Saturday, March 22, 2014

After the Rain ep05 : Houses of the Blooded

02/16/2014
After the Rain

Episode Five
"Pain is the Path to Strength"

Houses of the Blooded


Galeo comes home and finds Hero hurt from an accident while working on a sculpture.  She tells the vassals to inform him of her arrival and actually does something she had not done in quite a while; she refers to him by his name.

"Tell Hero that his wife is here."

When Hero arrives, he is panicked, worried that he had done something to earn Galeo's ire.  Galeo admits she has no reasons to call hate upon him.  She admits she reserves that for cowards.  "There are bigger things.  Now we made one.  Soon, we should make another."  The Artist looks at Hero's work and smiles.

"We always made wonderful things in concert," Hero remarks.

***

Jaric reads the papers gathered in front of him that have been collected from the strange ritual Isolde was practicing:

Beneath the black robes are barbed whips, knives and other instruments of pain.  Afhil's followers understand that the dark lord's wisdom is pain.  For pain is the path to strength that only the truly devoted can follow.

The followers embrace the darkest fear.  They hold the Malice Hammer.   They sing the sweetest sting.   


"Malice hammer," Jaric mumbles to himself as he reads.

It is known for Followers of the Grinning Man to suffer for such wisdom.  They swallow glass.  They carve their bodies.  Their distort their features.  They make themselves cruel mockeries of happiness.  Such pain is an empowering experience, not a debilitating one. Woe to those who are captured by the Followers of Afhil for they are taught the ultimate lesson in pain:  the body is bound and this elaborate ritual is cast upon it.   The secret name is written upon the body in spiral patterns - written with razors.  The body is wrapped in sacred garments and slowly smothered to death.  When the body finally dies, the soul remains in the rune-carved skin.  Such a creature is called the Dafhil: A Child of Pain.   

Jaric had segregated the papers into three piles:  Writings regarding Afhil, the darker story of transformation of Talia Yvarai and pages related to neither, perhaps pages that had just been cobbled together. Jaric is uncertain what Isolde was hoping to accomplish.  The many servants in the room quietly wait.  Unlike most whose Vassals are veth, Isolde's servants are Ruk.   Given her desire to not have Veth cross a certain point in her castle, her Ruk servants stand freely welcome.   The servants are completely wrapped in white cloth from head to toe, their standard uniforms under Isolde.  It is rare to glance about a chamber and not see at least two other servants.

"And these are unblooded.." Jaric mumbles to himself.   Given the talk of Isolde having seven Provinces to her name, lands she supposedly plans to merely give to her children, one wonders if these servants are from those many regions.  "You," Jaric talks to a servant that approaches, "Where are you from?"   In response, it points to its own throat and motions, a no.  "You are forbidden to speak?" It bows.   "Strange strange rules in this castle," Jaric shakes his head and asks for water instead to keep a clear head.  Jaric realizes he has been studying for hours, possibly a day and more, and after chiding a servant to stop touching the papers (it wanted to arrange it into neater piles), he declares that he needs to eat.  He asks that no one be allowed to enter as he leaves to have the room sealed.

The smell of meat leads him to... Dranna Ru.  She steps inside, holding a tray of delicious meats.  She tells him he's been reading for two days and tell him that the road men have sighted the Airship on its route back. She rests the tray on the papers which makes Jaric more frantic.  He moves it to another table.  "Just leave it," he tells them. The servants seem confused.  Dranna Ru tells him, "Allow me" and speaks to them using the Vulgar Tongue. "Leave us." They all bow and head for the door.  Dranna Ru explains that Isolde collects Ruks and speaks to them using such a tongue because they do not deserve better.  "This is all highly unusual," Jaric admits.

"Is it interesting?"
"All writing can be interesting-"
"Does it have to do with the Inquisitor?" Dranna Ru asks.  Jaric admits he does not follow and she accuses him that he is obsessed with her grandmother.  He corrects her that she has yet to be confirmed to be related to the Inquisitor and that the papers relate to someone obsessed with pain.  He asks what he is eating and she responds, "A better question might be, who?"
"Are you serious?"
"No... I am joking.  It is horse."
Jaric is bothered given he isn't certain which among the kinds of horses is being served.  Knowing Isolde, he doubts this is the lesser horses.  She explains that whoever used to hold the castle had far too many horses in her own opinion.

She then brings up her inquiries regarding Haroun Q'n's Romance and asks about Seran Thorne.  Jaric admits to not knowing of any Romances occurring and rambles instead about the Thorne lineage.

***

Back on the airship, Seran demonstrates to Nia how to disembark from the Airship.  Haroun grabs the rope and stops Nia from leaving.  He asks her if she is close friends with Seran and Nia agrees that she is.  "Does she love someone?"
"What kind of question is this?  But of course she does," Nia smiles, easily finding the words given how she tends to be Acquiescent in their eyes.  "I mean honestly, who doesn't?"
"Is she.. in love?  I am certain she loves the ship, but I sense something distant. I sense she is somewhat distracted at times," Haroun admits.
"Maybe you are not engaging her... I mean, she is a Thorne," Nia offers.
"I am not engaging her?  I am not... exciting her?"
"Remember my dear Duke. She is a Thorne. What they like is very different from what we like.  Except for Orks.  I like Orks."
"She... likes Orks?" Haroun sounded troubled.
"Yes she does," Nia smiles. "And she likes taking ships to Orks, and that is why we are here today."
"She isn't just doing this because she likes my ship, does she?"
"Going to the Orks? I think she likes the Orks too. That's why I was called.  I am a scholar," Nia.
Haroun smiles and suggests that Nia can educate him on Orks.  Nia asks him about the interesting Ork that changes shape and Haroun struggles to find the words to continue.

Down below, Seran is bothered that Nia has not swung down.  She had expected the other to follow her but instead finds Vassal after Vassal swinging down. She then feels a cold presence nearby.  Turning, she finds a man standing directly behind her.  The servant is dressed in black with a white outline lining the clothes.  The figure is obviously male, tall and by tall he stands a full head taller than the tallest ven Seran knows, thin to the extent that his cheek bones protrude outwards and his mouth seem trapped in a leathery smile, and he is undeniably creepy.  There is an eagerness on his face to serve that she could not place.  His voice is a high-pitched whisper and its slithers out of his papery dry skin as his lips nearly crack to form the words,  "I wish to serve you."
"Whose servant are you?" Seran asks, "What is your role here in this castle?"
"I wish to serve you."
"Then perhaps you can call your mistress to come here and greet her guests."
Even the other Vassals are disturbed by the figure, hiding behind Seran as they notice it.  Even Nia's Nomads pull away from the man.
"Servant, what is your name?"
"I wish to serve you," the servant replies.
Seran stares at the man and realizes he is clearly not ven. So it must be an Ork... Seran remains unsure what he is, but she is certain he is not one of Isolde's nor Elesa's Staff.
"I wish to serve."
"What can you do?" Seran asks and in response the thing grins even more.

Back above, Haroun explains how he cannot help but feel an immense fear when he sees the Orks.   Nia tries to comfort him, telling him he has just not yet come to appreciate the beauty that Orks possess in their strangeness and their variety.  Haroun admits he sees why Seran likes Nia, given how strange she is.  "We can make her like you as well," Nia smiles.  But Haroun panics when the crew nearly lift out a bed-sized thing from the deck.   He tells the crew not to lift it and whispers to Nia that it is a present to be given to formalize one's... intentions.

"A dowry..." Nia asks.

Haroun shares it was a practice of the Northern Tribes when the man wishes to be attached to the woman.  It is a gift meant to represent him.  A test to see if she will accept that.  Nia shares the Nomads that serve her call such things a dowry.  A present.  Haroun offers to give Nia one answer to what the thing is, and Nia inspects the box and notes the ropes that require around eight men to use the pulleys to bring it back down. "As much as I want to know, I think it is safer I don't.  Because if Seran gets curious, and she will, she may come to me and ask.  I would not ruin your surprise."  Haroun sees the point of the statement and admits to being jealous of their friendship.

***

Back below, Seran stands her ground as the servant leans close enough that its cheek is nearly against her own cheek.  It whispers, "I can serve you.  For blessings.  For knowledge.  For more."  When Seran asks which Suaven it is from, or if it is a Suaven to name itself.  It answers in the most disturbing way: it rubs its cheek against hers.  Seran remains unmoving, holding on to her pride.

"You are not Avendi," she tells it.
"You are not Artemisia," it responds then walks back into the tower.
Seran turns to the servant hiding behind her and tells her, "Tell Isolde that Afhil is here."  Seran chooses to shadow the servant in white.

***

"So he is known as the Grinning man?" Dranna Ru asks Jaric and he shows her that is what the papers say.  He stresses how they are delicate.  "Why would there be documents of the Grinning Man mixed with the documents on Talia?"

Jaric admits he does not know.  He admits he could come up with different categories of lesser importance, or origin, or... but then he notices that more servants enter the room.  Jaric is bothered given he was aware only two were allowed in the room at a time. Now there were four.....  then six....  He wonders if Isolde had commanded them to do something.

"This is her castle, now." Jaric admits.  And when Dranna Ru asks if he is a stickler for rules, he starts rambling about the history of how rules were brought into play.  Dranna Ru addresses Jaric as "Lord Jaric" and admits she is landless and that he outranks him.  "Then attend to me," he tells her, "As we go through these documents."   Dranna Ru admits the papers are probably from different places.

"What are all these servants doing here?" Jaric begins to feel exasperated.  "There is a considerable number of them now.  We are well over the limit!"  It does not help that the servants are all clad from head to toe in white cloth.   "Leave!  Leave!  All of you, leave!"

Two more step in, then close the door behind them.

"Make them go away," Jaric hisses.  Dranna Ru fingers her earring and attempts to hear the Whispers of what these servants fear.  But she realizes she cannot get a "read" on him!  Jaric walks up to one by the door, annoyed and near his limits as he speaks the Low Tongue to ask, "Do.  You.  Understand.  Go. Away."

The door opens.
All the servants turn to face the door to see the newcomer.   The servant is in similar clothing, only instead of white it is all black, trimmed with white.  His face, a menacing grin.
"Do you understand?" Jaric hisses.
"I am here to serve," the grinning servant responds.
"Serve?  Then make them go away!  Are you captain of the staff?  General of the house?  Make them go away!"

At the corner, Seran sees the open door.  He can hear Jaric's infuriated attempts to command the servants to leave.  Sliding in, she sees the grinning thing before them and keeps her sword half drawn.  She slips past the thing, and herds them away from the black-dressed thing.  "I think its a Suaven," she tells them, uncertain of what to call it.  Jaric contests the term.  The grinning thing stares at Dranna Ru as they slip past and mutters, "Still not her."

"It's looking for Galeo," Seran explains and when Jaric asks why it is looking for her, Seran explains Galeo is in the airship with them.  She explains they had to pick her up to bring her with them.  Jaric, confused, admits he did not even know they had left.  Clearly, his time poured over the papers made him oblivious to everything else.
"It's one of the Fashuva," Dranna Ru gasps, "One of the Fallen Suaven!"
"I think so," Seran agrees, "It was offering me blessings."  She is determined to follow it.  Dranna Ru questions how it could be walking when all Suaven should be in their dreaming sleep.  Jaric rambles about what the Fallen Suaven are, but Seran ignores him and leaves to follow it.
"Well, that was rude," Jaric mutters.  But with that, the servants leave the room - which elicits a "Finally!" from Jaric.

"I still don't understand," Dranna Ru begins, only to be interrupted by Seran, "I don't either!"
"Fear," Dranna Ru explains, "It knows our fear."  Seran however will not be hindered.  "I fear nothing," comes her reply.  "One should face one's fear."
"I think it knows the ones we cannot face," Dranna Ru admits.
"Then we have to get out of here," Seran replies as they continue to follow the servants down the corridors, "Why are you here anyway?"
"I'm here to support my brother," Dranna Ru explains.
"Who is your brother?"
"Haroun," comes her reply.  "I need to inspect the woman she has fallen for if she truly loves him back."
Seran skids to a stop in shock while Dranna Ru continues running, intent to find Isolde.   Seran slows down to a brisk walk and shadows the Fashuva.

***

As Nia reaches the landing platform, she finds all the servants chattering about the earlier event.  Upon seeing the noblewoman, they go silent.  "The lady Seran has gone ahead," one informs her.  "I was supposed to say more, but I cannot remember."  As Nia asks what happened, the many servants starts responding tensely.  She asks them to calm down and speak one at a time and soon hears how creepy and tall the figure was.  She tells them to stay at the platform while she will go and look for Seran.

***

Galeo rises to the deck level and finds Haroun there.  Haroun greets her a good afternoon and she greets back.  She notices Haroun seems to be hiding something behind him, adjusting his position to block her line of sight each time she moves a bit.  He expresses the surprise is not for her and admits he would rather no one knew what it was.

"Is that an Ork behind you?" Galeo teases and Haroun looks behind him quickly to check if there is one!  This gives Galeo an opportunity to glimpse past Haroun.  She sees the vehicle is larger than the size of a bed.  The device is definitely large enough to be a vehicle.  Haroun asks if the visit back home went well and admonishes that she has not spoken to anyone about what happened there.

"There's something different about the way you dress," Haroun realizes and ends up getting confused that Galeo looks feminine today.  He is confused if its an artist performance piece.    He offers to escort her down, and she tells him he is ready to be escorted down.  Haroun's servants, on his cue, carry her down to the tower.

***

Nia sees the "goddess" descending and asks, "So you are pretending to be a woman today?"  Galeo replies, "I am a woman."  Nia admits its an interesting turn of events.  But not as interesting as how Seran had met someone strange and Nia suggests that Galeo should leave the servants at the platform in case they need to evacuate.  When Galeo asks why would there be a need to evacuate, Nia reminds her, "Why did we evacuate last time?  These," she motions to her nomads, "..are not for show.  Let's go find them."

The two move down the corridor, travelling past many paintings and torches upon wall sconces.  Nia asks Galeo what she thinks of Haroun and Galeo feels Haroun is more a coward than not.  "So much more could have been done."  As Nia shares more of her plans to help Haroun and Seran get together, Galeo cannot help but appreciate her plans.  "You are so devious," she tells the Serpent.

The discussion shifts to Lukas, Seran's spouse, who is not Blooded.  The fact brings Galeo some pause.  They notice a painting, one they've walked past before.  Galeo looks at the painting and calls it amateur work.  The painting shows a landscape with people defecating within the street.   Looking back, both could still see the archway leading to the platform where the airship is docked.  They had been walking a straight path.  "It seems we have... looped back?"
"I do not recall taking a turn," Nia shakes her head.
Galeo touches the painting and notices it is wet. The paint is sticky and far from dry.  "Oh, it is malleable," Galeo grins, "Perfect.  I always carry a brush."  Galeo feels the need to rework the painting to something far more... appropriate.  Nia, however, senses something is terribly wrong.

***

Seran continues following the figure she suspects to be Afhil.  As it turns a blind corner, Seran finds the figure waiting for her.    She attempts to claim they happened to just be going the same way, but it asks her instead again, "Will you want me to serve?"  Seran turns down the invitation and informs it she already is devoted to other Suaven.  She tries asking it questions, and it claims that Galeo had called it.  She denies Galeo would do such a thing, but when Seran's words anger the thing, she finds its eyes widen and somehow the world around her grows darker.

She finds herself reliving one of her greatest fears.
There was a day she explored a ruin with Lukas and the others.  The orks had attacked them and killed all the other vassals save for Seran and Lukas.  As Seran draws her blades, she realizes the corridor is gone.  She is back in that same cavern, reliving the events as the orks tear into her.  She struggles to call her Courage to the fore, hoping to recall that this is just some kind of perverse sorcery.   But her courage fails her and she finds herself screaming as the beasts cripple her knees.  As she strikes at the thing with her blade, she instead hears Lukas howl.  She turns to see Lukas pinned by the orks, their fanged maws clamped on each arm.  The orks pull back, ripped each arm from its sockets.


Seran screams.

***

The man in black circles Seran.  Its grin never fades.  It inflicts upon Seran four visions of pain, keeping her lost in the terrible vision.  The grinning man kisses Seran on the cheek, leaving her a gift only he can give.

***

Back in the room, Jaric continues his reading.  He hears a voice and looks up to find Isolde in the room.  She seems to be wondering where all the vassals have gone.  Jaric tries to explain that they all left after the "squire" showed up, describing him as the tall black one.  However, Isolde does not seem to know what he is talking about.  "Let's start over, because you clearly are not talking about my seneschal, the Dara."  Jaric slips into another ramble as he discusses the history of the term, seneschal.  She then confuses the reference to a man in black to mean the Vashna and Jaric once more slips into a ramble about the history of the term Vashna.  Isolde is surprised to learn that the guests have already arrived and draws out the broken piece of pearl she has.  She attempts to reach out to Haroun using it.

Scribbling and sketching into his notes, Jaric realizes the thing resembles that which Galeo has.  Jaric tries asking her where she got the artifact, but she ignores the question and tells him that the servants at the receiving port have seen the man in black as well.  Jaric, however, feels drawn more to ask more about the pearl instead.  "I must say, if you don't mind, Countess.  The servants here must learn to speak better."

Isolde is angry about the servants vanishing.  She mutters something about inheriting hundreds of them and suddenly they are gone.

***

Back at the corridor with the paintings, Galeo has used her brush to change the people in the painting into geese.  Nia grabs Galeo's brush, however, and changes the people in the painting into orks.  Galeo is scandalized, and finds herself shocked that Nia actually does have a talent for such beauty.   The orks Nia had painted fit the painting better than Galeo's geese.  Galeo is forced to give a compliment on how her amateur work is not so bad.  Nia keeps the brush, realizing it has an orichalcum body.  Galeo draws the other one and laments how it was such an ugly painting.

A few steps forward, however, the two realize the see the painting again.  Looking back, at the end of the corridor, they still see the servants there.  Galeo stays put as Nia walks back.    A side door opens and servants in white come into view, approaching Galeo from a spot Nia could not see.  Nia stands at the periphery close to where the servants are, and checks the closest painting to her.  The painting is the original defecating painting once again.

As Galeo moves to follow Nia, the servants hesistate and stay where they are.  But as Galeo makes her journey back to Nia, she finds more and more side corridors that reveal the white servants waiting out of view.  Galeo attempts to use her sardonic wit to get the white figures to admit what they want.   "Is there something important you want to do for me?"

The servants bow their heads and motion that they are not permitted to speak.  The second one conveys that they wish to guide her.

"I can't believe this, here I am the Artist, reduced to miming."

Nia asks her who she is talking to and Galeo tells her she is talking to the two figures in white.  Nia tells her, "That's just a painting."  In Nia's eyes, the painting shows two figures in white in a corridor.  But for Galeo, the two servants are using blessing of Talia's wordless communication.  Galeo insists Nia come to her side to see what she sees.

*Who?* the servants sign.

When Galeo turns to Nia, she realizes she now sees a painting.  Galeo slams into the wall and discovers it instead is a painting for Nia in a corridor.  The paint is wet too.  Galeo uses her brush to alter the painting, adding animals and things to it.

Nia finds herself tired of the illusions and paintings, and calls upon Tyan Bran to show her the softest spots.  Focusing on the painting with the shitty streets, Nia closes her eyes and steps forward... through the painting.  She finds herself in the warm stench of defecation.  She can hear the warm, splattering sounds as they splatter all around.  As she opens her eyes, she realizes the smell is that of rot. The wet sounds are the sounds of her feet against the thick coagulated blood inches deep in the corridor.  There are eight dead rotting bodies of ven around her.  She finds Galeo seemingly lost in her thoughts, smiling as she seems to be "painting the air."

***

Galeo is happy with the revisions she has made on the painting.  "If only she saw herself the way others saw me," Galeo muses.  She turns to the corridor with the two figures in white and finds instead there are now four of them.    She starts to wonder... a puzzle house?  Was the castle a puzzle house?

"How do I solve you," Galeo asks meekly.
The four figures in white raise their hands.  They point at an empty corridor where Nia used to be.  Galeo trusts her courage and walks forward into it.  Galeo feels movement behind her, and turns to find what is now six white figures standing behind her.  Two reach for her arms, hoping to hold her in place, but Galeo fights back with her orichalcum brush.  She jabs it into the arm of one of the servants, hitting where she knows it would hurt.  The brush tears into the palm of the figure, paint streaking from the puncture point.  The four others hesitate.

"You are nothing but poorly made art!"  Galeo hisses.

***

Nia seesm to find Galeo pantomiming in place, jabbing her brush at something in the air.   Nia tries something on Galeo.  Galeo hears a loud *snap* then awakes to find herself in a terrible corridor marked by death and decay.  Nia tells her she's now seeing the true corridor, and the two see the bodies scattered on the floor.

Looking at the bodies, Nia recalls the servants are dressed as Elesa and Isolde's servants.  Galeo wonders if this is some kind of mass grave.  Nia suggests however that the host merely did not opt to clean the place out.  "Those are Elesa's..."

"Prepare for leaving," Haroun's voice carries down the corridor.

"I think we should go," Nia agrees.  Galeo and Nia hurry back the way they came.  Haroun walks towards them, not seeing the bodies, and asks, "I thought you've gone ahead?"  "We did," Nia explains and motions at the corridor, "But we found it like this."  Haroun however now sees the paintings, commends the clean corridor, and sees nothing of the corpses.  Galeo muses to somehow learn to do that in her own castle someday.  And true enough, after Haroun talks about seeing "Nia's painting"  on the wall, he loses himself.  Nia uses the same technique to break Haroun from the effect, and he starts telling them about seeing a painting of an Airship falling from the sky.    But now freed from the effect, he sees the corpses and realizes things are going wrong.

***

Seran's eyes open.
Her heart pounds so painfully fast.  She coughs and tries to regain her breath and composure.  She looks at the floor and finds her two swords there.  She cannot find the Grinning Man anymore.  She does, however, hear Isolde's voice talking about servants having disappeared.  She moves towards the voice and finds herself retracing her steps back to the room where she found Jaric.

Jaric has rolled up the papers into a carry-worthy manner and has started to gingerly lock them up in scroll cases.  One page flutters out, and he realizes there seems to be some kind of draft happening.     He remembers that the airship is already there and opts to secure the scrolls onboard.

Seran starts to realize that the state of the castle is not as well-kept as she recalled seeing it.  She realizes that most of the castle is illuminated only by sunlight.  Most of the sconces are actually not lit.  And she finds a rotting body on the ground, dry and decaying, in a corridor she recalls having walked through earlier.  She bypasses the body, intent to head back to where the airship is docked.  Flight is the priority in her mind, now.

Jaric finds the servants again.  The figures in white, who watch him as he walks past them.  As he clambers up a stairwell, he realizes the place is far too quiet.  He hears sounds of conversation at times, but when he'd focus on that direction, he'd realize the source shows only an empty room.  A dusty corridor.

Seran finds Isolde against the wall, hands covering her face.  Isolde stares at Seran, terror in her eyes as she approaches.  When Seran addresses Isolde, the noblewoman stares at Seran worriedly and draws her Bloodsword.  "You are real?!!"  Seran tries to explain she is real and that they have to get out of the castle.

"What was his name," Isolde demands Seran to answer, "The man we all served?"

"Fyx," Seran replies.  Isolde drops the blade, panicked and confused.  She wants to get out.  Seran tells Isolde to pick up her sword, and the two find more servants slowly approach them.  As the white figures step towards them, they begin unraveling the cloth around them.  Underneath the cloth, the servants turn out to be ven.  Dead lifeless bodies of ven.

Isolde responds by slicing her palm open to smear a circle of blood around her on the ground.  Seran grabs the bloodsword from the ground and realizes what these dead bodies are!   Seran strikes with the Bloodsword, cutting off faces of the nearby servants.  The bodies crumble to the ground as their faces are cleaved free.  "I'll be safe," Isolde tells Seran, "Go!"

"You're coming with me," Seran tells her but finds she cannot break the Circle of Protection around Isolde, "Come with me!"    Isolde is convinced, breaks the Circle of Protection, and the two leap away from the other servants closing in.  With the Bloodsword, Seran murders her way through them, "I don't even need Falvyn Dyr!"

But the servants that are away from Seran begin grabbing hold of each other.  They begin entangling themselves together, coiling limbs and parts as they slowly roll into larger forms.  They are the dead ven bodies from the ruins below.  The servants are those ven bodies that composed that massive Ork!

***

Jaric is wondering if the ship is departing, seeing the people rushing to board.  But as he approaches, he sees Dranna Ru along the way.  "Where have you been?  Running after Seneschals?"   He finds her standing between a shelf and a small alcove, a space where a shine could have been built.  Her eyes widen as Jaric comes closer, and she warns him to hide before the servants see him!   A rumbling sound gets closer.

Dranna Ru pulls him to hide in the alcove with her and suddenly the scroll case slips from Jaric's hand and tumbles to the ground.  The rumbling gets louder.    Further down the corridor, two ball-like figures come into view.  They bounce against each other, then start sniffing at each other, as if attempting to identify what the other is.  Thankfully, the ven realize the alcove they have hidden in has burnt offerings.

More rumblings close in.

The two whisper options, considering how to get past the things.  Dranna Ru is on the verge of breaking.  She fumbles with a broken piece of pearl.  One bodied ball rolls to the alcove's opening.  It unfurls like a flower, revealing three ven heads.  The three start sniffing the air, searching.  Searching.  Jaric clamps his hand around the blade's hilt.  His heart begins to pound in his chest.

Dranna Ru asks Jaric to deliver a message to her brother, and pushes the pearl into his hand.  It is wet with her blood.  He hears Haroun's voice in his head as he asks, "Dranna?  Is that you Dranna?"  But Jaric then hears Dranna Ru screaming, "Here!"  and he realizes she's drawing them away.  Jaric watches as the orks tumble after Dranna Ru, and takes that opportunity to recover the scroll case and run for the ship.

***

Haroun helps Isolde and then sees Seran.  He kisses her on the forehead and admits he is thankful she is safe.  Seran, however, is more worried about the others and finds Jaric in the corridor arriving as well.  Jaric tells Haroun that he needs him to help him find Dranna Ru's brother.  "We have to tell him to run."

Jaric hears Haroun's voice in his head as Haroun calls out for his sister.  He fails to connect that Dranna Ru is Haroun's sister.  They are all distracted as stone crumbles and the tower shakes.  Seran grabs Jaric by the scruff and forces him to climb up faster.  The tower trembles more and the group all rush to get away.

Down below, the dead bodies of the ven begin spilling out from the windows and doors and cracks.  The things begin emerging out like fleshy fingers that attempt to clamber up to the ship.  Haroun continues to stare down the corridor, waiting for Dranna Ru to appear.  Seran jumps back down to grab him.  Nia watches as she drops.

"Haroun, we have to go," Seran yells as she swings down to him.

"This is most unusual," Jaric admits.

"Would you leave her if she was your sister?"  Haroun challenges.
"Would you go in there even if she was yours?  There is nothing left of this castle!" she retorts.
"There's the gift," Haroun responds... "Take the ship. I shall find you, after I find her.  Now go.  Tell them to drop the gift and I will follow you afterwards.  I swear we will see each other come spring."

But Seran keeps hold of him. "I won't leave you to do it alone."  She feels the intensity of his rank over hers, but she steadies herself to answer back.  

"You don't tell me what to do," Seran hisses.  "If you are going in there, I am coming with you.  Otherwise, we both leave this place."

Haroun stares at her.  Their eyes lock. The Ork closes in.
"What about Lukas," Haroun asks.
"That is neither here, nor there.  We are talking about YOUR life here."
"No, Lukas can help," Haroun explains.
"Yes.. but we don't have time. He's not with us!"

Haroun stares at the corridor again and admits, "Then we have to come back..."  The two rush up to the deck, and he tells the crew to circle the castle and to "Raise the gift."  Haroun tells the servants to prepare the slope.  They all see that the gift opens to reveal what looks like a tinier airship.    "I was supposed to wait for the right moment, but my sister's life is at stake.  Will you accept this?"

"Haroun, I cannot marry you.  But I will help you find your sister," Seran replies.

"I understand," Haroun admits, "It is too soon."  As he leans close to kiss her, Seran pulls back.  She dodges the kiss.  "This can only however carry two," Haroun admits, "If you ride with me, we cannot carry her back."

"We will find a way," Seran admits, "Because if you ride alone, you will not be able to approach the orks."  Then a moment of realization, "But if I ride alone.  I can do this."

He shows her how to control the ship, depresses the button that ignites the engine.  He quickly shows her which switches to use to pilot the vessel.  She holds her hand out as she asks, "How will I communicate with you?"  She hopes he will give her a pearl.

He instead pulls the level that launches her airborne.
The propelled glider follows the ship, and the two maneuver away from the tower in time to avoid the massive Ork's reach.  The Ork's immense Terror imposes itself upon the ven.  Many are forced to seek refuge or security below deck.    Like human army ants, the things crawl around each other, searching to extend their reach.

*Why do I feel this*

Seran realizes as she swoops past a window that she can feel the intense fear of someone there.  The sensation of a tremor in her heart grows strong as she glides close to the window, then fades as she zooms past.

Haroun watches through a spyglass to see Seran continuing the search.  He focuses his attention on her.  Seeing the ranch, Seran opts to land there believing the level ground would be perfect to safely land.  The fear.  She feels it getting stronger towards the window.  Seran plots the landing in her thoughts as she makes her descent towards the ranch.

"No," Haround mutters.

Nia stares down and sees Seran's descent to the ranch.  She notices Seran fails to see the window of the balcony open.  She fails to see Dranna Ru running away from the grinning man.  She fails to see her rushing for the balcony, but the man in black reaches for her.

In Seran's heart, she hoped the others could do something.  But acting as a lure to the Orks, the ship was just too far away.   Nia shoves one of the escape baskets overboard, but tied to the ship, to dangle as low as possible.

But ultimately, all of them are just too far from the balcony.

The Ork shifts in shape, reaching out to grab the vessel, but the vessel is just too far.

Dranna Ru is at the edge of the balcony.  The Grinning Man is almost upon her.

"Dranna Ru!" Seran screams, "Here!" she rushes as fast as she could to the area below the balcony.  But Dranna Ru falls, and she falls..

Seran and Dranna Ru feel their hands touch...

but she is just...

too...

far.

Haroun screams.  The massive Ork is now casting a shadow upon them all as it falls.  The ship swerves away as the ork falls like a massive fleshy waterfall.   The clouds of dust erupt from the ground as the tower crumbles.   Seran rushes back to the glider, hoping to launch back up.  She wants to glide into the ruins, but the dust clouds are just too large.  Too blinding.  Too choking.

Dranna Ru and the castle of Ul are gone.

***

Haroun silently drops them all off at their own places.

Nia gives Haroun something.  She attempts to hand Haroun the mirror. But Haroun tells him to keep it.
Isolde is catatonic, and Nia has her stay with her til Spring.

Seran tries to apologize.  But Haroun refuses to accept it.  Or accept Seran's desire to return the glider.  He simply leaves, leaving her the glider and her regrets.

Galeo feels she can create a better glider.  She pulls Hero closer too.  And they both feel a renewed passion between them.

Jaric still is uncertain of what happened, having been below the deck for most of the final hour.  All he knows is, he wishes he had Dranna Ru's earring.
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