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Anaïs Botrel

academic and record keeper

0 · 81 views · located in Zoltia

a character in “The Gala-Dor Expedition”, as played by druidquest

Description

Name
Anaïs Botrel

Archetype
Human Scholar

Age
24

Bbcode
BA348D

Theme
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Dusk at the Market

Image

Appearance
Anaïs is a young woman with a thin nose and pale, wispy blonde hair. She has large, sharp, icy blue eyes - or, that is to say, eye. Her left eye is covered with a decorative black and gold eye patch, though what caused the apparent injury she stubbornly refuses to mention. Her skin is soft and unblemished, a fair match for the heavy red robe of the Beaucourt Historical Archive, which she never seems to take off.

Personality
Anaïs is intelligent, cheerful, and good natured, with a deep, passionate love for history which could be passingly described as romantic. She has a stubborn streak a mile wide and throws herself fully into whatever pursuit has caught her eye, occasionally to the detriment of her health. Despite her generally friendly and polite manner of speech, she possesses a dry sense of humor and sharp tongue which can seem at odds with her otherwise youthful idealism.

Skills
Linguistics - Her scholarly career would be brief indeed if she were unable to translate the various texts and documents contained within the dusty and sometimes esoteric libraries contained within the archive. Translating and transcribing old documents is one of the most common duties performed by Anaïs and her peers, after all, and will no doubt find good use on the expedition.
Tracking - Anaïs has an uncanny talent for finding people, and rarely seems to get lost in even the most crowded and poorly organized of cities.


History
A member of the Beaucourt Historical Archive and only daughter of the low ranking Botrel noble house. Anaïs's parents were an arranged marriage for the purpose of strengthening the Botrel house's magical bloodline, but Anaïs's lack of talent for primal magic meant she was largely ignored as an heir and consequently raised almost entirely by one of the family's servants. She was ultimately disowned shortly before joining the Archive, and now dedicates herself in her entirety to the role of historian.

So begins...

Anaïs Botrel's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anaïs Botrel

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“-and then Hugo comes flying over the fence, arms full of greens, screaming at us to run, run, run! Only Jeremy and I are still trying to get this carrot out of the ground, both of us just tugging and tugging as hard as we can, except it’s not budging! And Hugo sprints over to us, dropping some chard, and starts pushing us, pushing us, ‘we need to go, we need to go!’ But Jeremy and I are stubborn, we’ve spent a good five, six minutes on this one damn carrot, so we tell Hugo, we aren’t leaving without this damn carrot! And he looks behind him, and there’s six dogs coming right for us, biiiig Stormhold hounds, so he drops the greens and gets in next to us, wrapping his hands around the base of the stem to help, you know? So we heave and we heave and the dogs are right on top of us and right when it looks like they’re about to lunge the damn thing finally comes free and it’s a fucking mandrake!!” The old woman was nearly howling with laughter as she recounted her tale.

Anaïs covered her chuckle with one hand, the side of her pencil pressing against the tip of her nose.

“We couldn’t hear for three weeks after that,” she continued, regaining her composure. “Knocked the hounds right out, though. Got out with the greens and the mandrake. Made a killing off that little bastard.”

Anaïs’s pencil lead scratched across the thin paper of the journal as she wrote down the rest of the story. Her right hand speared a slice of honeyed apricot with a fork as she finished. “And they never caught you?” she asked around a bite of sticky sweetness, setting down the pencil in her left hand.

The woman laughed over the rim of her teacup. “Oh, they almost did, but Hu- Hu… Hugh?” She lowered her hands slowly, her eyes flicking back and forth in confusion.

Anaïs swallowed her piece of apricot. “Ma’am? ...Miss Wendy? You alright?” She stood and moved to the old woman’s side, setting a concerned hand gently on her shoulder.

Miss Wendy rubbed at the bridge of her nose with her thumb and forefinger, shaking her head as if to clear some fog from her mind. She looked up at Anaïs after a moment, blinking several times as she steadily came back to herself. “I’m so sorry dear, what were we talking about?”

“You were telling me about your brothers.”

Miss Wendy’s eyes searched Anaïs’s face, lips slightly parted as she attempted to recall. “My brothers… I’m sorry dear, I don’t…” She brushed a few silver threads away from her forehead. “Where was I...?”

Anaïs’s mouth hung open for a second, then pulled shut into a small smile. “It’s alright, I needed to be going anyway.” She stepped away from Wendy and picked up her journal and pencil, then grabbed a couple more quick bites of honeyed apricot. “Are you alright? Do you need help getting home?” she asked, stuffing her things into her satchel.

Miss Wendy gave a small, tired laugh, picking her teacup back off the table and swishing around the liquid inside. “I’ll be fine, dear,” she replied quietly. “I don’t live far.” She perked up, clearing her throat. “I do appreciate you so often taking the time to come listen to an old woman ramble. I know you must be busy with the library, An- Ani…” She shook her head again. “Well, this is just humiliating. I’m drawing a blank.”

“Anna,” Anaïs replied.

Miss Wendy squinted for a moment, then nodded her head. “Right, right. Ugh, don’t ever get old, dear. It’s not fun.”

Anaïs gave Wendy a thin smile. “Yes ma’am. I’ll just stay young and beautiful forever.”

Miss Wendy laughed at that. “Good girl!”

---


Anaïs shielded her eye from the late spring sun as she stepped off the busy streets of Arc de Lume, leaning against a wooden railing by the canal to pull her journal back out of her satchel. It was quiet here, well away from the clatter of carts or shouting of merchants. Nearly as quiet as the University grounds which housed the Archive. She flipped open the cover of the journal, then ran one finger under the words written on the first page. ‘Peasant Tales’. Miss Wendy wasn’t the only voice who’s memories she’d recorded herein. She’d spoken to a small number of other folk of advanced age, and she felt glad that she’d managed to get as many of their stories down as she could before their memories were gone.

It still hurt, though.

She sighed, then pushed off the railing and stuffed the book back into her satchel. Its pages were almost full, now. Maybe one or two more, and she’d be ready to commit it to the Archives as a proper record. That being said, she did have other matters to attend in the interim. What had that dwarf’s name been, again?

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilgur Black-Mane Character Portrait: Dreador Character Portrait: Ashera Vallenai Character Portrait: Esther Alfsson Character Portrait: Serena L'aporte Character Portrait: Maria Solaster Character Portrait: Anaïs Botrel

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Lio looked up from searching the bodies. He flopped the arms of the bandit he was propping up in the shape of a 'W' towards the others with a shrug at Maria's 'reassurance'. Then he let the body drop and hauled himself up, bouncing a small sack in his hand.

"WELL," he interrupted the tension lingering from the threat-or-not, "No ring here. Just a bottle of brown with something living in it, and a bag of -" He put a pause on sloshing around an ale bottle to pull the sack open, and a cloud of grey burst in front of his nose. He pulled the drawstrings closed as he doubled back, coughing. "... That's witchpowder. Raven, catch." He ditched the bag at her, then furiously rubbed at his twitching nose. "You'll think of something to do with it. Don't mind me if I start getting snappy." He pressed a thumb against his nostril and blew out his nose, hard. "Or pass out. We'll take your lead, Solaster."

The group moved on, walking past bodies and rubble. They found one of the grates the bandits escaped through. Lio stepped to the front, paler than usual, and yanked the grate from the doorway. The rust-red metal gave way with a shrill noise.

The party ventured forth. Further and further. The path grew narrow, into an old, brick-laid tunnel. Their steps echoed through the mouldy, dirt-encrusted walls. Faded remnants of graffiti etched upon the tunnels. Images and writings of red hatchets, growing older, darker, and blurrier the further they went.

And then, at the end of their path, they found… a door. Slightly ajar. Broad and thick, with a cool black colour peering between layers of rust. Darkness seeped between the cracks. A droning, rumbling sound came from within, like the growl of an old beast.

This was the only way forward. Lio pushed the door aside. The metal shrieked as it ground against the stone floor. Wilthro's lights shined into the darkness, and revealed…

A towering silhouette. More than eight foot tall, with arms like great oaken logs, held high and stretched far over the party. Strips of bone and carrion dangled from the ceiling like a macabre curtain. Inflamed by the owl's bright lights, the shadow's bellowing growl ascended into a roar, and the party's ears rang from such unearthly vibrations as it lunged for them!




Meanwhile, above ground, where the daylight was reflected in sparkles across the canal. The Royal Beaucourt University stood as a shining jewel in the Diamond Quarter. Behind its rustic arched windows, the finest scholars of Arc-en-Lume had conducted their studies and tended to its archives for more than five centuries.Three shapes exited its front doors. A tall, thin human scholar, a stout dwarf with an ink-black beard, and a drow woman in a hood, bound to the dwarf by a silver chain.

“...I’m tellin’ ya, Philibert. This will be the discovery of a lifetime!” The dwarf argued, with a loud and spirited voice wholly typical of his kind. “Think about it! Gala-Dor, home to the first and greatest dwarven kingdom!” The dwarf continued, his arms held high, his hands splayed open for emphasis. “Its significance to history can’t be disputed!”

“Significance to Dwarf history, Hilgur,” the scholar corrected as he pushed his spectacles upon the bridge of his nose. “No offense, but it’s not a subject many in Arc-en-Lume care about.”

Hilgur’s spirit deflated with his shoulders.

The scholar sighed, and looked down upon the dwarf with creased brows. “And that’s not even the biggest issue. This… this map, the one you claim to possess... Where is it?”

Hilgur’s stance turned rigid. His expression grew darker. “I told ya. It’s confidential. Ya’ll just have to have faith.”

The scholar turned away. “Hmph. Well, unfortunately, the University must again refuse your request. We can’t provide investment without evidence.” He glanced at Hilgur from the corner of his eye and turned his nose up. “We are academics. Faith is not empirical. Good day.”

Hilgur watched as the scholar strutted back inside. “Lousy smartass beanpole son of a...,” he uttered under his breath. With a shake of his head, the dwarf walked away, towards a bridge over the canal, with the drow in tow…

...Right into Anais’ view.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilgur Black-Mane Character Portrait: Dreador Character Portrait: Anaïs Botrel

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Anaïs considered her plan of action as she walked down the canal-side road toward the university. The dwarf had just been there yesterday, right? So if she started there, she could pick up his trail and-

Well, shit, there he was. Her eyes followed him for a brief moment as he walked across the bridge to the other side of the canal, accompanied by his drow friend with the silver… necklace. It certainly couldn’t be a chain. That was illegal. Anaïs jogged briskly after them, tied hair bouncing against the back of her neck and her boots thudding softly against the wooden planks of the bridge.

”Hey! Hey,” Anaïs called out, slowing to a walk a bit behind the pair. She glanced down her nose at the dwarf, then traced his path back the way he’d come. ”You just came from the University, right? Sainte Pucelle Memorial Archive?”

Anaïs cleared her throat softly when the two stopped and turned to face her. She straightened the front of her robe as she stepped up to them. ”Sorry. Sorry, I saw you there yesterday.” Anaïs didn’t tilt her head even slightly as she spoke to the dwarf, instead gazing down her thin nose at him, though her eyes repeatedly flickered toward the drow woman hidden in the cloak, as if trying to make it seem like she was consistently addressing both of them. ”I think you were talking to Philibert? I honestly didn’t expect you to go back, he’s not exactly the type to change his mind, and his refusal seemed a bit… firm. Oh, sorry, I’m Anaïs.” She moved to offer her hand, hesitated, and then let it fall.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilgur Black-Mane Character Portrait: Dreador Character Portrait: Anaïs Botrel

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Hilgur's steps came to a stop. He looked up, one brow raised, towards the woman who called for him. Her pale, narrow features and clean robes screamed 'noble', which stood in great contrast to her ...unpretentious… speech.

"Aye, lass. That I did!" The dwarf reached up to snatch her falling hand, and shook it quite vigorously. "Hilgur's the name. Hilgur Black-Mane."

The dwarf stepped back with a sigh, his right hand reaching to stroke his beard. "Ha! That egghead's more stubborn than a Jellico mule..." His cheeks raised over squinting eyes, failing to stifle his laughter. "...And twice as ugly! Hohohohoho!"

The dwarf cleared his throat, his grip unfaltering around the drow's chain. "So, what can I help you with?" He raised his other eyebrow, hoping against hope. "...Don't suppose you came to finance my grand quest?" Hilgur scoffed, his eyes drawn to her book holsters. "Maybe ya be the one human scholar interested in dwarf history?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilgur Black-Mane Character Portrait: Dreador Character Portrait: Anaïs Botrel

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Anaïs pulled her hand against her stomach when Hilgur released it, rubbing her fingers together in an attempt to will away to intense desire to wash her hands. "I don't know about the one human scholar," she said with a slight titter. "Gala-Dor's just… I mean, we get claims like that at least once every couple of- we just aren't really afforded the budget to go chasing after every groundless rumor, and the nobility isn't exactly the most academically minded, so..."

Anaïs's voice trailed off again, and she cleared her throat to try and get herself back on track. "An-anyway, rather than funding, I was actually hoping to, um." Her eyes lingered on the "necklace" for the briefest of moments, tracing its length from Hilgur's hand to the drow woman's throat. "Sign on."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilgur Black-Mane Character Portrait: Dreador Character Portrait: Ashera Vallenai Character Portrait: Esther Alfsson Character Portrait: Serena L'aporte Character Portrait: Maria Solaster Character Portrait: Anaïs Botrel Character Portrait: Orcimedes Lavatrina

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Lio gave the group a flat look with burning red eyes. "You sorted?" He snapped, sniffed, then shook his head. "...Sorry. Here, let me get it."

He gripped the door handle and pulled, the ice cracking against his strength - then it flung open, and he ducked out the way with it, and Ashera's bowstring sprang back as the arrow flew through the doorway.




Though Dreador looked still, beneath her hood, her eyes were darting about in sync with her rush of thoughts. She followed the twitch of Anais's fingers, the hand on her chain, the woman's glances at it. Her chin lifted, just enough to raise her sky-blue eyes to meet hers with a wary expression. She lifted a dark, slender finger and wound the silver chain around it. And tugged.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilgur Black-Mane Character Portrait: Dreador Character Portrait: Anaïs Botrel

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Anaïs caught sight of a thin dark finger curl around the silver chain and tug it loosely in the drow woman’s direction. Her eyes shot to the bare glimpse of a sharp chin beneath the hood, then to Hilgur, then to the bridge they were standing on. Her eyes trailed something only she could see - the path of a guard patrol which had been across the bridge some twenty minutes earlier. If they kept to the usual schedule…

”I’m so sorry, I didn’t catch your name.” Anaïs turned to face the drow more fully, her elbow angling ever so slightly between her and the dwarf she was bound to. Not enough to be suspicious, but enough to act, even a little, as a divider between them. She was speaking ever so slightly louder as well - just enough to make sure they were noticed, without being conspicuous. ”Are you a member of the expedition, or- he’s looking for funding, right? Are you a representative of a possible financier?”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilgur Black-Mane Character Portrait: Dreador Character Portrait: Anaïs Botrel

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Hilgur's thick, sausage-like fingers caressed his beard as he listened to Anais. His bushy mustache and beard hid it well, but his bunched cheeks and squinted eyes were filled with glee, her contempt for him flown way over his head. "Oho! Another one joins the expedition. And you sought me outside of the Jackalope, too. I approve of your enthusiasm!"

As they talked, Anais slid between Hilgur and his drow, talking to the latter. The dwarf's brows furrowed, and his black eyes glinted sharply. The drow hesitated to speak and looked to Hilgur, as if asking for permission. "She's my assistant." His smile returned, but this time it didn't reach his eyes. "You need not concern yourself with her, lass. She's with us for cleaning. Only the cleaning." She bowed her head, flicking her big eyes up to Anais like a wounded animal.

Just then, two Sacred Flame guards emerged on the centre of the bridge, their chain suit crinkled, their armour plates scraped together, and their bucket-like helms bore fire-coloured feathers arranged in an arc. They slowed their steps, and turned their attention towards Anais, Dreador, and Hilgur.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilgur Black-Mane Character Portrait: Dreador Character Portrait: Anaïs Botrel

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Anaïs turned her head ever so slightly to look at Hilgur over her shoulder, a frigid contempt in her pale blue eye that hadn't been there before. "It's rude to answer for other people."

The clank of metal sabatons at the end of the bridge was a clocktower bong alerting her to the limits of subtlety. Slavery might be illegal in Beaucourt, but Anaïs knew well enough that the guards wouldn't look twice at a drow unless they were forced to, and without the weight of noble status behind her words public declarations would just be handwaved away with false promises of an "investigation". No, the knights would need either an explicit acknowledgement of the crime from Hilgur, or they would need to arrive to that conclusion themselves before their oaths would compel them to act. But how to go about doing that? Hmm hmm hmm???

"I love your necklace!" Anaïs declared loudly, stepping closer to the drow and framing the silver collar around her neck with splayed fingers. Their noses were mere inches apart; Anaïs had no doubt the drow's first instinct would be to step back, and Hilgur's would be to pull her back into place. "You simply must tell me where you got it!"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilgur Black-Mane Character Portrait: Dreador Character Portrait: Anaïs Botrel

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"It's rude to answer for other people."

Hilgur’s face scrunched up in response.

"I love your necklace! You simply must tell me where you got it!"

The drow acted just as Anais had predicted - she jerked back defensively as the scholar intruded into her space. Her bare foot slid across the stone road and her knees bent into a position to either lunge or run. Hilgur tugged the chain, something she flinched against. Then came the clanging of sabatons, and she froze. The visage of a frightened, abused animal dropped. The drow glanced over her shoulder at the guards calling for her master’s attention, then looked back to Anais, her chin lifted.

“The Sacred Flame,” the drow answered, unusually accented, with something that could be construed as pride.

“Hold there!” One to the guards commanded. Hilgur straightened up, passing a dirty look to Anais on the way. ”Yes, guard. What can I help ya with?” His growl barely coming through gritted teeth.

The other guard glanced at the dwarf’s ‘companion’. His body stiffened up at the sight of the chained drow. “Sir, I need to see the papers for your servant,” he demanded, his voice calm yet wary. The drow stared Anais down through it all with open resentment for the situation.

Hilgur rolled his eyes. ”Hmph! Is it cause I’m a dwarf? You think I’m not respecting your laws, son?” He muttered and fumbled into his pockets. And fumbled some more. And a little more. His brows furrowed, and the colour left his face. ”Err, I must have misplaced it back in the Jackalope. I… didn’t expect the need to lug the blasted things around, you see.”

The guards seemed unimpressed. One of them rested his palm upon the hilt of his arming sword. The drow blinked. She glanced from Anais between Hilgur and the guards, mind alert behind those bright blue eyes. Doubt. There couldn’t be -

The dwarf cleared his throat and shrugged. ”Look, I acquired her lawfully from one of your Captains. Jean-Pierre-something-or-other. Take it up with him if you don’t trust me, aye?”

The guards eyed him for a moment. Their helmets obscured all emotions, but their guarded posture showed no evidence of trust. “Stand aside, citizens. We need to inspect the property.” One guard drew his blade, keeping an eye on the latter as he approached the drow. She drew back and up to her full height, eyes fixed on the blade, Her chest rose and fell quicker as he came closer. The lines on her neck tightened. She didn’t dare move her feet. A thick leather glove reached for her hood and pulled it down.

Hilgur breathed a sigh of relief. The drow shut her eyes, with futility and embarrassment.

There, upon the nape of her neck, seared into the flesh. The ring-shaped scar like an eclipse against her dark skin. A mark reserved only for the worst of transgressors. The mark of a murderer. Her eyes flashed open at the guard with his hands on her, and bared her teeth at him, canines flashing. A warning growl omitted from her chest, ending in a sharp click, click, click of her tongue. Sounding more like the purr of a beast and chatter of an insect than a person. He backed off immediately.

“Whoa, there,” he hushed her, then gave Hilgur a concerned look, “You have a lot of faith in that chain considering the severity of that mark. What was she branded for?”

Hilgur glanced towards Anais and answered.

”The Ducard family.”

The guards recoiled, in the exact same instant that the drow dashed into action. Her hand gripped the chain as she darted to Anais faster than Hilgur could pull her back. The chain spun around the scholar’s neck and pressed against her back, her pointed chin digging into Anais’s shoulder.

“Ri’gat uns’aa alu!” The drow shouted, over the clamour of drawing swords. She tugged at her hostage, trying to ease them both out of Hilgur’s grasp. The chains around Anais’s neck were uncomfortable, but not biting. Her furious glare fell on Hilgur. “Dos orn ri'gat uns'aa alu, gorra'h, xor usstan orn nau'thal dos ulu straek. To death!” Steel flashed in her peripherals, and she spun, hissing at the approaching guard and pulling the chain. With restraint. Anais felt it. The drow was being careful with her.

The pedestrians, once content to ignore the private dispute, instantly scrambled and screamed for the guards. The Order’s clerics and knights emerged on either side of the bridge and brandished their maces, swords, and shields, closing off any avenues for escape.

The two guards closest to Drei and Anais raised their shields and assumed defensive postures. One of them raised his voice. “Drow! Let the woman go, or you won’t have a neck to be branded tomorrow!”

Hilgur had remained utterly calm through all this. He stared down the drow, with pitch-black eyes that sucked in all light. ”Keep yer britches on.” His shoulders shook up and down as he chuckled. ”She ain’t gonna hurt anybody.”

The other guard glanced at Hilgur from his peripherals. “This is not the time to peddle your nonsense, dwarf.”

Hilgur folded his arms, turned towards Anais, and quirked one brow.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilgur Black-Mane Character Portrait: Dreador Character Portrait: Anaïs Botrel

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Anaïs put her hands up in a placating gesture, eye studying the knights and Hilgur in quick succession. Not quite what she had intended… but not necessarily a loss. If there was one thing the daughter of a noble house knew how to do well, it was spin. Flohlu un'saa," she whispered, her voice barely a breath.

"I'm okay!" Anaïs said as the guards circled with swords drawn. "I'm okay, really! She won't hurt me. Funny how desperate slaves will act sometimes, isn't it, Mr. Black-Mane?" She tittered slightly and gave a small, nervous grin as she spoke, though she leveled a sharply devious gaze at Hilgur.

"Ducard, though. There's a name, isn't it?" Anaïs continued, turning her eye back to the leader on the knights gathering on the bridge. "You know, the records at the archive-" She gestured with one hand to the golden sun stitched into the bottom of her robe. "-state the assassin in that crime was already lawfully executed. I know some people say all drow look the same, but to think someone would twist such a tragedy to their benefit! Though I suppose slandering the good name of a Sacred Flame paladin by suggesting he would engage in the illegal slave trade isn't too far beneath a man who'd falsify one of the order's brands to legitimize his crime, is it?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilgur Black-Mane Character Portrait: Dreador Character Portrait: Anaïs Botrel

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The drow’s quick breaths slowed against Anais’s ear when she heard those words, Flohlu un'saa. Her dying language, on the tongue of the Beaucourtisan upper class. Butchered by that accent, but in these circumstances, the most beautiful melody she had ever heard. She looked to Hilgur, looking back at her with that calm, firm look he wore when he knew he was in control - and returned it.

“Funny how desperate slaves will act sometimes, isn't it, Mr. Black-Mane?"

Hilgur narrowed his eyes. The crowd watching from a safe distance whispered amongst each other. Anais had quickly turned this into a scene. Somehow, this soft-gutted, long-legged bint made him feel... threatened. His blood boiled at the thought.

One of the guards turned his head towards Hilgur. He scrutinised the dwarf for a moment, considering both his and Anais’ words. “Dwarf, you’re coming with us. We have some questions we’d like you to answer.”

The black-bearded dwarf clenched his fists and barked, ”This is NONSENSE! She’s not a slave, she’s a legally sanctioned-” The guard directed his sword towards Hilgur’s neck. The dwarf recoiled and tossed his hands up, peering at the cold steel which poked at his vulnerable flesh. Close, far too close for comfort. Several drops of sweat beaded upon his temple. He had an expedition to run, he couldn’t risk a harebrained outburst. Not here, not now.

The drow’s chain crumpled to the ground, curled yet still, like the image of a slithering snake. Her gaze followed it down.

The other guard kept his blade trained upon the blue-eyed drow. “You, Drow. We will detain you until we finish this investigation.” The first guard bound Hilgur’s arms behind his back and confiscated his axe. “Cooperate, and the truth may exonerate you. Resist, and your death will be all that matters.”

Hilgur glared the drow and Anais’ way, and raised one brow. The chain hissed as it trailed across the ground. The drow tugged Anais along, not forsaking her grip on the chain nor her newly gained “freedom.” The tip of the guard’s blade followed after her. Her eyes darted from each blocked exit, to the edge of the bridge. She gnashed her teeth as a guard took a step too close and backed them both to the bridge’s edge to glance over her shoulder. Ten feet above the water. Easy. Slowly, she undid the winding around Anais’s neck.

Without a word, she shoved Anais forward, right towards the sword that was targeted their way. The guard shouted and drew his blade back as the drow effortlessly perched on top the railing and moved to swan dive over the edge -

When she was jerked back. In the last second, a fraction from falling, being jerked, and snapping her neck. She rolled across the bridge and regained control of her momentum in a crouch, hissing at the guard who had run up to snatch her chain. She whipped her head between the sight of his sword and the hand that restrained her then dashed towards him, her hand curled like a cat’s paw and nails glinting. Her face stretched back into a threatening snarl.

BZZZZZZZT.

The drow’s body tensed up, freezing her in place. She grunted, straining against something… the buzzing, coming from the dainty silver collar tightening by itself around her neck. Spittle sprayed out from between her gritted teeth. Her gaze moved from the guard, to glare at Hilgur. The buzzing cut off, and her knees went weak, toppling her. The guards closed in to make their arrest.

Hilgur’s expression had relaxed once more. He was in control. If not of the situation, then at least of her. ”I told you. She ain’t hurting anybody.” His cheeks bunched up with a smirk. ”Couldn’t even think about it.”

The collar zapped her unmoving body once more.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anaïs Botrel

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Anaïs held the back of her wrist against her nose as she stepped into the room on the second floor of the Jackalope tavern. She winced at the musty smell of old wood and sharp, sour stench of dried alcohol which pervaded this place, not helped in the slightest by the brackish smell of the canals meeting the sea outside wafting through the cracked window. It had been easy enough to get the key - for all their reputation for discretion, the owner was remarkably amenable to petty bribes.

Anaïs shut the door quietly behind her as her eye took in the scenes imprinted on the room. She brushed one finger lightly over the back of an unmarked chair near the center of the floor, watching wispy echoes of Hilgur tying and then untying his drow captive with lengths of rough, strong rope, saw him step across the room to place the rope down as the prepared to set out that morning. Her lip curled in disgust, and the rope vanished into her bag a moment later.

She looked to the desk next; hefty bags of coin were piled along one side of it in neat stacks. Two foreign hooked swords were bound together behind them. Anaïs doubted they belonged to Hilgur. He seemed the type to favor something a bit more… conventional. The drow's blades, then? No doubt tied together and kept here so she couldn't turn them against the one holding her chain. She picked them up gingerly by the end of their bindings, then grabbed the handles to keep the blades from penduluming toward her. Anaïs doubted she'd be able to hide these easily, so after some quick thinking she slipped them out the window and onto the roof above the second floor. She wasn't sure she'd be able to retrieve them, but at least the clerics wouldn't find them.

She pulled herself back inside and turned back toward the desk. Across the face were strewn a number of unopened letters from various establishments. Most were likely rejections - the furrowed brow of frustration on the ghost of Hilgur's face as he tossed one of them onto the desk without opening it made that clear. A large sheet of parchment was held open next to them - a map of Zoltia, spiderwebbed by a series of seemingly random routes heading north, several of which were crossed out. Was this Hilgur's proclaimed map to Gala-Dor? Anaïs almost scoffed at it, but something about it…

She narrowed her eye, brushing her fingers lightly over the top of the map. There was a conviction to it that she couldn't quite shake, and...

She felt something, a slight bump like the map was laying on another document. She lifted it up gingerly, rolling it tightly and slipping it into her bag before turning her attention to what was underneath it. Another letter, it looked like, but this one bore the seal of the Sacred Flame. It was made from vellum, rather than letter parchment, and flipping it open she saw the name of the High Paladin scrawled across the bottom.

Not a letter, but a deed of sale. "Dreador LaRue." Surname notwithstanding, was that her name? Anaïs's lips pressed into a thin line as the document disappeared somewhere into her robe. This was unfortunate. She hadn't lied on the bridge - she did recall the assassin from the Ducard incident had been recorded as lawfully executed. Which meant if Hilgur had also been telling the truth, their arrest was putting them both in far more danger than Anaïs had intended.

The sound of footsteps approaching from down the hall. The guards wouldn't respond this quickly, would they? No, not for something like this, but with the right incentive, and given what she'd just uncovered… Anaïs's arm shot quickly across the table, making a mess of the letters before she stepped back as the knob on the door began to turn. Whoever they were, it should at least buy a bit of time before they found what they were looking for… or the lack there-of.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ashera Vallenai Character Portrait: Esther Alfsson Character Portrait: Serena L'aporte Character Portrait: Maria Solaster Character Portrait: Anaïs Botrel Character Portrait: Orcimedes Lavatrina

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Esther’s strikes were swift, silent, and precise. It was as if the shadows themselves came alive to devour the bandits. Their screams dampened into choking gurgles, their blood a stark crimson against the raven’s armour. Meanwhile, Ashera’s arrows pierced scrap iron and flesh alike as if they were butter. Her foresight was faster than the archers’ minds, and none managed to loose another arrow. Two fell from atop the platform, while one more slumped down into a heap. On the ground, the bandits who crowded Orcimedes met similar fates. One by one they fell, arrowheads punching through their chests and eyes.

A thundering boom followed Orcimedes’ mighty toss. Cracks formed on the stone floors, caved in by several tons of iron and muscle. Pieces of armour fell and scattered from Georgina’s body. The giant rat beast wiggled, her body limp and her tail flaccid. Her eyes spun, and spun, and spun. Orcimedes’ gargantuan, cackling form blurred in and out of her vision, coming in as afterimages which slowly merged into one, and…

”Who’s a good girl?!”

Georgina paused. She stared at her foe, upside down, mouth agape, eyes bulging wide, and her tongue draped over her snout. For a moment, Orcimedes could see confusion written all over her face. Or was it just rabies?

Meanwhile, the Bandit Lord clattered and rolled across the stone. He scrambled to his knees with his hands held high. Maria saw the white of his wide, fearstruck eyes in the shadows of his visor. He was disarmed, dismounted, and had just narrowly avoided a gruesome death. There was only one course of action. "WAIT! I yield!" He announced. "We were no match for your party, cleric. I will do whatever you ask, but please…!" He cast his gaze aside. "Please, grant mercy to the rest of my men."

The bandits lied upon puddles of their own blood. Most were still and cold, but a twitching, gasping few clung to the barest thread of life, Ashera's arrows having missed their vitals. A wounded archer reached for the sky with bone-thin fingers. "Witch...witchpowder… please… give it to me…"

The Bandit Lord sighed and averted his eyes. "Sad, isn't it? Once, we held the fate of Arc 'en Lume in our hands." He looked up. "These sewers were another city beneath the surface. We used to have lights everywhere. Lights, life… and believe it or not, the smell of garbage and piss was almost tolerable."

The Bandit Lord's voice darkened. "Then those witches came, peddling their accursed powders. So many of us couldn’t resist. It was only my father and his inner council, at first. But it spread like a plague, and those of our made men who didn’t die were reduced into…”

A dying bandit curled up upon the floor. He clawed at the air and spat out blood.

The Bandit Lord glanced mournfully. “...Beasts.” He looked up towards Maria. “I just want us to be free from this curse. This addiction. But a cure doesn’t come cheap or easy. That’s why we took her, the High Paladin’s granddaughter. Hortensia Hecate Halifax. We sent a letter of ransom, but our demands fell on deaf ears.” He sighed. “Rest assured, I made sure my men left her unharmed.”

Meanwhile, Georgina continued to struggle under Orcimedes’ weight. Her pink paws clawed, flailed, and scratched against the orc, to little effect. “Rrrrroooooo!” She growled through bared, dagger-like fangs in an impotent rage.




The footsteps grew louder. Keys clicked and rustled. The door knob turned, creaked, and opened wide…

...And Anaïs was greeted by the sight of a Sacred Flame guard. His helmet obscured his face, but his tensing body language betrayed his surprise. He drew his blade. “HALT!” Even against a seemingly unarmed woman, the guard would not take any chances. “ Explain yourself, citizen. This room was registered to a dwarf and a drow. And you are neither.” The guard stepped closer, his sabatons thudding against the wooden floorboards. “Speak quickly, before I clap you in irons.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Anaïs Botrel

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Anaïs raised her hands up by her head with long, sweeping loops of her elbows, which she kept bent at ninety degree angles. Her eye jumped up and down the length of the guard quicker than he could catch it, assessing the sum of him. A skittish, impatient sort, but dim, she surmised. And just the one, to boot. Not what she'd expect for an agent of a corrupt leader covering loose ends. So the Order hadn't yet figured out who they'd taken into custody. Hm.

"I'm a historian," she answered, swirling her left hand around the golden cross on the right shoulder of her robe, "from Sainte Pucelle Memorial Archive, an affiliated branch of the Luminelle Library at the Royal Beaucourt University. I came to retrieve a record we believe was stolen during Mr. Black-Mane - the dwarf's - previous visit."

"Alas, I've not had much luck," she sighed, gesturing to the disorganized pile on the desk.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dreador Character Portrait: Ashera Vallenai Character Portrait: Esther Alfsson Character Portrait: Serena L'aporte Character Portrait: Maria Solaster Character Portrait: Anaïs Botrel Character Portrait: Orcimedes Lavatrina Character Portrait: Iz'Hana Daudol

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Georgina’s struggling halted. Her nose twitched, catching a familiar scent. Light, with the fragrance of exotic spices. Her pink tail whipped left and right, her red eyes were round and glossy, and she leapt up to snatch Orcimedes’ treat. “Roooooo…!” She bent low and rapidly shook her head, tearing into the jerky with a maw full of knife-like teeth.

The Bandit Leader looked up at Maria. The due she gave at the dead did not escape his notice… and neither did her mercy. She took his breath away, and he collapsed to his knees and palms, his head bowed low as he proclaimed, “P-Praise be to you and the Sacred Flame, my fair lady!”

He spent a moment there and offered his own silent prayer. Still, Esther’s request did not go unnoticed. The Bandit Leader stood to his feet, turned towards the raven, and pressed a fist against his chest with a nod. “Yes... Follow me.”

A firm hand clenched around his ankle and fixed him in place. He looked down to see a huge phantom of a man that had dragged himself across the sewer floor. “If she’s so much as missing a pinkie finger I will throw up all my blood on you,” Lio threatened, blood bubbling up over his lips, “Then I’ll take your head, grind your face in it, and if you’re so lucky that your skull doesn’t crack under my boot, you can fucking drown, you rancid, corpse breathed molerat.” The Bandit Leader froze in place. It was hard to discern his expression behind that bucket on his head, but Lio didn’t need to look to taste his fear. “Y..yes, that’s…” The Bandit Leader whipped away and struggled to find the right word. “...Motivating.”

The Bandit Leader led the way. Lio tried to flag down somebody to help him up, but he had no such luck and was stuck staggering after them thirty feet behind around the chasm, towards an iron door at the end of this long journey. It was unlike any other door they’d seen here, round and nine foot tall, forged from steel that had not rusted, even after so long at the dregs at the bottom of Arc-en-Lume. A massive wheel protruded from the centre of the door, not unlike those of a ship’s. The Bandit Leader slowed to a stop, grabbed the wheel, and began turning.

“Hrrkh!”

Metal grinded and ratcheted as he tugged at the wheel. Every inch drew the strength from his body. Finally, there was a booming thud, and the Bandit Leader motioned everybody to step back. The door dragged against the floor. A deep, grating noise followed its motions, it slowly swung open, and revealed...

A dark, wide room. The walls, floors, and ceiling were a grey, smooth colour, made of broad stone tiles wider and taller than the bricks they’d seen throughout the sewer. There were crates, barrels, and an assortment of junk strewn about the vault, but what stood out amongst the rest were the cages. Massive, rusted boxes of iron, scattered all around, filled with bodies upon bodies - some dressed in the blood-stained whites of the Sacred Flame, but most wore the crude leather and spiked iron of the Red Hatchets. Even within the dark, they could tell, the bodies were long cold.

Cough.

...Most of them, anyway.

At one end of the room, a silhouette stirred. The Bandit Leader stepped back. The group moved closer, and the shadow was brought into their light. Wavy black locks. A vermilion coat. Giant, puffed-up orange sleeves, adorned by strips of teal. Mud and cuts stained her dress, but its rich colours shined amidst the grime. She sat there, cross-legged, her wrists bound together in irons. Her almond-shaped eyes perused them. A smile graced her lips.

“Well, well, well! You don’t look raggedy enough to be Hatchets,” she remarked. “And none of you bear the cloth, save for…” Her gaze darted over to Maria, and she raised one brow curiously. “Hmm… white dress, freshly-burnt ash, and that ever-present air of lethargy…” The young woman scooted closer. Her face lit up. “Sister Maria, it is you! Darling, it’s been ages!”

It was difficult for Maria to forget her - Hortensia Hecate Halifax, granddaughter of Arc-en-Lume’s High Paladin. Always getting into trouble, even when Maria was an apprentice, and Hortensia, a teenager. Some things never changed. “Pardon me. It’s a right mess I’m caught up in.“ She shifted and tucked her chin onto her shoulder as her smile curled into a sheepish grin. “At least this time I’m not stuffing bugs into anyone’s breeches!”

Hortensia’s attention turned towards another, who had just stumbled into the room. Tall, handsomely built, and covered from head to toe in sewer dregs. Even with all that filth, Hortensia recognised him right away. She brought her hands to her nose and furrowed her brows. “O-oh! Lio, darling, that’s... not a good look for you.” The noblewoman waved away in a futile attempt to ward the stench. “Might I recommend a bath? Or several. Probably a massage, as well.”

Lio looked less than impressed. He let out the strained laugh of a man barely disguising his displeasure as he squatted in front of her. His dazzling grin, the only thing clean on him, dropped. “On the contrary, Horty, this cage is a great fit on you. Slimming. Maybe we should keep you in for another day or two.”

Hortensia’s hands crossed over her stomach, and her brows knit together. “Excuse you! Any slimmer and I won’t be much fun to hug!” The noblewoman turned away with a huff. “And then you’ll be in trouble with our mutual friend.” The tiniest hint of a grin remained on the corner of her mouth. Lio reached through the bars, pinched her nose between the knuckles of his middle and index finger, and that smile vanished.

“You’ve never had much fun hugging each other anyway. Don’t just say ‘take a bath’ to the person who crawled through a sewer to save you from your mistakes.” He glanced behind him at the party. He hadn’t done much of the actual saving part. He released her nose and wiped the grime from his fingers onto his singlet as an afterthought. “Well, that's why I'm here, but the master told me to make it explicit that he only gave me permission to come down here if I made sure his investment came back.” Lio held out a hand, palm up. “Do you still have the ring?”

Hortensia rubbed her own nose with a wince. The question came, and she sat up in attention. Slowly, she turned her gaze across the room, towards the hulking form of Orcimedes, and stopped. “Weeeeelllll…”

Lio looked over his shoulder at the party, big, green and slobbering especially, took in a suffering breath, and smiled.

“... Who has it?”




The guard’s eyes followed Anaïs’ hand, towards her scholar’s cross, and considered her words. After a moment, his posture relaxed, and he stayed his blade. “Stolen, you say?” He inquired, then stepped closer. “Then this is a matter of the law, and you should have filed a report.” The guard folded his arms, not taking his eyes off of Anaïs. “The Order of the Sacred Flame will take it from here. Please, turn out your pockets, and once I’m certain you haven’t taken or tampered with the evidence, you may go on your way.”




A thin, pretty smile crossed the drow’s face at her newly acquired ally’s words. She slunk back, her body still arched like a big cat ready to pounce, even as she backed off.

“Ajak, do'suul d'Arc en Lume,” she insisted in a whisper that tickled the back of his neck, despite her distance, “Tarthe dal l'Sacred Flame. Ol wo naut tlu verve hwuen dos kyorl l'anulo nin.”

And she settled back into her own shadowy corner, and went still, her sky-blue eyes turned up to the ceiling. Waiting.