity I've found are jackal tracks. They are clearly coming onto the grounds of the estate at night."


OOCI did a Nature check regarding the behaviour of the jackals. It seems odd to me, as a player, that they would be so bold, given the presence of the guards. But I didn't just want to presume.

 
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  #43  
Old Jan 20th, 2021, 04:00 PM
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Heliae Eshe
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When the druid returned to their human form, they were in a rather unnatural position, on all fours with their limbs stretched out. Heliae rose slowly from the stance, taking care to stretch each vertebrae as their back went from a u-shaped curve to its typical upright form. Upon fully standing, they stretched their neck to the left, then the right, and gave it two full rotations in each direction.

“The feline form is not my favorite,” the druid said to Dunyazad. “It’s far more stretch than my own body and I find it to be less forgiving to my lanky limbs.” As they returned to the group, Heliae chose to remain back for a moment. They motioned to the old woman to continue on. “I’ll be just a moment.”

Heliae turned to face the estate, and the land beyond it. The druid slowly moved their cowl back and allowed the cooling evening air to settle on their skin, still damp with sweat for the desert sun. As the cowl fell onto their shoulders, they sunk back into their heels, and lifted their face to the night sky. The constellations were there, but Heliae looked for more that night. Some sign from the natural world that this adventure was the right choice. As the breeze blew a touch harder, they lowered their eyes and traced the line of the walls making up the estate’s perimeter. While the estate and all of its buildings were expansive, the walls gave Heliae a sense of enclosure, but certainly not safety. After a deep sigh, the druid turned to face the doorway of the group’s quarters.

Just then, a quick yip and yowl cut through the night’s softness and caught them by surprise. Heliae whipped their head around, searching the horizon for any sign of the source. Though nothing was to be seen, there was no doubt about it, it had to be jackals. The druid exhaled then, not realizing they’d been holding their breath, and entered to join the others.

“The only oddity I've found are jackal tracks. They are clearly coming onto the grounds of the estate at night."

Heliae sat on a chair near the group, between Raemka and Haemon, and raised a foot to their knee. “And making quite a racket while they’re at it, I’d say.” They worked at their sandal, which revealed a pattern of dust and dirt upon removal. They reached down for their waterskin, unscrewed the cap, and drank deeply from it.

“I am sorry to report that my adventures this evening were less than fruitful. I could not find any evidence of magic anywhere in the servants’ quarters, though I’m not convinced it’s not here, somewhere…” They moved their opposite foot to a knee and removed that sandal as well. Heliae realized then, that this might seem odd to some of the more proper members of their group. However, after a long day on paws and feet of different sizes, their body was tired and needed its rest. “The servants are not pleased with our presence. They find us odd and are worried we will stir up trouble. I think it would be of use to make an effort to be seen as a help, in their eyes, and not a nuisance. They did mention the curse of the desert, but then again, most do these days…”

As the druid began to wipe their feet from dust and sand, the patchwork of their dark and light skin became more apparent again. As they removed the dust, a sharp sting shot vertically up their body, running from the top of the foot to the knee. Heliae winced, and realized that the sun had, once again, scorched the fair patch of their skin. They had used the last of their trusty salve that morning, and while capable of preparing it themself, they were grateful for the physician's presence.

They turned then, to Haemon, motioning toward the nearly fluorescent spot on their left foot. "What are the odds you have the components to create more sun protection salve, master Haemon? They lifted their gaze to Applecore, before pausing, “Were the documents helpful?”

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  #44  
Old Jan 21st, 2021, 02:53 AM
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Dunyazad
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The old servant, though not first to return to their shared guest space, murmured along to the others' seeming lack of findings. "Hmm... Ohmm... Mmm... Mmhmm..." She nodded slowly, matter-of-factly, though the heavy wrinkles and dim lighting of the late hour made it difficult to determine to whom she was nodding, if towards anyone at all. Though when Haemon mentioned how unhelpful Nechotas had been, she only feigned restraint at her wide grin.

It came to be her turn to share what she'd learned over their first two days: "Well, the Lady Ismene is terribly clever, well-read, and well-liked. She is..." Dunyazad lowered her already low voice then, making it difficult to hear her at all. "... she is of the opinion that there are no abductions at all, but merely sensible youth eager to find a world as big as their eyes. Though she does not share this opinion openly and we would do well to ensure it does not reach the ears of her father," she nodded in agreement with herself. "But the servants know of no compromising secrets on behalf of their Mistress. No hidden passageways in or out, besides over the walls..." And so Dunyazad shared findings similar to the others: seemingly, nothing at all.

After a lull in their conversation, the old woman found herself thinking aloud: "No lurkers. No break-ins. No obvious breaches in the estate. No strangers, aside from ourselves. No open secrets. No lingering magic. But we should not despair, no, no. We are tasked with two things: to protect her ladyship and to investigate the disappearances. As there have yet to be any disappearances within the Dukas estate, we should not feel without for having found nothing where no crime has occurred. Besides... to have found such orderliness is quite the find, ohmm, mmm, yes..." She smacked her lips several times then. It was unusual for an altrix to do this much talking outside of lessons. The dry air had taken its toll on her lips and mouth.

But it was Raemka's finding that finally caught her attention. "Jackals, you say? Now that is interesting. Hmm... How might jackals find their way into the estate with such heightened security, however regular the patrols? Quite the fast learners, they must be. Bounding back and forth over the walls? If they sought only food, then certainly they did not tidy up after themselves as they went, and so a mess would be made and found. It would not do for a majordomo or housekeeper to allow such a thing, in the Lord's estate of all places, and not for all the orderliness we've found here. Either the protections here are not so sound, or... the jackal is not such a happenstance opportunist." Still, Dunyazad wasn't entirely sure if jackals had any role here, or if the thought merely put her at ease, to have the beginning of an answer to so many questions. "Young Heliae, you are certainly gifted by the Gods, old and new, to have such changeling powers as you do, to pitter-patter as a mouse, stalk as a cat, and step flat as a human. A blessed omen, among the Leutakimah, where you would certainly have been hailed as an iilham. An alrrayiy. An oracle. Do you know of others with such gifts, who might take the form of any happenstance creature to pass unseen in plain sight, like so many servants among nobles? Perhaps, say... as a jackal?"


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  #45  
Old Jan 22nd, 2021, 08:05 AM
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Kyai Applecore
NechotasListening to the conversation between Haemon and the house servant, Applecore couldn't help but empathize with the physician. This Nechotas is clearly used to bossing around just about everyone in his path, save his master and his master's family. His head has grown to large for his own good. Unlike the Elean and since she had not been the direct target of the servant's ire, it was easy for her to direct her frustration inward. Towards something more constructive than an outburst, although that would perhaps have been just as satisfying. A slow smile spread across her face as the obvious idea began to take shape. Lucky for him I have just the remedy...

Before Haemon had a chance to reply to the thinly-veiled "the Master, your friend." comment, the tall Dulamah put a surprisingly calm hand on his shoulder. "It's alright, Haemon. If the Master of the House says he cannot share his knowledge then let's not trouble him any further." As she guided him away from the insufferable Nechotas, Applecore spoke softly and ushered him on ahead, without her. "Just a moment, for me to apologize. I'll be right behind you."

Turning back, the Kyai donned an air of exaggerated favor. One she had known all too well in her past. It did wonders to placate those who thought themselves above others, though the irony that that same deception could now be used on her to great success by her subordinates was mostly lost on the woman. "Master Nechotas, if I may offer a humble opinion?" Her voiced was laced with cordiality. As she approached Applecore withdrew the medallion from inside her dress letting the long leather cord drape in between her breasts, Mesiddica's owl hanging down near her bellybutton. She held it delicately in-between her thumb and forefinger, twirling it back and forth lazily as if an idle distraction. "Your manner of discipline is quite harsh, something you learned from Archon Dukas, no doubt? It would serve you well to remember that you are not Domantine, but Anykhetan. Your blood is of the desert. Sand runs in your veins whether you would have it or not. And no matter what conquerors or invading armies think to take possession of it, and for how many generations they hold it, the desert will always reclaim what is hers and bury the rest." Now closer than an arm's length, and once she was sure Nechotas was giving her his full attention she quietly Applecore casts Suggestion!released the spell she had been holding on to. "Reflect on my words, on your heritage, and where your loyalties truly lie..."

Waiting just a moment or two to see if the spell had taken hold, the Dulamah retreated to find Haemon and the others and determine their next course of action.


Regrouping
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"The only explanation that seems logical is that the youths have left their families on their own accord."

Once back at the table and poring over the documents provided by Dukas, Applecore couldn't help but appreciate the physician's keen mind. She was approaching the same conclusion; it fit concisely within the information they had available to them, but he had reached it first. She nodded in agreement. "Indeed, it would certainly seem that way. A child set on running away from their own home could do so with much less complication than a kidnapper could break in to two dozen homes without a trace..." She sensed his regret in mentioning teachers as a source of the children's inspiration, but waved it away without a second thought. "Quite right, we can't rule anyone out at this point. Other than perhaps their own parents. But questioning them for commonalities among the adolescents' habits or visitors should certainly be at the top of our list of where to direct the investigation next." When he brought up Nechotas, Applecore was dismissive once more. "I think we can cross that fool off our list. He has his whipping rod too far up his own backsidebeaqab to welcome deception in this house."

Switching her gaze from Haemon to the others that slowly filtered in and shared their discoveries of the past two days, the Kyai sat quietly and absorbed all the information, disseminating it. "Mhmm... it would seem everything suggests not kidnappers, but perhaps influencers that convince these children to leave of their own accord? And jackals... certainly if they are of a kind similar to our young Heliae here then that could explain how they move in and out of homes without notice. After all, who would be looking for scavengers to corrupt their youth? So... two leads now to pursue; questioning parents and tracking jackals. Shall we split up or tackle each one as a group?" Just then another thought dawns on Applecore. "Ahh... if what you say is true and these beasts have already breached the grounds at least once before, then perhaps Ismene's mind has already been tainted? We would do well to assume she is already of a similar mindset as the others who went missing, no? Perhaps one group to make sure she remains on the grounds and another to look into one of these avenues of discovery?"


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