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  #16  
Old Dec 15th, 2020, 10:00 PM
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Heliae Eshe
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As the group followed the series of paths and hallways to the central courtyard, Heliae took in their surroundings from a fresh perspective. It’s amazing what an extra five feet of height can do, the young druid pondered as they walked, replaying their recent conversations with the others. As they were announced to the Lord Dukas, Heliae’s suspicions were proven, as this was definitely the family’s living quarters.

Heliae listened as Dukas introduced himself, and took a seat in one of the chairs as he motioned to them. They made certain to take one in the shade, because while they wore a linen cowl over their neck and head, the fair patches of skin would burn easily in the hot desert sun. As they sat, Heliae's posture was straight, near perfect. The previous night’s sleep brought a good stretch of rest under a roof for the first time in the druid’s recent memory. The curved shoulders, heavy with exhaustion and the literal weight of their gear, held a bit higher today. They looked down and noticed a small trail of ants, between the cracks in the stone, make their way to their underground city. From their, their eyes scanned the courtyard, again, taking things in from a new view.

As Dukas made his case to the group, Heliae’s eyes drifted across the courtyard to Ismene. She couldn’t be more than 20, based on appearance. Thankfully, she did not seem to resemble Ruby in appearance or demeanor, as much as they could tell from that distance. It would make the task of protection far less complicated. Relief came over them and they relaxed, albeit inwardly.

Heliae turned the Lord, with no one else having spoken, and broke the silence among them, bowing their head briefly. “Lord Dukas, Heliae Eshe, at your service. I’m curious, can you tell us more about the other disappearances? Do you know any of the details surrounding them?” They uncrossed their legs, and leaned forward slightly, “Also, I mean no offense, and I am certainly happy to offer my own skills to the cause, but I’m curious as to why the guards already in your service are insufficient for the task?”


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Last edited by NightCheese; Dec 15th, 2020 at 10:10 PM.
  #17  
Old Dec 16th, 2020, 01:50 PM
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Haemon the physician
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The physician smiled at his friend and benefactor, but the smile died immediately when he heard the formality in the lord‘s voice. It was as if he was addressing a complete stranger.

This is intentional, there is no doubt. I have either offended Alexandros without realizing it or he seeks to hide our bond. In any case, there is a debt to be repaid and that is not something I could ever forget.

His back straighter than it usually was, his gaze full of pride and determination, Haemon raised his right hand in formal greeting. "“Lord, greetings“ in EleanArchon, chaire!" His eyes wandered from the imposing figure of the middle-aged man to the more delicate form of his daughter, the ghost of a smile reappearing on his lips. "“Dearest Ismene“ in EleanFiltate Ismene, I thank the gods you are healthy and safe." He would have liked to tell her how relieved his daughter, Amalthia, would be to know that her dear friend was still among her loved ones, but this was neither the right place nor the right time. Perhaps later he would get some privacy with the girl and her fatherpater so that a few more personal matters could be addressed. "I gladly pledge my services and whatever skills I possess to you and your family, Archon. If through my actions or death I can prevent harm to this family I will do so willingly, this I swear before the gods and the black waters of the Styx."

It was said that even the gods would not break an oath sworn in the name of the Styx. There was no greatest promise one could make. Haemon’s pride required nothing less. He was after all an adherent of the old ways and both honor and tradition demanded it.

Sitting down next to Heliae, the Elean nodded slightly at the freedwoman beside him to show her that he shared her opinion. "Is it your desire for us to investigate the disappearances that have already taken place, honored Alexandros? It would seem wise to solve this mystery before disaster strikes anew. It is only a matter of time, I understand." Not wishing to appear impertinent to his host, Haemon waited patiently for the others to introduce themselves and Alexandros to explain his intent. Apart from the gladiatormonomachos, and perhaps the towering Dulamah -Haemon was still not certain about the full extent of this one‘s talents- the rest made rather poor choices to be charged with the safety of the archon‘s precious daughter. And yet there must have been a reason for Alexandros‘ summons. In all the time the Elean had known him, he had never acted without having first given his full thought to a matter. The question was whether he would be willing to share his reasoning with his „employees“. They would soon find out.
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Old Dec 18th, 2020, 11:57 AM
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Raemka of Khem
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Whilst Heliae and Haemon spoke, Raemka silently sat in one of the offered chairs; it creaked slightly under his weight. He was grateful that they had chosen to speak first, though he was surprised that the Kyai had not led the way. Raemka had no experience with the noble families of the Five Cities, and didn't trust himself not to say or do something rash, as he had with Heliae. Also, it gave him time to study the father and daughter before him. He shifted his chair so that he could view both.

The Elder Dukas was surprisingly unprepossessing. Raemka had expected that someone so respected would have a more dominating personality. Instead, he was mundane—someone who undoubtedly knew how to administer an estate, even manipulate the levers of power, but little more. In short, a man.

Raemka tried to focus on what the man was saying. "24 young people have gone missing from the Five Cities. 13 from Synkel alone." That was interesting. So not just a local problem, but one that faced all the Five Cities. Raemka knew, instinctively, that this signified something. But what? It seemed unlikely that it was mere geographical coincidence. Whatever was behind the disappearances seemed to be specifically targeting the Five Cities. Of those that had answered the Elder Dukas's call, Raemka felt that the Kyai would be most likely to unlock that puzzle. Perhaps, after this awkward audience was over, he would pose some questions to the dulamah. She seemed to thaw somewhat when asked to demonstrate her knowledge.

What else? "I fear for my daughter, Ismene. She is coming to the age where the children are being taken. That can not happen! She means too much. To me, to her mother, to the city!" Fine sentiments, to be sure. A father should place the life of his children above all else. But it raised some interesting questions. Given how little people seemed to know about the disappearances, why was the Elder Dukas so certain that the children were being abducted? After all, children of Ismene's age often ran away from domineering parents. Also, what did the Elder Dukas mean when he said that Ismene meant too much to the city? In his time in Synkel, Raemka had heard very little of Ismene. Did she, then, possess some hidden talent or power? Was she blessed of the gods?

And with that, he turned his attention to Ismene… and was again confused by what he observed. A quiet, bookish girl who seemed perfectly happy to leave her fate in the hands of others. She did not seem to be unduly concerned by her father's words. Or even particularly interested in the affair. That did not seem normal. She seemed completely absorbed in her book. The external world seemed to make little impact on her. Raemka felt certain that young girls did not normally respond thus to threats of abduction.

Raemka shook his head. It wouldn't do. It would be hard enough to protect her as it was. Fear was good. Fear was healthy. It made you alert to your surroundings, and quick to react to threats. She would have to learn that lesson quickly. But who would be the one to teach her? Certainly not Raemka. He wouldn't be able to reach her. Heliae perhaps, who was closer in age to Ismene, and sensitive enough to become friends with her? Or perhaps the one named Dunyazad, who had called herself 'altrix'. If he had understood her speech with the Kyai correctly, she had been a kind of teacher or nursemaid to the noble children of the Five Cities. Perhaps she could get through to the girl.

Then Heliae was speaking. "I’m curious as to why the guards already in your service are insufficient for the task?" An interesting question, certainly. Raemka knew the answer to this already—if mere guards were sufficient to prevent the disappearances, there wouldn't have been twenty-four of them. But it was a surface answer only. It explained the Elder Dukas's actions, but it didn't explain why guards hadn't been able to stop the disappearances. In Raemka's mind, this was the key question.

And then Haemon spoke. "Is it your desire for us to investigate the disappearances that have already taken place, honored Alexandros? It would seem wise to solve this mystery before disaster strikes anew."

Raemka nodded, and for the first time felt the urge to speak out. "Elder Dukas, I am Raemka. I am currently a pit fighter, but I have traveled the deserts of Anykhet and seen much. Though I hail from Khem, I have spent time in each of the Five Cities, and other places besides. I agree with Heliae and Physician Haemon. If we do not understand these disappearances, we cannot take all the steps that might be taken to protect your daughter." Having thus spoken out in support of the others, he felt nervous about continuing. But he steeled himself. There were questions that had to be asked. "Elder Dukas, you say the children were abducted. What information do you have that has led you to that conclusion? Also, was there anything unusual about the disappearances? Was there anything about them which did not make sense? Anything that seemed out of place, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant."

He looked around at the others, hoping they'd take over from him, but they seemed happy to watch his discomfort. "And finally, do the children have anything in common?" Thinking on the Elder Dukas's comments regarding Ismene, he added, "Do they possess particular talents or abilities that set them apart? Or do their families share anything in common?" He took a deep breath, and decided that any additional questions could wait for another occasion. "Elder Dukas, I mean no disrespect. I merely wish to be as well armed for this fight as I possibly can."


OOCWhilst observing the Elder Dukas, Raemka will try to figure out if he is being deceptive or holding back any information. Whilst observing Ismene, Raemka will try to get a feeling for why she seems indifferent to the threat these disappearances pose to her.
Dice Insight check against Elder Dukas and Ismene:
d20+1 (5)+1 Total = 6

 
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Last edited by Menzo; Dec 21st, 2020 at 02:38 PM.
  #19  
Old Dec 19th, 2020, 03:31 PM
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Kyai Applecore
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Having finally arrived at their long-awaited first meeting, the tall Dulamah moved through the noble's residence and into the courtyard on high alert. Trying to maintain an outward appearance of stoicism and control her eyes darted to and fro; as if hidden kidnappers would leap out from around an unseen corner or doorway any second.

So naturally she was caught off-guard when Alexadros welcomed their group with magnanimous greetings. Where was the stuffy, egotistical, commanding Dukas that presumed to rule over Synkel in the Empire's name? That dared to call on Iuppter Invictus the conqueror? This man seems almost... tolerable. Mentally shaking off her surprise, Applecore nodded with the barest amount of deference required and took one of the seats offered, setting her bags full of clanking metal and weapons next to her. Don't be fooled! Nobles are experts in projecting carefully cultivated outward appearances... An atmosphere of cooperation just means he wants something from us, and wants it desperately enough to pretend to be our friend.

When it came time for her to speak, the Dulamah kept it extremely short. "Kyai Applecore." She said nothing else, keeping her face unreadable. Dukas had said nothing of value yet. Anyone with half a brain would be able to deduce the shreds of information he just tossed us. The others seem to be asking the obvious questions, for now. Instead, Applecore turned her attention to the dispassionate Ismene. Hmm... Poor girl. She has lived in luxury for her whole life, she is incapable of seeing the danger she's in. Catching Raemka's assessing stares at the two in front of them, Apple approved internally. Perhaps the brute isn't as thick-headed as he looks. Joining in the activity, the Kyai regarded Ismene closely; her clothes, her hairstyle, she tried to get a look at the book being read. Most importantly, Applecore attempted to locate something on her person that seemed important to the girl, something she would go nowhere without. Spectacles, a ring, a bracelet, anything that the Cleric could use later as a focus for Mesiddica's gift of divination if the girl actually did go missing and needed to be found, as Applecore suspected would happen. As confident as she was in her ferocity to uncover the mystery, the simple truth was that until they had more information the girl was in danger regardless of how many eyes watched over her...

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  #20  
Old Dec 20th, 2020, 05:51 AM
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Dunyazad
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And so they were finally taken to meet the lord after much ado, but then again, she'd lived an entire lifetime waiting on such whims. "Funny, how these so-called lords so love their open air courts, as if to remind of their dominance over the very land. To remind themselves as much as anyone else, no doubt. Funny... how many years have I spent in such courtyards?" The countless books read to the children, the constant scurrying in silence... The memories blurred together, like she'd simply always been there. Constant and omnipresent. Immeasurably plain. But only now, when libertas was so near, did it all seem new again.

Dunyazad followed the others but remained standing, preferring to keep her legs stretched. But when she clasped her hands before her - the quintessential pose for a lady's maid to express readiness to receive orders - she realized that perhaps her life as a maid would not be so easy to unlearn. "So this was Ismene. The Lady of House Dukas. She appears... rather aloof. Then again, she lives in this world of airs and pomp and etiquette as much as anyone. And so this sense of the unassuming and the unbothered may just be another show. Perhaps a show for us, as the estate's guests, yes. Hmm. But perhaps as much a show for the servants? Even a show for... her own father...?" Between initial bows and listening to the others speak, Dunyazad makes a Perception roll, looking for any clues or secret tells as to Ismene's behavior and personality. Dunyazad rolled a 24 with a natural 20!Dunyazad studied Ismene from under an absent, wrinkly smile that consumed her entire face. Was there some clue in plain sight? Dirt or a scrape on her feet or shins, a smudge in facepaint or body oils, wear and creases in the book to indicate it was as handled as her muted demeanor should suggest...

When the good doctor called out to Ismene, the diminutive Leutakimah took note. "So physician Haemon recognizes Ismene. Very good, then. So this person is who they say she is," Dunyazad observed to herself shrewdly. She knew more than one Domantine stage tragedy - including that one about rustic Hoplodamus and his temporary suspension of divinity, the turnip farmer, and the convent - that involved a deception to the audience from the first acts, so this was a relief in deed. Perhaps this Haemon had a role to play in the story yet. Though, he seemed particularly tense, talking to Lord Dukas. A physician eager to enter into servitude and a nursemaid eager to leave it behind. Dunyazad chuckled inwardly then, though a moment later, she couldn't recall if it was actually out loud or not. And then there was young Heliae, speaking directly to their point at hand, while Haemon played their game of station and formality. What an interesting group they made. Still, they were asking all the necessary questions.

Only after the others had introduced themselves did Dunyazad speak out. "The esteemed House Balbii, by lead of Lady Porcia Tertia and Lord Sabinus, deliver their pledge and loyalty," She repeated her low bow then, continuing the game of etiquette. "Altrix Dunyazad, Dominus. Here to secure the safety of your daughter, Ismene of House Dukas, may the gods bless her." And another bow. She realized that it might be a real oddity for another House to send an altrix when the call was for hunters and bodyguards, but there was little for her to do to assuage any concerns of Lord Dukas, so she didn't linger on the subject.

There were still so many holes in this story that was unfolding before them. Little Dunyazad nodded as big Raemka asked his questions. "Mmm. Thirteen from Synkel alone? That is so many, and ominous indeed. Surely, these thirteen were not all of noble birth? A terrible thought." In truth, she didn't think thirteen was all that much. Thirteen youths might go missing from the streets of Synkel in as much as a month - maybe even a week - but without great family names, these nobles wouldn't know one way or the other. Terrible, yes, but not because of any prestige or station. Dunyazad tucked the thought away and continued. "Mmm, yes. Commonalities between them. Of those reported missing from both Synkel and the other great cities, is it known the age of the youngest and the age of the oldest? And of those missing from Synkel, when were they reported missing in relation to the other cities' abductions? In relation to festivals, seasons, weather...?" Dunyazad makes a History roll, attempting to recall unusual, non-annual events from this past year. Dunyazad rolled a 12!Dunyazad briefly thought of this past year, recalling any unusual events, political or otherwise. Surely, the empire and city alike were fading, but there must have been something obvious... "Is it known: the most recent disappearance and their identity? And, I mustn't ask, esteemed Dominus, but the call for Ismene at hand demands the question... how is it known that these disappearances are entirely abductions? The blessing of youth is to have a full heart and eyes wide enough to drink in the entire horizon, to be sure. Yes, hmmm. Is it also known, then, that none of these disappearances are voluntary embarcations, into adulthood and a life of one's own?"


OOCDunyazad makes a Perception roll, looking for any clues or secret tells as to Ismene's behavior and personality. Dunyazad rolled a 20 per this roll, with a natural 20!

Dunyazad makes a History roll, attempting to recall unusual, non-annual events and publicly-aware incidents from this past year. Dunyazad rolled a 12 per this roll!
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Last edited by cottontailwind; Dec 20th, 2020 at 06:31 AM.
  #21  
Old Dec 21st, 2020, 01:54 PM
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Interview phase 2After a greeting whose warmth surprised more than one of the adventurers, Alexandros Dukas takes a drink and the group responds. Haemon calls his patron's attention to himself, pledging service. Alexandros almost chokes on his drink.

"By the gods! Physician! I didn't expect to find you here, and so I did not look! My apologies. This could prove to be a dangerous task. I would not ask you to undertake it. But if you offer, I accept, most gratefully."

He sips again to clear his throat, and a few questions about the disappearances follow - what are the commonalities, what are the differences? Alexandros nods, coughs, and then looks at his sheaf of paper in earnest. "This is the most confounding thing! If it was all children of noble families, motives would be clearer. Money, political power, rebellion. The usual suspects. But the taken youths are from all walks of life. Age is the only commonality we see. Let me see..." he reads for a moment. "We suspect the youngest taken is 15 years, but these things can be hard to know, among the lower sort. Never yet older than 20. 17 or 18 is most common. In retrospect it does seem that Synkel was the first city to be affected - we are so close to the uncivilized waste. But for the most part, we see little pattern of timing across the cities."

Heliae asks: why not your guards? "Hm. Yes, well, why indeed? This is why suspicions are so strong that something insidious is at play. Children have been taken from other noble houses," a fact that Dunyazad knows too well, "and their guards served no protection. No commotion, no notice, no confrontation. It is not their job to detect conspiracy or witchcraft. I think we need more specialized help." He motions to you all, magnanimously.

Dunyazad reflects on the last year. It has not been a good one. There have been no great events. It is simply that the feeling of decline has intensified. The youths who have been lost, including her Otho. The desert has encroached - a few more houses at the edge of the city have been lost. People keep abandoning the outskirts to the battle, which only causes further losses and encroachment. The wheat crop failed. This is not unexpected; it happens at least once per decade; the city will get by with other staples. But a previous crop failure was just two years before. They are getting more common.

As she muses, Haemon follows up: should we investigate the other losses? "Yes, of course!" replies Dukas, setting his papers down. He leans forward, as if saying something in confidence. "Though... Ismene must come first, you understand. We can not have her put in danger, either by exposing her to dangerous situations, or by neglecting her to focus on others. All the lives matter. But..." he spreads his hands out as if the rest need not be said: his priorities are the most important priorities.

Applecore and Dunyazad watch Ismene through all this. She behaves as you'd expect a noble girl to behave She is composed, proper, demure. She reads diligently (it seems to be a classic of rheotric from the Domanitine homelands). Applecore notes a metal hairband that keeps her long hair out of her face. A light silken sash that sits at her hips. She wears slippers that must only serve to walk around the house. Almost certainly, these things are intimates, but one piece of a collection, any of which are commonly worn but might never be noticed as amiss.

Finally comes the question that seems to be on everyone's mind: is Alexandros Dukas really sure that the missing persons were abductions? "Of course! What else could it be? The Praefect and his cohortes are quite sure. It is systematic and destructive. Why else would the flower of the Empire vanish? Raemka sees the passion in Dukas' eyes. There seem to be little doubt in his mind. But Dunyazad, watching Ismene carefully, sees a flicker of a reaction. She gives her father a sideways glance as he states his case confidently. There is a flicker of a frown of skeptical dismissal on Ismene's face.

And there! Was that an eye roll she just gave her father?
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  #22  
Old Dec 22nd, 2020, 07:58 AM
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Haemon the physician
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A smile of relief eased the wrinkles around the physician’s eyes when the archon addressed him anew, this time in a much more congenial manner.

Thank the gods! A misunderstanding, that was all. I have done nothing to offend him.

"You honor me by gracing me with your trust, blessed Alexandros." The Elean placed his right hand over his heart in a formal show of gratitude. "I am surprised Nechotas didn’t inform you of my arrival last evening. He is usually so diligent. He too must be getting old." A barb, but one the servant well deserved. Perhaps he would pay greater attention when dealing with important guests in the future. Turning his eyes upon Ismene, the physician offered the girl a gentle smile. "My pledge is the pledge of those under my care as well. Amalthia wishes you well, noble Ismene. Ever since hearing of the disappearances she has not stopped praying to the gods to keep you safe. There is nothing more tragic than a calamity that befalls the young, just like your father says. Your friend is worried sick and to find the truth behind these unfortunate events would be the only thing to put her mind at rest, I fear. After all, she too is in danger just like any other girl or boy of that age, am I not right?"

Ismene’s reaction to her father’s opinion hadn’t escaped the physician and his words were carefully chosen to provoke a further response. It was clear that the girl had a different explanation than the official one offered by Domantine authorities and embraced by Synkel’s nobles, the elitearistoi. Expressing it in the presence of her father however could very well prove impossible. Fortunately, the physician knew that he was not the only one to have noticed the girl’s unusual reaction. The attention of at least two of their group was obviously caught more by the archon’s daughter rather than Alexandros Dukas himself. The teacherdidaskalos examined Ismene’s attire as if trying to memorize every little detail, while the elderly Dunyazad’s eyes seemed to take note of even the slightest move the young woman made. Haemon suspected that the altrix, with her unsurpassable experience in dealing with the young, would be the perfect individual to gain the girl’s trust. He only had to give them some privacy.

Turning once more to the father, the Elean’s smile disappeared as he tried to appear as business-like as possible. A physician was no stranger to observation and analytical thinking. Quite the contrary, these were some of a healer’s most valued tools and he meant to put them to good use.

"Archon, what is the course of action you propose?" Alexandros could hardly be meaning for the group to keep Ismene company until she turned one and twenty and was deemed too old to be in danger. And yet, he seemed reluctant to allow them to leave the estate in order to make inquiries in the city. "Should only some of us visit the places of the previous disappearances or would you prefer to summon the families of those that were taken to appear here? Their testimonies might reveal much, as might their behavior. It is quite possible that…"

Haemon paused as if uncertain if he should continue or not, repeatedly glancing at Ismene. " Haemon casts the cantrip „Guidance“Blessed gods above, grant me clarity to express myself without offending my generous hosts. I am not sure the following topic is meant for the innocent ears of the young, archon. I would not wish to expose your gentle daughter to the violence and vulgarity of the world. Perhaps, the altrix could keep her company before she can rejoin us at a later time?"

The look towards Dunyazad was unmistakable. Now’s your chance. Find out what the girl suspects!

 
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  #23  
Old Dec 26th, 2020, 09:01 PM
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Heliae Eshe
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“It is not their job to detect conspiracy or witchcraft. I think we need more specialized help..."

At the mention of witchcraft, Heliae twitches slightly in their left eye. There are many mysteries to discover in the world, different gods and temples, so many ways to make magic, should one choose to. “Witchcraft, you say? While I am no holder of a spellbook, I do believe my connection to the desert could be of use. I practiced and studied with Ruby, of the Zemanthe family, if you are familiar. I am honored to use those skills for your service, Lord Dukas.”

Heliae then shifts their gaze to Ismene, watching the girl carefully. As their vision loses focus, they daydream for a moment, trying to recall if they’d heard of any connections between the disappearances and the arcane. With all of their time spent in the desert over the past few years in various encampments and cities, surely, I rolled a 19 history check, so hopefully there will be something!there had to be something.

A slight breeze disturbed the warm morning air, and Heliae took a deep, yet quiet inhale. With the wind now shifting, they could feel their senses awaken and returned their focus to the conversation at hand.
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  #24  
Old Dec 27th, 2020, 01:12 AM
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Raemka of Khem
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Raemka listened patiently as the Kyai and the little Altrix introduced themselves. He was disappointed that the Kyai failed to take charge. Someone would have to, and she seemed the most likely candidate amongst them. At least Dunyazad made an attempt to wheedle some additional information out of the Elder Dukas, but the Kyai just sat there like a statue of Horus, watching Ismene with falcon eyes.

When the Elder Dukas spoke again, Raemka's disappointment and frustration only grew. The aristoi meted out information like a caravan master metes out water on a desert journey—only so much as was necessary to keep everyone amongst the living. And perhaps that was how he was accustomed to dealing with his servants, but the five assembled before him were not his servants. Indeed, there were some here whose knowledge and wisdom exceeded that of even the Elder Dukas, at least in their specific fields. Still, there was little Raemka could do about it, and he knew what the consequence of criticizing this aristoi would be—he'd be back in the fighting pits by the end of the day.

Haemon, though... perhaps he was their best prospect of getting more information out of this aristoi. Raemka was a little surprised by how obsequious Haemon was towards the Elder Dukas. It was a side of the physician he had never seen before. He and Haemon might have had their share of disagreements, even outright arguments, but Raemka had always had a lot of respect for Haemon. He was, in his way, a very great man. If his life had been straighter, Raemka had no doubt Haemon would have become a renowned philosopherphilosophos.

And then Haemon said something that caught Raemka's attention. "I would not wish to expose your gentle daughter to the violence and vulgarity of the world. Perhaps, the altrix could keep her company before she can rejoin us at a later time?" Raemka glanced at Ismene and the altrix, and nodded his approval. 'So that was your game?' Raemka thought. 'Sly old fox.'

Heliae spoke briefly. Afterwards, a silence descended on the gathering. Raemka waited for the Kyai to stand up, to take charge, to tell them what to do. But she didn't. Nor did anyone else.

And then a surprising thing happened. Almost without conscious decision, as if his body was being controlled by some other party, Raemka found himself rising to his feet and addressing the group. "I approve of this action. The honored Altrix should stay and comfort the Elder's daughter, whilst the rest of us gather such information as we can. With your permission, Elder Dukas, I would like to speak with the guards in your employ. You say it is not their job to detect conspiracy or witchcraft, but they may still have seen something of interest, something they themselves don't realize is important. And I would like to see where they patrol, if only to avoid duplicating their efforts."

Raemka spared a quick glance at Haemon, the Kyai and Heliae. But he couldn't sustain that gaze for long. Embarrassed, he dropped his gaze to the ground, and his voice became hesitant. "Perhaps Physician Haemon and the honored Kyai could stay with the Elder and continue to ask questions, and peruse the documents the Elder has gathered, whilst Heliae and I speak to the guards and familiarise ourselves with the grounds of the estate, and perhaps even a little of the desert beyond?" He thought Haemon would agree to this plan, but wasn't so sure about the Kyai and Heliae. The Kyai might think Raemka was being presumptuous. And she'd be right. Raemka was being presumptuous. He had absolutely no idea what had come over him, other than a vague instinct that time was running short, for both Ismene and Synkel. As for Heliae... well, there were some proverbial fences to repair there, and Raemka wasn't sure Heliae was ready for that yet.

"I know many of you see me as little more than a pit fighter, but my instincts are good. At least, they always have been in the past. And they are telling me now, as they did last night—" Here, he spared a glance towards the Elder Dukas, hoping he would forgive or at least overlook the implied criticism. "—that events are gathering pace, and that we have less time for investigation and planning than we might wish."


OOC
Dice Persuasion check to get the Elder Dukas to share his documents:
d20-1 (19)-1 Total = 18


 
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Last edited by Menzo; Dec 28th, 2020 at 12:30 PM.
  #25  
Old Dec 27th, 2020, 05:13 AM
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Dunyazad
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For as much that the Lord Dukas had to share, he seemed either simple or withholding. Wealth and status tended to bring those out in a person, so Dunyazad had learned. But after his responses, it seemed everyone had something to share.

Ismene's eyeroll was similarly telling and undefined -- she clearly had an opinion on the matter, though whether it was because she had her own suspicions, or because she didn't believe the disappearances were disappearances at all, they had yet to learn. Dunyazad much preferred the former, though in any case, understanding the Lady's passive dismissal of her father's comment would be a great insight.

Haemon made a suggestion for Dunyazad to escort Lady Ismene away, though it was his rationale that snapped the little half-orc to attention. She didn't dare sneak a look to Kyai Applecore at such a comment. It all only further questioned Haemon's character, if he believed his suggestion for Ismene to depart on account of being... fragile... or if the physician intended for such an opportunity. Still, opportunity was opportunity. Amidst the others chiming in with their own thoughts and questions, Dunyazad remained mostly quiet and merely bowed her head low, in acquiescence to Haemon's suggestion. "Mmm, this is the way of such things and I serve at the will of your lordship," she said to Dukas. Perhaps it could further serve as a bond between her and Ismene, however manufactured, if they were sent from the room together.

The tabaxi and the young spotted one were as true a children of Anykhet as Dunyazad herself, and when they spoke openly of their connection to the desert and he spoke of his instincts, Dunyazad listened. She nodded.
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  #26  
Old Dec 28th, 2020, 08:37 PM
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Kyai Applecore
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As Applecore's gaze wandered over the noble girl she became engrossed in the act of identifying her catalyst. Her failsafe. The thing that would prevent Ismene from disappearing like a cloud's shadow come nightfall. Slippers. To easily lost in a scuffle, or switched out for fashion or function. The sash, yes perhaps. That seems an item worn with most outfits... Ah! The headband! That's it; metal, simple in design. Surely she wears that at all hours, day and evening. That will lead me to her should she become lost... The Dulamah took her time, ingraining the headband's image, its signature into her memory.

And so it was that several moments and a good deal of conversation had passed before the Kyai's concentration was disrupted by the sound of her title being invoked.

"Perhaps Physician Haemon and the honored Kyai could stay with the Elder and continue to ask questions, and peruse the documents the Elder has gathered, whilst Heliae and I speak to the guards and familiarise ourselves with the grounds of the estate, and perhaps even a little of the desert beyond?"

What's this now... Ah, Applecore you fool! Focus on one piece of the puzzle for too long and the others will start forcing the remaining pieces wherever they like and distort the final picture. So... Haemon thinks to pair off the old woman and Ismene? Could be useful. I doubt the guards in an estate untouched by an abduction would have any insight, though if the brute wants to play bloodhound and chase a dead-end who am I to argue? Haemon isn't who I'd pick to team up against Dukas, but perhaps he can play the good lieutenant to my bad... even if unwittingly. Heh... The Elean would probably faint if he knew I wouldn't hesitate to intimidate or divinely coerce information from Dukas if I deem it necessary.

As Applecore ran through the options available to her to "persuade" Alexandros to give up all the information he was no doubt withholding from them, a sudden and terrifying thought ran through her head. Jumping to her feet rather suddenly she blurted out, "Dunyazad!" She was so flustered she had to make an effort to recompose herself. With a gaze across the faces of her new associates, half embarrassment and half attempting to convey gravity, she ended back on the Leutakimah. "While I can't deny that investigating multiple sources of information simultaneously would be to our benefit I would prefer at least two pairs of eyes remain on young Ismene at all times, preferably three as often as we can spare them. Although for the time being, until we conclude our initial briefing with our... gracious employer... I suppose she's safe enough. As long as you don't stray too far." The intent was clear, or she hoped it was. Any more blunt and she'd simply have screamed at Dunyazad that if the girl vanished under her watch she'd be forced to wring the old woman's neck, Applecore's savior or not.

Having successfully reclaimed her poise, locking her paranoia and disquiet away for the time being, Kyai Applecore turned back to regard Dukas. She remained standing, her hands clasped behind her back, and even deigned to take one single step forward towards the noble. "Now then, Blessed Archon," she hoped the overly-reverent title she heard Haemon use sounded genuine to Alexandros' ears, because it left a distinct distaste in her mouth, "I do believe that Raemka has the right of it. Additional eyes on those documents could only help protect your daughter, especially those of a master physician and learned educator."

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  #27  
Old Dec 29th, 2020, 02:34 PM
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Interview concluded?More than one of the interviewees catches Ismene's reaction to her father's assertions. It seems there is more there than meets the eye.

Heliae offers their services, while Raemka and Applecore seem to be jumping fully into the investigation already. Dukas looks quite happy with the gusto. "Then you're all in agreement to accept the task? Wonderful! We had not yet even discussed terms. I think you'll find me a generous patron. I believe Nechotas has already informed you that you will be staying on the premises - room and board gratis, of course. On one of the finest households in the city, if I may be so bold. On top of that, I suggest double my usual guard's salary, so 60 The Domantine gold coin; the value of a standard D&D gold piecegold Solidus per month while you are on retainer. If you manage to somehow stop the disappearances, I will give you a bonus equivalent to a year's salary, 720 Solidus. Are we agreed?"

Heliae only half-hears the offer; Dukas' mention of desert witchcraft sends them on a divergent reverie. Everyone in the Five Cities knows the story of the 'demons' that were run off as the Empire closed in. What is less clear, Heliae knows, is how literal this story is. The old stories among the native Anyketians say that the Cities, before the Empire, were united and ruled by some sort of witch-queen, named Enaxi. She was said to be hard-fisted but wise. Vengeful, yet creative. She made the Five Cities green, when before her there was only desert.

When the Empire arrived, Enaxi was defeated. She prayed for sanctuary, but was turned away. She cursed the Domantines, it is said, and fled into the desert. She still lives out there, immortal and watchful, it is said. She maintains the Curse with her powers and awaits their downfall. So it is said.

Raemka plans a review of the guards, and Applecore agrees with the pit fighter that a review of the Archon's documents would be most helpful. Haemon asks what Dukas would advise. "Well-asked, well-asked. There shall be plenty of time, I think, to do a thorough investigation about town, if one is called for. But... I think for now, Raemka has the right of it." Dukas easily recalls the warrior's name; he seems naturally adept at communicating with his employees. "I would advise this: make your place here. Understand the workings of the household, and where any dangers might lie for my daughter. Shore those up first; that is first priority! Then once you have your systems in place, perhaps then making some trips about the city could be useful. I would ask, though: if you have thoughts on where else to look, let us discuss again. Some of these matters may be delicate, I'm sure you're aware. If my name is attached to unpleasantness..." he gives a shrug that somehow both implies 'that would be an oopsie' and 'I can't be responsible for how I might respond after that'.

"In the meanwhile," he adds, looking at his documents a little possessively. "yes, I think you're right. You may review these. They have been scoured before for clues, but perhaps you can find something more." He folds the sheaves over and hands them to Raemka.

"That is fine," he says with much less consideration to Heliae's suggestion that the Altrix accompany Ismene, waving a hand towards his daughter. "You may escort Ismene to her rooms, if you please." He waves a hand towards his daughter as he stands. The meeting seems to be just about over. Ismene rises in response. Her eyes stay fixed on her book for a few moments as she stands, and then she looks around. She sees the Altrix ready to wait on her. Ismene gives Dunyazad a small nod of the head, and a demure curtsy. She marks her place, closes her book, and indicates with her hand the path to her room.

OODMYou can tell from the time scale of the contract that some time will pass in the story; I won't cut off the interactions now, but I'm planning on having a sort of 'montage' scene to take care of the various ways that you guys investigate the household and settle into your task. You'll notice that I didn't describe the documents that Dukas gave Raekma. Let's be gentle on the GM, please, and put off review of the contents until we're in that "preliminary investigations" phase

Also, while I'm assuming for the sake of avoiding an abrupt end to the adventure that you're all taking the job, you of course don't need to passively accept the terms (though your characters would know that Dukas is not just blustering; they are in fact pretty generous). If you want to negotiate, that's a possibility. So is declining the job, but that would complicate matters a great deal.
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Last edited by Wynamoinen; Dec 29th, 2020 at 02:34 PM.
  #28  
Old Jan 1st, 2021, 05:06 AM
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Raemka relaxed, pleased that the Kyai and the Elder Dukas had not taken offence at his suggestions. Not that he thought there was much worth in the documents, but it would give Applecore and Haemon more time with the Elder. No doubt the Kyai had her own ideas about how to extract additional information from the strangely unforthcoming aristoi. Heliae, on the other hand, remained quiet. No doubt Raemka could interrogate the guards on his own, but if there was a third party involved in these disappearances, then there had to be a way they were getting in and out. Based on their earlier actions, Heliae might have surprising insights into how that that was being accomplished.

As the Elder Dukas talked about the reward on offer, Raemka nodded his approval. As expected, the reward being offered was generous. He smiled at the thought of bringing such a large amount—almost 800 gold solidus—back to his family. His parents could certainly use the money; their farm was not as prosperous as it had once been.

'… not as prosperous as it had once been.' The thought itched away at the back of his mind. Nothing was as prosperous as it had once been. And these disappearances were only exacerbating things. If they were not stopped, the Five Cities might well die of shame, long before the encroaching desert overtook them.

Raemka was a little embarrassed to be given the documents to review. He knew three languages, and could read and write a little in all of them, but he was no scholar. "Ah, thank you, Elder." Trying to hide his discomfort, he passed the documents directly to the Kyai. She would know, better than any of them, what value lay within.

He turned to Heliae. "I do not wish to impose. But I, uhh, would be honored if you would accompany me. Your knowledge of the deserts would be useful, I think. As would your... ahem... knowledge of ways in and out."


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Last edited by Menzo; Jan 1st, 2021 at 11:44 AM. Reason: grammar, spelling
  #29  
Old Jan 1st, 2021, 09:27 AM
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Kyai Applecore
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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. "And if I may clarify, Master Dukas, you said earlier "we suspect". Who exactly is 'we'? Do these documents consist of your own personal investigations and insights, or those of another? Your estate's captain of the guard, perhaps? Or that of Synkel's combined nobility?" There would be time enough to pore over whatever was contained within the papers but it would help to know the viewpoint of the writer going in, and their motivations.

When the subject turned to compensation Applecore's eyes lit up. Though not at the monetary rewards, but the potential for... other gains. Unlike the tabaxi, Applecore seemed dismissive of the bonus and bargained for something much more precious to her than coinage. "Yes, yes, 60 solidus per month should be plenty adequate. However, in lieu of your most generous offer of a bonus I would like to suggest an alternative. My Academy has become inundated with Domantine influence of late. Advisors... Assistants... Tutors... Caretakers... It seems I can't turn a single corner in my Anykhetian institution without bumping into one mentor or another from the Empire with strict orders to keep watch over their masters' students. It has become... a disruption." The Kyai reached into her dress and clasped her medallion, silently Invoke Channel Divinity: Knowledge of the Ages to grant proficiency in Intimidation for the next 10 minutes.invoking Mesiddica's divine well of Knowledge. When she spoke next her tone remained identical, although in her eyes burned a
Dice Intimidation:
1d20+4 (1)+4 Total = 5
coercive force that belied her true intentions. This was where she ultimately decided if Dukas could be useful to her long-term goals of a free and independent Five Cities, or if he was merely another hinderance to be tolerated until it suited her no longer. "I would be most grateful if you brought forth a decree declaring Synkel Academy off limits to unauthorized citizenry without my explicit permission."

If Dukas (or anyone else within earshot) kept involved in local politics he would know of Applecore's swift rise within the Academy, of the former Kyai and Empire-lapdog Yorda's mysterious disappearance, and of her self-granted title of Kyai which was unheard of for a female to hold. If he was particularly cunning he might even had heard rumors of her efforts to teach nationalist Anykhetian doctrine among the students, a move many in the Empire might consider seditious. It was a grand request, and it would set a dangerous precedent. As far as Applecore knew the Empire harbored next to no independence from their subjugate nations. Even openly displaying non-Empirical religious insignia such as Mesiddica's owl on her clothing invited unrest should any authority figures wish to make her day difficult. Still, Applecore was nothing if not ambitious and she wasn't about to squander an opportunity such as this on a pittance of a paycheck.

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Last edited by MoldyNolds; Jan 5th, 2021 at 12:04 PM.
  #30  
Old Jan 1st, 2021, 11:11 AM
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Heliae Eshe
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As Heliae racked the farthest reaches of their scattered memory, the pieces came together. They recalled the story of Enaxi and demons, and how the arrival of the Empire turned their lush lands dry…but whether it was fact or simply an allegory was unclear. Heliae had encountered many a religious scholar or fanatic searching for Enaxi in the desert, however unwise it was.

The young druid’s attention was called back to the group, and they did their best to focus as Dukas made note of payment. Of course, the dulumah is bargaining. It seems she is not to be satisfied unless she has the last word and bends every situation to her advantage… To Heliae, the offer seemed quite adequate for the work, particularly the room and board, as they had not had a regular roof over their head or guaranteed source of nourishment in years. They had developed (Produce flame, Create or destroy water, etc.)certain skills to meet exactly those needs during their wanderings. What a relief it would be, to have such lavish shelter and, perhaps, a renewed sense of purpose. And the novelty of actually being paid for one’s work would be something new, indeed… Heliae nodded in agreement to Dukas, accepting his offer.

"I do not wish to impose. But I, uhh, would be honored if you would accompany me. Your knowledge of the deserts would be useful, I think. As would your... ahem... knowledge of ways in and out."

Heliae wondered, for a brief moment, if they had been to harsh in their reaction to Raemka’s earlier comment and obvious extension of friendship. They had not meant to be cruel or intentionally frigid, but also were completely unaccustomed to such things. Having spent nearly half a decade largely alone, and in servitude to an aristocratic house before that, casual social interaction was not a strength of the druid’s.

As the sun continued to rise in the sky, Heliae removed a salve from their satchel. Dipping their index and middle finger into the substance, they smoothed a thin layer across the palest patches of skin on their hands and face. After returning the salve to their bag, Heliae snapped the white linen cowl back over their head, a swoop of dark hair emerging from the front. They rose and faced the tabaxi.

“It’s certainly not an imposition, Raemka. Think of the offer of my skills to the entire group, not only the Lord.” Heliae looked down at the ants again, which seemed to have all but disappeared beneath the stones, a single one lost and roaming aimlessly in the cracks. They took a knee, and offered a finger for the insect to climb upon. The druid then ushered the ant towards the hole, assumingly the main entrance to its colony. Rising again, Heliae turned to Dukas, to not ask for permission as much to provide warning. “So we will question the staff, then, and search for any signs of danger within the estate. Whatever it takes to keep your daughter safe, (master, lord boss)rayiyis.”
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