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Old 03-23-2018, 11:59 PM
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The First Step along the Paths

Jin, Berek, Drevan, and Jaster
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One more bandit gang to deal with, and then you’re done with this job, ready to head back to Kal Vakhor and claim your well-earned reward.

Kalakam Province, in addition to being vast and wealthy, is known as something of a crossroads in the Thousand Hidden Paths, a haven for criminals, outcasts, and anyone else seeking to avoid the scrutiny of the Celestial Throne. The lord of the province, Arkad na’Vakhora, is a cagey and pragmatic ruler, keeping the Throne’s agents at arm’s length while cultivating useful contacts and alliances with the various criminal syndicates, shadowy cults, barbarian clans, and freelance adventurers who dwell within his borders… including the four of you. Every one of you has worked for the lord of Kalakam in the past, either as free agents or in the service of your clan or monastic order, and so when Lord Arkad needed the bandit gangs on his eastern border cleared out, his people recruited you for the job.

The bandit gangs, like just about every other criminal enterprise in Kalakam, have an understanding with Lord Arkad - if they stick to shaking down the local villages for tribute and save the violent raids for targets beyond Kalakam’s borders, and kick a portion of their take back to Lord Arkad, he tolerates their presence and treats them as a sort of informal militia rather than the criminal scum they are. Most of the time, he wouldn’t bother with sending adventurers to harass them, but these aren’t ordinary times.

Lord Arkad is looking for a bride for Gadel, his eldest son and the heir apparent to House Vakhora, to the clan’s estate at Kal Vakhor, and to the rulership of all Kalakam. To that end, he’s extended requests to a dozen noble houses that they send their most beautiful daughters to Kal Vakhor for his inspection - and such is the might and wealth of House Vakhora that these lesser families have eagerly acceded to this rather insulting request, jumping at the chance for a favorable alliance. Several of those daughters had been serving as ladies-in-waiting at the imperial court in the city of Heaven’s Gaze, and travel west even now in a well-guarded wagon train, bound for Kal Vakhor. And while it is these young ladies who will be competing for House Vakhora’s favor, rather than the other way around, Lord Arkad is nevertheless concerned with making a good impression… concerned enough that he wants the bandit ruffians who normally haunt the eastern border forests tucked neatly out of sight while his potential daughters-in-law pass through.

For the most part, clearing out the bandits hasn’t involved violence. The insignia from Lord Arkad that you bear to prove that you are about his business has generally been enough to convince the gangs you’ve tracked down to honor his request and make themselves scarce for a bit. A few of the bandits, more headstrong and unruly than the others, met your request with disrespect and scorn… with these, you have had to deal a bit more harshly. Lord Arkad is a reasonable man, but he does not tolerate disrespect or ingratitude.

Your work hasn’t been particularly difficult or dangerous, but it has been long and tedious - there are a lot of these bandit gangs lurking in the eastern forest, and they don’t go out of their way to make it easy to find them. But at long last, you’re nearing the camp of what you’re fairly certain is the last bandit gang large and bold enough that it might dare to harass the caravan of Gadel na’Vakhora’s would-be brides. If your information is correct, this band, the Wolf’s Tooth Gang, should be encamped just a little further on.

And not a day too soon… if they’ve proceeded on schedule, the young ladies of the court and their escorts should be passing this way along the forest road any day now...



Yu Yan and Nessima
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It’s been a very long journey from Heaven’s Gaze.

You can have no complaint with the accommodations, certainly. You ride in a fine carriage, gilded and ornate without, spacious and well-appointed within, drawn by fine white horses with chiming bells affixed to their harnesses. Extended travel by carriage is never entirely without discomfort, but you’ve ridden for the most part along straight and well-maintained roads on your way to Kalakam, and you’ve stopped each night at clean and inviting wayhouses, sleeping in soft beds and dining on refined fare - nothing to compare with the luxuries of the Celestial Throne’s court, certainly, but far better than most travelers enjoy. Your escorts… a cadre of riders dispatched by Lord Arkad, to see to your safety, and a pair of Tranquil Monks from the Still Waters Monastery outside Heaven’s Gaze, to see to the party’s… decorum… have been nothing but pleasant and deferential.

But you’d never know any of that, to listen to the three pretty young ladies with whom you travel. Kyesa, Laici, and Zhu Ren, daughters of three of the oldest and most influential noble families to serve the Celestial Throne, have done nothing but complain ever since you left the capital city. The carriage is too cramped and bumps about too much for their comfort; the food at the inns is always bland or greasy or over-spiced, and your long-suffering escorts are always committing some slight or faux-pas that has the refined young ladies in a perpetual snit. They are, in theory, in competition with Lady Jieyou for the hand of Gadel na’Vakhora, eldest son of the lord of Kalakam… but if they’re half this bratty and unpleasant when they reach Lord Arkad’s court at Kal Vakhor, you can’t imagine they’ll be much competition.

It seems that the one thing they haven’t complained about is Nessima, whose music and stories delight and distract them through the hours of bumping along in the carriage on the way to Kalakam. If the escorts had their initial misgivings about bringing a scruffy-looking traveling minstrel along, like some stray puppy to which their flighty young charges had taken a shine, those misgivings have given way entirely - the riders from Kal Vakhor, and even the unflappable Tranquil Monks, are almost pathetically grateful for the cessation in the endless complaints that only seems to come while Nessima plays.

You’ve only the last leg of your journey ahead of you now; you passed the provincial border a while ago, and now ride west, along narrow and winding paths hidden in the deep forests and rolling hills of eastern Kalakam. While Lord Arkad’s wealth and influence are admired throughout the lands of the Celestial Throne, and the pedigree of House Vakhora is said to be very nearly the equal of the imperial dynasty itself, you both know well the less wholesome aspects of Lord Arkad’s reputation. The obscure, mazy roads along which you travel seem entirely appropriate to Kalakam - the heart of the Thousand Hidden Paths.

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Last edited by MemoryBeast; 03-24-2018 at 12:00 AM.
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Old 03-24-2018, 12:43 AM
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Berek Steadyhand:
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Berek rode at the head of the little procession, just the way he liked it, He would hopefully be the first to see a threat and hopefully the first into battle. Despite barely knowing the others that he traveled with, he felt it his duty as something of a front-line protector. He firmly gripped the spear in his right hand, letting the butt rest against the top of his boot while he directed his horse with only his legs and the one hand on the reigns. It was the way all his people were trained among his clan, to sit a horse throughout a fight without the aid of their hands or a saddle. Berek didn't want a fight and didn't really expect one, almost every bandit clan they had encountered so far had been wise and given in to the orders of the one who watched over this area, Lord Arkad. That didn't mean that they wouldn't put up a fight, Some smaller gangs had pressed their luck, groups that felt they had something to prove but that proved a dangerous decision when faced with this Horse Warrior's bow, spear or sword. This would be no problem, a large gang with nothing to prove, their might already established, cool heads with nothing to gain from disobeying their 'Master'.
Dice Perception:
1d20+3 (15)+3 Total = 18
He kept his eyes on the trees and bushes along the road, he would not be surprised by some two bit, untrained thugs hiding among the grass like snakes. The lot, honorless men unlike Berek but coin has all power and everyone needed the power that it gave, for food, if nothing else.

OOC:
 

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Old 03-24-2018, 03:03 AM
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Jin, female human monk (tranquility) 5th level. (sheet) (character page)
HP: 33/33 | Armor Class: 17 | Saves: Str +3; Dex +7; Con +1; Int 0; Wis +3; Chr -1
Speed: 50 | Ki points: 5/5
Skill Prof: medicine +9, acrobatics +7, perception +6 (passive 16), survival +6, athletics +3
Conditions and/or active spells: Sanctuary (probably) (DC 14)


It was good work, if tedious. When things went well, it reinforced the idea that these ruffians had at least a little honor. Reasonable people in difficult times, but the fact that they knew enough to keep the balance boded well for the future. Jin was confident this remaining encampment would be no trouble. Surely word about Lord Arkad's command had reached them by now, considering every other bandit group, (that they could locate), had been convinced to comply. This last one might be holding out for the off-chance that no official would show up, and therefore they could continue their raids, supposedly ignorant of the decree. Jin was sure that with the four of them and Lord Arkad's insignia, things would go smoothly.

Jin walks in front of her horse, following signs along the path. Ahead, Berek rides, alert as always. The bald monk wore simple cloths, robes strapped and secured around the arms and ankles to keep them from getting in the way. With her smooth bald head and draping clothing one might have a hard time telling if she were a male or female. She moved with purpose and balance instinctively. She carried a full backpack and a few pouches on a belt around her waste. A shortsword hung off one hip, a pair of clubs tethered by a chain was tucked in on the other side; on her back was slung a long quarterstaff which she sometimes used as a walking stick. Her only jewelry was a simple leather strap necklace with a small green bead in the back, the jade pendent was tucked under her robes, out of sight.

She stops, whistling a gentle quick chirp to draw the other's attention. Pointing to a broken branch she says,

"We're getting close, this was broken within the last hour. Same person as the tracks we found earlier, the one with the uneven step."

She stands back up and smells the air, sniffing for smells of camp fires, horses, or even just unclean men. She listens to the woods, listens for the sounds of sticks breaking or cloth scraping leaves or whispered voices. She focuses on her breathing and projects an aura of calmness around her, an aura that belongs there, unbroken. She resumes their walking pace, very much at peace with the world.

 
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Old 03-24-2018, 05:25 AM
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Yu Yan
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Lady Jieyou held an ornate fan in front of her face to hide a brief scowl at the other three young ladies as a particularly deep pothole sent them into a familiar chorus of complaints. She had been Insight check:
Dice Roll:
1d20+3 (5)+3 Total = 8
quietly observing them during the journey, trying to take their measure. Was there substance beneath their shallow exteriors, or were they simply the result of a life of pampered nobility, one more symptom of the disease that kept society stagnating with a minority of cruel and idle rich lording over the oppressed and destitute masses?

Lowering the fan, she quickly replaced the scowl with an encouraging smile, this one aimed at the musician, Nessima. The girl seemed to brighten the mood of even her taciturn traveling companions, and it occurred to Jieyou that had society been a little more just, this minstrel with the easy smile would be her greatest competition for the young lordling's hand. The thought gave her pause, and she withdrew again into her persona: quiet, reserved, delicate, trained in the feminine arts. A far cry from the ruff and tumble street urchin who grew up in the slums of the capitol. Her mind drifted unbidden to her traveling pack, where her more familiar leather armor and slender, double-edged straight bladed jian were hidden. While it was not unheard of for a woman to travel armored and armed, it would have been insulting to her prospective father in law and to the protection he had arranged if someone of Jieyou's station were to attempt it. Beyond that, it would belie the image of the delicate, sheltered, provincial noble that she had worked so hard to cultivate. Instead, she would have to rely on Lord Arkad's reputation and the competence of her escort, a necessary if uncomfortable reality. The dagger hidden in a sheathe built into her corset was the one tangible reassurance of her ability to protect herself, a security blanket for which weeks of living in the comfort and security of a manor had not removed her need.

She had to admit to herself that the guards seemed competent enough. They appeared to be rough outlanders, but a different breed of ruffian than the thugs of the city. There was something almost refreshingly direct about the way they bristled with the potential for violence should the need arise. Sellswords, yes, but forthright with what they were selling. That honesty was liberating, and for a moment, she envied that life.

A rather high pitched complaint brought her crashing down from her reverie and her attention back into the carriage's interior. Honesty wasn't a luxury she could afford, but she could at least avail herself of Nessima's music. "Perhaps another song would ease our journey?" She suggested with an affected lightness to her tone, masking the desperation in the request.

 


Last edited by Elwen; 03-24-2018 at 05:32 AM.
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Old 03-24-2018, 08:42 AM
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End justify the Means
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Drevan walked along the edge of the path, hugging to the shadows of overhanging tree branches, but making sure to keep abreast to his fellow monk, Jin. He carried his nunchaku tucked into the belt at his waist while he used his black quarterstaff as a walking stick. Drevan walked softly, barely touching the ground with each step. While his step may have been light, his demeanor was anything but. He found this whole business of acting as enforcers for Lord Arkad distasteful at best.

Drevan understood the need to maintain alliances with Lord Arkad. Without his protection there is serious question whether the Sanctuary of the Vow would even still exist. For that reason alone, Drevan should have been grateful. Instead the monk bristled at the need to work alongside an ally of the Imperial Throne. While he had been trained to see an enemy of an enemy as a friend, Drevan did not subscribe to that line of logic. He did not acknowledge pedestrian notions such as right and wrong. House Vakhora benefited from their relationship with the Imperial Throne and so in Drevan’s eyes they were suspect at best. He had to constantly remind himself, There are no morals; there is only expedience. A scoundrel may be of use to us just because he is a scoundrel.

Drevan was returned to the reality of the moment as Jin came across signs of this last group of bandits. Spying a recently broken branch, Jin whistled a slight warning to the group. Drevan instantly dropped into a defensive crouch, slipped his quarterstaff to his holster across his back, and grabbed his ebony nunchaku in his hand. Call it intuition but Drevan had a feeling that this group of bandits were not going to acceed to House Vakhora’s demands willingly. Drevan could not help but smile, There are no morals; there is only expedience.


 

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Old 03-24-2018, 12:11 PM
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Jaster
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Jaster followed along the path with his companions, he kept himself busy by practicing the somatic gestures of some of his less commonly used spells. In Kal Vakhor he was a small fortune teller, he would set up his tent in the market square and 'predict' the future of peasants and children. It was a meager existence but he enjoyed it but it was contracts like the one he was on with his new comp[anions that really put money into his coffers and allowed him to explore and research the arcane arts. The life of a fortune teller really didn't call for more destructive magic and so he made sure to keep himself sharp. He also liked getting out on the road, in his former life, he was on his way to becoming a prominent wizard in for the Celestial Throne, but his conscious guided him to another path, one of many. Working for Lord Arkad had proved mutually beneficial as he did not call on Jaster to interrogate or threaten innocent peasants or children. He did however realize that he was basically being paid to shake down bandits, which he didn't mind as most of the bandits complied and so far nothing major had occurred, yet he remained vigilant.

He immediately noticed when the monks became defensive, and quietly moved his hands in a defensive manner. He cast a spell know as Mage Armor that would provide him some extra protection if the bandits did not comply with Lord Arkad's demands. There was a brief arcane shimmer that looked crystalline that surrounded Jaster's body then looked like it was absorbed into him, causing his skin to became magically fortified.

Jaster was used to the stoic silence of his companions, they had shared very few conversations along the road but they managed to learn how to work together and not get in each others way. But he moved to look at the tracks that Jon had pointed out. He turns his senses to the forest around him, he was naturally observant and kept his eyes on the forest for any signs of an ambush or trap, hoping that he would not have need for any of his more explosive spells.

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Old 03-24-2018, 03:24 PM
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Berek, Jin, Drevan, and Jaster
Knowing that you're drawing close, you keep a wary eye out for movement in the underbrush all around you. There's only so much you can do to proceed stealthily while riding or leading the fine horses that Lord Arkad provided to speed your travels through the eastern woodlands, but at the very least, care and vigilance should let you spot the bandits no later than they spot you.

Except you don't spot the bandits. Jin's trail-craft hasn't led her amiss; someone's definitely been this way, and recently, and you're certain you're traveling on the stretch of road that the Wolf's Tooth Gang claims for its turf - the villagers in the hamlet where you stayed last night, who pay protection money to the Wolf's Tooth every moon, were very clear on that. And sure enough, as general "you," aggreggating the party's successes on Investigationyou scan the trees to either side of the trail, you catch sight of a distinctive mark carved near the base of one trunk, a crude representation of a wolf's head, its mouth yawning wide to display its improbably-sized fangs. It's the sign of the Wolf's Tooth Gang, a warning to rival bandits not to encroach on their territory.

So where the hell are the Wolf's Tooth Gang? You'd think they'd take note of a well-armed party riding brazenly along their stretch of road... but there's no sign of them.










Yu Yan and Nessima
The three girls seem delighted at "Jieyou's" suggestion... delighted enough to leave off their moaning about the close confines and bumpy road, at any rate.

"Oh yes, play something, Nessi," chirps Kyesa, clapping her hands.

"The one about the lovestruck minister and the dancing girl," agrees Laici, nodding eagerly.

"Not that one," grouses Zhu Ren, prodding Laici in the shoulder. "We've heard that one a hundred times!" (You really have, or so it seems). "Nessi, sing a new one. We're almost to Kal Vakhor, and I want to hear every song you know before the journey's done!"

"I can't wait to get there," Kyesa groans, squirming about in her seat and rubbing her legs, which are apparently starting to fall asleep. "It feels like we've been penned up in this damned jewelry box on wheels for years." It's actually been about two weeks... but it's going to feel like years longer if you don't head her off before she launches into another round of whining about the journey.

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Last edited by MemoryBeast; 03-24-2018 at 03:39 PM.
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Old 03-24-2018, 03:44 PM
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Caution
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As Dreven slinked about through the shadows, he couldn't help but notice the carved symbols of the Wolf Tooth gang on the trunks of the trees. He motioned to Jin and handed off his horse’s reins as he passed the symbols and quickly moved directly behind Berek and whispered. “We are into Wolf Tooth territory, yet we see no sign of them. Would you allow an armed band into your clan’s land Barbarian? Either they are ambushing us or they are gone." Drevan returned to the shadows but stayed even with Berek.


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Old 03-24-2018, 04:39 PM
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Jaster
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A familiar smells rolls through Jaster's nostrils and sparks an unwanted memory. Walking into the department of answers always had a faint metallic quality to the smell in the air. Blood, the smell is unmistakable to Jaster as it was such always a big part of interrogation. He caught a faint whiff of blood, and he knew that of he could smell it, even faintly there must be a lot of it. He warns his companions, "I can smell blood," he sniffs at the air again, "coming from the North, there must be a lot of it. I will send Solandra to take a quick look."

Jaster reaches into the fold in the sleeve of his robes and as if performing a sleight of hand parlor trick he produces his great horned owl familiar. His owl is of no surprise to his companions as he has been used to scout ahead a few time before. Jaster only learned the familiar spell to accentuate his fortune telling, he would sometimes pose as a blind fortune teller and since he could see though the owls eyes it worked well for him. Solandra has proven worth while on the road many times as well. Jaster whispers "Fly to the north, follow the scent of blood, stay hidden in the trees, we are looking for death." Jaster moves his arm and Solandra takes off into the forest. From horse back, Jaster will peer though the eyes of Solandra but only for a short moment as he doesn't want to be blind for too long. "I will tell you all what I see in a moment."

oocThe owl has +3 perception not +1 so 16 total

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Last edited by Stonk; 03-24-2018 at 04:49 PM.
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Old 03-24-2018, 05:11 PM
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Solandra
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Jaster's owl familiar emerges, conjured from nowhere, and perches on his arm, gazing around her with uncanny intelligence as the wizard whispers in her ear. Then she is gone, great wings beating noiselessly as she soars off into the woods, heading north. Her mottled feathers blend with the dappled late-afternoon sunlight that filters down through the trees.



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Old 03-24-2018, 05:37 PM
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Jaster
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On horse back Jaster's eyes flicker into the back of his head exposing only the white of his eyes, through the eyes of Solandra he surveys a gruesome scene. He communicates to her, "Stay hidden, we will make our way to you."

Jaster's eyes flutter back and he dismounts, "There is a clearing a little ways further to the north of the road, but before the clearing there is a dead man, who looks like he was fleeing to the south, he has a dagger, and and some arrows in his back, the arrow look like they came from the clearing." Jaster points in the direction of Solandra, "This way, and been alert as always. When we get closer I can use Solandra to scout the clearing." Jaster looks to see if they will be able to take their horses with them to the body.


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Old 03-24-2018, 07:52 PM
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The Final Tale
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There are far worse ways to travel across the Empire, Nessima thought, idly blowing a tune on her pan flute. She hadn't been forced to travel rough very often, her talents spared her that, but she had never traveled quite like this, either. A bed to herself every single night...never the best bed, always a small room, but always bug-free, at least. Good food, and the company was not at all unpleasant, either. Certainly, the noblewomen (Girls! Children, really!) could be trying at times, but they were also easily amused and occasionally gracious and generous. Plus, she hadn't had to endure some village lothario constantly sliding his hand up her leg while she played. Well, there had been that one guard, but his bleeding had stopped quickly enough, and she had almost convinced him that Lord Arkad's wizards could grow his thumb back for him when they arrived.

A voice intruded on her reveries. "Perhaps another song would ease our journey," the quietest one suggested. That one seemed a little less vapid than the rest, probably because she spoke less. "My Lady, we draw close to Kal Vakhor," she observed. "By your leave, I have a tale that I've been saving for just this time. A tale of heroes, lost love, valor, and regret." Not pausing to wait for permission, she launched into "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" - the tale of the famous warrior-monk Li Mu Bai and his sword, Green Destiny.

Nessima knew three things: their remaining time together was short, noblewomen were capable of irrational generosity, and final impressions mattered very much. With that in mind, she launched into a truly inspired rendition of what was in reality one of her favorite tales. She explored the depths of Li's conflicted, melancholy nature. She made the carriage almost shake with the deeply-suppressed love between Li and Yu. The Jade Fox was never more calculating, more sneaky. When Li Mu Bai was dying of poison and confesses his love to Yu, all in the carriage wept openly. It was, false modestly aside, a performance fit for the Emperor.

With a flourish and a seated bow, Nessima ended her tale and relaxed a bit in her seat.

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Old 03-24-2018, 08:51 PM
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Drevan had watched as Jaster sent off his owl to scout the trail ahead. He noted as the wizard’s eyes rolled into the back of his head as he began to commune with his magical familiar. Drevan’s body involuntarily trembled as he looked back at the mage. He did not yet know enough about the wizard to have a true opinion about the man. But the fact that he was a wizard, was damning enough. Drevan had trained in the Sanctuary of the Vow as a dedicated mage slayer. To be honest, it was the thought of killing the insidious spell users of the Heavenly Cult and the Imperial Throne, that Drevan relished most of all. Being in such close proximity to Jaster set off all of Drevan’s honed and deadly instincts.

As the wizard’s eyes returned to normal he spoke a warning to the group, "There is a clearing a little ways further to the north of the road, but before the clearing there is a dead man, who looks like he was fleeing to the south, he has a dagger, and and some arrows in his back, the arrow look like they came from the clearing.” Drevan looked to the north, past the barbarian. He chuckled as he thought about his aversion to mages themselves, but his ready willingness to use magic to kill them. He glanced towards his fellow monk, Jin, and saw that she had secured his horses reins so that it would not hamper any movements she decided to make.

Drevan and Jin had both had similar training in turning themselves into human weapons, albeit, in quite contrasting manners. This contrast was mirrored it seemed in their personalities as well. While Jin exuded calmness and serenity, Drevan veritably tingled with energy and barely veiled venom. He was a coiled snake poised to strike at any moment.

Questioning the information relayed by Jaster, Drevan took to the trees alongside the path heading towards the clearing. He quickly and silently worked his way towards the edge of the clearing. Why leave the body? He thought as he clambered along. If the man died from arrows and daggers he could not have run far. Either we are dealing with amateur assassins or this just happened. Drevan re-hooked his Nunchaku through his belt and brought his short-bow to bear. If there was a chance, he could get a clean shot off before he was noticed.


 


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Last edited by Begon Ugo; 03-25-2018 at 07:44 AM.
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Old 03-24-2018, 10:33 PM
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Yu Yan and Nessima
As Nessima concludes her stirring tale, the young noblewomen applaud, dabbing at the corners of their reddened eyes with their silk sleeves.

"That was beautiful, Nessi," says Zhu Ren. "I thought I'd heard every tale of the Thousand Hidden Paths, but I've never heard that one." You can't imagine that a sheltered thing like her has really heard all that many tales of the Thousand Hidden Paths. They aren't really considered appropriate entertainment for a lady of the court, after all.

"It was so sad," sighs Laici. "Why couldn't they just have told each other how they felt? Aren't the Thousand Hidden Paths supposed to be a place where people can live the way they want, without worrying about a bunch of stupid rules and traditions and... and things? Where they can have real freedom?" Now, she sounds like she's been listening to an awful lot of tales.

"It sounds so exciting, to live on the Thousand Hidden Paths," Kyesa murmurs, her eyes dreamy and far away. "Adventure and heroics and danger and romance. Even if it ended sadly, like in that story... it still sounds like a lot more fun than being some nobleman's wife."

"Well, if you don't want Lord Gadel, just say so," Zhu Ren notes archly. "Less competition for the rest of us."

"I didn't say that," Kyesa mutters.

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Old 03-24-2018, 11:42 PM
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"It was lovely," Jieyou agreed, nodding her head and applauding politely. She frowned a little, watching the other three girls interact. She had never grown up with pampered ladies, this trip was becoming quite instructive. She would have to affect a more vapid air if she were to blend in and avoid suspicion.

"They say Lord Gadel is terribly handsome," she adds, with absolutely no idea whether that was true or not. Still, it seemed like something this type of girl would say. "I cannot wait to meet him." In reality, Gadel was likely as much of a pampered fop as the majority of the lordlings in the Celestial city, but an alliance with such a powerful family was too good a prize to ignore. Pretending to be yet another coquette vying for his attention was a small price to pay for the access his name would grant.

 

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