Friday, June 5, 2015

After the Rain ep27 : Houses of the Blooded

01/18/2015
After the Rain

Episode Twenty Seven
"Duels"

Houses of the Blooded

Spring.  The Althua made to look like winter continues, a celebration of the Blooding of Jessie Jalan, Duchess of Tamal.  The presence of the long missing/Solace Galeo Silja caught many by surprise... and this was something her sister Merea, now Nerea Silja, definitely could not ignore.  The two had confronted each other and their exchange lead to a declaration for a duel, with Cassalanter suggesting the duel best continue in the morning.   Uvanla Yvarai's quest to locate Lucas and reunite her with Seran, a promise his father made, remains incomplete.  Zhivali Ru's letter to Cassalanter has not been handed over.

The group is gathered with the many other guests at the banquet, and discussions are tossed back and forth.   Some interesting things are noted:  The Man in Yellow is no longer in the Banquet.  The Senate has yet to call for a session this Season.  Some of the bottles of wine being served have clearly been spiked with Foxwine.  Maja Thayl's attention seems to be focused on Uvanla, the son of Count Kether.  And there seems to be an above average number of Wolves present.   The Duchess Jessie Jalan thanks people in the audience, and thanks Maja for the Althua though it was not necessary.  She then thanks Cassalanter Steele whose friendship has always been appreciated even if she has done nothing to earn it.  Cassalanter is internally surprised that Jessie refers to her as a friend and with her half-glazed eyes she motions her thanks back.  Jessie tells all that because of the friendship, Cassalanter is receiving half of the presents they have given her.  This shocks many of those present.   
Maja continues the night's events with one more activity: a small game.  Eight contestants are called for.  While most focus on that, the group realize that someone has approached Cassalanter's table, waiting to be acknowledged.  When acknowledged, the lady shares some pleasantries with Cassalanter and it turns out to be Baroness Ravi, a Serpent, and her family has been trying to set Cassalanter up with her brother for the longest time.  They talk about the brother and Cassalanter breaks into the laugh upon learning he is dead.  The foxwine seems to be affecting her heavily.  The man was decapitated when he explored a Puzzle house.   They never recovered the head.  Gillian Burghe holds a wooden smile on her face, especially when Ravi talks about wanting Cassalanter to hold the land her brother had lost.  "If he cannot have you in love, perhaps he can have you in wealth."  Supposedly there would be no need for marriage, and that a nobleman above them will recognize it.  The land even has an Opera House, a Puzzle House, four farms, two mountains, a shoreline and a shrine to Galeo.  Supposedly the brother gained a relic from her while he watched the piece called The Riddle of Blood.   Ravi asks if Cassalanter will accept it.  She needs an answer before the Senate hearing.  They are starting to wonder if Maja intentionally set the party to have last-minute deals before the Senate gathers.  She is clearly moving many pieces once again for a greater goal she cannot see.

In the distance, Maja begins a game with some papermache head being tossed around and whoever drops it loses.  Rio Balan leaves the group to join the game.  As they play, those who drop the head are eliminated.  They hear the sound of glass shattering each time the head drops to the ground.  When asked why, they learn from Maja that the head is filled with poison!  And with each drop, the glass shatters separating the different poisons, having more mix together.   Someone backs out in tension, and Rio Balan joins in. Maja looks shocked to see Rio join but they continue to play the game.  More and more throws and drops happen.  More contestants leave.  Each time Rio catches it, she actually smacks it on the ground to break more layers, then throws it back!  More and more back away from the game.  Then it is thrown back at Rio by a Wolf who smiles at her.  Rio flings it back and she caches it without shattering it.   However, some of the poison splatters at the person nearby.  The poison now leaks all over the head.  Maja applauds and calls for the personal guards to drag away those who had been knocked unconscious.  Down to the two of them, Maja suddenly calls for blindfolds.  Rio realizes she can see through hers!  The Wolf tosses the head and Rio catches it with the handkerchief in her hands.  Rio walks across to her opponent, takes off the blindfold, and tell her her blindfold was not as effective as it could have been, then holds the Wolf's hand.  She gives the opponent back the head for another throw.  "Dame Rio, let it be known that your actions reflect the House of Cassalanter."  People applaud.  The Wolf smashes the head on the ground and walks away, angered by the turn of events.  Maja vows to know who is tampering with the event.

Ash Jalan realizes he feels tremendously uncomfortable with the wolves around them.  He isn't quite sure why, but he feels there are far too many gathered in the area.  He begins counting them.  Too nervous, he stands and approaches the Baroness Ravi to invite her to dance.  She admits she would be delighted.  Ash uses this as a chance to dance with her and dance away from the wolves.  They talk of Uvanla  and she admits she met him and he seeks an airship.  Ravi admits it is a tragedy that the secrets of airships vanished with the death of Haroun Q'n.  Ravi turns out was the one who suggested he seek out Cassalanter given her relations to Galeo and Haroun.

Among the new faces to emerge are a woman and bearded man who watch from the sides the unfolding events.  The woman, it is soon revealed, is named Artemesia by the man beside her.  They both seem concerned about Cassalanter and are just happy to see she is well.

Gilian finds Uvanla Yvarai enjoying the banquet and standing alone.  He is indulging on the food.  They notice a plate of cookies from a Zhivali Ru.  Gilian suggests they eat something else.  Nerea has accepted Uvanla to be one of her vassals, the General/Mayor/Seneschal like how Nia Jalan once gave Merea such a post.  He was offered an airship, but Gilian questions if she really has one.   When they talk about Nerea's challenge with Galeo, he admits being bothered by Tulpas, especially those that last longer than a week.  He does mention Nerea's lands are filled with Swamps, and this makes Gilian wishing they had just resources.

Among the guests is a feisty lady who recognizes Cassalanter.  She is Galeo, and was named after Cassalanter's mother.  She has not been Blooded yet, but they seek to have her Blooded under the House Silja.  She claims to have been the sister of the one Galeo had adopted in the years back.  Cassalanter gets lost in her thoughts again, talking to the voices in her head.  The others try to pretend they do not see it happening.  Gilian approaches Nerea and offers her wine.  She asks about how she is given the confrontation earlier, and Nerea seems lost in her thoughts, answering only "Yes" and "Sure" the whole time.   Gilian stares at her, expecting her to gossip first.  But even then, all Nerea does is say "Yes" and "Sure."   Gilian suspects its a Tulpa.

Gilian later returns with a glass of wine in her hands. They gathered in Cassalanter's given chamber for the Althua.   Cassalanter asks them to keep their eyes open for any opportunities to help their land.  "I respect Maja for everything she has ever done, and still remain relevant even at this age," is one of the unexpected statements she throws out in her Foxwine-haze.  Gilian ops to stay nearby to watch over Cass.   Before Rio leaves, Gilian comes up to her and hands her a bottle of win, "To help you sober up."     Rio hands it back as she mumbles, "There is much that is wrong with you, sister."  Gilian  tries offering Cass a remedy for the foxwine she had been drinking, but even Cass seems to be enjoying herself too much.  Gilian ends up pouring a glass for herself instead.

Rio and Ash head to the village nearby.  The village in Jessie's Province turns out to be called Rumors.  Nightlife is alive as the Vassals come out to enjoy a few hours away from their Mistresses and Masters.  Ash asks Rio if this means they are here to "Investigate Rumors."  They find a large area in the village containing a Stable.  Eventually they visit the Red Room and gain accommodations there.  The place it turns offers more exotic services.  Rio is shown the selection of men to choose from.  Ash is shown his own selection of women.  Ash opts for privacy and turns down having any company.  Ash is told the vassals bring pleasure without narcotics and instead do it with touch.  "Are they Serpents?" Ash asks, wondering what Sorcery these people use.  "Some of them are when aroused," comes the reply.  Ash opts for his own room and locks himself inside.  The beds are comfortable and tremendously soft.    Rio, on the other hand, wears her golden mask and wanders about.  She is curious to see who is about here as well.  She finds Zhivali Ru exiting the glass chamber with two men and two women.  Zhivali sees gold-masked Rio and invites her to join him.  Rio agrees.  "How far do you go?"  he asks her.   She admits she prefers to watch.  When he asks if she knows who he is, she admits she does.  "Then you know what I am capable of."

Rio understands come morning, neither of the four will still be alive.  And it is a truism that does extend beyond Ruk and Veth.

Dreams.  White strands capture and hold her down.  A gong resounds in the distance over and over.  Another figure watches and terror fills the heart.  Bleached white skin and an eternal smile.  The grinning man's red eyes are impossible to ignore.  Cassalanter wakes up from the nightmare with a start and finds Gilian nearby, arranging the bedside table.  Cass downs the wine to calm herself, but it no longer is sweetened with foxwine.

The morning is followed by a pathetic attempt of Uvanla Yvarai to lie about not spying, and the odd presence of cats in the area.    But not as odd as Rio's encounter with jugs in the Red Room, or Ash's encounter with Tavlim Steele and his trusty notebook.  Ash finds the old Ven's calculations frustration and curses him to never open his notebook again.  Gilian corners Uvanla and attempts to ask more about what is going on, but he insists to explain things only once they are private.  Gilian blackmails Uvanla to agree to be Cassalanter's Seneschal in return for her silence.  Gilian walks off, smiling at her success.

The morning, however, does bring Nerea's challenge to Galeo for a duel back into the forefront, and she proclaims a default win unless someone champions her.  Cass rises to be her "family's honor's keeper."  Many think it is part of the events.  Nerea claims to have been Insulted when "Galeo" accused her of Murder.  She asks if this solidifies her victory and innocence or not, given Cass is either standing to congratulate her or to challenge her.  Cass declares she comes to challenge her, so Maja Thayl comes forth to preside in the Duel.  Noting their lack of swords, Maja offers Cass a sword.  Nerea plunges her hands into her skirt to reveal blades.  "I dressed for this."

Dalvinosh Steele watches from the distance.  Rio watches him in return.  The Duel begins, with Cass setting the terms to first blood.  But Nerea is Disarmingly Cunning, and she Reads More Than She Shows.  Rio calls out to Cass, asking if she still requires a sword.  The Wolves see Rio is offering a Bloodsword.  Ash warns Cass of the hat.  "If she wore it in this occasion, it is obviously a trap."  When Cass asks for a sword from Rio, Rio walks up to her and whispers to her earn a few words to guide her in the fight.  "The swords held by Nerea are a feint.   Her true sword is the one attached to her dress.  Once she draws that, she is no longer pinned by her dress and she will move blindingly quick! You must defeat her before that point. Or deny her that release."

But that's when she throws an unexpected stroke of Cunning.  Nerea declares, "Let us see you face and wound a Marquese."  Cass realizes their titles are not equal.  And such a wound may be seen as an act against the Title, rather than the complaint.  But Cass reminds her she is a Steele.  "I am still a Steele.  I will do what I must. It is what the noblest of families must do."

"Then so shall I," Nerea, "I am certain your mother will be proud of you for what you are doing, given you are NOT Silja. Come at me."   Cass moves, believing Nerea does not anticipate her move.  She moves to Strike and Nerea moves to defend.  The probing strikes are kept from connecting with Nerea's clearly dominant Prowess.  She then binds their blades together in a sudden move.  During the lock, Nerea questions Cass if she is certain about defending her mother's memory this way given she never even bothered to become a Fox just like her.  Cass counters that she was always judged for the company she keeps.  "There is family, and there is Family."

"Then you defend a Memory and not the woman everyone else knows," Nerea releases the bind and backs away.  Cass questions that statement aloud, allowing all to hear that she might be defending someone she never met.  How everyone knows Galeo entered Solace while she was but a babe.  Nerea asks if she is defending a BROTHER she never knew.   Cass admits she defends the choices of one who let's me be so, because she knows her mother loves her so and would have wanted her to have so many things.

"Except... that," Nerea suggests, Galeo would not have approved of Cass being an Elk.  Cass tries to ask for a childhood memory to strike Nerea back, but instead hears in her head Galeo wishing Cass was an artist instead.  Nerea talks about the list of things Galeo did for what she believed in, including boring a son, losing a daughter, adopting an ork, and so much more.  "With that, the Steele insults the Silja.  This is the Legacy of Galeo Silja, a daughter who will insult the House of her own mother."

Nerea claims Cass may win this Duel.  She drops her swords.  "Show us how the Steele will insult the Silja."  Cass remembers Rio's warning, however, of the trick once her swords are down and remains defensive.  "Cut us Foxes down.  Given how the Elks have been acting, I am not surprised.  You have done it in the Senate halls. You might as well do it in Althuas."   Rio then realizes that Nerea is NOT using her trick.  She isn't planning to win.  Cass, however, does not see this.   She insists the Duel should end properly. Nerea admits she is still armed.  "All the Wolves know where."  Ash is a bit surprised she can see it too, but not quite grasping why given he is a Serpent.

Rio realizes how the Foxes have been losing seats in the Senate, and many have been losing their Titles as well.  While the Duel began with an attempt to defend Nerea's name from the Murder, she has taken Insult from the daughter of her sister proudly insulting the Silja name.    Insisting the duel will end properly, Cass remains still.  Nerea then strikes, throwing her hat that now is rimmed with razor edges!  Cass defends against the hat, parrying it.  It flies back towards Nerea and she catches it.  Cass closes in to strike, Nerea flings the hat away to allow the blade through.  As the blade thrusts into Nerea's skin, the hat clashes into something in the distance.  All turn to see it an inch from where Dalvinosh Steele was sitting.

"Declare it then.  Strip this Fox of her title and land," Nerea hisses at Cass then turns to all and announce, "I am guilty of Murder.  She has won the Duel.  You may announce your Complaint, Steele."

Cass declares that the Marquese had one point murdered he who would have been her brother.  Dalvinosh Steele asks if the Complaint is a Formal one that will come into Senate hands.  Cass declares she is satisfied for the outcome of the duel.  Cass, however, senses the advantage before her - as a Steele would - however she does stress once again there is family and there is Family.  She insists there will be no conflict between her and her aunt.  Nerea gasps.  Galeo would have felt cornered and dealt with this differently.  The matter is deemed settled by Dalvinosh Steele, "Which is good given the child was not Blooded. It was merely Property.  Now make amends."   Cass bows as graciously as she can.  Nerea stares at him stunned with rage.

Nerea and Cass leave, finding a renewed relationship.
Dalvinosh Steele mutters to himself that Cassalanter will be a problem.  The shadows on the wall begin to move away in response.   Rio sees this but keeps it to herself.


*

The bearded man with the short cropped hair talks to Ash about how terrible Bloodswords are in slicing away parts.  Ash wonders what the discussion is supposed to be, whether its a criticism on the weapons or praise.  The man claims to have never been a fan of them.  He prefers words rather than weapons.  "You don't look like a man who likes duels."

"Or you can say I have been in too many of them," Ash jokes back but sees the man is busy with a chain that ends with  a small pearl.    He excuses himself and hurries off.   He brings the pearl to his ear as he walks away.

*

"I admit, I expected trouble from that," Rio admits. "But I  guess we must remember, we do serve an Elk." Gilian and Ash and Rio see Uvanla arrive, wondering what he missed.  Gilian introduces him to them as their new Seneschal.  Uvanla agrees he will work for them in five days.  Rio ponders on the shadows and wonders if she should ask the one man who might know about these things:  Jaric Thayl.


*

Nerea tells Cass about how there are barely any Silja left in the Senate.  And their presence is only because of the Kether clan who have strong ties to Dalvinosh Steele.  "Time will come when you will have to decide: are you Steele, or are you Cassalanter?"

*

"Excuse me," a woman asks, but stops herself from asking Cass a question.  She then hurries off, whispering the word Artemesia into Cass' ear before she vanishes in the crowd.

















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