Friday, January 17, 2014

After the Rain ep01 : Houses of the Blooded


01/05/2014
After the Rain

Episode One
"The Winter Fete"

Houses of the Blooded

The self-titled Mother Matron, Elesa Yvarai, Blooded of the Fox, Baroness of Ul extended invitations out to all the Ven whose Provinces were nearby to a Winter Fete.  Knowing the tradition of gifts for every Althua, the Mother Matron sent word that "While Gifts are expected, Food shall be in good faith accepted as gifts."  To many ven, this suggested the Mother Matron was unprepared to feed her Vassals this Winter.  To others, this was a move to explain that a simpler gift of Food is acceptable given the event's last minute invitation.

*

Hannah Silja, Blooded of the Fox, Marquise of Dunlath
Three true things about Hannah Silja
Holds a reputation of complete fidelity.
Been a widow many times, but her marriage to Galeo's father is the last and longest.
Galeo has many half-siblings.


Hannah Silja is with Galeo Silja at Castle Purenote.  Hannah offers to send Food if Galeo needs help, although Galeo is fine.  They talk about Galeo's Staff and Art, and the upcoming party of Elesa Yvarai.  Hannah talks about how rebuilding the world upon the ruins of the old Shanri was no easy task and would require the Foxes to consolidate their efforts.  Hannah muses amount how things were different, and callously mentions, "I miss my grandson."  Galeo's child was dead.   Hannah sighs then mumbles, "If you had another child, things might run smoother."  Hannah warns Galeo that Tavlim Steele being in the fete, and suggests Galeo avoid the man.  "His eccentricities can disarming."   Galeo escorts Hannah out without further words.

Galeo writes a letter to Jaric Thayl, a contact gained within the last few years.

Dear Jaric,
It is my fondest hope that with the opening of your Opera House, we may discuss content.
There is a work in motion I feel you would want to see.
Much affection,
Galeo


*

Jaric Thayl reads the missive he had received from Galeo Silja as he watches the construction ongoing for his massive Opera House.   The missive was accompanied with a Season's worth of Spice.  Jaric smirks after reading the letter and instructs Jeeves, his Valet, to bring the spice away.  He summons the Mageknights, his Staff, to prepare the room while he pens a response.

Dear Galeo,
If you truly wish to collaborate on an Opera, then I presume we will have to meet here in the Citadel.
Thank you for the Spice. The people are enjoying it.
That is all.

Jaric

Jallani, Jaric's unblooded spouse, arrives and greets her husband warmly.  She whispers a reproach about the back-handed insult he sent Galeo and shares that she is worried about the content of the Opera.  She reminds him that his carriage awaits to bring him to Ul and that she has already packed his things with the expectation he is to remain at Ul for at least a week.  He asks about her plans and she admits she will be headed to the Eastern Quarterhouse to meet with a Duke friend of hers who wanted to discuss things.  Jaric admits he is impressed.  He has always known her to be a protective mother ("Protective Mother") but he still gets surprised at how independent ("Leave it to me") and sociable ("Friend of the Senate") she can be.  "Don't forget, your Uncle Tavlim will be there."  Their children, apparently are scared of the man and he tends to be very nosy.  She reminds him he is the Baron of Shavri'for.  And for a brief moment, Jaric remembers when Jallani had a brief affair with the Count Kether.  Jaric heads to the carriage after a prolonged deep kiss with Jallani and summons his Risk Men (Personal Guard) to accompany him to Ul.  

*

Seran Thorne arrives early, as Falcons are wont to do so. The Matron Mother Elesa greets her in a massive dress that seems mostly part of the house itself.  Lucas, Seran's Spouse, is introduced and Elese commends him for his traits "Resourceful, Open-minded, Meticulous".  Seran watches as Lucas masterfully compliments Elesa on her craftwork gown and headress, and smiles as Elesa's favor is won enough for the host to admit a few things.

"I plan to host a exploration of the ruins as part of my party," Elesa admits to Seran, "Given the number of Ruins that dot this place.  Do you think that would be a great idea?"  Seran remembers the massive mile long bridge that they had to take to reach the castle itself.  She realizes now that the bridge was necessary to travel over the three regions of ruins that surrounded the castle.  Seran, naturally, is approving of the idea.  The Matron shares the idea of allowing those who join the event to keep any Artifacts they find in their exploration save for a particular artifact that she desires to find.   Elesa adds, "As well as half the number of the gifts I am to receive in this Althua?"  Seran smiles as she realizes she was the ONLY Falcon to be invited to the fete.    "It would be a great idea, indeed."

Elesa thanks Seran for the vote of confidence and asks her to help "unhook her from her house."  Freed from the massive costume, the two then walk down the halls to start the fete early.

*

Nia Jalan motions to the crate of peppers (Spices) that she had brought as a present and the Matron Mother thanks her for the thoughtful present.  Nia commends the hostess for the lovely welcome and even complements the beauty she found in the massive bridge leading to the castle.  Elesa thanks the young Serpent and invites her to enjoy the food and meet with the other guests.  It is then when Nia finds herself  in the gaze of a blue-eyed woman whose smile hearkens a hidden agenda.  Seeing the woman has not ceased staring at her, Nia nonchalantly maneuvers to position herself closer to break into a conversation only for the other to reply, "Not yet."

And leave.

Nia watches as the blue-eyed woman is once again staring at her from afar and considers why the woman would focus on her, given the 18  guests in the party.  When a strapping young man stands in between their line of sight, Nia realizes it is time to move.  Using the man's temporary cover to her advantage, Nia maneuvers closer before the man steps aside.  The blue-eyed woman now addresses her, perhaps impressed with the young lady's resourcefulness.  "I know Janine," the woman admit and Nia realizes the woman is referring to her spouse.  She asks if Janine has mentioned her and Nia rebuts, "Janine talks about many things."  They talk about the castle and its three ruins, and how one is a puzzle house.  The woman produces a ring and offers it to Nia, "She might want it back."   

The woman leaves again.  Nia stares at the ring, uncertain, then looks up to see an old man with a book under one arm staring at her and the ring.

*

Velya Vykos steps away from the two women who seemed to be dancing some dance around him and serves himself a glass of wine.  He notices the old man with a book standing nearby, and realizes the old man is watching the two women Velya was in-between earlier.  "Nice party," he tries to break the ice.  The old man mumbles something about  fees and balances, and then turns to Velya and asks, "You are Velya Vykos, are you not?  Son of Elena Yvarai, Countess of Nod whose County has been divided that you may own a Barony?"  Velya seems surprised.  "I am Tavlim Steele and your mother currently owes me some Lumber.  Given the rules of acquisition and the prevailing taxation to be applied to all inheritances, plus the interest gained for the last three years that have passed since the costs were incurred, you dear boy currently owe me the sum of five units of Lumber.  However, given it is Winter and this is your Initial Year of acquisition of the property - the very reason most likely that your mother had given you the land so late in the year - the Preliminary Discount of New Acquisition thus applies, as does the prevailing Fenris Adjustment to Lumber as agreed upon between the Houses of Steele and Adrente, the recalculated sum that you owe me is three units of Lumber."

Velya took a step back.  "I'm sorry?"

Thankfully, their conversation would be then interrupted by the announcement of the arrival of the final guest, Galeo Silja, Titled Artist Leader of Consortia.  Elesa welcomes him, and passively reproaches her for being late.   Elesa announces that all nineteen guests have arrived.  There is talk about Galeo's mother, and an introduction to Jaric, but the two admit to already having been acquainted.  Elesa hints at wanting to collaborate with Jaric on the opera as well.

Elesa then introduces Nia to Velya, suggesting an introduction to one of her many unmarried sisters.

Seran revists the table and takes cookie from a plate.  A bite, however, causes her to feel her body go rigid and heavy.  She drops to the nearest chair to battle the lethargy.  A lesser poison, it seems! 

The Mother Matron thanks them for coming to her Winter Althua.    She thanks them all for their wonderful gifts and offers to begin tonight's fun with a simple game:  Love Letter.  Selected ven are gathered and shown a table to cards that are laid upon a velvet bag.  The Ven are paired off, with Seran becoming the hostesses pair.  As the hostess explains the rules, Seran convinces her that there should be appropriate stakes to the game.  "Each one wagers a Resource they wish, and the winner gets to claim that wager.  Jaric voices against this being improper to traditions, but Elesa says half of the presents she received will also be given as a prize.

Seran, Nia, Galeo and Tavlim are the remaining ven to play the final rounds, with both Nia and Seran quickly being bested in the final round.  As Galeo and Tavlim stand in the final draw, Galeo traps Tavlim and wins the game.  "Your Metal," Galeo smiles.  "It is yours," Tavlim remarks as he furiously updates his notes in his didjerva.

Galeo chooses to reshare the food that was won.

*

Nia and Velya talk, mostly about Jaric and his collection of Old Age things.  The blue-eyed serpent interjects.  Seran joins the discussion, which goes right into a discussion of the host's ruins and the puzzle house.  All are clearly excited!  

Tavlim talks to Galeo and insults him a lot and some words end up suggesting they may actually be half-siblings.  He ropes Jaric into the conversation which incurs a lot of dislike.  There is mention of Tavlim having been castle Staff before.  As they are walking away, Tavlim asks about the ring which he heard about from Count Silja.  "A ring that opens anything it knocks upon."
*

Elesa rounds them up for another game.  She mentions to all that the party shall last five days, a statement which Jaric of course reacts negatively to.  They are asked to partner up - male and female - for the next event and Jaric corners the blue-eyed Serpent, Dranna Ru.

Dranna Ru, Blooded of the Serpent, Baroness
Three true things about Dranna Ru
She is a Baroness because she was demoted.
She committed sorcerous actions.
Her husband died under suspicious circumstances.

*

The door slams open as a late guest declares himself.

Seran, Gaelo and Jaric recognize him as the Count of Kether.  Count Kether is well recognized by most as one of the few ven who has never broken his word.  Honest, honorable and loyal, Kether is an esteemed noble among ven.  And the most ruthless bastard anyone would ever know.

Zsanos Yvarai, Blooded of the Fox, Count of Kether
Three true things about Zsanos Yvarai
He is an honest, loyal and veberable man.
He has never broken a promise.
He is the most ruthless bastard they have met.

Zsanos demands to be part of the party and chooses Galeo to be his partner.  Jaric approaches Elesa to discuss some things.   Nia partners with Tavlim.  Seran and Velya start competing stories of the adventures they had taken.  Jaric gets snapped at Elesa after he tries to remind her to control her party.  She mutters something about the Puzzle House being the root to the event.

Zsanos and Galeo seemingly flirt with the remarks they throw back and forth.  Dranna Ru taunts Jaric with her earring, which Jaric realizes thanks to his knowledge of First Age things that it is the Legendary Artifact of the Bronze Inquisitor herself, the Whispering Serpent of Ti'Ann Burghe.

The teams are supposed to go into the ruins and whoever returns with the most impressive artifact gets to keep it.  The rest, Elesa claims, are to be offered to the Suaven.  Count Kether interjects and declares he has come to fulfill the demands of Romance and counters the Matron Mother's reward with his own suggestion:  "If I am to succeed and find this grandest artifact, instead of the prize I ask only one thing,"  He points to a veth servant among Elesa's Staff, "Her."  Many gasp in surprise and anticipation.  Galeo could not help but smirk at the sentiment.

*

The group makes it way to a single ruin. Zsanos believes it may be a more expedient strategy to simply eliminate the opposition.  Jaric discovers that Dranna Ru is the niece of the late Ti' Ann Burge, the Duchess Dowager whom Jaric has based his Opera upon.  Seran persuades Nia and Tavlim to join them in the ruins.  Jaric asks Seran if she can delay Zsanos from entering the ruins in exchange for a Resouce and she agrees.  Dranna Ru flirts with Velya with a few words and finds herself falling asleep when he uses the Good Night Kiss!  Jaric wakes the woman up, who admits he was impressed the man did that.

*

Seran, Nia, Velya and Tavlim head off, with Seran bribing the old man with food. Zsanos seemed quite interested in Velya's Blood Sword and shares his thoughts on that with Galeo.  Jaric too becomes insistent in going and gets distracted when Dranna Ru starts sharing all the information she has on each of the other Ven. She talks about the different traits Nia, Seran, Zsanos and Velya have and even admits that the cookies she brought were given to her by her Staff. She suggests Jaric use his Riskmen (Personal Guard) to close up the other Ruins.  Jaric doesn't agree with using that tactic.

*

The party of Ven head to the ruin with Nia taking point.  She easily finds the entrance to the Ruin by searching for signs of Ork activity.  She sees the ruin's entrance despite it being Concealed because it is Heavily Used.  She even notes the Glowing Fungus that can be carried to light their way.  From the tracks, she realizes the Orks are Highly Organized and their motions suggest they are Defending Something.    She knows the Orks are Humanoid, and suspects they Can Be Negotiated With, but that does suggest the Ruin holds something very important to them.

Zsanos starts giving a passionate monologue about love as he and Galeo walk towards the Ruin.   He wounds himself with his own Blood Sword as he talks about the pangs and demands of Romance.

*

Jaric feels a slight hint of pain as Dranna Ru pokes the earring through his own hear lobe.  He immediately hears it whisper to him about Dranna Ru.  "She must have it..."   When Jaric focuses upon her again, the earring whispers a second time, "She thinks the Old Ways are Better."  The earring is undeniably the artifact the Dowager Duchess once owned.

*

Zsanos gulps down a cookie.  As Jaric and Dranna Ru walk past him, Jaric hears the earring whisper to him, "My Word Is My Life" as he stares at the Count.  The two enter the ruin and Jaric starts to recognize the old structures as possibly being the former Barony of Quan Wei.  "If the stories are to be believed, there should be a door upon this wall."  Galeo overhears this and uses it to find the entrance as well.  Galeo wants to team up with Jaric and leave Zsanos and Dranna Ru behind, but neither Jaric nor Dranna Ru agree.

Zsanos sits at the entrance, slicing out a chair from the very stone with his Blood Sword.  He tells Galeo of his intention to just wait for the Ven to come out and talks about amputating limbs and simply taking the Artifacts the others had found as an efficient strategy.  "We can simply take them all."  Galeo questions killing other Ven but Kether quickly retorts, "There is no harm in simply amputating their limbs til they surrender."   Amused at Kether's determination to win at his Romance, Galeo eventually us unable to hold back and asks Kether directly what would bring a man to fall in love with dirt.  It is to this question that Kether goes wild, screaming in disgust at Galeo's presumption that he would fall in love with one of the Veth.  "It is her HEAD that I desire," Kether telle Galeo.  "I promised my Heart that I would return with that veth's head.  And I shall."  Galeo's quips go silent.  Kether's determination bothers the young Fox.

*

The Ruin must have once been a Village.  Perhaps a town.  Seran and Nia are impressed at how huge the location turns out to be.  They deduce the artifact is probably in the Castle, if this was once a Province.  They come across a stone bridge over a chasm and realize while crossing it would be an act of Courage, they would have to do something to slow down those behind them.

"Use your sword," Nia suggests, and Velya understands.  With the enchanted blade, Velya cleaves the bridge into a narrower path others could take.  It bothers Tavlim, however, how he never hears the debris hit the bottom.  He does, however, hear breathing.

They cross a domed chamber where Orks hang from the ceiling in what seems to be a state of sleep.  Seran recognizes them from her previous journeys through Shanri.  "I know these things.  I have encountered them before.  They are easily bribed and like sweet things."  Thankfully, the Orks are asleep.  The group passes them without awakening them.

*

Dranna Ru and Jaric soon reach the bridge as well.  Jaric opts to cross it and slice it after to prevent others from following, but Dranna Ru cannot find the strength to do so.

*

Zsanos and Galeo throw suggestions at each other on how to deal with the Ven inside the Ruin.  From their discussions, Galeo soon gets impatient and marches in.  Zsanos is amiable to it, but asks Galeo if he is a hermaphrodite.  Galeo responds to not being one.

*

Jaric and Dranna Ru discuss Quan Wei and of her aesthetic sense as they continue on in the Ruins.   Dranna Ru finds a mural of the family and they note how all save the face of the husband had been defaced.   The words etched upon the stone are in the language of  the Old Tongue.  "I am Sorry."

*

Alleyways.  Ruined streets.  Shattered buildings.   As Seran and Nia and the rest move closer to the Castle, they find a Puzzle House not too far away.  A Puzzle House that existed perhaps in the Region before it fell into Ruin!  Velya quickly moves to approach it, hearing whispers and moans of pain coming from somewhere within.  The others do not follow.  As he steps inside, he finds the walls are all mirrors of different shapes and sizes.

Tavlim nods, uncertain if proceeding deeper was the wiser investment.  "Surviving is always a worth return," Nia convinces the old man.

*

Galeo admits he wants to find something inspirational in the Ruin, something to take away his boredom.  Zsanos notices something from the ground and asks Galeo if the others are his friends.    He points to the ground and shows him marks of something that had just passed through.  "Orks."  Galeo declares they seem to have friends to save, for an epic.  Zsanos counters however that there is only running.  That this is a kind of Ork that builds Ruins to lure victims in.    Galeo stares at the marks on the ground; they are impressions of hands, feet, and faces.  Zsanos moves to leave, but Galeo stops him with a reminder of his promise regarding the Veth.

*

Dranna Ru and Jaric press on, searching for more notable places in the Ruin.    Dranna Ru asks Jaric about the words on the wall and he admits they seem to be like an apology.  As they talk, the feel the ground shaking.  Something huge and massive is moving in the area.

*

The puzzle house is a structure of glass and mirrors.  Velya easily opens the door and finds inside a massive chamber that beckons him further inside.  With his Blood Sword drawn, he surveys the chambers and notices a young girl covered in blood standing behind one of the planes of glass.  She mouths words without a sound.  Velya stabs the Blood Sword into the glass where she stands, and is astonished when the girl reacts to the Blood Sword's edge, as if the blade was cutting into another room, instead of a mirror!

The ground rumbled.   Nia and Seran saw a plume of smoke and dust in the distance.  Something was moving.  Tavlim's keen hearing hears the word, "Meat" repeatedly being whispered.  He turns to the two.  "I suggest we run."

*

Galeo is far behind, but finds the tracks left by the others.  Galeo recognizes a mark on one wall which would be a "ward of protection" that those of Talia Yvarai would make upon walls.  He hears the rumbling noise and the screams that follows.  He pulls on the ward and finds the hook and latch that hold it up.  He pulls on the latch and the wall moves, revealing an illuminated interior!

*

The Riskmen are screaming.  Jaric sees the unthinkable sight of a massive orb of flesh that moves with a hungry intelligence.  The thing is the size of a building, and it tumbles past them as they hide in the rubble nearby.  Dranna Ru hears, "Feed... Ven... Feed." and turns to warn Jaric.  Jaric feels the Terror sweep past him, but thankfully not be enough to turn him helpless.

*

The young girl grabs the edge of the Blood Sword, and recoils when the blade cuts her skin!  Velya withdraws the blade and finds it streaked with blood.  The child yells, "TUO!" over and over and Velya realizes she is yelling OUT in reverse.  Thinking the child is a prisoner, he thrusts the blade back into the glass, then cuts a circular shape to create a door into the chamber of the child.  The child stares in horror as the window opens and begins to yell at the young ven, "Open... you've broken the prison.  Are you.. are you the Dara?"

"No," another voice replies, and Velya turns to see a red-haired beauty standing at the entrance of the puzzle house.  "I won this world.  And you will not take that away from me."

*

Jaric sees the towering Ork and realizes it is composed with hundreds upon hundreds of Ven bodies.  His mind reels with what he's read of this location and recalls there is a secret passage out of the place hidden in the bedroom of Quan Wei.  "To the Castle!"

*

The Ork was a towering monstrosity in the shape of a fallen world.  Composed of a thousand dead ven bodies, the thing rolled like a sentient orb that crushed and trampled anything in its path.  The Ork tramples the other nearby buildings, pulverizing them into dust without the slightest effort.

"You see that," Seran gasped as the same Ork came into view.  Nia grabbed hold of Tavlim's arm, "We have to go."  But the old man motioned at the Puzzle House, "The Wolf is still in there..."

"We have to come back for him some other time," Seran growled and picked the old man up, "I rather we chose to live this moment."

As the three rushed up the steps to the ruins of a castle, the Ork closed in on them and flattened everything in its path.  Nia recalls a secret passage in and finds it!

*

"I earned this world," the red-haired woman snarled, "And I am not allowing you to take it away from me."

Velya felt an irresistible force fling him into the same chamber as the young girl.  The glass divide came back into being, trapping them inside.  The girl clutched Velya tight and her tears clearly showed she was the victim here.  He learn she is something called the Dara.

"This is my world now.  Mine.  You are never taking it back from me," the red-haired woman hissed and left the two to huddle in the darkness.  Velya stared at his Blood Sword, left on the floor on the opposite side of the glass.   He held the girl tighter and wondered if he will ever find a way out.

*

"A door," Galeo found a glowing doorway that beckoned among the ruins.  Flinging the door open, Galeo found the chamber within a stark contrast to the crumbling ruins outside.  Brass braziers burned sweet incense into the air.  A carved ivory statue of a white horse stood with a glass orb at its foot.  Thorned bushes grew blood red flowers along the walls.  It was a temple.  And the air was sweet and cool.

"Where," Galeo was to ask but words would be abruptly cut by the arrival of men with spears.  They were ven, but the spears they used were not of the Vashna.  The curved hooks at the end of the spears were used to force Galeo onto the ground, pinning him to the floor.

And at the far end, a woman in wispy robed commanded everyone's attention.  Her piercing gaze forced silence upon Galeo.  She motioned at the guards to cease their violence, and motioned for Galeo to be at ease.  Galeo looked back and noticed there was no sign of the Ruin where Galeo had come from.  Galeo stared at the woman and realized that she bore the resemblance of the how the Suaven Talia Yvaria was portrayed in art.

*

"Over here!"  Jaric called out as he lead the others to where he understood the hidden doorway would be, based on the many readings he had made of the Old Age.  To their surprise, Seran, Tavlim and Nia would emerge from the shadows and end up joining them, as the group rushed through the winding dark tunnels that shook as the Ork slammed its immensity against the sturdy walls.  "There should be a path here..."  Tavlim complains that Velya still owes him money and Jaric growls back, "Interest Accrues!" 

The group ran into the underground tunnel, and the winding steps soon curved upwards into a spiral towards the sky.  The group emerged in a delicate garden and a veth servant gasped in shock as they rose from the verdant growth.  It was a Garden!  And Seran realized it was Matron Mother Elesa's Garden!

As Nia helped Tavlim and Dranna Ru out of the doorway, Jaric motioned at them all to step aside as the doorway swiveled on its own to perfectly close once more and become invisible.  All that suggested its presence was the interlocking stones that were now the base of the massive statue of a horse in the garden.

"A horse," Jaric mumbled, remembering his First Age readings, "A shrine to the Horse.."

At least, they were safe.
But if the tales of the First Age were true, Jaric sensed their troubles were only about to begin.









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