Tuesday, May 5, 2015

After the Rain ep26 : Houses of the Blooded

After the Rain

Episode Twenty Six
"The Next"

Houses of the Blooded

The story opens with a letter.  Spring has come.  The letter is from the Marquese, calling for the presence of Casselanter Steele to attend the Althua of the Marquese of Ledger, Maja Thayl.  The Althua is celebrating the Blooding of the Duchess of Tamal, Jessie Jalan.  While the Althua is a grandiose party, a simple gift is welcomed.  The letter ends with explicit instructions that it be disposed of by the Sagewrite, Ash Jalan.   Many parts of the castle stand in ruins due to the lack of staff.  In the distance, a volcano rumbles.  In the further distance, a group handles trouble as an ork rises from the ground to attack.  Almost invisible in the mist further off, a multi-leveled city with tall towers.

Rio Balan stares at her bloodsword,  Memories surge back on when she first received it from her mother, Nia Jalan.  The sword used to belong to Seran Thorne.  She was instructed never to give it back.   And even through two veilings, she had kept it.   The blade has become a part of Rio, who carries it without concern or fear.   She recalls one of her mentors, Maya Adrente, who helps teach her how to use the blade.  Maya explains the importance of the blade, more so back when she was still young.  In a show of how the Wolves master the blade, she tosses the blade up and catches it with the palm of her hand.  The blade never cuts Maya's skin.  "Some says the Blades themselves have learned to respect the Wolves in the last few years."  Rio asks how is it possible, and in response, Maya teaches her to discipline it.  The blade screams, shadows dancing on its surface.  But when Rio tries, blood is still drawn.  "In time, the wolf within you shall tame the blade," Maya reassures her.  Arrangements have been made to maneuver Rio to be under Cassalanter's service as her Master Swordswoman.  Rio, it seems, is intended to fulfill a grander scheme.

In another chamber, the Subtlewater, Gillian Burghe stares at the note from her liege, Casselanter who informs her she has nothing but Herbs to use for the Season.  The lack of a swamp is complicating things for them.  She considers creating Narcotics with the Herbs instead.  Before she could leave, whoever, she sees someone at the door.  The silhouetted figure ignores her call for its name.  Gillian notices, however, the cobweb-pattern on the cloak.  The figure leaves a vial on the ground for her, then pulls away.  By the time Gillian catches up, the woman is gone.  The vial seems to be a gift of Poison.  She calls out to the Whispers moving through the corridor, asking if they saw the person by her door.  Alas, none have.   She identifies the Poison to be Hemlock.  

In a large structure showing the different Olivanna, rock cracks and breaks.  The sigil of the Bear is brought down from the collection.  A man approves of the removal.  "We will need to balance what has been removed," Dalvinosh Steele affirms.

In the uninhabited wing with the art gallery, where canvasses hang from the walls with cobwebs all over, the messenger finds Ash Jalan inside telling the new arrival to avoid breaking the circle.  The messenger tells him Cassalanter wishes his presence, and he finds the interruption an annoyance.  "How will we make her great if we keep getting interrupted from our duties."  He tells the messenger to inform the Lady he will be with her shortly.   The spirit that he had trapped in the circle remains locked in place.   He dismisses the spectre, at least for now then breaks the circle.  As he moves to leave, he notices a single painting now uncovered.  The painting seems to have been vandalized with a bloody feather on it.  Not being interested in art, Ash walks off, but notices as he leaves the room the painting has been covered up again.

The visitor was found by the Murmurs and is presented before Cassalanter.  The Murmur admits he sensed the danger of the man's intent, so he took the liberty to disable him.  She asks if he fought back and inquires who fought first.  The Murmur admits he was trained to sense such things.  He drags into the chamber the Bloodsword of the "visitor" given it seems the Ruk no longer are able to lift the artifact weapons.   She decides to meet with this visitor with her other vassals.  She realizes the Sword suggests the visitor is a Wolf. Or worse, it might not be one.  "What sort of ven with a Bloodsword would be disarmed by a Ruk?"

Rio remembers the day she and Jessie found James Adrente's fallen body.  The anger and tears that marked Jessie's face erupt outwards as a scream.  Finding the closest thing to be a pile of white webbing, she charges at it and rips what she can away as she demands answers on who the Suaven is and why her brother was here.  Rio offers the Lady her Bloodsword.  Before Jessie can accept it, they both suddenly hear James let out a gasp for air.  He is alive!  Jessie tells Rio she needs her help to cast a Ritual, one intended to save James' life.    The act Jessie needed from Rio was for her to slice off one of Jessie's own arm.    Jessie tells Rio she needs her to watch over James and stay over him.  They even make arrangements with Maja Thayl to make sure Rio is always with James.  And to keep him safe.  And that they will not remember making this plan.  

Ash is given the letter sent to Cassalanter and finds it odd he be assigned to dispose of it.  Hearing from Gillian about the intruder that gave her the Poison, the group makes their way to meet with the "Visitor".  Ash unlocks a memory of a woman reminding him to burn the letter, triggered upon inhaling the scent upon the paper.  Ash recognizes the make of the vial of the poison as Gillian pulls it away from the others.  Ash recognizes it to be one of Jessie Jallan's.

The group arrives to discover the Visitor turns out to be a half naked man.  In nothing but his boots and pants, the man seems to have been disabled with his own clothes.  Clearly physically built and handsome, the man asks if Cassalanter liked the sword.  "I'd bow, but clearly I'm already on the floor."  Gillian exclaims he's not the intruder.  That she saw someone else.  "Uvanla Yvarai," the man introduces himself - and the group remembers the old word to mean 'The Right Moment of Opportunity to Kill'.   More interestingly, he claims to be the son of the late Count Kether.  When Cassalanter orders Rio to untie him from his own clothes, she instead uses her own Bloodsword to slice away the shirt.  Uvanla laments the loss of eight Seasons worth of work.  He claims the sword is Taltos and was offering it as a gift since his father was supposedly close friends with the owner of the blade.  He stresses that her mother, Galeo Silja, was supposedly insistent in keeping the sword away from her - so it seemed best that she take the blade back.  Cassalanter invites them inside and when he raises he's not dressed to be a proper guest, she gives him a hat to wear.  Uvanla has heard much of Rio's Prowess and her one-blade fabled night in an Opera house, of an Opera that is to never be done again.  And of a book never to be opened again.  He knows how while the rest of those present were screaming in fear, Rio stood ready to act.   Uvanla does not recognize Gillian and is surprised she is a Bear given the state of Shanri.  She admits she is Rio's sister and that they share a common father.  Ash directly asks what brings Uvanla here, given the Roadmen sensed his suspicious intent.  Uvanla admits he finds fascination among the Ruk.  He had to see how far the man would go to hurt him.   He commended the Ruk's skills.  They do tell Uvanla in the future perhaps he could simply send a messenger.

Cassalanter tries to communicate with her Vassals using The Invisible Tongue to ask if any of them can secure the place with the Rose Ritual, but sadly it seems none of them have learned it.  Rio stresses how unsecured the Castle is.  He hopes to be of service to her Castle, and in return he hopes to share the purpose of his visitor.  Cassalanter is not certain about Uvanla's sincerity given he claims to be landless yet wears high quality goods.  Gillian peers using Sorcery and finds Uvanla seems to reek of Sorcerer power.  He shares how Miralia Yvarai stripped him of his father's land and places her own name upon the lands.  He did this as an act of revenge of Zsanos Yvarai having taken from her her own name.  He was hoping for an airship to try and fulfill his father's final wishes and he gained information from a Spider that Cassalanter might be able to help.  He was also hoping to find Lukas Q'n to fulfill a promise he made to his father.  Supposedly Count Kether promised to Lukas to do all he can to reunite him with his love, Seran Thorne.   Count Kether, Uvanla claims, did not slip into Solace. He was murdered by the four brothers (Miralia's children) and Uvanla arrived too late to save him.  Cassalanter admits she does not know of any Ritual to create Airships, and that she never knew of her mother.  "There is talk that you still speak with her," Uvanla admits.  They send him away to try asking elsewhere.  He heads instead to Infinitum, the next door Province currently held by the Marquese Nerea Silja, the renamed sister of Galeo.

Ash Jalan gathers any of the blood from the spear of the Roadman, and pockets it.  He returns to his chambers and smells the parchment, remembering a long locked memory that if he ever smelled the same scent, he will know to burn the parchment to receive the message.  He burns it in a bronze bowl and from the dark smoke, a figure emerges.  He sees the Patron.   Ash bows hand on heart.  "If my message has reached you, then know I am near.  An Althua is coming.  Your presence will be required.  But know I will ensure your attendance."

When Cassalanter studies the sword, they feel... a presence upon it.   A mere touch awakens a flood of memories of a red-haired woman and of crumbling castles.  When Galeo asks her mother if this is her sword, she replies, "You have always been my weapon."  Galeo tells Cassalanter that she, being an Elk, is the best weapon to strike at the Senate to change it from within.   When she tells her mother the sword is Taltos, Galeo panics, however, and tells her to get rid of it.  And to never touch it.  "Don't let it know you are here.  It will hunt you down."  Cassalanter admits its too late for that.  Galeo's words fail her.  Galeo asks Ash to dispose of Taltos if possible.   Maybe melt it down if possible. Rio arrives and reports Uvanla has gone to her Aunt, and that the other intruder is still in the castle.   Gillian arrives to check if Cassalanter needs wine.  Cassalanter then tells them all to stop and makes sense of the intruder, who in their discussion might be a Spider.   Cassalanter has Rio increase the Personal Guard, "Good... logical guards."   She also finally realizes there's need for Staff.  "People who can be everywhere and are ready for everything."  Finally, she gives Rio, her Swordsman, a Spymaster's job to investigate the intruder who instead of killing Gillian, snuck into the castle to give her a poison to use.   They consider their options for a gift and Ash suggests they give her a story. Cassalanter opts to give Herbs in the Althua instead.    Given the need for Metal, Cassalanter has them inspect the Apex for what resources may be found there (thus raising the Mountain Rank to 2).

The Althua is not a cheerful event.  The castle has been decorated to look like winter.  The grass is covered with salt.  The windows had been frosted over.  They are handed coats to wear.  The castle is cool inside.    Instead of bright colors, there is nothing but grays, whites and blues.   The seneschal comes up to the group and he ends ups speaking frankly to Cassalanter.  Turns out he used to serve under Galeo Silja and remembers Cassalanter when she was still a child.  He was the youngest among them then.  The years have been hard on the Ruk, without a doubt. He gives his condolences for both Galeo and Hero, and admits they still both pray to them.  "Oh my mother was very strident, everyone can hear her," Cassalanter sighs.  He shares the host of the house has instructed them not to require any presents.  He was, however, instructed to escort the Court Scholar to the Waiting Chamber.  Ash heads off to obey the Marquess' instructions.  In the fake snow, there are strange intertwined bodies.  Rio separates from the group to follow Ash.    Gillian does not think they are from the Orks she is familiar with, but they are definitely not Ven.   From across the room, Maja Thayl, the Marquess of Ledger sees her and calls out to her.  She approaches them.  She still known everyone, and every party is still her party, and she knows how to hurt others, but she has fading memories.    She talks about how when Cassalanter was young, people were not even sure if she was male or female.  She motions to the ice sculpture and asks if Cass likes it, given Jessie and Galeo had their moments.  It was to be a fitting tribute of sorts.  Maja however seems to have another lapse as she talks about Jessie feeling guilty for Cass' mother being brought before the Senate for killing a Serpent.  She mistakes Cass to be the daughter of Seran Thorne.   Cass corrects her.  Maja realizes her error and continues to talk about how the sculpture was to make up for the one Jaric requested of Galeo from way back.  Gillian watches those who drink and live, and takes wine only from such bottles.

A hand darts in and pulls the glasses away as Gillian gathers wine.  The man has a disarming gaze, scruffy beard and foreign clothes.  She notices the man's clothing has ork patterns in its design and distracted more of that than the man himself.  He admits he came to offer to carry the glasses.  He apologizes and moves away, but she asks him to stay to ask about the stitching.   She mentions the different Ork tribes and asks if he knows of them.  He identifies her as one of the daughters of Duke Nia Jalan, and he admits he does not know of her personally.  He has heard she has wonderful daughters.  Zvali Rhu is his name and he is the son of a woman whose name is not permitted to be spoken aloud: Dranna Ru.  He asks Gillian is willing to carry a letter for him to Cassalanter.

 Rio and Ash find themselves secreted away from the rest.  To their surprise, they are brought to the Duchess Jessie Jalan who implores on them to partake a mission for her.  She asks them to search the castle for any signs of the Quill, a terrible Artifact from the old years once held by the Other Ven. There is a familiarity between Jessie towards Rio and Ash that seems there.

But even as Maja continues to ramble, Cassalanter has noticed something that has stolen her focus and attention.  It is Galeo.   She is showing off her fantastic gown, showing a chandelier above her head.  The shoulder blades show the wings of the opera house.  The chest area are the opera stage itself.  Maja asks if it is alright that she is present.  "Of course that's not really your mother, but I needed someone to represent her."  As it turns out, Maja had invited Cherno to portray Galeo in her memory.  Cassalanter approaches "Galeo" and is even corrected in how she curtsey's.  "That can so better be done."   When they talk about Galeo's daughter, she asks to hold Galeo's hand in genuine pain.  Galeo asks if Cassalanter has talents in art and hopes she does not give up on it.

Gillian's view is blocked by a massive hat, and she overhears the woman in front of her complain about being stolen the spotlight of the night.    The woman is Nerea Sijla, Galeo's sister.  Galeo however sees the woman and snarls at Cassalanter that the woman was the reason she lost her son.  She asks Cassalanter what title she holds and upon learning she is a Baroness, mentions she needs to find two others with title.  She seems to be cornered and anxious to find a Bloodsword.  Nerea is panicked, wondering how Galeo can be here if she is already in Solace.

Jessie explains the importance of the Quill to the others.  Rio feels however that like many things in ancient history, the Quill should best be left unused.  Jessie however admits she was warned that certain actors are seeking it out, so they must act to conceal it before the others find it.  Ash asks why Cassalanter would be key to this, and Jessie admits Cassalanter's mother used to own it.  They tried to communicate to Galeo herself but to no avail.   Ash notices Jessie has one arm that looks masculine rather than feminine.  Wonders what sorcery she used on herself.    Jessie recommends the Ritual of the Eye be learned to find the Quill.   Jessie warns them the castle is not secure either.  She sent her own Spymaster, a Spider, to sneak in and she succeeded.   A bell rings in the distance.  "Your mistress has probably now seen her mother," Jessie admits, "Like I said, we tried to glean information from her."  They exit the room.

Galeo and Nerea confront each other.  Cassalanter tries to dismiss the scene as merely amusing but the two clearly are not backing away from the confrontation.  Galeo yells about her son dying from Nerea's prank.  Nerea is shocked that she knows.  Cassalanter talks to the Galeo in her head and they discuss how the simulacrum looks pathetic.  She tells Galeo this is Maja's party after all.  Galeo declares a demand for Revenge for the death of her son and demands it through a Duel - or she will call for this in the next hearing.  Nerea counts that Galeo has neither title nor recognition.  "I can shoot down your claims for Revenge."  Cassalanter tries to remind them to let the cooler names prevail.  Suspecting Galeo is a tulpa, she suggests things might look better in the morning.   Both agree to her suggestion to wait til the next day.  Everyone around the vicinity agrees that it would be better in the morning so tonight can be devoted to celebration.  "Maybe in the morrow then, with proper dueling implements," Nerea.

Maja blows upon a small yellow rod tied to a chain around her neck.  Galeo vanishes and Cherno is now who stands in her place.  Dressed in yellow and looking dumbfounded, the man stumbles away.  Cassalanter is amused to see her mother's greatest rival - but Maja interrupts her to correct her that Cherno is actually Galeo's greatest admirer.  He admired her so much that he QUIT creating art when he heard of her slipping into Solace.  And now he relives her grandeur, each night becoming Galeo longer and longer.  Maja is amazed however that he has her art.  "It is almost like she lives through him."

Jessie Jalan and the others arrive now, and Maja greets them as they arrive.  Zhivali shares to Gillian how he was named after the fortune deck of cards.  He hands Gillian the completed letter and remarks how disgusting that the Marquese would insult Cassalanter's mother in such a manner and have that man dress as her.  "Among the Wu Tribes, they would have torn her head off and thrown it around." He admits she-who-cannot-be-named raised him among the Ork tribes.  Gillian is amused and shares she too was raised in a similar manner.  He invites her to go down below if she is ever free.  Maja calls out to him to do his service, and Gillian realizes he turns out to be Staff under Maja.  As Cassalanter and her troupe of vassals regather, she shares with them a summary of the events concerning her mother.

"There you are, Cassalanter..."  an old man on a floating orichalcum chair calls out as he approaches.  "I did not survive the destruction of two Shanri's to have a woman stand in my way.  Now come on, move over..." The group stares at the old and venerated Dalvinosh Steele.  The Earl of the House Elk.  He motions her to come closer, citing his fading vision from an old poison that sought to kill him, and as he touches her face, Cassalanter realizes the motions are an Invisible Tongue. He asks her secretly if the Quill is safe with her.  He offers her more wine.  She admits the wine's providence is "unknown" and that she would not know of anyone else who can get it.  He admits her answers, like her mother's, befuddle him.  He struggles and unclasps a chain from his arm, which has a single figurine left.  "My last Olivanna.  A Falcon.  If you ever feel the need to send me anything."

He senses the others nearby and asks to have Gillian Burghe come closer to him.  He cups her head, fixes her hair, and calls her lovely.  "I smell you are an Apothecarist.  Hemlock recently touches your hands... You.  I will remember you."

He hopes they choose to stay for the entire Althua.  It has been a while since he attended one that lasted five days long.  Maja calls out for everyone's attention as they are to begin the first activity!  And the winner gets to keep any artifact they find in the Puzzle House!

In the distance, Dalvinosh Steele rubs his fingers together, and stares at the single strand of hair he was able to pluck.  The old one smiles.

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