Ongoing Story The Nocturnal Sea: A Monthly Ravenloft Serial - RPG Crossing
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Old Dec 31st, 2017, 06:18 PM
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The Nocturnal Sea: A Monthly Ravenloft Serial

Below is a story I will be updating on the first day of the every month. It is based in Ravenloft, a gothic horror campaign setting, and will migrate to different domains depending on what the story dictates. It’s final destination, twists, and turns are unknown to me. It’s a lost highway, writing it’s self as we go along. This story is dedicated to my lovely wife and may she part the Mists in her own life as Evelyn, the main character, parts hers.

Alright. Here we go, into the Domains of Dread.

Last edited by PIG; Mar 15th, 2018 at 08:20 PM.
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Old Dec 31st, 2017, 06:20 PM
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________________Vol.001 (December 2017)________________
The Man in the Top Hat

It's his vacant blue eyes that catches her attention and makes her pause in this early morning street. Evelyn stops mid stride with her leather satchel gripped to her stomach, looking into the dark alleyway with surprise melting into apprehension. The muddy town road is full of people going about their business, trudging through the beginning edge of the workday, giving her some tenuous hint of security.

The man stands out not because he is sleeping on the street, that’s a normal sight in town, but because he is not from here. His hair is a sandy blond, unkempt, and though his face is covered in sparse stubble he is unable to grow a full mustache like the common Vaasan (the people of this dreary nation of Nova Vaasa). It’s also rare to see a blond in Nova Vaasa and even more rare to see blue eyes.

In a heartbeat she recovers her step and pushes onto work, her dark eyes still trained on the vagrant just in case he was going to follow her. Crime is a normal part of life in Nova Vaasa and every peasant, wife, butcher, and innkeeper knows that other people are just as dangerous as anything prowling the night. But the man’s bright blue eyes do not follow her; they just stare ahead as if she wasn’t there. Evelyn snaps her head around to see what he is looking at and all she sees is the bruised purple and yellow clouds of the morning sky, floating above the decrepit building tops. She risks one more glance before he is out of her sight.

Egertus, a disgusting name if there ever was one, swallows Evelyn whole as she merges back into the crowds to cross to the other side of town. Egertus is the second largest town in Nova Vaasa, after the capital, and is considered a place of learning in all the Realms. Evelyn would barely know of that even though she’s lived here all her life. What she’s seen in almost all of her youth is impoverishment and then, after she was hired as a kitchen wench at the manor, the sudden existence of an unsettling amount of wealth and prosperity. The scholars, universities, and coffee shops were all on the southern side of Egertus. She has no business or time to go to South Egertus and, if there’s anything that the entire population of Nova Vaasa understands, it's that everyone keeps to their own place, their own station, their own life. The Lawgiver, Blessed are His Teachings, demands it.

Circling around a horse drawn carriage she is swept into the marketplace. The immense monstrosity of a great fountain is at the center like a many-tiered cake of rot. The once fine fountain might have been a sight back in the day of its creation, in memory of Duke Irvine of the Bolshnik Family, a monument of quarried granite and layers of complex design reaching twenty feet up in the air. Duke Irvine himself is depicted on the head of the fountain, sword in hand as his horse rears, ready to fight whatever assailant the Bolshnik family fought in the days of wars past. But now the fountain has fallen to ruin as the slums mount upon it like the sludge of a lake collecting on an island. The once flowing waters that rippled down it's many channels have all stopped except for one pitiable sprout at the bottom, unloading milky gray water into the pool below for the horses to drink from. Mold and fungi, black splotches with streaks of green, entirely covers the stone skin.

Evelyn has to be alert when passing by the busy street circling the fountain. Horses of all types are pushed to their limit in hauling trade coming in from the coast and going out to East Timori Road. A tired patrolman sidesteps her as he returns home during a change of guard, his eyes puffy and expression dour. A farmer herds half a dozen thin, sickly looking pigs through the mud on the way to the butcher, one of them sniffing at the hem of Evelyn's splattered dress with a snort. She has to stop between two large horses as another carriage comes crashing through the crowds hauling timber from the coast. She navigates through the chaos without even thinking. A misstep and one of the townspeople would crush her without much pity. She learned long ago how to journey through these streets. It used to frighten her but it can't compare to some of the things rumored to creep on the country roads, things that try and catch you out in the plains beyond the town. Unspeakable things that haunt her to this day.

Looking around, getting her bearings of the crowd, she glances at the hulking shops that enfold the Fountain of Duke Irvine. Three stories of copious buildings collapsing in upon themselves, leaning towards the fountain, surrounding it like predators trapping injured pray. Over the years she has seen the buildings grow and grow, more and more people moving into Egertus from the plains, stacking rooms upon older rooms with haphazard disregard. Their dark windows stare down at the street and the sound of families and children can be heard inside- yelling, laughing, crying, coughing.... mostly yelling and coughing. A beggar, just a little boy actually, passes her with wide olive eyes and she makes sure to grip her satchel in front of her. Giving coin to a beggar is a trap in Egertus, in all of Nova Vaasa in fact. It marks you as a target and the little boy will tell his group that she had given him money, which would get to the cutthroats hiding in the alleyways who would follow her and try to slit one her pockets to see if more coins might fall out... or slit something else if they can't get that.

The poverty of the town is suffocating and she finally passes the windows of skinned rabbits, weaved baskets, and smith work. And horses, they trample everywhere. The mud is pocketed by their heavy hooves and filled in with their dung. The whole town smells of horse sweat, horse dung, and horse hair. They are noble beasts, Evelyn must admit, but her world is saturated with them. Horses come in all types of styles, from riding to draft. But they are so plentiful that they overrun the town. For every five people in this decaying town there is at least one horse to break in, straddle, and made to perform.

The grinding machine of Egertus turns it's wheels and she finally gets to the outskirts of it's rotating crowds of peasants, horsemen, and beggars. The Fountain of Duke Irvine recedes from sight, his stone sword raised to the heavens, ignorant of the people swarming the market below him.

The crush of people thin as Evelyn makes it out of the marketplace and into the western side of Egertus. The buildings are still stacked around her but it's much less populated during the work hours. It used to be that Egertus wasn't so populated, back when her mother used to take her to the market, but now things have changed rather quickly. High above clothes are put out to dry on lines as pigeons flutter from one rope to another. Women scold children while their fathers are away either working or looking desperately for wage. As busy as the marketplace is with it's press of goods and services, these outskirts reveal the masses of people relying on the men finding jobs at the center of Egertus. The amount of families here far outweighs the number of jobs available. Evelyn passes a few more beggars, one drunk and passed out as he sits in his own urine and vomit, his tin cup lopsided in the filth. The bells of the Church of the Lawgiver toll the hour as she passes the stone holy place, the only well-maintained structure in blocks, it's black stone walls streaking to the sky. The brass bell, high above, flints in and out of the bell tower at the top. Cursing silently, she notices the time and quickens her pace, realizing she is late. Usually she hears the church bells toll when she is much closer to the manor.

It was stressful getting to work, she'll admit that much, and all that more stressful actually working for the oppressive Undercook. It made her steps slower, as if her muscles knew that her workday was upon her, like a coiled snake. She instinctively hesitates the approaching moment of when she walks into the manor, through the servant doors, and into the waiting kitchen.

Disciples of the Lawgiver pass in a line in their red and black robes, whips at their side, eyes scouring the townsfolk. Their heads and mustaches are completely shaved off, making them stand out even more. Evelyn and a few others on the street give them a wide berth, no one wants to gain the attention of the Iron Faith. One priest eyes Evelyn and she makes sure to keep her attention averted, feeling his baleful scrutiny upon her for anything that might anger the Church. They pass without stopping her and she keeps going, her nerves already frayed at the moment.

Furthermore, her minds returns to thinking about those vacant blue eyes staring at her from the alleyway. Something frightens her about the thought of him.

‘What is bothering me so much about him? Why won’t he leave my mind?’ she wonders. It was certainly the color of his eyes, she has seen few people with blue eyes in her life but they always fascinated her, but can’t explain that creeping feeling down her spine. ‘I’ve seen people strung out, drunk, or passed out on the town streets all my life. But why was he so different from them?’ Evelyn, stepping quickly down a flight of stairs hugging the Church in her mud caked boots, concludes that it might have been the fact that the man seemed rather healthy for an addict, beggar, or drunk. He seemed.... like he didn't belong here. That he was not apart of the everyday poverty she saw continuously feasting upon Egertus like cancer eats at the gut. She had heard rumors... rumors of people from all over the Realm with problems coming to Egertus. Problems with the soul, errors in the spirit. People who can't think clearly and are haunted by evil and seeking salvation when the Church of the Lawgiver fails them. The people call them the Demented. Evelyn ponders, cautiously, if that man was one of the Demented and if he has also come to Egertus to end his demonic suffering of the spirit. She thinks about her mother and her heart quickens. It’s against the law, but the Demented are usually sent to the scholars and experts, women and men who use techniques outside of prayer to the Lawgiver.

To think such things while flying down the stairs near the Iron Faith made her feel guilty and afraid and she pushed the thoughts out of her mind with force. If the Lawgiver can read your mind, he can certainly read the deepest of your inner thoughts if you were close to his house of worship. Right?

Passing several young men, eyes cast down and barefoot, she hurries towards the western edge of town to the Count Ehrend Estate.

This is perhaps the best part of the day for Evelyn, passing through the Ehrend Estate grounds, early in the morning when the birds are fully awake. As a servant of the estate she is not allowed to cross the main road to the building but must instead take a path that leads from the town to the servants entrance on the side.

A row of silver birch trees, with their delicate branches and leaves, mark the side of the path and she has no time to enjoy the singing birds this time. She barely notices when one of the mother birds swoops down to nip at the scarf in her hair when she unknowingly got too close to its nest. A quaint, arched bridge leads her over a small stream and then she is among the great oaks that dot the estate grounds. Wonderful, enormous trees. She heard that they are centuries old, imported from the nation of Tepest. Trees aren't too common in this nation, dominated by the sweeping fields of grass and grain, so these have always been a wonder for her to behold since she started working here a few months ago.

The Count Ehrend Estates has become her second home in a sense. The manor kitchen and her cabin with her mother, on the far other side of town, are the places that she feels most at peace. Away from the press of people and poverty in Egertus. At home she has her mother and their four cats. In the estates she gets to see what it looks like to have such vast amounts of wealth and... well... she has her cooking. Not much more happiness can be scavenged from the kitchen, certainly not from her boss or fellow workers.

Redoing her scarf that the bird had undone, she casts down her eyes to the two footmen watching guard on the path. Their hands are relaxed, thumbs tucked into belts holding short swords and daggers. They are lookouts to see if anyone other than servants is trying to sneak into the manor. One starving girl, Evelyn was told, had tried to pose as a servant to try and get into the kitchen. She had worn a bonnet and stole some clothes to look the part. The footmen caught the desperate girl immediately and ushered her off to the guard tower, never to be heard from again. The other servants that were there, that early afternoon, said that her screams were as shrill as a plains cat and she fought tooth and nail with the guards, her arms stick thin and covered in sores from malnutrition. They don't know what happened to her after that, though that won't stop the rumors.

She had once timidly smiled up at the guards in greeting on her first day but they never even met her eye. Their expressions were always hard and unrelenting. There's no reason to greet a kitchen wench and she knows what she is supposed to do. Again, everyone in Nova Vaasa knows his or her place...

Passing the footmen she comes upon the double doors of the servant’s entrance, large burgundy panels with bronze hinges and delicate mistletoe designs embedded on the face. Yellow and violet flowers welcome her to the side of the three steps leading up to it. She takes a few seconds to wipe the mud from her boots before entering, looking for a spot where other servants had not already wiped theirs off. Glancing up she marvels for a split second at the enormity of the building. Even from this side of the manor, hidden away from the central road and in the shadows of the oaks, it's an incredible sight. Sandstone rubble walls reflect the morning light warmly, the shadows of the oak branches brushing on its surface, swaying in the wind. Crystal windows taller than her let the sun in, overlooking the grounds, with a slate gray roof and staggering chimneys huffing away smoke and steam, both from the many fireplaces and the kitchen where she is heading.

Boots as clean as it's going to get, she enters the servants door and makes her way briskly to the kitchen, anxiously hoping that Dagmar won't be too mad with her being late.

Evelyn tears away from Dagmar's wrenching, thick fingers as the Undercook has the young woman by the lobe of her ear, but she is unable to pull away from the much larger and stronger woman. Face stoic and cold, Evelyn regards Dagmar with all the anger she can muster. "Let go." Warns Evelyn, tears of rage welling up in her eyes. But Dagmar won't back down.

"This is the fourth time, Evelyn." Dagmar's deep voice is deceitfully calm and soothing, her ruddy skin red from firing up the furnaces in the kitchen. Her dark curls bounce from under her scarf slightly wet from sweat. Dagmar is not the Head Cook, that would be Brynjolf, but she is one of the two Undercooks that obey him. They maintain the work staff, prep the kitchen, and throw around their authority like tyrants from a throne. That way the Head Cook can plan the next meal and not have to worry about management.

Dagmar is the worse of the two, by far, and of course as fate may be, she is Evelyn's direct boss. If it wasn't for Dagmar, Evelyn might actually enjoy coming to work and perhaps not dread every morning so much. "Fourth time," the Undercook continues softly "and I told you not to do it again. Do you know I can replace you in a snap? Do you how many people of Egertus would give their right thumb to work in MY kitchen."

"It's not your kitchen... and let me go," seethes Evelyn through clenched teeth. She has her kitchen knives in her leather satchel but she's mindful enough not to pull one out and stab Dagmar in her large gray eye with it. If she even took out a knife in any threatening manner she would be the next one to vanish at the guard tower.

Maybe she'll find out what happened to that starving girl in the bonnet after all.

The kitchen staff goes about their work as if nothing is happening but Evelyn knows that almost all their attention is on the fight. Because she was once one of them, sweating over the stews and watching the last victim under Dagmar's attention. Dagmar is a beast of a woman, with a flat round face and two bulging gray eyes. A white scarf is always wrapped in her hair and sweat drips from her fat folds even during the dead of winter when she first started working here. She was once a kitchen wench just like Evelyn but by the age of thirty she has grown in the Head Cook's good graces, throwing her shadow upon the manor kitchen and wielding her new found authority with relish. Dagmar, like many of the people here, had survived the harshest of the Egertus slums and they have been hardened by it. But she had ignored Evelyn for the most part until a few weeks ago when Evelyn made her stew too thin. Dagmar had tasted the broth, cursed, and lectured Evelyn endlessly about thickening the flavor. The Undercook then dipped her grubby fingers in the stew and flicked it at Evelyn's face, burning her soft cheek. Evelyn had been surprised by the act the first time and hadn't reacted. Ear thumping and the beginnings of a headache blossoming in her head she was not surprised now, and she wasn't backing off either.

Dagmar wrenches her grip harder and Evelyn stifles a yipe. "It might as well be my kitchen as far as you're concerned. Now you're going to prepare all the vegetables, cut all of the carrots, and clean out the stove on top of cooking the stews." She twists Evelyn's ear and that's when something in the Evelyn snaps. Evelyn suddenly pushes against Dagmar, one of her palms pressing against her enormous fat breast as soft as uncooked dough, and snaps her head away from Dagmar's clutch. The large woman, easily twice the size of Evelyn, goes for the same ear again and as fast as a kingsnake, Evelyn slaps the woman's hand away with a backhanded lash. Dagmar is caught off guard and looks surprised at the ferociousness in Evelyn's small face.

One of the servants, Evelyn has an idea who, gasps and a few of them even stop to stare. No one, since Evelyn has worked here anyways, has ever fought back against Dagmar so directly. Evelyn is too angry to even contemplate the fact, she just stares directly at Dagmar with brimming rage. Evelyn doesn't mean to grab one of her knives but if this goes on too long she just might forget her self and use one. 'You think I'm afraid of you? I've seen things worse than you.' she thinks back when she was a girl, wondering down the dark road that night long ago in the fields. The thing she came upon that followed her in her nightmares ever since.

As if reading Dagmar's mind, the Undercook finally relents. Evelyn's heart is beating in her ears as her lobe burns, the anger finally draining away as the fight clearly ends. Now apprehension begins to edge it's ugly head into her mind as she realizes she my be thrown from the kitchen for good. Then how will she and her mother eat? How will they be able to keep their home? As worrisome as these thoughts are she still has enough anger to hide her emotions from Dagmar. If the bitch caught any sight of Evelyn second-thinking her actions then Dagmar will either just get worse, piling the insults, or just fire her from her job entirely. Dagmar searches Evelyn's face for some sort of weakness, some sort of doubt. Evelyn has a hard time reading her expression back.

"Fine. Then go to your pots and get everything ready. You’ll have to do all the extra work after you've finished for the day. This is the last time." Evelyn watches the big woman's back as walks away, her brown ugly skirt with food stains sweeping the dusty floor as she goes into the panty room. The kitchen servants all glance at each other with careful expressions but they say nothing to Evelyn as she goes to her spot. Everyone in the kitchen is from the same neighborhood as Dagmar and they all know each other in some manner or another. None of them are friends of the other, as far as Evelyn knows none of them even share a family name, but when you are from a slum bristling with so many personalities and agendas, you tend to know who's who. Evelyn is not one them, she's an outsider. Her mother bought the abandoned cabin overlooking the sea to the east and it was where Evelyn was born, fatherless. They lived out their lives, uneventful but dependable, away from town. With what little money her mother could earn they only went into Egertus for food and the occasional supplies. The shop owners dealt with Evelyn and her mother, Guinea, with unmasked suspicion. They took her coin but did not socialize with her mother. Evelyn would have thought that was the way everyone treated another if not for the fact that shop owners would be a bit warmer, more social, to the next customer. This always ate at the back of Evelyn's mind but the assumed that it was because the townspeople were afraid of anything outside of their border, even people living just four miles from the trade road.

She pulls out a pan and it clangs loudly, feeling the people watch her but not acknowledging them. Pulling a faucet lever on the wall, cold clean water pours out of a pipe connected to the outside well. The people go back to their business after a few whispers are exchanged and Evelyn sets to putting the water to boil and getting her food ready.

The ear, her angry tears, and Dagmar is forgotten (or at least nearly) as she lays out the ingredients.

Her mother Guinea never spoke about her life before Evelyn was born. One thing for certain, she could not hide this for the life of her, she was not from Nova Vaasa. Guinea had the dark hair of a Vaasan but that was it. Actually her hair is black and straight where Vaasans have dark, wavy, brown hair and only black if it's wiry. She is shorter than the average local and her skin is olive during winter and sometimes much darker during the summer when she walks the beaches below the cliffs. Her eyes, though, are what truly sets her apart. They are brown and somewhat slanted compared to the roundish eyes of your usual countryman. Many times while selling mussels, salt, and seaweed to the stands when they used to be next to the Fountain of Duke Irvine, before it really fell under disrepair, there were people that would call Evelyn and her mother "gypsies". Evelyn, confused, asked her mother what that meant.

"They mean Vistani. It's a foul word for the Vistani that travel in the countryside. They look something like you with your eyes, hair, and skin." Evelyn, only eight, thought about this while holding her mother's hand. Guinea pocketed the copper she got from her small harvest and they began walking back home. "Are we Vistani?" Evelyn asked.

"No, we are not. Come. Pick up your pace."

"Then where are we from?" Guinea became an expert in diverting this question over the years as Evelyn got older. Anything about where her father was, where Guinea came from, and why they look like these "gypsies" that Evelyn keeps hearing about. But with age and maturity Evelyn began to get more demanding and fights would break out over the subject. It felt unfair to Evelyn that she couldn't know something as important and personal as to what her father's name was and where he had went. She didn't even know if he was still alive.

As Evelyn took on more of the chores, finding ways for them to make money, her mother increasingly grew more ill. Whiffs of white hairs began to show in her solid black hair and her limbs grew more thin. Evelyn learned a little about cooking from her mother but mostly she had to learn most of it on her own. Collecting herbs and vegetable from her mother's garden she began to experiment with the flavors, tasting different combinations until she was satisfied. Growing into her teens she realized that she had a sensitive palette and a good sense of what went with what.

Using mostly what they grew or scavenged from the sea cliffs, she made stews because they were both cheap and warming during the colder days of winter. After a while she began to go into town on her own, her mother too sick to accompany her, and sell the soup to the people in lines looking for hard labor. For a copper she sold a ladle of mussel stew. After a few months of that she began to sell vegetable soups and secretly used discarded horse marrow for the broth, enhancing the flavor with herbs from the garden. With all the copper she was returning home with, Guinea could not believe she was able to make so much money just by making stews and soups from home. "How are you really making all this money?" asked Guinea.

Evelyn would scold her. "I told you already mom. It's really good and people like it. What else would it be?" On that matter Guinea shrugs, changing the subject as always (which infuriated Evelyn more) and looking away, petting a random cat on her lap as the waves crashed outside their window. Evelyn had a sneaking suspicion that her mother thought she was doing something seedy in town to make the money, a lot of gambling dens and brothels were popping up during that time, copying the city ghettos of Kantora to the west. But Evelyn silently argued that she wouldn't be making just coppers if that was the case. Sometimes she wonders how these thoughts get into her mother's head and why she didn't believe in her own daughter sometimes. Her mother loved her, Evelyn didn't question that, but she was so distant in being loving and understanding sometimes. This difference in their relationship only grew as her mother fell more sick in recent years. Evelyn became more the caretaker and her mother stayed home, tending to the garden and keeping the cats safe until Evelyn's return.

Then her mother's nightmares began. Things got worse.

Like a steel trap, her mother wouldn't talk about it. Evelyn would hear her in the middle of the night, sometimes uttering a scream. Sometimes she would talk to someone in the dark. It frightened Evelyn like no other, especially with the fact that it was only the two of them. Guinea was acting more erratic every night, then waking up during the day tired and cranky. She tried to get her mother to go into town to see the clerics of the Lawgiver, the church would pray over anyone (even "gypsies") as long as they devoted themselves to the God. But her mother did not trust them and didn't want Evelyn going near them either, saying that they are false prophets and to never go into their churches.

It went on like this for a while, Evelyn getting by on coppers, until one November, sunny afternoon just three months ago. Evelyn was selling a stew of seaweed, fish, beans, and rice in town. To the right of her a man was selling horse leather and to her left a woman was offering to read people's fortune, when a customer came up to her. Evelyn was startled to see it was an elf.

Elves are rare in this land, extremely rare, but she knew he was an elf when she saw him with his pointed ears and distinct almond eyes. His hair was bright silver and eyes that were hauntingly yellow, like her black cat back at home. He wore a white collar dress shirt, black morning coat, and gray trousers of someone who was either an aristocrat or worked for one (Evelyn couldn’t tell the difference). Although he was as small as Evelyn he was holding bundles of boxes and bags with ease as if he was returning from the market. Evelyn looked up at his face, silent and a little shocked.

"May I purchase some of your brew?" Evelyn nodded and accepted a copper from his gloved hand, handing over the ladle. She never heard of it being called a "brew" but she knew what he meant. His accent was clearly upper-class. He drank deeply and nodded his head happily. "I smelled this as I was walking by. Tell me, how did you nullify the toxins in the sand dune amanitas?” Evelyn was stunned once again. How could he have known? No one knows what sand dune amanitas are because they are highly poisonous mushrooms, growing on sands below the cliffs near her home. She answered the elf right away in case was about to get angry, though he showed very little emotion except for feint curiosity and shrewd observation. "My mother showed me how to get the poison out. We used it in our meals and I grew to like it. I found that other people liked it too, that they had never tasted anything like it before. How did you even know?"

The elf tilted his nose up smugly, eyebrows arched. "I tasted it before, a very long time ago, by someone who also knew your trick. I smelled it while I was walking by and I was drawn by the aroma. Very well done, I must say. The mushroom with the onions are distinctively unique." Evelyn finally smiled, gratified. Not many people here give compliments, not even her own mother, so it was extremely rewarding to have someone finally realize her talents. She was actually impressed by the elf, his sense of taste was as good as hers if not better. The elf shifted his load to the other arm, looking at the people selling their services and wears all around. "It's a relief to try something different from the same bland flavors everyone else here seems to include in their diet." The elf leans down and lowers his voice so that the others can't hear. "Vaasans have a meager sense of taste." Evelyn couldn't help but to agree, the food her mother made, and she herself expanded upon, have so much more character and depth. But she didn't comment. These are a proud people and hearing some outsider like her and some nonhuman like an elf talk about their culture could get them killed. She looked at the elf again. He seemed so confident in himself, unafraid that he might get mugged or taken advantage of in his stylish clothes. Even his polished shoes and trousers were absolutely free of mud that's plastered everywhere. She began to get uneasy with his presence. With these people it's best to blend in, never call attention to yourself.

"Do you know where the Ehrend Estate grounds are?" the elf asked. Evelyn snapped out of thought and slowly nodded her head in confirmation. "Good. Go there in two days but do not take the main road in, that is exclusively for guests to the manor. Take the servant's path on the side. Follow the row of silver birch trees until you see dark red door. Burgundy actually, almost maroon. Tell the footmen your name and they will lead you to the Head Cook. If you can cook as good as I taste now, I think we could use you in our kitchen. The Head Cook... I believe he is losing a bit of his luster for my Master's tastes. I need someone with new talent to give the kitchen new life. You’ll be paid handsomely for your work. What is your name?"


The elf nodded. "And your family name?"

Evelyn pressed her lips. "I don't...." the elf disregards it. "Never mind. That is different enough of a name. Again just tell the guards and I'll have everything arranged. I best be going. Good day Evelyn. My name is Sadynfyw." Then the elf was off.

Evelyn came back home with the good news, the cats begging her to be fed even though she knew that they her mother had already fed them the bits of dried meat they secreted away in their pantry. They never fail to do that trick every time she returns home. "You wouldn't believe who I met in the town. An elf! He wants me to work at the manor because of the soup I made." Guinea scoffed, shaking her head, and combing her short hair before the fire. "What are you going on about? There's no such thing."

"As what?" Evelyn closed the door against the sea breeze, keeping the cats from running outside on their nocturnal prowl. Her mother leaned back on her pillow. "The elves, there's no such thing." Evelyn didn't feel like arguing with her. She realized that her mother had probably never met an elf and didn't believe them to be real. It was hard enough to make her acknowledge that halflings weren't just little humans with hairy feet. Evelyn even caught her mother snickering at the sight of halflings, a few of them working in the marketplace. Evelyn never found them funny, but her and her mother had pretty different senses of humor.

Despite what her mother believed or didn't believe, Evelyn wasn't going to let this chance pass her by. She indeed went to the manor, mentioned Sadynfyw’s name (she practiced saying the elven name all day, so strange on her tongue, but luckily she's good with names) and she was introduced to the Head Cook.

And that has been her life ever since then. Not long ago she was afraid, everyday, about the impending tax day that is looming come this New Year on the Day of Penance. With the money Evelyn had off of the street they hadn’t near enough to pay the steep, bi-annual obligation to the Prince. They wouldn't be able to pay for their land. Evelyn and her mother would have to move into town, selling the cabin she grew up in. Move into the dark, murky slums of Egertus to be consumed by it's wallowing and growing ghetto, hear the noises, day and night, and be afraid if their neighbor was going to steal or harm them. Maybe even murder them.

Though not as frightening as being shipped off to the slums, life has not been easy for Evelyn. She has faced one of her greatest enemies so far: the great iron stove of Count Ehrend Estate.

The great hulking beast of iron, flames, and steam rules the kitchen and they rule over it back. The team wields the large stove in a daily battle to feed the Ehrend Family and their endless parade of friends and associates with their hungry mouths.

Evelyn uses a burned cloth to lift the pot and sees that the bits of oxtail within a thin pool of fat has browned and she quickly takes out the thick lumps of meat and puts them aside. Beef is expensive in Nova Vaasa, most likely shipped in this morning, and she can’t risk ruining it. Her ear recovered and the scuffle with Dagmar forgotten (for the moment) she is trying to prepare the leeks, fennel, and last bits of celery before the fat scolds. She had asked help from Thora, another kitchen wench, to help finish cutting the celery but by the time Evelyn returned with the fennel from the pantry the girl was gone. Sour, Evelyn jumps to work. Thora, a thin, blond, and anxious lady about Evelyn’s age but for beautiful hazel eyes and an ugly horse face, was not what you would call a worker. She’s an opportunist. Thora was there when Evelyn fought with the Undercook and is probably in the other room kissing the Undercook’s round bottom and letting Evelyn risk ruining the stew. Evelyn sees the girl’s plan a mile away. If Evelyn looks bad in the Undercooks’ eyes then it will only make Thora look all the more competent (which she is far from). In fact, Evelyn is certain that Thora has been intimidated by Evelyn’s cooking skills and was eager to get her out, probably trying to earn her way up to being an Undercook some year. Evelyn’s cutting knife, a wood handled blade of steel worth more than Evelyn has made in her years selling food in the streets, is a blur as she finishes preparing the vegetables, fueled by experience and fury at the two women. She hears someone laugh and she swears it’s about her.

In the vegetables go and they sizzle in the fat. The black oven puffs smoke and hot oil goes everywhere from her speed, burning her hand. She exclaims in pain, wraps the burned rag on her scorched skin, and checks on the broth by pulling a hook and swinging the cauldron out of the fire. She sees that it’s ready, embers flying everywhere as someone flies by behind her to the pantry on their own project. She is usually too busy to even know what other people are doing at the same stove, she just concentrates on the mass of food she is supposed to prepare. Someone in the other room laughs again and Evelyn presses her lips together, concentrating.

Parting a hanging row of sausages like curtains (dangling from the kitchen ceiling to age) she goes over to a tall shelf full of pots, bottles, and small barrels of various liquid ingredients. She hears the bellow of the Head Cook and his powerful voice from around the corner. “Three hours until lunch. Chop! Chop! I need everything ready!” he claps his hard hands together and Evelyn grabs a large green container and checks inside, the clay top sliding off onto the floor but not shattering. White yellow paste oozes inside, honey from the countryside. She then grabs a jug of red wine and a long and tall bottle brimming with vinegar. The various smells are strong, pungent, and delicious as she uncorks them. She gets back to the to the cauldron and empties the contents. Unsure I how much to pour, she keeps the amounts conservative in case she needs to add more and control the flavor.

“What else do you need help with?” asks a clipped, unfriendly voice and Evelyn turns to Thora’s cold eyes as she returned to the room. Evelyn turns back to her work, face covered in sweat and lungs inflated with smoke. Her hand is burned, her finger was cut and still bleeding, but Thora is still clean and dandy. No doubt, Thora would like people to believe, because she does her work with such effortlessness. “It’s finished” Evelyn slowly pours the oxtail back into the stew and they bob to the murky surface. “I don’t need anything else.” Thora shrugs and returns to the other room and says a bit loudly to the Undercook “She said that she doesn’t need help.”

Now Thora is making it look like Evelyn is too proud to accept work and that, perhaps, Dagmar and other people shouldn’t even bother to offer it. With rapid practice, Evelyn rolls the knife back into her stained apron, sweat dripping from her bangs, and she uses the hook to return the stew to the fire. She’ll have to check on it every once in awhile but now it needs to cook for a few hours.

Instantly she is back to cleaning her table and getting vegetables ready for the dinner portion. A simple soup is for dinner so it will be easier to prepare. She slows down a bit and takes her time, looking out the kitchen window that affords them sunlight to work by. It overlooks the pond that circles the manor and Lilly pads float lazily on the surface, a few ducks swimming by in the cool afternoon. She wishes she could be one of those ducks, the sunlight sparkling off the water.

A butcher boy brings in lamb from the market, already skinned and gutted, and he tramples mud and blood in. A stray dog runs in, smelling the food, but quickly retreats as Dagmar jumps out of nowhere, yelling and throwing a pot at it. The pot bounces off a table and crashes against the wall, breaking the handle. Evelyn watches with some satisfaction as the Undercook bends over low to try and receive the piece, her huge calves pumping to get to it under a cabinet.

The soup beginning to simmer, Evelyn thinks about the young man with blue eyes in the alleyway again.

Anxiety builds in her gut as she thinks about him, even at this somewhat tranquil moment. She had seen that similar expression on her mother’s face only a week ago. Evelyn removes the stem from a heap of carrots as she loses herself in thought. Some nights ago she had waken to the cats meowing to get into her room. She needed to pee but it was too dark still to go outside, you never want to be outside in the dark in Nova Vaasa, but she wanted water from the pitcher in the room with the hearth (the living room where she and her mother would talk, eat, and sit). The embers were low in a fire long dead and she picked the water up, still cold from the night, and drank from it. Returning to bed she stifled a scream. Her mother was wide awake, sitting the dark of the hearth. Evelyn wouldn’t have seen her if not for the moonlight from the window. A cat, Scaffer, jumped onto her lap and her mother did not notice. “Mom! Mom?” Evelyn tried to snap her out of it, she could see even in the pale dimness that Guinea’s black eyes were wide and staring. Finally, after five minutes, Guinea began to blink out of it. Evelyn had lit a candle and her mother looked haggard, half nude and cold, her dark hair pouring over her face. When asked, Guinea said that she had had a nightmare and couldn’t sleep, so came out here. Evelyn knew about the nightmares, they have been increasing recently, but this is the first time she’s ever done anything remotely this strange. Finally she took her back to bed. Evelyn and her mother do not attend the church of the Lawgiver but she knows what the commoners would say. Those that are “Touched” have been inhabited by demons for their sins. The Demented. She can’t ever let anyone know about what happened or they might take her mother away to a priest and do all sorts of horrible things to exercise her demons.

For the young blond man with his blue eyes, well, she is afraid to say that there is nothing she can do for him.

“Oooookay? Ready that stew Evelyn!” The Head Cook, a brown haired dwarf named Brynjolf, storms into the kitchen with all his usual bustle. Dwarves are very uncommon in this land. More common that elves yet less so than halflings. The ‘Subraces’, as they are called by other humans, are almost always foreigners and looked at with distrust- especially since they don’t worship the Lawgiver. Count Ehrend and his fellow aristocracy must not care and house anyone as long as they do a good job and sustaining a perfect service.

The dwarf waddles over to the young, dark haired Evelyn, stroking his beard. He is shorter than Evelyn by a good foot but thrice her weight and likely able to pick up twice more than that. “Busy! Busy! What do you got cooking, lil lady?” Evelyn retrieves a spoon and hands it over, the late afternoon sun sending streaming light through the buzzing kitchen. “Beef Stew with Fennel.” She makes sure to catch a fatty wad of the oxtail in the scoop, not her favorite but she knows what the Head Cook thinks the Ehrend Family likes. He slurps it up and chews on the wad briskly. Dagmar storms by with a platter, nearly finished and needing to be dressed. The dwarven cook rubs his head and claps. “Good! Very good! Ten bowls, a set of three a time.” That means three tables each with ten guests. She’ll have to raise and lower the heat depending on what table gets what food, when. “Mayor Bolshnik is due for lunch today again so we can’t fail. Carry on!” Evelyn goes back to work. It’s surreal that the mayor of the town might be eating her stew, a girl largely unwanted and almost completely unknown in Egertus.

The day grows dark and late.

Left overs from the meals are passed around to the servants after lunch is over. The picked over scraps are given to lower servants such as groundskeepers, errand boys, wash servants, bucket carriers, dung shovelers, and the like. But untouched dishes are allowed to be given to kitchen staff, chamber servants, stable hands, and footmen.

Evelyn finds a secluded spot from the others to eat. She feels lonely but satisfied by her efforts and she rewards it with fresh bread with meat and fresh fruit. The choices of this manor far exceed her wildest dreams compared to her mother’s small garden. She had to learn about ingredients she has never heard of her whole life and how to combine them with others.

She chews, watching a row of servants bring back expensive silverware and dishes now mostly absent of food, wearing the colorful garb of their station. Cooks aren’t technically allowed in this hallway leading back down to the kitchen, reserved for house servants in their clean tidy clothes and groomed hair. But no one complains about her sitting on the bench, quietly eating, since the family never come down this hallway, one of nearly a hundred stretching the vast manor. Wood glossy panels line the long corridor with oil lanterns lighting the interior since there are no windows. It is the most perfect, expensive interior she has ever seen. Other servants say that this is nothing, that the rest of the house is much more grand and ornate.

Swallowing her food she observes the random cabinet across from her. Keys for various workstations are hung here and locked behind a metal cage. Maps of the local land are hung as decoration and, dominating it all, is the stuffed head of a wolf mounted to the wall. It’s black glass eyes stare at her as she eats, it’s teeth a sneer before whatever nobleman killed it and mounted it, forgetting it’s existence in this servant hall.

She finishes her meal and heads downstairs, back to the bare cold stone of the service halls, joining the house servants back in the direction of the kitchen. Evelyn can smell the cooking food and smoke and no longer has to think of where she is going in the twists and turns back. “You made the stew right?” asks one of the house servants behind her. Evelyn turns around and it’s a woman perhaps ten years her senior. House servants wear green tunics with the symbol of the family crest and their station embroidered on the front. Green scarves keep their hair back in unique and interesting styles. “I heard someone mention at the table how good it was. Just thought you should know.” Evelyn thanks the woman, intrigued and happy for even the woman taking the time to let her know. They part ways as they go about their business. Kitchen staff lives outside the manor while house servants live in the house with their Masters, so they have different responsibilities at the end of the day.

She returns to the kitchen to check on her soup, finding it to be almost ready with a few more ingredients, when Thora rears her poisonous face at the large wooden table, the sky turning dark purple and the first stars beginning to appear. “Don’t forget,” she teases with a large smile “Dagmar has some chores for you for being late.” Evelyn curses. She had indeed forgotten. If she had gone home the Undercook would have surly cut her head off. Evelyn grimly returns the smile and Thora is off, out the door to return home into town with the other servants flowing back to town. They try to keep together at the end of the day, Evelyn among them, so that they don’t get robbed.

When Dagmar lists everything she will be doing Evelyn realizes that she won’t be leaving until well into the night. Perhaps a couple hours before midnight. Tension builds in her stomach. She is not used to Egertus at night, she is not from town, and knows how dangerous it is to roam the streets alone. That’s when people, especially young women, get murdered.

Hesitantly she tells Dagmar this. To her surprise the large woman shows some sympathy in her eyes, peeling some potatoes like she’s skinning a cat. She puts down her knife and begins sliding the chopped contents into a bowl. “Okay, you don’t have to prepare cutting for tomorrow morning. But you have to clean the floors and empty the stove.” Evelyn protests that that will still be too late, well into the dark, and that her mother would not know where she is- that she will worry.

“Well you shouldn’t have been late then. I had already warned you!” Dagmar goes back to peeling the potatoes. The skin flies into the air in shards, her face turning angry again- an emotion Dagmar seems to latch onto with way too much ease. She gestures north. “Take the north road. By the river. It goes over the town and to Guldstrand Beach. You can make it home safe that way.

“But at night-“

Dagmar gives a look that ends the argument. “I’m sorry but there is nothing else I can do.” Evelyn knows that there is no argument with her when she utters that sentence. There is plenty she can do, it’s just that the brash woman stubbornly reinforces her word once it’s giving, right or wrong. If Evelyn complained to the Head Cook he would just shoo her back to his underline, which made her angry at the dwarf in way too. Why would he hire someone you can’t reason with?

Evelyn gets what tools she can find, the kitchen nearly empty, as she faces off against the iron stove. The stove has two wings for nine different pots and pans to cook on, each wing with their own source of fire, and then the main, central, body where the large cauldron hangs along with burners for larger pots. The way Evelyn’s station is set up, she uses the cauldron and the smaller, left wing burners the most. She starts there, peeling off food and baked-on soot. Using a wet rag she loosens the grime and then has a pick to shave off anything stubborn.

The black stove looms above her, it’s main body attached to the largest chimney in the house. Wind from outside blows down and sends charred bits through the multiple stove pipes, blackened wood and ash coughing out and sending her back, sneezing. Cursing and clothes now stained black, her white scarf on her head nothing but a brown band now, useless and unable to hold her hair. She digs out all of the burned lumber and hauls them away, then cleans out the innards with a brush. She has to fit her body where the cauldron hangs and from an onlookers’ point of view it looks as if the stove is opening its mouth, swallowing her whole.

She hears the wind sing while inside and it howls down here in the great, iron box. The metal has cooled as the hours passed and is now cold to the touch. Filthy and shivering she pulls away from the job, utterly exhausted. She looks about her work and Dagmar instantly comments on it. “Not good enough. It should be cleaner considering how long you spent on it.”

Evelyn at this point is too tired to be mad. It might be better in this situation, no reason to say something that can make matters worse, but the fight is out of her for the moment.

“I’ll have someone finish it in the morning. Clean the floors and be out of here.” Dagmar leaves to the servants ward, done for the day. Brynjolf is on his way out and finally notices that Evelyn is still here. With him is his son, a dwarf half his size and the beginnings of a beard already growing on his young round face. Evelyn explains the predicament and the dwarf nods his understanding. “Well don’t be late tomorrow.” Evelyn knows that telling him it was only a few minutes late, that other people from Dagmar’s neighborhood that work under her are often even more late without punishment. He doesn’t want anything to do with disciplining the staff as long as it doesn’t get in the way of his kitchen. He’s more interested in running the overall system and creating quality food through his engineering and order.

They leave and for an hour and Evelyn is sweeping the floor, completely alone finally. Crickets can be heard outside, bugs she has never heard anywhere else. She doesn’t look forward to cleaning the floor but after the furnace, it’s cake.

Walking out of the burgundy servant doors the late night greets her. Frogs croak from the creek and two torches (she never even noticed the torch holders during the day) crackle to either side of the door. The air is cool and the crickets sing. The footmen stationed to watch over the servant door chat beside a fire, an oak tree reigning over their silhouettes. She begins to walk to the path leading away from the manor when the footmen look up. She ignores them, a feeling of contempt in her stomach. She smells alcohol in the air and knows that they have been drinking.

“My Lady?” one calls and she keeps walking. The man separates from the fire and blocks her path. Three others, it looks like they increase the number of guards during the night time, stop talking and watch. “My Lady, are you going back this late?”

The concern in his voice makes her regard him a little more closely. He is much older than she thought he would be, a mustache almost gray but turning nearly white with age is under his nose and his gray eyes are framed by two thick dark eyebrows. He doesn’t seem to have malice and the fact that he’s older calms her down but just a tiny bit.

“I had to work late but, yes I’m going home now.”

“Alone? Into town? Impossible. No, sleep in the servants quarters. They have extra rooms. I’ll let the quartermaster know.”

“No thank you. My mother is waiting for me and she’s on the other side of town so I’m not going through the town. I’ll be alright.” She really wants to believe this and swallows her own lie. “I have to go. Good night.”

He holds up a hand. “Wait, hold on for a moment.”

He joins the group of men and tells them something. There is an exchange of words at the fire, a chuckle, and then a shrug. He begins to walk back and one of the footmen calls after him. “You’re too old for her!” then they are all laughing. The older man shakes his head and waves them off, drawing up to Evelyn. “Don’t worry about them. I’m a happily married man for half my life and I’m not letting a young servant walk home this late alone. Come. Let’s go, I know which direction you are going.“

Evelyn, tired and more than a little concerned about her safety, accepts his company. They leave the oak trees and the chorus of frogs and crickets behind, chatting in the dark of Nova Vaasa.

The great manor of Count Ehrend Estate is no less lovely and opulent, a glowing white ghost in it’s square of purchased land, asleep and self assured in it’s safety and power.

Gone are the sleepy grounds of the wealthy Ehrend family. They avoid the main road back into Egertus. The sprawl of the large town is to the south of them, all of it’s old building doubtlessly swarming with rats, roaches, termites, and people just waiting to pick off a few lonely travelers in it’s thin, crooked streets.

No, Evelyn and Christer (as the footman admits his name to be) are walking on a road that cuts through the endless plains of Nova Vaasa. The flatlands reach far and wide and all throughout are the grass fields that smother the land. At Evelyn’s home, near the cliffs of the Nocturnal Sea, are the badlands of the Dommark, or Plains of Judgment. Sharp, yellow grass cling to the craggy rocks and sway in the sea breeze there but little else can grow.

Right now she is taking the High Road north of town, riding along the South Dnar River. Rows of wheat and grain fields bank against the river, divided by low stone walls like lines drawn by the finger of the Lawgiver, dividing the property to the various farmers. North of the river, Evelyn can barely make it out in the night, is the long and rural land called Ehrendton, ruled by Count Ehrend and his family. Count Ehrend serves the lord of this nation, Prince Othmar Bolshnik. But from there I will stop dwelling on the politics of this land. Evelyn knows very little about the rulers of this arbitrary domain and, actually most commoners are kept in the dark on such high matters. As long as the taxes are paid and collected the Lords are more than happy to keep their names unknown to the masses under their weight.

A crescent moon follows their progress as an eastern wind tides forth. Evelyn sees a stone farmhouse ahead, nestled into a flood of golden wheat, but from the looks of it it has been abandoned for ages.

“You and your mother have lived out there all alone? All this time?” The older man shakes his head, adjusting a spiked mace on a leather strap at his belt so that it doesn’t get in his way as they walk. “I don’t know how you have gotten as far as you have already.” He was wary of the road at first but as their conversation continued he grew more relaxed. Despite her initial feelings upon meeting Christer, she too let her guard down. Confiding that lone danger was already unloading a burden she has been carrying for a while. She smells the alcohol on his breath as he spoke, spirits she thinks, but does not ask about it. Though she felt she could trust him, he is still just some footman she encountered at the manor. It’s best to keep matters simple between the two.

The stars blot out for a moment and Evelyn looks up. Black birds pass over the High Road, flocking towards the town in the middle of the night. That's strange, birds don't normally come out until day. They flap, silently, through the sky and she is about to mention it to her friend when he changes the subject and talks about the dangers of plains cats.

Christer points at tall crops swaying in the wind and mentions the dreaded plains cats that prowl the grasslands of Nova Vaasa. “I know that plains cats haven’t attacked here in years so close to the river, but they’re still out there. I can bet my sword on it. I know the city patrol pulled a man from a field, half eaten, not a moon ago. Mark my word.” Evelyn notices that he says ‘city patrol’ and not ‘patrolman’ as they call them in Egertus. He’s from a city, most likely the capital. “What you really have to worry about are the bandits out here. We received word back at the manor, from the town Captain, that there might be a group of bandits moving in from the west. The Blood-Cat no less. You’ve heard of them right?”

Evelyn shakes her head no. She’s heard of different bandit gangs out here in the fields and the various, smaller gangs in Egertus.

Christer clicks his tongue and straightens out his white mustache with a thumb and finger. “Then you best listen. The Blood-Cat is one of the most feared bandits out there. Led by that wild Vistana, Chezna.” Evelyn’s ears perk up at the mention of the gypsy race. People tend not to talk about them, at least not publicly. She’s surprised that he’s even mentioning them. It might be the alcohol.

“Who are the Vistani?” asks Evelyn, looking straight ahead.

He’s silent for a moment. “Well that’s a big answer right there. I’m surprised you haven’t seen one in the marketplace, I see them all the time selling horses.”

“The bards call them ‘the nomads of the Mists’. Us soldiers just call them for what they really are: gypsies. They steal, live off the land without paying their taxes, and stick to their own. I think there is a caravan of Vistani down the East Timori Road and to the south. They are everywhere, not just Nova Vaasa. Even in the Mists.”

Evelyn knows what the Mists are. She sees them everyday out beyond the coast of the sea. A blanket of white the shrouds the waters as far as they eye can see in either direction. Her mother told her that no one knows what is beyond the Mists... they just continue on and on forever. Most people that sail into never return. Those that return speak of horrors that cannot be repeated. Working in town she found that the Mists go beyond their nation, it encircles all the nations. What world is beyond is one of the greatest mysteries. To Evelyn it’s not so strange, she grew up knowing that the Mist shrouded the rest of the world, but she sometimes did wonder.

Evelyn wonders. If the Vistani go beyond the Mists, then where do they go? She asks Christer this and he laughs. “If you manage to get that answer out of a Vistani I would be impressed indeed.”

They walk into the night with the stars twinkling coldly overhead. They hear a scream in the far distance and both of them stop. It’s from the north, beyond the river. “Plains cat.” Christer says. Evelyn pulls her shawl closer to her shoulders. “I know. I hear them even from my home sometimes. They use to wake me when I was younger. Sometimes they still do.”

The cry of the plains cat is the most eerie and bone tingling cry you will ever here. It sounds like the scream of a woman. They admit the shrill cry before the black, large cat attacks prey. If you hear it near you, from the tall hidden grasses, it is likely to be the last thing you hear when hundreds of pounds of black fur, muscle, teeth, claws, and yellow eyes comes crashing down upon you.

“Let’s keep moving.”

They continue for another ten minutes when a separate path leans south from the road. “Okay this is where we part. I’m going to continue on to Guldstrand Beach and pick up some ale for the boys. It’s how I convinced the others in letting me go and make sure you get home okay.”

Christer bows sweepingly to Evelyn when she thanks him, smiling. He winks at her with a mischievous grin. “Even in the starlight your eyes look extra beautiful when you smile. Goodbye Evelyn. See you again.”

They part ways and Evelyn walks into the darkness.

Evelyn hears the crash of the waves and is able to navigate home pretty easily without even trying. She used to play in this land when she was a girl, exploring the badlands as they reach east and drop into the steep cliffs. She would bring rocks with her, lean over the edge of the cliff and drop them to see them crash, listen to what they sound like and how each sounds different from the other. Sometimes she would go with a friend, another girl that lived on the cliffs some miles south of her home. Evelyn remembers Anja well. Now her friend has since grown and married, off on some other farm last she heard. The parents could not cover the steep taxes of Prince Othmar, sold their property, and moved into the growing slums of Egertus. That was the last she heard of that family.

The path, worn by feet, rises on a shallow hill and she looks east. From there she can view the Nocturnal Sea expand outward, it’s deep violet waters now pitch black in the night. The smell of salt, a reminder of Home, meets her and her hair blows in the gentle, chilly wind. The Nocturnal Sea has kissed her cheek many a time in her life.

The sea does not reach to the horizon however. About four miles out to sea the legendary Mists blot out the sky. Still, sulking, plotting. It crests the waters and no amount of storm or wind will ever budge the Mists. There they have been, there they are, and there they will remain. Since her youth when she would stare at them from the cliffs and probably to her dying day. As far as history goes, they have always been there and no one knows for how long or how they got there.

“Meow!” Evelyn looks around to see a small black object race over to her from some bush, heading right for her. “Meow!! Meow!!!”


The plump black cat runs up to her and even lets her scoop him up. “What are you doing all the way out here? Didn’t mom take you in for the night?!” Usually he squirms when picked up but this time he is perfectly content to be held. She feels his small stub of a tail go around in circles.

This was very concerning to her. She was always afraid one of their cats would get blown over a cliff but, most of all, she was afraid that a plains cat would eat them up for a snack. Plains cats are notorious pet murderers.

“Come on. Let’s go home.”

She walks down the hill and makes her way carefully in the dark as the landscape shifts downward. Exhausted from all the hard work of the day and cursing Undercook Dagmar’s soul to be swallowed up into the Mists, she runs Scaffer’s fur on her cheek. She finally sees the cabin down the slope and sees light in the window. Her mother is awake and waiting.

She takes a few steps down, pulling long strands of hair from her face, when the air grows cold as ice and Evelyn sucks in her breath. Her skin crawls and she can’t help but to shiver.

Scaffer screeches and rips from her arms, clawing her badly. She calls after him but he races away back the way they came.

The door opens to her cabin with a loud creak. She has heard that same creak for forever but this time the sound makes her stomach sink with fear. She watches, petrified, in the distance.

Out walks a man in a top hat. In his left hand is a case of some sort and he wears a cloak. The lantern light from inside the cabin streams around him onto the rocky ground. Evelyn has no idea who this stranger is and can’t make out any details. He seems to be composed purely of shadows.

The man slowly closes the door and begins to walk away. The crunch of his shoes onto pebbled ground can be heard all the way where Evelyn stands. Fear for her mother eats at her gut but she finds that she can’t move, like a phantom hand holds her at her spot.

The man in the top hat suddenly stops and scans the darkness, the brim of hat steadily turning. His vision passes over Evelyn and she can swear that he is looking right at her but he does not rest his eyes in her direction. ‘He can feel me’ her brain screams. ‘He can feel that I am here!’

Finally the stranger finishes gazing into the night and walks off, his cloak floating behind him, heading in the direction of the sea. He is gone from the light. Evelyn strains to hear his footfalls but all she hears are the waves. The coldness in the air leaves with him and Evelyn releases her lungs harshly. She didn’t even realize that she was holding her breath the whole time, hoping the man in the top hat would’ve hear her breath. Able to move again she runs to the front door, blood dripping from the claw marks her cat gave her.

“Mom!” Her voice is tiny and strained as she reaches for the door. “Mom!” The crash of the waves splinter the air far below the cliffs some 50 feet away from the cabin.

She throws open the door and there her mother sits, wrapped in blankets, the lantern on the low table beside her. She’s alive and Evelyn sees no harm on her body.

Evelyn comes to her mother, pulling off the blanket and asking if she was okay. But her mother does not respond. Her combed hair frames either side of her face and her dark eyes stare past Evelyn vacantly. “Mom!” Her daughter shakes the woman until her comb falls from her lap and rattles onto the stone floor. “Are you okay? What happened? Who was that man?”

But Guinea would not respond. It’s happening again. Evelyn remembers the young man in the alleyway, staring into the sky.

“Mom! Who was that man?!”

Finally her mother makes some response. She blinks and looks at Evelyn, half conscious. “That? Oh that was the doctor.” her voice is slurred and remote.

Evelyn stands up straight, deeply concerned now. She bars the door and blocks all of the windows. Guinea just sits there, staring in direction of the door. She’s looking at the door, Evelyn reasons... but she doesn’t see the door.

The only real weapon in the cabin is Evelyn’s kitchen knife. It’s made of steel and extremely sharp, using a granite edge daily from the kitchen wall back at the manor. She looks around for the cats and sees none. They must have fled out the window when that strange man walked in. She goes to the door and freezes, afraid to look out, but concerned about her furry friends. Bracing herself she creaks open the door and the light spills outside again. She looks out and calls for the cats. Her wide eyes looks back to the cliffs, the direction where the man had vanished. Her mind played tricks on her, her imagination showing him running at dead speed for the door now that she's home, but she sees no one. She slams the door closed, bars it, and makes a little room at one of the windows for the cats to come in.

Wrapping both her mother and herself in blankets they sit together, the knife clutched in Evelyn’s fist. Fatigue forgotten, she doesn’t even bother to wash up. Though lamp oil is expensive she doesn’t blow it out. She just watches that window and listens for anything outside.

Nothing happens.

She vows to stay up the night, too afraid to shut her eyes and let her guard down. She’ll stab the first hand she sees reach into her home. Tears streak her dirty cheeks and she quietly tries to snap her mother out of her trance. She has never felt so alone and scared in her life.

Three minutes later Evelyn is asleep, the knife loosely clutched in her right hand, stove dust smeared on her face and eyes closed shut.

One by one, silently, her four cats climb into the cabin through the window she left open for them. They collect on the blanket and roll up to sleep. Finally, after an hour, Guinea fades from her trance and hugs her daughter. She falls asleep too. The lantern continues to burn its oil until it runs out with a hiss.

Last edited by PIG; May 3rd, 2018 at 09:38 PM.
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Old Feb 1st, 2018, 01:23 AM
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________________Vol.002 (January 2018)________________
Evelyn's Small Fortune

~DrÝm~Evelyn has several pots boiling in the same time as lunch approaches back in Count Ehrend’s Estate. One overflows and she pushes the pot to the side to lower its temperature, the steam burning her face and making her sweat. A pan slides off the furnace and comes crashing to the ground and she curses. Fat stuffed mushrooms roll on the floor and into the ash layered around the furnace. Some kitchen aid steps on them on his way to the pantry. No!

Brynjolf’s bellowing voice calls from the doorway. “Alright! Ten minutes and then we send it all up!”

A dog races past her, coming from nowhere, its marbled fur brown and black, that of a mutt. She attempts to shoo it off but it keeps getting in the way. It’s nails rattle on the stone as it slides just out of her sight. “What are you doing?!” demands Dagmar and she shoves Evelyn’s hands away as she adds ingredients to the pot... wait which pot is this? This is the wrong one, isn’t it? The young woman looks around and there are twice more pots here than there was a moment ago. Evelyn now has no idea which is which, the chopped vegetables still gripped in hand. Dagmar looks at her standing confused. “What are you doing?! Keep working!” But Evelyn can’t move. Thora sweeps in from the other room to save the day, that toothy smile and bulging eyes grinning at Evelyn. “I have this.” Thora starts fixing the pots even though she wasn’t here to even get them started. She just seems to know which pot is which.

Forced from her own station Evelyn steps back, defeated. She looks into her hands and the dried thyme has rotted and turned black in her sweaty palm. She squeezes it and it crumbles. Sadness and rage builds up in her chest and she can barely contain it. Fire bursts from the great iron stove and the dog darts by again, panting, his claws clicking sharply on the cobbled floor. “Evelyn! Get that dog out of here!” Dagmar screams with much too much ferocity.

Heart hammering she looks for the dog as it races behind the counter. The window overlooking the pond shows that it’s nighttime even though they are preparing for lunch. A sudden cold overcomes Evelyn and stops in her tracks. The dog is gone. A man sits in the service hall, even though the service hall is a floor above them and shouldn’t be anywhere in sight from the kitchen.

The man is mostly lost in shadow except for a sliver of light across his face, like from a parted door or a bullseye lantern. His blue eyes stare at Evelyn, absent of consciousness or soul. His head is tilted back to rest against the wall behind him, showing the blond stubble on his chin.

Then, from the cloak of darkness in the hallway, the Man in the Top Hat runs directly for her into the kitchen. Evelyn shrieks, grabbing a knife, but his gloved hands are around her neck. His face, clothes, and hat are all void- as if he’s a cut out from reality, the hole of his silhouette falling into nothingness. She slices at him and it’s like trying to cut the night sky. He is upon her and she looks into his face that is not there as she gasps for breath.

Evelyn wakes with a start, the calico cat rolled up on her lap leaping off as she grabs her knife that had shifted beside her thigh while she was asleep. She looks for any threat in sight but all there is is the hearth room, daylight streaming from the windows. All the blockades she had put up last night have all been taken down and put back in their places, most likely by her mother. Sunlight streams in. The white cat, splotched with tans and browns, meows up to her, startled. Her hazel eyes glow in the silvery morning light. “Eeeeaa!” the cat croaks. She always meowed in a broken call that sounds more frog than cat. Evelyn looks down at the cat, Whispers, for a fleeting moment, still looking for that man of shadows. Her breath comes out in pants, the balmy winter morning air steamed by her hot breath. The room is empty of anyone but her and Whispers. She was dreaming but now she’s awake.

Then the encounter last night comes racing back to memory like a horse thundering into through the fields. Not all of this was a dream.

She bolts up.

Where’s her mother?!

Panicked, tears bead in her eyes. Her mother is the only other person in her life and to lose her... Evelyn can’t even think about it further. She shoves the wooden front door open, the only piece of wood in the whole cottage, and the wind of the sea and call of morning gulls greet her. Knife still in hand she flies to the right, Whispers following with tail straight up as Evelyn looks at the garden.

There her mother is, kneeling on all fours, pulling weeds from the row of vegetables she planted last Fall. Winter is warm in Nova Vaasa, though dry, so they are still able to grow a few meager root plants in their garden in these moderately cold days. Evelyn races over to her, Whispers chasing after, the wind whipping her long black hair. She voices her concerns but her mother does not seem concerned in the least about last night. Wiping away her tears she asks her mother what happened. “When I asked, you said he was called ‘the doctor’”

Guinea frowns up at her daughter. Whispers had eagerly ran with Evelyn but got distracted by some rodent in the weeds and went to investigate. “I don’t know what you are talking about. I woke up this morning to find that you came home in the middle of the night. All the windows were blocked and you were fast asleep.” Guinea tosses the weeds aside, her oval face focused on weeding the whole garden before noon. “You still smell of that stove from where ever you work. Wash up before leaving, you don’t want to be late.”

Evelyn had told her mother that she doesn’t need the garden any longer. She makes enough silver (gold actually, but Evelyn doesn’t specify this with her) to feed them both, many times over. But her mother is stubborn and ill, with more free time on her hands than ever before, so she stays out here all day tending to it. Her mother voiced the concern about being late again, if she does not leave soon she’ll very well lose that job for good. As bad that is it’s a very distant problem to some strange apparition visiting their home in the middle of the night. What did it want? Was it even human? Evelyn shudders at the nightmare she had, it’s fingers still in her waking mind, and has a feeling that it was not human at all. This is some malicious spirit haunting her small family, something from the night. Evelyn looks toward the direction that the shadow man had walked and goes over to the location, leaving her mother for the moment. It’s a short walk because the land stops there, falling to steep cliffs. The sea crashes below, seagulls circling Evelyn as she peers down. Sharp rocks and sea foam crest below, as always. She looks left and then right, scanning. Nothing but the choppy edge of the cliffs running either way for a hundred miles. Evelyn has no idea why he... no it went in this way. The town is in the other direction…

She returns back to her mother hard at work separating the potato roots from creeping underground weeds, seeking to leach its nutrients. Her thick, callused fingers dexterous and efficient. Guinea doesn’t look up as she talks “I think you might have just been seeing things. You work much too much at the manor and I think your mind is weary. If something was in our home, I would have remembered.”

Guinea dusts her hands and cups Evelyn’s face, worried for her grown up girl. “Make enough so that we can pay the Prince’s Tax but next you should take a break. Come back, stay with me and cook at home like you used to. I miss you and feel myself getting old.” Evelyn stands staring into her mother’s eyes. The kitchen seems so unimportant now. She knows that the shadow was real and it will be back. It might return if she is gone. Perhaps... Dagmar can go choke on a horse! She should stay.

And do what?

No. The worst thing she can do is hole herself up in the cabin. She doesn’t know the first thing about the occult. She needs help and help requires gold, which she has begun to accumulate over the last few months.

Squirreled away under a stone in her room is a hidden box her mother gave her when she was a child. She used to put dried flowers, dead insects, and whatever else she found exploring the arid cliffs in the box for safe keeping. Then as she grew older she kept her baby teeth in it, inspecting the root and dried blood crisping at the top. She used to marvel on the fact that it came from her and was no longer apart of her body, a new item in of itself, fascinated her. She would pick up the baby teeth from the box gently, holding it in the sunlight as a kid and seeing the root. The root! Something hidden from sight, a function of her mouth, is now shown in plain sight. What else of her body that she can’t see has some sort of hidden function? What other secrets does her body, or any body for that matter, have?

The baby teeth and a few other child memorabilia still remain in the box but they largely overlooked and forgotten as she’s grown so much older. Now a collection of twenty one, cold, freshly minted gold coins are neatly stacked in the box. A clear fortune to Evelyn. Perhaps nothing to someone like Count Ehrend or any of the other aristocrats in their palaces speckling the countryside, but it is a hundred times what she used to have. Once the Prince’s Tax comes around the amount of coins is going to be a lot less but she’ll still have a bit of gold left. Perhaps she can get help. She thinks about the scholars in South Egertus and the fact that the first time she ever heard the term “the Demented” was in reference to what them and their studies. Was her mother a Demented? Evelyn has a sinking suspicion that she might be and that Man in the Top Hat might be behind it. Also there is always the Church of the Lawgiver, said to battle evil daily. She doesn’t trust them much but it’s better than fighting this alone.

A plan is beginning to form in the back of her mind. She takes some solace in this as Whispers rubs against the back of her leg to get some attention. She’s still terrified and overwhelmed by the odds but she now has something to aim for. She takes both of her mother’s hands in her own, becoming the mother of the two as she often has over the last five years. She has to be the strong one in the situation if they are going to get out of this.

Guinea stands there for just a moment, taking in the care, until she breaks it. The sun rises in the East later than it set because of the Mists over the seas, like a cloud of mountains. The top of the Mists glows with a ethereal substance and then the sun peaks above in riveting shafts. “Come,” says her mother “You can’t go to work like that. Let’s get you cleaned up.” Evelyn realizes that her face is still smothered by soot from cleaning out the stove last night. Eyes still puffy, Evelyn wipes her self clean with cold morning water as Guinea hands clean rags to be used.

Evelyn sends up the soup early for lunch today, the guests to the manor wanting a lighter meal as they prepare to go horseback riding early this afternoon to hunt plains cats. Mayor Bolshnik is visiting once again and the woman has a reputation for being a fierce game hunter. Some of the kitchen hands comment that she was once one of the best archers around but has since started using a new device called a ‘musket’. One of them claims that the stable boy was with her during one of the hunts just days ago.

Thora squints her face in disbelief, a dead chicken only half plucked before her. She’s too invested in chatting to finish the job. She wipes her nose with her sleeve and gives the chicken a few plucks, snorting a bit. “The stableboy? Along for the hunt? Who? Why?!” The storyteller, a boy from the cellar, smirks. “Yeah it was Leif. Wait a minute.” He races off to find the stableboy.
Evelyn is nearby, listening more to just pass the time than anything but is still a bit curious of this woman from a powerful family. Mayor Kaia Bolshnik might be an impressive personality all around but her true mantle, the real reason she sits at the head of this city, is because she of the Bolshnik Family.

Evelyn has steaming pea soup almost ready and let’s Dagmar know as the Undercook is passing by. Dagmar silently acknowledges Evelyn and the woman makes sure to bully the baker at the other end of the stove to be certain that it’s good and cool once it reaches up dining room... but not too cool! “We want the bread warm and soft with the meal.”

Dagmar acts like yesterday never happened between Evelyn and her but this is all just a ploy. Dagmar loves to prod a false sense of security so that she can jump on the next mistake, the next problem she can poke with her wormy finger. She’s a wheel that never stops turning, a nasty spoke at the other end that is certain to rear again if given enough time.

The boy from the cellar comes back with a young man almost Evelyn’s age. Leif. He’s almost handsome in a goofy sort of way, light brown hair and a small mustache struggling to grow and curl. He’s tall and lanky, with a cocky smile as he enters the kitchen despite his tired and puffy eyes. He looks sick, Evelyn thinks. He rubs his runny nose as he is told to retell his ride into the fields with Mayor Kaia Bolshnik just less than a fortnight ago.

“She trained me in how to clean her weapon... that... musket... contraption she purchased from Port-a-Lucine. The musket- it’s like a crossbow but long and without the bowstring. Pull the trigger and-” he splays his fingers as if an explosion.

“How?” Thora asks, her mouth slightly ajar. Evelyn wonders if she even cares or understands.
Leif grins at her, glad for the attention, and wipes his running nose again as he leans against the counter. The servant door slams open and a kitchen wench marches by with two headless chickens. “It’s called gunpowder. It’s this black powder that catapults ammo when lit with fire. But once it’s fired the musket has to be cleaned by a helper so it can be used again. That’s why I was needed. I cleaned the musket while she used her second one. We trade again when she fires the second.. second... aaahhhh-shu!”

A mist of spit sprays the air as he sneezes, aiming it away from Thora and a few others listening, settling onto the table. Evelyn looks up at him dubiously as the servants take the soup from her.

“What’s wrong with you?!” Thora laughs at the sneeze. She goes back to plucking the chicken, disregarding a second later. “Sounds like a lot of work when you can use one arrow. That’s what my uncle used to do when he had his own farm.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Leif wipes his mouth again and crosses his arm. His voice has a frog in it and he clears it. “We happened upon a plains cat and she fired on it but missed, sending the plains cat running by the very noise of it alone. It sounds like a shield tossed from the highest guard tower but louder. She then handed her musket to me and I cleaned the gunpowder like she showed me. On the second shot she made it, cutting off the plains cat’ back legs clean off with one blow.” Evelyn listens intently and doesn’t particularly like plains cats, they are brutal killers, but she doesn’t like to hear about animals needlessly suffering. She disregards this feeling as she imagines herself in her cottage last night, waiting for the Man in the Top Hat with a musket firmly in her hands and the knowledge in how to use it under her full capacity. She imagines it cutting him in half too. Her nightmare comes echoing back, those shadowy hands around her throat, and before her imagination runs away from she busies herself in cleaning her station.

Leif goes on to illustrate how they finally put the plains cat out of its misery and Mayor Bolshnik now has its pellet at home at her study. “I brought it to her as a gift from Count Ehrend. You should see what else she had in her-“

“Hey you!”

Leif creaks his head to the side and his confident smile falters only a bit as a very agitated and busy Dagmar stands staring at the stable boy from the second room. Her thick fists are to the sides but she looks ready to pummel the kid on the spot by look alone. “Out.. of.. my.. kitchen.” Her feet pound and she marches toward him. Leif is from the stables, a respected responsibility in Nova Vaasa, but he’s barely marrying age and Dagmar outranks him in her own way.

The lanky boy grins and looks at the girls, Evelyn including. “Alright, I have to go!” then he’s out the door in a flash. Thora stifles her own smirk as she finishes plucking the bird and wipes the feathers off the table with her bare hands.

“Suppers’ cancelled!” the stout dwarf Brynjolf walks in with his heavy boots clocking loudly, waving his stubby fingers and inspecting the food without looking anyone in the eye. A busy-minded individual, he can’t help but scoot in a chair and budge a table in place on the way, looking at the whole kitchen with a captain’s eye for detail. “They are off hunting and won’t be back until very late. The family is going to the city guild after hunting for a feast. Take the day off and Sunday too, the Lawgiver demands it.” Relieved sighs exasperate the kitchen as everyone begins cleaning their stations. The house servants, their green tunics neat and hair done in complex braids, grab the prepared food and clean them on the giant table where Thora had been working. They clean the porridge bowls with white handkerchiefs and pluck the meat pies so that they cool and steam on their way upstairs.

If this was good news for anyone, it was Evelyn. Now she had time to prepare for this next encounter with that man of shadows. She couldn’t turn to anyone here, or at least in the kitchen, but she thought of one person that might care enough and had some wisdom and experience to give a suggestion. She takes a cloth and wraps up one of the leftover meat pies that is no longer needed for later service.

The dwarf brings out a sack that jingles and that gets everyone’s attention. He hands out a coin to each kitchen helper, the dwarf smiling from behind his massive beard styled with curls and pinned by a silver medallion of an axe. “Here you go, Evelyn.” He places a single gold coin, called a bridle in Nova Vaasa, in her open palm. One week’s worth of pay. The head’s side shows a horse head in profile, looking to the Evelyn’s left. It looks miraculous to her. She had always known the copper coin (the ‘horseshoe’) when she began making money. Yet this one heavy coin in her soft hand is worth a hundred horseshoes. She closes it into her grasp, feeling the mint under her fingers. She notices that it’s actually duller that usual, a little worn around the edges. She used to look at the golden horse head on the bridle at night alone, glittering off of the light of her candle, cozy with her own accomplishment to get something so valuable. A horseshoe copper gets you a meal at an inn, or perhaps a common wine. With this bridle she could fill her cottage with whatever she wanted. Or hire someone that could help her cast away that Man in the Top Hat. All because her skills were valued and she worked hard. Brynjolf pats her on the shoulder in seeing her pleasure, chuckling. “Go off now. I know your mother is waiting for you.”

Evelyn nods as Brynjolf expertly fires down the stove and she turns the coin tails to see the other side, expecting to see the usual depiction of Prince Othmar upon his throne, a whip in his left hand and a rod in the right. But on this coin the tail has a different mint, that of a pentagon boring five crests. The twenty-one coins she has hidden at home looks nothing like this- they all have the Prince!

“Brynjolf!” she ushers the dwarf close, worried that it’s a fake. She can just imagine a merchant throwing it back at her face in disgust, calling for the guards to take her in. But the dwarf puts her at ease with his usual brashness. “Don’t act the peasant girl, Evelyn! Those are the five ruling families of Nova Vaasa! This is an old mint.”

Evelyn squints at him. “There is only one ruling family. The ruling family is the prince’s family, the Bolshniks.”

Brynjolf quiets down and looks about the kitchen to see if anyone is listening and sees that it’s half empty already. Everyone is just happy that they are leaving early for the day and have early pay, clearing out. Someone in the distance says goodbye to another, cheerily. The kitchen is eerily quiet for so early in the afternoon. “Look. You’re from humble beginnings and it’s best you know some things now that you work here. You’re now apart of my family and I want to make sure you know who you and I are working for.”

“When I came to Nova Vaasa sixty years ago the kingdom was ruled by five human families” he taps her gold coin for her to look at the five crests, “The Chekivs, the Rivtoffs, the Vistins, the Hiregaard, and...” he holds up own gold coin bearing Prince Othmar “the Bolshniks.” and then hands it back. “They switched the power of rulership over Nova Vaasa every five years called the Ordained Cycle of Ownership... or Stewardship actually. Um... yes. Something to do with civil war in the history of the land. They found peace by sharing the reins of the kingdom. It was the Bolshnik’s turn and Prince Othmar did not give up the power, and it’s been decades since he took to the throne. He changed a tradition that dates back before the Mists brought this land here, all so that he can keep the power..”

Evelyn had been listening, wrapping a meat pie in cloth for later, when she stops. “The Mists brought what? Brought the land to where? Nova Vaasa? All of it?” Brynjolf looks at her quizzedly, nodding his head. “That’s what your Church of the Lawmaker teaches! You don’t know your own land’s religion and history? These are your people, Evelyn. Best you know what they think or feel if you live among them.” Evelyn hasn’t felt like these were her people ever since those days in the marketplace with her mother but she does not share this. The dwarf continues, “Yes. Nova Vaasa is from beyond the Mists, from another world, as are all these lands. I am from beyond these Mists and I haven’t seen my ancestral home in nearly a century now. I tried going back home but....” he doesn’t continue on the matter.

Evelyn’s head swims with the implications. How can a whole land move? She finds that she has to sit down and finds a stool at the table, putting the coin on the table. She collects herself and tests the dwarf’s implication, see if any of it is valid. “If you are from beyond the Mists then where do you come from, Brynjolf?”

“The Smoking Mountains of Tymantheran. An underground kingdom of dwarven ingenuity and deadly red dragons.” he looks out the kitchen window wistfully. The kitchen is now empty except for the two of them. With the powerful stove fires quenched the stone room quickly cools. “Nothing here is like those great halls, ‘darlin. You humans have your strengths but it can’t compare to the feats we created with our bare hands in the dark. I served my King and the Royal Mines well.”

It’s at this point that Evelyn begins to suspect if the dwarf is pulling her leg. The Mists moving land from one place to another? Underground kingdoms? Dragons roaming dwarven halls? Aren’t dragons a myth?

But after a moment of observing Brynjolf and his look of pained longing, she concludes that he is not trying to deceive her. He has always been brash but honest to her and the kitchen. A man (demi-human as they call them) of integrity.

He points to the enormous stove that Evelyn has only recently gotten a handle of. All it’s complex tangle of pipes and raging fire. “This stove... is my creation. There is no other creation like it in Nova Vaasa,” he considers for a moment, tapping his hard fingers on one of the burners “Not in all the Domains, perhaps, actually. I based it’s construction from a miniature version of the furnace of my family guild. Back under the mountains, my home. That furnace could melt gold like butter… but this furnace? It is much smaller but is still efficient in its job. It can cook for a whole kitchen but it also heats the manor. I’ve heard that other manors have copied it but none of them can compare to my creation. “

“This kitchen of Count Ehrend Estate is actually famous for this iron stove. One of a kind.” He strokes his invention proudly. Evelyn pulls close her leather satchel and pockets the gold coin in deep cavity at the bottom where it can be remained hidden. “So Count Ehrend is not one of the five families that rule Nova Vaasa?”

“Huh?” The dwarf is pulled out of his dreamy state, thinking about iron pipes and heating systems of legend. Evelyn sees the Undercook, Dagmar, walk in towards the pantry. In the corner of Evelyn’s eye she can just see the scorn in the woman’s expression as the dwarf has a personal conversation with her underline. Brynjolf is not know for being personable, shooing people back to work and endlessly tinkering with kitchen equipment instead of interacting with other humans.

“The Ehrend family?” The dwarf swirls his finger, ash buried under his fingernail and a silver band on his pinky. “This here is the family of Count Ehrend. You’re Master. My Master. The Master of everyone that fairs these fine halls. The Ehrend family own the lands north of the river, the plains of Ehrendton. A wilderness of grass and plains cats and not much else except for some farms and hermit towns.“ Evelyn had always seen Ehrendton across the South Dhar River, like on the High Road last night when walking with Christer, but all she can make out are the rolling fields of crops.

She thinks back to the black birds that flew across the river from Ehrendton in the middle of the night, the flock blotting the stars for a moment. The fact that the birds came from Ehrendton.

“The Ehrends are an offshoot of the Bolshniks Family. They are closely tied to the Prince but are much poorer and wield little to no power in Nova Vaasa. Just Ehrendton. ” Evelyn is impressed. If this manor was poor compared to the other families then imagine the fortress Prince Othmar must seat himself in!

“I need to start getting the kitchen scrubbed” interrupts Dagmar, her frown focused on Evelyn.

“Ah yes! Don’t let us get in the way!” cries the dwarf, never willing to hamper raw labor. “Well, Evelyn. See you in two days.” The dwarf takes his leave as if they never conversed. Evelyn grabs the meat pie and some pea soup and is off out the servant doors as Dagmar slops soapy water onto the cobbled kitchen floor.

The black iron stove, it’s arms slumbering and burning eyes cooling, breaths low and slowly drifts to sleep as it’s fires fully extinguish.

“Christer.” The old footman turns around to see Evelyn walking up to him from the stairs spiraling up the guard tower. She finds it by following the servants that fetch food to the guards everyday past noon. Wrapped in a white cloth is a meat pie laced with rosemary and some of her pea soup from the kitchen.

The guard tower is on the eastern wing of the manor and it’s the tallest point of the building with four lookout areas at the top. A cool and sweet breeze flows in through the open stone windows and Christer smiles at Evelyn, surprised to see her. A few of the guards look at Evelyn curiously but continue to scan the grounds for trespassers, bows nearby and quivers of arrows everywhere. A weapon rack full of shields and longswords is near the stairs so that the footmen can grab what they need while exiting the guard tower.

One of them, a man a bit younger than Christer but still somewhere in his 40s, is conversations with one of the guards when he creaks his head to look at Evelyn with steel cold eyes. Evelyn was able to ignore Darmar’s scrawl when she was talking to Brynjolf but her eyes are drawn straight to his view. It is like looking into the eyes of a predator. His thin lips are pressed into a never ending frown of disapproval topped by a miraculous waxed mustache streaked gray with age. He is easily bigger and stronger than Christer and, judging by the quality of his chainmail, also outranks him. A green sash is corded around his waist, the family color of the Ehrends, and behind him on the walls are the coat of arms of the House: a black snake twined around a black hand axe on a field of yellow. Below that their motto “Unity from us, power for us.”

Evelyn rips her eyes from his stern gray eyes to meet Christer’s again, regretting coming to the guard tower. If it wasn’t for the Man in the Top Hat she would have never dared doing this. But circumstances have changed. She musters her voice to work. “I’ve brought some left-overs from the kitchen. Thank you for walking me safely home last night.” Her mouth feels as dry as sand and she wonders if she has made an error in wisdom on coming up to the guard tower. She has always kept to herself and now that she’s stepping out of line she is getting lots of unwanted attention.

The Captain turns his direct attention away from them but Evelyn suspects that he has made a mental note of it, for whatever reason.

“Ah, it was nothing dear.” Christer takes the food from her and she stands there for a moment longer. This wasn’t just a thank you. She had come up here to ask his opinion about her terrible issue. Christer senses this and smiles. “I’ll eat it by the pond in a bit, that should be nice. I’ll need some sunshine. Take care.” He bades goodbye but Evelyn nods her understanding and departs.

On her way back down the stairs, circling around and around, she thinks she hears a muffled cry behind one of the many doors leading down. She freezes, listening, the torches flickering in the dark. The door is cast iron and as old as the tower, with bolts running down its length and a large ring as the handle. Evelyn listens for a moment longer, ears so strained that they hum. She hears nothing else.

A door opens on another level and she hurriedly continues down the stairs to continue on her way.

A guard tower has many secrets. She already has enough secrets of her own to take on more.

Sitting together an hour later, Christer mills over what Evelyn tells him from what happened after they parted ways last night. He tosses some of the crust from his half-eaten meat pie into the pond and two curious swans swim over to investigate. Evelyn would normally take the time to appreciate these beautiful creatures but apprehension prevents her, the wane of it creasing her brow. Several landscapers tend to the land around them, one of them cleaning the slum of the pond with a rake and basket. None of this landscape is natural. It has to be crafted, daily, by a team of artists so that the plains of Nova Vaasa doesn’t creep back in with its tall grasses and dry soil.

“Normally I would have told you to go to the Church” he finally says. “They might have a ward or spell they can pray down onto your house and protect it. But they have been rounding up the Demented and secreting them away in their temples by order of the city. I think they will be more of a danger to your mother than help. More and more of the Demented are showing up in Egertus and the mayor has handed the problem over to the clergy, deeming it a problem with blasphemists who lack faith in God. I’m afraid your mother might be rounded up with the lot of them and you might lose her to the church.”

Evelyn wasn’t too sure she would have gone to the Lawgiver even if Christer had suggested it. The priests, with their shaved heads and dark robes, are hostile and unfriendly. She had met a few Lawgivers that were kinder, but they were never many and if she relied on one there is nothing stopping the cleric from telling the rest of the church about her mother. They might even blame Guinea as a heretic that summons the Man in the Top Hat to her.

Christer finishes the meal and locks his elbows over his knees, checking back to the guard tower. Evelyn knows he must return soon. “I don’t know why this spirit is visiting your mother but if it is attacking her mind, fogging her thoughts at night, then I suggest you instead go to the Savants in southern Egertus.”

Christer hands back the bowl to Evelyn as she looks at him inquiringly. “The what?”

“The Savants. It is the name of ole’ for the part of town where scholars arose and studied the workings of the mind and body. They are not experts in spirits per say but they might know better how to heal your mother and perhaps fend off this shadow wearing a hat. I am sorry, Evelyn. I am an old soldier and not a very good one at that. I don’t really know much about such things and I don’t know what I can do to help.”

The young woman watches the sun sparkle off the dark waters, her mind made up. A door opens somewhere on the manor lands and there is the laughter of children. Evelyn turns to Christer and asks “Where in the Savants should I go? I have never been there.”

“To the Lamp Post I suppose. A lot of these scholars and doctors drink a bitter beverage there that’s not ale. Why people would pay not to drink ale and some shitty black-“ Evelyn grabs the sleeve of his chain mail and he stops. “Doctor? That’s what my mother called the shadow. A ‘doctor’. Aren’t those healers?”

Christer nods his head. “Yes. A physician I think they are titled. The one I saw never helped my wife all that well when she was sick so I don’t know if they can do what they say but they seem to be thriving in the Savants-“

She interrupts him with a tug, her eyes intent. “My mother said that the shadow was a doctor. Are you sure I can trust these people?”

The old man raises his bushy eyebrows. “I... don’t know. I am sorry. I didn’t know this when you told your story. I think some of them might be cons or lowly bards, trying to impress their ability more than they can provide, but I don’t know if this is related. Perhaps your mother was coerced to say such a thing. Or perhaps she had heard the title ‘doctor’ before and assigned it to this malignant spirit?”

Evelyn thinks about this, looking across the pond at a three story building at the water’s edge. It is beautiful, with a slate roof and windows shine from it like blue gems. It is not apart of the manor but resembles it, standing in a grove of trees. From around a crop of trees a trio of children, two boys and a girl, run toward the pond flying a kite as caretakers race after them. It looks like they left that quaint building to play.

Finally she answers. “I don’t know where she got that name from. But I am going to find out.”

The three children across the pond run to a duck and her ducklings and chase them around the edge of the waters. The little ducks flee and the mother duck snaps at the children as one of the boys laughs, throwing a stick at the mother. The caretakers laugh along and prod the boy away from the water.

Christer gets up and gestures for her to depart. “Those are the Count’s children. Looks like they got tired of their playhouse. We should get going.” Evelyn stands, brushing her skirts of grass, having a hard time swallowing the fact that the charming building they exited is nothing but a large doll house. It is more than thirty times bigger than her cottage. How many children off the streets of Egertus would be sheltered under its roof this very night?

For the first time she’s worked here she actually begins to get angry about the Ehrend family and their exuberant wealth. It’s such a waste... and for what? She and her mother were nearly thrown out of their own home because of the Prince Tax and is it for this? So that these nobles can have play things?

The boy that had thrown a stick at the duck, a handsome lad with brown curly locks, grabs a rock and chucks it at the bird this time. It’s a good throw and slams the creature on her back. The mother quacks in pain and anger as the children laugh, the caretaker lecturing them on their behavior but her words falling on deaf ears.

Evelyn breathes deeply. She knows that the gold she earned from this family might be tainted by greed but it’s all she has. It’s her small fortune and it’s all she has to combat the Man in the Top Hat.

She walks back home to collect her full 22 gold coins. This afternoon she will go south of town and figure out where to go from here.

The children laugh as she departs, the wind blowing through the trees and sprinkling through the water.

Last edited by PIG; May 31st, 2019 at 02:21 AM.
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________________Vol.003(February 2018)________________
Desperate Measures

After being released from her duties early at the kitchen, Evelyn races home to collect the secret trove of gold coins she keeps hidden in her room. Her mother is fast asleep from a late nap. The young kitchen wench quietly slips away as her cats chase her outside to see what she is up to before giving up, watching her disappear into the distance. Evelyn gets as far as the marketplace, back to the fountain, before she finally stops her self from going to the southern portion of Egertus.

She rests against the lip of the fountain and stares south as the late day laborers trudge past her. A horse wines, old and worn, as it's driver repeatedly whips it to pull the haul stuck in the mud. Wagons are held up behind and they yell at the rider to get out to the way or kill the horse. "Slit it's throat and be done with the beast already!" It is a jernryge, or an "iron-back" the strongest and largest of the Vaasi horse breeds. But this jernryge has lived past his time and the driver, likely too poor or too stubborn to retire the poor creature, forces him to keep working. Finally, wide-eyed and frightened, the animal somehow manages to get the wheel unstuck and the wagon full of corked barrels surges forward, splattering mud on Evelyn as she remains out of the way, avoiding obstruction of the continuous surge of traffic circling the Fountain of Duke Irvine. Pressing her butt against the stone edge, she absently wipes away some of the muck but what she is really doing is buying a bit of time.

With the endless traffic circling the fountain, there is one road less traveled heading directly south: Mason Road. She's never gone in that direction of town, the part of Egertus where Christer had told her to go to find 'The Lamp Post' to ask what to do about her mother and this Man in the Top Hat. The 'Savant' they called that part of town, a word as strange and alien to her as the word 'doctor'. Finally, ready, she secures the leather satchel in front of her, the twenty-two gold coins tucked deep at the bottom, and darts to Mason Road when there is a break.

Evelyn instantly smells smoke while stepping up on the stone walkway as she passes a blacksmith. Raw building material is scattered over small yards that haven't seen a green blade of glass in generations. A wet and muddy dog tied to a post watches to make sure she doesn't get close to his master's territory. The dog lifts up on his hunches and gruffs a single low bark until she passes and he sits back down. Shirtless masons and roofers work on their craft, sweaty and wiry men with handlebar mustaches, up to their elbows in chipped dust. The sun does not reach into the yards even without a cloud in the sky, the buildings too tall and streets too narrow. They work in the shade and ignore the passerbyers clustered in the street. A shoemaker, a small man with whisps of balding hair and long nose, sits on a stool outside of the yard and repairs the worn boots of the workers. His face sourly scowls down at his work, a pile of discarded shoes to his right, as his thin hands deftly and efficiently do their work in maintaining the soles of their shoes. The masons work day in and day out building up Egertus larger and larger. He takes a single horseshoe coin from another mason and gives back the boots to take on another, slipping the copper coin into his coat. A boy and girl, with little to do and nothing to eat, watch the shoemaker dully and then watch Evelyn walk by with tired and blank stares.

Mason Road eventually divides at a roofer's yard, the muddy grounds full of straw and mounds of clay. Evelyn smells old dung and pitch as workers slop together building material to be carted off to different parts of the town. A murder of crows line the low stone walls of the roofer's yard and hop fearlessly to and fro, eating what ever bugs that are attracted the wrenched stench of sh*t. A man hollers orders from the yard and the crows take wing to the roof tops. Evelyn looks to the left and is about to go in that direction when she sees rows of buildings coughing up lines of smoke. The sound of hammers ringing and men calling drift from that direction. She faces right, a mason busily passing by and giving her a glance, and she sees older buildings huddled together and leaning in on the streets. Older looking but attractive and quaint. Their roofs are red clay tile and actually bask in the warm sun. It looks much less filthy and the only smoke is from small chimneys for kitchen fires or inns. Evelyn asks the passing mason if 'The Lamp Post' is in that direction.

"Don't know."

He is gruff and inpatient as he keeps walking. Evelyn realizes that he probably knows as much about Egertus as she does. He goes about his day toiling at his job and looking after his family, not having the time or energy to worry about anything beyond what's in front of his nose. How can one afford to? Evelyn has known the same feeling for years. She tries again, trying to sound kind. ”It's in the Savants. A coffee house I believe." The mason slows down and actually thinks about it for a second. He wears a long homespun shirt either his wife or mother made him, the sleeves pushed up, and heavy brown trousers that have seen better days. His boots, she notices, are in terrible shape and he smells of sweat and horsehair. He wipes his sweaty brow, more sweat from his oily hair dripping down into his eyes. He points to the right divide. "Best you go along that way then. That's where all the learned people dwell.” Evelyn thanks him and he actually smiles. It's fleeting and weary but it's still there. He gives the common 'you're welcome' of Nova Vaasa "The Lawgiver Graces!" and he is on his way back to work. She heads in that direction, determined.

Unlike Mason Road, which is choked with workers and horses, the street here widens and she instantly begins to see people with much better quality of clothing and upkeep. A horseman rides past on a midnight steed, his mustache twirled at the end and a long sweeping ponytail tied to the back with a red scarf. He wears long riding boots, his riding coat buttoned all the way to another scarlet scarf wrapped around his neck. An aristocrat? Evelyn isn't sure but doesn’t think so. His style is very different, more flamboyant.

She passes a white metal sign nailed into the brick of a passing building and it reads Glass Street.

As Evelyn looks at the various shops and beautiful signs she is thunderstruck that she has never visited here in her entire life. It doesn't have the crushing poverty and decaying buildings of the rest of Egertus but it also doesn't have the untouchable haughtiness of the Count Ehrend Estate. People are a little less defensive and hard on Glass Street. Evelyn stops and looks back from where she came from, with some humor, wondering if she walked into another town. But no, Mason Road is still within eye shot and the rest of Egertus remains to the north. How is it that she never heard of this place?! No one spoke of it, not her mother, the various customers she gave soup to on the streets, or the kitchen at the Estate. Were they as oblivious of the neighborhood as she was? Is this some kind of trick that shields the thought of the place from prying eyes of outsiders? Evelyn continues walking and concludes that it's just that people here don't talk about something alien to them. She has always had a sneaking suspicion that the people around her, with their hard stares and confident postures, were just as unsure of themselves as she was of herself sometimes. They just hide it better. Evelyn has never heard of the Savant neighborhood because people don't want to talk about something they don't seem to understand. Best stick to your own kind, your own job, and your own family. 'Just ignore everything else that dwells at the corners of your knowledge' would be what they say.

Dainty doors greet her along the route, windows installed with thick glass. It is much unlike the open windows she is commonly used to that only have ragged drapes or curtains to block the way. The glass isn't as fine and perfect as in the Estate, which is nearly see-through, but they do the job. Blurry figures move behind the thick glass, doing their own private activities. Flowers accent stairways and nicely carved signs tell travelers what lies where. Signs are everywhere; explaining, directing, imploring. Evelyn knows how to read because of her mother, not all words but most of the basic Vaasi terms spoken in Nova Vaasa. Most other people she meets can't say the same thing. With a bit of work she can make out certain elegantly written names and titles on each building: 'Adam's Brewer' where the unmistakable smell of hops drifting into the street, 'Button Maker' where a seamstress works outside on the steps sewing a blue coat, 'Printer' where a small shop with grass-green framed windows are opened and piles of scrolls are fitted into various shelves. She silently mouths each title, reading out the letters, looking for the two words of her destination 'lamp' 'post'. She can feel that this is the right place, that she is getting closer, and it sends butterflies into her stomach. All her problems are forgotten for the moment as she focuses on simple words and navigation, losing herself in the hunt and exploration of this strange and new place.

Evelyn wonders how these people have the money to do what they do. They are not commoners like her, nor are they wealthy aristocrats that rule Nova Vaasa. They are somewhere in between. Not plagued by hunger and despair like the commoners in northern Egertus but also nothing like the spoiled children that ran to the estate pond from their over sized 'doll house' as people starved in the thousands.

The awe still in place, she feels a bit tired despite the fact that the kitchen is much more demanding and brutal on her body than simply looking for a coffee house. Evelyn wonders if it's because she is absorbing so much new information and locations, it's draining her mind and spirit to keep up with all the incredible details. One familiar location, she is surprised, pops out of Glass Street and it doesn't look like it belongs here. A Church of the Lawgiver is plotted between the two empty shops that was once a oilmaker on one side and a cheesemaker on the other. The blistering temple is of the usual black stone and towers higher than any other building here, as always. She knows of several holy places of the Iron Faith in Egertus but the one she passes most often, to the west on the way to work, is the Church of St. Gorkyn. It's the hourly bells of St. Gorkyn that let's her know if she is running late for work or not.

But this church is even taller than St. Gorkyn, it's brass bell lower and larger at the base of an arching front. Upon the face of the black stone, above the open doorways, reads St. Jokum. Saint Gorkyn and Jokum she has heard of, her mother has spoken a few times of the religion of Nova Vaasa and those names have surfaced in the mist of words about retribution and sins. Evelyn has no idea who these saints were and the teachings of the Iron Faith is all gibberish to her, but the power of the religion is unmistakable as she walks into the shadow of the church's tower. It's as humbling and eerie as when she walks by the Church of St. Gorkyn on her way to the kitchen. No matter what neighborhood you walk in Egertus, it seems, the presence of the Lawgiver makes itself known with the power of it's architectural dominance. To make the matter more poignant, a walkway of polished marble leads away from the front doors of St. Jokum and imposes itself upon Glass Street where a podium stands and a semi-circle trail of stairs leads upward towards it. A priest of the lawgiver in black over red robes, like some dark songbird, stands at the podium and lectures random people passing by. The people for the most part ignore him and Evelyn dreads approaching the spot where he might focus on her. She looks around at the various signs nearby, hoping she will see the words 'Lamp' 'Post', but sees nothing. Actually the locations around St. Jokum seem to be residents. Gone are the flowers and trimmings that make the street so attractive. Instead the buildings are more humble and simple in face of the church, as if they don't want to outshine the Lawgiver in all His glorious power. This one spot reminds her the rest of Egertus, more than anything else on Glass Street, and it weighs upon her heart.

"You! Young lady with the yellow scarf!" What Evelyn dreads is upon her. The yellow scarf she always ties her hair with flows behind her. Without wanting to she feels her head move to the voice calling her. The priest of the Iron Faith is pointing right at her from his stone podium, eyes brimming with command and intimidation in his red skullcap that marks him as an authority. "You! Why walk with your sins? Do not ignore me, Sister. Come to the Father and reveal your sins. Your thoughts lead to sins without His guidance. Stray and you will be punished as Mytteri lead you astray." Evelyn turns away from the priest, the name of Mytteri making her teeth clench. Mytteri is the source of all evil, the Iron Faith says. Without even wanting to, she wonders if the Man in the Top Hat is an agent of the same evil. Her mother never wanted them to go to the church of the Lawgiver. Did this fact attract the evil of of Mytteri? This thought terrifies her, because it just might be true. She forces herself to continue walking from the adept and crazed priest as he moves onto another passerby unfortunate enough to walk too close to the church. She keeps going, searching.

It's about two minutes later when she finally sees a lamp post stand before a dark and stout building at the next corner. A little fire burns in the lamp, even during this mid-afternoon, and she knows that she has found the place she has been looking for. If the tall black street lamp isn't evidence enough, the lime green words of her destination is painted on the slated gray room of the building: "The Lamp Post".

Taking a deep breath, she walks over and smells the bitterness of coffee. With one outstretched hand she pushes the door open and the scent of both coffee and tobacco glide past. She steps in, the hazy shadows enveloping her.

Evelyn has seen taverns aplenty in her life. They are at every corner, ready to suck in the next commoner and take his horseshoe coins. The spirits and ale will feather the patron's mind with haze and then spit him out with vile thoughts and lewd intentions. While selling her different hot soups on the streets she had the nose for alcohol and knew when someone has been drinking is approaching. Most people are easy to deal with (for the most part) but a man full of spirits or ale is not only scary, they can be out right deadly. Not all of them, mind you, but too many to ignore the fact. When Christen had walked her home the night before she had smelt spirits on his breath. It took some time to make her feel more comfortable with him but it could have all been a ruse, a way to get her to cast down her defenses. Luckily he had no ill intentions but she was wary nonetheless. That's not the case with most drunks she runs into on the street. Six times in her life she has either had to run away from a drunk or, once, outright stab him to get away. His thick fingers had grabbed the hem of her dress, bloodshot eyes full of merciless brutality until she slashed his hand, abandoning her pots to flee on foot back home as the man roared for her to stop. It was a growing problem in Egertus and if not for her job at the kitchen she might have seen it grow worse.

As popular as taverns are she just now wonders why a coffee house would be just as compelling.

The Lamp Post is brim to brim full with an array of different patrons as she worries if coffee is as dangerous or addictive as alcohol. She has avoided the drink so far, fearful of it's effects, but coffee is something she has no clue about. She has smelt it being brewed in the kitchen at work and it smells so much more delicious than the hops or grains to make beer, but that just might mean it's even more dangerous.

With this in mind she looks around at the paying customers of The Lamp Post and she can't help but raise her eyebrows. All sorts of weird and colorful characters fill the tables, sipping from mugs poured from lean clay pots set at the center for everyone to reach. Mostly they are old men but there are also younger men, some almost 16 years of age, conversing animatedly about a tangle of subjects she can't even follow. A mix of admiration, relief, and surprise sneaks up on her as Evelyn sees that almost a third of the patrons are actually other women. In all her life in Nova Vaasa women and men were rarely together when they hit puberty. Everything has a function: men attain men's work and women do their own jobs either at home or specific possessions peppered in various stations. Almost everyone in the kitchen are female while the males do the customary jobs such as the stables or watch guards. But here they all are, in this coffee-house, excitedly speaking or intently listening as there was no difference.

People pay for their coffee and food in copper or silver coins, dropping them onto dishes to be collected by servants as they whisk away used cutlery and cups. A table clears and waiting customers, seemingly strangers to each other, flood in to take up seats at the available spot. They begin conversations with each other as a new pot of coffee is brought over. Evelyn sees that she has to blend in with these new, waiting customers and begin conversing with this strange group. In the echo of her deeper thoughts she wonders if she is wasting her time in finding out what to do with the Man in the Top Hat in such a place... Who are these people? Why did Christer send her here of all places? Evelyn walks over to join a group of strangers as they converse with each other and she instantly feels like an outsider. She is still wearing her work clothes, which are of decent quality compared to your average commoner and is only a bit lower in quality compared to the rest of these people. They completely ignore her for now so she instead pretends to fit in, listening to the conversation but not being able to follow what is being said exactly. Something is mentioned about duration and the context the arcane contrasting to divine ability... which means nothing to her.

Evelyn is a pretty girl, she has always known this, but she has never been adept at using it to her advantage in social settings. She closes her self off, blocking out people, and people react accordingly: ignore back. The group of people she is standing with (three men and one women) do just that and don't look at her as they debate the possible ties of duration versus faith or understanding. They can read each other, nodding or making gestures. Evelyn just stands there, dark eyes observing and feeling out the four individuals.

The man that calls the most attention is extremely big, a purple cloak stretched over his oversized chest and the most flamboyant hat Evelyn has ever seen. He is loud, obnoxious, and pushy as he talks, barreling in his own point past everyone else. A light brown mustache twirled above his thick lips, tucked under a broad nose.

The next is an old man who is much more subdued compared to the big oaf in the purple cloak. Probably in his sixties, head bald and his common Nova Vaasan mustache is completely white. He corrects the purple oaf with sharp, countering words about facts he believes to make more sense. Evelyn gets the impression that the old man is just as stubborn but not as forceful with his opinions.

Third is a young woman. She's plain, her mousy hair tied back into a tail but her light brown eyes betray sharp and silent intelligence. She wears a simple dress and lacks that common scarf to tie her hair like Evelyn. Instead she uses a thin string. She seems cold and terse, using tight little expressions to convey her thoughts without actually saying them.

Lastly is a middle aged man with giant mole on his nose, an errand gray hair growing from the pit of that brown monstrosity. The stout man watches the conversation with darting eyes. He glances sporadically at Evelyn and offers her a small, strange, creepy smile.

Cling cling clinck! A servant for the coffee house rings a tin bell with her wooden spoon as a table clears. She approaches Evelyn's group she has chosen to attach her self to. "Okay, you can take their spot."

Five seats open and Evelyn quickly follows as the four head for the empty table.

The scent of bitter coffee, smoke, and perfume is everywhere. Purple Oaf, Old Man, The Girl, and Creepy Smile finally take full notice of Evelyn as draws up a seat with them, smoothing out her dress as she sits. Their conversation while waiting for a table falters and falls off a cliff as they all eye her closely. The plate of copper horseshoe coins from the last paying customers is collected by a woman with overflowing curly black hair and lazy smile. The servant is small, as tall as Evelyn, and cleans up the table with a stained rag and collects the used mugs and pot. She leaves behind a dish of dried fruit (spiced apples Evelyn expertly notices, most likely imported) and is off to fetch fresh coffee.

To catch them off guard and break the silence, Evelyn introduces herself and jumps right into business. No use poking around when they already don't trust her. "Hello. I am, my name is Evelyn. I came here to ask for help. I..." Evelyn is finding that she hadn't thought about how to ask these people and is stumbling on her words. Her palms grow hot and she wipes the sweat beading on her hands on her knees, below the table. "I work in the kitchen, in Count Ehrend Estate, and I have a problem with something... not natural. An evil spirit visiting my home at night. I told a friend and he thought it best I come here for help."

The table is dead silent amongst the loud conversations going on in The Lamp Post. A vast, large window of the coffee-house opens to Glass Street filled with tiles of murky glass, letting the afternoon light stream in shafts. Pipe smoke and other forms of tobacco drift in the hazy air and Evelyn coughs a bit as her table collect themselves. Evelyn quickly follows up her explanation to implore them to help. "I live alone with my mother outside of the town, on the bluffs of the sea and... I don't know who else to turn to." The truth of that statement, the raw emotion behind it, seems to steel her words and it actually settles down the strangers a bit.

The Purple Oaf is the first to speak, splaying his gloved hands while making exasperated expressions. "Then why not go to the Iron Faith, darling? We don't deal with ghosts and ghouls here. This is an academic setting for academics to converse and share ideas." The Old Man raises his eyebrows at the Purple Oaf. "You're an academic now?" he jokes and the Purple Oaf ignores him.

"My friend said I should go to you first... that the circumstances might be something the lot of you would better understand."

The Girl crosses her arms as a horse and wagon pass outside, sending shadows across the coffee-house as the hoofs echo in the street. "And what circumstances might this be? Who is this friend?" The Girl peers at Evelyn closely, her mouth small and pressed into a slight frown. Evelyn takes a deep breath and she feels her tension getting replaced by a bit of defensiveness. Maybe she was wrong about this neighborhood after all. Perhaps it's all the same everywhere.

"There is a phantom that visits my mother at night, and perhaps during the day, I'm not sure. He was nothing but shadows and wore a top hat. He carried a case with him." Old Man laces his thick knuckles and shrugs. "You were likely seeing things. It was at night, yes? You were tired and couldn't see. That doesn't mean it was a phantom. I would report it to the Town Guard if I were you, it sounds like a thief at night. Crime is rampant and bandits are everywhere."

Evelyn almost believes him for a moment. But two matters make her think otherwise. She names the first. "My mother has been acting strange for the last few months. Her personality has changed, she has become more..." she searches for the word "... more unpredictable. She loses time, says things that don't make sense, and has many nightmares at night."

There is a cold shift at the table and she knows that she has their attention. Old Man peers at her closely. "Nightmares? What are they of?"

Evelyn shakes her head. "My mother won't dare say. She doesn't like to talk about them. Sometimes I would find her at night, staring into darkness. Last night, when I came home late, I saw this phantom leave the house. My mother was in that same dazed state when I went inside. I asked her who that was, the visitor, and she said it was her 'doctor'." The patrons of the table look more confused now.

Creepy Smile nervously tugs at the button at his vest. "I see few people wear top hats in Nova Vaasa. The only people I ever saw wear such a hat were indeed physicians back twenty years ago, when I was a student. It's not so common anymore." Creepy Smile is right next to her and she can smell his breath as he speaks and it smells like decay. She spots black teeth and knows that his gums must be at the first stages of rot. She thinks back to the baby teeth she kept in her box in her room over the years, how she could still see her powdery blood in the root.

It's Evelyn's turn to shrug. "I don't know about that. But I have seen visitors wear them at the Estates. It's a strange style, nothing I see anywhere else in town. That's why I remember it so well."

The Girl is more skeptical as she regards Evelyn like a bug across the table. "That doesn't mean it was just man saying he was a doctor. Perhaps your mother was lying to you."

"My mother doesn't lie."

The simple statement, filled with spikes, silences the group again. Her mother has problems, she is also manipulative when she wants Evelyn to think or do something for her. But, to the word, her mother Guinea has never conjured actual outright lies. The same goes for Evelyn, probably a trait she picked up from her mother. Evelyn can shift her opinion, misdirect people, and sometimes try to get her way if she thinks it's fair, but Evelyn rarely, if ever, tells a bald-face lie. It's everyone else in Egertus, she finds, that hold back the truth.

Evelyn can't help but feel cold disdain for The Girl eyeing her across the table. Evelyn is a simple commoner, trying to make a life, being truthful and pouring her heart and she is just met with disbelief. Yet, regardless of that fact, she came here not to make enemies. She came to find advice.

Something catches Evelyn's eye and sees something move in The Girl's possessions. The Girl had brought in an overcoat to protect from the mud, tossing it over the back of her seat, and Evelyn sees a small white mouse with a pink nose and brown ears peek from one of the many pockets. The Girl quickly moves her hand to push the mouse back in discreetly, trying to not bring attention to it. The little mouse had looked directly at Evelyn before being pushed in. Cold, distrustful eyes from The Girl meets Evelyn and Evelyn simply pretends to not have seen it. Who keeps a rodent in their coat?!

Purple Oaf, who seems to be easily distracted from second to second, it arching back to look across the room. "Ah! It looks like our coffee is arriving!" Old Man absently takes a dried apple and chews on it, thinking a bit of what Evelyn said. "There has been a lot of research on the nature of dreams and nightmares..."

The Girl flicks a strand of hair from her face and gives a signal for the Old Man to shut up but he disregards it. "You have to admit, Eva, there might be something to that." So she has a name, Evelyn observes. The girl, Eva, looks at the Old Man with icy fury at mentioning her name in front of this mysterious kitchen wench. Why it's so important, Evelyn doesn't know, but she is glad to have it if has some power over the group. Old Man seems to be amused by Eva's anger and he chuckles, leaning back a bit. "You see she thinks you a spy," he turns to Evelyn. "But you're no spy. You're just a girl, a commoner, and I don't think you fully know what you are talking about. Do you know how many endless, superstitious, and unsubstantiated claims come our way? I admit, there is some merit on the study of Deep Ethereal but I don't think that is the case."

Evelyn focuses on him. "What is the Deep Ethereal?" The Old Man dismisses the question with a half-hearted answer. "The realm beyond our minds. Where our selves explore the dreamscape. It's very old research, back in the days of the Great Dr. Illhousen when I worked with him. A lot of it didn't pan out. Now most of us have moved on to new circles of thought."

Before Evelyn can ask more the servant with the black curly hair returns with five mugs and a steaming pot of fresh coffee at the center of the table, smiling and taking her leave. The Purple Oaf is the first to pour his cup as the pot works its way around, everyone taking their turn. A thick, black, tarred liquid flows out- rich and earthen. Evelyn never intended to drink the strange stuff, just coming here to talk, but Creepy Smile fills her cup before filling his, grinning. She sees one of those black teeth wink at her from crusted lips. The Old Man and the Purple Oaf glance at each other and Evelyn now sees that Creepy Smile has a reputation of making advances of this nature more often than they perhaps feel comfortable with.

Out of politeness, and trying to fit in, she takes a sip and she is not any where prepared for how cruelly bitter it is. Evelyn has an excellent sense of smell and taste, making her able to track the slightest ingredients in her food, and this black tar just runs all over her taste buds like a mudslide. She smacks her lips and feels her head buzz strangely. She watches as the rest of the table drink it like tea. Afraid of losing control of her senses she quickly takes a few slices of the dried apple and they are the taste of orchids, cinnamon, and caramelized butter flushes over the mudslide. They help but only a little. She can even taste the hint of chicken. Probably the pan that seared the apples was not clean and used to cook meat before.

Evelyn quickly continues, trying to convince them that this was no mere thief in the night. "When I saw the phantom I felt a chill down my spine. It was pure evil. It was as if the air around it... or him... dropped by him being around." Purple Oaf smacks his lips, bored with conversation now. "T'was the winter wind, my darling. A bandit and a cold breeze. Best you leave the seat for someone else and go to the town guards."

Creepy Smile actually defends her. "What she says might have merit. There have been reports that the Demented have been growing in town, people losing their minds. I have never heard of this phantom but there is certainly something go in town that requires some explanation." Evelyn feels something under the table and for a second, with her long life with feline pets, she thinks it's a cat that had snuck into the coffee house and is rubbing her leg for food. With a sickening shock she realizes it's not a cat but Creepy Smile touching her knee under the table with three fingers. They just rest there, unseen, touching gently. "I"ll help you, Evelyn. We should register your story at the Circle of Muses. That way all of Savant can know your story and help."

Evelyn pulls away from his touch, stiff as corpse and face blank. Her chair squeals against the stone floor as she stands up unexpectedly. "Where are you going?" asks Creepy Smile, taken aback.

"No thank you. I'll go there myself. Where is this?" Hopes dashed, she feels that another dead end has been met at The Lamp Post. Purple Oaf, glad to have the seat available, points further down Glass Street. "Not five minutes down the road. It's the 'scholarly archives' where they record matters both large," he takes his leather gloves off and waves in Evelyn's direction, "and small. Look for the window with four women painted on it. Don't know if that's the best thing in your interest but it's cheap and available to the public." She glances at the girl for a moment but Eva seems to still not trust Evelyn, concentrating on drinking her coffee and no longer listening.

"Thank you." her words are hollow and Evelyn leaves the table without paying and a patron takes her seat. She elbows her way out of The Lamp Post and back to Glass Street. The lone tall lamp, it's beacon of light hovering above her, keeps burning and she feels a bit betrayed by it and bristling furiously. Evelyn's anger is red and always close to the surface for the young woman. To touch and hold when events are becoming overwhelming or uncontrollable. It has always been here in moments like this. With the long fights with her increasingly irrational mother, bumping heads with Undercook Dagmar, fending off the endless wave of poverty when working on the street, or dealing with these ingrates at the coffee-house. This has been an absolute waste of her valuable time. The sun is lower than when she left the Estates. Night is approaching and is hours away. She needs to find out what to do before it's just too late.

People pass her into the coffee house and she is back on the street, looking for the Circle of the Muses. She' back on the hunt, running out of options. She still feels the man's probing fingers on her knee even as she goes back to whispering the words of the signs as she walks.

It's not hard to find.

Every door, window, and building in the Savant is unique and has it's own personal touch, alway attractive and creative. The Circle of Muses has no title and is off from Glass Street on some smaller, unnamed back alleyway. A small window peers into the shadowy walkway that a grown horse can't help walk down. Alley-cats see her and scamper as she comes to a stop. On the window are the white silhouettes of four women holding hands, forming a circle, as if in dance. One has wings, the next has a halo, the third has no legs, and last has a sword sheathed at her waist. Narrow and crooked stairs lead down below ground level to an even narrower door as if leading down to a basement. She looks to her right and sees an alleyway cat dart off after a small rat, vanishing round a cluster of garbage. She looks left and sees Glass Street, a lone man standing with his back against a bakery store framed by the exit of the alleyway, eating a loaf of bread with quick jerks of the jaw before swallowing and returning a pipe to his mouth and puffing a few draws.

She quickly descends the stairs, the cool air enveloping her as a cat meows down the alleyway. She tries the handle of the door and it's locked.

Evelyn stops. She tries the handle again, certain that it's a business and available to the public, all she needs to do is enter as if it was any other coffee house, inn, or any other establishment. She looks around, squeezed into the tight descent, wet stone walls to her side and a slither of blue sky directly above. Some of the alleycats have a dispute over for or territory and she can hear them fight, hissing and scratching somewhere down the way.

"Knock!" says a voice behind the door.

Evelyn hesitates as the voice doesn't reappear for a moment. She knocks, a gentle rapport of three thumps from her knuckles, and waits for the voice to return.

A grumble and footfalls follow. The door unlocks and a man opens the door, letting it swing ajar, before walking away. The door can't be three feet wide and it squeals loudly as she pushes it the rest of the way. The smell of old wood, mold, ink, and leather greets her with clicking sounds of mechanical devices. Candles light the dim room and it takes a moment for her eyes to adjust. The painting of the four women dancing in a circle in the window looks slate gray to black from the inside as she enters.

A single wooden high top desk is in one side of the small room with shelves upon shelves of scrolls piled upon each other. There must be parchment and paper in the hundreds, if not thousands, tightly coiled and in a ribbon, stuck in labeled squares. Two open doorways lead to other rooms beyond where nothing but darkness reside. Where there are no scroll shelves Evelyn sees mechanical boxes clicking and ticking away with numbers and hands. Again, she only knows of these devices from working on the Estate. They are 'clocks', mechanisms for telling the time. Why you can't tell the time by simply looking out the window is beyond her, especially when they are so very expensive, but that's none of her business. She instead turns to the man who unlocked the door and resits himself behind the desk.

"Lock the door behind you!"

Evelyn looks behind her and closes the door, turning the large latch, locking the door as commanded. It's snaps close with a smooth and hard click. She turns back to the man, her eyes now adjusted, and sees a fat and balding man picking up his quill with ink stained hands to continue scribbling. His stool croaks from his heavy burden as he adjusts his large body. His brow is furrowed and focused on what he is writing, a pair of tall candles to either side of him. Even though it's still day it's hard to tell down here. It feels like a dungeon and smells of it too.

How on the Realms and Mists did she get here? It's been a long and strange day but in finding what do with the Man in the Top Hat perhaps it takes a strange day to solve strange events.

"Who sent you here?" Evelyn falters and is about to say The Lamp Post patrons when the one and only name pops into her head.


The clerks keeps writing, nodding his head as if he knows the name. "Eva Johansen?" Evelyn gulps nods her head, confirming it out loud. "Yes."

He writes for a little longer.

"State the reason of documentation," demands the clerk right away without looking up.

Having been through this ordeal at The Lamp Post, she is quick to answer. "I have come about a shadow phantom visiting... I... I mean... haunting my home. I need to rid of him and protect both my mother and myself from it but I don't know how." She expects to be mocked like before but he writes it all down as he asks the next question, his beefy and hairy arm moving to write as he listens.

"Where is this? Be exact."

"The Bluffs of the Nocturnal Sea. Not far south of the High Road."

"Describe this phantom categorically. The better the response, the easier it is for me to look up or index your record." Evelyn recounts details about the Man in the Top Hat, everywhere from his coldness, how he was made of shadows, his top hat, his case, how he vanished in darkness going towards the sea, how his feet made a sound on the rocks, how Scaffer ran away. She exhausts everything she knows, unburdening the facts to someone else that is actually listening and taking it down. The nameless clerk does all of this, the scratch of his quill fast as he stops only to wet its ink from the well every few seconds.

Evelyn purposely leaves out anything about her mother losing her mind. She won't let those facts touch paper if she can help it.

The clerk writes for a moment and then finally states where he will put this. "This will go in the Unexplained Category. Any other category you might want to add?" Evelyn has no idea where to put it. Unexplained seems appropriate but futile. Then a word she heard from the Old Man back in The Lamp Post leaps from the back of her brain, to the front, off her tongue, and then in the air. "Deep Ethereal. I believe this has to do with dreams and nightmares."

The clerk, showing no expression, actually looks up at this. He mutters something and then writes it all down. "Unexplained, Phantom, Deep Ethereal. Got it. Your name?"

Evelyn gives it and he stands up from his desk, the stool moaning as his weight is pulled off. "Thank you, it will be cycled in the circles as always, but it is up to the experts if it is warranted for investigation. If you want an update on it's progress please check back later. Nothing is guaranteed." He lifts up one thick soft hand, regarding Evelyn with little hint of emotion. "A spur for the documentation. Three bridles later if it gets picked up for investigation by a scholar." Evelyn gives him one of the gold coins, a bridle, she has hidden away. It's so valuable to her that it hurts to give it away. He takes the one gold coin and hands back nine silvers as change so that it can be documented for one silver.

The clocks keep ticking as she walks out of the Circle of Muses. The clerk quickly locks the door behind her as she ascends the narrow stairs back to Glass Street. The man who had eaten bread nods to her in greeting, finishing his pipe and tapping it on the stone wall to clear it. She keeps walking without even an acknowledgement to the man, going back towards home, not sure what help she's gotten from the Savant neighborhood at all. She actually dreads going back home at this point.

Going back the way she came along Glass Street she passes The Lamp Post and it's even busier than before. There is less smoke spilling from Mason Road far up ahead as she walks, slower this time, back home. The Savant neighborhood has lost much of it's appeal, apprehension clutching her heart. She feels sick to the stomach and is returning home with little to no information. She wonders if the visit from the phantom last night was just a singular event, something that will hopefully never happen again. Evelyn dares not lie to herself about that. It seems unlikely. She happened to come back late that night and was awake. How many times might it have happened when she was asleep all these weeks? Why didn't it come for her? Or has it and her memory was altered?

One thing she learned at The Lamp Post is that the nightmares might be key to this haunting. She remembers her nightmare waking up this morning, with Whispers on her lap, and she wonders if he was there during the morning hours. She can't know.

A large brass bell blooms up ahead from the church of St. Jokum, ringing the third hour of the day. By the seventh hour it will be dark again. By the eleventh toll, as last night, the Man in the Top Hat might be returning.

Living a life of isolation she has reached out to a world that, more than anything, overlooks her. To be honest, she isn't the only one. She must remember that her mother kept loving her and did not abandon her even when times were tough, unlike many of the street urchins struggling for food through the rest of town. Also the elf, Sadynfyw, that found her on the streets and gave her the chance to work at the Estates. If not for him both her and her mother would be struggling in the slums. She begins to wonder what happened to the elf. She only saw him that once and that was all. The Count Ehrend Estate has over a hundred servants and many of them work in the actual residence of the Count and his small family, places where Evelyn isn't allowed to go.

The third toll ends with a hollow hum as a group of women pass by, laughing, entering a shop. Evelyn beholds the church, standing, brushing aside strands of hair blowing her face. Her dark eyes are serious as she considers her next path. She walks towards the church of the Iron Faith and climbs it's marble steps. The man on the podium is gone. She hears prayer within.

If no one can help her then perhaps, after all, the Lawgiver can.

A man leans his head on a pew and weeps, his face cupped in his hands to hide his grievance. Beyond him another man holds up his hands to the light streaming into the church from beautiful skylights that form a ring at the top of St. Jokum. Shielding her eyes from the light she peers at the center of the ceiling and sees that it is also open and reveals the church bell floating high above them. It's unnerving and she never expected to be able to see the giant metal thing from within the church. It only just has to come undone, falling directly on the people below with nothing to stop it. Evelyn has heard the bell when walking by on the outside. How loud is it when it rings upon the worshipers when it tolls? She can only imagine.

The church is quite foreboding on the outside with it's long, thin, black walls and the way it's height absorbs the sun from the street. But from within it's bright and beautiful. There is not a dark corner in the whole massive nave where the pews are lined up to view the stage for the priest to teach the lessons of the Lawgiver. Sunlight, white and streaming, shows every detail. Pigeons high above, along the brim of the bell, flutter and their wings and calls echo down into the nave.

A great altar of black stone is up ahead with the symbol of the Lawgiver behind it: a ten foot iron spear bound in bronze coils that wrap it from the butt all the way to the head like mangled thorns. The scattered worshipers are almost all poor, none of the usual residence she sees walking outside in the Savants seem to be here. In the back of the altar is a single bald priest in red robes ferociously scrubbing the marble with a small brush. Evelyn has cleaned the kitchen a hundred times and she knows how hard it is to the hand to clean with a normal sized brush. This young priest, however, is working with something twice smaller on an altar stage much bigger than her kitchen. His hands are red from the pressure building up as he scrubs in a blur. How is he going to clean the entire, already spotless, altar with that?

She looks for an empty pew and sits. The place is empty since it is Saturday. Ceremonies are every Tuesday and Thursday at noon for one hour. They are four hours long on Sundays and then there is a day long ritual on religious holidays. Evelyn has never once attended a full Sunday ceremony and she dares not be seen in public when they are in session lest someone sees her and knows that she is not in attendance. Living out in the bluffs it's not so hard, the Iron Faith don't pay attention to the public outside of Egertus. If you live within Egertus, however, it's near impossible not be noticed for skipping the daily prayer. Unkind things happen to the people who skip attendance.

At the kitchen they are allowed to leave after lunch to attend a ceremony of the Lawgiver during the noon break. There is no formal priest, they are supposed to just and prey to the Lawgiver at a servant's chapel. Usually Evelyn would doze on those days or daydream, pretending to know what they are all praying about. Thankfully, at least, there is no work on Sunday so that they can commit to worship and Evelyn can have time to rest and enjoy the sea.

Evelyn finally finds a pew that is far from other people and finds that it is made of stone, uncomfortable and cold even with the light streaming down. The only sound she hears is the priest brushing the altar, his hushed grunts as he puts his knuckles into the work, the pigeons high above, and the sound of worshipers weeping. One of them begins to mutter over and over again: "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm sorry." This feels wrong. All of it. Evelyn's breath quickens, her nostrils flaring bit. The Lamp Post was a strange but colorful place, even if they pushed her out. This place feels much more powerful and unforgiving. She feels like coming into St. Jokum was a bad mistake already.

In order not to attract unwanted attention to herself she forces her to stay there a minute longer. She looks at the tall iron spear, having no idea what the symbolism means. Painted murals hang at the wall, well crafted and rather large, depicting stories. One is a painting of a wild horseman riding into the fields, to either side of him are commoners who are either stricken blind or deaf- covering either their eyes or ears and begging to the sun for forgiveness. The horseman, an armor of hide and fur on his broad back and bearing a war spear, runs them down with his mount and stabs one with his spear, a light glowing over his head.

The other painting is of three tall women who each stand beside their own lake; one riding a horse, the second harvesting wheat, and the third dead on the ground covered in blood- a plains cat eating her entrails. Evelyn stares at this painting with wide eyes, her arms clutched to the sides. The painter went into gory detail to make sure to show the woman's face ripped off and her blood flowing into the lake.

Having enough of this she quickly stands and turns to leave to see a man watching her in the back of the nave.

He had been standing there, quietly this whole time, from before she ever walked in... observing the worshipers silently. Anyone coming in wouldn't have been able to see him coming in- only when they are leaving. It is the man who was preaching outside on the street before. His wide eyes stare hard into hers, his hands folded into his long sleeves. Unlike the priest on the stage, who is dressed in a solid blood red robe, this one wears a black robe over a red inner vestment and a red skullcap perches on his shaved head. His eyebrows, eerily, have been shaved off, given his staring and unblinking eyes a hypnotic and frightening quality.

Evelyn rigidly begins to walk to the exit and the cleric easily walks ahead to block her way. "You've come back, my Sister." He recalls seeing her on the street before. The way he calls her Sister is beyond reproach unnerving. That crawling feeling like when she realized Creepy Smile was touching her knee returns. "Then you came here. Sat down. Did not worship. You just... ssssat." He lets the last word float there, hissing the 's', as someone begins moaning in the pews. An old habit of checking for weapons comes to her, working on the dangerous streets of Egertus. The customary whip of the Iron Faith is hanging from his belt. Except this one has barbs. Mother help her, this whip has sharp barbs to tear flesh. "Then you were about to leave. Why visit the Holy Lawgiver if you are just going to enter, sit down, and then leave. Hmm?"

Evelyn doesn't dare run in case he takes out that whip. The man on the altar stops brushing. She glances behind her to see if he is joining in but observes that he is only taking a few seconds to rest before going back to scrubbing the marble. One of his nails have broken and keeps going regardless. Evelyn looks back to find the priest two feet from her face. An involuntary yipe escapes her throat and she clutches her satchel. His eyes are bright light brown, a thin nose and pulpy lips grin down at her. He looks like a perfect monster with his skullcap and absence of eyebrows. The symbol of the barbed spear dangles from his neck. She searches her mind and all she can say is the truth. "I- I need help."

"You have sinned. You have sinned and you have come here for guidance." He nods as if he completely understands everything. Why she is here, who she is, and what she has done. She is a poor, bad sinner in need of obedience.

At first she denies this. "No, I haven't. I just-" but then she turns it around, knowing that anything she says would not be good enough. She has never stolen, she keeps to herself, she doesn't spread gossip like others, she cares for her only family member, and she works herself to the bone. Whatever she says, whatever she does, it won't be good enough. The sunlight beams down from the windows in shards and she squints her eyes, watching his hands for movement. Priest or no priest, if he dares make a move she is going to defend herself. She might die but he's going to have a nasty, razor sharp kitchen knife in his eye in the end. She'll show him sin. "Yes, I... have sinned. I need guidance."

The priest grins with a certain level of intelligence. She doubts he believers in sincerity. "We have all sinned my Sister. Everyone in this room. Him-" he looks to the left and sees a man groveling to the floor under the pew, "my fellow brother over there" she does not look but she hears the priest still brushing the marble "myself and you both. All of us. We are made of sin. That is why we must reach for the light and ask the Lawgiver for guidance. Without authority there is sin. If you don't follow authority you are doomed forever."

Evelyn doesn't say anything. She keeps her mouth shut, nods, and agrees. She can hear women from Glass Street laughing and chattering outside. She imagines it to be the same ones she saw shopping. They could be a hundred miles away for all it mattered, even with the door open. She wonders faintly if they could hear her screams for help before the priest dragged her away.

"We all sin, you know that, but why did you really come to the house of St. Jokum? Do not lie. I know the truth. The Lawgiver has blessed me for seeing the truth in people's' eyes." Evelyn isn't sure he is bluffing but something inside her warns her not to lie to this man. It could be the end of her.

"An apparition has invaded my home. I believe it might be a spirit. I need to get rid of it. I came here to find guidance on how to cast it out. I need to know how to protect myself from it."

The priest looks into her eyes and nods his understanding. Despite herself, a tear wells up to her eyes and one comes down her smooth cheek. She's afraid (she is about to piss herself, all over this holy floor, she is so afraid of this priest) but to have someone other than Christer finally believe her is of great relief. The cleric of the Iron Faith sees no lie in either her claim or in her tears, only honesty, and it buys her an immense amount of credit to him. "I see. Evil and wicked things lurk in the shadows of this land. They are born out of the sins of the people. You are still young, you haven't seen the sins that wrecked this land years ago. We are all paying the price. That is why we let the sunlight shine on everyone in here- so that darkness cannot escape. Where is it that this apparition is haunting?"

Evelyn answers quickly and without hesitation, knowing where this is leading. "At my home."

"And where is that?"

Nope. No. He's not finding that out. She gives him as little information as possible without lying to those unblinking eyes. "Outside of Egertus." She is steadfast in leaving it at that, her dark brown eyes shining up at the tall man. Her tanned golden skin has a brilliant glow and her long, slightly wavy brown hair is swept off her shoulders as she faces him squarely. Evelyn will give room to avoid confrontation but, like Dagmar found out yesterday when she grabbed her by the ear, when you corner her she becomes a kingsnake ready to bite back.

The priest nods his head in understanding, tilting his head back and watching her with a grin. The sunlight from the sky window shines off his pale skin, giving him an ethereal glow. "I understand. Perhaps we are able to help. Here, come with me." He suddenly side steps her and walks past her to the altar, surprising Evelyn. He leaves her a chance to run for the open doors as he walks away. She is dead certain that if she runs as fast as she can towards Mason Road she'll be able to lose them and escape. Yet she can't run, she finds. The priest saw her tears and the truth in her eyes. He knows as much as her that she won't run just yet. Blood pumping in her ears she slowly turns to see the priest in the red skullcap go to a door near the altar. He slows down to turn and wait for her to follow with those light brown, knowing eyes.

He thinks for a moment about the blond man with the blue eyes yesterday morning for some reason and then banishes the image from her mind.

Slowly, gripping the leather satchel to her chest like a shield, she follows after. A person wails in the back of the nave as the priest closes the door after her entering.

They curve up two flights of stairs, reminding her of the guard tower at Count Ehrend Estate when she went to see Christer a few hours ago, and they both walk into a small and quaint office overlooking the Savant rooftops. She glances outside and it's a nice view of the neighborhood, the fields beyond, and some of the working district of Egertus. Beyond that are the bluffs and then the Nocturnal Sea, a brooding purple in the day. Even further, at the horizon, are the floating Mists hazing the distant blue sky.

The priest walks past a simple cotton cot where he must sleep, a water bowl on the floor to clean his self in the morning. "I am Alexander but you can call me Brother Alex." He takes his place behind a featureless black stone desk with a smooth top. He begins to sit. "There will be a certain price that I ask for our help-"

"I have bridle" says Evelyn instantly, ready for the exchange.

"Gold?" Brother Alex pauses and laughs gently, settling himself down. "Oh do you now? And how much bridle will that be?"

Evelyn looks at him back. "What do you have?"

Alexander presses his lips and sucks his teeth, his hairless eyebrows raising in mock surprise "Ah. Hmm. Let's see here, if that's the type of exchange you are looking for." He takes out a ring of keys that rattle loudly, perhaps a set of ten. He must have some sort of authority indeed. He unlocks a wooden drawer inlet of the stone slab and fishes around. There is the clink of glass and ceramics. Strange smells she can't recognize drift from the open drawer. From everything she has smelled over the years; the sea by the bluffs, the rot and waste on the streets, the building material on Mason Road on her way here today, or the wonderful array of ingredients that flow through the Count Ehrend Estate kitchen does not help her identity them. They are strange and alien. Alexander roots around for a moment until he pulls out a set of crimson vials. Evelyn wonders what else is in that drawer. She watches which key he used as he puts it back in his robes. She wouldn't dare try and steal the keys from him, not now anyway, but it can't help to know for future use. Sadly, however, all the keys looks too much the same and the priest quickly looks up at her before she can visually note anything.

"You see these here?" he lays out the five vials, corked and unlabeled, reverently. "I blessed these myself. I covet them in this drawer for later safe keeping in case I may need them if some evil might sneak its self into St. Jokum. With the sins of the Savants, I believe their evils acts have created horrible things in this neighborhood, waiting in the alleyways and sewers to lurk in the guise of friends or," he says pointedly, "in the middle of the night as beasts."

He uncorks the vial and one of the strange odors that came from the drawer fills the room. Again, it is so unique that it's hard to place. It faintly smells of frankincense (appropriately so) but there are hints of citrus and something pungent that overpowers it too. He holds it up for her to see and inside is a clear, flat liquid. "With one drink of this I can ward off such evil creatures and protect my mind from their control."

Evelyn looks up at the priest, stunned. "A potion? The law forbids it! The Church forbids such creations!" What game is he up to? All forms of magic are foul and corrupt, that's one of the few things she knows about the Lawgiver.

"No" Brother Alex states flatly. He watches her closely, those light brown eyes a little too sharp and piercing. "No," he says again, "Magic is indeed foul and corrupting, just like you said, unless it is from the blessings of the Lawgiver. Any magic we the Iron Faith create is pure and fruitful. All other magic is created from a web of sin and, though it might look like our blessings, it is indeed corrupt underneath, waiting to rip your soul apart." He corks the vial and puts it down rather curtly. "Your knowledge of the laws and the Lawgiver is very lacking, much less that I expected. This concerns me, not only for your soul, but the well being of everyone around you."

Sensing some of the strange propaganda of the Lawgiver coming out, attacking the innocent to make them feel guilty, she turns the matter back to business. Evelyn knows that potions exist and she is hoping this man isn't deceiving her, but she has little choice.

"How long does it last?"

"With my influence and closeness to the Lawgiver, it will last about a minute." A minute isn't long, Evelyn thinks. But it might buy time when she tries to kill the damned thing. She wonders how much it will cost. She owes the Prince Tax twenty bridles, a fortune to almost every poor commoner she has passed in the streets, so she has two to spare at the moment. By the time the tax is up she will have five bridle coins, making it seven to spare if she is truly desperate at the moment. If she is really pressed she'll spend all twenty bridle for more if she has to. If nothing works they can try and leave Nova Vaasa altogether, hoping this spirit won't follow her mother if it comes down to that.

"What is the cost for two vials?" One for her, one for her mother when the times comes. She'll force it down her mother's throat if she has to, when the time comes.

"For two vials?!" he purses his thick lips, "I'll give it to you for a hundred bridles. Usually I would make someone pay three hundred but..."

But Evelyn isn't even listening any more. She feels like she got punched in the stomach.

It took her months to get as much gold as she has. She is so proud of what he has. It took her talent and hard work to get that much. Some of the people she passed today on Mason Road, or (especially) the Fountain of Duke Irvine, would have outright murdered her for one bridle. That's how bad the poverty is here. But this 'man', if you want to call him that, wants a hundred times that?

He's still talking as she goes to the window and slumps her back against the wall. The breeze comes in, she can hear the sound of pigeons, but it all feels so very far away. Everything is so far and so impossible.

She looks over to see Brother Alex cork the vial and stand up, placing the vial in his robe and smiling. This is exactly what he wanted to see. She felt foolish and lost and he was breaking her down, making her lose hope. Evelyn looks around for the door, ready to leave.


Evelyn looks to Brother Alex and sees that he has dragged his chair for her to sit down on. She breathes deeply and sees Red again. Slowing her breaths she lets her anger help her take control again. When she was younger Red was uncontrollable, making her throw a fit when she felt her own control slip. As she's matured the crazed feeling has turned into a handle so that she can control her thoughts. She sits, positioning her self to either fight or flight in a moment's notice if she senses something going wrong.

The preacher splays his feet as he stands away from her, again giving her room to move at her own volition if she wants to. But he gambles on her remaining and, again, he gambles right. She breathes deeply and focuses back on the man. Her voice comes out hard and steady despite her heart the sweat (the second time today) on her palms. "What?"

Brother Alex folds his hands into sleeves again. "That is a lot of money, I know. But we are born in our stations of life. You thought just now, with whatever job you have... it's at one of the manors correct? I am certain it is, you are dressed for it. You thought that with your station in life that you can just rise through the ranks placed by the Lawgiver and afford what you want. You, my Sister, are born poor. I too, was born poor and that I will remain. These vials, this house that I worship in, the robes on my shoulders. They are owned by the Iron Faith. Not by me or you. You will remain poor because that is what the Lawgiver has foreseen for you and most of Nova Vaasa, me including. It is best you understand this and bask in the light to save yourself from whatever evil is following you. I don't know what manor you work for, there are a few, but any of your masters could afford a thousand of these potions without a single thought or regret. Do you now understand your dilemma? The masters of our great nation, especially Prince Othmar, is more important that a million of us combined. The Lawgiver has a plan... he just requires for us to abide by those plans is all."

He comes over to her and comes to one knee to keep his eyes level with hers'. His pale face fills her vision as he takes off his necklace of the holy symbol of the spear barbed in wire. He places the necklace and two vials in her hand and closes it. "I told you there is a price for this. It won't be in bridle though. Keep it for Prince Othmar. What the Lawgiver wants is your obedience, not your coins. Fight this evil your own sins have summoned to your home by using the tools I now give you. The only thing I demand, not ask, demand... is to come to service every Sunday, here and nowhere else, at noon. I will search for you and expect your return."

Brother Alex watches her closely. "Do you understand? If you keep these, you will not be able to turn away."

Evelyn looks into the man's cold stare into her own soul. She stares back into his, unflinching.

She closes her fingers over the holy symbol and two vials. "I understand."

Last edited by PIG; May 3rd, 2018 at 09:45 PM.
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________________Vol.004(March 2018)________________
Two Visitors

Evelyn remains sitting by the thin window for a moment, the two smooth vials still in her hand. Two pigeons swoop down from above and drift towards the clay rooftops of a nearby building and she watches them descend gracefully.

What she just purchased is worth a 100 bridles, an astonishing amount of money, but she feels like she just might have paid a lot more than it’s worth by agreeing to Brother Alex’s terms.

‘I have to come here, to ceremony, every Sunday. Probably starting tomorrow.

She turns to regard him as he takes his place back behind his desk. A whistle is blown in one of the workyards in the very distance, hazy wind carrying the afternoon dust breeze in. Of course there must be more to this than joining the ceremony to worship the Lawgiver, but what exactly? She asks him as much as he brings out a parchment, inkwell, and quill. “I will be here tomorrow at noon for ceremony for prayer… but what else is it that you want?”

Brother Alex flares his nostrils as he starts writing, peering his light brown eyes at her for only a brief second. “I need eyes and ears in the Savant neighborhood,” he states flatly, getting to the core instantly. “You came here looking for assistance from these sinners, I saw you not an hour ago on your way somewhere. Almost instantly you came back to us. This is a sign from the Lawgiver that you have been sent so that we may contain, or perhaps squash, their rebellious and evil acts.” He waves his hand at the window, at all the people outside. “This very church we are in was newly erected, against the wishes of many landowners, to be an island of justice in the middle of a neighborhood of sinister deeds. My biskop, Father Eric the Third, has been tasked in bringing the Savants to heel. But first we must seek out the sickly souls that spread the vile darkness.” He finishes writing and blows on the parchment, his brow furrowed. “They are clever though, these sinners. Sinners often are. They hide in plain sight, practicing forbidding magic and spreading tainted knowledge in their little researches. They do so in secret, their neighbors protecting their identity, watching for our spies. They trust no one not within their own circles so that they can continue their witchcraft.” The paranoia she experienced from the four in The Lamp Post makes a lot more sense now.

The priest gestures for Evelyn to approach the desk and he wets the quill again. She pockets the two vials in her dress, she’ll move them to her leather satchel when she has the chance later, and slowly comes forward. “We can not penetrate their secret societies well enough to know more. You, my Sister, are an outsider to them and evidently not one of us either. We need someone with a very real reason to be seeking out names and help from the Savants, such as in the case with your haunting. You will continue to gather names and faces, join our Sunday Mass here every week, and report to me directly. I am the dommer of St. Jokum and oversee the worshipers within our doors and those beyond our walls.” He gives the quill to Evelyn and points. “Sign your name. This is simply a declaration that today, on Day 22 of March 776 BC, you will be aiding in our mission.” Evelyn stands there, holding the quill in one hand and the holy symbol in the other. She doesn’t sign it, just stares reading the words over and over. The parchment is fairly simple and says exactly what he just described, but her mind is racing too fast and she can’t make sense of it. Impatiently Brother Alex encourages her to continue, the calmness of his voice brittle thin. “This is for your protection if the law takes you into custody. You were already dabbling in unlawful activity, undoubtedly, when you came to the Savants for help. You are working for the Iron Faith now, you are under our protection if you are jailed.”

Evelyn knows that she can just give back the two vials and walk away (perhaps) but her mind returns to the Man in the Top Hat. He was no human, she could tell that from the distance. If this priest is telling the truth then the potions will help ward it away momentarily. It could mean life or death. She signs her name and Brother Alex takes the parchment, reading her name but not saying it out loud. He unlocks another drawer with his heavy ring of keys, takes out a seal, and drips wax from a blue candle onto it. He presses the seal and files away the agreement. “I must attend to other business now,” he says briskly. “If this haunting continues I will look into it personally. For now I suggest that you hang the symbol of the Lawgiver,” he points to his necklace now in her hands “on the mantle. If you pray to the Lawgiver at sundown, believe in your words, and truly submit to him then no evil will trespass upon your home.”

“I will see you after the service tomorrow. “ As she leaves his calm, confident departing words trail after her. “The Lawgiver Graces!”

Leaving Mason Road, Evelyn glances up at the Fountain of Duke Irvine and, for once, is actually glad to see something so familiar. The hulking tower of slime, mold, and stone says that she is back in the real world again. Everything in the Savant and the church of St. Jokum is like some, distant, otherworldly dream or nightmare.

It’s late afternoon, the usual time she returns home from work, and it’s the end of the Saturday work period. No on is allowed to work on Sunday, instead turning their full attention and energy to the Lawgiver, so the streets are mostly empty. She passes an old woman with her hair rolled up into a bun and tied with a blue scarf, sweeping. The old woman doesn’t even look up to Evelyn and nearly brushes dust onto the young woman, when there is a child screaming from within the doorway behind her. The old woman, mouth set in a frown, turns to the child as he begins to cry and she begins yelling for silence and to stop their squabbling. Her open hand can be heard beating the child red.

Guinea, Evelyn’s mother, would sometimes use a slap or harsh word with her as a little girl but it was nowhere as severe as this woman. Luckily both Guinea and Evelyn are even tempered enough if not provoked. Recently, however, that has changed with the nightmares that plague her mother. One night Guinea woke from her dark dreams and when Evelyn entered the room to calm her down, Guinea struck Evelyn in the face. “You’re not Evelyn! Get out! Get out of here! Where is my daughter!!”

“I’m right here!” Evelyn pleaded, holding her cheek. After a few minutes Guinea came to her senses but it just one more clue to just how bad her mother is doing. The bags under her eyes have grown and her speech has become slurred. She’s even growing more grays in her hair, spidery wisps of white. It’s as if her dreams are eating her from the mind on out.

A shock of blonde hair catches her attention ahead and she hesitates, staring down the crooked street back home, when she realizes that it’s the same man she saw yesterday morning on the way to the kitchen. The streets have mostly cleared and the daily trash lies in heaps on the side of the road for the city to pick up in wheel barrels. The blond man is on his knees, digging through the garbage looking, she assumes, for food. “Hey!” Evelyn calls but she is too far and he does not look up.

She gets closer, fishing out one of the coppers she got back from the Circle of Muses. Her hand brushes the religious necklace of the Lawgiver and she pushes it aside, finding a copper and pulling it out awkwardly with her pointing and middle finger. “Hello, sir? Do you need a horseshoe?” she raises the coin for him to see. Also digging through the street trash, some children instantly see this a block away. It’s like like a drop of blood in the water and they are the sharks. They begin slowly moving towards Evelyn, low, faces covered in filth.

The blond man finally looks up, his stubble just a bit longer, and his blazing blue eyes stare into hers like a wild animal. He licks his dried, parched lips timidly. He must be around her age, mid-twenties, but the condition of his skin and clothes ages him twenty years.

One of the children whispers something to the other as they get closer and they spread out. Evelyn sees this in the peripheral but she’s focused on keeping this man’s attention. “Here, take it. What’s your name? Are you from here?” He does not respond but draws closer, looking at the copper like a hungry dog might stare at a morsel of meat but fear being struck for sniffing it. “Do you speak Vassi?” Evelyn isn’t sure he understands when he slowly nods. “Some,” his voice croaks. It is heavily accented and his voice is nassal. She places the copper in his palm, cuts from digging in the garbage all along his fingers and packed with black filth. One of his nails is infected, she sees. “What is your name? Where are you from?” Evelyn tries this again. The Creepy Smile guy back in the Lamp Post had said that the Demented are on the rise in Egertus. Perhaps this man has been visited by the Man in the Top Hat too.

“I… I am Simon. I come from Invidia.”

Invidia? That’s a realm far to the west.

The man’s bright blue eyes dart back and forth, frightened, confused, as he takes the lone copper. He starts backing off. Evelyn tries to keep him talking. “Have you come to Egertus seeking help? What are you doing here?”

The man clears his throat and licks his lips again, speaking in that same husky, high pitched accent. “I…. I…. I am the Captain of the Guards here. Don’t tell anyone. They are after me.” Evelyn stops approaching. He is obviously disturbed. “Have you seen a doctor?”

Simon stops and looks at her wide eyed. Evelyn presses, feeling that she’s onto something. “Has there been a doctor that has been visiting you at night?”


The street urchins are all around Evelyn, silent as thieves. One tugs on her dress as the other approaches her from the other side. “M'Lady can you spare us horseshoe too? We haven’t eaten in days.” Evelyn tries to keep all of them in sight but the children keep moving around, dark eyes watching her and tugging at her dress. She turns to Simon but he is getting away from her as quickly as possible. “Leave me alone!” he calls as he glances over his shoulder to make sure she isn’t following him down the alleyway.

“Wait!” Evelyn calls but one of the children, a girl with short brown hair and deep dark eyes, gets in her way to prevent her from leaving. “Please, just one horseshoe.” Evelyn bumps up against her and begins to give chase for the blond man.

“Bitch” one of the children curses at her she pushes past them. The man that called himself Simon is gone around the corner and she doesn’t not follow down those twisted corridors. She’ll have a knife at her throat in moments if she does that, no doubt. No will find your body for days in those wet, dark places between buildings.

Speaking of blades she sees that one of the older boys, perhaps twelve years of age, has brandished a long rusty blade. “Stop right there!” warns Evelyn. She checks her pockets to throw them some coppers, keep them away, but her pockets are empty. The little pickpocket devils got all her coppers!!! Luckily her gold is in her satchel and away from their sneaky hands.

How could they have done it so fast!

In a panic she realizes that she didn’t put the vials and necklace in her satchel. One of them must had pocketed it.

The children dart in different directions. The boy was just trying to distract her with the knife, draw her attention away. With speed born from desperation she grabs the girl with the short hair by the strands at the top of her scalp. The little girl screams bloody murder, “Let go of me!!!” Faces appear in the open windows.

Evelyn doesn’t let go. One of the boys whistles and then someone down the street whistles back. This is getting worse by the second. She looks around for a town guard but all she sees are townspeople either ignoring her or getting away from the situation. “Call the guards!” she yells up at the staring faces in the windows.

They don’t move. They just watch dispassionately.

Evelyn spins the little girl and sees the necklace in a pocket in the girl’s filthy dress. She reaches in and grabs both the vials and Lawgiver symbol. The girl retaliates by biting Evelyn’s arm, deep and hard. Her crooked teeth mash into Evelyn’s flesh like little knives and Evelyn cries out in pain, letting go of the girl’s hair. Blood doesn’t just drip from her arm, it actually squirts for a moment. The girl is off running into the same alleyways that Simon vanished in, dripping with filth and riddled with cracks and shadows.

Older boys are coming her way down the street now. One has a wooden club and is looking directly at Evelyn. “Hey you! What were you doing with my lil’ sister, huh?” His face is turned up and he’s snarling, his eyes fierce. “You like hurting lil’ children, huh?” Evelyn knows that this girl isn’t his sister and he certainly is one of the gangs organizing these pickpockets. She looks down at her arm and sees dark blood well up from her wound, the teeth marks in strange gaps since the girl was just starting to grow her adult teeth. By the Mists, does it hurt though! She might have bit down to the muscle.

Evelyn doesn’t respond but keeps walking towards home, heart pounding.

“Where you going? You’re not going anywhere!”

Two other older boys come from the alleyways up ahead, blocking her way. Evelyn puts her left hand in her satchel, grabbing the hilt of knife. Her dominate right hand is injured and still clutching what she fought so hard to keep after making a deal with Brother Alex. There is no way she is going to lose what she paid so dearly to gain.

Distantly she wonders if one of the potions would protect her from goons like these. The priest had said it would protect her from evil, right? Would it protect from young criminals too?
Luckily for her, she doesn’t have to find out. A town guard rounds the corner and is quickly approaching the boys. “Heard your whistling, you dog-fart waste of a species. What you got going on here?” Another town guard is coming from the other direction and Evelyn breaths deeply, thanking… the Lawgiver? It was the law that came to her protection after all. She had just sworn to pray to the Lawgiver, to give herself over. Is He protecting her from the violence of poverty that seems to be eating the town alive?

The second town guard, wielding an even bigger club than the boys’, checks on Evelyn for only a moment. She nods and says that she was bit. They stole from her but Evelyn knows it’s not much money, just eight or so coppers. “They ran off with a few horseshoe coins but I got everything else back.”

The guard nods, his thick brown mustache covering his mouth as warns Evelyn to get back home now. Blood dripping down to her elbow she does as he says, putting the contents into the leather satchel and buckling it close. She hears the guard’s club smack the boy as they take control of the gang, a fight breaking out as he tries to get away.

She doesn’t look back. These were the daytime gangs. If it was nighttime this would have been a much worse situation.

The little road leading from town to the Bluffs is surrounded by craggy rocks and little vegetation. It’s the badlands she used to play in when she was a child. She knows every hill and path and it hasn’t changed over the ten or fifteen years since then.

The sun is getting low to the west behind her so she stops and takes out the necklace of the Lawgiver. She clenches it in her right hand, the blood dry and sticky as she has it wrapped up in her scarf to stave the bleeding. She prays to the god of Law, Scrutiny, and War as Brother Alex had instructed her before sun down. It’s a simple one, similar to the ones she’s heard in Tuesday and Thursday prayers at noon (called the Midday Silence).

“Blessed is the Lawgiver as He watches over us. May His Light burn the unworthy, may the prosperous prosper further, and his grace touch the Great Prince Othmar.” She stops, then adds something more. “Protect both my mother and me tonight, Lawgiver, and I am forever yours. I swear it on my heart and soul.”

She lets out a breath and looks at the sun, hazy through the smokestacks of Egertus and chopped by the jagged roofs of the shantytown buildings.

In the distance, to the north, the only response from the universe and the Lawgiver to her prayer is the long wailing scream of a plains cat on the prowl.

It’s still daylight as Evelyn draws closer to home when she sees a traveler coming from the north. She can’t make out any details at first, her vision became blurred when she was growing up and things in the distance aren’t as sharp as they once were. Either way, travelers out here is very rare occurrence. Her route crosses this traveler’s path going home and she keeps her attention on the person without trying to seem to. Her forearm is wrapped in her scarf, now soaked with blood, and the pain from the girl’s bite still hurts. People in town are dangerous but so are the bandits and con artists that wonder the plains.

The person draws closer and calls her name cheerily in a familiar voice she can’t place at first. “Evelyn!” She squints as the man comes into focus.

“Christer?” she asked, befuddled. “What are you doing here?”

The old footman slows to a stop before her. He’s still wearing the leather and chain mail of his station back at the Estates. The green scarf, the family color of the Ehrend family, is still tied around his hip. “I just got off duty and was heading home. I just wanted to check on you to see what you found out at... What happened to your arm?!”

Evelyn had actually forgotten about it for the moment and she looks down at itt, now dyed to an angry orange from the red. She heaves a sigh. “A lot happened today.” Christer nods, face etched in concern. “I believe you.”

Christer nods in the direction she was walking. “Come. Let me walk you home. Tell me about it.”

Christer sits with a tea Evelyn offered. He warms his liver spotted hand with it but has only sipped it a few times. The old footman doesn't have his usual spiked mace and short sword, leaving them back at the Guard Tower. Instead he has his own personal dagger and longsword which he has unbuckled and set on the lip of the open window facing the sea. There isn't much room in the small hearth and it was the clearest spot where he can grab it the fastest. He adjusts his thin frame in her mother's feather chair, setting the tea down on the floor. Christer looks like an awkward grandfather, Evelyn muses, in full armor in her home. They've never had a guest this whole time and being in her present circumstance she realizes how dangerous it was for her mother to isolate themselves from the world. Evelyn has little to no experience with interacting with neighbors or the community at large. She makes a note to herself that she, herself, is going to change that. They can't take on certain dangers on their own, they're just not equipped.

Evelyn sits in her own, smaller chair on the opposite side of the goat rug in between them, planting her feet under the rug to warm them as night falls. She recounts The Lamp Post and the Circle of Muses, how they shunned her. He grunts and peers at her seriously, focusing. A little uncomfortable with someone staring at her for so long she redirects her eyes to the low fire, losing herself to the memory of the day.

Then she explains what happened in the church of St. Jokum and Christer looks much more serious now. He leans forward, elbows on his knees. Evelyn brings out the necklace of the Lawgiver and the two vials from her satchel and lays them out on her lap, feeling the edges of the holy symbol. The barbs wrapped around the spear of the Lawgiver aren't sharp but they are certainly galling. "The priest there, he called himself a "dommer" of the church, said that I could pay for these by attending Sunday Mass and telling him who I talk to in the Savants when trying to figure out what to do with his haunting. I agreed because I needed something tonight in case that... Shadow... returned."

Christer nods his understanding. "I'm sorry I put you in such a position, Evelyn. I thought it would have been of more help than it turned out to be." He reaches out his hand for one of the potions. "May I?"

Evelyn picks up a potion with her left hand and gives it over. Christer uncorks the vial gently and sniffs it, peering within. That odor of frankincense and other strange, pungent smells fills the room. It is both pleasing and a bit repugnant in the same time. Guinea, who has been sleeping in her own room since they arrived, snores suddenly with a gasp and then falls back to sleep, muttering. Christer corks the potions and gives it back. "I have seen potions work. I once saw a man dying in an alleyway back in Kandroa, he was jumped by a gang in the streets with a dozen stab wounds to his stomach. I thought he was dead the moment I laid eyes on him. He brought out a canteen and drank from it and, before my very eyes, the wounds healed. All that remained were his bloody and ripped tunic, but his wounds were nothing but faint scars when I inspected them."

"There are also magical miracles that the Lawgiver can perform. I've seen the Iron Faith make a hardened man confess just by the priest chanting a prayer. I've even seen them induce pain just by the touch of their fingers."

"But this Brother Alex said that this is a ward against evil, this potion? I'm a born and raised Vaasan and I have seen the Iron Faith call everything from a brutal murderer to a mother stealing food for her children evil. Anything against the authority of the Church and Crown is sinful to them. With priest magic, it's all about perspective of what is right and wrong. With what you have there, a protection against some sort of evil, it might not work how you think it will. Or how you were told it will." Midnight, another one of Evelyn’s troop of four cats, stirs on his lap as he pets it. He’s a black, younger, smaller version of Scaffer. His face is scarred from the many fights he’s started with numerous other territorial felines. “Cats might seem good to you or me, but to a field mouse outside these walls it is most certainly evil.” The small black cat meows and rolls on his back and snuggles closer to his hand, liking the feel of his cold chain mail on his fur. All the other cats ran outside after Evelyn’s guest arrived but Midnight seemed to take a liking to him. Christer clicks his tongue at the black cat. “But of course you’re not evil are you?”

“The man that was stabbed in the stomach, did you jail him for using magic?” asks Evelyn. Christer looks up, confused by the question for a moment. “Magic, it’s forbidding” she reminds him, as if he wouldn’t know. “If the man you say healed himself with magic not of the Lawgiver, hasn’t he broken the sacred law?”

Christer clears his throat and adjust himself in his seat again, not finding a comfortable spot. “No I didn’t, little one. He was helping us catch a killer and I knew, in my own heart, that he was a good person. I didn’t speak a word about it to anyone all these years other than my closest allies and my own wine. And now you. But I trust you.”

It hit a spot in her heart that he would trust her with such a dangerous confession in Nova Vaasa. She had already told Christer that she is bound to Brother Alex’s plan, with his distrust of magic, who operates in the Savants. But still he trusts that she would not confess his story to the Iron Faith.

She gets up, the smooth and continuous lull of the shore breaking through the open window, it’s curtain pulling in and out with the push and pull of the sea wind. “I have everything for a stew ready. Might you stay tonight and eat with us, Christer? It will only take an hour.” She hopes that he will stay just a moment longer.

The old man smiles, rubbing Midnight’s mite bitten ear. “Actually I was thinking that maybe, if you would allow it, I’ll stay here for the night. What you told me today has deeply troubled me and I couldn’t sleep in my own bed tonight knowing that something might harm you or your mother.” Evelyn, with new spirit, nods. Her eyes brim wet but she does not cry. When she smiles and squints her eyes turn into a pair of rainbows and Christer grins back at her. “Of course. Let me put on the stew.”

A candle is lit in Guinea's room so that they can keep an eye on her from where they sit in the small hearth. Evelyn shakes her a bit to wake her but when she enters one of these episodes it's best to let her sleep. When the nightmares began a few weeks ago and Evelyn forced her mother to awaken from one of these deep slumbers Guinea would throw into horrible fits. It was one of these times that Guinea struck Evelyn in the face, her mother begging forgiveness profusely right after. After that Evelyn never dared wake her until she seemed more ready.

Alexander, the dommer of St. Jokum, had told Evelyn to hang the symbol of the Lawgiver on her mantle to help ward off the evil of this spirit. She begins to lean it against the stone wall above the fireplace but thinks again. Her mother would throw it out the window, claiming it evil, if she woke in the night to find it lying there. She never took to other religions other than her own personal God. Christer asks about it and Evelyn says that she believes in a God named Jesus. Christer claims that he has never heard of such a saint or deity but, he admits, there are many religion in the domains that he hasn’t heard of.

She has the two potions in her dress pocket on her left side and the knife is rolled up in her apron like when working at the Estates. She sits and eats her stew. It’s a simple mix of potatoes, carrots, and winter salads with a broiled ‘heart of the hare’ at the bottom of the pot for flavor. Rice, an expensive luxury she has only begun eating because of her higher wages, is mixed at the bottom. To give her energy through the night she has added a few more spoons full.

The night is still young and Christer passes the time as she cooks her stew by talking about Count Ehrend Estate and that the Count is returning from their land to the north, Ehrendton. The Count and his family stay in Ehrendton for the winter but return to Egertus to give their share of the Prince Tax to the Crown. “Everything has been lullaby at the Estates since you’ve worked there, serving the guests to the Ehrend family in their absence. Wait until the Count returns, it will be an all new experience then.”

A couple more hours pass and, as they slowly eat, Christer talks about his late wife passing away. They had lived in the vast city of Kantora all their lives and Christer was apart of the city patrol from when he was young. His wife, her name was Karoline, fell ill and nothing they did could help her ailing health. One of the healers, exhausting all his knowledge, suggested coming to Egertus to find something new. The healer had said that new inventions, research, and study in all matters of the sciences were springing from Egertus like nowhere else in Nova Vaasa. “By that time I was fed up with the corruption in my Watch Command and the crime was just getting worse in Kantora. You think it bad here,” he indicates Evelyn’s bite mark “You will be petrified of Kantora. With some help with a few hires with various talents, we had just captured and rid of a brutal killer before Karoline started showing symptoms. He was nicknamed the Axe-Masochist on the street because we didn’t have a name… I won’t go into detail this dark hour why his name was such. But we found him and I had my hand in ending his reign of terror on the citizens… not that it did much good.”

Christer takes another spoon full of stew and eats, glancing out the window and at the door periodically, his wits about him. Always keeping watch. “With the Axe-Masochist dead and Karoline needing my help I had no more reason to stay in my home city. We sold our belongings and traveled east, living out of an inn.”

"It wasn't easy but we found ourselves happier despite her slowly slipping away from my grasp. We spent more time together and I hadn't Kantora to worry about. I joined the town guard for Egertus with my good reputation intact from the old city warrens. It was an easy job compared to Kantora."

"Sadly the professions of the Savants did not fare well for Karoline. She had always wanted live by the sea so I bought a room for us live in overlooking Guldstrand Beach. Not the loveliest view of the sea but Karoline did not care. She would watch the great ships dock and sail off, reaching almost to the Mists border. Then one night I came back and she was near the end of her life. So I held her and we sat by the window before the sea together before she left me."

Christer's eyes are watery but he has lived with his pain for so long that he has learned to live with the scars. He clears his throat and pets the sleeping black cat again. The other three still haven't returned but Evelyn is too caught up in his story to notice just yet. "We were together for a very long time, Karoline and I, but I have survived her. I still live in that small shack above a warehouse at the docks. I still look out that same window we sat together at." He laughs a bit, feeling a bit better. Midnight wakes up and perks his ears at Christer, annoyed for being woken. "I have my little pets now too. Kantora couldn't bear children so I put all my affection on my dogs. When I was on patrol in Egertus, a month after my wife died, I found a poor bitch of a hound half starved in the slums and pregnant. At the end of her own life, starving, she came straight to me. I couldn't help it. I fed her a bit of rations I always carry to keep me alert and she wouldn't leave me alone, following me every corner. I would shoo her away and she would retreat, only to follow me from a block away. Finally I gave in and let her follow me on the High Road to Guldstrand Beach, feeding her bits of dried meat, and she trustingly followed me up to my apartment. Up the old, salty stairs and through my door like she owned the place. A week later she gave birth to her litter, five puppies mixed with full hound and some other concoction of mutt. She was a pure breed, such a rarity, that I am certain she was once a Lord's but ran off or was run off."

Christer checks the window, the door, and then Evelyn's mother again. He is always doing this as he talks, never taking his attention off their surroundings.

"Any how, she was a great mother to her pups and followed dead Kantora to the afterlife a few weeks later, leaving me her little ones. Two were runts and died but three were strong and live to this day."

Evelyn, knowing how strongly she feels about her felines, asks the obvious question that might be pressing her. "They will be okay with you here tonight, gone from them so long?" He waves his hand. "My landlord, the owner of the warehouse, feeds them the next day when I do not return. I cover shifts at Count Ehrend Estate sometimes and he is more than happy to see the hounds and feed them every once in a while. That's the only thing that really keeps them holed up in the room. I'll let them run on the beach when I return, no worries."

Christer looks out the window next to him into the pitch night. A few feeble stars twinkle through the haze of unseen clouds. “It’s getting late and there is still nothing so far. It’s very peaceful actually.”

Evelyn is mute on the matter. She doesn’t feel peaceful at all. Christer is an animate talker and his conversation has momentarily distracted her thoughts, but the anticipation lingers.

Christer’s eyes shift down to his weapons on the window seal, glowing dully from the candlelight in the hearth. He checks the other room again and asks, “Sorry for prying, but did your father have the chance to teach you how to fight?”

Evelyn sips her food without tasting it. She explains that she never met her father and her mother refuses to mention him.

Nodding his understanding, the veteran soldier points at her bite mark. “Everyone needs to learn how to fight, usually it’s the father but not always. It might have made a difference with violent engagement with those thugs.”

“But they were children.”

“Children with larger, more dangerous friends,” he corrects. “I see how you hid your knife in your apron. That’s fine if you are backed in a corner and you’re fighting with an improvised weapon, but a knife for chopping carrots is nothing like a true, fighting knife.”

“How many times do you sharpen your blade?”

Evelyn thinks for a moment. “A dozen times or more every hour.”

Christer nods. “It’s made for daily use. It’s thinner than a fighter’s blade and much thinner than a dagger so that’s easy to sharpen and wield. Sharpening it over and over thins it even more. But that makes it easier to chip, bend, or worse- break. The human body is tough. If you hit bone you might break the blade into your assailant’s body. Then your are left with nothing but a jagged edge.”

He slips his hand into his boot and brings out a beautiful blade. Evelyn’s kitchen knife has a wooden handle, stained with food from the previous owner before she inherited it in her position at the Estate. This dagger’s hilt is apart of the blade, just one shaft of metal. “This won’t break, it’s sharp edge is on both sides, and it can take more abuse and resist the blows. Here, take it.” He shifts forward, making Midnight get irritated again and he jumps off to lick his back on the furry rug.

Evelyn handles it sitting down and she feels the weight instantly. He must polish it regularly because there isn’t a hint of tarnish. The shape is very simple, almost humble, but it makes up in exact craft.

“It’s a silver dagger,” says Christer.

She looks at it with new eyes, astonished. “Pure silver?”

“Well no,” he points at the base at the bottom of the hilt and there is an acorn shape jutting below with different, darker metal. “It has a steel core to give it weight and support., but everything else is silver. I’ve had since I was young. There are plenty of horrible people that I encountered in my days walking the streets at night, watching over the citizens of Kantora. There were also other things, things that hid in the alleyways that dragged people into the darkness.” He breathes heavily. “Things that were more rat than man, but not completely. One of my fellow swordsmen, a friend, had heard that silver was the only thing that would harm them so I bought this darling from a special weaponsmith.“

Evelyn thinks back to Simon, the man she stopped on the streets as he dug through the garbage heaps, and how she dared not follow him into the alleyways. She imagined such creatures hidden under the soppy piles of rotting food and city debris or the clogged gutters where spoiled water pools, just waiting to snatch her ankle and pull her down into the darkness.

“Do such creatures really exist?” she asks. Christer finishes his food and nods his head, eyebrows raised.

“You’ve seen them with your own eyes?”

“Yes, I have. But not in Egertus. Not when I worked for the town guard some years back anyhow.”

Evelyn thinks on this, not ever wanting to visit Karoline. It sounds like a violent, creepy place. She returns the dagger and he slides it back into his boot. “When this is done tonight and we have some free time I will teach you how to fight with a dagger. Not this silver one, but a real one. The dagger is one of the simplest weapons to learn. You need to know at least the basics of fighting with a melee-”

Then a chill enters the room like no other. Christer stops his words altogether, eyes widening.

Evelyn remembers the feeling all too well. The Purple Oaf at The Lamp Post had explained it to be a winter breeze… but this is nothing like that. It penetrates the skin and burns the bone. She can feel it touch her soul.

“Is that it?” asks Christer in a hushed whisper. He gently takes his short sword and longsword in both hands from the window seal, careful to not let the metal brush against the stone and make a sound. His body is rigid and ready. “It’s between the 10th and 11th toll, remember that.” Evelyn doesn’t know what he is referring to until she realizes that he telling her the time. It is between the 10th and 11th hour of the night, before midnight. She files that fact away into her mind, pulling out the potion in her right hand and her kitchen knife in the other. She would be dead asleep at this hour, usually. Never would she had known if there was a visitor coming through their door.

There is the sound of footsteps approaching outside, the crunch of shoes on the bare rocks outside. Midnight the cat scrambles for the window and leaps out, gone into the darkness and abandoning Evelyn to fend for herself.

The footsteps stop at the door. It’s barred from the inside by a chunk of sea-wood. The candles flicker and Evelyn’s mother moans out loud in her sleep. There is silence.

Then Guinea sleepwalks into the hearth. Her eyes open but Evelyn can tell that there is nothing behind those eyes. Evelyn reaches out to stop her but Christer, his eyes are wide and watching everything transpire, stops Evelyn’s interference, silently shaking his head. ‘Let it play out’ says his eyes. Reluctantly Evelyn steps aside and Guinea goes over to the sea-wood.

Guinea pushes the barrier up and sets it aside. She opens the door and it squeals loudly.

Outside the door, within the range of the candles, stands the Man in the Top Hat.

In an instant Christer throws Guinea back towards Evelyn with one strong push of the back of his knobby elbow. “Stand back!” warns the old footsoldier and he strikes the Man in the Top Hat with his longsword, the arch of the blade gliding through the cool air efficiently and quickly.

What follows is terror.

Last edited by PIG; May 3rd, 2018 at 09:45 PM.
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________________Vol.005(April 2018)________________
Burning Wood

There are two times that Evelyn felt terror (true terror I tell you) in her life. Now, when her mother opens the door and the Man in the Top Hat stands right outside her own home, and when she was ten years of age and exploring the southern end of the Bluff. The smell of crisp, burning wood in the late of day returns to her- that smell, so certain, familiar under these circumstances.

Guinea had always been a protective mother of her daughter but it didn’t take long, living together under one small roof, that she would send her young one out into the garden to play so that Guinea could have some peace of mind. Scaffer was their first cat, half-starved, tailed chewed off by some pursuer, and wondering alone outside in the plains, and he was just a kitten at that point. Scaffer was their beginning relationship with cats for little Evelyn.

Evelyn would take the kitten out to the garden and play with the small, clumsy creature. As she got older she would of course wonder further and further from the garden, the little black cat following her with his watchful, yellow eyes. Eventually she ventured further than even the cat was willing to go, Scaffer growing large and plump with a good life, comfortable in remaining only a safe distance from their cabin where food and shelter lie.

Without Scaffer Evelyn would explore the rocky badlands alone, seeing Egertus to the west and the Nocturnal Sea to the east. Rocky hills and scant grass bloomed everywhere with assorted flowers and wildlife. Always there were the cliffs to see and that deadly drop to the beaches below. There were many other things too: caterpillars in the Spring and slugs in the Fall, seagulls in Winter and blooming flowers at the Summer.

Then one day she saw another girl playing in the fields and that was Anja. Just a year older than Evelyn, Anja was already exploring the badlands of the Bluffs long before Evelyn to escape her tyrannical sisters and brother back at home. Evelyn, who had no siblings to play with, was instantly drawn to this childhood friend. She found a sister of sorts. They would go out together to explore the land making up games and imaginary adventures. Anja, with her curly auburn hair and freckled cheeks, met Scaffer one day and they would take the young cat on expeditions- deeming the little black cat a fierce plains cat capable of shredding down the biggest and tallest man around. In the imaginary scenarios Anja would sick Scaffer on her own sisters, saying that they were sinners of the Lawgiver and deserved it. Evelyn found this curious and slightly troubling but played along.

They went miles beyond their respective homes but never further.

“Never go further than the knivgraes to the south” Evelyn’s mother would warn. “Never. Dark things are to the south. That’s where the Plain of Judgement lies. People in Nova Vaasa get lost there everyday. It gobbles them up like a fish drinks water.”

Knivegraes is razor-sharp and inedible grass that grow to the south of Egertus in the vast, inhospitable plains that fade to the horizon. Nothing but knivgraes, naked dirt, and barren stone stretch-out this way. Evelyn and Anja finally saw something in the outskirts of these plains but it was only the husk of a dead rabbit- nothing left but fur and bones blowing in the wind. One time Anja plucked a knivegraes from an outcropping of rocks to examine it. Instantly it cut her finger open and she yelped, sucking her finger. They never returned to that spot together ever again.

Then the day came that Anja’s mother grew ill with fever. It never broke. Anja, being the youngest, was expected to look after her mother. After that Evelyn rarely saw the girl as Anja’s responsibilities grew until the point, ten years later, she was married off and their small farm was sold.

While Anja looked over her mother Evelyn spent that time pushing the borders of the badlands- seeing what was out there. She only saw her home, the marketplace of Egertus when her mother, and the beaches below the bluffs when they collected herbs and sea life. Evelyn was about ten when she wanted to see more of the world. Forever to the east the Mists hovered over the sea, blocking the horizon and preventing sailors and boats from sailing beyond. What else did the land prevent you from seeing? What else was it hiding?

Petting Scaffer as he followed her on her daily adventurers, he always stopped and sat down at a certain point upon a hill. She would leave him behind and press forward, carrying a walking stick of some sort like the druids or wiseman she would see venturing the country roads in the distance.

Without Anja, Evelyn reached the border into The Plains of Judgement. “Never go further than the knivgraes to the south” her mother’s voice echoed. The dark green, purplish knivegraes spread out in sparse patches around her. All Evelyn and Anja saw was a dead rabbit, nothing else. Guinea was scared of everything for Evelyn. The shoes she would wear, the words she would say. This was probably nothing different.

About her mother Evelyn was usually right. But on this day she was wrong.

The sun blazed above as the girl moved south, the sky so light blue it was hard to observe. Determined to find something different from her endless days stuck in the cabin, under her mother’s watchful eye, made her ignore the harsh blaze. Without thinking ahead, and being so young, she did not bring a waterskin to hydrate herself. Instead, she continued to press south.

The most interesting thing traveling along this barren land were the momentarily sprouts of dry shrubs and cacti that don’t grow around her house. She inspected these closely, glad to finally see something different, glad to have some result from this self-imposed adventure, but disappointed. Evelyn had hoped for something new, something striking. She wished that Anja was here to give ideas on what to do next. Always the adventurer, with her gapped tooth smile and freckled face, Anja would have come up with something.

Without a plan, Evelyn traveled even farther south. The day was growing long as the sun set to the west. She was exhausted and thirsty, ready to turn back.

Then she saw that damned path. It was old, worn, and barely visible if not for the fearlessness of the land. It curved from the west to the south. The path was the only thing different in this whole place, the only thing humanly constructed. Evelyn looked north back home, thought for a moment, then decided to follow the path south to keep close to the bluffs that continues to her left. If she ever she got lost on her way she could just follow the cliffs north back to her home.

In the distance a building appeared. Evelyn stopped to look for anything out of the ordinary, shading her eyes and holding the stick out to the side like she imagined she should if she was indeed on a quest.

The still house was once some farm… one of the many abandoned structures that dotted rural Nova Vaasa. A broken fence, once probably built to contain livestock, lied half intact in the lowering amber of the setting sun. A rocky field covered in knivgraes sprouted around the building, the path Evelyn followed traveling to and past the farmhouse. Evelyn, even in her own young mind, knew that someone attempted to farm this distant, inhospitable land to avoid the heavy taxes of the nation and completely failed, leaving the farm to ruin. She circled the place without entering. She followed the path even further south. Now she is a dozen miles to the south, the furthest from home she has ever been in her life even to to this point of time in the story when the Man in the Top Hat visits her.

The path continued on, unbroken, growing thin. Evelyn looked about and all she saw were fields of the razor cutting knivegraes.

At this time it was getting dark. Even this far away she could smell the burning timber of people lighting their hearths for supper in Egertus. The scent of cooked wood in their furnaces was blown south and she felt the need to start walking back home. The bands of sunset stretched across the landscape in arching, dying rays.

Then she saw the horse down by the creek off of the path. It’s head was down and curved as if reaching for a drink.

Evelyn had seen horses aplenty in town. They are massive, majestic beasts that walk with nobility and strength. She’s never, however, seen them wild and in the open like this, alone. Tired and ready to go back home she gets closer to the beast. Knivegraes cuts her ankles but she doesn’t notice as they bleed. The bits of blood trickles down between her toes as the first stars blink into the twilight.

The horse was enormous and hunched. Evelyn heard the trickle of water, knowing that water was near, mixing with the smoke of the later afternoon. As she got closer, the walking stick in her hand, she saw that the horse was not drinking from the flowing creek. It was instead just leaning it’s head forward above the water without putting it’s mouth to drink, just hovering above.

Eyebrows furrowed, Evelyn got closer, thinking the horse might be sick and needing help. She had helped Scaffer to health. Perhaps this animal needed the same.

The horse was an ashen brown mix with bits of mane hanging down it’s neck. The feint remains of daylight shined off it’s coat in places but it was mostly matt in the spreading darkness. More stars began to dot the sky as the day ended. Evelyn’s toes were now wet with blood from the sharp grass. Her cloth shoes squished as she kept stepping forward.

Then she smelled death as she got closer.

“Hey there” her voice croaked, dry from the long travel. No reaction came from the animal.

“Are you okay?” she asked the horse. Her question was weighed down by both concern and fear, but the fear had not yet completely overtaken her. Perhaps fear should have played more of a part but her curiosity, care, and innocence overcame any hesitation.

The horse arched it’s head towards Evelyn and she realized that there were no eyes in it’s sockets. The smell of death and rot was from this very animal, it had long been dead. The girl stopped in her tracks, the trickle of the stream the only thing in her ears as she couldn’t find air to breath. The sound of the horse rearing it’s head to look at Evelyn sounded like when her mother would twist a raw chicken wing to make a meal- unnatural pops and breaking tendons.

A mound that was resting on top of the horse’s back stirred and rose straight.

The girl hadn’t seen in the dying light but a rider was on top of the horse, collapsed upon its neck as if exhausted. She wondered for a slight moment if the man had fallen asleep on the horse, worn and thirsty like her, but she looked down to see that man had no legs. The horse and man were melded together as one. His waist merged with the horse’s back as if he had grown from it.

“Little girl” rasped the rider. He was nearly skeletal but she couldn’t see his face lost in the shadows of twilight. His voice sounded like it leaked from his lungs rather than from his mouth. Long oily hair floated from his skull as he reached out for Evelyn. The girl didn’t see a hand reaching for her, she saw the bone figments of what was once a human hand. “Little girl, I am lost. Take me to the nearest inn.” The horse reared it’s head as it stepped closer to Evelyn. The clouds in the background were a mix of silvery pearl and glowing yellow, in that contrast she could see that the rider had no jaw to speak. Only a broken face and one single eye staring at her. The human rider seemed to be able to control the dead horse at whim.

Evelyn broke and ran. Back north, back home. Her heart hammered in her head, the sun dying to west, her feet bloody from the grass slipping in her soft shoes. A gasp and cry escaped her but it was quickly gone when she heard the horse following her from behind. The waves of the sea crashed to her right. The Plains of Judgement were all around her. She thought for a moment of her mother, preparing food for the day at this moment and probably wondering where her daughter could be. She thought of Anja, her playmate, and how she was safe at home. She even thought of that little black kitten Scaffer and wondered if he would miss her if she died tonight. Strange enough, that final thought somehow stabbed her heart the worse.

Cla-clup, cla-clup, cla-clup. The hooves quickened and drew closer. “Come back here, girl” warned the grisly rider. It was filled with venom, that voice. “I need out of here!”

She veered left, into the taller grass, off the path she came down on. Her eyes were wide and she was too terrified for tears. The purplish grass began cutting her shins and knobby knees like knives. She couldn’t notice the pain in heightened sense of panic. The rider and his horse easily changed course, gaining speed. “Please!” she called to the purser, knowing that she would be had in mere seconds. The rider didn’t respond this time. She could feel the thunder dead horse right behind her, it's hooves heavy on the packed dirt. “Come here” demanded the rider. She flashed a look behind to see his long, thin arm stretched out to grab her. His body was arched to the side, bending from the horse’s back like a wormed parasite. The horse’s flesh actually wrinkled and stretched to help him, the dead horse breathing air in and out as if it needed it.

Then the ground gave away beneath her.

Evelyn went tumbling down into the creek head first without realizing it, her face going plowing into the shallow river and wet mud slamming into her face and choking her. Lights sparked from the sudden drop. Dimly she heard the rider and his horse also being caught by surprise and gliding right over her, slamming into the ground and rolling.

The girl pushed herself up from the creek, heaving, coughing mud from her mouth and clawing her way out of the shallow water. Cut up by knivgraes she pulls herself from the short drop that had saved her life. The undead rider and horse had almost had her if not for this small river. Evelyn climbed to the edge and looked to see that the rider and horse had tumbled yards away past her but the horse was finding it hard to regain it’s footage. The rider, connected to the horse, was wedged underneath. Evelyn saw as he grabbed at the dry earth, the horse trying to pull itself up and flinging the rider around.

Gasping for air, Evelyn scanned the area. She saw the abandoned farm she had passed to the north. Without hesitation she made a straight line for the stout building, now a black block in the growing night. She passed the broken fence in a fury, the dress her mother sewed for her catching in the hitch of an outcropping piece of wood and ripping it at the hem. It sent her in a short spin, losing one shoe, but it didn’t’ stop her. Evelyn heard the rider and horse jump the short creek in pursuit again. Evelyn knew she was far ahead but it won’t be long for the horse to catch up with her again.

The day was gone and the stars were everywhere in the western sky. They are white, sparkling in the black blanket of the heavens. Uncaring of the chase. She sees this and understands.

Cla-clup, cla-clup, cla-clup. The hooves are speeding up behind her.

The abandoned building draws close. Evelyn flies towards the closed entrance without thinking.

That smell of burning wood from Egertus is in the air as her small hands smack the stone of the building, blindly looking for a way in with only starlight and touch to guide her. She felt a door. Guinea had taught Evelyn that angels watch over them. Grabbing the handle she prayed that one of those angels was here now. That the door was unlocked.

Pulling the handle she swung the door open so hard it nearly pulled arm out of her socket. The door slammed against the wall and the rotted hinges barely held. Pitch blackness met her at the entrance. The smell of dust and mold floated past her. She raced in. The unknown inside was much better than the known on the outside.

Evelyn closed the door behind her and it jammed, tilted in it's frame. She lets go and backs away two steps.

Cla-clup, cla-clup, cla-clup. The horse is outside and slows. Clop, clop... clop. Evelyn's heart is hammering in the dark. The bottom half of her thin legs are covered in a thousand little cuts and one of her shoes was missing. Unbeknown to her now until later, she had ran onto a small rock with her bare right foot and it had taken a chunk of her sole with it. It bled profusely onto the stone floor. She shivered, staring at the edges of the crooked door as the little bit of light shines through.

Clop, clop, clop. The rider is right outside of the door. The horse stops. Evelyn hears the ragged breath of the horse. She is certain that the horse will bat down the front door with it's hooves and that will be the end of her. Just bits of hair and blood on the floor and she pictured her dead body as a husk in the sun surrounded by knivegraes. Like the dead hare Anja and she found that hot summer day. "It's dead," Anja proclaimed, poking it with her own traveling stick. Evelyn pictured vividly Anja poking her own dead body with a stick. "She's dead."

Clop, clop, clop. Instead of hammering the door down into a million splinters the horse began to circle the little stone building. Slowly, methodically.

Her eyes adjusted to the darkness and the ten year old felt the weight of her own decisions upon her shoulders. Her head felt sluggish and her limbs as light as feathers. It wasn't blood loss, it was fear drenched terror and it's dampening effects. The effects of true fear. She finds that she can barely move. It takes all her will to look around and she sees two small windows, the only other entrances other than the door. The fields and distant bright horizon are highlighted by the windows and sees the shadow of the horseman pass. "Come out little girl" coos the rider. "It has been so long since I spoke to anyone. There is much I have seen out there in the plains. I want someone else to see what I have seen." Clop, clop, clop. Evelyn looked about the room but it was absolutely bare. Who ever lived here left nothing- just rotted a door and a gutted fireplace spilling bricks everywhere.

Evelyn finally managed to get a hold of her body and fitted herself into the gaping chimney. A field mouse, finding a nice home here for her nest, hissed at her for invading it's home. It bites her finger badly and Evelyn swatted at it, scraping her knees on gritty stone. The mouse squeals loudly and vanishes behind a brick. Evelyn balled herself up, making herself as small as possible. She looked up and the chimney was sealed shut. She waited there, huddled, shaking. The rider was still talking but she could no longer hear him. Evelyn put her face on her knees and wept, shivering. She felt something squirm and touch her foot and she screamed, wailing. Little pale figures a wiggling in the heaps of stone, ghostly in the dim light, and Evelyn realized that mouse was defending her young when it bit her. The little babies looked like worms and their touch was loathsome. Evelyn climbs out of the fireplace and crawls to a corner. She couldn't stand to be in there with those squiggling things, and she balls herself up again when... she realized that everything was silent outside.

Still shivering she strains her ears. She listens for the sound of the hooves. A minute passes. Ten minutes pass. Nothing. She can just picture the horseman, melded to the dead horse, standing silently outside the door, grinning without a jaw, waiting for her to come out. 'Come little girl. Dare be foolish and creep out of the doorway so that I can snatch you and drag you through the fields'.

An hour passes. The only sound is the mouse squeaking from the fireplace (she had not killed it after all). The mouse would momentarily sneak out to look at her before running back to her young. It must had felt as trapped as her at that moment.

Hours pass and the night long, but even then the young girl could not budge. The air was stale and humid, sweat dripping down her oily hair and her little cuts dried. Still she pictured the horseman right outside that front door, motionless, dead. Undead. Grinning a waiting. 'Open the door....'

Her body pushed to exhaustion from deterioration and exposure, Evelyn drifted to a dreamless sleep.

She awakened at the dawn sun with start and scream. Her brain was only half turned-off all night, waiting for the slightest sound of danger, so she only got a little rest from the back-out. The mouse ran back into the chimney, it's little whiskers touching the air.

Evelyn, mouth parched and feet scabbed with dried blood, crawls to the front door. She is too tired to be afraid any longer. If she stays she will die.

With several shoves she is able to open the front door. The portal opens, tilts on one corner, and finally just falls face down with a loud bang. Anxiety clenched Evelyn's stomach like a greedy fist, she felt she could vomit.

The morning rocky field greeted her with the broken fence and purplish knivgraes creeping across the yard.

The horseman was gone.

As testimony that all of this wasn't just some delusion or nightmare, fresh hoof prints were left in a circle around the house where the dirt was soft.

Evelyn, holding each elbow in a hand, weakly finds the cliffs overlooking the sea and works her way back north to home.

Her mother was absolutely frantic upon her return. Shrill, in fact. Sickened with her own fear that her daughter had been gone all day and night. Guinea had alarmed the neighbors, including Anja's family, and they looked for her all night, afraid Evelyn might had fallen down the bluffs to crash into the ocean. She wouldn't have been first child to fall to their death off the cliffs. A good strong wind was that was needed.

But all that anger and bitterness faded when Guinea saw the state her daughter was in. She was nearly a ghost, feet and legs covered in scrapes and missing a shoe. Evelyn looked like she was raked by stones, her black hair standing out in every direction, bags under eyes, clothes ripped, too shocked to talk or even cry. Guinea swept up her only child and put her to bed to heal.

For months the horseman haunted Evelyn's every dream, visiting her and walking around her own home at night. Clop, clop, clop. "Come out little girl" teased the rider. "It has been so long since I spoke to anyone. There is much I have seen out there in the plains. I want someone else to see what I have seen." Clop, clop, clop. Sometimes, when her nightmares were at their highest pitch, he would find her and drag her to those places in the plains, the places he wanted her to see, and it was even worse. So bad that she can't even remember what she saw.

Evelyn confessed to her mother what she saw, of the horse and man melded together. Guinea called it the only name she could give her daughter: it was evil. It wasn't much, but it was a title Evelyn could give when needed.

That day, traveling into the Fields of Judgement, Evelyn had lost her childhood. She would never be the same after that. Adventure and exploration were horrifying prospects in face of the creatures of the night. The criminal gangs prowling Egertus, the Undercook Dagmar, or any other thing she encountered in her life thus far could not compare to the horseman trotting around that abandoned house when she was just ten. When Dagmar had grabbed her by the ear and threatened her for being late, Evelyn knew that this woman hadn't seen true evil- true danger like she had. The little girl inside of Evelyn knew what real terror was and it wasn't some sweaty fat woman in a hot kitchen. True fear is the undead thing that chased her in her sleep for years until finally her mind let her put most of it to the past.

That was the first day Evelyn felt true terror.

Tonight is the second day Evelyn feels true terror.

Evelyn is unprepared when she feels the full force of her mother’s body come crashing towards her as Christer wards them from danger. She hits the floor and it nearly knocks the breath from her lungs as she softens Guinea’s own fall. Propping herself up on one elbow she sees Christer take matters into his own hands as his longsword stabs toward the Man in the Top Hat.

The blade cuts through the shadowy figure as if he was darkness, as if he was cold air, and Christer has to stop himself from flying forward when he expected to meet something solid.

The Man in the Top Hat is of medium build and height. The only thing that defines him, the backdrop a moonlit landscape that allows some ability to define his outline, just a hat and cloak. Evelyn peers at the figure as she struggles to get her mother off of her, and she sees a glimmer of glass where the eyes should be. Are those spectacles? Is the dark ghost wearing eyeglasses of some sort?

Christer grunts as he avoids falling forward and withdraws his sword from the shadow when, to his surprise, the Man in the Top Hat breaks into two like ripped paper. Evelyn rises, standing, as Guinea moans, shaking the sleepiness from her head. Did Christer actually hurt the thing?

The shadow of the Man in the Top Hat struggles with it's form. Then it speaks in a wavering voice. "In striking me you have erred, Sir. I am here to help." It is a whisper that comes from nowhere and everywhere. The voice sounds more like strings being plucked than the throat of a human. It is sweet and hoarse in the same time. Despite the moment it almost makes Evelyn sleepy just listening to the lisped whisper. She reaches for one of the vials she received from the Lawgiver but her hands feels slow and sluggish.

The world grows blurry, the voice filling her head. "I cannot keep the nightmare in me at bay now." The black, shapeless form wobbles violently like when a still surface of water is distorted when you drop something heavy into it. Evelyn feels herself falling and she can’t stop.

"Back!" demands Christer. His old voice is so full of command and fear that it croaks. "Begone from here!"

Evelyn falls to the ground, the voice of the phantom stealing her muscles. Her head hits the ground harshly and it rolls to the side. Evelyn can see her mother’s prone foot beside her. Guinea has fallen from the spoken voice too. Past her mother, sideways, she can see Christer at the door. She tries to move but it’s as if every cell in her body is weighed down by lead.

Christer is also overcome by the voice, she sees him stagger, but he somehow manages to overcome the dreariness. He remains standing his ground between them and the moving blob of shadows, sword at hand but not moving to attack. Instead he watches, waiting for the thing to either depart or attack.

The blob of thick shadows collapse, only to take new form.

The shadows fill with substance and color, taking on a life of its own. A wool vest crackles into existence as the shadows that made the Man in the Top Hat are forming into a short, squat, crooked man. Evelyn, bewildered and her body sedated, wonders if this is his true form.

This new form is of an ugly balding man with thick shoulders and wide torso. An oily, dirty white, long sleeved shirt is under his wool vest and his face is unshaven, a nose that has been broken in a dozen drunken tavern fights wrenched into the middle of his head. A cruel, thin lipped smile ripples and broken yellow teeth reveal themselves in the candle light of the hearth. His thick, hairy forearms are revealed as the sleeves are rolled up to the elbow. In one hand he holds a bloodied handaxe, in the other a rusted cleaver. “Thought I was dead Christer?”

Evelyn can’t see Christer from behind but she can tell that this new image has frozen him where he stands. Guinea breaks from Evelyn and grabs her by the wrist, trying to drag Evelyn into the room to escape. “Run! Help!” calls Guinea though the nearest person is miles away, sound asleep. Would they have come even if they heard? “Help us!” Evelyn tries to fight her mother off to get ahold of her kitchen knife.

Christer is at a loss for words and takes a step back as this short, axe-wielding man takes a step in. “Thought I died in the sewage, huh old man? You and the pigs cutting me down? But I got a few of ye in the end, didn’t I?” Does the phantom know Christer? Is he a ghost coming back to haunt him? What does this have to do with Evelyn and her mother? She’s confused but still trying to wrest her hand from Guinea. The way this axe-wielder moved was like a plains cat, slow and methodical. His meaty hands gripped the bloody axes until the knuckles were white. Blood was speckled across his wool vest and some of it was on his sleeve as if he had just come from a butcher.

Then Evelyn remembers Chirster’s story of the Axe-Masochist in the city of Kantora. ‘But we found him and I had my hand in ending his reign of terror on the citizens…’ She tries to say something but it’s as if her mouth is full of cotton. She just remains there, a hapless audience to this horrible show.

The intruder takes another step in and Christer takes another step back. “You… you aren’t real. You…” Christer is babbling, looking for the words.

“Oh- billy boy. I am real. And I’m back for one...” he takes a more aggressive step forward “more” he launches himself at Christer with his axe “PIG!”

Evelyn’s mind screams “No!” But it’s too late. Too late for Christer also as he brings his sword up to fend off the axe. The Axe-Masochist that was once the Man in the Top Hat finds an opening above the parry and drives his axe deep into Christer’s arm. The chainmail saves his life but it splits in the vicious attack and the blade bites deep. Muscle parts and bone splinters into two.

Evelyn can feel that terror over taking her. Everything was happening too fast! She faintly smells the burning wood from her furnace and she remembers that day, long ago, when she was ten before that early terror was also upon her.

Now she can’t move. She can’t defend herself.

Blood splatters on the murderer’s face as his dark eyes leer over that hungry grin. Christer switches the sword from his injured arm to the other and kicks the phantom back with one heavy boot. The axe-wielder falls back and gives Christer some space to fight with his large blade. The old footman glances to her, afraid for her safety, and she can see that even this veteran is shakened.

The Axe-Masochist launches himself at Christer and they fall back in a tumble. Now the fight has moved out of her sight, deeper into the hearth where she can’t see.

Then the sound of hacking begins.

Last edited by PIG; May 3rd, 2018 at 09:55 PM.
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Old Jun 1st, 2018, 10:31 PM
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________________Vol.006 (May 2018)________________
Place Title Here Please

Place holder! Crazy few weeks, friends. Couldn’t work on the story without sacrificing the game I’m DMing, Legacy of Fire.

A short entry for May will be here soon; full of blood, violence, and nightmares. PIG promises.

Last edited by PIG; Jun 4th, 2018 at 10:19 AM.
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Old Aug 1st, 2018, 08:59 AM
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Originally Posted by PIG View Post

Below is a story I will be updating on the first day of the every month. It is based in Ravenloft, a gothic horror campaign setting, and will migrate to different domains depending on what the story dictates. It’s final destination, twists, and turns are unknown to me. It’s a lost highway, writing it’s self as we go along. This story is dedicated to my lovely wife and may she part the Mists in her own life as Evelyn, the main character, parts hers.

Alright. Here we go, into the Domains of Dread.
Nocturnal Sea was a little side project I thought I would have time for. Sadly, obviously, that is not the case. My game takes precedence so I can’t commit to the monthly volumes at all.

I am not shelving the story, but will work on it when I can.

-Big Pig
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