Chapter 1 Edit

It is the Eighth hour by the Shadow on Shadowwatch, the 25th day of Whistlewind in the year 626.

Outroost Keep - Entrance Hall

A chamber of quarried gray stone, about 40 by 40 feet, with a flat ceiling that's about 15 feet above the floor and is supported by 16 thick cylindrical pillars. Iron sconces are affixed to the walls, allowing for torches and lamps to provide illumination for the room. Rising at one end of the room is a dais that rises about three feet above the main floor, accessible by a brief series of steps.

Chaori Balsam comes in, having convinced Aughol's guards to open the doors. That guard Aughol lent her is right behind her.

Aughol Zahir comes down the stairs a few moments later, having been informed of Chaori's presence by his squire. Upon seeing her, he smiles slightly, moving in her direction. "Good evening, Miss Balsam."

Chaori Balsam smiles in reply and pulls the hood of her cloak back. She curtseys, then says, "Good evening, Baron Aughol. I thought I would come say farewell before I go to the Shadow District."

Aughol Zahir raises an eyebrow. "Farewell... And why are you going into that Light-forsaken place?" The smile shifts to a frown as he moves closer.

Chaori Balsam sighs. "Because there are reports of dark pox in there. There are no healers in the Shadow District to send reports on the spread and progress of the disease, so I must go learn these things for myself. Have you seen Marshal Lucius Nepos, perchance?"

Aughol Zahir shakes his head, sighing. "The dark pox... Yes. Shadow District... Light... Are you sure you want to go in there? It's not safe. Most definitely not safe."

Chaori Balsam's voice is the traditional velvet glove over the iron fist. "I hope, Your Lordship, you are concerned for my safety and not seriously suggesting I leave all those people to die. I asked around the Hall of Healing. Of those with experience in epidemics, no others have ever set foot in the Shadow District."

Aughol Zahir sighs once more, his head continuing to shake side to side. "Well... If you must... I couldn't let you go alone. Or with only a single guard. Much less one that is unarmed. Indeed..." His gaze turns to the side, motioning to his squire. "Lockbush, get me three men. Armed." He sighs. "And of course, what type of man, much less noble, would I be if I merely sat by? Give me a few moments, Miss Balsam, and I will be ready to accompany you." With a glance to Chaori's guard, he motions away. "And you... You're dismissed. Get some rest."

The poor man looks relieved. He mutters to you on the way to his bunk, "I really tried, m'lord."

Chaori Balsam shows no signs of having heard the mutter. "Listen to me," she says gently. "There is a chance you and your men will contract the dark pox. If that happens, I may not be able to cure you. If the Emperor quarantines the Shadow District, you will be locked in there. If the Emperor decides to burn the Shadow District to the ground, you will burn with it. Do you still want to come with me?"

Aughol Zahir begins to nod, his frown shifting to a smile. "Indeed. However, I have no intention do contract a pox, be locked anywhere, or be burned. And I'll be doubly sure not to let anyone approach us without permission. My men are loyal enough, and I'll make sure they get a substantial bonus for the job." He turns away without another word, moving for the armory.

Chaori Balsam heaves a sigh of relief. Happy, relieved words float down the hall after you: "Then I accept your escort, with profound thanks. The brave Marshal will just have to explain to the Bladesmaster why he was not findable."

It is not long before three guards march down the stairs, scimitars at their sides and ravens upon their chests. Lockbush informs them of what is happening, and the men nod slowly. A few minutes later Aughol exits the armory, a midnight black cloak over his iron armor, the hilt of a sabre jutting out. "Miss Balsam, I am most humbly at your command."

Chaori Balsam replies, almost beaming, "Do not turn my head like that. I left my horse and a wagon full of supplies down in the village stables, so we should go there first."

Aughol Zahir nods slowly. "Very well." His eyes turn to the guards, giving a nod. "You heard her. Fall in." The group moves behind Aughol, whom looks to Chaori. "Ready, if you are."

Chaori Balsam nods. "I just hope I won't find out that I should have been there a week ago."

Chapter 2 Edit

Shadow Gate

An vast arch, stretching high across the road that passes through it, provides passage through the thick Shadow Wall that separates the filth of the Old City from the gleaming, unscrupulous palaces to the east.
Standing watch over this carefully guarded checkpoint is the tall, looming mass of dark stone and iron that is Shadowatch Tower. Within the fortified fortress is housed an entire squadron of the Emperor's Blades that keep a careful eye on all passers-by.
The worn-down cobblestone road passes on west to a town in the distance, and wild grass stretches north and south along the Shadow Wall.
It is a terribly cold and frigid night. The air is stagnant, not stirring with the slightest breeze.

Chaori Balsam dismounts and lets the stable keep her horse for a limited amount of time.

Hillcrest comes to a stop near Chaori, whilst the three guards come walking up, having descended from the carriage when it refused to go further.

Aughol Zahir dismounts from Hillcrest.

Aughol Zahir pays a stableboy to have Hillcrest stabled in Shadow Gate Stables. The boy leads the animal back into the stables.

Chaori says, "I think we had better check on the garrison here first."

Aughol Zahir undoes the lower clasp of the cloak, casting it back around him as if it were a cape, revealing the heavy iron armor he wears along with the sheath bearing his sabre. "Indeed. Lead on."

Barracks <Shadowatch Tower>

Simple and efficient. The fore portion of the barracks provides enough cots to sleep a squadron of soldiers, and the rear of the long room has the amenities such as chamber pots and washbasins required to support them. Soft light is provided courtesy of shielded sconces along the wall.

Chaori Balsam tiptoes in and looks around. There's only a reasonable number of Blades snoring away in here. No hacking coughs can be heard. "Well, that's good news," she whispers.

Aughol Zahir nods his head. "Indeed." He says, quietly. Hoping none of them wake up to see a man in Iron armor leading a pair of armed guards in the midst of their barracks. "Where to next?"

Chaori Balsam whispers, "Let's find the commander of the watch, if we can."

Aughol Zahir nods wordlessly, glancing about.

Chaori Balsam returns to the tower's base, followed by Aughol Zahir. She begins climbing up the stairs to the archer's perch. "They'd better be up there," she mutters.

Archers' Perch <Shadowatch Tower>

Larger than the main room below due to less clutter to take up space, the archer's perch is simply a broad, open room with numerous, narrow vertical openings along the walls from which bowmen can unleash their arrows on those outside the tower. Next to each window are several quivers stuffed full of arrows and crossbow bolts.
The staircase at the center of the room leads both up to the roof and back down toward the main room below.

Paydirt! Yes, there are non-snoring Blades here!

Aughol Zahir offers a slight bow of his head to the guards, making sure his Zahir pendant is visible.

Chaori Balsam calmly walks right up to the nearest Blade and asks, "Sir, may I speak with the commander?"

The Blade replies, "You can talk to me, Mistress. What is it you need?"

Aughol Zahir coughs softly, but intentionally, studying the man closely.

The Blade isn't deaf, so he looks at Aughol, bows and asks, "Does your lordship require anything?" The guards get noticed, but they're outnumbered by the Blades, so the Blades seem not to care.

Aughol Zahir smiles faintly. "Indeed. I'd like your commander. Unless you're him. Miss Balsam here has travelled at her own risk to stop this outbreak before it worsens. Give her the courtesy befitting of the act."

The Blade sighs and confers with the youngest of the Blades present. That worthy individual takes off at a run. "We'll find him for you. It will take a while."

Aughol Zahir nods his head. "Very well. Now. What is the situation around here? Is any of the garrison ill?"

The Blade shakes his head. "No one's ill, your lordship. We're all fine."

Chaori Balsam asks the Blade, "No hacking coughs? Not the least sign of a rash?"

Aughol Zahir smiles, nodding. "Good to hear. Have those who have the rash been contained anywhere?"

The Blade shakes his head. "No hacking coughs. No rashes. Our orders are to stay up here and make certain that no uprisings leave the district."

Chaori Balsam nods, appearing thoughtful.

Aughol Zahir frowns. "Very well... Miss Balsam... What now?"

Chaori Balsam simply asks the Blade, "Do you have plans drawn up for locking the gates and keeping them locked?"

The Blade replies, "The Marshal will know that."

Aughol Zahir says, "Where is this Marshal?"

Speak of the demon. A heavier-set man with a florid complexion and a big mustache comes up the stairs. "What is this," he asks, "that my Lieutenant can't handle?"

Aughol Zahir eyes the captain, offering a slight inclination of his head. "A few things." He says simply, glancing to Chaori.

Chaori Balsam answers, "Marshal, I am a healer. I came to see just how serious the outbreak of dark pox is here. Are your men healthy?"

The Marshal replies, "Yes, except for the occasional hangover, which they won't be getting. I've cancelled all leaves."

Aughol Zahir nods his head. "Good. Have those infected been placed somewhere?"

The Marshal explains, "Our orders are to keep the Shadow District in the Shadow District. Nothing more. Nothing less. In fact, we would be derelict in our duties if we went down into the Shadow District right now."

Chaori Balsam's expression is sympathetic and understanding. "I thought as much."

Aughol Zahir nods slowly. "Of course. Completely understandable." His eyes move to Chaori.

Chaori Balsam doesn't seem at all surprised or upset. "Do you have a plan drawn up to lock the gates and keep them locked, Marshal?"

The Marshal replies, "Of course."

Aughol Zahir frowns, watching Chaori. "Miss Balsam, where shall we head after here? It seems we're not needed."

Chaori Balsam replies, "Gatetown. Where else? From there, there is another settlement and a supposedly abandoned village. I don't believe anyone is so mad as to attempt to live in the old city, Halo."

Aughol Zahir nods his head slowly. "Indeed... As much as I dislike leaving you here, I much depart for a short bit. I will be back, I promise." He smiles. "I'll leave you two men, and take one back to escort me. Good luck, Miss Balsam."

Chaori Balsam replies, "Thank you, Baron Aughol. Luck to you. I may duck back eastward myself to send a letter to the Chancellor."

The Marshal merely says, "Good night to both of you, then."

Aughol Zahir nods once more, before dropping to a bow to both the Captain and Chaori. "Farewell then." He says before descending down the steps.

Chapter 3 Edit

Second Floor <Lost Hope Inn>

The stairs from below lead up into this maze of hallways which provide access to all of the Lost Hope's many guest rooms. Every available nook and cranny big enough to fit a warm body has been walled-in and converted into a room; in some cases, where there was not even enough room for a full door, a simple curtain provides privacy.
At the rear of the floor, in contrast with the jumble of forward rooms, is a triple set of spacious suites, each containing multiple bedrooms, a private supper room, and a sitting room. They tend to be most frequently used by Blades that are passing through, though nobles and other citizens 'looking for adventure' can on occasion be found there as well.

There is a muffled *tap tap* as you knock upon the door leading into Blue Room. Adiana arrives from Blue Room Adiana has arrived.

Chaori Balsam smiles reassuringly. "Good afternoon! I'm a healer."

Chaori Balsam's two guards try to look harmless. They probably fail.

Adiana looks through partially opened door and looks at the young woman in the hall. "Um... hello," she says in reply. "Is... is there something that I can do for you?"

Chaori Balsam smiles warmly. "I'd just like to give you a quick checkup and ask a few questions, Mistress. It shouldn't take long."

Adiana shifts her gaze between the self-proclaimed healer and the two guards in the hall. "Questions? About what? I've not done anything..." Adiana says while keeping the doorway obscured with herself.

Chaori Balsam reassures, "No, no, no! I just want to see if you're healthy and ask a few questions about the people you've seen recently. Please, don't mind the guards. They're just here to protect me, not to harm you."

Those guards are in black and violet uniforms and armed.

Adiana eyes the guards again for a minute and then backs up, opening the door and gesturing with one hand to the room. "I've not seen much of anyone lately," she says as she turns back to the room.

Blue Room <Lost Hope Inn>

Cool blue reigns in this luxurious-looking lodging. Composed of one spacious room, it is nonetheless curtained into two seperate areas: a sitting room and a bedroom. Both spaces gain a sense of slightly melancholy peace through the heavy use of azures in both painted plaster walls and gold-shot curtainry. A pale sky blue adorns the walls, while the ceiling is a shade darker and greener, matching the dividing curtain. While the wooden floor is left to natural glossy tones, it boasts a number of deep aquamarine braided rugs. Both the ledge of the wide window and the mantlepiece are made from dark grey-blue marble.
One large and one small window allow natural light in during the daytime, and admits the light of the six moons at night. The larger of the two is in the sitting area, a space adjacent to the doorway which contains the fireplace. The smaller window, flounced with curtains, looks down on the bed and the washstand.

Chaori Balsam leaves the guards at the door, calling out before she shuts it, "And remember, you're on duty."

Adiana moves across the room and turns a chair from the desk. "I'm afraid this is really all I've got for a seat," she says as she offers the chair to the woman.

Chaori Balsam sits down in the indicated chair. "Thank you, mistress. My, what lovely taste you have!"

Adiana starts to answer but the sound of boots and voices in the hall distract her for a moment. "Ah... oh, yes. Thank you. The Inn provided the furnishings though. We're just staying here for a time, that's all," she says with a glance or to towards the door.

Chaori Balsam soothes Adiana, "It's all right. Have you been coughing at all?" She looks closely at Adiana.

"Coughing? No... not really. I mean sometimes I do in the morning when I wake up but it's nothing. Really," Adiana answers. Again she looks to the door, folding her arms across her waist. "That sounds... Your guards aren't going to cause problems? I don't want to get thrown out or anything," she says worriedly.

Chaori Balsam reassures Adiana, "They're only here to protect me. Don't worry. Do you have any boils at all, even small ones?"

Meanwhile, out in the hallway....

There are two armed guards in black and violet out in the hall.

Trenton steps towards the door, from the hallway. His boots, clanking on the wooden floor as he approaches the door at the end of the hall. His eyes gaze at the two guards at either side of the door. He stops in front of them and introduces himself as a Mr.Lark. His lavender eyes gazing questioningly at them as he speaks, "'Allo 'Allo...I need to get in there, see?"

The two guards will pass Trenton, but warn, "You'd be better off waiting ten minutes, Master Lark."

Trenton blinks at the guards and turns his head twoards the door once more.. "Be a good chap and tell me what's goin on in there, aye?" he pauses, awaiting an answer from the guards.

The guards reply, "The healer's in there. She'll like as not only need to examine the lady quickly and ask a few questions."

Trenton sighs and looks over the guards, "A Healer? What in the bloody hell happened, you big oaf. Speak up...Tell me.." He pauses and puts his hand down at his side, perhaps for a dagger or some sort, and steps back once.

The guards put their hands on their sword hilts. "There's an outbreak of dark pox, man," one of them replies. "The healer's here to see who's ill and cure those she can."

Adiana looks back to the woman and stares for a minute. "No," she says flatly. "I've no boils. What's this about? Did someone tell you that?" she questions as she hears the raised voices from outside. This distracts her again. "Just a minute," she says to the woman and this time she turns and crosses back to the door, pulling it open quickly. "Trenton?"

Trenton is almost completely diffused by the mere sight of Adiana. "My d....I mean..Ahem.. Mrs. Stormclaw. Is everything alright? Why yeh be needin a Healer? What the bloody hell is goin on..and who in the Light are these blokes?"

Chaori Balsam turns towards the door, but remains seated. "Good afternoon. I am Chaori Balsam. Those two gentlemen at the door are my bodyguards. I'm here because there's an outbreak of dark pox. I'll be glad to see you in just a few minutes."

Trenton raises his hand, "I just arrived in the district. I've no need for such things... I'm here to take Miss Stormclaw out of the district."

"I don't..." Adiana starts to say but then her attention is distracted again by the sight of the guards and their hands on thier swords. "Trenton please, come inside," she says as she reaches her hand out to him. "They just showed up and started asking questions," she says. "I didn't do anything, I swear. I haven't even been outside in days."

Chaori Balsam comments, "A fact which may save your life, Mistress." She leans close to Adiana, the better to examine those amber eyes. Any signs of cloudiness or milkiness at all?

Aughol Zahir arrives from Second Floor Aughol Zahir has arrived.

Aughol is saluted by his two faithful guards, of course.

Adiana turns back to face Chaori and her examination as she waits for Trenton to come in past the guards...

Aughol Zahir steps into the room, followed by a guard of his own. Nodding his head to his two guards, "Good to see you two." He says, shaking himself free of his cloak and thus completely revealing the heavy iron armor he wears. "Miss Balsam...?" He says, glancing about the room with a raised eyebrow.

Chaori Balsam looks over to Aughol and smiles brightly. She even gets up and curtseys. "Good afternoon, Baron. So far, so good, but I'm only just getting started. This really isn't even Gatetown."

Adiana turns away from Chaori and follows the direction woman's attention. Upon seeing the new arrival she reaches for Trenton's hand and moves closer to him, her bare feet barely making a whisper against the wood floor compared to the sound of all the guards and people's boots and shoes thumping about.

Trenton follows the Zahir in from behind, his cloaks flowing around his ankles as his legs move him into the room. He soon after makes his way to Adiana, his right arm putting it under her left arm and through to her back, holding himself close to her. "What is the meaning of this? She's fine..and we're about to depart for the crossroads."

Chaori Balsam soothes, "I just want to make certain the two of you are healthy. That's all. By the way, have you seen anyone suffering from a hacking cough or boils?"

Aughol Zahir holds up a hand, frowning. "I merely came to check on Miss Balsam, and I'd be much obliged if you treated her with the respect she is due, considering why she is here."

Adiana looks back to the woman with her questions. She shakes her head negatively. "No, I've not seen anyone. I told you that I've not been outside of this room for several days miss," Adiana replies. "What's all this that you're talking about? I heard someone in the hall some time ago saying someone was sick but I paid no mind to it."

Chaori Balsam says to Adiana, "Thank you, I'll have to look into that. There's an outbreak of dark pox. I'm here to see how bad it is, to heal those I can and to keep the pox from spreading. Why don't we just go behind those curtains, so I can listen to your lungs?"

Adiana nods her head, looking a bit confused on the whole but she turns to Trenton. "I guess I'll just be a minute," she says with a touch of her hand on his arm. After that, she moves to go behind the curtains with the woman.

Chaori Balsam follows Adiana. From behind the curtains, she can still be heard. "Breathe deeply for me. Good. Let me just listen to the other side now. Very good. Thank you."

Trenton sighs and nods before Adiana can get away. He moves twoards one of the walls, namely the empty one away from everyone. He puts his boot up against the wall and hangs his head low, letting out a strong sigh from himself.

Adiana jostles the curtain a bit with the examination. "Is... am I going to be ok?" she asks during a pause.

Chaori Balsam says with a smile only Adiana can see, "You're as healthy as a horse, Mistress. Would you please send your friend in here?"

"Well thanks, I think," Adiana says before she steps around the curtain and looks at Trenton. "She wants to see you," she says quietly to Trenton while moving back to stand at his side.

Trenton sighs and nods, "Very well, have your way with me..but be careful, Miss Stormclaw doesn't like much of competition." he chuckles, attempting at a joke as he makes his way behind the curtain. "What would you have me do, Healer."

Adiana glares at Trenton and his comment as she reaches for her cloak and wraps it about herself tightly.

Behind the curtain, Chaori asks Trenton, "Let me have a look at your eyes for a moment." She looks anyway, checking for signs of milkiness.

Trenton stands there, staring blankly past the healer, his clearly hazel eyes staying open for an unusual amount of time until the healer has said that it is ok to blink.

Chaori says, "Go ahead and blink. Any boils, at all?"

Trenton blinks and then shakes his head, "Nay, I'm bloody fine. Just as I said before yeh had me come back here."

Adiana listens to the exchange of questions and answers as she stands near the seat that the healer woman occupied earlier.

Chaori Balsam says, "I'll just listen to your lungs, even though you don't sound raspy." Unless Trenton does something quick, he gets the healer's ear on his bare back, twice.

Aughol Zahir yawns softly, glancing about the room in idle disinterest.

Trenton nods as he removes his shirt, his lightly tanned and toned body being exposed as he does so. Trenton uses his right hand to sweep the hair from his head away from his back, even though it only reaches to his shoulders.

Chaori Balsam says, "Thank you. Breathe deeply for me. Again, please."

Adiana looks from the curtain to the black-cloaked man and his guard for a few moments. Other than looking, she does nothing more than cross her arms before her and stand quietly.

Aughol Zahir frowns faintly, before looking to Adiana. "I am Lord Aughol Zahir, by the way."

Trenton breathes deeply once more, and awaits instruction.

Adiana makes eye contact with the nobleman and then looks down. "Light's blessing my lord," she says. Her gaze dwells on the floor for a moment before she moves towards a small pile of leather items on the floor near the writing desk. Quickly she sits down and reaches for a pair of leather boots, drawing them on over her bare feet before standing up once more.

Chaori Balsam tells Trenton, "You look and sound perfectly healthy to me. Go ahead and put your shirt back on. Have you seen anyone, anyone at all, with a hacking cough or boils?"

Trenton sighs, "I already bloody told yeh, I just got here to take Miss Stormclaw away from this plagued district. We're headin back towards the Crossroads as soon as yeh let us go."

Aughol Zahir raises an eyebrow. "Well, no need to be all quiet. What's your name?" He asks, shifting his gaze to the curtain briefly.

Trenton speaks loudly as he puts his shirt back on, "Eh, you. Enough with the small talk." He points his words towards the Zahir. "Miss Stormclaw, we've got to be off. We're gonna miss the ferry, aye? If that's alright wit' you."

Chaori Balsam emerges from the curtains. "Then go ahead and go. Be sure to wash all your belongings in very hot water when you get the chance. Please, try to stay out of the towns."

After Trenton's remark to the healer, Adiana glances back up to the nobleman once she's standing and has pulled her cloak tight around herself again. "My name's..." she begins to say but is interrupted by Trenton. "The ferry?" she says with puzzlement taking its place on her face.

Aughol Zahir blinks a few times, "...Excuse me?" He asks, loud enough for Trenton to hear, his eyes now fixed on the curtain.

Chaori Balsam asks, "There's a ferry?"

Trenton nods, "Not in this district, Healer. But we've got a ways to be going. Important business...for my company, aye."

Adiana swallows and then glances between the healer and the nobleman. After a moment's hesitation she stoops down and begins to gather some of her things together quickly.

Aughol Zahir turns his entire body to face the curtain, speaking once more. "Now, I'd suggest, whoever you are, that you watch what you say. Honestly, is it that difficult to offer common courtesy?" His voice is cool, eyes narrowed as he waits for Trenton to step out from behind the curtain.

Chaori says, "The Light grant you both a safe journey to... where is it you are going, anyway?"

Trenton steps out from behind the curtain with a grin on his face, looking twoards the Zahir, and then back to the healer and finally resting on Adiana. "Well then, Sorry to break this all up, but we must be going. Shall we Miss Stormclaw?" he pauses and looks twoards the Zahir, "I only offer courtesy where it is needed or deserved. I neither know you, or your intentions. Now, we must be off." he says moving towards the door.

Aughol Zahir follows Trenton with his eyes, "I am of Noble blood... That is enough reason for courtesy to be presented."

Adiana has managed to gather up the few personal items that were on the floor, namely two small leather pouches into which she hurriedly stuffed small items of clothing. As she stands, she looks between the nobleman and Trenton with concern. "Trenton, please. Don't start anything with them," she begs. "Let's just go and leave this be."

Chaori Balsam agrees, "An excellent idea."

Trenton nods to Adiana, "Very well." he says, opening the door, and heading through it, but coming back quickly, "Ah, sorry. Good bye chaps." he says, and walks outside again, moving towards the stairs.

Aughol Zahir mutters to himself, turning away from Trenton. "There are many whom would take revenge. Mayhaps I should throw a chair at him? I don't think my reputation involving chairs can worsen."

Chaori Balsam bursts out laughing. "I suppose not. Still, I'd just as soon not set bones today."

Adiana holds the leather pouches tightly and follows Trenton towards and out the door. She pauses for a moment at the door and the sight of the two armed men outside and glances back into the room. "Light's blessing my lord, and to you also," she says to the healer before turning and hurrying off after Trenton.

Aughol Zahir smirks towards Chaori. "Well of course... You wouldn't be setting bones." He sighs softly, lifting a hand to scratch the back of his head. "Have you found any sick yet?"

Chaori Balsam shakes her head. "They're probably all hiding at the far end of the district."

Aughol Zahir nods slowly. "Indeed... Make us work, sounds typical."

Chaori says, "Either that, or it's some bard's overheated imagination."

Chapter 4 Edit

Palace Road <Gatetown>

At the edge of a twelve-foot-tall wooden wall is a large, hand-painted sign proclaiming the collection of buildings within to be "Gatetown". Beyond the gate lies a humble assortment of homes, shops, and apartments arrayed in a simple, backwards "L" shape.
The Palace Road runs through the middle of the town, and continues onward to the west, though another road branches off to the south and leads to the rest of the community. At the relative middle of the collection is a tall guard tower which provides watch over the incoming aqueduct lines that convey water to the town's residents.

Chaori Balsam rides in on her gelding, who is towing a wagon. There are odd clanking noises coming from the wagon.

Nievea walks through the streets, clutching her coat around her tightly.

Chaori Balsam dismounts from her horse. Two guards in black, violet and armor emerge from that cart, which explains the clanking noises. Once down, Chaori hurries over to the woman who seems to be freezing.

Nievea pulls the scarf around her face and attemptes a smile and a quick nod in greeting. She makes a motion toward the Come On Inn.

Chaori Balsam nods. One of her guards holds her horse; the other follows at her heels.

Chaori Balsam follows Nievea into the Come On Inn.

Come On Inn <Shadow District>

The entryway to this place is composed of a fairly large room with many, many hallways leading from it. They puncture the stone walls, two per wall, their once-fine marble archways dimmed and chipped in the faint glow of oil lanterns set between. Once an Imperial home, as the Shadow District decayed this place was taken for progressively lower purposes until now it is one of the most notorious brothels around.
In keeping with its reputation, the Come On Inn is furnished with images of naked and semi-clad women and men, each set in an archway above an oil lamp. Poorly illuminated scenes of group orgies, whippings, and bound personages rest there; many of them are screened by the maze of potted plants which gives some illusion of privacy to the doorways. At the head of the room is a heavy wooden desk, on it a bell.

Chaori Balsam looks around, paying particular attention to faces.

Chaori Balsam's guard looks around, paying particular attention to potential threats to Chaori.

Nievea breathes a sigh of relief as she steps in the door. She nods to the Madam, then glances around. "Hrm..."

Chaori Balsam asks Nievea, "May I speak with you, before I speak with the mistress of the house?"

Nievea nods to Chaori, then steps closer to her. "Sure, if you'd like."

Chaori Balsam gazes steadily at her. "Have you been coughing at all?"

Nievea tilts her head slightly as she listens to the question. She shakes her head, slowly. "No..not recently. A bit of sneezing, but that's normal during this time, aye?"

Chaori Balsam nods. "I think we should step into a private spot, so I can listen to your lungs. Any boils at all?"

Nievea pauses for a moment, looking at Chaori. Are you an healer? I'll go if this is truely neccessary? I'm looking for someone...and I don't want to miss him.

Chaori Balsam is talking to Nievea. She is flanked by an armed guard in a black and violet uniform. "This is truly necessary, Mistress, for your health and the health of others. It'll just be a few minutes."

Nievea nods, "Aye, if it is necessary. Where would you like to go?"

Chaori Balsam replies to Nievea, "Anywhere private where one of us can sit down will do."

Nievea says, "Maybe at the other Inn? If we get a room here, I'm pretty sure we'd have to pay for it." While she speaks, get glances around looking for a few signs that her brother could have been here, then focuses again on Chaori. "Alright then. Shall we head across the street to the Noose? My brother works there so, the owner will allow us to make use of the back room."

Chaori Balsam nods. "That will be just fine. Or we could go to the Lost Hope Inn. A friend of mine has rented the entire inn."

Nievea says, "That may be a better idea."

Chaori Balsam nods. "The ride isn't a long one, at a gallop."

Nievea nods, as she wraps beak up. "Sounds good to me."

Chaori Balsam leads the way back out of the 'business establishment'. Once outside, Chaori Balsam tells the guards to get back into the wagon. "Do you have a horse, or are you riding double with me?"

The guards get back into the wagon.

Nievea says, "If you don't mind, I'd like to ride with you."

Chaori says, "Not at all. Do you need a hand up?"

Nievea says, "Please." After securing her bag onto her back, she moves over to the horse and offers her hand to Chaori so she can be helped up. "I usually walk everywhere I go - its been a while since we've owned a horse."

Chaori Balsam thinks for a moment, then says, "I thought I heard a cough. Please wait here for me. Eclipse doesn't bite. Really." She walks into the Come On Inn.

Chaori Balsam returns with two guards behind her. She looks around the room again, then strains to listen to the least little noise. "I could swear I heard a cough," she mutters.

Not too long after Chaori returns to the cat house, a trio of heavily clothed men enter, most likely seeking shelter from the harsh cold. The group's faces are wrapped in thick black wool, and a steady stream of curses pour from them.

Chaori Balsam slowly approaches the trio, listening for the slightest hint of a rasp in their cursing voices.

Having established themselves inside the inn, and closing the door behind them, the tallest of the three takes the opportunity to size up one of the guards in Zahir colors. His eyes narrow, and he leans to hiss into the ear of one of his companions. Alerted, the other two look towards the ducals.

Chaori Balsam slowly approaches the trio, hands out to her sides, palms forward. This reveals that she carries no (obvious) weapons and is wearing a white woolen robe. "Excuse me, please. I am a healer. May I speak with all of you for just a few moments?"

The two Zahir guards look right back at the trio in black. The guards do not seem to be amused.

Nievea steps back into the Inn, if you don't mind, Healer. I'm going to run a quick errand..." She frowns slightly, not quite sure what is going on.

"'Long way from Hedgehem, aren't you, 'duke?" speaks the tallest of the leather clad men, his words directed to one of the guards. The healer, for the moment, is ignored - the reedy man of the trio far too busy in posturing as he rests a hand casually on one of the knife hilts sheathed at his side. The middle man clears his throat.

Chaori Balsam calls over her shoulder to Nievea, "Go ahead and run that errand, but please don't get lost." Nievea dealt with, Chaori returns her attention to the trio. "I'm here to check people for dark pox and heal those I can, not to stitch up cuts. Please, may we speak? Your lives may be at stake."

The nastier-tempered of the two guards replies, "We have business here. Don't cause trouble for the healer and we won't cause trouble for you."

Nievea simply nods and slips out.

"Ah, and aren't you the cocky little shit?" sneers the tall man mockingly, puffing out his chest towards the speaking guard. "Thinkin' you can even cause trouble for me?"

Tahnin, the middle man, fixes a tired and flat stare upon Chaori, and at least appears to be listening for the moment.

Chaori Balsam gazes at Tahnin, inspecting him for milky eyes and boils. "I'm serious," she says to him. "There really is an outbreak of dark pox in the district. If you're infected, I can take you to a place where I can treat you."

The guards, on the other hand, are singularly unimpressed by the tall man of the trio.

"We're gonna be getting out of here," chimes the reedy of the three. "The gates may be watched, but there's other ways, for those knowing. You'd best be out too." His tall companion seems more interested in instigating than talking, however, and reaches to draw down the wool long enough to spit a large gob of phlegm at one of the guards boots. Tahnin, meanwhile, points at himself.

Chaori Balsam's blue eyes flicker at the mention of extra ways out of the Shadow District. She does not comment. Instead, she asks Tahnin, "Are you telling me that you're ill? If you are, please, come with me. Your friends may accompany you if they wish to help treat you."

The other guard regally ignores the health hazard by his boot. He just says, "Until she goes, we're not going. We'd rather face the pox than face the Baron."

A mocking, mostly toothless grin, is the response from the tall man, before he covers his face again.

And finally, he speaks! Though nothing overly dramatic occurs. In fact, Tahnin's voice is fairly quiet. "Do your treatment then, and quickly," he states softly.

Chaori says, "It will be simple, but not quick. If you would be so good as to come with me, my friend the Baron has rented the entire Lost Hope Inn. You're welcome to stay there until you're completely cured and not contagious. In fact, I must insist on it."

A soft grumble is the response to that, and the pair turn to trio turn to face each other and confer quietly. Frequent glances are cast towards Chaori, and there are more than a few quiet snickers heard. Finally, the huddle breaks, and Tahnin nods his assent to her.

Chaori Balsam collects her guards with a look and a gesture. "Thank you. Right this way. Do you have horses, or do I need to squeeze all of you into the wagon?"

"We'll make it, soon enough," one of the three answers as they turn about, beginning to move to the door. "We know the way better than you do, I'll bet." They shove the door open to the cold night.

Chaori Balsam replies, "Please don't hurt yourselves racing," and leaves, guards right behind her.

Eventually, everyone arrived at the Lost Hope Inn.

Chapter 5 Edit

Entrance to Fastheld Keep <Palace District>

The Palace Road widens into a clearing of packed dirt as it arrives at the southern approach to the imposing majesty of Fastheld Keep, with its high stone parapets and lofty tower spires flying the Kahar family banner (a field of bright blue emblazoned with a prowling black wildcat).
Soldiers of the Emperor's Blades can be seen along the south wall - on the parapet and flanking the gatehouse - standing guard over the Imperial keep that sits perched atop a ridge of earth known as Caryas Hill.
The Lighthold River can be seen twisting beyond the thick woods to the west. Beyond that rises the barrier of the Shadow District. To the south, one can see the misty rolling hills and woodlands of the Forest District. Off to the east sprawl the thriving bazaars of the Market District.
The road twists off to the southwest, downhill toward Lightholder Bridge and the Imperial Thoroughfare that leads all over the realm.

Chaori Balsam actually rode here on her horse, which is pulling a wagon. "I can't believe I'm wasting time on this," she mutters. Then she raises her voice and asks the gate guards, "Have you seen Marshal Nepos lately?"

Luckily, Marshal Lucius Nepos is in the process of inspecting the guard on the inside of the gate proper. He hears Chaori questioning the guard, and before the man is able to respond his officer steps out from the gate and says, "Yes, he's here." A bit of a smirk appears on his face.

Chaori Balsam smiles in greeting, but the smile is strained. She looks tired. She removes a letter from her horse's saddlebags. Coming no closer than absolutely necessary to Lucius or the guards, she gives the letter to Lucius.

Chaori Balsam also has two guards with her, garbed in black, violet and metal.

Lucius Nepos approaches Chaori, the shield strapped to his back bobbing up and down as he walks. His hand reaches to grasp the letter and give a nod of thanks, eyes then falling onto the contents of the parchment.

Chaori Balsam quietly waits while Lucius reads. Her two guards take up defensive positions, but are relaxed and behaving themselves.

Although his expression is once more neutral as he breaks the seal and reads the short letter, a moment before he puts it away the Marshal chuckles lowly. "I see the Blademaster writes with his characteristic wit, as usual. It seems that I'm escorting you to the district, Mistress Balsam?" Asks Lucius, almost rhetorically.

Chaori Balsam replies with a faint smile, "I would not blame you for refusing. As you can see, I have an armed escort, so the Imperial Surrector will have to be satisfied. One of my original escorts is ill with the dark pox, so escorting me isn't safe."

"There is no choice in the matter, Mistress Balsam. I have been ordered to escort you, and I will do my duty. Is there anything that I can do to make it less likely of getting the pox?" The armoured man asks Chaori, tilting his head.

Chaori says, "Wash often and swallow an herbal tonic daily. I've managed to rent, with the help of a friend, the entire Lost Hope Inn for housing and treating the sick."

Lucius shoots another question Chaori's way. "Excellent, I suppose. I will do as I must, and also go through the additional rigor of washing my armour if it comes into contact with anything unsavoury. How long is your stay in the District expected to be?"

Chaori Balsam answers, "Until either the dark pox is cured, or until I die."

"At a certain point, I may need to go back to the keep to report to several council members on an assignment that was completed. Next week, certainly. I will leave you with two other Bladesmen, at that point, one to replace me and another, a new recruit who I need to find before we leave. Thereafter I will most likely come back," the Blade explains.

Chaori Balsam listens carefully and nods. "I know of the Imperial Council meeting. If I think it safe, I will be attending it. Shall I let you go search for the new recruit and just catch up to me?"

"I suggest you wait at the tavern, down at the Crossroads." Lucius points to the township at the foot of Caryas Hill, continuing on. "I will catch up with as soon as I can."

Chaori Balsam shakes her head. "I left patients behind. I need to return as soon as I can. Do you know how to find the Lost Hope Inn?"

"I do. If you must return as soon as you can then I understand. I will catch up to you shortly, then. Light keep, Chaori," proclaims Lucius.

Chaori Balsam gravely inclines her head. "Light grant you health, Marshal." Chaori mounts her horse and rides off.

Return to Season 4 (2006)

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